Sunday, January 17, 2010

Soft and Shiny

Sophia needed to do some research this weekend at the History Center's library in downtown St. Paul, so while she was doing that, I stopped in at Treadle Yard Goods on Grand Ave. and shopped for buttons for my Bristow Cardi.

At knitting group the other day, I was sewing in the sleeves and the subject of buttons for the Bristow came up. I told the other women I was thinking of gold buttons, but when there was a simultaneous cry of "No!" from the group it occurred to me that I might be on the wrong track. I can knit people, but I'm not the best accessorizer.

The cardi is mostly stockinette, with most of the detail occurring right next to the button bands. I was instructed to get something that wouldn't pull attention away from the knitting. Something plain. Not shiny. A dull pewter, maybe. Or mother of pearl. Maybe a matte black button.

Armed with that information, I walked into Treadle Yard Goods and headed for the counter where the buttons were on display. A lovely woman asked what she could help me with, and boy was I glad she asked. Turned out she was a knitter, too, so she understood the necessary properties of a sweater button. She had a great idea about the right color, too: some sort of pearlized black would be good, she thought.

She was right.

This afternoon I sewed on the buttons, and after the Vikings game was over Michael took photos.

Can you see the buttons?

Kind of hard to get good photos of them.

I hate seeing that gate in the background of my indoor photos, so I had Michael take some outside, too. It's downright balmy here in Minnesota -- 35 degrees! -- so no outerwear necessary.

I made a mistake where I always seem to make mistakes - right at the bust - so I'm taking more advice from my knitting group and I'm living with the error for now.

If it still bugs me after a few wearings, I'll do some surgery and fix it.

Pattern: Bristow, Knitty, Winter 2005
Yarn: Knit Picks Andean Silk (Alpaca, Merino, Silk)
Needles: US 6/4.0mm for the seed stitch borders and cuffs, US 7/4.5mm for the rest of it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ask a Cat

Michael was hanging over my shoulder tonight with the digital camera, shooting video of me working various types of right and left twists for my upcoming Ask a Knitter column on Ravelry (should be posted Monday or Tuesday).

I got some unsolicited help.

Or maybe unsolicited criticism, not sure which.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Slipping onto the Bandwagon with Felted Feet

A month or so ago, I kept seeing a thread in the Ravelry Patterns forum entitled "French Press Felted Slippers" which I interpreted (without reading the thread) to mean that someone was using a French coffee press as a device for felting slippers. You'd think I would have read the thread, just to confirm such an oddity, but I did not.

A while later, the Yarn Harlot posted about discovering a pattern she was all over called French Press Felted Slippers, which it turns out are felted slippers designed by a woman who designs under the moniker French Press. They were supposedly a super-fast knit (90 minutes!), making them ideal for Christmas gift knitting.

It also turns out that the slippers were very cute, so I bought the pattern via Ravelry (as did hundreds of other people), and cast on with Patons Classic Wool in red. Either I was paying too much attention to the streaming video on my laptop, or I'm simply not a turbo-fast knitter, because the knitting took me about twice as long as the 90-minute claim. Of course, I was also practicing a new method of Continental purl, so that may have had something to do with it. (A new method I am now insanely happy about, but which I will save for another post. Or maybe an Ask a Knitter column. We'll see how it goes.)

At any rate, I knit the pieces, and then (as is often the case) had no fortitude to sew them together, so they sat for a week or two, little rolled up tubes of stockinette, on the floor of my office.

A few days before we left for Sedona, I decided I needed to finish up those slippers so I could wear them around the hotel room. I sewed, I felted, I let them air dry for a couple of days, and then I packed them in my suitcase, along with the decorative buttons, planning to sew the tabs on when we got to Arizona.

Here they are, felted, but unfinished.

When I pulled the slippers out of my suitcase, I realized I had forgotten to bring any yarn or thread with me with which to sew on the buttons. Lucky, lucky me, the hotel was fancy enough to have pre-threaded needles in a sewing kit, right there in the bathroom. There was just enough red to sew on the tabs at the wide end. I used the brown to sew on the buttons through both layers of fabric.

I wore them the entire time I was in the hotel room, then packed them in my carry on luggage for the flight home so that I could wear them, rather than my UGG boots, on the 3-hour flight.

I love these little slippers. My winter footwear consists mostly of UGG slippers and UGG boots. My UGG slippers are bulky and keep my feet warm, but I like to fold up my legs while I sit, which is somewhat problematic with slippers as sturdy as the UGGs.

These little babies are nice and soft and pliable, like wearing an extra-thick, but stylish, wool footie.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Gray Silhouette

This year I'm all about sweaters, it seems, which hasn't been what I've been about, knitting-wise, for quite a while.

I first learned to knit while I was living in Dublin on a 3-month work visa in early 1986, when I was half the age I am now. I had three flatmates: Winnie (short for Winnifred) from County Roscommon, who was engaged to a boy back home, and two sisters from County Meath, Catherine and Anne, whose parents owned a shoe store. Winnie was training to be a cook, which with her accent sounded like "kook." Catherine was a nurse, and Anne worked as a secretary. I met them all when I called John, a guy I had met on a beach in Greece, on the island of Thira (aka Santorini). He and his brother were there making a video for their travel company in Dublin. I was there on holiday, taking a break from living and working in London. I had plans to get a visa to work in Dublin when my British work visa expired. They gave me their business card and told me to call when I got to Dublin. So I did. Anne was their secretary and they knew the fourth girl in her flat had just moved out, so they arranged for me to stay with her for a few days until I found a place to live. Before I had a chance to find a flat, the girls invited me to live with them for the duration of my work visa.

Our flat in Dublin comprised the entire first floor of a house. A couple of other young women lived upstairs, and our landlady, Franny, lived across the street. We had no central heat, just a coal fireplace in the sitting room. All the electricity was metered. One meter kept the lights and outlets running and the other was for the small water heater in the shower. When I say "small," I mean just a gallon or two of water. There were no long, leisurely showers. If you turned on the water just long enough to get wet, then soaped up and shampooed your hair, you'd have barely enough warm water to rinse off. If you had to shave your legs, you could either stand in the shower shivering for 10 minutes while the tank heated up again, or you could stand in the shower shivering while cold water rinsed off the soap from your legs.

We didn't actually use real coal for the fireplace. It was some sort of coal replacement, but it was delivered by a coal man in a horse drawn cart, just the same. There were several coal men who delivered on our street, and each one had a unique call he'd shout out that identified him, kind of like an ice cream truck, so you had to listen for him as he came down the street when you were low on coal.

In the evenings, we'd all sit together in the closed-off sitting room watching television and eating our respective dinners. Catherine and Anne usually cooked together, and it was Catherine's duty as the sister who made it home from work first to put potatoes in the oven to bake. The first thing Anne would ask was, "And did you put spuds in, Catherine?" Only she pronounced her sister's name "CAH-trin." Also, she complained about the way I pronounced her name, with my Midwestern nasal intonation. "My name's Anne, not 'AY-ann," she'd say. So we'd all be sitting there, eating, watching the telly, Catherine would light up a cigarette, Anne would bum one off her, and then the everything would go black. One of us, usually Catherine, would have a 50p coin ready and would run down the hall to the closet where the electric meter was. In went the coin, and back on came the lights.

I shared a bedroom with Catherine. I envied her electric blanket, because the bedrooms were cold (see: no central heat, above), but the girls dug up a spare hot water bottle for me, something I'd read about but had never seen, and I learned to put on the kettle a half hour before bedtime so I could slide into warm sheets at night.

My wages were heavily taxed while I was there, so I didn't have money to travel around the countryside on weekends. My flatmates would go to their parents' houses in County Meath and County Roscommon, leaving me alone in the cold, damp flat. I would spend Saturday and Sunday in the sitting room, tossing fake coal on the fire and watching television (there was no cable or satellite TV, and it was daytime weekend programming, so you can imagine how interesting that was). There was a large water tank behind the fireplace, and I learned that if I ran the fire all day long, by the end of the day I'd have tepid running water available from the taps rather than ice-cold water.

One Sunday evening, Catherine came back from County Meath with a knitting project. She was using a nubbly cotton yarn to make a V-neck pullover with dolman sleeves. Always a crafty person, I was immediately smitten with the idea of knitting in the evenings while we watched the telly and waited for the room to go dark. I worked not far from St. Stephen's Green and Trinity College, so a couple days later on my lunch hour, after picked up my check from Kelly Girl, I walked to a department store downtown which had a knitting department, picked out a pattern, needles and yarn, and took my supplies back to the flat.

I didn't know how to cast on, so my flatmates showed me how to do that, and then I tried to remember how to knit, which I had learned one afternoon in 5th grade and then never did again. They corrected the direction I was wrapping the yarn around the needle, but they hesitated to correct anything else, because they didn't want to traumatize me. Apparently, the nuns used to whack them on the knuckles if they held their yarn and needles wrong (knitting in school, can you believe it?). I spent the rest of the week hunched over my needles and yarn, practicing. Then it was the weekend again and they all left town, so I was left to my own devices to figure out how to purl. "It's just the opposite of knitting!" they called out as the door slammed behind them. I couldn't work it out, and I didn't have money to buy a knitting how-to book, so I spent several hours at a bookstore studying the pictures in knitting books until I could figure it out.

From that time on, I was a knitter. That first project was a sleeveless V-neck top, made with the same nubbly cotton yarn Catherine was using for her sweater, but I jazzed mine up with a red cotton yarn for the ribbing. (Big mistake. Turns out that red cotton yarn will bleed all over white cotton yarn once the combination hits a sink full of cold water. First sad knitting lesson learned.)

I knit nothing but sweaters for years. The pattern books I bought, including all those great Kaffe Fasset coffee table knitting books of the 1980's, were full of sweaters. I just never thought to knit anything else.

When I came back into knitting about five years ago, I had no thought of knitting sweaters. I knit things I'd never thought of knitting before: beaded shawls, afghans, socks, scarves, mittens, gloves, hats, even a few toys. I hadn't completely abandoned sweater knitting. About 4 years ago I started an Aran sweater, which took me a couple of winters to finish. I wear it all the time and it's probably one of my favorite items of clothing. Soon after that, I knit an entire cardigan in about a week and a half, then spent 2 years trying to sew a zipper into it before I gave up and sewed a clasp at the neck.

In December 2007 I started knitting a cardigan while we were at Disney World. I got about 75% of the way done before it went into hibernation.

In December 2008 I started knitting a cardigan shortly before winter break. I got about 70% done before I realized I was using the wrong needles. I ripped it out and re-knit it up to that point before it went into hibernation.

In October 2009 I started knitting a bulky knit pullover. I finished it a month or so later.

Then I pulled out the Dec. '08 cardigan and finished that one.

A couple of weeks ago, I pulled out the Dec. '07 cardigan and finished up the knitting on that one. I sewed the sleeves in today. There are a few ends to weave in, and buttons to find, but other than that it's finished. (More photos when it's finished finished.)

I have one more sweater in hibernation. You might guess that it's from December 2006, but you'd be wrong. It's from 1990, and I still like it.

I'm fairly certain all the knitting is finished on that one. Just need to sew a few more seams, weave in some ends, and find some buttons. It's a Louisa Harding design from Rowan 6. It's practically vintage and I've never even worn it.

In the meantime, I've started something new.

Yes, it's a sweater. A cardigan, actually.

It seems my love affair with sweaters is back.

And it's all because 24 years ago I met an Irish boy on a topless beach on the island of Santorini. Fancy that.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

New Year, New Socks

My kids don't wear socks unless they have to. We live in Minnesota, and when the temperature the past few weeks has been above zero, it hasn't been by much. This weather situation does not, for my kids, constitute a "have to" condition for wearing socks. (There was an argument the other morning about whether or not a coat was necessary. It was -9 F.)

So you can imagine my surprise when Sophia's knitting request this fall was a pair of socks. Not just any socks, mind you. Knee socks. Nothing fancy, just something she could wear around the house, but with the possibility of going out in public while wearing her UGGS so that only the top of the cuff was visible. I was game, because she asked for socks, and I love knitting socks, and she asked for them. She was not interested in self-striping stockinette socks, so I was bracing myself for the idea that I might have to knit plain socks with plain yarn.

Then she picked out the pattern. Lissajous, by Cookie A.

Not so simple, after all, and she insisted on the heel flap detail, even though she never planned to wear them in public except when they were stuffed inside a tall boot. The heel flap, is, you know, a flap, which means it's knit flat, back and forth. This is a twisted stitch pattern, with stitch crossings on every row: twisted knit crossing to the right over a purl, twisted knit crossing to the left over a purl, twisted knit crossing a twisted knit, twisted knit crossing a plain knit. All that variation keeps you on your toes when you can see the right side of the fabric. It's a completely different matter to work a row of that from the wrong side.

I measured her feet, her calves, her ankles. Interesting, I thought. She has the same foot and leg measurements as her mother, who it turned out was the person knitting the socks. Which meant that reassignment of sock ownership in the future could be possible if the socks were abandoned at some point.

After I finished the first sock, she said something I never expected: "This is really cool." And she went off to look for her Birkenstocks so that she could wear the socks to school as soon as I finished knitting the second one. Which took a while, as Lissajous is not for the faint of heart.

As soon as I finished weaving in the ends, I held up the socks to admire them, and what should I see, but this:

Sophia didn't want to hear about my mistakes, nor did she want me to point them out. "I can't see them," she said. "Don't show them to me. They don't matter."

In other news, we were in Sedona between Christmas and New Year's. Michael and I took a hike late one afternoon as the snow was falling. He had his fancy camera with him and I was wearing my reverse engineered bulky sweater that I didn't have a photo of yet. I whipped off my coat and insisted he take pictures of me.

I'm thinking I should have whipped off the snow pants, too. Not a great look. But the scenery -- wow.