Monday, November 30, 2009


That is all.

Posts about knitting will resume tomorrow.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I don't think that word means what you think it means

I have a friend who once talked me into a project which involved sewing 100 pencil cases from cotton duck fabric. Each pencil case was going to need a 10" zipper, so I went online and found a zipper company that could make me as many zippers as I wanted in whatever color I wanted and with whatever kind of zipper pull I wanted. The only problem was that (at the time) they had a completely unsecure method of ordering through their website, which involved clicking on a link that brought up a blank email, into which I was supposed to type a) what I wanted and b) my credit card number.

Well, not being a complete idiot, I didn't do that, so I called the company instead and got a person whose first language was not English, which was okay, but it turned out that sometimes what you say to a person is not what they hear.

Our conversation went something like this:
"I would like to order one hundred 10-inch zippers."
"Okay," he said. "How many do you want?"
Puzzled, I said, "Uh, I want a hundred."
I then went on to tell him what color I wanted, and all the other zipper-related details, and then I gave him my credit card number.

A few days later a somewhat larger box than I expected arrived at my door. Since my friend wasn't due to come over for a few more days to work on the project, I didn't open the box right away, but when I did, I realized something had gone horribly wrong with my order. Inside the box was 100 zippers, in exactly the right color, each of which was 110" long. I ordered one hundred 10-inch zippers, but he thought I was ordering 110-inch zippers.

I mentioned the other day that there is a sweater I want to start. I've had the yarn for months now, having ordered it shortly after I bought the book the pattern is in.

One thing has puzzled me since I bought the book and the yarn. The yarn called for is a sport weight yarn. Now, I'm not a slave to using the yarn called for in a pattern, because I understand how to make substitutions, but the yarn and the pattern have confounded me since I first laid eyes on them, because both specify using the same needle size, but each indicate a very different gauge, not just from each other, but also different from the gauge I would expect to get with that needle size.

The yarn is a sport weight yarn, and the label says it works up at 6 sts/inch, which seems about right to me for a sport weight yarn. Here's the confusing part. The yarn label says to use a size 6 needle to achieve that gauge.

Now, I am a knitter who almost without fail achieves the gauge on the label using the suggested needle size. In this case, I think it would be impossible. I have no doubt I could get 6 sts/in with this yarn, but I think it would take a size 4 needle to do it. As I said, I am an on-gauge knitter. The theoretically average knitter yarn companies label their products for.

I once did an experiment where I knitted up swatches for three different yarn weights using three different needle sizes. I used a fingering weight yarn, a worsted weight, and a bulky. I used size 3 needles, size 7 and size 10 (maybe 10.5, I can't remember for sure).

Typical gauges would be as follows:
Fingering on size 3 needles would give me 7 sts/in
Worsted weight on size 7 needles would give me 5 sts/in
Bulky weight on the size 10 or 10.5 needles would give me 3.5 sts/in

What I wanted to see was what my gauges were for these yarns when I used different needles.

The fingering weight yarn worked up at 5 sts/in on size 7 needles, and 3.5 sts/in on size 10 needles. The 3.5 sts/in swatch was like cheesecloth, of course.

The worsted weight worked up at 3.5 sts/in on size 10 needles.

When I used smaller needles than the yarn typically called for, the sts could only get squished so far, but my experience has shown me that I *can* get DK gauge on DK needles with worsted yarn, which is only one yarn weight thicker than DK. I can get worsted weight gauge on worsted weight needles with Aran yarn.

So knowing that, and knowing that sport weight yarn is a thinner yarn than DK and worsted, I would expect to get about 5.25 sts/in on size 6 needles for any yarn worsted weight or thinner.

Now, looking at the *pattern*, I see that it calls for using this yarn with size 6 needles, but it indicates a gauge of 5 sts/in. Again, not the needle size I (the theoretical average knitter) would typically use to get 5 sts/in, and certainly not the *gauge* I would want for a sport weight yarn if I didn't want the sweater to lose its shape.

I wrote to the yarn company, suggesting that there may be an error on their label, perhaps they meant to put Size 4 needle, not 4.0mm (which is what a size 6 needle is), helpfully explaining that I am typically an on-gauge knitter, and that 6 sts/in on size 6 needles seems unlikely. Their response was as follows:

Suggested needle size is just that, a suggestion. It's a starting point. It was decided that a size 6 needle would give the desired gauge for the average knitter. I know that I would start swatching on a 4, because I'm rather loose knitter. But
as you know, everyone is different.
Can you hear me bashing my head against my keyboard?

In the meantime, I swatched on size 6 needles, and washed the swatch. It did seem to grow while it was wet, but once dry, returned to its pre-bath size. 22 sts and 30 rows/4". I swatched on size 7 needles and got 5 sts/in, but the fabric just seems too flimsy to me. I'll have to modify the pattern based on the gauge I got which means I'll need more yarn than the pattern calls for. Luckily, I ordered more yarn than the pattern requires for my size, because by ordering more, I got a discount, making it cheaper to get 9 or 10 balls than it was to get 8. Crazy.

In other sweater news, I am chugging along on my Diagonal Rib sweater.

I'm about half way through the second sleeve, so I hope to finish up this weekend. I'm starting to get paranoid about how this thing is going to fit and I'm still not sure how I like the front neckline. I think the cable stitches (what's left of them) should perhaps extend up the side of the neck, but I also think that would make the neck too narrow.

We'll see how it goes. Easy enough to rip out the neck and redo it, if necessary.

The whole process for this sweater has been much too easy. Maybe because I'm not trying to follow someone else's pattern and dealing with conflicting gauge information from two sources. There's a lesson in there somewhere, I'm sure of it.

Finally -- I am at the brink of 36,000 words on my NaNo novel. I'm so happy to be doing this with so many of my online writing buddies. It's been an exhilarating month of don't look down writing. If it weren't for the Write or Die software, I'd have too much time to think while I was writing, and I'd stop in my tracks.

Sadly, I must mourn the loss of my "M" key. It was acting up for a couple of days, and then yesterday, it flew off the keyboard.

Broken bit

I replaced it with a key I never use

It's no wonder it flew off. Apparently, my fingernails are hard on the keys.

They are scarred for life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

At Last

I am happy to report that due to the genius that is Write or Die, I am still alive, and I'm nearing way past 25,000 words on my NaNoWriMo novel, which is good news for so many reasons.

Other good news:
My Manon is complete.

This is the cardigan I knit 70% of twice last winter before putting it into a time out due to my being completely sick of it.

Here it is from the back.

I took it out this summer and knit the sleeves, and one evening while I was at the yarn shop, Brian, knitter extraordinaire made a comment about how certain yarns, like the one I made the Manon from, have a tendency to grow when washed.

This type of yarn, where where are lots of plies that twist many times in a short period. I've heard that referred to as a tight twist, but the yarn itself isn't especially tight. I mean, it isn't firm. I wish I knew more about these things, but that would no doubt lead to learning to spin and I am actively avoiding learning to spin. I don't have room in my knitting room for a roving stash, and my backyard is too small to keep sheep (because you know that would happen eventually).

The cardi went into a time out again while I contemplated my future grief regarding the growth of my knitting.

After a search of Ravelry this weekend, I noticed that in the comments on the yarn I used (Sublime Cashmere Merino Silk Aran), one Raveler specifically mentioned that this yarn had more drape after washing, but that it did not grow. That gave me hope. I sewed in the sleeves.

I still haven't washed it. It could use a wash and block, to calm the cables at the sides, but I still have a niggling fear at the back of my mind. This yarn is wonderfully soft, shows cables really well, and the sweater fits me.

Oh, Manon, don't let me down.

Now that I've finished the Manon, I have permission to start another sweater, one for which I already have the yarn. Except I remembered that I already started a new sweater last month, without permission, so I think I should finish that one, too.

It's my Reverse Engineered Diagonal Rib pullover, only guess what? I apparently didn't write down much of anything when I knit the back, at least not on paper. A search of my hard drive revealed a chart for the diagonal ribs, and eventually I finally discovered some fairly cryptic instructions in my project notes on Ravelry. It was enough to get me started, at any rate. It's bulky yarn, and an easy stitch pattern to memorize, so I'm clipping along. I finished the front, and I'm about 1/2 way done with the first sleeve. I may rip out the neck and re-do it. I'm not sure I like the way the cables end abruptly.

The question now is: do I have to finish up one of the other two nearly-complete cardigans in my closet (one is from 1990) before I get to start the new sweater? Will knitting two more Quincy hats be enough of something new to work on to keep me from starting a whole new sweater, or will the fact that I've already knit three Quincy hats make me feel like it's the same old, same old? I also have Sophia's second Lissajous to do, but that's just repeating something else.

I wanna start something new.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Quincy on the Head Can be Quite Continental

I loves me the Quincy hat.

So stylish. So asymmetrical. So cool.

This is the first one I made (some time last month, I believe) and it's for me. Yarn is Classic Elite Ariosa, soft as a cloud and I love the color. (It's the same color I used for Nina's Urban Outfitters knock off cabled hat.) I managed to cross it the opposite way intended, but I love it just the same.

The last time I got together with some of my local writer friends, I showed them my Quincy. I can tell when people really do like something I've knit because they instantly ask me to knit them one, too. These are women who I would lie across railroad tracks for, among the few who receive gift knitting from me, usually just at the holidays, but sometimes other times, too. I always cook for them when we get together (everyone brings something, but I cook the entree), it reminds me that I used to love to cook before I had kids who complained about the food on their dinner plates. My friends appreciate that I cook for them, they think whatever I make is delicious, and I don't have to clean up. You can understand why I would lie across the railroad tracks for them.

So this Quincy is for one of those friends.

It's my third. (The second was for a toddler in a DK weight, stitch count adjusted for the size needed) There aren't many patterns I return to over and over. Usually, making something once is enough, but this is one of those rare patterns I will want to do over and over.

The pattern calls for a bulky weight yarn, so I'm using Malibrigo Merino Worsted doubled to achieve gauge of 3.5 sts/in on size 10.5 needles. It ends up exactly the same size, but a bit more dense than the one in Ariosa. I love this color, it's a beautiful cobalt blue that Malibrigo calls "Buscando Azul," which translates to "looking blue" (I like "Buscando Azul" better, don't you?). Two of them requested deep blue hats, so I bought three hanks. I used just over one for the garter strip, so I figure by the time I'm finished with the two hats, I'll have 3/4 of a hank leftover to do something else with. Perhaps a pair of Fetchings.

I took a break from NaNo-ing yesterday afternoon to rake 5 more bags of leaves, bringing the total bag count to approximately 1,873,491 (give or take a million). I followed that up with the Quincy graft, delighting myself by getting it right the first time, no swearing involved. Go me! The first hat took me so long to graft the garter stitch correctly that I couldn't remember what I finally did to get it right. The second one I ended up grafting so that I have a row of stockinette on the inside of the hat, but because it's reverse stockinette (purls) on the outside, it hides well. I finally figured out that you have to work an odd number of rows for the graft to work (the pattern tells you to knit an even number of rows).

I'm working very hard not to do any knitting until my word count goal is reached. I don't think grafting counts.

Yesterday's word count was just under 2000. Not bad. Today I've already done 1000, in just a 30 minute block, thanks to the Write or Die website. Exactly the sort of psychology that works on me. I may just be able to catch up to my overall goal with the help of Dr. Wicked and his dastardly tools. Mwahahahaha.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Forget the apple, hand me some candy

The weekend got away from me. It was fall yard cleanup weekend at Chez Rox, so no writing on Saturday and Sunday. This here's a post about Friday's results.

Here are the completed Bella mittens, a holiday gift for a Twilight-loving friend of mine. I had Nina pose with my snack of choice, which is not an apple. (Although, really, this is not my snack of choice. My snack of choice is chocolate, but I did not want to reveal to my kids where I had it hidden.)

These mittens will keep my friend Chris far warmer than Edward Cullen ever could.

Also accomplished: I exceeded Friday's1667 word goal. Actual word count: 1809.

The housework goals are never fully realized, even when I'm not doing NaNo, but I did manage to terrorize the dog with the giant sucking wand and horrifying wetness spreader. Laundry is still piled up in the laundry room. Oh, well.

I have found a better procrastination activity than housework, one which involves writing (although, sadly, does not count toward my NaNo word goal). I went through my Ask a Knitter column list of questions, and wrote a bunch of them on green post its (a glance across the room tells me there there are 11 green post its on the wall at the moment). So when I take a break from the novel, I work on answering one of those questions and try to figure out how much knitting and picture taking the answer is going to involve. What's sad is there are a ton of other questions in my Ravelry inbox, that haven't even made it to the post it stage yet. I fear that by the time I answer some of them, the knitters who asked the questions will have moved on to crochet or quilting out of disgust.

I just looked at how many words I wrote while procrastinating. More than I wrote for NaNo. It's a lot easier to write stuff that you know is true than it is to make up stuff you know isn't true.

Thursday I couldn't find my camera battery charger, which I felt sure must have been buried on the end table next to my chair, amongst the various PDFs of knitting patterns, mysterious notes I have written to myself that say things like "p2, X, p2, dec \" with an arrow pointing to a line drawing a 5-year-old could be proud of and many, many miniature candy wrappers. I wish I could say I sorted through all the papers and filed them appropriately, but really what I did was move them all to the card table I set up across the room as a sort of photo studio. (The card table has not improved my photos, but it has improved my ability to stack more papers.) What I found under the end table made my heart swell:

Little Bo Peep has found her sheep. My Lantern Moon Black Sheep measuring tape, that is. I thought I had left it on the plane in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the battery charger was located in my laptop case.

Today's writing goal: 2500 words (to help make up for none this weekend). Also, one question from my Ask a Knitter pile.

Today's knitting goal: I am this close to having my Manon cardigan complete. I sewed up the seams and put in the set-in sleeves this weekend. I need to do the decorative stitching to hide the jog in the ribs at the seams, and then wash it. I'm teaching tomorrow night and I would love to wear it to class. I also made the garter stitch strip for my third Quincy hat, and will try to at least do the graft some time today.

Also, there are still many leaves on the front lawn, even though we raked and bagged 35 30-gallon bags full of leaves, so that will be today's active procrastination activity. I have to do something to get myself off my butt. It's going numb.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Writing: 1, Knitting 0

I'm back on track with the NaNo writing, having exceeded my daily goal of 1667 words yesterday. (I'm still behind on my total word goal, but I can't let myself get worked up about it.)

As for the knitting, I was at an afterschool event for 7th and 8th graders and their families. There was a lot of sitting and listening, so perfect time to knit, right? I was at the point where I needed to move the thumb gusset stitches to waste yarn, but I had forgotten to bring any along. I improvised from the contents of my sparsely supplied notions bag and used a bunch of those those interlocking stitch markers, about 3 sts for each one, and praised myself for my resourcefulness. I was practically like MacGyver. I worked all the way up the hand of the mitten until I started the decreases and right off the bat I saw I was short by two stitches.

I put too many stitches on those itty bitty markers. This is what is so great about NaNoWriMo. I don't ever delete any words. They can be crappy, but they stay. Not so much with the gift knitting.

Yesterday's To Do list looks like this now:

Oddly, I did not manage to get my procrastination activities done. I blame it on a college friend, Karen, who found me on FaceBook and immediately added me to an email list of other women we shared a house with in Ann Arbor for a couple of years. It took me a while to read through what they're all doing -- lawyering in Florida and Colorado, living on a horse ranch in Australia, running a consulting firm in South Africa. You can understand why I had to skip the vacuuming, right? Reading about all that accomplishment made me too tired to push a sucking wand around the kitchen floor.

Here is today's to-do list, written with Sharpie so that humans can read it without the aid of forensic computational devices.

That looks doable, right? The only one I'm worried about is the one on the lower right.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

If it's Thursday, I must be writing

Oh, NaNoWriMo, how you taunt me with your promise of "just writing through" the story. You make these promises that you expect me to keep while I'm wandering around in the dark with a broken pencil, no paper, and no freaking idea of what it is I'm writing through.

By the end of Tuesday, I was at 4000+ words. I can't remember exactly how many, it's not important. What's important is to know that I failed to make my Tuesday goal (I hit 675 instead of 1667), because what is writing about if not an opportunity to criticize yourself for not writing enough, for writing crap when you do write, and for finding other things to do to fill your time that do not involve writing. Things like eating leftover Halloween candy.

So yesterday I was frustrated, but I had knitting group in the morning, which always makes me feel better, even if I get an appallingly small amount of actual knitting done. There was pumpkin cheesecake and Earl Grey tea, and good conversation, and then I went home to write. Ha!

I haven't been at the start of a brand new story in a long time, so I forgot what my process was, or if I ever knew, it's changed since then. I hadn't really done any pre-NaNo "pre-writing" activities, like coming up with a plot (I'm afraid no amount of pre-writing will ever help me come up with a plot, mostly because no amount of actual writing seems to do the job, either) or figuring out who my characters are and what they want that's tangible. I'm very good at coming up with their emotional baggage and what they want internally. Not so good at finding the tangible representation of that emotional goal. Which would be the plot.

Turns out I actually have to have my characters interact with each other before I can figure out what they want and why they want it. Who knew?

So yesterday while I wasn't writing I came up with a list of 10 scenes that I need to write for the story setup (the first Act). I know who the scenes' protag/antags are for each one, and where they take place. And an idea of what I think the point of the scene is. Note: I do not know the actual point of those scenes. I only think I do. The actual writing will lead me to the point. Eventually. Long after NaNo is over, most likely, because it's through the rewriting and polishing that I discover the real point. Damn subconscious. Some day I'm going to invent a writing efficiency machine that will allow me to know my point before I start. I'll make millions.

Now that I have my list of 10 scenes, I have a little flashlight in the dark which I used to find the pencil sharpener and some paper, so today I will write.

I found my camera, by the way. So here are the Bella mittens (or the first one, anyway) that I started on Monday.

I'm about half way through the second one.

Here is today's to-do list, on the wall of my office:

Here's a little surprise I found in my Ravelry projects page:

Someone favorited my husband. Or maybe it's the hat they favorited. Better be, because even though he says he looks like someone on the 10 Most Wanted List in that hat, he's still my favorite.

In other news, this morning while I was drinking coffee and not writing, I figured out an insanely brilliant way to pick up stitches in a situation that is not common, but not rare, either, and way better than the existing known options. I love it when my brain comes through on esoteric knitting techniques. Some time this week I will write this up. Come to think of it, this would be a way better procrastination activity than mopping floors. I don't know what I was thinking.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Is it Monday already?

NaNoWriMo word count
Day 1: 2022
Day 2: 1456

Knitting score: one Bella mitten. If I could find my camera, I'd post a photo.

Also looking for conflict in my story.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


Here's a little number I knocked off this weekend.

It's a knock off of an Urban Outfitters hat Nina wanted. I reversed the cable crossings.

I'm calling it the Knock it Off Cabled Hat.

Yarn: 2 50g balls of Classic Elite Ariosa, 90% extra fine merino, 10% cashmere. A delightful, 1 ply yarn that is consistent in thickness. This color is Azalea.
Needles: Size 9 for the ribbing, size 10.5 for the body of the hat.
Gauge: 3.5sts/in in stockinette.

The photos are a little dark because I took them with no flash last night.

It was a nice mental challenge, because of the way the cables moved diagonally, so I had to figure out how to deal with the beginning of the round so as to avoid a jog. (Thank you, Cookie A for your Sock Innovations book that has a nice chapter on working with patterns like this.) Then I had to figure out how to deal with the decreases so they worked out nicely, maintaining the pattern as long as possible.

Nina seems to like it. Sophia seems to like it more. She's been wearing it all morning. I'm guessing she's getting away with that because Nina is still in bed.

In other news, it's NaNoWriMo time (National Novel Writing Month), and I'm participating this year, plunging myself back into the world of fiction writing with a new book that I don't know much about yet. 30 days and (I hope) 50K words from now, I'll know a lot more.

I've got some friends I'm doing this with, and we'll be cheering each other on, which is good, because I'm terrified. I'm hoping to post a little update every day, both with my writing progress and whatever knitting I may have done, too. So it's really BloKniWriMo (Blog Knitting Writing Month) for me.

Mmmph. I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

ETA: Nina just woke up. First thing she said was, "Get that hat off your head."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hippy hippy shake

A couple of weeks ago I came home from knitting group, checked caller ID and saw that my mother had called. She never leaves a voice mail, so I didn't bother to check and just called her back. Al (her husband) answered and after a confusing couple of minutes in which he assumed I had listened to a voice mail he had left me and I had continued to assume I was calling my mother back, not him, I got the point. My mom had fallen the night before and broken her hip and had just been rolled into surgery for a hip replacement.

They live just about a mile or so from the hospital, so Al was at home checking on the dog, having left the hospital after they rolled her into surgical prep.

That call was on a Wednesday, and as the next couple of days passed, I made plane reservations so that I could be there when she got out of the hospital and help out where needed.

Most of my help consisted of sitting around and knitting while my mom was napping, or talking to her while she was awake. Al normally takes care of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry so I didn't really have much "work" to do there. He's a former career Army mess sergeant, so he always has everything well under control. Also...the food at Chez Mother and Al's is top notch.

I took a lot of knitting with me -- my Manon which needed to be sewn up, little Quincy-ita, which was in progress at the time, a pair of socks for my sister-in-law that I'd been knitting as a demonstration for my sock class, and just needed to finish the foot. I also brought yarn to make Bella Mittens for a Twilight-loving friend, as well as two balls of sock yarn. I was prepared.

I was not prepared for my direct flight to be canceled and to be re-routed through Milwaukee, where I left my notions bag in the seat pocket. The notions bag that contained, you know, all my knitting notions, like my black sheep measuring tape, two very expensive Signature Needle Arts dpns, a 2.5mm circ for knitting socks using the sock yarn I brought with me, my scissors, my needle gauges, stitch markers, crochet hooks that belonged to my grandmother, and all my darning needles.

I finished knitting my SIL's second sock while waiting for my flight out of Milwaukee, which is when I discovered I no longer had my notions bag. It was too late to go back to the other gate, which was in another terminal. Milwaukee's airport is set up like a wheel, with each terminal coming out of the main ticketing terminal like spokes. In order to get from one terminal to the other, you have to go through security. I didn't have time to go through security twice with all my stuff in order to report a missing notions bag. So I couldn't graft the toe. I also therefore couldn't graft the Quincy-ita hat band. I couldn't start a pair of socks with the needle holding my SIL's sock, and I couldn't start a new pair with my other sock needle, because the other sock needle was in my notions bag.

I decided to start the mittens, only it turned out I hadn't brought the pattern, I had brought a PICTURE of the original Bella mittens used in the movie, which I had slipped into a page protector. It wasn't even a picture of the pattern mittens, so I couldn't just read the knitting in the picture and figure it out. Besides, the picture was a bit blurry. You can imagine how happy I was at this point. Luckily, I had my Kindle with me, too, so I could at least read.

My mom lives in Ludington, Michigan, a lovely resort town on Lake Michigan which is inconveniently located to any sort of mass transportation hub other than the Lake Michigan carferry, which was closed for the season. So after a delayed flight, notions bag loss, and a 2 hour drive from the Grand Rapids airport to Ludington, I finally got to see my mom, who amazingly, was ambulatory. Sort of. We had a nice long talk, and the next morning, I headed out to the excellent local yarn shop, Nautical Knits, intending to rectify my notions deficiency. I bought a new notions bag, darning needles, a needle gauge, and interlocking stitch markers. I figured that would get me by.

Okay, I also bought two balls of sock yarn, but that's to be expected, isn't it?

Back at Check Mother and Al's, I grafted SIL's sock toe, and moved on to weaving in all the ends on my Manon. Done. I was ready to sew in the sleeves, except I couldn't because I forgot to bring along the yarn to sew it up. It turns out that when you forget things like patterns and sewing-up yarn, and lose 2.5mm needles that can't be replaced out of town, bringing all that other knitting stuff isn't as big a packing overkill as it first appears.

I started a pair of socks on the freed-up 2.0mm circ using yarn I had brought with me, a beautifully bright yarn from Regia's Kaffe Fasset line. The two original Fasset lines were Mirage and Landscape. Landscape had defined stripe sequences (that's what I made my brother's Big Foot socks from), while Mirage came in the same colorways as Landscape, but worked up as a variegated yarn, appearing more like a camo pattern.

This yarn I brought with me was called Exotic Color (colorway: "zany") I was intrigued by the striping pattern, as there were places where the transition between stripes worked out to be more like interconnected waves. It was pretty neat. I started the first sock Tuesday afternoon and was finished with it some time Wednesday. I then started the second sock, and the pair was complete Thursday evening. Fastest pair of socks I ever knit, in terms of total elapsed time from start to finish. My mother exclaimed that they were beautiful. Our feet are the same size, so I had her try them on. They're hers. The woman was sitting in a chair with a walker next to her. How could I not give them to her?

I took some photos of them on my own feet out on their deck.

When I got back home, I called the airline about my missing notions bag. You're supposed to contact the airport where it was lost, but because of 9/11, airports don't post their phone numbers on their websites anymore (I know, I don't get it either), so the woman at the airline called three different numbers at the Milwaukee airport and no one would pick up the phone. And they don't have voice mail. She suggested I drive to the Minneapolis airport (well, first she suggested I go to the Milwaukee airport), make a claim at their lost baggage counter and have them forward the information to Milwaukee. Whatever.

My mom is doing very well now. She's ditched the walker in favor of a cane, at least for part of the time. I'm betting she'll be back at Pilates in no time at all.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reverse Engineering

The first three weeks of September in Minnesota were warm and balmy. Those weeks were the summer we didn't have in July and August, and it was heavenly. Then, like Minnesota weather is wont to do, the weather turned on us and in one day we switched from capris and sandals to wool socks and jackets.

I began plotting ways to keep warm. There weren't enough hours in a day to knit. I needed warm sweaters and I needed them now!

About the same time, I started re-watching my Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs as a way of immersing myself in long story arcs (I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year). I began to covet some of Buffy's bulky knit turtleneck sweaters that she sometimes wore while patrolling the graveyards, and figured that would be a nice quick knit that would get me covered in wool ASAP.

As luck would have it, an email from WEBS arrived announcing a sale on discontinued yarns. I could get Cascade 109E (a bulky weight wool) for something like $3.99 a hank. In the meantime, I began designing a simple, but not too boring, sweater in my head. I looked through patterns on Ravelry for inspiration, but didn't find anything that was quite what I was looking for.

Eventually, I decided that I would make the sweater in a 2x2 rib, with maybe a simple rope cable going up the center and then splitting to run up either side of a V neck or possibly two simple cables that would run up the front, spaced so that they would land at the shoulders on either side of the neck front on either side of the neck. Perhaps with a turtleneck. After another compulsive check of Ravelry, I happened upon this number (Ravelry link)

It was exactly what I had been looking for, only with a great addition, which was the diagonal ribs at the sides. I had a fairly good idea of how they were probably worked, but I wasn't sure I was up to figuring out the whole sweater on my own. I wasn't confident of calculating the set in sleeves, plus maintaining the diagonal rib design element, so I figured I'd just buy the pattern.

Well. The pattern is from Rebecca Magazine, which is a German publication, which was not good news. Then I discovered they also print an English edition of the magazine (starting with the issue I wanted). Terrific! But the issue I wanted was from 2005. Not so terrific. It turns out it's still available (yay!) but with the exchange rate and shipping, it was going to cost me $22 to get it (boo!) Even sellers who have it here in the States want to charge $8 to ship it, which would still make it close to $20. For one pattern.

In the end, I decided to reverse engineer it, which made last week a lot of fun. First, I figured out how the diagonal ribs were done, which was fairly straightforward (increases at the edge to compensate for decreases near the cables, and in this case those increases are YOs), but it took some experimentation to figure out the exact decrease sequence and placement, as some decreases are single decreases, and one is a specific type of double decrease. And then I had to make it work with the cable crossings, as each set of decreases ends before the cable crossing row.

The back was a piece of cake up till the armhole, and that's where I thought I might have to experiment and rip things back, but things seem to have worked out okay. I worked the shoulders, using short rows that were wrapped and turned in purl columns, so I didn't even bother to pick up the wraps later, as they can't be seen from the RS.

Here is the back, unblocked.

Looks so skinny, doesn't it? I pinned it out to make sure it would stretch to the dimensions I wanted and it did. It'll relax a bit on its own once it's had a bath.

I really like the Cascade 109E. It's too bad it was discontinued, although, really, you can just double Cascade 220, which comes in a gazillion colors, and end up with pretty much the same result.

Other things:
This past summer, Nina asked me to knit her some gloves for fall. I made her some glittens (convertible fingerless gloves with a mitten flap) a couple years ago using Regia Silk sock yarn. She liked them a lot and wore them all the time, but she has since decided that she would prefer gloves that don't convert and that are made of thicker yarn. She wanted a cable on the back of the hand. She did not like anything I showed her. She is particular, but not terribly helpful about describing what she wanted, only eliminating things she disliked, which was everything I showed her.

Eventually, I pulled out my copy of Elsebeth Lavold's Viking Knits and found a cable that was unusual, but very cool. The S-hitch cable.

I swatched.

She liked.

I knit the gloves, the weather grew colder, and she took them. The thumbs are a bit wonky, but otherwise they're fine. I increased too many times for the gusset on the first glove, so I increased less on the second one.

Socks for the Sockless
Neither of my kids wears socks, unless forced to, such as when we're hiking up a mountain in Arizona and they're wearing new tennis shoes, and even then it's under a great deal of protest. While we're here at home, the idea that they ought to wear socks just because they live in Minnesota, where it's winter six months out of the year is just more crazy talk from their crazy mother.

Nonetheless, much to my surprise, Sophia has asked for socks. She asked, so she shall receive, although it may take a while.

She wants knee socks. Fancy knee socks, which she apparently doesn't plan on wearing in public, but just around the house. There was no talking her out of the fancy heel pattern, even though she has already told me that if she *does* wear the socks out in public, they will be inside her UGG boots. Since she now has feet and calves that are the same size as mine, I have agreed to her request with the small hope that she won't care about them in a year and then I can take them for myself.

Sophia has good taste. She chose a Cookie A pattern, Lissajous.

I have turned the heel, finished the gusset and am onto the straightaway part of the foot. With just two cables per round now and the rest in stockinette, I feel like I'm zooming along at Warp Nine, phasers set at fun.

Like many others, I fell in love with Jared Flood's Quincy pattern and I knit one up in the recommended Classic Elite Ariosa. It's a single ply bulky weight kind of like CE's Twinkle, only thinner and even softer. Both girls loved the softness (90% extra fine merino, 10% cashmere), and Nina looks great in this color, although she would prefer me to reverse engineer an Urban Outfitters cabled hat using the same yarn. And now Sophia wants a cabled hat, too, only in a different color than her sister.

In the meantime, I figured out how to downsize Quincy for a toddler, but using a DK yarn (Rowan's, maybe it's Cashsoft Baby? Not sure.) Ended up with more rows and stitches for this hat than for the adult version, but that's gauge for you.

I call it Quincy-ita

Oh, there's more stuff, too, but I'll save that for another post, shall I?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Free and Easy Fingerless Mitts pattern

My beginning students often ask what kind of project they can make after they've learned to cast on, knit, purl, and bind off. I developed a pattern for fingerless mitts that incorporates all of these techniques but doesn't require them to knit to a specific gauge.

Introducing Easy Fingerless Mitts, available as a free download.

download now

My students learn to knit using worsted weight yarn and size 7 or 8 needles. These mitts can be made using their classroom yarn and needles. The pair will take about 50g of worsted weight yarn (mine actually took a bit less).

The mitts are worked sideways until they are long enough to fit around the hand. The cast on and bind off edges are sewn together, with a gap left for the thumb hole. The garter borders at the cast on and bind off edges keep the thumb hole from rolling, and the garter stitch borders at the sides act as ribbing for the cuff and fingers.

This pattern is for personal use only and is not to be copied or distributed without prior permission.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Better luck next time

This year I finally got my act together and entered a knitted item in the Creative Activities competition at the State Fair. They gave five ribbons in my category (sleeveless sweater or vest, textured or plain), not a single one awarded to me. I was sad about that for a few hours after I found out (I couldn't stand the wait, so I checked the results online), and then I went to the Fair and found all the ribbon winners so I could see if I could figure out what their entries had that mine didn't. I have to admit that aside from the first and second place winners, I wasn't sure what had distinguished the other ribbon winners, so I waited patiently for the Fair to end so I could pick up my entry and scorecard. I did have the feeling that I may have been marked down for working only the front in the textured pattern, while all the ribbon winners appeared to have patterning on the front and the back.

Here are the results:

Score: 92
General Appearance: Excellent. "Nice use of lace cable pattern. Tough competition in this lot."
Color and Design: Excellent.
Construction/Workmanship: Very Good
Level of Difficulty: Very Good
Choice and Handling of Finishing: Very Good

And that's it. No other comments. The scorecard criteria don't seem to match what's listed in the Creative Activities registration booklet, so I'm not sure if each of those 5 categories are worth the same number of points, or if some are worth more than others, or what.

There's always next year!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Back to school

We take pictures of the girls every year on the first day of school in front of the garage door. Also of the dog, but that's usually inadvertent. He just wants to make sure he gets to go through that door, too, for the car ride to school. Notice we have the same drawings on the garage door. I think they've been there for a good 10 years.

Nina was a 6th grader in 2005 Now she's a sophomore

Sophia was a fourth grader in 2005 Now she's an 8th grader

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Big and the Little

In the past week or so, I finished two pairs of socks I started earlier this summer.

One pair is for my friend Barb, who is 5' tall and can fit both feet on a single piece of paper.

The other is for my brother Carl, who is 6'3" and can fit one foot on a piece of paper.

Provided the paper is turned diagonally.

Barb's feet are 7" in circumference at the ball. Carl's are 11".

For Barb's socks, I used the Devon pattern (Ravelry link) from Cookie A's Sock Innovations. The pattern calls for a thicker fingering weight -- Mountain Colors Bearfoot, which I love, and is probably more accurately a sport weight yarn. The problem with using the specified yarn was that I would have had to adjust the pattern to lower the stitch count to fit her. So I used Cascade Heritage, instead, which is a fairly fine fingering weight yarn. (Lots of yardage, and a great price!) They are very soft after washing, and show stitch definition really well. I was able to knit the pattern as written using the thinner yarn and smaller needles, without adjusting stitch counts.

They look good on her.

She stopped by this weekend to pick them up and agreed to model them.

Good thing for her that she has small feet. I would have had a hard time parting with them if they fit me!

Carl came for a visit in July and while he was here he went to the yarn shop with me when I offered to knit him socks. I envisioned endless 90-stitch rounds in tan or grey, knit over many boring months.

He took one look at a Kaffe Fasset colorways from Regia on a mannequin leg, fondled it and said he liked that one.

"Really?" I asked, trying to keep desperate hopefulness out of my voice. Could it be true that a man would really want this colorway? While I had always considered it fairly manly, I couldn't see my husband finding it acceptable, if he ever allowed me to knit him socks, which he doesn't.

Besides which, I had socks in the same colorway in my drawer at home, as you can see here.

"You don't mind the flash of turquoise?" I asked, still not believing he liked it, and trying hard to feign apathy. Mustn't let him know I'm excited. "No," he said. "I like the turquoise."

Hallelujah. Even if the socks would take forever to knit, they wouldn't be boring!

Then I got to thinking. My socks were made from 4-ply (fingering weight). I remember knitting 9 sts/in, 64 sts to the round. This yarn is 6-ply (DK weight). Guess how many sts/round? 64! (for the leg, but a bit bigger for the foot) They did not, in fact, take me months and months of begrudging labor to make. Just a few days per sock, spread out over six weeks, of course, because I rarely knit two identical socks in a row.

A brother-sister sock photo

He lives in Michigan, and no one else I know has feet big enough to model them, so I put his on over my other sock, in an attempt to make it fit better.

Look, if I adjust my foot position, the stripes match perfectly because we have the same stitch count per round.

The last time we had brother-sister matching garments was back in 1968.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How to Purl

This is for my beginning students, who need a review on how to purl.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Go ahead, Ask a Knitter

If you're a Raveler and you read This Week in Ravelry, perhaps you've seen this week's issue.

(In case you can't read that, it says, "Rox's TWiR debut with the very first "Ask a Knitter" columns)

The first column includes:
  • Closing the hole and weaving in ends for a closed item, such as a toy
  • Gaping edge stitches
  • A video tutorial on "backwards" knitting

There have already been requests for an easy archive reference or index, so I'm working on the best way to do that for both the column and the blog.

You can also see the backwards knitting video here:

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Amazing Grace Dishcloth

I'm a garment knitter. Twenty-three years ago when I sat down to learn to knit, I started with sweaters, lots of sweaters, nothing but sweaters aside from the occasional hat or two for, oh, the first fifteen years of my relationship with yarn and needles. Then there was the period of Very Little Knitting ("Sweaters are too hot, Mommy!"), which ended abruptly with the 5,000 bead linen-lace shawl and immersion in the Master Hand Knitting program.

From there, I dove into socks, was forced into scarves (due to several requests), dabbled in mittens/gloves/fingerless mitts/convertible glittens, did an afghan here and there (not my favorite thing, but sometimes necessary for surviving the Minnesota winter), a few felted slippers, a felted bowl (undertaken for its moebius-ness), a felted bag (meh), and a couple of toys (excessive amounts of finishing and shaping for such small items). I once started a Kitty Pi bed, but never finished it (the recipient would never show appreciation, I'm afraid). I made a string bag this spring and hated everything about it. I could write a poem about that bag. I would call it, "Rant to a Green Shopping Bag" and it would start out, "How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways..."

So what have I learned?

I have learned that I do not typically enjoy making non-garmenty things.

I have learned that a pattern has to have enough going on that I don't stab myself with my needles (scarves have to have an interesting pattern, or else 6 feet of it isn't happening). Garter stitch rarely fills that need.

A pattern can't be so futzy that I am chained to the chart (this is where toys really fall down for me -- too much shaping, sometimes every row, too many things to sew together, and totally not a garment. Also, if it's made with a novelty yarn...well, let's not go there).

There are exceptions.

This blanket buddy is a toy, of sorts, knit mostly with garter stitch, but there were YOs to keep me alert with simple shaping, and then the head was made using double knitting (which I had never done, so I got to learn something), and there was NO SEWING UP, unless you count drawing the tail through a few stitches at the top of the head, which I do not. Also, the yarn, while technically a novelty yarn (Wendy Velvet Touch), is easy to knit with, and the stitches were easy to read. I'm just waiting for a baby to give this thing to.

Other things I have learned

There can't be too much counting.

I once made a Petal Bib that turned out adorable, but tried my patience during the entire knitting process, because the short rows had to be counted and re-counted and re-counted again, and the gauge for the cotton yarn was sufficiently tight that my hands hurt. Counting is the hardest thing in knitting. A sad statement for a former math major to make, but true nonetheless.

Finally, the item has to be for a human. (The dog booties I knit this past winter -- that's not happening again, I don't care how pathetic the dog is when he limps in from the cold, and how adamant Michael is that knitting socks for the dog is "logical.")

Given all those knitting criteria, it's no surprise that there is one item I have persistently avoided knitting.


I use sponges to wipe the counters, and if I have to wash a dish by hand I prefer the skimpiest, thinnest dishcloths I can find. I don't know why. It's probably what we could get from the grocery store (and what we could afford) when I was a kid, and that's what I got used to. Also, the thick ones tend to smell sour the next day or two because they take so long to dry.

So there are three strikes against the dishcloth: cotton, not a garment, and smelly.

My brother and sister-in-law were here for a visit a few weeks ago and my SIL Kathy mentioned how much she likes knitted dishcloths. I asked her why and she told me. I explained why I couldn't understand them. She shrugged in a suit-yourself way.

I started noticing discussion threads on Ravelry regarding dishcloths. Threads remarkably similar to the "Why knit socks?" threads that come up every so often. I may have explained why, exactly, I refuse to knit dishcloths in one of those discussions. I'm not sure anyone cared. I did learn a few things, though. Apparently, sponges are the least sanitary things in the kitchen. They trap bacteria, so while I'm wiping crumbs off the counter, I'm smearing germs all over it. Considering the amount of Clorox Cleanup I use on my white Corian counter, I have my doubts, but still, that was a surprise.

There's more news. Shocking news. It turns out that other folks use a clean dishcloth every day. I know. Who knew? Raised in a barn, that's me. Get this: if you use a new dishcloth every day, you avoid the sour smell and you avoid smearing germs all over everything. What you're supposed to have in your kitchen drawer are stacks and stacks of fresh dishcloths.

All the love for dishcloths I kept reading about got me thinking. I didn't understand socks initially, either. I remember reading comments people had online about how wonderful socks feel on your feet, and how there's no going back once you put on your first pair of hand knit socks. I also remember thinking that commercial socks weren't exactly uncomfortable, so how great could the hand knit ones be? As soon as I grafted the toe of my first sock, I tried it on, and the journey toward Commercial Sock Removal from My Sock Drawer began. My mind had been changed.

A few months ago, I decided it was time to knit a Baby Surprise Jacket, for no reason other than to see what the 40-year fuss was about. I had never cared for the look of the BSJ, but I felt that it was worth knitting in order to understand the construction and perhaps to find out what its appeal was to other knitters.

It was garter stitch, but there was enough other business going on to keep me interested.

Check out those shoulder seams.

Nice, eh?

In the end, I enjoyed the process of knitting it, but I can't see myself knitting more of them. Socks changed my knitting life. The BSJ did not.

So a couple of weekends ago I decided to knit a dishcloth, specifically the Ballband Dishcloth, because that seems to be the BSJ of dishcloths. I came to realize that it's dishonest to disparage a particular beloved knitting project without trying it at least once. Turned out it was Dollar Days at Michaels, so lots of things were on sale, including Sugar'n Cream cotton yarn. I bought 4 balls for $5, Sophia bought a boatload of embroidery floss to replenish her friendship bracelet supplies, and that was that.

That night, I cast on for the dishcloth and I finished it the next morning.

I loved the way it looked, although it was even thicker than I expected. I really couldn't imagine using it. It was just so...big. And thick. I showed it to the family. Michael noted, "It's very bright." (He finds it safer sometimes to make an observation rather than to state an opinion.) Sophia liked it, but didn't think it should be dirtied up because I had "done all that work knitting it." Nina had no comment, because she was in her room. (She's 14. She's always in her room.)

A couple of nights later, when we were cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, I sent Sophia up to my office to get the dishcloth so we could try it out and settle the matter of The Hand Knit Dishcloth: Yay or Nay?


It goes against every knitting tenet I have, but I love it.

A few days later the girls asked to go back to Michaels to get more embroidery floss. (They're on a friendship bracelet making binge.) I obliged, because I am nothing if not an obliging mother, at least sometimes.

I may have picked up a few more balls of Sugar'n Cream. It was still Dollar Days.

And I may have knit a few more dishcloths.

I may have even knit a dishcloth with matching Swiffer cover.

...was blind, but now I see.