Thursday, December 13, 2012

Look, Teddy! More Red Stuff!

Disclaimer: if you're sick of Christmassy kitsch, you may not like this post. My apologies.  

I've been enjoying the chance to break out all my old knits, including one I had never intended for actual wearing: my Where's Waldo hat! Its colors make it a perfect item when I'm feeling particularly festive and just a bit silly.

Getting mileage out of my Waldo hat

As it turns out, I kinda love it and want to reknit it with wool yarn instead of the acrylic I originally used.

Christmas Sock!
Nowadays, Mr. Bean is not so much of a mystery for American audiences, but many people still have not seen his TV show. Back in the day, my family would put on episodes of Mr. Bean when we were gathered for holidays at a friend's house, and we carried the tradition forward last year when someone gifted me with the DVD set.  I highly recommend them, if you are unfamiliar.  Its visual comedy makes for easy watching, and even the elderly at work seem to watch in rapt attention when Rowan Atkinson is performing his antics.

Mr. Bean does not talk very much during his television series, and when he does, it is a comical event of its own. The line that stands out in my mind happens during the Christmas episode, when he gifts himself with a pair of socks and shares his delight with his favorite toy bear: "Look Teddy! Christmas socks!" I was reminded of this when I was nearly finished my latest addition to the family stockings; I thought to myself how much I wanted to try it on... so I did.

Look, Teddy! Christmas sock!

It almost fits! Now I have an urge to knit ridiculous stockings to wear. Maybe when the holiday season is over. For now I'll just enjoy it as a regular stocking.

Stocking 1

By the way, here's a plug for one of my favorite holiday movies. Even if you're not watching it during your Christmas film craze, How About You is an endearing and inspiring tale.  I love that it centers around a young person who is caught up in her own life as she encounters people who have moved to a retirement home to live out the remainder of their lives. That narrative is very dear to my heart, and I wish more people could see the things I see every day. If nothing else, here's a feel-good picture to motivate you.

2012-12-06 21.20.05

Besides holiday movies and hot drinks and marshmallows, I am reveling in the opportunity to play all manner of seasonal music on the harp for the folks at the home. There are so many carols that are much more interesting than the generic, sappy versions we hear ad nauseum on the radio. Many of them have stories behind them that add to their mystique. Did you know that the tune we now know as "Deck The Halls" was originally a Welsh harp tune, and eventually became a New Year dancing game? The New Oxford Book of Carols explains that the singers dance around a harpist, ring-a-rosie style, and take turns improvising a verse of lyrics. The "fa la la" sections are the harp interludes! Much like the game musical chairs, if a person is too slow in coming up with a line, he or she is eliminated. The moral  I share with the elderly: if you can't remember all the words, they're not too important anyway; just fake it.

Make it last all year
If you look at the progress bars on the side, you may note that the number of projects has decreased mysteriously; I just put those WIPs into hibernation while I work on my Christmas knitting. I like to think I'm doing fairly well with the whole ordeal. (I define "fairly well" as having most of the projects I want to give in a timely fashion completed or within reasonable range of completion in the next week or so.) Perhaps the lesson I've learned with gift knitting is that I must pick my battles; when a project is kicking my butt by its sheer size or detail, I need to find something more manageable to give this time around, and finish the big project later and hold it in secret until the right occasion arises. So last year's Christmas blanket became a two-weeks-away wedding gift, which in turn became a "I'll-finish-this-later-and-give-it-for-the-next-wedding-that-comes-along" gift. Repeat.

I'm excited to be knitting a pair of armwarmers for Jeff, at his request.  They really are practical items, and simple enough to knit once you get started. I'm using Spud & Chloe Sweater yarn for his beefy arms and added some length to the ribbing to help it stay up. Simply because it fills out the Christmas color spectrum, here's a picture of what I've got so far:

green armwarmers 2

One gift I've already given was part of a shawl swap with my old knitting crew down in New Jersey. The process was a bit complex, and a lot of fun: we each picked a yarn to swap, placed it in a bag that matched all the others, and traded. Next, without looking at the yarn we received, we had to pick a pattern to go with the description the swapper had written on a sheet of paper; we traded again. The next step was to knit the yarn into the pattern, after which we put it back in the bag and traded one last time.  I was surprised at how much fun this swap turned out; I think I enjoy processes, and it was fun to hear people's stories when all was said and done.

Red Shawl 3

I received two skeins of Malabrigo lace in a delicious "Pagoda" red colorway. The pattern I received with it is one I have knit before, but adapted for laceweight yarn. The problem is that the example given only used one skein of Malabrigo lace yarn, leaving me with a leftover skein and over four hundred yards of laceweight stockinette knitting.  Jeff encouraged me to ply the skeins together, which turned out to be a stroke of genius.  Sure, it would have worked as recommended, but I loved the resulting texture from my wobbly plying. I think it added a layer to the subtle color shifts, too.

The downside of my approach was that I ran out of yarn at a most inconvenient spot - too far to rip back, and too little to go forward. I experimented with some stash yarns, and settled on a few garter stripes in the very soft Vail.
Red Shawl 1

I love how the shawl came out, but my favorite part of it was that during an amazing trip to Oregon I was able to take it along and have a very special prodigal work a row of extra love into its fabric. It was, in my opinion, the icing on the cake for a very enjoyable swap party.


We love you, Jaqi!

I doubt I'll have time to blog again before the holidays, so if you're still with me, I send you warm wishes for the remainder of the year, and a happy new year to come!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hm, what sweater?

So... yeah... that sweater for Rhinebeck... Ever since that weekend came and went, I have had zero motivation to finish the sweater.  It's not that I don't want to finish; it's just that I'm afraid I'm gonna have to undo everything I did on the way to New York.

Here's what I've got so far:

Sweater 17

Sweater 14

I still have to finish the sleeves, which is not such a big deal.  I picked out blue-grey toggles, but I haven't put them on because my gut feeling is that I need to rip back and redo the entire button band/ collar. That's more than an entire skein of yarn in that band, thanks to the deep shawl collar.

look at all that ribbing!

What's the big deal?  Why don't I just put on the buttons and be done with it?  It doesn't look so bad... if I hold the bottom front down.  I think my problem is that when I took the gauge for the way I wanted the ribbing to look, I stretched it out too far. Now the ribbing makes the front of the sweater want to creep up whenever I take away my hand. Additionally, the collar feels like it is under a lot of tension, like there should be more stitches to help it reach around the back without creeping up and away from the neckline.

I already tried steam blocking, but the downside of using a yarn that is so wonderfully washable is that it does not respond to steam very well. Thank you, cotton.

So my plan is to resume work on the sweater when I have given enough space from Rhinebeck to reduce the pain of ripping, so that I may (hopefully) work the ribbed section with more stitches so that it has a more relaxed and wearable feel.  I'm rather tempted to go back to my first idea of using garter stitch for the collar; such fabric does not have a mind of its own, and with the non-blocking qualities of this yarn, I might do well to use some snuggly garter stitch. How much more yarn will that take, though? And will it look as snappy as ribbing?

These questions are preventing me from working the rest of the sleeves, since I might want to bring in the garter stitch there, too... Do you see why I have hit a roadblock?

Despite all this, I still prefer my bungling method to following blindly someone else's pattern.  I like to think that in the end the experience will make me a better knitter than I would have been if everything had worked out according to someone else's calculations.

I am no self-made man, to be sure. What do you think? Do you have any thoughts on what I could do to make the shawl collar / button band fit better?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Rhinebeck Part 3: My Own Private Runway Show

Rhinebeck Part the Third: My Own Private Runway Show

I have heard people compare Rhinebeck to a knitter's runway show, and I think the analogy warrants fair consideration. Much like the runway, things need extra pizzaz to stand out; a truly street-ready handknit just doesn't produce the desired effect when it is being put on display next to thousands of other gorgeous handknits.  Even beautiful shawls and sweaters and hats can look rather - well, "meh"-  when surrounded by the glorious autumn colors that set Rhinebeck a notch above Maryland Sheep and Wool (IMHO).

Leaves 5

The natural beauty makes Rhinebeck a favorite place to photograph hand knits. I jumped on the bandwagon with my own items that I just happened to have handy, so here is a "what I wore" blog post, mixed in with the tree shots that are so difficult to resist.

Pterotactyl 8

Remember this guy?  The shawl, I mean. Some lady in the crowd told her friend as I passed, "That's a Boneyard." I love my Westknits shawls, but I wanted to butt into her conversation and educate her on the design that is in several significant ways not the Boneyard shawl; its biggest similarities are the fact that both designers are guys, and a guy can be seen wearing them.  I wish I had found a nice way to introduce her to another male designer and another guy-friendly, very wearable and easily knit-able design. But instead all I could think of was a snarky tweet.  It's a good thing the wi-fi was so lousy.

Anyway, get a look at the wingspan on the Pterotactyl:

Pterotactyl 3

Speaking of knits designed by guys, I finally got some pictures of my own green Armoirmeurs. They came in very handy in the middling temperatures we experienced through the weekend.

Armoirmeurs 3

I also finally got some pictures of one of my favorite hats. It's an experimental slouchy hat with short rows, knit in Rowan Wool Cotton 4 ply.

Armoirmeurs 4

Leaves 2
Gratuitous Tree Photo
I was delighted to find that the color scheme I picked for my Seasons Hat matches the gloves Aaron knit for me last year.  This is becoming a go-to part of my wardrobe.

Seasons hat and gloves

This next picture was actually taken on the ride back to Albany after Rhinebeck on Sunday, but only because I had been wearing my vest all day.

Vest 3

I may have looked ridiculous, but I loved the modular aspect of my outfit.

Abominable Knitter 1

While I kinda packed these items in hopes of a photo shoot, I also wore most of them during the weekend (not to mention the other items I did not photograph). I have embraced that I am one of those despicable, overly wool-clad festival attendees that I want to mock for giving in to the impulse to wear every possible knitted garment at one time: I am ... an Abominable Knitter! (cue dramatically ominous music)

Abominable Knitter 4

And apparently I've been a bad influence.

Benchtime 5
Chilling with Aaron and Jeff
I think I need to wait for another post to tell you about the House Color Sweater, so I leaves you with one more gratuitous tree picture.

The Leafy Knoll 2

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rhinebeck Part 2: The Part With The Maple Cotton Candy

Part the Second

The question came up several times, how does Rhinebeck compare to Maryland Sheep and Wool? I can think of three major differences: the music, the food, and something else I will save for next time.

The music at Maryland is much more to my liking, as there is an array of celtic and folk musicians, all quite good, on rotating display during the weekend. Not so at Rhinebeck.  This is probably my only complaint: one folk band, very similar to what I recall hearing in Times Square, literally playing without break through the whole weekend.  After a while, enjoyable turns into annoying, which turns into numbing, then exhausting. Later in the day I noticed the band slipping in a few Simon and Garfunkel tunes, though I don't know if it was just to keep themselves entertained or a part of their all-day repertoire.

Otherwise, it's all good.  The food at Rhinebeck is delightful. I went and got that maple cotton candy, and rather enjoyed it.

I enjoyed it in the designated eating area.
Cotton Candy 2

I enjoyed it near a trash can.
Cotton Candy 3

I enjoyed it in the exhibition halls.
Cotton Candy 5

I enjoyed it on my thumb.
Cotton Candy 6

And I enjoyed it while everyone else was being sociable on the "grassy knoll."
Cotton Candy 8

Just when it looked like I would spend all my time eating during the Ravelry meetup, the very people who introduced me to the cotton candy showed up: the Savvy Girls, Deborah and Melanie! They were very quick to throw on our fish hats and snap a few pictures.

Savvy Girls 1

Savvy Girls 2

I also got to eat lunch with a bunch of lovely guys. I've done test knits for two of these people. Just gonna dangle that one in front of you.

The boys eatin lunch

While I'm on the topic of famous people, I kinneared Ysolda on the grassy knoll Saturday afternoon.

Ysolda kinneared

I am rather shy at things like these, but it turns out that I didn't really need to be afraid; the next day we enjoyed cupcakes with Ysolda at the Ravelry meetup.


Okay, so I did tell her that the picture was for a friend that was too nervous to bother her and had to leave early, but as I look back, I realize that that picture was also for me.  I think Ysolda's amazing, too.

Saturday must have been my "nervous day" because I couldn't find the nerve to ask Dan for a full picture, and I am kicking myself for it. However, he graciously lent me his leg.


Those, my friend, are some hot hose. Kudos to the woman who knit them and made the heel/toe look so good with his kilt.

I was struck by the way I can at times feel somewhat accomplished as a knitter back home, but when I'm at Rhinebeck I see gads of beautiful handiwork and realize I have a long way to go before I can refer to myself as 'accomplished.' It's the place where I'm no longer a "crazy"; I'm just one of the crowd. And I can actually chat with people I usually only dream of talking to.

The other big meal was a dinner in Rhinebeck Saturday night.  The food was delicious, and we had four birthdays that weekend out of six people.  My pictures came out poorly, but know this: I am so glad to have been a part of that group - happy times! I only wish I could have taken a whole plate of that pumpkin ravioli home with me.

One more photo before I leave you today:


You can see anything at Rhinebeck, if you don't get too lost in the crowds.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rhinebeck Part 1: Roadshots

Rhinebeck has come and gone, and I have some photos to share with you! I hope to offer them in several pieces for easy viewing.

Part the First: The Road

The ride up to to New York was characterized by rain. 

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain.  

And I loved it. To be fair, I was not the driver, and I was frantically working on my sweater. I'm deeply grateful to my guy for doing literally all the driving during the course of the weekend. What a sweetie!  (Read between the lines: I'm not the best driver.)

Rain 1

If it had to be a rainy day, it was about the most beautiful rainy car ride I could ask for.

Rain 2

Rain 4

Once we arrived at our friend's house in Albany, however, the rest of the weekend was gorgeous. Our host wisely suggested we take the Taconic State Parkway down to Rhinebeck on Saturday. 

Taconic Pkwy 8 

We were happy to do a repeat of the TSP both ways on Sunday, and the trip home afforded us a couple minutes to take in the breathtaking view of the Catskill Mountains near sunset.

Taconic Pkwy 11

I'm so grateful that of all weekends, our trip up to New England fell on this particular weekend.  Just wait till you see the trees on the fairgrounds! Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ziggy, my happy blankey

A quick Finished Object post, because somebody decided to procrastinate on doing last night's grocery shopping!

Zig Zag 1

This is a very pleasant way to dip into those scraps of yarn and take them for a second ride, and I love the adventure of deciding which color to pick next.

Zig Zag 4

One of the things I enjoyed about it was the mantra-like counting no higher than four in the chevron section. I was gonna keep going and make it a shawl, but someone convinced me to finish it for now.  I was sneaky, though, and left a 'lifeline' in the last color stripe using the very long tail, so that I can rip the border back and continue knitting it if the desire strikes.  I have to confess, that was the smarter half's idea, as well.

Zig Zag 3

Of all the scrap yarn projects (edit: patterns) I've seen, I think this is my favorite because of the way the colors seem to sing. That, and knitting hexi-flats involves constant casting on and off. What do you do with your scraps?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

'Tis a Season Makes Me Jolly

I just finished my Seasons Hat by Jared Flood.  I picked my own color scheme, and while it's significantly different from my original plan, it looks much more like the original design.

Seasons Hat

I've been going around work, trying to drum up some ideas for the costume party that is three weeks from today. So far the best idea seems to be along the lines of Peter Pan characters for my department.  (Because we have to dress within a theme.  Those crazy nursing home recreation people!) I'm not so sure I'm comfortable prancing about the workplace, wearing a stock costume and begging people to clap their hands.  No, I believe I can do better than this.  Perhaps Mr. Smee... or Michael?
Another costume theme idea I am tossing about is that of characters you thought were true when you were a child; you know, like the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy (how would that work with dentures?), the Sandman (I could reuse my vintage nightcap), and the Man in the Moon.  Can you think of any others, without going too scary or religious? I'm thinking the monster under my bed could be fun if there was a way to walk around with a bed on my head.  Or the monster in the closet... but that would probably be more appropriate in a non-work party.

I just realized I never showed you aforementioned nightcap.  Last year my hunny knit me up Franklin Habit's 1840 Nightcap because I also did a Wee Willie Winkie costume for the Nursery Rhymes theme. That was one comfy costume.  Here's my guy modeling the hat.  Isn't he darling? 

Yes, the hat's made with crap yarn, and no, it's not blocked or steamed, though it will be if I use it again this year.

Now I gotta get back to knitting.  I've got a sweater to finish!

Monday, October 1, 2012

October Update: Start the Countdown!

Happy October! I got to work today, and only as I looked up at the calendar did I realize that we begin the new month today.  How September flew!

This sweater isn't exactly flying, but I tried it on the other day and found that I had made some headway, at least.  When this ball of yarn runs out, I think I'll switch gears and start the other shoulder.

sweater progress Sep 29

It is only a couple weeks until you-know-what.  Besides the sweater, I have two more projects I want to finish within this time. Wish me speed! I just hit the half-way point on one of them, so I'm hopeful that things will go alright. I guess it doesn't help that I couldn't resist adding another project into the mix besides these:

It's Jared Flood's Seasons Hat, but I picked out my own color scheme. It's been a lot trickier than I initially thought. If you decide to pick your own colors for this project, you would do well to heed my words: you will need two neutrals (the greys) and two related colors (medium and dark green here) that contrast well with the neutrals, and the main hat color also needs to contrast well with the lighter of the color shades.  I so wanted to use the Loft colorway "Sap" in this hat, but it just didn't seem to deliver the contrast I felt it needed, even though it looked very nice with the other colors.  I actually ended up throwing out two of my colors and lifting some shetland from the Honey's stash for the neutrals.  After lots of fussing, it's coming out pretty well, I think.  Hats are usually so effortless, but I expect the extra work on this hat to be worth my while. It's a beautiful design, and I'm thrilled with the chance to use Loft again.

Alright, enough blabbing.  Time to tend to that knittin'!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Live and learn.

Much of my knitting this week has disappeared into the black hole of a stupid mistake. The proverbial "they" say that the third time is the charm, but all signs are pointing to the fourth time as the one that's going to work.

fat arm 5
Here you can see the voluminous sleeve forming when I decided to keep knitting on my third attempt, in hopes that the problem would work itself out, or at least reveal itself.  It did.

Picking up 7
And here you can see, after the light bulb went on, the current progress on my fourth (and hopefully successful) attempt.  Already there is a stark difference.

What was I doing wrong?

The short version is that when Barbara Walker wrote, "Measure around the upper arm," I used my brilliance to determine that she actually meant "measure around the sleeve opening."  So instead of a measurement of, say thirteen inches, I was determining my sleeve pickup rate from a measurement that came out to about twenty-one inches.


The upside of things is that I not only know the right way to work this, but I also know what happens when you do it wrong.  Three times over. And that may not be an efficient way to learn, but man, it is definitely learning. Back in music school, the accomplished folks would always comfort the less efficient students by saying that it would make them great teachers.  So is anybody lining up to take a sweater class with me yet?  Because at this rate, I'm gonna be one heck of a teacher.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Zig Zags and book reviews, more or less.


The House Color Sweater is progressing ever so slowly down the back, as it's straight stockinette right now, and the cotton content begs for breaks to be taken.  I could take a picture, but it would look like a cropped cardigan reminiscent of the Eighties. Instead, I offer you a photo taken a while back, once I had finished the front short rows on the shoulders.
sweater shoulder
Once the current ball of yarn runs out, I think I'll start working on one of the sleeves for a change of pace.

An upside of boring knitting is that I've been able to resume a bit of reading. I'm rather enjoying Vincent Bzdek's The Kennedy Legacy: Jack, Bobby, and Ted and a Family Dream Fulfilled. I confess that my knowledge of American history is pitiful; I didn't even know that Bobby existed until about five years ago. This book is proving to be fascinating, especially as it is juxtaposed with current events both locally and abroad. I only wish I had not been so afraid of history and politics  when I was, er, younger; if a majority of our nation's youth know as little as I do about our history, it is no wonder that we should be in the sad state we face today.

I also recently took the time to write a review for -- believe it or not -- a poetry anthology! I'm really enjoying the chance to dip into a few good poems with the folks at the nursing home whenever I get the chance (apart from my typical diet of Shel Silverstein, of course). If you're interested in sampling some good poems, I encourage you to check it out.

I'm gearing up to teach a class at Wooly Monmouth inspired by the Zig Zag blanket/wrap thing, which is coming along swimmingly (when I'm not distracted by everything else).
zigzag 1

zigzag 7
I think my favorite colorway in the wrap is the bright oranges and greens in the Black Bunny Fibers yarn above.
I'm looking forward to being back in Red Bank in just a few short weeks.  If you're in the area, think about joining us for a fun afternoon filled with Zigs and Zags!

Oh, and speaking of "in the area," I'm so excited to go to Rhinebeck, even if I am without much funding. I am thinking of conducting a photo scavenger hunt. Do you have any creative suggestions?  I'll see what I can do to accomodate you.  I know that one of the things I intend to get is the maple cotton candy, so you can expect a picture of that. 

I leave you with a video, featuring none other than the ever-charming (and hilarious) Stephen.  Enjoy!