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.