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!