Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Manon

I decided to handle re-knitting the Manon in a somewhat systematic way. First, there was no way I could just rip it all out, even though I was pretty sure I was going to re-knit the whole thing.

Instead, I started by ripping out the top back and front stockinette sections and then knitting the center back triangle with that yarn to see what sort of difference that would make in the size and drape of just that piece. Turned out I liked it quite a bit more, so I cast on for the right triplet and picked up stitches along the right side of the center triangle. I finished the right triplet before I ran out of yarn.

Here's how the original, too-drapey, wrong gauge peplum looks next to the new, improved, just-right drape, correct gauge peplum. Or rather, how the new peplum looks on top of the old one.

Here's an up-close look at the original center triangle

And here's a look at the new center triangle

It's really hard to see a difference unless you hold it in your hand. With the original one, it felt like it would end up stretching out over time. The new one feels like it will hold its shape.

I made one change to the pattern based on two things: the way the picked up stitches for the stockinette looked in the original knit job, and another knitter's modification that made that transition point look better.

After you work the back triangle, you're supposed to cast on a mess of stitches, which will be the base for the horizontal ribbing for the right front as well as the two triangles that are not attached to the center triangle. Then you pick up stitches along the right side of the center triangle, which will become the base for the third triangle of the right triplet, and then you cast on 18 more stitches, which will be for the ribbing across the right side of the back of the sweater. The pick up row is a RS row. On the following row, the pattern says to establish the 18-stitch ribbing by working (p1, k1) 9 times. That would give you a knit column for the selvedge on the RS, and would give you a purl column next to the edge of the adjacent triangle. When you then go to pick up stitches across the ribbing selvedge, that knit column ends up on the inside of the sweater, and the stockinette transitions from the purl column. Here's a really crappy picture of how that looks:

That purl column ends up looking like a sloppy pick up. The notes I read from another knitter showed that she changed the ribbing so that it was established on the WS as (k1, p1), which meant the selvedge column on the RS was a purl column. This puts the stockinette at right angles to a knit column, giving a much neater appearance. It also puts a knit column adjacent to the edge of the triangle.

There was one other thing that had bugged me the first time I knit it, and which sent me back again and again to check the instructions the second time to confirm I wasn't missing something. The center back triangle has 3 garter ridges at the base (6 rows), but the triplets have a base of only 2 garter ridges. I went ahead and knit it this way, even though it bugged me and it wasn't until I was well into the second triplet that I looked closely at the photographs illustrating the pattern. The photograph clearly shows 3 garter ridges on the triplet. The inset photo showing the back detail also shows that the ribbing was worked as (k1, p1), not as the specified (p1, k1). The errata for the pattern only corrects stitch counts for the right triplet, and not these two other errors, neither of which affects the shaping of the garment, but only some fairly minor aesthetic details.

Onward and upward. I'm well into the left triplet now. I had to rip out the original peplum in order to recover the yarn to do it, so all that is left of my original knitting are photos. I expect to finish the left triplet some time tonight, and then it's on to the stockinette back...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The way I knit, sometimes

Like many knitters, I'm self-taught. I learned to knit while I was living and working in Ireland, back in 1986. There wasn't much to do in the evenings other than huddle around the coal-fed fireplace and watch television. The biggest excitement was when the electricity ran down and we had to feed another 50p into the meter.

One Sunday, my life changed forever. One of my flatmates came home from a weekend in County Meath, where her parents lived, and she was knitting a sweater. I wanted in on that action.

When I got paid that week, I went to the department store near where I worked and bought a pattern and yarn. (Isn't that cool that you could by yarn in the department store?). I had learned to knit when I was in 5th grade during "X Period," a once-a-month afternoon where we could sign up to do a fun activity, but then, as now, garter stitch didn't excite me, so I abandoned it, not knowing what else I could do.

In Dublin, though, I had three flatmates who all knew how to knit, having been taught by nuns (and corrected with a ruler smack if they didn't hold their hands just so) My flatmates showed me how to cast on using the knitting on method, and corrected me when I wrapped the yarn in the wrong direction, without the use of corporal punishment.

Then the weekend came, and they all left town again, and I wanted to learn how to purl. So I went to the bookstore and found a book on knitting. I had spent that week's disposable income on yarn and needles, so I couldn't afford to buy the book, so I studied the pictures, trying to understand exactly what to do. By the time they all returned Sunday evening, my hands were cramped and my neck hurt, but I had managed to cast on and make progress on the bottom k1p1 ribbing.

I learned a lot from books and patterns after that, as I was good at following directions (I even helped my flatmate with her sweater when it came time to do simultaneous neck and shoulder shaping), but what I never managed to do was get the yarn tensioned around the fingers of my right hand so that I could hold the needles and wrap the yarn for stitches. What I did instead was to develop a style of knitting that worked for me, which was to avoid holding the right needle at all. I anchored the right needle at the junction of my hip and thigh. The nuns would never have approved.

I still use this method when I knit flat (I knit continental with dpns and circs) and I find it extremely comfortable, physically. The weight of the knitting is held by the needle, not my hands, so I don't get fatigued, and I have nice, even tension. Because my right hand isn't holding the needle, it is free to do other work. The yarn is tensioned against the palm of my hand with my ring and pinky fingers. When I wrap the yarn, my thumb and index finger take over tensioning the yarn while my index and middle fingers do the job of wrapping the yarn. When the stitch is finished, the yarn is back in my palm, held there by those ring and pinky fingers while my other fingers move the new stitches down the needle shaft.

Here's a video of me working a row of k3, p3

I won't win any speed contests, but it's efficient enough, and as I mentioned, very comfortable physically.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Alpaca my bags

One day last week, it was really cold (maybe 10 degrees), overcast, and snowing. By 4:30, it was completely dark outside. Michael IM'd me.

"It's like Ice Station Zebra out there."
"Just think," I IM'd back, "In one month, it'll still be this dark and desolate."

Turns out it wasn't much better inside his office, where he gets little sunshine in his northwest corner office even when it isn't overcast. It wasn't snowing inside, but it's possible there were icicles forming off the edge of his desk, it was so cold. I noticed he was adding extra layers in the mornings before he headed out. He worries about his server room overheating when all the machines are running, so he worked it out with the building maintenance people to not send too much heat his way. While good for computers, it has an obvious downside for humans. Last winter, he would sit in the office with his coat and hat on, typing with fingers encased in thermal-lined leather gloves.

Over this past weekend, though, the temps soared to the mid-thirties, melting some of the snow, and making us believe that winter wasn't so bad. But yesterday, a new weather system hit Minnesota and one look at the Monday forecast (high of -6 F) had me digging through my stash.

Here's what I whipped up yesterday for my alpaca-loving husband.

Fetching (what else?)

I used a sport-weight alpaca I bought at Shepherd's Harvest over Mother's Day weekend, held double and used size 7 needles to give me a slightly firm stockinette gauge of 5 sts/in.

CO 50 sts, rather than 45
4 cable crossings at the wrist, rather than 3
22 rows of k4p1 for the hand, rather than 16.
A second cable crossing and one more plain row before casting off with a regular bind off (not the picot bind off)

I think I made the hand between the cables and the thumb hole too long, as it's bunching up a bit. I probably could have done without adding those extra 5 sts, perhaps making some of the palm multiples k3p1 rather than k4p1. Ah, well. He likes the extra length above the thumb covering more of his fingers, but that means there's extra material on the palm side that interferes with his typing.

Next time I'll make him a pair of fingerless gloves and give him a proper thumb gusset rather than a peasant thumb.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Never underestimate yourself

I am plugging along on the Manon. In fact, the entire back is complete, and I just finished the front left. I am part way into ball #8.

I was contemplating whether to do the right front or one of the sleeves, checking the schematic to see what the sleeve length was and trying to figure out where the top of the sleeve cap would hit my shoulder when I decided to check the width of the sweater back. It's supposed to be 19" and even though I always hit gauge, sometimes a small fraction of a stitch difference in the 4 inch swatch measurement can add up to 1/4" or more for the entire sweater back.

The back is a little more than an 1" too wide. Which means the sweater will be more than 2" too big around.

This is not good.

I laid the measuring tape across the back expanse of stockinette, where I should be getting 18 sts/4". I get 17 sts. I measured again, in a different area. Same thing.

I checked my needles, thinking I had somehow used a size 10's instead of the size 9's the pattern specifies. Nope. 5.5mm. That's a US 9.

I swatched back in September when I knit the back triangle the first time (and ripped it out for a pretty lame reason) and I know I got 18 sts/in. I made a nice big swatch, too. I almost always swatch even though I always get the gauge on the yarn label using the needles specified. For certain projects, you can use the project itself as a gauge swatch, but this was to be a sweater and this particular sweater doesn't have much stockinette until you get to the upper back. I couldn't just cast on the first triangle and use it as a swatch. There's too much texture and cable action going on. So I swatched, because I am nothing if not a conscientious knitter.

After this horrifying confrontation between my assumptions about my knitting and reality, I accepted the truth, but I couldn't understand how it happened. I stared at the gauge specification in the pattern when a horrifying realization occurred to me. I didn't use the yarn specified in the pattern, which calls for size 9 needles to get 18 sts/4 in. I used a different Aran weight yarn.

I pulled out a ball of the Sublime Aran yarn and examined the label.

Yep, I always get gauge when I use the needles specified on the yarn label. What I don't always do is remind myself of changes I have made by noting those changes in the pattern book.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Crafting=Cheap=Cognitive Dissonance

One of the Minnesota-related Ravelry groups linked to this Star-Tribune article. A number of crafters were insulted, both in the article's comments and on Ravelry because she suggested that hand made gifts were not the way to go, the implication being that they were cheesy. Or just plain awful. I spent a good amount of time today hand crafting an email response to Kara McGuire, and in the process I've decided that maybe she wasn't wrong to discourage the making of hand made gifts.

First, the article is about giving gifts this year when you don't have much money. Anyone who's spent $25 or more on hand painted merino wool sock yarn knows that homemade does not necessarily mean low cost.

Homemade=inexpensive is a reality that evaporated along with U.S.-based manufacturing. Nobody sews their own clothes or knits their own socks because they can't afford to buy them. They do it either because they enjoy the process or because it's impossible to buy something ready made that fits right.

Second, the focus of the article is about price tags and perceived value of things, and how to give someone a gift that appears to have a price tag of $X, without having to actually spend $X. For example, she suggests exchanging credit card rewards points for gift cards. You can give someone a $50 gift card to Best Buy, for example, without forking over a dime, and the recipient will have a gift worth $50. Easy and painless, and the recipient feels like you "spent" $50 on him or her.

Calculating how much a handmade gift is worth is incredibly complex. It isn't simply a matter of knowing the value of the materials. It's a matter of knowing the values of the people involved in the gift exchange. Will they understand how much time you spent on them? Will they care? In a good way?

Third, Selecting the right gift -- whether it's hand knit fingerless mitts to ward off frozen typing fingers, or a gift card purchased using rewards points -- is about knowing the recipient.

If what your recipient cares about is what the price tag on the gift says, then the absolute wrong gift is something hand made. By all means, go get that gift card.

Giving something you made by hand is far riskier than giving someone a gift card acquired by cashing in your reward points. Just think of the psychological ramifications of receiving a gift someone made for you that clearly took a lot of time and effort. More than one boyfriend has been scared off by a hand knit sweater or scarf. Worse, what if all that time and effort was put into something completely wrong for the recipient? What does that say about the relationship? A gift card is impersonal enough to make the recipient wonder if the giver cares at all, and possibly impersonal enough for the recipient not to care either, but what if the gift is a hand made lime green, fun fur hat with doggie ears? What does that gift say? What if it's a cashmere, cable knit pullover in just the right color and fit, and you've only been dating three months? When you give a hand made gift, you're giving a bit of yourself, too. Sometimes the bit you're giving is more than the recipient wanted.

I will say that exchanging rewards points for gift cards is a good idea. We got Target gift cards for the four of us a few weeks ago by using our rewards points. The first thing Nina bought was supplies to make a scrapbook of the Disney vacation her Nana took us on last winter and the trip to LA Nana took her on as an 8th grade graduation gift. Nana doesn't need a gift card, and no amount of money or rewards points could buy the time and effort going into that scrapbook. Nina knows her recipient.

It takes time to develop skill in a given craft, so I think it's fair to steer the uninitiated crafter away from making holiday gifts two weeks before Christmas and Hanukkah. Aside from the stress of mastering a new craft sufficiently well enough to make presentable presents, it's freaking expensive.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Man, oh Manon

Last spring, for my birthday, The World's Best Mother-in-law™ took me to lunch in NE Minneapolis and while we were waiting for our lunch to arrive at the table, she handed me a birthday card. Inside was a gift card (for a sizable amount) to a newish yarn shop I hadn't yet been to (Bella Lana). The shop is on the same block as the restaurant, so after lunch we stopped in and I got to see a shop filled with nothing but luxury yarns. I didn't mention that in addition to the gift card, she gave me a sizable amount of cash (in case I didn't want to spend it my whole gift all in one place). This is only one of many reasons why she is The World's Best Mother-in-law™.

I knew I wanted to knit Manon, but I didn't know how much yarn I needed, so the shop owner let me log onto Ravelry from her computer so I could look it up. I bought enough Sublime extra fine merino/silk/cashmere yarn to do the job, plus I got a new ball winder, as mine was not behaving, and went home, happy with my bag of charcoal yarny goodness and upgraded yarn winding capability.

I have used the ball winder countless times since then, but until a few days ago, I had done nothing about knitting my Manon. Okay, that's not entirely true. In September, I knit the center back triangle, but decided for some reason it wasn't satisfactory, so I ripped it out.

(This is the triangle I knit the other day, but it looks exactly like the one I knit in September.)

I think I thought the k2togs on the right edge looked big and sloppy. whereas the SSKs on the left edge were tighter. They looked exactly the same this time around, only I wasn't as anal about it. I was coming off a stint of working swatches for the Master Hand Knitting program and I tend to get perfectionistic at those times, which causes me to step away from the MHK program for a few months (without understanding why). I do this over and over again. My path to self-actualization is full of clueless detours. My unconscious self knows me far better than my conscious self. Perhaps I should spend more time being unconscious.

For now, I am knitting for pleasure and for myself. Here is the Manon so far:

The bottom half of the sweater is complete. I picked up the back waistband last night and worked about 2" (the part that's curled up along the center back) and I'm about to start the armhole decreases.

Here is a closer shot of the left triplet

I'm knitting for myself because on Friday night I distributed all the Christmas knitting I did at the end of October. The occasion was Christmas Dinner at a Restaurant with the Princesses. (It's a long story. Suffice it to say that we are all writers and all mentally about six years old. I am Princess Fiona.)

It was at dinner that I bestowed upon each princess a pair of Fetching fingerless mittens. I then forced them to model the mitts even though the cuffs were held together with yarn and a tag. You could say they were handcuffed.

Here we have Tina (Princess Xena), in a cobalt blue handpaint from Cascade

Monica, pronounced mo NEE ka (Princess Jasmine), in maroon Cashmerino from Debbie Bliss

Mary (Princes Leia) in Reynolds Odyssey (blues) 100% merino

Rosemary (Princess Buttercup) in Odyssey (purples)

Helen (Princess Wannabe) also in Odyssey (reds)

Chris (Princess Frostine) in Odyssey (greens)

Becky (Princess Aurora) in Odyssey (oranges)

Then there was Katie (Princess Quay of the Milky Way), who received sage green Cashmerino mitts. Katie's favorite color is red, and I knew it, but somehow while I was knitting all those Fetchings (including several extra pairs, because I couldn't stop myself), I didn't count up how many pairs of red mitts I needed and compare them with the number of princesses who love red. Instead I ended up with two extra pairs of green mitts, plus a twin to Tina's cobalt handpainted mitts.

I brought all the extras to the restaurant and told her if she wanted, she could exchange the sage Cashmerinos for whichever ones she wanted. She looked at the other choices in the dim light and decided she was happy with what I had given her until I told her there was one other choice. I pulled a Branching Out lace scarf in cranberry from my bag and before I could even explain what it was she said, "I'll take that!" and snatched it before I could blink.

Monica tried to protest, declaring the situation unfair, because she wanted the lace scarf. While Monica is famous for talking anyone into or out of anything, she had a tough time selling her point because a) she had received a pair of Fetchings in her favorite color (red) and b) she had laryngitis. Plus, I think if it came down to it, Katie could totally take Monica down. Through a flurry of hand gestures and notes written on the backs of receipts, Monica did manage to extract a promise from me to knit her a lace scarf for her 40th birthday, which is coming up in a few months. I guess she won after all. Hmm.

Here is Katie

I can't explain why this photo is so bad. One of us might have been the slightest bit tipsy when it was taken. We were, after all, in the wine cellar of Amore Victoria. Or maybe she was just drunk with happiness, because I let her keep the mitts, too.

I'm starting to think Katie and Monica are conspiring to achieve maximum hand knit acquisition.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Look, Ma! I'm a Designer! With my own Shop!

I blogged a while back about a reversibly cabled scarf I created for a class I taught this fall. I gave no thought to selling the pattern, as I created it because I wanted to teach a class on reversible cables and I couldn't find an existing pattern with enough interest in it. The existing patterns were either nothing but plain rope cables, or they were all-over woven cables. I wanted something that would hold my interest over 5 balls of yarn, something that would teach knitters something about cables in general and reversible cables specifically.

So I designed this scarf:
(Isn't that cool? You can buy it from Ravelry, even if you aren't a member)

Which I think of as the Scarf o' Love, because of the OXOX cable pattern up the center. (Makes a great Valentine's Day gift, don't you think?)

I had in mind that the people who would sign up for the class would have had previous experience with cables and would take this class to discover the secret of making the cables reversible, perhaps preferring to convert cables of their choice into their own scarf pattern.

Turns out people signed up for the class because they liked the scarf. Most of the students had never done a cable of any sort. No one was interested in designing their own.

Sophia (my finicky 11-year-old) asked me to knit one for her.

I brought Sophia's scarf (which ended up being the scarf I demonstrated techniques on to the class) to knitting group one morning, and the women in my knitting group wanted to know if they could have the pattern.

The sales staff in the shop told me people were asking to buy the pattern. People on Ravelry were sending me private messages asking if I was planning to sell the pattern.

I really couldn't have been more surprised.

Because I hd originally created the scarf as a teaching tool, I had to modify what I had into a pattern that was just a pattern, and not a series of handouts. I watched my students to see where they had difficulties or confusion following the pattern and altered the instructions accordingly.

Then I signed up as a Designer on Ravelry so my pattern could be listed, and then I signed up to have my own Ravelry Shop so I could offer the pattern as a downloadable PDF.

So as of today I am a Ravelry Shop Keeper. Go me!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Quite Fetching

My name is Roxanne and I'm a Fetching-holic.


The above were all made using Reynolds Odyssey, worsted weight, 100% merino wool, 104 yds/50g on US 6/4 mm needles. A nice yarn, with just enough leftover that I didn't feel the need to panic as I headed toward the end of the second mitt of a pair. The orangey-red colorway was the first pair I made. The pattern is easy to memorize, once you've made a pair correctly. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring the pattern with me the day I knit the first one, and left the 3rd cable crossing off. Rather than ripping it out, I just made the 2nd mitt to match. They still fit, they're still pretty, and unless you compare them to a pair done correctly, you'd never think there was anything "wrong" with them, right? Right?

These two pairs were made with a different yarn...

... the yarn specified in the pattern, Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran, 90 m/50g ball. I ran out of yarn on the first pair (the rust colored ones), ending up with a thumb exactly one round shorter than the thumb of the first pair. I'm debating whether to leave them that way, or to pick out the cast off for the first thumb and rip a round out so they'll match each other.

For the second pair, I made sure I had only about a 3" tail after my cast on was complete (I ripped out the first cast on each time in order to make sure I didn't have too long a tail), and I eliminated one round on each mitt by crossing the first cable one round early. [ETA: actually, I just looked at my mitts, and I thought I was crossing them a round early, but I actually crossed them where the pattern calls for. ] I waited until both mitts were complete before I did the thumbs. I divided the yarn left after knitting the two mitt bodies, so that if I ran short, I could run short the same on both thumbs. In the end, I had about a foot extra (after allowing for a 3-4" tail after cast off) hanging off each thumb.

For these, I used Cascade 220 Handpaint. One hank was enough for two pairs.

Other stuff:
In August 2007 I went to Nantucket for a long weekend with a friend. There was a great yarn shop on the island and aside from the Kaffe Fasset Regia sock yarn I bought there, I also bought a single hank of Tilli Tomas Rock Star, a 100% silk Aran weight yarn with glass beads threaded through it. It cost me something like $45 for that single skein, and I had no idea what, if anything, I would ever do with it. I kind of thought I'd just keep it as a pet. Then I thought maybe I'd make a scarf out of it. A scarf with lots of yarn overs to extend the meager 150 yds this single skein of silky goodness contained. I tried a few things, but wasn't happy, so I put it in a ziploc bag and stuffed it in my bedside table.

A few weeks ago I was clearing out my bedside table and I came across that ziploc bag. I looked around on Ravelry to see what other people had made with their Rock Star. By the next night, I had this:

I believe the pattern is Lace Scarf, by Debbie Bliss. (I pretty much figured out the pattern by looking at the pictures.)

It's still not blocked (a theme in my knitting lately, as I'm sure you noticed nearly every pair of those Fetchings has yarn tails hanging off them). It's not terribly long, either, and I'm still not sure how I'm going to wear it. I'm not much of a scarf-as-accessory person. (Let's face it, I'm not much of any kind of accessory person.) I'm more of a Holy Crap, it's 20 below outside, I need something wool covering my face so I can breathe outside kind of person.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Vestibular Knitting

Well, I failed miserably at the whole Ravelympics thing. I got my argyle sock done, but didn't even look at the yarn for my vest, nor did I finish the zipper installation for the Samus cardi.


I did get started on the vest last week, and let me tell you, I was a machine.

I started with Eunny's Deep-V Argyle Vest pattern and using my powers of knitting conversion I did a reverse twist on the trick most knitters want to master: I took a perfectly fine pattern meant to be worked in the round in order to avoid pesky seams and converted it to be worked flat so that I could seam it. I also eliminated the two-color stranded knitting pattern and replaced it with plain stockinette on the back and a lace and cable pattern on the front. Stranded knitting is beautiful, but not my cup of tea. I love texture. Since I'm not a vest wearer by nature and I wanted to make something I would wear, I chose a vest shape I loved and added a stitch pattern I would have fun knitting.

Level II focuses on finishing techniques, much of which involves things like seaming and picking up stitches. The judges will accept vests that are knit in the round and steeked for traditional stitch patterns, so I think if I had done the two color stranded pattern, I would have been okay. The thing is, I've never done steeks, and I really didn't want my first steeking effort to be sent in for judging. I've seamed a million sweaters and I love knitting flat, so I basically tossed out Eunny's directions (although I did read through them, and that is one great pattern), and used the chart for the silhouette so I knew which rows to decrease and increase.

I swatched and worked out how to deal with the neck decreases eating up pattern stitches.

I made a spreadsheet that reminded me where cables crossed and where decreases and increases occurred, and which calculated exactly how many stitches the vest had, so I could feel assured that I had enough yarn.

Then I sat down in front of my computer and watched a series of fairly awful "Instant Play" movies from NetFlix while I knit.

Yesterday morning, I did this:

I had some help:

Cotton loves the smell of wet wool.

I like the look of the lace and cable design.

Today...let the seams begin! (I even have enough leftover yarn to seam using the light gray color)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I'm no Usain Bolt

I am one of those Ravelympic athletes whose shining moment ended after the opening ceremonies. All smiles and thrilled to be there, with no chance of making it to the medal stand.

The Argyle sock is kicking my butt.

I have spent fewer hours knitting in the past 10 days than just about any other 10 day period I can think of in the past 3 or 4 years, because unlike a normal 10-day period, I have knitting I'm "supposed" to be doing, so if I have problems with it, I can't just go do some other knitting project for fun while the problem item sits and thinks about why it misbehaved.

I work on the argyle each night, first tinking back to the mistake I ended with the night before, re-knitting, tinking back to fix an entirely new mistake, rinsing and repeating until I get fed up and the sock gets stuck on the night stand, crossing its arms and sticking out its lower lip. Or maybe that's me with the stuck out lip.

There was an issue with my gusset seam the other night. I'm using a 1/2 stitch from each selvedge to make a less bulky seam, and I came to a funky selvedge stitch that didn't look right when I inserted my tapestry needle through it, and didn't look any better after I pulled on the seaming yarn a few stitches later. I ripped back, reseamed, still no better. I deduced that I must have mounted the edge stitch incorrectly after frogging the instep diamond to correct a mistake I'd made in the color pattern. When I picked up the stitches again, I must not have mounted that edge stitch right, causing me to work in garter rather than stockinette.

I pondered whether the judges would notice and whether it would disqualify me, like the two runners who stepped on the line of the inside lane during the Mens 200m sprint. I decided they would notice, but I didn't want to risk being disqualified. So I ripped back. Then I began reknitting the instep diamond, and made a mistake in the color pattern. I tinked back to avoid an improper dismount, reknit, had the instep finish line in my sights and noticed another mistake, this time with the contrast line diamond. Tink, and tink again.

I seamed the gusset and it came out looking great. I joined the instep and gussets in the round and knitted along for several rounds, realizing I had 2 stitches too many on the instep. I designed the instep with selvedge stitches so that when I seamed the gusset, the edge stitch for the contrast line wouldn't be half-eaten by the seam, but I forgot that once I was done seaming, I'd need to get rid of that extra stitch by doing a decrease on each side.

So I have to rip back again.

It's Thursday. What do you think my chances are of finishing this sock and then knitting an entire vest by Sunday?

I didn't think so.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In which I compare myself to Michael Phelps

We both attended the University of Michigan. I graduated (eventually).
We are both homo sapiens.
He's an Olympic swimmer
I'm a Ravelympic knitter
He is 23 years old. I am 23 years old (times two)

Last night's Olympian efforts resulted in:
Two gold medals for Michael Phelps
One fixed argyle sock for me

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why you should always listen to yourself

Ravelympics update:
I am cranking on this argyle sock. Cranking so hard I'm impressing myself. I made a mistake on row 2 of the pattern and caught it right away, tinking back to the beginning of the row where I made the error (intarsia is not the sort of thing that can be laddered down and corrected in one spot the way cables can be). I expected to make more errors, but somehow the lessons of Argyle Sock #1, knit last winter, stayed with me. The spots where I was likely to make an error were the spots where I instinctively stopped to check the color chart. Things were going so well, in fact, that as I sat in the car outside the school waiting for Nina's swim practice to end, I said to Sophia, "I can't believe how well this is going. I keep expecting to look at this and see some huge error."

I knit a few rows at lunch while we waited for the check, and then after we came home I decided to finish the second complete diamond sequence (which would complete the leg). Hmm, I thought. I really came close on my yarn estimate for the dark pink. All the other colors had a lot left over. No matter, though, because I had enough to complete the leg. Next stop: instep.

Then I took a look at what I had knit.


In other news:
Here's the Reversibly Cabled Scarf I was working on.

The biggest problem I had with the yarn (which is Lana Grossa Bingo) is that it is superwash and therefore I had to deal with weaving in ends on a reversible fabric that's knit at a fairly loose gauge, which meant little frayed ends were going to pop out no matter what. Unless....

Dritz Fray Check. Magic in a bottle. Keeps the ends from, well, fraying, and glues them to other bits of yarn, keeping them in place. I hid most of the ends in cable crossings. Very handy.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Swimming, Serial Killers, and Scarves

We had the Olympics on the new "media room" HDTV, but I wasn't interested much in yesterday afternoon's offerings, so I sat at the kitchen island with my scarf, watching Season 1 of "Dexter" on NetFlix Instant Play. First sympathetic sociopathic serial killer I've ever seen. And I seem to knit faster while watching him. Or time flies faster. Or something. Because I finished the reversibly cabled scarf last night, except for the weaving in of the ends.

One snag with the casting off portion of the scarf. I used the Long Tail cast on and did what I've been doing lately, which is to cast on in pattern, using the normal knitted Long Tail for the knit stitches and Norwegian purling the purl stitches. It's a perfect edge as far as I'm concerned, but I didn't consider the fact that Elizabeth Zimmermann's Casting-On Cast Off is a match for the Long Tail only if you cast on in a completely knitted Long Tail. After some experimentation, followed by staring out the window trying to visualize what I was doing wrong, I realized the problem: the matching cast off is off by a 1/2 stitch, the way grafting pieces knit in the opposite direction are off by 1/2 stitch, so there is no way to truly match the cast on I did. So I ripped back for the 800th time and did a regular Casting On Cast Off. Another knitting lesson learned the hard way.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

In which we compare Fencing with Knitting

How they are alike:
Two long pointy sticks cross each other like a big X
There can be yelling

How they are different:
Knitting has yarn
Fencing has helmets
There is no protective gear in knitting to protect you from sharp points
When knitting, you sometimes yell if you make a mistake
When fencing, you sometimes yell (or scream/shriek) when you score a point

Ravelympic progress: still working on that reversible scarf due to 6 hours sailing on Lake Minnetonka yesterday evening.

More sporting comparisions to knitting: In sailing, when you heel the boat turns on its side
In knitting, you can turn a heel and no one gets wet.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Let the Games begin

The Ravelympics games, that is. Let's just hope I can catch up with what I have to get done before I start on what I want to get done.

I have two projects to finish that will be samples for classes I want to teach this fall. I'm hoping to get both done this weekend. One is a reversibly cabled scarf and the other is a thrummed hat. I have only the crown shaping to complete on the hat, although I'd like to re-do the ribbing on larger needles, but we'll see how that goes.

For Ravelympics, I've entered two projects in WIPSwrestling. One is the Samus cardigan I knit two Augusts ago and which I take out every 8 months and attempt to do the zipper. The last time I worked on it, things were going fine, but I got bored with hand sewing I wanted to be knitting. The second project is the second argyle sock for the Master Hand Knitting Level II program. I only need to submit one sock, but since I intend to wear these, I'm making the second and will submit the best of the two. I made an error in the line diamonds across the instep, which no one except a judge holding it two inches from her face would notice, but since the judges will be holding the sock two inches from their faces, I have to make one that's error free. The other issue with the first sock is that I was working out the best way to deal with weaving in ends and joining a new length of the same color. Superwash wool is supposed to be feltable with extra friction, but I haven't been successful at getting a good join this way. The Russian join isn't great (either that, or I'm just not proficient enough at it), and my standard reverse duplicate stitch weaving shows up too much from the front, in that the extra thickness seems obvious. I finally hit on splitting the plies and weaving half along one row and half along another. In addition, I plan on making bobbins large enough to handle three vertical diamonds in one color, in order to eliminate as much additional weaving in as possible.

The third project will be my Level II vest. I'm going to use the silhouette for Eunny's Deep V Argyle vest, but knit it flat and with a texture pattern instead of in the round with color and steeks. Given the gauge will likely be different, too, it's hard to say if this is a variation of her pattern, or simply the use of her schematic. Either way, I'll have to write up my version and chart the cables and lace stitch patterns I'm planning to use. I decided against steeking because I've never done it before and this project is too important for me to try a technique like that for the first time. Also, the committee wants to see seaming, as much of the focus of this level is on seaming. I'd like to use as many of the swatch techniques as possible in the vest in order to show that I can apply those techniques to a project.

Alas, I am already behind, and the argyle sock will likely take me a good portion of a week, leaving me with only a week to get the vest done.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Master Knitting - back in the saddle

This has been in my draft folder for more than three weeks. Rachel complained that I don't blog enough (because I'm always over on Ravelry). She demanded photos of knitted items. After I post this, I'll write up a photo-heavy post just for her.

After a frenzy of swatch-making last spring, I completed nearly all the swatches before the kids got out of school and we went on a 3-week trip to Europe with extended family. I never got back to the swatches, although I continued my quest to create a great argyle sock. I made the first sock, cast on for the ribbing of the second, and then wandered off. I think another extended-family vacation was involved, in which argyle sock making was deemed to require too much brain matter after a day in Mickey's wonderland.

Recently, though, I decided I needed to get the Fair Isle Mittens out of the way. Selecting multiple colors to use in one project is an exercise in frustration for me, for a couple of reasons. It's difficult to find four colors of the same yarn that will work together and that I also like. I angst over whether the colors really do go together (I have some color vision deficiencies that make me insecure about matching colors), and then whether they work together, which I think is a different matter than whether or not they go together.

I have a range of colors in Cascade 220, including quite a few pinks. Sophia wants the results of the Fair Isle Mitten project, and therefore wants them to be pink. The problem was that while the three pinks plus the natural yarn all looked good together, they didn't work well for the pattern. There are color theory issues to deal with when knitting Fair Isle patterns, and I didn't deal with them well:

Sophia thinks it looks fine, but she's not a judge on the Master Hand Knitting Committee.

I re-read Ann Feitelson's The Art of Fair Isle Knitting to get some pointers. My second attempt came out a bit better.

Aside from a better color combination, my rusty stranded knitting skills were coming back. I'm still not entirely happy with the tension, but I didn't want to just try a third time and hope for the best.

There are a couple of problems with the required mitten pattern supplied by the TKGA. One is that for reasons too boring to go into here, I have a photocopy of the instructions rather than a PDF, which means the photograph of the mitten accompanying the pattern is too dark to see well. (I just emailed TKGA for an updated PDF, since my copy is more than a year old, and it turns out having the PDF doesn't help all that much.) Next, while I can maintain relatively good tension across the straightaways, I sometimes have trouble maintaining good stranded tension when I switch needles. This is a problem whether I use dpns (like I did in the old days) or a long circ for Magic Loop (like now). Because the stranded yarn has to come around a bit of a corner, rather than being kept straight, I either strand too loosely or too tightly.

Given the variation from row to row in the distance the carried yarn must travel, it's difficult for me to be consistent along that column of stitches.

Also, what a pain to weave in the ends! The circumference of the mitten is so small, it's hard to flip it inside out and back in order to check the tension of stitches connected to yarn tails that need to be woven in.

I decided I needed to work on a simple stranded project that could help me improve my Fair Isle tension on an item with a larger circumference than a child's mitten. Like a hat for an adult.

I went shopping down in the craft room (no further progress, by the way, surprise, surprise) where I pulled a ball of Noro Kureyon and some black Cascade 220 from the shelves (I love that I can weigh my yarn and the Ravelry stash management tool figures out how many yards I have.)

The fruits of yesterday late afternoon/evening yielded most of a Fake Isle hat:

Oh, oh. I almost forgot. Look what else I made this weekend.

Can you die from cuteness overexposure?
Yarn: Dale Baby Ull, doubled as a substitute for DK
Needles: US 7
Gauge: 5 sts/in

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Little Shop of (not) Horrors

So this weekend I decided to reorganize the craft room. I attempted to organize it when I first acquired it, but without as much success as I would have liked.

It's in the basement. The basement is technically unfinished, but one of the previous owners walled off a corner back in the '70s in order to create a darkroom where he played his 8-track cassettes and moaned about how gas had hit $1/gallon while he developed his archaic camera film.

The room has a door (which can be used to close out pesky family members and pets), a largish closet, and luscious overhead fluorescent lighting (old school, unflattering, dressing room fluorescent -- none of this full spectrum lighting business).

When I first set it up, I had a vision of a room like you see on Clean House, where a team of people come in and take everything out of the room in your house which has become a Pit of Despair and then talk to you about your particular psychological issues that led you to not let go of your crap.

My issue is not that I have a psychological problem or a history of emotional trauma I haven't recovered from which has haunted me so that I am compelled to collect things and never get rid of them, my issue is that I'm a slob who can easily ignore piles of crap for a really long time.

The best part of shows like Clean House is the reveal when they show the pack rats their new room(s), all freshly painted with new furniture and cool storage shelves and containers. I wanted a room like at the end of Clean House, where I could have all my crafty tools and materials right there at my fingertips. A place where my sewing machine would always be set up, where I could wind balls of yarn to my heart's content, and where all my yarn was stored in one place.

I had a couple of problems achieving my Clean House dream. First, you must understand that I am not a Type A person. I am not the kind of person who makes lists and then goes down the list, item by item, crossing each thing off as it's completed. I am the kind of person who makes lists, runs around doing all sorts of things she thinks are on the list, and then is stunned to find out that absolutely nothing she's done was on the list. (I have learned to add those finished tasks to the top of the list and cross them off.) I am driven by enthusiasm for something, not so much by duty. Once I get about 85% of the way through a project, it's usually done enough for me. My second problem was that I decided I had enough plastic drawers and bins and shelving in the house that I could achieve Rox's Dream Craft Room using only existing supplies, plus one new shelving unit from Costco.

So two years ago, we called 1-800 Got Junk and had them haul off the broken lawn mowers and various other useless items stored in the basement room, and I gathered all my craft stuff from around the house. I sorted through everything: patterns and pattern books, all my knitting needles, and my yarn. (I had a bit of sewing stuff, but really not much. I'm monogamous when it comes to sewing, and I tend to give the leftover fabric to the school art teacher.) This may not surprise you, but I had a lot of yarn. I wasn't surprised, myself, I was shocked. I don't think of myself as a yarn hoarder, but I guess after 20 years, yarn accumulates, as do UFO's.

Some of the yarn had to go, because it smelled musty. (We'd had a storm once where water came in through the window wells and some yarn got wet. I dried it out, but some of it didn't dry well enough or soon enough.) Two garbage bags full of yarn went to the dumpster. A large box of usable yarn went to the school's knitting club teacher. Most of that yarn was light blue and tan mohair (What was I thinking when I bought that? Oh, yeah, I was thinking, "It's the '80s! Mohair is in!")

The final (that is to say 85% done) results were disappointing. The shelving I had wasn't conducive to the way I wanted to store my yarn (The Costco unit was 6-shelf heavy duty wire number on wheels, which would have been great if I had fewer balls of yarn and each of them weighed approximately 50 pounds.) The yarn, which I had sorted by weight was left in cardboard boxes, or stuck in opaque plastic bins and drawers. Because I was using what I already had in the house, saving my money for more important purchases, like more yarn.

I set up a big folding banquet table where I clamped my swift and ball winder and where I have my sewing machine and serger set up. I had thought there'd be room to keep my knitting machine set up, so I could actually use it (once I remembered how to use it), but that was not to be. In the two years since then, the craft room became the Craft Pit of Despair. I used it to wind hanks of yarn into balls, and for the odd sewing project. I still couldn't remember what yarn I had, so if I needed something, I bought yarn, and then put it in in whatever box was closest to the door.

So Saturday afternoon I was in the craft room, sewing a seam up a length of sun dress fabric from Joann for Sophia and I looked around, wishing the room were more like my original vision when the urge to reorganize hit me. For one thing, we've been doing another major declutter in the house to convert the office into a media room, and a laminated bookshelf was empty and available. Two trips to Target to buy some canvas cubes (I got over the idea that I could "use what's in the house" to make this room work), and the rediscovery of some clear nylon zipper storage containers from American Science and Surplus, and my vision started to take shape.

Here's what I have so far:

This is the Costco Heavy Duty shelf. You can't see the top two shelves, but those have scrapbooking and sun painting supplies on them.

The next shelf has some of my pattern books (the rest are still upstairs), fabric swatches and some office supplies

Next we have the clear zipper bags full of sport weight cotton yarn on cones, from the days when I designed and sold baby sweaters using my knitting machine. I'd like to get my knitting machine set up again so I can use up some of that yarn. These used to be stored in huge semi-opaque plastic bins that took up several shelves. There's room now for me to stack them on top of each other if I need the space.

The bottom two shelves are sewing supplies, in a location I like very much. I can just turn in my chair and grab a bobbin or spool of thread, or a different foot. I used to have to get up and walk across the room, which meant nothing ever got put back, because I'd have to get up and walk across the room to do so, right in the middle of whatever was way more important than getting up and walking across the room. (The zebra print thing is a dress I'm making for my older daughter because we have been to the mall three times looking for an 8th grade graduation dress. She likes this dress, but it's not really appropriate for 8th grade graduation, either. But I digress...)

Next to the Costco shelves is a stack of plastic drawers. I'm not fond of the plastic drawer system for my yarn because I can't see what I have. So I got out the label maker, which helps a little bit. On the top I have a pack of KnitPicks Palette to be used for Fair Isle projects without fear that the colors don't match. I have some color vision issues and trying to match more than a couple colors is very stressful to me. Probably why I like textured knitting so much.

The pink drawer contains more cone yarn, mostly acrylic, but some superwash wool, too. The white drawers are a few oddments -- fingering yarn destined to be dyed, some handspun samples from a friend, the four balls of laceweight yarn I own. That sort of thing.

This is the part where I can pretend I live in a yarn shop. This is the shelving unit I just acquired after we cleared all the kids' books off and stored them in boxes (destined for donation).

The top shelf is miscellaneous crap, because I have to put miscellaneous crap everywhere I walk. There's a needle felting kit, an Unoriginal Hat made with yarn I bought at Shepherd's Harvest, a small bag of 5 or 6 balls of Noro Kureyon in different colorways, and 3 cones of DK merino/cashmere from Colourmart UK.

Next, we have cotton worsted (I have no memory of buying Sugar N Cream cotton) in the middle are some cotton/synthetic blends and some wool/acrylic blends, with acrylic and acrylic/wool blends in the far right.

The next two shelves are worsted weight wool, and then there's a shelf of baby wool, mostly Dale Baby Ull, but quite a bit of Reynold's Superwash Baby Merino, too.

On the floor are some boxes with fabric scraps, and a semi-opaque plastic box of socks with no mate (and the yarn to make the second sock for each). There are various reasons why these socks have no mates, but so far none of the reasons are compelling enough for me to frog the socks or throw them away.

This is the original laminate shelving unit I had in the room. I used to keep my sewing stuff on here, but as I mentioned, it's all the way across the room from my sewing machine (that's at least three steps).

On the left is sock yarn. Self-striping in the left-most cubby, hand painted in the right, with solids on the shelf below.

On the right is DK weight. Synthetics and various blends are in the left cubby, and wool is in the right cubby and the two cubbies sitting on the plastic bins below. Between the top two cubbies is cotton DK.

On the bottom left is bulky weight yarn, and the two plastic bins on the right contain UFOs. One is all the pieces for a cardigan. When I sorted through all my patterns, I found an old Rowan (#6) pattern book and I flipped through it. There are a bunch of intarsia patters that look dated, but almost everything else is still great. I saw a cardigan in there I liked a lot, so you can imagine my surprise when I came across all the pieces of said cardigan in a bag, with no memory of having knit it. (Eventually, it came back to me, but I thought it was weird that I didn't recognize that I had knit that entire garment when I saw the photo.) So those pieces are in one bin, along with most of the body of a man's Norwegian sweater. I'm thinking of frogging it and repurposing the yarn. In the other bin is the back of a crazy multi-colored men's pullover and all 16 colors needed to complete it. Except that my husband wouldn't wear it, even if he were transported back 15 years onto the set of the Cosby Show, and I can't finish it and wear it, because it would be ridiculously huge. I'm thinking of frogging that one, too, and maybe designing a sweater for myself that uses the yarn and stitch pattern. Because I love the colors.

But wait, there's more.
On top of the unit are wire baskets with miscellaneous sewing notions I haven't found a new home for yet. This yarn, however, is a 150g hank of (I think) worsted weight in a variegated colorway that I seem to buy over and over from various yarn manufacturers in various weights. I have some 8 ply Checkheaton superwash that looks just like this, and the super bulky yarn I bought at Shepherd's Harvest looks just like it.

The only problem is that it is a complete tangled mess.

This is Charlie, my alpaca yarn pet. I bought him at Shepherd's Harvest and have promised to make Michael a pair of fingerless gloves for next winter. His office is kept at a very cold temperature in order to keep all the computers from melting. Luckily, there is a lot of Charlie, so he can go to the office, but stay at home with me, too. I think I ended up with three (maybe four) yarn cakes from the 650 yd hank.

This is my future Manon (Norah Gaughan design) cardi.

And this is some more sock yarn (mostly cotton/wool blends).

I love this version of my craft room. I will continue working on it through the weekend (at least until it's 85% there) and take more photos when my 6th grader gets back from her class trip to Washington, D.C. She has my camera. She better bring it back.