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!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mostly utilitarian: on washing and steaming

The air was deliciously chilly this morning. It felt brisk as I stepped out of the shower, and as I drove my guy to work I was delighted to feel the need for my fingerless mitts and sweater vest. The sky was gorgeous, traffic was hampered by the addition of school buses, and it was the beginning of my day off. But something felt ironic, or even bizarre. As I drove with so much to look forward to, I drove with the awareness that this day marks the anniversary of another spectacularly beautiful day -- a day when the world seemed to be ending.  For some people in America, it did. And they, in turn, remind me of the way each of us lives in the shadow of the unknown, our future. Much like the proverbial "rock and a hard place," we're made to live between the shadows of the past and the mystery of the future. And while there are some pretty large spectres looming at either end, we also do well to remember the beautiful and hopeful scenes we have already encountered and may yet face. That is how we live every day, and that is the place from which I "natter about knitting" -- and other "stuff."

Last week I set about photographing some projects that need fixing, and proceeded to make some headway.  One of the projects was a little pair of toe socks that I needed to revise and make normal kiddie socks.
Kiddie socks
Eek!  Toes.
I took them with me to the laundromat, and had a rather fun time exacting punishment for my own failure to knit them in a timely fashion.
horror at the laundromat
Don't worry; all was remedied, and no knits were really harmed in the making of this post. I took a few pics of the socks after tossing them in the washer and dryer in this weeks laundry, since I've always wondered about this yarn's claims to washability. The socks came out as I expected, with a bit more halo, but otherwise unscathed. I feel pretty confident knitting gifts for children in this yarn.
kiddie socks washed 1
For inquiring minds, the yarn is Spud and Chloe Fine, a wool and silk blend.

I finished up a manshawl for a friend of the family whose father just was admitted to a nursing home. Since I know firsthand how the laundry is done at such establishments, I wanted to be sure it would launder adequately.  So I bit the bullet and found some Plymouth Yarn Encore, a 75/25 acrylic/wool blend. At first the high percentage of stockinette was a problem as it curled right up, but I applied a couple techniques to counteract it. First, I tried killing the acrylic by steaming it, but it didn't seem to "kill" too obviously. I think that is a testament to the wool content. However, the steaming relaxed the curling and seemed to add a bit of soft touch to the fabric. Still not convinced that the edges would not fold over, I doubled up the rather abundant length and added borders at the new ends, finishing it off with a single crochet to bind the layers together. I took pictures at different stages to examine the effects of washing and drying the yarn.
manshawl 4
Steamed the first time

manshawl washed 8
Machine washed delicate, dried on low setting at laundromat

manshawl washed 3
closeup after wash and dry

manshawl steamed 2
after a quick steam the second time around, all ready to go!

Before, it stood on its own.
I had better success "killing" the acrylic in a hat I knit in the very early days of my Ravelry adventures. The yarn is Red Heart, and I knit it at too tight of a gauge... at least I thought so before steaming it a couple times. Now it still squeaks, but it is at least passable for a person who does not have texture hangups.

My conclusion is that I would use Encore again for gifts that I am pretty sure would need machine washability. It feels respectable and seems to hold its appearance fairly well. I feel very justified in my disdain for classic Red Heart, though. That said, I am a new convert to the magic of steam blocking; it captures some of the thrill I associate with lace blocking, and can even work wonders with the most awful acrylic.

Chullo 2
After agressive steaming the brim uncurled with very little prompting
and the fabric is drapier.  It even looks like a hat.

As my time with you today draws to a close, my thoughts go out to you a little differently than usual. Keep your head down, knit with ferocity, and may you find those bits of hope and beauty to keep you going.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

End of summer ruminations and reviews of sorts

It's technically the end of summer here in Pennsylvania, but schools have started, and I'm glad to welcome September and the cooler weather that should arrive soon.  So happy fall from my corner of the world!

Due to my new schedule at the nursing home, I had to stop working at Loop.  I'm okay though, because while I miss such a great yarn shop, I've been enjoying the chance to catch up with knitting buddies again on Saturdays.  During my final scramble to utilize my employee's discount, I became strangely drawn to a reddish colorway in Spud and Chloe Sweater.  Right away, I could envision a cardigan in the stuff, and this past week I've been plotting and scheming to make that vision a reality. I cast on during the holiday weekend, and already I'm nearly at the finish of the first ball of yarn, with shoulder strips and the beginning of the back to show for it.

First Ball

Some knits are all about the colors or the feel of the yarn, while others about the finished product; in this case the thing that is keeping me engaged is the process of the pattern.  I'm working my way through another of Barbara Walker's top-down sweater recipes, and I'm loving watching it happen between my fingers.  I do wish her book was available in ebook format, as it requires a fair bit of cross-referencing, but there's something wonderful about the way she both holds my hand through each step and simultaneously gives me opportunities to let my imagination fly. (I also used to spend a lot of time reading those "Choose Your Own Adventure" paperbacks, back before hyperlinks existed; maybe my mind is enjoying retracing some old ruts created by the labyrinthine reading patterns.)  

The very process by which a seamless sweater is created feels like magic (excepting the darned tails that love to get tangled up in the working yarn).  In this case of a seamless saddle shoulder sweater, there is no seemingly daunting cast-on as in the top-down vest. (I say "seemingly" because, like so many other parts of knitting, it is really not bad at all if you take the time to follow Barbara's tutorial. Why do I psych myself out when a piece of foreign yarn is introduced into the cast-on?) Her book is really a great addition to my library, and I highly recommend it as a valuable guide for the knitter who wants more than to be spoon-fed from specific patterns.  When she is not giving direct instruction on the construction of the sweater in discussion or its myriad possibilities, she spends a bit of time singing the praises of its mysterious and beautiful construction.  When itching to cast on, these bits seemed to be "in the way." Now as I work on my sweater, I have to admit, her sentiments resonate with me as if we were of like minds.

First Ball
I actually got to start by knitting two little strips of pretty cable braids that will flow naturally down the sleeves like it's nobody's business.  From there, I got to pick up stitches; I love the way picking up stitches from the edge of a fabric tames a wild line into the most elegant row. (I can't wait to come back and pick up the collar stitches!)  Actually, this pattern has a fair amount of picking up, as the knitting changes directions a couple times; I guess I ought to have quite a lovely time, then!  

I've finished a few little items since my last post.  One of them is the adorable "One" baby sweater designed by one of the fabulous folks at Loop, Erika Flory.  It lived up to its promise to be a fun, quick, and easy knit, and it's designed for the same yarn as my red cardigan: Sweater!  Now I just need to find a baby girl somewhere.


While sifting through my possessions in the wake of my move, I unearthed my very first sock.  When I knit it, I had no knowledge of a local yarn shop, YouTube, Ravelry, or sock yarn.  I pulled up a sock pattern on the internet (back when it still bore the title "World Wide Web") and got my supplies at the nearest A.C. Moore.

First Sock

I have long felt that this sock is not worthy of receiving a mate; my solution to  the 'laddering' that occurred where the double pointed needles changed was to work a haphazard whipstitch of sorts, which proved more effective in making the sock ugly than improving its function or appearance. The slippery needles and less-than-optimal yarn also proved a bad combination, and I drew some level of comfort from telling myself that all knitting should really be performed at a bulky gauge on needles roughly as thick as my pinky fingers. Still, it must have served some good, for it seems that it gave me a chance to work out a lot of the 'yucky' karma at once; years later I discovered the local yarn shop (Loop, in fact!) and took a class.  When I knit my first pair of socks after that class, it turned out beautifully. Now, rather than feeling disdain for my first sock, I feel that it is a sort of memorial of my early knitting, and I'm rather fond of it.  What have you done with your early -- and perhaps less-than-useable -- knits?

Here's to a wonderful autumn in the Northern Hemisphere; to all you folks south of the equator, enjoy those knits while you can!