Sunday, December 30, 2007

A new sidebar

Oooh. Did you notice the new sidebar? It's like a dessert table, just beckoning you to go check it out. This is the list of blogs that I am subscribed to through Google Reader. Some of them post daily, some hardly ever post. Some are new, many have been on my list for a while. These are the people whose projects I follow, and yes, there are many. Really, though, it's only between 10 and 30 posts a day, which isn't too bad now that I've taught myself to knit and read at the same time. So, if you have a moment, go check them out. A few today, a few tomorrow, and before you know it you'll be reading while knitting, too. (See what you started, Kris? I'd like you to know that this is all your fault.)

Do you read this blog and yet not see yours on my list? That might mean that I don't know about you, so feel free to let me know where to read you, too!

In which I discover that I need pointier pointy sticks

I like metal needles. I know lots of people that swear by bamboo, but they're too sticky for me. I tried Addi turbos once, but they slip too much and I nearly went crazy making Branden's sweater with them. I know, it's akin to heresy to loathe Addi Turbos. But what can I say? They slip (and yes, I know...that's the point...they say it right on the package)! I just stick with the plain old grey metal needles for just about everything. This morning, I decided that I was going to start swatching Irtfa'a. I got out the skein and sat down to check my gauge. And I realized that my needles that work for everything just don't work with this yarn.

This is probably largely because I need to use big needles to get a reasonable gauge. The pattern says to use 4's, which automatically means that I need 5's or 6's. It doesn't matter what yarn I'm using, I am always a size or two bigger than the published one. I've always wondered why this is, because I don't really seem to knit very tightly. The loops are always loose on my needle, and they just don't look like they're tight to me. I think that I have finally figured out why this might be.

I have never actually known what method of knitting I use. I've looked in several books, and I never really see the method that I use for making my stitches. I know I hold my needles the German way, but I don't form my knits and purls like most books recommend. While reading the Stanley book, I finally discovered that I use plaited knit and purl stitches. This method apparently adds and extra twist to the yarn, and makes for a tighter gauge. So, two questions were answered at once. I use plaited stitches, and therefore I have tight knitting, even with a fairly loose tension. Huh. What you can learn from reading a good book.

So anyway. Back to swatching. It took me about 2 rows to realize that my needles just weren't going to work. It was like trying to use my elbow to type. I could manage knits, but it literally took me two or three tries to get the needle into the loops for purling. Crazy. So, I needed new needles. My pointy sticks of choice are just not pointy enough. Thankfully, my LYS had Addi lace needles, and I have now managed to create a swatch.



Note that the gauge is different at the bottom than it is in the rest of the swatch. The crochet hook marks the point where I switched from my metal Pryms to the Addis. Did you know that switching needle types (and keeping the same size, mind you) could change your gauge on a 5 inch swatch by an inch? The reason that I swatched enough to tell if my gauge was close was that I needed to buy the right size of needle. Based on my Pryms, I bought a 5 and a 4, just in case I needed to step down a size. And then my gauge shrunk. I probably should have run out again and gotten a size 6, but I decided that the gauge is pretty darned close after giving the swatch a chance to stretch a little off of the needles (read: tugging and tugging to make it be the right gauge), and it's lace, and it's a shawl. So I'm going with 4 for the small needle and 5 for the big one. If I have to, I'll rip later. I was really surprised at what a difference the needles made, though. And it's not just that the tips are more tapered; the loops fit on the thickest part of the needle about the same. But there is definitely a difference. Again, huh.

I have been going back and forth on whether or not I'm brave enough to open-skein this project. I can handle a 400 yd tangle of sock yarn if it happens, but contemplating 1600 yds of knotted laceweight does give one pause. It is a risk, and I'm not sure how brave (stupid?) I am. I am trying it open for now, and we'll see how it goes. I am a bit paranoid, however, so there will be no kitties cuddling in this yarn as I knit. They tell me that this is highly unfair, and I have to say that I agree with them. However, 1600 yards of laceweight is enough answer to that complaint, in my mind. To make extra sure that there is no room for tangles, I needed a holder. I don't own a swift, and I don't think that I really need to buy one just so that I can defy caution and use open skeins. Hmmm...

Fortunately, a light bulb went on above my head. Literally.



(Ok, ok, I know...I'm sorry. I couldn't resist. Light bulb, light serving as knitting assitant...how could I let that corny joke pass?)

I have now turned my knitting lamp into a knitting lamp that doubles as a yarn holder for open skeins that should be kept out of the way of feline affection. Perfect.

After all of these adjustments, I did actually manage to make a somewhat interesting swatch. I bet you didn't know I could talk this long about silly little things, did you? Well, I'll stop rambling now and show you the goods:



That, ladies and gentlemen, is my first swatch for Irtfa'a. It's not much; just a few repeats of the edging lace, and then one 28 row pattern of the shoulder shaping, but there it is. I'm so excited!!! It's on its way to being a WIP! I have a few more swatches to do, but I should be starting for real in the next few days. Yay!

It's funny that I am so excited about starting this project, because I can already tell that it's going to take me forever to do, and it's going to require that I actually pay attention the whole time. Yes, the whole time. Every single stitch will require just a little bit of thought, and between that my recently glacial knitting speed it should take me just about 'til the end of time to finish. This, of course, means that I will be wanting it to be done in no time. I am really going to enjoy it, I think, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this is one of those projects where you have to measure the length every few rows to convince yourself that it isn't getting shorter as you knit. So, don't get your hopes up about seeing the finished project on this blog anytime soon. But, if you're a progress knitter, you can celebrate, since this will be a work in progress for quite some time, and I will probably talk endlessly about it while I'm at it. =)

Speaking of talking endlessly, I think I had better go before I lose you all forever with my chattering. See you tomorrow!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A busy day, and nothing to show for it

Actually, I've done a lot, but I have no pictures to show for it tonight. Yesterday, I finished up Branden's Coriolis socks and his alpaca scarf to match the handwarmers (it's only been on the needles for a month, derailed by Christmas knits...).

Then I began to think about the knitting grammary. I'd read all of the relevant sections of the Stanley book on the plane and I knew where to start, but I couldn't decide whether to use the swatches once they're finished or to leave them as sample swatches for future reference. That's a tough one. It's so much easier to be motivated when I have a project that I'm working toward, but the swatches can also be a lot smaller if they don't have to become anything in particular. Hmmm.

I went a little crazy last year after knitting my sweater and Branden's with Paton's Classic Merino. I really liked the feel (this is before I'd been forever spoiled by LYS yarns), and there was a good sale. I broke down and made my one and only large addition to the stash, which was enough for 4 more sweaters. Crazy, I know. Or at least I know now. This is why I don't stash more than a couple of projects in advance.

Fortunately, I didn't get around to those sweaters right away, and am just now coming back to working with that yarn. I say fortunately, because I have now had a year to observe the yarn in the two original sweaters. It might be soft, it might come in pretty colors, and it might be cheap, but it ain't worth making a sweater out of it. Why? Because it pills like crazy, and it doesn't hold its shape at all. I still like my sweater ok (I will show pics someday, really), but Branden's has just gone from bad to worse. Nothing about it hangs the way it should, and the pilling is really pretty bad. I am sure that at least some (ok maybe most...) of the shape issues are due to poor construction, but the yarn just doesn't hold up nicely, either. So, I now have 4 sweaters' worth of wool that I don't know what to do with and can't use in my favorite big yarn project (sweaters). I've been thinking of making a couple of small throws out of it, since they won't get as much wear, and I don't have enough complementary colors to go for a big afghan. I could theoretically use my swatches from the grammary to make one of the throws. Of course, that would necessitate binding the swatches together, which would hide the sample edges. Again, hmmm.

I've decided to just make swatches, and let them be an exercise but not a project. I will come up with something to do with that Paton's, and until then it can continue to insulate my bookshelf in the bedroom. This may not seem like a big decision, but it's been the one keeping me from starting the grammary all week. That, and the prospect of a million swatches. Why did you think I finished those other projects so quickly? Oh yes, this is definitely procrastination at its finest.

So, today I decided to be disciplined and spent this morning swatching. Well, I sort of spent this morning swatching. I got up and practiced a couple of cast ons. Then I baked muffins for breakfast. Then I looked at the cast ons again, and decided that I should take video of the techniques that I'm using to post. That would require a tripod, which I thought I'd brought home from work. Well, I can't find it at home. So I went into lab and looked for it. Couldn't find it there, either. Decided I must have just not looked hard enough at home. Came home, realized that I had looked hard enough; it's not here. Puzzled over this. Gave up on video. Sat down and knit first swatch while chatting with Mom on phone. Watched Branden constructing light box for knitting photos (he spoils me rotten, I tell you). Baked gingerbread cookies. Observed light box progress some more. Printed Irtfa'a pattern (I'm so excited!!!). Knitted second and third grammary swatch. Made mozzarella and pizza for dinner. Helped Branden take photos of my past knitting projects (I use the term "helped" loosely here...). Realized that neither of us has any talent for arranging things nicely in photographs. Bemoaned lack of artistic skill. Remembered that there are two FOs that need to be frogged and reworked into something useful. Realized that one of them is very funny to play with. Got very silly for an hour or so. Took lots of pictures of us being silly, which we may or may not post in the future. Regained seriousness, and knitted fourth swatch while catching up on my blog subscriptions. Looked up and realized that it's 9:30, and that I need to blog tonight. Blogged.

And that's my day. Like I said, busy, but not much to show for it. Four tiny swatches, a few pictures that aren't uploaded yet, some cookies, and the remains of a pizza. On the plus side, I did learn 4 new methods of casting on, 4 of binding off, and 2 new selvedges. I did not get around to swatching the Irtfa'a lace, which I had really hoped to do. But then, tomorrow is another day, and one where I don't have to work! Yay for vacations!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Knitting Grammary Lessons

I believe that I have alluded to my planned knitting grammary lessons here before. Well, I do believe that it is now after Christmas, and I am ready to start thinking about them again. So, what exactly do I mean by "knitting grammary"? Well, I've known how to knit most of my life (I don't even remember learning, it was so long ago, though I do remember learning to purl). When you have known something for so long, you tend to fall into habits of doing things just one way. My knowledge of techniques is extremely limited, and I have really only begun to branch out from knitting and purling in this past year. Because I learned so early and didn't really pursue knitting as more than an occasional diversion until a year ago, I haven't done a lot of really basic things, even though I've known how to knit seemingly forever.

For the past year, my focus has been on new stitch patterns, because it's really exciting to learn new kinds of stitches and put them into projects after such a long knit-purl diet. Now, however, I think it is time to expand my view a little more, and to go back to the very basics and do some real studying. This is my ulterior motive for wanting The Knitter's Handbook, and a large part of the reason that I got Knitting in the Old Way a few months ago. In order to broaden my technical knowledge, I have devised my knitting grammary lessons. Basically, I want to go back and learn the grammar of knitting; all the little pieces that can be put together in different ways to create new projects. I am planning to start with casting on and binding off, perhaps try some different styles of knitting, play with pairs of increases and decreases, and generally just do a lot of swatches. Now, I am not a fan of swatching, but I am very interested to actually compare all of these different techniques for myself. You can read about them all in books, but it's just not the same as sitting down and knitting them and seeing what the differences are. I'm sure the swatching will make me crazy, so these lessons will probably take some time, but I'm hoping to find a lot of new favorite techniques in them, and solidify my understanding of how one goes about choosing the best techniques for a particular project. Grammar has never been my favorite subject, but being able to speak intelligently is worth the effort. I am hoping that a study of knitting grammar will similarly improve my knitting skills. Ready for an adventure in swatching?

Library Expansions

I love useful gifts. When my family started asking what I wanted for Christmas, I went over to Barnes and Noble and looked through their knitting book collection. I'd have preferred to use a LYS, but B&N is an easy store to locate anywhere in the country, and sometimes chains are just easier. I passed on a few titles to my mom, along with some non-knitting suggestions. My top pick was Montse Stanley's Knitter's Handbook. And what was under the tree? That's right; Montse's book! I think you all know how much I love and use the Walker books by now. The Knitter's Handbook is a similar quality of book, except for techniques rather than stitch patterns. I think it's my favorite gift of the year, and I can tell I'll be getting a lot of use out of it.

Last spring, I discovered the Walker books, and bought the first two in the series. I wanted to get the others, but I figured that two would keep me busy for a while, and that they'd make easy Christmas suggestions. I have such a hard time coming up with my wish list that yes, I do avoid buying things all year so that I can put something on it. Well, the Walker books were on the top of the list from the beginning, but they're not easy to find in just any old book store, or even any old LYS. So, I scouted out some easy to find books for my family (see above) and left the Walker books for Branden. We never know what to get for each other, as we're both very content not to have anything extra usually. So, we try to come up with things that we'd really like and the element of surprise is usually lost. This year, Branden kept asking "so, what do you want for Christmas?" and every time I'd tell him that I wanted the Walker books. This year, he apparently wanted to surprise me instead, and so started doing some "research" into a possible gift two nights before we left for MA, and didn't make it to the LYS to get the books. The other gift didn't pan out, but he wanted to have something for me to open (I'm not sure why...I was fine with just waiting until we got home). We did some shopping at B&N's online store and picked out two more knitting books; The Knitter's Guide to Combining Yarn, and The Yarn Lover's Guide to Dyeing.

So I now have 3 (three!) new knitting books to start off my second year of consistent knitting, and I just got a coupon to the Fiber Gallery, which I will be using to pick up the Walker books, now that the Christmas hold is off. Woo hoo!

I brought Montse's book along as plane reading, and am now most of the way through it. We had extra plane reading time, as our flight was delayed 4 hrs and then cancelled due to the pilot having a bad allergic reaction to his lunch. We ended up staying overnight (they put us up at the Hilton...I'm not complaining) and then going through the whole airport thing again on the 26th. This gave me plenty of reading time, and knitting time, though I actually didn't do much knitting. I'm not sure why, because I really had nothing else to be doing, but I managed to be fairly unproductive considering the amount of time I had. I did do some list-making, though, which will make it on here sooner or later.

So, I definitely had some pretty good luck with knitting-related gifts. I am really excited to play around with the techniques in the Knitter's Handbook, and am really enjoying reading about the different dyeing techniques in the Yarn Lover's Guide to Dyeing. I've never dyed fiber before, though my research lab does a lot of dyeing of crystals. I'm excited about the possibilities in dyeing, but I don't want to get into that just yet. I have a whole list of things to try first! But more on those later. All in all, I'd say I have had a very successful week of library expansions, thanks largely to my family and husband that do such a good job of supporting my knitting habit. Thanks everyone!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Back

Sorry for neglecting you all this past week. Making up for a year of visiting in 6 days just doesn't leave much time for anything else, and I ended up needing my insomnia-given time for things like wrapping gifts and working on last-minute secret projects. If you're anything like me, you didn't have time to read blogs over the holiday anyway, and maybe you're thrilled that there aren't 6 more posts to read. Now that I'm home, I want to spend the rest of this week focusing on hobbies, so hopefully I will have some actual knitting content in the next couple of days. It's not often that I take time off, and I'm determined not to allow myself to start working during my vacation time again. I have so many lists of things to knit that it should be easy to fill up a week, and probably a whole year!

As far as trip knitting went, I only managed to get through Branden's socks (need to do the last inch of the ankle today), and the slipper socks. It appears that knitting and visiting my family don't go so well together. I'd get out the knitting and start working, but it just never seemed to get anywhere. So, it was a slow week for the needles, which was probably good for my hands.

I also have to comment on the fact that Seattle is dark in the winter. I guess I'm used to it; I'm not usually surprised by the lack of light outside. But after being in MA for a week and being woken up every morning by sun pouring in the windows, Seattle is horribly grey and cloudy. It was at least 7:30 before the sun came up this morning, and you can still barely tell that it's light out now, at 9:00. It's funny that I've never really noticed the dark before, but the contrast is just too huge to miss. I found myself wanting sunglasses all week in MA; the sun was out all the time, and it was blinding when reflected off of the snow. But now we are back to rain and darkness for a few more months. I guess the summer makes up for the winter, but today I'm having a hard time being optimistic about the Seattle greyness.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Home for the Holidays

Well, here we are in MA. I'm still not sure it's sunk in that we're here; we weren't planning to come out for Christmas this year, but ended up getting a good deal on plane tickets at the last minute. In some ways, it feels like it's been forever, and in some ways it's like we never left. Odd how home does that to you.

We got a non-stop flight this year, so I had only a little bit of knitting time on the plane. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I would rather knit just about anywhere than in a narrow plane seat. Though traveling with Branden helps, as the person next to me doesn't hate me if I stick an elbow over the arm rest. Besides the airport and security and sitting still for so long, I really like flying. I have to say that I got distracted from sock knitting more than once to watch the landscape below. I love the midwest; it's like one huge patchwork quilt. And the Rockies are just gorgeous. Flying over the great lakes was nice, too. There was a light cloud cover, so there was blue sky and then white clouds and then blue water. It was like having a whole sky above you and below you at the same time. Very pretty.

My grandparents don't have internet, so I couldn't post last night, and I almost didn't tonight, except that I appear to be stuck on West Coast time. I dutifully went to bed at a time appropriate to the local clocks, but have now been wide awake in bed for about 3 hours. I guess I won't be jumping out of bed at 7 in the morning tomorrow, but the least I can do is post tonight.

I am excited, too. I might have a little more Christmas knitting after all. We're staying with a friend of Branden's this year, as my mom's house is full. He came in tonight while I was knitting Branden's Coriolis socks, and said that he had heard about felting (well, he didn't know what it was called, but he knew that it involved wool and a washing machine). He continued to say that he thought this would be a great way to make socks to wear around the house. I don't think he knows enough crafty people to realize how dangerous it is to make such a statement. Of course, I will be seeking out a LYS tomorrow morning and whipping up a pair of felted slipper socks. I've never felted before, but now is as good a time as any to learn, and switching to worsted and big needles will make things fly along after all this sock knitting.

I do have to say that Branden's socks are coming along quite nicely, though. I started them Monday, I think, and I'm about 1/2" from turning the heel already. And this is knitting two at once, so things are just zipping along on this pair. I think that the biggest time sink in my sock knitting is the rearranging of needles. It's the one huge disadvantage of the 2 circs method, in my mind. I love being able to do two at once, but I'm just faster on dpns. The cables require too much stopping and finding needle ends to be efficient for me. But then again, being able to try them on while I'm working, and, most importantly, making both socks at once so that they are exactly matched seems worth the extra time. I still spend less time rearranging needles than I do re-knitting a sock, so I suppose it's worth it. I can't wait until after the holidays to try the knitty knit-one-inside-the-other method. I wanted to try it on these, but it's dark, handpainted yarn, and I think I need some practice managing increases and decreases before I'm ready to try that method on dark yarn. Still, I'm intrigued.

Branden is always helpful with ideas about this sort of thing. Being an engineer, he has a very different perspective on how and why things work, and he has often come up with good ideas. In this particular case, I was saying that I thought it really was necessary for me to try the two-colored yarn method for my first attempt, since I'm pretty much guaranteed to mess it up otherwise. Of course, I then began to bemoan the fact that I wouldn't be making a pair, and I'd probably mismatch them again. At this point, Branden gave me the quizzical "you're not making any sense" look that immediately precedes either a very helpful idea that should have been obvious, or something crazy that really just doesn't work (like pulling from both ends of a skein...it seems like it should work, and I bet someone has done it, but I just make an awful mess of it every time). In this case, the look preceded a very simple idea that I really should have come up with before whining out loud. I will probably now be trying the two-in-one knitting method on two differently colored pairs at one time, so that I will end up with a total of 4 (yes, 4, it seems so crazy...) socks on my needles all at once. Am I nuts? Probably. But hey, it seems to make sense, and really 4 is no harder than 2, so what the heck? If it cuts down on the needle-rearranging time, it would solve a few problems all at once. I think I'll keep this peanut gallery around for a while longer. =)

Ok, I am losing my ability to see the screen in the dark without my glasses (sorry for the typos I'm sure I'm missing), and I believe that I may now be falling into the trap of rambling on when I have little left to talk about. And I really should try to get to sleep, as it is now late even on pacific time. So, ciao for now, and I may be back again tomorrow if I remain sleepless.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Making a list, checking it twice

Our flight to Boston is tomorrow morning, so the weekend was spent cleaning the house (there's no good reason to leave ourselves a messy house to come back to!), endlessly listing off the things we need to do before we go, the things we can't forget to bring, etc. I think we now have all of the gifts and most of our clothes for the trip piled up on the bed, waiting to be stuffed into a suitcase (or probably two) tonight. All of this means that I haven't done much knitting lately.

Still, the packing isn't the only reason that my needles have been idle. Every once in a while I finish a project faster than I expect, or end up deciding not to do the next thing on the list. This always leaves me at loose ends, sort of wondering what's next and where my momentum has gone. So, this weekend I took a knitting vacation and regrouped. I have lots of things lined up that I want to do after the holidays, but for now I need travel knitting. I have the sideways cable sweater, which is nice and mindless stockinette at this point, but sweaters are bulky and don't make good take-along knitting. Then there's Irtfa'a, but I am still savoring the anticipation, and starting a challenging lace project on the go is just not a good idea. I will be taking Branden's alpaca scarf to match his handwarmers. I worked on that a bit over the weekend while mulling, and it's probably about 1/3 done now. Other than that, I don't really have anything lined up at the moment. I know that many people have UFO's hanging around all the time, but I'm not one of them. I tend to keep just a few projects going and finish them before moving on. I've tried starting several at once, but I never manage to start more at the same rate that I finish, and so I quickly return to just one project at a time. I cast on for Branden's socks last night (he gets a pair out of the holiday knit shopping). I'm thinking we'll do the spiraling coriolis on this pair, since I didn't get to try it on the toe socks. So, one scarf and one pair of socks on the needles. I think I'll probably bring the other sock yarn along, too, since I'll have the book and a lot of time. And I guess that's it. Should be enough for a week, right?

I'm assuming that blogging will continue as usual during the trip home. I think we should have internet, so it should be easy to keep up. If not, happy holidays, and I'll see you when we get back on the 25th!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ch-ch-ch-cha-changes

Ever get the feeling that someone you've always known really well has changed? I think just about everyone has. I'm not sure that everyone has felt that way about themselves, however. It's a very odd sensation to suddenly not really recognize yourself. I am generally considered to be (and think of myself as) a logical, reasonable sort of person. I tend to keep things pretty simple, and stick to a plan once I've made it. But that just doesn't seem to fit with the following series of events.

1) Discuss the fact that I am not enthusiastic about sock knitting.

2) Decide to "cure" myself by making 5 pairs before Christmas, with 4 weeks to go (This does not seem particularly unlike me, actually...)

3) Make 2 pairs (if you count the one sock that came out wrong and needs to be redone)

4) Decide sock making isn't so bad after all, and begin to think I might like it, after all.

5) Stress about whether or not there will be time to finish (here's where things start getting unusual...I don't normally worry about asking myself to do the impossible, and this really isn't impossible anyway)

6) Sock knitting gives copious time for reflection. Reflect deeply. Realize that family is probably not all that interested in socks to begin with.

7) Shorten knitting list accordingly.

8) Go shopping, find more appropriate gifts to replace said socks.

9) Realize that there are 2 weeks left until Christmas

10) Feel bereft at not having holiday knitting to stress about (This is where I'm beginning to be concerned...I'm worried about not having something to stress over before the holidays???)

10)Begin to question whether or family might like mitts better than socks?

11)Catch self being indecisive and illogical. Throw up hands, shake head, and wonder if I should have head examined once thoroughly shaken.

I dunno. My knitting personality is much different than my real-life personality in a lot of ways, but this might be taking it a bit too far. Everyone has their little quirks, and generally we are used to them and have them under relatively good control. I, for instance, avoid giving in to my tendency to perfectionism in order to keep from annoying the people around me. I just let things go in real life and take it out on my knitting later, which works out rather well, actually. As long as you're aware of a particular tendency, you can compensate accordingly. But what does one do when all of those habitual tendencies suddenly turn upside down? I mean, really. This is downright impulsive! It's kinda fun, in a heady sort of way, but it's rather unsettling to wake up one morning and realize that you don't really recognize yourself anymore. Amusing, but unsettling. Huh. I wonder who I'll be tomorrow?

Friday, December 14, 2007

You're making me jealous!

I have just read all my blog subscriptions (thank goodness for Google Reader), and you're all making me jealous with your snow pictures! We did actually get a quarter of an inch that lasted about an hour at the beginning of the month, but we just don't get real winter here. I think I'm glad that we don't, since the whole city stopped last year over an inch of snow. (I literally walked home 4 miles in the snow because it was faster than taking a bus. Twice.) But I really do miss winter. At least Branden informs me that there was a Noreaster this week, and there's another one coming, so Boston should have a good layer of snow by the time we get there. Hooray! Oh, wait. I don't own a winter coat anymore. How horribly sad. I need to move back East!

Trying something new

A few people responded to my previous post in which I lamented my inability to respond to comments. They suggested that I use Haloscan to manage blog comments, since it will give me email addresses so that I can respond. Thanks for the suggestion!

I tried installing Haloscan just now, and it appears to have lost all but my test comment. There weren't very many to lose in the first place, but I'm not sure why it won't let me see them anymore. Hopefully it will work with any new comments that come in. We'll see how this goes...

And they twain shall be as one

Well, that went well. It probably went better than it would have late last night, but I think I probably could have handled grafting even with slightly blurry eyes. Good to know for 3 am knitting marathons. I avoid those anyway, but it's always good to know that something is as easy as it looks. Isn't it pretty?



And, a close-up of the stitches:



What's that? It's not close enough for you? Click on the picture...now there's a close up! Gotta love digital cameras; can you see the individual plies?

Now, I have a sneaking suspicion that Fleegle's method is really Kitchener stitch in disguise. Whether it is or whether it isn't, there is most definitely a half stitch offset. I've decided I kind of like it, and I'm not sure that I see a way that it could be avoided, so I think I'm not going to worry about half a stitch.

I really like the join; the way the two patterns come together reminds me of the ostrich plume lace stitch, which is one I've been meaning to try for a while. And the seam is practically invisible; I have to look pretty carefully to find it, and I even know it's there. I love dual-purpose knitting; I have created a gift, and learned something new and useful. Yay!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I have two halves

Humph. I have been knitting like crazy tonight to finish the second half of the vines scarf. Well, I made it. And then it occurred to me that I need to join the two halves together. Actually, it's been occurring to me off and on for the past 2 nights, but I've been able to put it off. Until now. The lace is ready to become a scarf, and here I am wondering how on earth I am going to join it. My favorite grafting method is one that I made up, which involves knitting one stitch from each half together in my normal cast off. I am sure that this has a name, but I don't know what it is. It's not something I was taught; I just sort of intuitively figured it out when confronted with two things that needed to become one. But somehow it doesn't seem appropriate for this case. It seems like there should be a better way out there.

Now, if this had been a scarf with a pattern that could be worked from the middle, I'd have had no problem. I'd have used Judy Becker's magic cast on that I've been using from Cat Bordhi's sock book, and knit from the center out in both directions. But the vines pattern has a very nice scalloped cast on edge that would have been a shame to lose (and probably would have made for a very awkward join anyway). So, I knit both halves. When I finished the first, I just cut the yarn and kept it on my circulars while I knit the second. This made it very easy to compare length and determine that yes, it is now time to finish the piece. But how?

I've heard a lot about Kitchener stitch, and while I've never tried it, I think it sounds pretty straightforward. But it offsets the pattern by half a stitch. In the grand scheme of things, half a stitch is probably insignificant and will never be noticed. But it's half a stitch. I want it to match exactly. I don't really feel like trying the waste yarn method, either, where you knit a few rows, join, and then pull out the waste yarn. If it were after Christmas, I would have either been given or have bought some basic knit technique books, and they would probably solve my problem. But, as it is not yet after Christmas, I have only 4 stitch dictionaries (can you tell where my main interest lies?), the Knitter's Book of Yarn, and Knitting in the Old Way, which only discusses Kitchener.

If it were after Christmas, I would also have put myself through the knitting grammary lessons that I have planned (more on those later), and I would already know how to graft. But alas, it is not after Christmas, and as this scarf will be gone by then, I need to figure something out in the meantime.

And now that I have succeeded in my goal of finishing the second half of the scarf tonight, I think I am going to wander off and leave the grafting for tomorrow. It's after 10, and my eyes are getting fuzzy, which strikes me as probably a bad time to start working on something completely new and probably harder than it seems with dark yarn and half an hour until bedtime. I hate to leave it unfinished, but I think the world will be a better place if I avoid unnecessarily frustrating myself with what should be a simple task. And so, to bed and reading about knitting rather than doing it. Yay for procrastination!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Finals are depressing

Exams are depressing. And not just for the students, I might add. There are just no two ways around it. Exam grading leaves me exhausted and wondering why on earth I bothered to try to teach. I don't know about you, but 520 pages of test problems (where a 15 out of 45 is apparently a good score for a page) is just not a heartening way for me to end a teaching assignment.

Sometimes, I understand. Sometimes the professor is really mean, or tricky, or the exam is too long, or something. But it's hard to say that the test was too hard when the prof told them that he would pull 6 questions from the exam out of a list of maybe 25 book problems, and they had a two-sided 8.5x11 notecard, and we had two review sessions and several practice exams. I know the material can be tough, but the sorts of mistakes that were made are really just sickening. I am one of those TAs that really puts everything aside when I have a student that wants help and is trying. And I even put things aside to try to inspire the apathetic ones to try harder. I have put myself so far behind in my research trying to give these students a leg up, and they didn't even read the stupid book.

And then they fail. Miserably. Sometimes I wonder how it's possible to get so few points on an entire page, even if you're guessing. I mean, random chance says that you should get more points than zero. It seems like you would have to try to fail this badly; it just defies statistics. You can only grade so many zero point pages before it starts to get to you. I had at least 10 today, and probably more like 20. There were several in the single digits (and we're talking 50 point pages here). Branden often does better on these exams than my students, and he's never sat in on an organic chemistry class in his life (yes, he does take them just to see what intelligent guessing can do for you...). You'd think that not having taken the class would put him at a disadvantage, but then I suppose it doesn't really, since they don't go to lecture, and they have never opened an o-chem book, either. Ok, that's a bit harsh; I know some of them have, and many have been trying very hard. Tomorrow, I will remember that many of them have succeeded. Tonight, I am just tired. Tired of grading, tired of teaching when no one learns. Just tired. And my eye has started twitching again, which makes me crazy. Sigh.

On the plus side, I have gotten some knitting done. I'm about 3/4 of the way through Mom's scarf, and I'm hoping to finish it up tomorrow. I had hoped to find some time to work on a project for Branden, since he's not home to snoop and it's impossible to work on things in secret unless he's across the country on business. But, I think that's not going to happen. I am just not a fast enough knitter, I'm afraid. Ah well. He'll forgive me if it ends up not being a surprise. Or maybe I'll just work on it while he's at robotics all next quarter. We'll see. For now, I think I am going to take my tired and depressed self off to bed, and hope that things will look better in the morning (so that I can go back to school and add up the scores and calculate the final grades...so that tomorrow can be almost as depressing as today...). Blarg. Hopefully I will have something less dismal to say tomorrow night. See you then!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Vines

The vine lace scarf is going quite well. It pays to listen to your yarn! I had to increase all the way up to a size 7 needle to offset the bounciness of this yarn, but that means that the knitting is going very quickly. It's hard to see the pattern unblocked, so I pinned it out quickly for photos:



I love the depth of this yarn; it's spring gives it a very nice texture. I lost a little bit of the velvetiness when I increased to the size 7's, but it was definitely worth it in terms of pattern visibility. Here's a close-up:



And, a more relaxed view, taken with no pins.



I'm still having serious lighting issues, so these were taken with the flash, and still aren't perfect. Light box for Christmas?

Parting is such sweet sorrow...

This is it. My students' final exam was today, and I've been assigned to a different class next quarter, so this batch of students is moving on forever. In a way, I'm relieved. At UW, undergraduates come in with no expectations of their TA except perhaps that of being bored. Over the course of a quarter, they build those expectations and learn to actually expect to get something out of quiz section. Now, this is a wonderful thing, and it's something that I wouldn't change for the world. However, when they start out with high expectations, we go through the same building process and at the end they feel like I'm not doing enough for them. Really, I'm doing more, but their idea of my job description changes to include any and all concessions that have been made in the past. Therefore, teaching the same students two quarters in a row can be exhausting, because they constantly push to see if they can get two review sessions rather than one, or maybe I could hold an extra problem session outside of class time, or some other suggestion that gives new meaning to the words "above and beyond the call of duty." In some ways, then, it will be easier on me to have a new crop of students next quarter, who will start out apathetic and with no expectations and then gradually come to believe that it is the TA's duty to talk them through a problem at 2 am, or some such nonsense.

On the other hand, I was really hoping that I would get to teach the second half of this class. The second quarter is a lot more fun (in my mind) than the first, and I really like seeing students progress through an entire class. They come out so much better than they go in, or at least they do if their teachers do their jobs right. I really liked taking my students all the way through organic chemistry last year; an extra quarter gives you a lot more time to really get to know them. So, I'm a bit sad tonight, knowing that it's over.

I'm also terribly relieved. I have such a huge pile of research work to do, and theoretically I now have one whole week in which to do it before going home for Christmas. I have so much to do, and it will be really nice to have a good chunk of solid time to just get things done that I need done. Of course, that's after I finish grading 135 exams tomorrow. That should be fun.

In that spirit, a friend of mine sent me this link earlier. Anyone that knows me knows that I am the world's worst procrastinator (can anyone say obsessively on time?), but it's pretty funny anyway. And yes, a large part of the reason that I maintain high levels of productivity is that I practice this "structured procrastination."

This evening I don't need to procrastinate, however, as I was good and left the exams at school. I will grade tomorrow, but tonight I knit. I am shocked by this lack of work-a-holism, especially as Branden is out of town (which usually means that I bring work home to do in the evenings). I think I might just like it, though. Those exams will be just as much fun tomorrow morning as they'd be tonight, and I couldn't just stay home and knit tomorrow if I worked tonight, so for now, I knit!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Responding to comments

So, I have a dilemma. Google does not appear to give me email addresses when people leave a comment, so I can't respond. This seems like bad etiquette. (Especially when you consider how many people respond to every single comment, even though their blogs are much busier than mine!) So, I think I have two options. I can either a)leave the comment settings as they are at the risk of being rude, or b) decide to restrict the settings so that people can only comment if they're logged in to Google. I don't like option a because I'd like to be able to respond, and I don't want to be rude. However, I also dislike option b, because I don't think that people should have to have a Google account to be able to leave a message. I know that I don't mind leaving my email address and url on a comment page, but if it tries to force me to log in or sign up for an account I'm not interested. There's always possibility c, which is that I am just missing the setting that lets me respond. If that's the case and you know how to change it, please let me know. Otherwise, I think I'm inclined to leave the settings as-is, and beg your forgiveness if it's rude. Any ideas?

In which I briefly return to planet Earth

It's always disappointing at the heights of fantasy to come back down to Earth. It's usually for the best, though, and I'd always prefer to do it of my own accord rather than wait to be brought crashing down. Why, you ask, might I need to come back?

Well, it has occurred to me (rather reluctantly and not without great resistance) that my family might not be excited by the prospect of receiving hand knitted socks. I can hear your gasp from here; I know, I know. It's tantamount to heresy to even suggest that such a thing might be possible in a civilized world, but I can't help but think that they might prefer some other kind of gift. And, as Christmas is about giving something that people want, it seems prudent to do some shopping outside of my knitting bag (or LYS) this holiday season.

This is really too bad, because I have been rather enjoying tromping about in Cat's book of sock architectures. But, I do think it's better to bite the bullet and step into a mall rather than make something that will be less than exciting to its recipient. So, we have begun Christmas shopping, and I have shortened my holiday knitting list considerably. I think I'm still going to see what I can get done, and perhaps offer the socks as secondary gifts, but we'll have to see about that. I think a lot depends on whether or not they seem to be popular at all. I mean, they are just socks, after all, and they are not the gorgeous over-the-top lacy kind, either. I wanted to keep it simple for the sake of the more conservative, so they're admittedly pretty dull. (The colors and yarns are great, though!)

Ok, enough of this boring planet. Off we go again...

This, of course, frees me up to create various and sundry new projects in the next two weeks without fear of failing to finish the holiday knitting. (I know, that is so cheating...) Branden will be gone all week on a business trip, so I'll have plenty of time to just kick around by myself and think about new things to knit. I have a huge list of after-holiday projects that I'm excited about, but I do want to spend the before-holiday period working on gifty things. We'll have to see what I can come up with.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Baked, candied apples

Sound good? You too can be eating a baked, candied apple in 5 mins or less. Here's how:

One apple
brown sugar
butter (optional)
spice of choice (I like ginger or allspice. Nutmeg or cinnamon would also work well)

Use an apple corer to scoop out the top of the apple (stem end), and remove the core to hollow out the inside. Put hole down on a plate in the microwave, and use the baked potato setting (2-3 mins, if you don't have a potato setting). When the apple is soft, remove from microwave. Sprinkle brown sugar and spice inside the apple, and add a tiny bit of butter, if desired. Return to the microwave (upright this time), and bake until the sugar boils over the sides of the apple. It takes me about the same amount of time to bake an apple as it does to boil tea water. Sip tea and enjoy your warm, caramel apple. I like mine with a little bit of sharp cheese. Yum!

(Sugar boils at something like 230 degrees F, so keep in mind that this apple is hot and should be allowed to cool before diving in. Ice cream can accelerate the cooling process, if you can't wait.)

The yarn has spoken

I was so tired on Friday night that I just knew I'd fall right to sleep. And then I didn't. So, I got up and worked on the toe socks. I decided on a mistake stitch rib (made by ofsetting each row of 2k 2p rib by one stitch), and got started on the ankles. Only, I made a mistake in my mistake stitch rib. A mistake stitch rib is a 2 stitch rib where every other row is offset by one stitch, so that there is a sort of brick-wall effect. It makes a very pretty rib that's just a little more interesting than a "normal" rib. Walker's instructions are written for flat, but the pattern is simple enough that it should be easily converted to circular. You need an odd number of stitches to make the offset, so I increased to 51 stitches, and started ribbing. The only problem is that you end up with half a repeat left just before you turn in flat knitting, and you don't in circular. So, instead of "resetting" my offset every other row by turning the piece, I just kept going. this means that each row moves the knit stitches over one, and makes a diagonal rib rather than a mistake stitch rib. I blame the fact that I can't even make a mistake stitch rib without mistakes on the fact that I was coming up with this at 1 in the morning. It might be a valid excuse.

Now, I had considered the diagonal rib first but thought that it might not be so great for ankles; I wasn't sure whether or not it would slump. But, since I ended up with it anyway, I just decided to go with it. It appears not to slump, but it does make a very thick fabric, which led me to make the ankles short so that they don't require folding over. Even this fairly distinct pattern is hidden by the color changes, so I'm really glad that I didn't decide to go with the Flame Chevrons; I think they would have completely disappeared. So, my first full pair of Christmas socks is completed, and I have two weeks to go.




Once the toe sock ankles were underway, I took a break from them to begin balling the yarn for the next pair, destined to be for my mom out of Colinette yarn. I opened the skein and dutifully began the balling process, and then the yarn spoke to me. It told me that it just couldn't become a pair of socks. I am always inclined to listen when yarn speaks to me, because I have learned through trial and error that I'm never happy with the final product if I don't. So, I tend to change plans if the yarn appears to want to be something other than what I have scheduled for it. I have also just finished reading Clara Parks' Knitter's Book of Yarn, and so have begun to get some sort of formal introduction to the art of "yarn whispering."

(As a side note, it seems to me that yarn whispering is a bit of a misnomer; it's not about talking at your yarn...that never changes anything at all. It's about listening to what it's telling you. So, I prefer to think of myself as a yarn listener.)

Well, this yarn was not whispering. It was shouting. And it was shouting that it does not want to be socks. It is a very tightly spun fingering weight yarn, which gives it great elasticity, but it also means that you can feel every individual stitch in the finished piece (I know, as I have since swatched with it). It's supposed to be used on size 3 needles, but I'm needing at least a size 5 to get a soft fabric out of it. It's a gorgoeous green color, and it would be perfect for a lacy leaf pattern, but it will need big needles to stay open enough, which makes a fabric far too open for socks. It really wants to be a display yarn, I think, rather than a comfy hide-in-your-shoes yarn. So, plans have changed. The Colinette will now become a scarf rather than socks, and it will be done with big needles in a lacy pattern. This, of course, requires choosing a lacy pattern. I did the drooping elm leaf pattern on my Trekking socks, and I really like it, but it requires a good background to really see the pattern, and is best when slightly stretched, in my opinion. It's in my queque of things to try, but it's not the best option, I think. The bounciness of this yarn requires a pattern that is fairly open, so that it can spring back from blocking and still show that there's lace in there somewhere without having to be stretched open. I'm thinking that I'll try the vine lace from Walker. It's nice and simple, with only one pattern row that gets offset by one stitch to make a 4 row repeat. Nice and easy to memorize, a fairly open pattern, and leafy to match the color. Perfect!

I tried swatching this out at a holiday party that we went to last night, and it was looking pretty good. I love the velvety look of the yarn, which I think comes from it being so very elastic. It also makes a pretty thick lace, which will be good for a scarf intended for New England winters, where it actually has to do something besides look nice. And I really, really love the color. I did use size 5 needles to swatch this out, and it's too tight. I had actually done a lot more than this, but I was a bad blogger and pulled most of it out before remembering that I have a duty to take pictures, even of projects that aren't going to make it past the swatch stage. Oops. Next time I will photograph first and frog second, I promise.



So, I am abandoning the sock lessons for the moment. One can't argue once the yarn has spoken. (And, my fingers have been itching to get back to something lacy anyway).

I promise I will work on my picture-taking after the holidays. (I have such a list of things I'm going to do after the holidays!) I have discovered that our apartment has absolutely horrible lighting, and that I have nowhere to set up good photos that show a pattern on a neutral backgroud besides my beige footstool. I will work on this, and hopefully my photos and staging will improve. Some kind of composition would be nice, rather than just blob o' yarn photos all the time. I will work on it. Really.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The three F's

Fun - diverting, amusing, entertaining (what blog posts are supposed to be)

Funk - a state characterized by lack of energy or motivation (where I find myself)

Funky - strange, but oddly cool, hip (the project on my needles)

I don't know what's wrong with me this week...I am just not feeling motivated or excited at all. Ok, I do know what's wrong. My back is acting up and I'm not sleeping, which leads to taking of Tylenol PM, which leads to grogginess and somewhat improved sleep. The somewhat improved sleep is not much improved, and thus I remain tired and cranky. A typical end of quarter.

This funk might also be slightly related to the fact that I haven't been out in daylight for more than a few minutes a day all week, and when I was, it was raining. Oh, December in Seattle is a wonderful thing. On the (getting) brighter side, the solstice is only 2 weeks away. Two weeks from today I will have been married 5 years. Two weeks from today I will also be in Massachusetts. That's right; we're going home for the holidays after all. That does extend my knitting time, but it also shortens the collapse at home in between quarters time. That's ok, though. It will be nice to be back, if only for a week.

It might also be because I am suddenly one short month away from being the senior graduate student in our group. as if having been married for 5 years weren't enough to make me feel old, I am now also supposedly the person that knows the most in my lab, besides my advisor. Wierd. I guess that's what happens when you're in your 4th year. It could be exciting, except that the end isn't in sight. I'm hoping another year or two will do it, but science has a way of not cooperating with your plans, and if there were ever a project that didn't cooperate, it's mine. Ah, well. What's a few more years in school? I've been at it continuously for 20 yrs now, so a few more shouldn't make much difference, right? I think 20 is a scarier number than 5. I should have left that thought unexpressed.

So far, not much fun in this post, I think. Too much "k", not enough "y" yet. The socks are pretty funky, though. At least this project appears to be going along swimmingly. I have turned the heels, and now just need to work the leg portion of the second pair of socks (I'm starting to get nervous again about how long the holiday knitting is taking...2 weeks, 1 and a half pair of gift-able socks...). I want to do a pattern, but I just don't know which one. I'm afraid that a complicated one will be too much with such a high-contrast yarn, but something really simple might not show up at all. Hmmm. I think this calls for a Walker consultation. I will have to get back to you on how that goes. For now, look at them funky feet!





Note to self: it is very difficult to get the camera once hobbled by a pair of socks still on circular needles. Either get the camera first, or prepare to call in tolerant husband to fetch it.

There's a little pooling going on here, but I am determined not to be bothered by it. The colors are so pretty. It shouldn't matter that they all want to group together on me, right?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Turning things upside down

I am ready for the heel turn on the toes socks tonight (at this rate, I might actually make it through Christmas knitting list!). I decided to switch to the upstream sock pattern instead of the Spiraling Coriolis because the SC said you needed to be able to freely rotate the toe, and that doesn't work when there are, um, toes on the toe. I could probably have figured out how to alter the pattern (in fact, I'm pretty sure I know exactly what I needed to do), but I didn't want to take a chance on holiday knitting, and besides, this exercise is about following the pattern. I don't know why that is such a challenge for me. Even when I like the way the pattern looks, I always have to change something. I just can't help it.

Well, I resisted the first temptation, but I am going to give in to the second. I have discovered that I need the slower increase in the arch expansion and the faster increase in the toes. Remember the pointy toes from last time? That was me miscounting and increasing every 4th row rather than every third. When I did it right the second time, the toe came out infinitely better. But, at least for the Bearfoot yarn, I appear to need that slower increase to match my row gaugefor the instep; I ended up with too many stitches in the arch a little too fast, which made it a little baggy for my liking. I was just checking the length to decide whether it's time to heel turn, and inadvertently put the sock on upside down (and on the wrong foot, of course, so that the toes lined up right). A happy mistake, as it turns out. The steep increase is too much on the top of my foot, but it hugs my arch beautifully if the sock is upside down. I'm not sure that I understand why this is, but I'm going to run with it. It's so much better upside down! This time, I will change the pattern. I think Cat would approve. So, on to the heel turn. I will post pictures again soon, but really nothing has changed except the length. It's all stockinette, so it's not too exciting.

Oh, and one more thing. I'm feeling the need to do something different on the ankles. I don't want the whole sock to be stockinette. I learned from the last Bearfoot yarn (that turned into a scarf...) that lace and handpainted don't go well together. I want something fun, though. I'm thinking maybe the Flame Chevron from Walker? I can't tell if it would be good or bad with this yarn. I guess I could always try a few rows and find out....

I've been Raveled!

I don't think that's a word, but it should be. I got my Ravelry invite this morning! Of course it popped up just as I was settling in to get some work done, so I had to be good and disciplined and wait until tonight to look at it. I'll be heading over there briefly before getting back to socks. My username is EGunn, if anyone is looking. =)

(Oh, and I did check...raveled is a real word)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I got nothin'

Beginnings of the week are always a little hard on the knitting schedule. Monday is slow after the weekend's knitting burst (and this week my hands were hurting and I had to baby them...grr...), Tuesdays are teaching day, which makes for an early evening, and Wednesdays I have group meeting until 8:30 or so (we got out early tonight...hooray!). So, I have nothing much new to say or show. I have some old stuff that I've been meaning to post about, but I want to put some more inches on the toe socks before bed. I'm up to the arch increases, and besides a little pooling everything is going well. Since I'm knitting this pair simultaneously, there should be no need for a 3rd sock this time around.

So, since I have no knitting to share, how's about a science picture?


This is one of my research samples (made from phthalic acid, if you really want to know). So pretty. So complicated. I wonder if I'll ever figure out exactly why they look this way?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Two of a kind, not quite a pair

I was getting a panicky what-have-I-done sort of feeling about the holiday knitting at the end of last week. One tangle and half a sock was about all I had to show for a whole week of knitting. So, this weekend I sat myself down and got some stitching done. The result?



I now have two completed socks, and a little less of the sinking feeling that this is impossible.

However, the fact that these socks look pretty similar on my feet is a bit deceptive. First, I discovered that I had miscounted the rows between increases when I did the first toe (I thought it looked awfully pointy...). The second one is much better.



Worse, though, I mismeasured on the second one, and it's about 3/4 of an inch shorter than the first! It fits a lot better, in my opinion, but they don't match.



Of course this means that I now need to pull one out and knit a third sock. I'm not feeling too motivated on that at the moment. First, these are for the sister that I least expect to care about or ever wear her new knitted objects. This makes it hard to start over when I have a pressing deadline. Why do I think she won't care? Well, I was inspired this summer to make a tank top out of bamboo silk (2 skeins of Southwest Trading Co, a total of 500 yds, on size 5 needles, I might add). It took me about a month to design and make. The pictures are lousy, but they give you an idea.





I also made a shrug to go with it, altering a pattern from Knitty (another 2 skeins, almost).



As far as I know, it hasn't been worn once. She tried it on, I think. Maybe. No one ever saw it on her. I've asked if it fits, and I am told it does. It's just not worn (nor has she returned it so that I can tear it out and reuse that wonderful yarn!). This makes me a little reluctant to dive right in and knit a third sock that won't be used. But then, my crafter's integrity won't let me give a gift that isn't perfect, either. So, I will be knitting a third sock. Just not tonight. I'm not up for that right now.

What will I be doing instead? That's right...toe socks! Branden untangled that whole knot for me (well, I took a good crack at it the first night, and then he took over from there). Think I'm a little spoiled? Yeah, me too. I couldn't sleep again last night, and so I wound the untangled yarn into balls before heading off to bed at about 2:30 this morning, and now it's all ready to go.



Doesn't it look sad in those tight little balls? Compared to the luxurious flow of the open skein, balls are just sad. And what was the first thing that happened with the balls? That's right...a minor tangle. I still like the other way better, but I'm sticking with wound yarn for now, and I'll just have to go chasing the balls under chairs when they roll off on me. I'll just have to wait until there is no holiday deadline (or I open a new skein...) to go back to the open skeins, I think. Anyway. I have to get some inches put on those socks, and it's getting late.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

readers?

Oh my... I have not one, but two comments suddenly. This means that someone has read my blog. It's funny, but I suddenly feel slightly self-conscious. Here I am, posting to the internet for people to read, and it surprises me that someone is there. How wonderfully inconsistent of me! Well, I will now have to refrain from referring to my nonexistent readers, in case a few actually exist out there. Welcome, and thanks for stopping by!

We have a sock....and a tangle

I managed to get a tangle in the toe sock yarn. And no, it was not caused by cats, open skeins, or even spontaneous tangling. It was caused by my own stupidity. Branden has suggested before that I should work one sock from the inside of a ball of yarn, and one from the outside, thus working on both socks at once from only one ball. I groaned and told his that that would make an unholy mess. Knowing this, as I did, I'm not sure what possessed me to try it with an open skein. I think it was mainly that I just wanted to finish connecting the toes, and I figured it wouldn't be much twisting of ends. Well, it was. I worked on the tangle for a while, but have put it aside for now. Actually, I put it aside and Branden picked it up. He's an engineer, and just loves puzzles. Apparently, a large knotted hunk of yarn is a good puzzle. I won't argue.

Meanwhile, I started working on another pair of socks in Lana Grossa. I had heard really good things about it, but hadn't tried it yet. I think I'm not a fan. This might be because the entire center of the ball was a knotted mess (which was an unwelcome discovery when I was using it to run away from the other knotted mess I'd just created...), but I think it's mainly the feel of the yarn. In the ball and in the sock, it feels fine. It's a really nice wool, and it's nice and soft when balled or worked up. In between, however, it feels sticky to me. I can't think of a better way to describe it than sticky. I love the colors, it's striping nicely, and I like the finished product, but the process is a little less fun with sticky yarn. The striping is also a little too well defined for a complicated stitch pattern. I'm doing the sidestream architecture, which is just a very basic sock, and letting the self-striping of the yarn take care of the rest. I did want a little bit of a pattern in the ankle, though, so I did some feather and fan, since it's a pretty stripe-y patterned stitch and went along well with the strong color changes of the yarn. It doesn't show up well in this picture at all, unfortunately, but it's there. I am hoping that it will transform into a more obvious delicately wavy pattern with blocking. We'll see. For now, at least you can see the colors.



This sock has taught me a couple of things.

First, there are a lot of stitches in a sock. I usually consider myself a fairly fast knitter, but I am only creeping along in the sock world. I was really surprised by my lack of progress, until I realized that I have a gauge of 7 spi, but 11 rows per inch! I think Cat's book says that most people have an 8 or 9 rpi count, and I have 9 rpi for the Bearfoot yarn, but with the Lana Grossa it's 11. So, assuming an average of, say, 70 stitches per round (it's 62 through the foot and ankle, and up to 85 through the heel), my 11 inch sock suddenly has over 9000 stitches in it. And that's for an ankle sock! (My family has huge feet. Even my 10-year-old sister has a women's 9 foot. Mine are 10 and a half). That makes me feel a little bit better about the slow progress. I can understand it taking this long to make 9000 stitches.

Second, I have discovered that I prefer my socks tight. If I use my gauge, measure my foot, and calculate my stitch numbers based on Cat's charts, I end up with a sock that is, in m opinion, far too loose. I like a sock to really hug my foot, and in order to do that I think I'd have to decrease my stitch count by at least 10%. I suppose that's good news for the next sock; fewer stitches means less time, and I am trying to pack a lot of sock in before Christmas...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blogging; diversion, or obsession?

I had another productive evening last night after group meeting. Yup, that's right. I did no knitting, but I managed to find more blogs to read! (To be fair, I got home at 9:30 and bedtime is 10, so it wasn't like I had a lot of time to work on those holiday socks anyway...) Anne Hanson's blog is my hands-down favorite. It's one of those places that you go to sit at the feet of a great teacher and just absorb knowledge. There are few people that I really feel the need to emulate, or that I aspire to become. I am pretty happy just being myself, generally. However, sometimes you run across someone whose skill and knowledge knocks you flat, and leaves you wondering how on earth you could be more like that. Anne is one of them. (At least as far as knitting goes...I know her in no other way.) She has the most beautiful designs, and there's always a great discussion of the process of achieving them, from conception through to blocking. I want to try every single one, and I would be in great danger of never reemerging from lace, except that I have so many things going on right now that I must finish first.

Well, I was poking around on Knitspot before heading off to bed for the night, and noticed that Anne linked to Kim. Given the high esteem in which I hold Knitspot, I decided to try this blog that Anne linked to. Kim, in turn, linked to several other blogs, among which is Susan's. There, I found another process knit blog. I am very excited, as this is my favorite kind (I appear to share this taste with Kim). It just so happens that Susan sent out a plea for links to her blog today. I fully intend to figure out how to put one of those "list of blogs I read" panels on the side of my screen someday, but I have been too lazy to do it thus far. Since I have no readers, having not yet announced my site, posting these blog sites here will have no immediate impact. However, it's just possible that someone will find them buried in the archives someday when I have "gone public," and will find a new blog to haunt as a result. I'm guessing from what I've seen so far that there will be more posts on these new blogs in the future, as they seem to be the kind that I will find myself talking about frequently. I have a sneaking suspicion that this will not be the last time that I link to these new pages. But now, for the first time, I would like to introduce my non-existent (and hopefully, my future) readership to Susan and Kim. May you enjoy their sites as much as I do.

As to the title of this post, I really have to wonder if this is becoming an obsession. I really have a lot of blogs that I read now. Google reader lists at least 11 new posts a day, and I don't even know how many there are in my list. I do find myself reading and posting when I should be knitting. I'm not sure that I approve of this new obsession displacing my old one (the old one being knitting, of course). Hopefully they will learn to peaceably coexist, because I would hate to give up blogging. =)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's here!

Temptation has arrived. In this case, it is in the form of a very soft skein of superfine merino laceweight from Blue Moon Fiber Arts. Remember the Irtfa'a that I was so excited about?



The yarn came today! Oh no! How am I supposed to do Christmas knitting with such temptation sitting only inches away? I am dying to start on this project, but I need to finish Christmas knitting first. Oh dear. It's a good thing that I enjoy the anticipation of a project as much as the starting. Otherwise a month might kill me. I already feel myself bargaining with my self discipline.

"If I do one sock today, can I just cast on?" or "How about 5 rows of Irtfa'a for each sock finished?"

I love lace. Isn't the yarn gorgeous? I like it even better in person than I did online, and even online I was tempted to buy one of each of the entire Raven clan (good thing it's expensive enough to put a stop to that kind of impulse shopping!). It is super soft, and it has incredible colors. It's sitting by my chair so that I can take it out and look at it and pet it on occassion. It's going to be a long month...

One baby bootie...



Baby bootie practice sock #1 is complete, pattern followed to the letter (I think). This took a little longer than I expected (almost 2 hrs for one bootie), but I have a feeling that that's probably because today was a teaching day, and I'm slogging a bit now. Tomorrow is group meeting night, so no knitting to speak of, but I should be able to finish the pair on Thursday, and maybe start the other practice set, too. I'll be back to toe socks in no time! (And, I'll have baby crossed off the Christmas list to boot)

More cats in the yarn

Mischief found and approved Branden's new handwarmers last night.



Artemis cuddled with the sock yarn



That last position was a bit hard to knit around, so we compromised



She didn't seem to mind



Think that's a happy cat?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Unwinding (or, rather, just not winding in the first place)

On November 8th, the Yarn Harlot posted on her blog about a visit with Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton. She (and most of her readership) were simply astounded to discover that Ms. Hamilton knits with a hank of yarn simply laid across her lap. I read through the 292 comments after the post, and all I could think was that knitters should just relax sometimes. There aren't any rules, and if knitting with an open skein works for Cornelia, then I see no reason to break into her house in Sweden and wind her yarn. I know the post was written tongue-in-cheek, but still.

As an avid breaker of all knitting rules, I decided that I had to give this a try, a vote in favor of the much out-voted Swede. And I love it. Yes, I do. I have had more tangles trying to use a skein that pulls from the center; nary a one has turned up while knitting this skein. You might have noticed it open and free in one of the pictures in my last post. It's a wonderful thing. It's a great way to soak up the colors and revel in the texture of the yarn as you knit. And my cat agrees.



This is Mischief. She has made one appearance already, I think, which means that her sister will need to feature in a post soon, also. Just to be fair, of course. Can't treat the cats differently, especially when Artemis is my cat. Mischief is an ardent lover of all things soft and fibery. She doesn't pull at them or chew on them or attack them. She kneads them. And when she kneads, she gets this look on her face that tells you she's in the seventh level of heaven (does heaven have seven levels, or is that hell???). Her whiskers come forward, forward, forward, until they touch in front, and she just has the oooooohhhhhh...... look on her face. She stopped by last night to appreciate Sarah's sock yarn. This is such a common phenomenon with soft knitted things (whether they're being worn, in the laundry basket, or just laying around, she will find and knead them) that we have given it a name. When we go to a yarn store, a yarn must pass the Mischief Test to be worth buying. In order to pass the Mischief Test it must be so soft and wonderful that you stand in front of the yarn bin and just feel it for a while. If you have that eye-rolling, half conscious dopey expression of pleasure on your face, it will be Mischief approved. This sock yarn is definitely approved.

And, even after the Mischief Test had been given and passed, I have not had a single tangle. I have had a cat sleeping on my lap while I knit all night, and no problems. Actually, I think the hank is less attractive to them than a ball; it doesn't twitch around as much, and it looks less like their toys. If they do start to get a little wild-eyed, one speaking of their name in The Voice nips the attack in the bud. They know that The Voice is a warning before the squirt bottle comes out, and they know better than to push it when my yarn is involved. So, they stick to the kneading and occasional sleeping on my yarn, and I knit on. And now, I knit on from an open skein rather than an overwound little ball that will roll off across the floor despite my best efforts to restrain it. Thank you, Yarn Harlot and Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton!

Toes!

Of course I have to post about the socks. How could I not? My family won't miss a month of reading about knitting on my blog anyway. And at the end of the month, they'll get to read about their gifts in progress. Which means I get to talk about toes.

I forgot to mention yesterday that I bought Cat Bordhi's new book New Pathways for Sock Knitters along with all the yarn yesterday. I figured there was probably no better way to learn about different and exciting sock patterns, and that this was probably a good place for me to start. I know I've said before that I don't really follow patterns. I'm not sure that I managed to convey that it is simply impossible for me to do so 99% of the time. My one exception so far was Elijah. I did manage to follow the pattern from beginning to end on that project. I usually don't even pretend that I'm going to use a pattern; it's usually just a matter of time before I give in to the off-road knitting style.

So, I bought sock yarn and a brand new sock book with all kinds of crazy architectures designed to keep me glued to the pattern and dying to know what happens next. What's the first thing I do? That's right; even before I had chosen a pattern, I had something to add.

You know when you see something and it just screams out the name of a person on your shopping list? Well, one of the Bearfoot yarns was just dying to become socks for my sister. I'm not sure why, but it might as well have had her name on the label. It was also crying out that it couldn't be just any socks. These had to be over-the-top special socks. I am going to use the spiraling corolis pattern (see, at least I have picked a pattern now!), which is a very cool swirly architecture that wraps around as you go up the leg. I love it. But this yarn needed something else. Toes! That's right...toe socks. The coriolis pattern is a toe-up sock, so it's easy to replace the standard toe with something with a few extra digits. So, I settled down last night to make toes. Ten of them. Here's the first one.



Now, this would be particularly funny if you had heard me giving Branden a hard time about being "difficult" because he wanted the start of fingers on his latest pair of handwarmers. It wasn't really all that hard, but I had to give him a bit of eye rolling over needing fingers. There's a certain amount of irony in the fact that the very next project I chose is one that has ten toes. Good thing he knew I was kidding. Here are the first 5 toes, all lined up for grafting.



I really don't know why on earth making toe socks is amusing me so much at the moment, but it is. I think it's mostly because I know how much Sarah loves toe socks. I can hear the squeal from here, I think, and that's pretty amazing considering we're 3500 miles and a month away from Christmas. Really, though, I can't think of any other way to explain why making 10 tiny little tubes and then grafting them all together should make me giggle to myself while wrestling with up to 6 stubborn needles.



This picture was taken in the midst of the grafting process and just as I discovered that I had dropped a stitch and needed to work it back up to the holding needles. Branden looked over, was impressed by my porcupine of needles, and ignored all statements claiming that this was a private moment between me and my yarn, and it needn't be photographed, thank-you-very-much. It did work out, though, and I moved on to the second set of toes. All grafting is now complete, and I am very glad.



Sometimes you try something and decide that your method is just perfect. Sometimes, you know there must be a better way. The latter is the case on these toes. There must be a better way to make them. I am telling myself that I don't have time to spend a week finding a better way to make toes. Maybe after Christmas. But there is a better way. I just know it. Sarah might end up with a lot of toe socks if she's not careful (I can't stand to wear them, and she's the only one I know that loves them, so she's first and last in line to inherit toe prototypes.

Now that I've gotten a little off-roading out of the way, I do fully intend to go back and do Cat's book justice. I will begin at the beginning, and read the introduction, and do the little warm-up socks at the beginning before diving in. I will. No, really. There's a lot to learn from her patterns, and I am very excited to learn it. All I need is a little self-discipline and some quick-knitting yarn...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

To tell or not to tell?

The conundrum of blogging. I had planned to send out a link to family and friends this week letting them in on my little blogging endeavor. But now I have a pile of yarn waiting to become something for them. I can either post about it anyway and ruin the surprise, or I can just not tell them for another month. Of course, that means that I'll pretty much be blogging to myself for another month. Which I'm perfectly ok with. If you can't talk to yourself, just who can you talk to? But then, I'd like to think that the blog is on its way to a readership, however small. Still, you can't keep secrets and blog about them too. What to do?

I'm guessing that I'll probably blog anyway, not tell anyone, and then they can read about the process of creating gifts after they open them. Of course, that means that this early blog content probably won't get read, but that won't be the end of the world, I suppose. At least it will get me in practice, and if I decide I don't like it, I need not continue in a month. Of course, my family aren't the only ones that will ever read the blog, but my guess is that they'll be my largest readership, at least for a while. I'll have to think on this some more. I have a whole post all ready to go on the first pair of socks. Do I post it? Or do I wait? See how having a blog suddenly complicates little things like holiday surprises?

I must be crazy

I posted just a few days ago that I'm not a big fan of sock knitting. I want very much to be in love with sock making, but I'm just not. So, what did I do today? Yup, that's right. I decided that I am going to do holiday knitting after all. And what am I making? You're so good at this game...you guessed it! Socks.

So, why on earth would I choose to make too many socks in too little time when I don't even like making socks? Yes, it probably has something to do with me being crazy. See, I have this theory. Usually, when we don't like something for no particular reason it is mostly a case of not being familiar enough with it (think little kids and peas...). When we get some practice, we realize that it's pretty enjoyable after all. So, I'm going to confront my lack of love for socks head on, and try a bunch, in all kinds of different styles, and then if I still don't like them I'll be able to say that I tried, at least.

I bounced this little brainstorm off of Branden this morning, and told him he should probably take this opportunity to save both of us the next month of sock making pressure. He didn't take the opportunity. Instead, he said that my idea sounded logical to him, and that I should give it a try. I have to give him big points for being supportive, but I'm afraid he doesn't score too well on the saving me from myself front. I guess we can't be perfect in everything, can we?

Of course, I have no sock yarn. This meant a trip to the yarn store. My favorite local store for sock and fancy yarn is the Weaving Works. They're a little on the expensive side, and for most things I prefer the Fiber Gallery, but for fancy yarns and sock selection they can't be beat. It's so hard to choose! I love the colors out this season. We managed to get one color for every person on the list, and I was even good and didn't get any extra skeins, despite Branden's belief that I needed some for me, too. I will either love socks and get more yarn after the holidays, or I will never want to see another sock again, in which case the yarn would languish forever in my stash. And really, what kind of a life is that for a beautiful yarn? I am not always so disciplined. The large pile of project yarn that I already had in my arms might have helped.



Isn't it beautiful? Three (three!!!) skeins of Bearfoot, some very fine alpaca that will take forever to knit for a certain picky grandfather, some Lana Grossa, a bit of Colinette, and an Alpaca Sox. Mmmmm....

And for the next few days (before reality hits and I realize how many socks I have to knit in 3 weeks), I will be revelling in new projects. Here's to delusion!

Books!

We also did some book researching this weekend. Barnes and Noble sent us a coupon for an extra 15% off of any book in the store (in addition to our member's discount of 10%), so we headed over there and took a look at some knitting books. I've been wanting to expand my reference section a little, and I'm at a point in my knitting where I want to learn some good solid pattern design theory. We spent a couple of hours sitting on the floor in front of the knitting books section, and ended up with Knitting in the Old Way, by Gibson-Roberts and Robson, and The Knitter's Book of Yarn, by Clara Parkes. I've started the KBY, and it's looking really good so far. I've heard rave reviews all around, so I'm pretty excited.

I was tempted by a few other books, namely those by the Yarn Harlot and the Reader's Digest Knitter's Handbook by Montse Stanley. Christmas is just around the corner, and I've had some questions about gift ideas, so I figured that maybe I should leave those until after the holidays, just in case.

Playing catch-up

Here I am, a week into blogging, and already falling behind. (It is easier to let things slip when I haven't even told anyone that I'm blogging yet, though...)
I haven't announced that I'm blogging to anyone yet; I wanted to get some actual content up before sending it around, so there's a little less pressure to post regularly. Yeah. That must be it, right?

This has been a very nice 4 day weekend. I wish every week could have a 4 day weekend. I used to really look forward to going into lab to get work done, but I'm afraid it's been a while since I've actually wanted to go to work on Monday. I tell myself that it's just some mild burn-out, and I hope I'm right. It would be a real pain to finish 5 or 6 years of grad school and then realize that I don't actually like what I do anymore. But that's a topic for another day. Today, we discuss how much fun it has been to not work for the past 4 days. We spent Thanksgiving with friends, some of whom we saw last at Thanksgiving last year. Time does fly, doesn't it? It was really nice to catch up with everyone, and we've all sworn now that it won't be another year before we get together again. The holidays seem to give off this wonderful feeling of invincibility, where you can make promises about finding time for things without having to think about whether or not it will really happen. I hope it will, though. I always mean to keep in touch better, but then life happens and I don't. But then, maybe this is the year. =)

On Friday I cooked a turkey for us, along with a shorter list of side dishes. We are now set on leftovers for a whole week's worth of eating. Who says you need fast food? Just cook once a week and then have fun reinventing leftovers. I'm excited about this week's cooking; turkey pot pie, turkey soup with orzo, mashed potatoes and gravy, leek and potato soup, etc. One day of cooking, a week of food. Pretty productive, I think.

In between turkey cooking activities, I managed to finish the first of Branden's new alpaca handwarmers. I'm now extra in love with the Frog Tree alpaca yarn. Not only is is silky soft, it knits up super-fast. I'm using a garter-stitch rib combination from Vogue's Stitchionary, which ends up looking like a herringbone pattern. I was afraid that it wouldn't show up nicely with the dark and fuzzy yarn, but I like it. The lighting has to be just right for it to show up, but it's definitely there.

I also finished and blocked my Bearfoot scarf. I love it! I fell in love with the yarn this summer on our LYS tour, and bought it for a linen-stitch bag that I have yet to make. It didn't mix well with the other yarn that I chose, and so it needed a new project. While it's technically a sock yarn, I wanted to use it for something that gets seen a bit more than a pair of socks. I started out making a very lacy short-sleeved sweater shell, but chickened out and decided that there wouldn't be enough yarn. So, I decided to go with a scarf. The lace endeavor had taught me that this yarn would not do well with a complicated lacy pattern; it's varigation is just too strong. So, I wanted something a little less intricate, fast to work, but still a little on the lacy and light side. I ended up going with a vertical rib broken by the double eyelet rib in Walker's first book.



It turns out that I had underestimated the Bearfoot. When I made it into a ball, it looked like there wasn't much there. I was afraid I'd run out. I decided to just start and see how far it would go; at worst, I'd have to frog it all and start over with another idea. Well, that ball took forever to run out. I'd be sure I was almost at the end, and I'd look at the ball and it hadn't gotten any smaller. At first, this felt like it was just the normal middle of the scarf takes forever syndrome. But then the scarf was getting really long, too. And longer. And longer. All told, it ended up being about 7 feet long. From one skein of sock yarn! I am so impressed. It's gorgeous yarn, and there's a ton of it packed in that one skein. It didn't look like much unblocked, but after blocking, it's a really pretty little lace. On size 6 needles, I got about 420 square inches, I think. And that's not even stretched!



We hit a coffee shop Saturday morning and I finished up the handwarmers while basking in the unexpected fall sunshine. It's been gorgeous this weekend; the sun has been out every day, which is an unusual and welcome occurrence in November in Seattle. We found the perfect window at Peet's, and spent a few hours just soaking up the wintery sunshine. Soft yarn, warm sun, time with my husband, and a cup of tea. Not a bad way to start the day! We did the same today, and I'm about a foot into the matching scarf now. I think I may see more Frog Tree in my knitting future. Not the immediate future, though (more on that in the next post).



(Doesn't he make a good hand model?) It's a little easier to see the pattern in this one:



I also got some spinning done. Much to my disappointment, the Romney wool isn't getting any softer as I spin. I'm going to leave the spinning saga for another post also, but for the moment it's sufficient to say that I'm about to have a lot of not very soft wool yarn. I have no idea what to do with it, either. Any ideas?

I've only added another inch and a half to the cable sweater, unfortunately. After about 2 hours of working on it, my hands were really not happy with me. I'm afraid to push it much, because once they get bad, there's no more knitting until I manage to appease my carpal tunnel. So, the sweater moves along very slowly. It's annoying; I'm very excited about that project, and sweaters are my favorite kind of knitting. But then again, I am getting all kinds of small projects done, so I guess it's not all bad.