Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Too much of a good thing?

I'm sure you've all seen the "you make my day" awards going around lately. It's sort of like head colds and iPods...all of a sudden, everyone's got one. Now, I have absolutely nothing against acknowledging the people that we enjoy in our lives. I am all for helping our friends' blogs take off. In fact, I think that's the problem. See, every time someone gets awarded, they publish a list of ten blogs that they read, and some of these are inevitably new to me. This is wonderful. I love reading blogs, and especially great ones (and I've found some that I really like lately through this very process). The problem is that there's a "subscribe" button in my Google reader. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the trouble really starts. I can't even begin to tell you how out of date the sidebar is that says which blogs I read. I am too busy reading them to look! I have very good stash control, but I apparently have absolutely no new-blog control. I believe that Google Reader just told me that I have 71 knitting blogs that I read daily now. This is crazy. Absolutely nuts. I have to say that many of them are not updated daily, but still. How does one work, knit, blog, and read blogs all in 24 hours? I think I could spend 24 hours doing any one of those things!

This leaves me with a serious conundrum. I really like the blogs I read. And I don't actually subscribe to every blog I see, either. All of the blogs in my subscribe list are ones that I enjoy reading and find educational. Unsubscribing is like turning my back on a little corner of the knitting world, and I don't want to do it. But how on earth does one keep up with 71 blogs? I have gotten good at knitting while reading, and I have even managed to knit on Irtfa'a while reading (which is saying something...as I'm sure you remember my struggles with lace charts when I started this project). But even so, with only 4 hours between the time that I get home at night and when I have to go to bed, I am just out of time. And 4 hours is what I get on a good night. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday this quarter it's more like 2-2.5 hours. I guess I make up for that on Saturdays, but with 50 new blog posts every day, I need more than Saturday to keep up. What's a knitter to do?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Not a knitty weekend

This weekend was supposed to be for knitting (aren't all weekends for knitting?). And then I decided to work on finishing up some quilting that's been hanging around on Saturday morning. And then the house was a mess and couldn't wait any longer to be cleaned, so I cleaned on Saturday afternoon. We had to actually go grocery shopping on Sunday, which has become a real rarity for us. We've been eating mostly form our local farmer's market since the summer, and probably only go into a standard grocery store once every couple of months now, to get things like pasta and flour and other such nonlocal foods. We go to Wholefoods or PCC a couple of times a month for soymilk and such, but that's usually the extent of our grocery shopping. Well, this weekend was a big grocery weekend. And a sneaker-buying weekend. And our pillows needed to be replaced. And so it went. Lots of errands, not much knitting.

We went to a friend's house for dinner last night, so I did get a few rounds done on the sock side project, and I got to teach his 6-year-old how to knit. She even did a few stitches on the socks for me. That was fun, and saved the weekend from being completely unknitty.

I feel like I should have something to say, but I'm not feeling very awake at the moment (just finished proctoring the first exam of the quarter, and not looking forward to grading tomorrow...). So, I think I will leave off for now, rather than just rambling.

How about a science picture, since I have no knitting to offer?

Or maybe some kittens?

Friday, January 25, 2008

My fiber is unafraid

That's right, I have Fearless Fiber! Came in the mail today, and is now waiting for the right moment to become the Bee Stole. Isn't it pretty?

(Don't mind the cat butt...that's as far from the yarn as we could get her for the picture...)

In other news, I have 12 rows until the end of the small feathers section in Irtfa'a. I was planning to finish that tonight, but it's getting late and I don't think I'll make it. But it's the weekend, so I can work on it all day tomorrow. =)

Oh, and just in case you've ever wondered, there is a very good reason not to put a big project down for 9 mos and then expect to come back and pick up right where you left it. I'm not sure if it's all the lace knitting or what, but my gauge has apparently changed when working with the Cascade EcoWool. This is annoying, as I am attempting to go back and make one stripe for the afghan that I started last March in between each major project, so that something actually gets accomplished on that project. This is a pretty easy goal, as it's basically just a 7 or 8 foot long scarf in between sweaters. Should be a breeze. But my gauge has changed. I guess I go up a needle size and hope it doesn't come back once I get into the piece? Humph.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I had to go to Office Max on my way to work today to get nice paper for my fellowship application. I use the term "on my way" loosely here, as Office Max is a mile and a half in the wrong direction to go to school. That means that I got in a 3 mile walk in the sunshine this morning. Nice way to start the day.

I hadn't remembered that OM was quite so far away. I was thinking that it was just under a mile, and expected it to take less time than it did to get there. This meant that I missed the bus I had intended to take. And that meant that I had time to poke around and look at things other than resume paper while I was there, and that is dangerous. It's probably very strange, but I love office supply stores. Almost as much as yarn stores. Yes, really. Amazing, huh?

I picked up some paper, and staples (we've been running low at work, and unimaginable disarray would result if we actually did manage to run out), and envelopes, and Post-it notes. Now, if there is one thing I love more than office supply stores, it is post-it notes. I use them for everything. All of my books are chock full of them, with little notes scribbled here and there. I think part of this comes from my inability to write in books. I'm not sure why, but I cannot bring myself to deface my books with writing. Journal articles are another story, but books are sacred and must remain spotless. I know, it's weird. Instead of underlining or highlighting, I just fill them up with stickies. All of my papers at work are marked with post-its, and when I'm doing a big project I even color-code them so that I can find the papers I need in a hurry. You may think that this is odd or perhaps even unhealthy, but I definitely love my post-it notes. You can imagine, then, that I picked up a few in different shapes, sizes and colors while at OM this morning. This should keep me well supplied for a while, don't you think? (Actually, this is only a little more than half of the pile...the rest are already at work, waiting for me to begin sorting papers tomorrow for that review article I'm supposed to be writing...)

But that's not all. Nope, there's more and better to come. Big post-it notes!

I'm probably way behind the times, and these have probably been around for eons, but today is the first time I could think of something useful to do with post-its this big. What, you say, could I possibly find useful about huge post-it notes? How about row markers?

(See? I really was going to get knitting content in there somewhere...it's not all about my strange office supply obsessions)

I was going crazy with my standard rubber-backed ruler marker the other day, and complaining that none of my stickies were big enough to cover a whole row of my charts. Well, today that problem has been solved, and there will be no more rulers to get knocked off by a cat when I'm halfway done with a row and don't remember where I let off. That in and of itself seems like ample reason to keep 3M in business by buying a lifetime supply. Don't worry. I didn't buy a lifetime supply. Just a few pads. I'll save the lifetime supply for another day.

What's that? Oh, yes, that is the Irtfa'a pattern underneath those stickies. And yes, I have been working on it. Did you think I'd forgotten? I'm all for progress blogging, but even I have to admit that it's a real stretch to post every day about having finished another 8 rows in laceweight. The thing just looks like a big blue-grey blob most of the time, so it's hard to tell that it's changed at all when I've only added a few repeats. Trust me...it can be really hard to tell that anything's been added. So, to avoid killing my blog audience off with boredom, I have been working quietly on Irtfa'a and blogging about other things. Since you mentioned it, though, I am happy to report that I have just finished the 7th repeat out of 10 in the small feathers section, and should be into the quills by the end of the week. Yay! I have 24 more rows in this pattern, and then 30 in the quill pattern. And then I'm done with the body of the shawl! The edging is going to take a while, I think, but I'm definitely past the half way point now, and sailing right along toward the finish line. That should get me finished up in very good time to start the Bee Stole when the yarn arrives, which is an exciting prospect.

(Oh, and in the interests of factual accuracy, it stays light out until about 5:45, not 6:15 right now. I forgot that I took the bus home the night that I noticed that the light hadn't completely disappeared, and I have to leave earlier when I take the bus. Still, 5:45 is better than 5:00!)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Spring is coming!

Have you noticed that the sun is back? Just barely, but it's back! It is now light out when I get up at 7:30, and dusk when I leave work at 6:15. Yay for sunshine! Not to mention the fact that it's been darned cold for Seattle lately, which means that the sun has been out each of the past 3 days. Also, note that I say darned cold for Seattle. This is really nothing like cold, but it does mean that my windbreaker is just a little too thin for standing at the bus, unless I'm in the sun. It was cold enough to make yesterday very chilly indoors when our heater decided to take the day off. Thankfully it's running again now, so I feel a little less like I've been swallowed by a pile of blankets.

And, how can winter feel long when I have such beautiful tomatoes on my windowsill?

And those 3 pots full o' dirt? Two of them are peas, one is lettuce. It may take a few more months for spring to hit the front yard, but it's going to be starting in my kitchen in a couple of weeks. I love windowsill gardens. =)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sweaters, sweaters, sweaters

I absolutely love sweaters. They're my favorite clothes to wear, and some of my favorites to knit. In fact, it was need of a sweater that got me back into knitting year ago. For 8 years, I have had one favorite sweater. I'm not sure what it is about it, but it's just perfect. I got it as a hand-me-down, and have worn constantly ever since. It has had a long, long life of service, and it's starting to show. The edges have begun to unravel, and despite my best attempts to shore up the fraying yarn there's just not much left to be done except keep wearing it until it falls apart (which I fully intend to do!).

Last year, I realized that the edges were getting pretty bad, and started thinking about replacing this sweater. Replacing your favorite sweater is never an easy task. It's especially not an easy task as there are no shops that sell really nice, high quality wool sweaters. I just can't find them. Cotten, ok. Lightweight cardigans, ok. Cashmere? Fleece? Sure. But basic, warm, wool sweaters just aren't to be had. When I realized this, I realized what I had to do. I picked up knitting needles for the first time in years, and became obsessed.

My first sweater was intended to be the same shape and fit as this favorite. If I could have just cloned it, I would have, but the colorwork seemed like a bit much to bite off for my first sweater ever (especially as I was making it without a pattern). Instead of the fair-isle, then, I settled for intarsia. We found a leaf font that I liked online, converted it to a stitch diagram, and I was off and running. It might seem crazy that I went from a couple of scarves for Christmas gifts right into a sweater without a pattern using a technique I'd never tried, but that's just the way I knit, and I like it. All things considered, it turned out pretty well.

The only problems showed up a few months into the wearing. I think I've already said that I don't like Paton's Classic Merino. I love the way it feels, and I like knitting with it. But it doesn't hold its shape. When I first finished this sweater, it looked a lot more like it was intended to (i.e. slightly fitted, and not bell-shaped). Over a year of wearing, though, it has stretched. A lot. And it's started to pill.

There are probably things about my construction that have increased the sweater's tendency to stretch, but I think the wool has a lot to do with it, too. Maybe not, but I'm going to keep blaming the Paton's. It did the same thing in the sweater I made for Branden. I don't have a pic of that one today, but I'm sure you'll see it eventually. Though I might prefer you didn't...it's become rather a shapeless blob.

This loss of shape over time is exactly what I didn't want to have happen with the sideways cable sweater. You'll note that it's a little tight at the moment, but I'm trusting that this will stretch out quickly with use. But I'm hoping that those slip stitch ribs will keep their elasticity a little better than the plain ribs that I used in my first sweater, which is now anything but form-fitting. For the moment, it looks pretty good, no?

Sideways cable sweater is done!

I can't believe how fast this sweater has pulled together. Without exception (until now) I have gone through a phase with every sweater I've knit where I wonder with every stitch if it's done yet???. I'm not sure what's different about this one, except that I was using it as a second project while working on Irtfa'a. Comparing knitting time for size 10 needles on thick yarn to lace on size 5's couldn't really be anything but advantageous for the sweater. And, stockinette in the round just flies. So, here's the finished product, displayed in the very rare sunlight that peeped in our window today.

I am feeling really good about those ribs. I used a slip stitch rib, because I didn't want to repeat the loosening that happened in my first sweater ever (I'll post about that in a second). I also love the way the center knit stitch (the slipped stitch, really) looks like a tiny cable. This isn't a great picture, but it's the best I could get.

I did a single crochet bind off, which makes a nice, decorative edge. The description in Stanley's book says that it is a "firm and elastic" bind off. I agree with the firm, but not so much with the elastic. If you want to do this one, use a big crochet hook, and leave it very loose. That said, I think it's really pretty.

And, I still love the staghorn cable around the shoulders. The lighting today shows it in slightly higher relief than previous pictures.

The one thing I'm not too happy about is the armpit. When I switched from one circ to three (splitting off for the arms) I didn't keep my tension tight enough, so there's a little bit of gapping between the stitches that I don't like. I haven't decided yet what to do about this, but it seems like a little reinforcement should firm it up.

In all, this was a quick knit, and I'm pretty happy with the way it came out. First FO of 2008!

I found the perfect yarn!

I mentioned in my 2008 "to do" list that I am planning to knit two lace pieces for others this year. One of them is destined to go to my best friend and ex-roommate Biz, who happens to be a beekeeper. I've been planning to use Anne's Bee Stole pattern, but didn't want the tupelo yarn. I wasn't sure how Biz would feel about a lace shawl in the first place, much less a yellow one. So, I ruined the surprise and asked her about it at Christmas (we only get to see each other once a year). She loved the lace, but not the color so much. As she put it, she'd decorate a room in yellow, but she's not likely to wear it, which very neatly sums up my doubts before speaking to her. It's a beautiful color, but I don't quite see her wearing yellow, though she loves to decorate with it.

So, I have been shopping for the perfect color since Christmas. I've made a couple of trips to LYS, since I am definitely one of those people that wants to feel a yarn before buying. There were some nice yarns, but none were perfect. I've absolutely loved working with the Blue Moon laci, and am head over heels in love with their Raven Clan colorway. But these are my colors, not Biz's. We are very similar in most things, but in terms of wardrobe color we're about as different as you can get. I like dark, she likes pastel. I like blue, grey, purple, green, brown, she loves pink, pink, pink, and pink. I think this is really the biggest challenge in knitting for other people; keeping your own fiber tastes from getting in the way of making something that will be perfect for them.

I have looked and looked, and there have been many, many yarns that I have wanted to buy. I absolutely love the colors in the Woolen Rabbit's yarn, and desperately want a skein of each. For me, though, not for Biz. Kris just put up a whole website of horribly tempting yarn, and it's taking all my willpower not to buy enough sock yarn to last me for a millenium at the rate I knit socks. But most of it is sock yarn, and most of it is not Biz.

This morning, Cattywampus solved my problem. I was catching up on my blog reading, and came across her list of things to finish or frog. And there, knitted up in the Bee Stole (of all things) was the perfect yarn. I didn't see it previously mentioned in her blog (though I'm sure it was there, had I really dug through the archives), so I commented and asked what it was. She got back to me in no time flat, and I am now excitedly waiting for my first yarn from Fearless Fibers. I didn't get exactly the same one (they don't appear to have it anymore), but I got one that was very similar, and perhaps even better. Yay for shopping via blog!

I am generally very heistant to buy yarn online, as my fiber-finding method is generally to walk around the yarn store and feel everything. (Remember the Mischief test?). This has kept me out of more trouble online than I can say, and it's a habit I am reluctant to break. I am not a stasher, and have absolutely no desire to have rooms full of yarn. I like to buy what I need, when I need it, and only buy when I have a specific project in mind. This whole method just gets harder and harder as I look at online hand-dyed yarns, because they are so gorgeous, and they're one of a kind, and I really want some of all of them. Still, I have no need for them, no projects waiting, and no space to store things that don't have a purpose. I generally manage to avoid temptation through this chain of logic, believe it or not. It's very hard to keep up, but my need to feel yarn first is a great help. Unfortunately, I feel myself sliding down a very steep and slippery slope as I consent to buy a second skein of laceweight unfelt (the first being the Blue Moon for Irtfa'a). So, I am jubilant that I have now found the perfect yarn, but also a little worried about the Pandora's box that I may be about to open. Guess I'd better go clear some stash space, huh?

Friday, January 18, 2008

What's for dinner?

I love to cook. I seldom make real meals except on weekends, as we get home from work so late. (A real meal is defined as something from scratch, usually something that takes an hour or more to assemble, and is more interesting than hastily assembled mid-week fare). Sunday is usually my cooking day. We have a big meal Sunday, and then use leftovers for lunches most of the week. I also love casseroles that can be assembled on Sunday and baked later in the week. Tonight, I got home early because I had to take the bus, and my last bus leaves school an hour before my normal quitting time. So I had some extra time, and Branden wasn't home yet. The result? A real dinner.

We bought some mushrooms last weekend at the farmer's market. I think they're called hedgehogs, but the sign said that they're like Chantrelles. We're not usually mushroom people, so I have no idea if they were like Chantrelles, as I don't know what they taste like. The mushrooms were intended to be part of a turkey noodle casserole that I made last weekend, but I forgot to put them in. So, I had a bag of mushrooms that needed to be used up in the fridge. I also had some mustard greens from the farmer's market that I hadn't gotten around to. This is how most meals start in our house; there's something in the fridge that needs to be used, and I start cooking around it.

We went to a potluck Thanksgiving last year, and there was a really good corn stuffing that I really loved. It was surprisingly sweet, and really good. Sort of a creamy cornbread studded with kernels. I'm not sure why it occurred to me to mix that with a layer of savory mushroom, but that's where I started, and things just went from there.

Base layer:

1 small onion, diced
3 oz chantrelle mushrooms, finely chopped
garlic, salt, pepper, sage, cayenne and pepper flakes to taste
4 oz butter (I never use this much butter, but I splurged tonight. It was good, but I'm sure you'd be fine with a single tablespoon, or oil instead)
1/2 c white wine (another thing that just happened to be in the fridge needing to be used)

Mustard greens (or whatever happens to be in your fridge)
Canned corn
1 package corn bread mix (or your favorite recipe; I just made up my own)
2 Tbsp. sugar (optional)
1/4 cup of grated cheese (I had cheddar and parmesan on hand...you probably want something with a lot of taste, and maybe something melty, too)

Saute the onions and mushrooms in the butter on medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent. Add spices, and half of the white wine. Simmer to evaporate the wine while you prepare the rest of the meal. When the wine has been almost fully reduced, add the rest and simmer again.

While the base layer is simmering, wash and coarsely chop the mustard greens. Set aside.

Mix corn bread batter, and add 1 can of drained corn and the extra sugar. Stir to combine.

Hopefully this has taken long enough that your wine has mostly evaporated, leaving you with about 1/4 cup of liquid in the pan. Pour the base layer into the bottom of an 8x8 baking dish, add mustard greens, a layer of cheese, and the cornbread batter. Bake at 425 until it passes the toothpick test. The baking seems to take a little longer than usual because of the extra liquid in the bottom of the pan (but that extra liquid also makes the cornbread taste really good...). I think mine took between 45 mins and an hour to bake. Because it takes so long, the cornbread might start to overbrown while baking. If this happens, just put a piece of aluminum foil loosely on top of the crust to keep it from burning.

I served mine with a couple of slices of turkey ham and a salad. Yum!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A houseguest

What do you do when you feel like you are out of time and way behind in everything? I apparently get a houseguest. Yup, that's right. At least he's not very demanding. (And he's very cute...)

Branden and I fostered for the Seattle animal shelter last summer (a total of 13 kittens in 5 months). It's a fun thing to do, and a good way to get a kitten fix without becoming the cat lady. But, it can be hard to stop. Especially when you have your own kitten pusher right down the hall. Several of the people in my department are fosters, and one of them is very good about letting me know when there's another kitten just needing a place to stay. I am supposed to be taking a break from fostering. My allergies (yes, I am allergic to cats, and I own two) are always worse in the winter when the house is closed, and our cats really needed the space. But this little guy needed a place to stay. He's had a couple of very eventful days at school, and really needed somewhere that he couldn't escape from. So, he's now happily holed up in our bathroom, and we have a houseguest.

Given his recent history, we are thinking that Houdini might be an appropriate name. We'll have to see what he thinks over the next couple of days.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm gonna make it after all...I think

Well, it's not Wednesday yet, but I think I am actually going to make it to Wednesday, which means that I should make it through the week. Whew. As I'm sure you discerned, I had a bit of a breakdown on Saturday over all the deadlines piling up, but somehow making a public list of the things I was freaking out about seemed to help (private lists had not helped at all...I tried). Really, a seven item list isn't that bad, especially when one of the items is "all the things I forgot to be stressed about." I'm not generally the sort to freak out about having to get things done, so I really don't know what came over me. Anyway, some deadline-based triage has gotten me (mostly) back on track.

Oh, yeah. About that "I can't make a mistake" bit? The best way to get over that is to just go ahead and make one, on the first day of class. Perfect. At least it's over with. It's bound to happen sooner or later, but I really wanted to avoid it for at least one set of quiz sections. The annoying bit is that I'd gone back and double and triple checked in the book on this specific problem, because I wasn't sure about it. Oh well. I guess that's teaching. At least this bunch of students seems slightly less hostile than the last set of premeds that I had. They weren't antagonistic on the first day, at least, which is a relief.

Despite (or perhaps because of) my unexpected catching up on deadlines before disaster struck, I have to say that knitting progress has been non-existent. I did manage to cast on for a pair of socks, as the sweater has grown too big to be portable. And I've made a couple inches of stockinette on the sweater arm. But that's about it. Fortunately, there is no group meeting tomorrow, so I might be able to actually sit down, knit, and relax a bit now that most of the craziness is under control. Is it Friday yet? =)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

When you have too much to do...

Don't do any of it! Always a good plan. And what do we do when we're avoiding the things we need to be doing? That's right...get knitting done!

At least it makes blog fodder. =)

I've discovered that I knit much faster when stressed, though I don't seem to be able to concentrate enough to work on complicated things (i.e. Irtfa'a). At least I got the ribbing done on the sweater! Just the arms left now, and they should be pretty quick. At least I feel like I've made progress on something, though it isn't something that actually has pressure and a deadline attached. Oh well. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I didn't spend all day inside working. And, I did get the first 5 or so chapters of the organic chem catch-up done. At least it's only the second class in the series rather than the third, so I only have one quarter's worth of back reading to do!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

We now return to our regularly scheduled program...

Now that the whining is over, let's talk about knitting. Given the tone of this week, I think you won't be surprised to hear that I haven't gotten much done. I did, however, manage to finish the shoulder drop section of Irtfa'a, and am ready to begin the small feathers part. Yay!

Excuses, excuses

(warning: egregious whining to follow)

I can't believe how delinquent I've been about posting this week. Ever had one of those weeks when you get lots done but there are still about a billion things left to do that all need to be done yesterday? I know you have. We all have. This was mine. If I make it to next Wednesday, things should get a bit better, but really it'll be at least the end of the month before I can breathe again. What's keeping me so busy?

1) I have a fellowship application that I'm working on, due at the end of the month. It's actually coming together quite nicely, but it still needs a lot of work, and I just don't have time.

2) The new schedule is starting, where I get to stay at work until 8:30 three nights out of the week. Blech.

3) I have to teach on Tuesday. This wouldn't be so bad except:

a) I haven't taught this class in almost 3 years, and it's the most precise of the classes that we teach, so I can't afford to forget anything. Not even one little detail. Guess who's reading the first 11 chapters (350 pages) of an organic chemistry textbook before Tuesday, just to brush up?

b) The prof is tough, which I like, but the students will hate. It will also increase their stress levels, and encourage them to blame the TA for all of their shortcomings (like not reading the book).

c) The students are premeds. Now, don't get me wrong. I have nothing against people that want to be doctors. Some of my best friends in undergrad were premeds. I believe that there are many nice people in the premed field. I have had some great premed students. That said, the prevailing culture in our department's premed students is that they already know it all, the prof and the TA are incompetent and useless, and that class is a waste of time. It also means that they are not interested in learning; they're interested in a 4.0. They don't care that they get it right, or understand. It just matters that they're ahead of the curve. I went to the first lecture last week, and it was a good one. At least 10 students got up at various times during the lecture and climbed over everyone in their row to leave, some only 10 or 15 minutes into the lecture. This sort of attitude obviously makes it less than fun to go in and teach, and it means that I have to know everything and make no mistakes to avoid reinforcing their preconceived ideas. Pressure? Nah.

d) I got my first really horrible TA assessment ever. I've taught over 900 students just in grad school (not counting the hundreds in undergrad), and I always get very good reviews, or at worst constructive criticism. I got my evals back this week, and I had one in which I was described variously as condescending, full of myself, arrogant, and smarmy. Ouch. I know that this is one student in well over 1000. I know that this shouldn't bother me. I know that this evaluation probably doesn't have anything to do with me. And yet, ouch. That kind of drop-kick makes it harder to be excited about going back into the classroom.

4) My research experiments have taken a decided turn towards the unpredictable. This is bad. I am at the stage in my graduate student career when things should be getting easier to understand, not harder. Researching this topic is something like trying to catch a bar of soap that you dropped in a bathtub. Just when you think you've finally got the darned thing, it goes shooting off again in some other direction and you start all over. Sometimes this is fun. This week, I am not amused.

5) I just found out that I have to give group meeting in 2 weeks and present my work to my advisor (who hasn't really been keeping up in months, so it's extra important to impress him) and fellow grad students. This is generally fun, but given #4, is adding to the stress level.

5) I was asked this past week and agreed to give a guest lecture in a friend's class at a community college. The date that she set? Wednesday. (Gasp!)

6) I'm taking a class this quarter on building a teaching portfolio. Our first draft of a teaching statement is due on Wednesday.

7) various and sundry other items that I'm sure I'm forgetting at the moment but will suddenly come due on me within the next 4 days, out of spite.

In short, I worked all week to shorten my list of pressing items, and it's still a mile long. Yay for working weekends.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Is it really Wednesday?

The quarter has started, and real life has begun to blur again. It's amazing how that happens. This quarter is going to be bad for my knitting time, I'm afraid, so I probably won't be posting as often as I have been (unless, of course, you really want me to ramble on with nothing to say...). I guess it's no worse than last quarter. Basically, Mon-Wed I will have no knitting time to speak of, Thursday and Friday I may have a bit more, and the weekends will be catch-up time. Fun, fun.

I don't have much progress for these reasons. I've added another 16 rows to Irtfa'a, and they're starting to get pretty long, too. I guess that's what happens when you increase a few times every other row. It's starting to look like a real piece of knitting, though, which is exciting. The sweater is moving slowly again, but I have about 5 inches of the dark bod color added now. I will post pics soon.

I'm really happy about how well my hands have been doing with the sweater. I was worried for a while that I'd have to forswear thick yarns forever. After knitting Sarah sweater this summer, my carpal tunnel or whatever it is decided to flare up and remind me that it's still there (that was the reason I gave up knitting in high school, so I wansn't pleased to have it resurface). It seems to have calmed down after a lace and sock break, however, so I'm hopeful that I'll be able to get back to sweaters, too. That's really exciting, because sweaters are my favorite project. I think I like to knit lace better as far as the process goes, but sweaters are far and away my favorite knitted thing to wear. I'm trying to decide what I'll do once the cabled one is done. I think I might need to make Branden another, to make up for the shapeless thing that his Paton's Merino has turned into. Well, it was pretty odd-shaped to begin with, but it's gotten worse. He could use a new one. That's for later, though. For now, I need to spend some quality time with the sideways cable sweater. At least we're half way to the weekend already. Happy Wednesday!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

In step

I did long distance running in high school, way back before my body made it clear that it would leave me if I didn't start being nicer to it. I loved running. It hurt like crazy to get in shape; it was hard, you couldn't breathe right, and it was just exhausting. And then all of a sudden, one day your body just got it, and from then on it was pure joy. Something would just click, and you'd fall into step and everything would be perfect. More like flying than running, really.

I can't run anymore, but I can study science. I find that it's very similar; it's hard to get going, nothing makes any sense, and then suddenly you just get it, and it's worth every moment of struggle to gain the clarity that comes when you finally see what you've been missing.

I've been slogging through the lace charts all week. Loving it, but slogging. Like running through mud. Or molasses. Or trying to understand quantum mechanics equations. You can see that there's something there, and you can almost make it out. If only you could stay with it just a little longer...but no, the brain has just given up, and that thing you thought you saw is gone. It's been getting better as I go, and I'd gotten pretty good at it by last night. I could read the charts and knit without stopping, I wasn't getting tired, and I wasn't making mistakes.

But today...today I finally fell into step. I made it through the whole shoulder increase section in a couple of hours, and I'm still up for going back and starting the shoulder drop section, now that I remember that it exists. Today there was no slogging, but simply flying. It's been so much fun. I think it was probably worth all of the extra time spent playing with different needles just to feel the exhilaration of finally owning the pattern. Not following it, not just being able to recognize it, but owning it and understanding how it works from the inside out. I've barely looked at the chart all day, and I have made no mistakes, either. Today, my brain finally learned how to step in time with Irtfa'a, and we've been dancing all afternoon. What a great way to spend a day. I'd have been a lot further along if I'd read the pattern right the first time. But then I'd have missed the fun of gliding through the shoulder increases again. Overall, I'm pretty happy that I managed to forget that the shoulder drop section existed.

It's funny that I should be elated and laughing over the fact that I misread a pattern and spent all day doing unecessary work. But then, isn't all knitting unnecessary, when you get right down to it? We knit for the pure joy of it, because we like the process. I think that people forget about the process too often while trying to race to the finished object. Sometimes it's nice to take a day off and just go wandering off through the stitches, getting lost, and perhaps even finding your way to better mastery. I think, on the whole, I'm glad that I never turned on my computer to check my blog comments this morning.

When all else fails, read the pattern. Again.

When that fails, have someone else read it for you.

I'll start where I left off last night. My gauge was crazy short compared to the length that the pattern said I should have. This was not shocking, since I often have to increase a couple of needle sizes to match gauge. What was shocking was that my size 5 knitting was half what it was supposed to be. This seemed odd.

I went out this afternoon (as soon as the knitting store opened) and bought some size 6 Addi's. They don't come any bigger than that in lace, so I figured I'd just have to make due with the Pryms if the 6's weren't big enough. I cast on again, and worked through to row 18 of the shoulder increase section. I figured that this was more than enough swatch to figure out if I had the right needle size this time, at least. Well, I didn't. Going up a size increased my row gauge by about 33%, which meant that I was a lot closer, but nowhere near close enough. This is a picture of the two pieces side by side.

The piece on the needles is 18 rows plus edging, and the one off of the needles is the one that's 28 rows plus edging. You can see that I was at least catching up.

The problem is, that with this gauge I would still only make 5 inches, and I was heading for 7.5. This seemed crazy. I was knitting as loosely as I possibly could, and there was no way I was going to make 7.5 inches with this. I switched to the Prym 6's for a while, to see if maybe I could increase the size by going back to the typing with my elbow method. Since my original swatch had shrunk when I switched to the Addis, it seemed to make sense that the piece should get bigger if I went back to the Pryms. It made a tiny difference, but not much. It wasn't really even measurable, so I think the original swatch shrinkage probably had more to do with me getting used to the Addis than anything else.

Well, if the Pryms wouldn't do it, I'd have to go up in size again. Judging by the fact that one size change had gotten me 30% increase and I needed another 50% increase, it seemed that two sizes were the way to go. So I switched to 8's. At this point, it was really stretching my credulity to think that Anne could possibly have gotten this gauge on size 4 needles. I mean, really. The world's tightest knitter couldn't cut the gauge in half, could they? Especially not just the row gauge?

I reread the part where it talked about the measurement. I was certain that she meant the same measurement that I was taking, and it very clearly said that it should be 7.5 inches. I sat back and thought about this while knitting with the 8's. At 28 rows plus 5, say, for the edging, 7.5 inches for the final piece would have to mean between 4 and 5 stitches per inch. Now, no matter how loose you knit, that's just crazy talk. 4 stiches to the inch with laceweight on size 4 needles??? No way.

So I gave Branden the pattern to read while I continued incredulously knitting along on my size 8 needles, and thinking how there was no way in heck I was getting 4 stitches to the inch. He noticed a subtle little point that I saw when I first read the pattern but had forgotten while working through it. See, I've worked the shoulder increase section. But the measurement was given after the instructions for the shoulder drop section. I distinctly remember looking at this and telling myself to be careful not to confuse these two terms. I also distinctly forgot by the time I got to that part of the pattern.

Guess how many rows are in the shoulder drop section? That's right...28. Precisely twice the number that I had at the end of the shoulder increase section. Ahhh. My gauge was precisely half of 7.5 because that's what it should have been. Fancy that.

I'm still not quite over laughing at myself for this one. At least we caught it before I worked the whole section on size 8 needles. And, I decided against frogging the original swatch because of you. That's right. I wanted to take a picture to compare the different gauges I was getting as I went along, so I just ran a lifeline through the last row and put it aside. Which means that it's sitting next to me ready to go back on the needles now that it has been redeemed. And, I am now still finished with the shoulder increase section, and apparently ready to move on to the shoulder drop section. A happy ending, I think.

Edited to add: I now notice that Anne had kindly caught this error for me before I went on a gauge-testing foray. Unfortunately, I have been so caught up in knitting all day that I never turned my computer on and saw the comment. Thanks for trying to save me from myself, while I blissfully wandered off in my own little world. =)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Sweater progress

While I've been mostly wanting to work on Irtfa'a lately, it's not a good project for me to just pick up for a few minutes here or there. I need time and mental space and focus for Irtfa'a, so I can't just pick it up when I have a moment. Instead, I've been working on the sideways cable sweater. It feels like I'm cheating working on something other than Irtfa'a, but I can't help it; I need to knit on something, and it can't always be lace. =) I have to say that it is really nice to work with 4.5 stitch per inch yarn in between stretches of laceweight (except that switching back and forth between them makes my hands really confused). Things have been just flying along.

I separated the arms from the body this morning, and have started the next color. I decided to go with a slipped stitch rib, since I want something that stays ribby looking rather than stretching and flattening out. Maybe it's just the Paton's yarn, but my last sweater only held the tight ribbing look for a few wearings before stretching into just knit and purl columns. The slipped stitch should help the ribs stay puffy, I hope. I also considered using one of the many small cable ribs, since I really like the look of cables. I didn't want too much going on, though, and I think a more interesting rib will take the focus away from the sideways band, which is what I want to highlight. The color changes already distract from it a little bit, and I don't want to go overboard with ornate things. A simple rib it is.

I debated whether I should stick with the original plan to make a form-fitting sweater, or go for the bell-shaped look of one of my all-time favorite sweaters, which is also a raglan. I really love the bell-shaped one that I have, but it's not exactly figure flattering, though it has fit me through all of my size changes over the past 6 years (and those are big changes, ranging from a size 4 to a 14, and now heading back down again). In this case, I decided to stick with the fitted sweater, so I did a quick decrease row just below the bust, and am staying with ribbing for the main body. At this rate, this should be done pretty quickly. I really miss sweater knitting; I think it's my favorite kind behind lace. But, when the hands act up, the sweaters must go on hold for a while. Today wasn't bad, though, and I did a lot on the sweater at a stretch, so I'm hoping that I'll be able to keep up the current pace. I'd cross my fingers, but that would make it hard to knit.

One step forward, two steps back

I didn't post pics of the mistake I made in Irtfaa the other night. Here's the right way:

And here's the wrong way:

In the first one, the faggoting between the increase sections continues right down to the edge, where Branden's pointer is. In the second one, it should continue down to the point where the two needles cross, but it sort of hiccups a few rows before the edge. I couldn't figure out what the heck I'd done, until I pulled it back and started working through that section again, where I promptly repeated the mistake and caught myself in the act. Simple misreading of the chart, putting in a second repeat of something that should only have happened once. I feel better now that I know what I did. I don't like it when the universe throws inexplicable problems my way, but when it's clearly my fault and I can see what I did I don't mind so much.

That's a good thing, because I have another one of those situations now. Remember the swatch? It turned out a little bit smaller than gauge, and I briefly considered switching to size 6 needles. It was close (within half an inch, I think...it was too big with the Pryms, and then it shrunk an inch), and I didn't have size 6 needles, so I decided to just continue as planned and hope that blocking would do the trick.

Well, blocking will cure half an inch, but it won't cure 4 inches. That's right, four inches. It turns out that the shoulder increase that I just finished is supposed to be 7.5 inches long. Mine is 3.5 inches long. The more I try to use patterns, the more I realize that my row gauge is just wonky. If someone says I should get 7 rpi, I get 10 or 11. I was actually surprised how close the row gauge was to right when I swatched for Irtfaa. But that was in stockinette. Apparently, when I switched to lace, I lost half of my length. I find this slightly mystifying. My stitches per inch are a little bit small, but only by maybe 10%, meaning that the width for the shawl is a little short, but it's just about right. Not wrong enough to make me think that I should expect to be 4 inches short of Anne's length, anyway, and just about what I'd expect for being one needle size too small. Judging by her post-blocking photos, my version is only about an inch narrower than hers, but it's 4 inches shorter. Very odd. I had intended to do some experimenting as part of the knitting grammary to see if I could get to the bottom of this recurrent issue, but I haven't gotten there yet. Maybe I should bump it up the list. Here's the completed (correct) shoulder increase part of the shawl:

Sorry for the asymmetrical pinning; my needles weren't long enough to stretch the whole thing.

Isn't it pretty? How about some closer-ups? (As always, click for a really big picture)

I really love how it's coming out. It's a really beautiful lace, and I love the color of the Thraven. Pretty, pretty.

It's too bad that I'm going to have to frog this piece. I can't come up with anything useful for it to do, though, and I definitely need to go up at least one and probably two needle sizes. Now, don't go feeling bad for me. This is why I never rely on swatches when I start a project. Somehow, no matter how much I swatch or how careful I am to knit the same way that I always do, something happens and the final product is different than my swatch would predict. When I made a sweater for my sister, I swatched carefully, and ended up with about a foot of extra width in the original piece. That's just the way it is, and I'm ok with ripping.

Really, I am. I usually end up ripping the first 6 to 8 inches of something, once I've gotten a good solid feel for how it's shaping up and how to change it. That's most of the reason that I didn't run out and get new needles when I realized that my gauge was a little off of the pattern. If I had changed then and reswatched, I would be angry now to discover that the gauge on the actual piece is wrong. This is one of those "know thyself" things. If I'd measured and altered and measured again, I would expect my gauge to be perfect, given that I'd put all that effort into checking that it would be. Since I didn't do more than a very basic swatch, I started out accepting the fact that this might not end up perfect, and I am perfectly ok with ripping it out and starting over. Maybe it's a personality quirk, but I am much happier doing a quick swatch to test, changing if it appears necessary, and then just diving in and re-doing if I have to, which, in this case, I do.

Further items on the plus side are as follows:
1) I have now swatched the entire shoulder increase section twice, and have a pretty good sense of what's going on, and where I'm likely to mess it up.
2) I've gotten much better (and faster) at reading charts, which will make redoing a lot easier.
3) I was actually kind of sad to leave this lace behind, because I really liked working it. Now I get to work it again.

So, on the whole, I think this has been a successful venture so far. And, I've really been enjoying the mental stretch, even if it means I can't work on it for very long at one go. I think my biggest complaint so far is that I get tired too easily, which means that I have to put it down sooner than I'd like. Then I resist putting it down for "just one more row" and end up making mistakes because my brain isn't up to it anymore. But, if that's the worst thing I have to say about a project, I think I'm in pretty good shape. =)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

No time, no progress

It's absolutely amazing that the 8 hours I spend at work are really eternity (I was thinking it had to be at least 3 by now when I looked up and realized that it was only 11 this morning...), and the hours I spend at home are moments long. Now, I realize that 3 hours after dinner isn't much time to have before bed, but I'd like to feel like I managed to get something done in that time.

Well, I did get something done. I finished the shoulder increases on Irtfa'a. And then I decided that I really need to go back and fix a mistake I made and thought I'd already fixed when I went back the first time. So, I will be ripping back first thing tomorrow night, which leaves me three rows closer to done than when I started working this fine evening. How annoying.

The good news is that I really feel like I can follow this lace, and it's going a lot faster (minus the frogging) than it was before. The even better news is that after I redo these rows I will be into the main part of the pattern which has a much smaller pattern width, and so I am less prone to silly mistakes that end with me pulling out a whole night's worth of work. Despite the pulling I am enjoying the knitting immensely. I might gripe about it a lot, but I really do like it. Until I mess it up. But once I get it going smoothly again I'll remember that I really do like knitting lace after all.

I am so glad that tomorrow is Friday. Then it will be the weekend, and I can actually get something done. I have no idea how I'm going to make it through an entire 5 days of work next week. I feel like the last two days have been a month long! I love breaks, and I had an unusually long one this year, but I think in some ways that they make things worse. It's hard to keep plugging along when you don't feel like it, but it's harder when you have to go back to plugging along after having been free for a week. Oh well. To bed, so that I can get up tomorrow and plug through to the weekend!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Lace is heavy knitting

You'd think that light, airy lace would be light and easy knitting, wouldn't you? Well, maybe you wouldn't. I guess just looking at it tells you it's complicated (and that's why it's so much fun!). Still, I had no idea when I started Irtfa'a just how much I'd be stretching my brain. I can practically feel the neurons growing; it's amazing. 6 rows and I'm done for the night. My brain just stops, and I'm done, whether I want to knit on it obsessively or not. If I try to push it, I just start making silly mistakes, and lots of them. It's like knitting weight lifting. I guess it should get easier as I go? Even with my currently limited endurance, I have made it to row 17 of the shoulder increases at the top of the shawl. I have about 2.5 inches of good, solid knitting under my belt on this project, which I'm pretty happy about, especially considering how little I can do in one sitting.

It is actually a really easy pattern to see, so I'm not sure why my brain is slogging so much. I guess it's just that I'm not used to following charts. I actually forgot that the chart rows are reversed for WS rows on my swatch. I thought it was wierd to have a garter stitch lace; I didn't remember that it looked like garter in Anne's pictures. Well, that's because it wasn't. As with all charts, this one is written showing the stitches from the right side, so when you work the wrong side you have to invert the stitches, and knit every time it says purl, etc. This really isn't difficult, but I just plain out forgot. So, I have a garter stitch lace swatch. I'll be interested to see how it compares with the right pattern when I finish this section. There's definitely a lot of detail that it's missing, and it has a much fuzzier appearance than the correct pattern that I've worked so far. The nice thing about having gotten it wrong in the swatch is that I overestimated how much attention I'd have to pay to the wrong side rows. In the garter version, I really couldn't see or follow the lace pattern much at all in the piece, so I had to really read the chart for every single row. The stockinette version is muuuuuch easier to see, and I can pretty much do the WS rows without the chart, which does help to speed things up a bit. Once I knew that I needed to invert the WS rows, I realized that I really didn't need them after all. Funny, huh? I love the lace pattern, and I am really enjoying working it. I find myself fighting not to put it down, even though I know that it is a bad idea to keep going once the brain is gone for the night.

So, now that I have used up any brain cells that made it through the day (today was an uber-Monday after the break...), I think I'm going to work on the sweater; some light knitting should be nice for the rest of the evening. =)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Light box

One last post for this morning. Branden built me a collapsible light box frame the other day, which we're experimenting with using for blog photos during the dark Seattle winter. He's created an instructible for it, which you can view here, if you're interested in seeing how he did it. They even chose to feature his post on the front page!


Every year Branden and I go on a photo excursion in January to see the bald eagles in the Skagit River Valley. They migrate at this time of year, following the salmon. I believe that this is the biggest congregation of eagles in the continental US, though I don't remember where I read that. Usually we end up going after the peak, and count about 20 birds in a couple of hours along the 8 mile stretch of highway that follows the river. This year, we decided to catch it earlier, and went up yesterday. We counted 51 birds on the way out, and 34 on the way back (many of those are probably duplicates). This is our first year with the new camera (Nikon D80), and we're really happy with the results. There are some photos here if you're interested. You can click on them up to 5 times to more resolution (they get bigger every time you click, but take longer to load). Right clicking should let you download them, if you should happen to want an eagle background for your computer. If you want to pass them along to others or use them in any way, please request a creative commons license from Branden. If you're in the Seattle area and have a free day before the end of January, I would highly recommend a field trip to Skagit. It's simply amazing to see these birds in person.

A year in review

I've been thinking about what I've knit in the past year, and am looking forward to the projects that I'd like to do in 2008. Here's the short list of things from last year:

Scarves (11)
Hats (1)
Handwarmers (2 pair)
Sweaters (3 adult, one child)
Stoles/shawls/shrugs (4)
Socks (5 pair)
Bags (1)
Stuffed elephant (1)
Halter top (1)

I have pictures of some of these, and I promise that I will make a photo gallery of finished objects sooner or later.

Things to work on in the new year:

Knitting grammary swatches
Finish an afghan that I started
Finish the cable sweater
2 lace stoles for friends (I have the people picked, but not the projects)
Try double-stranded knitting (I know, it's simple, but I've never tried it)
Knit socks one inside the other
Reverse knitting (knitting flat without turning your work)

Actually use Ravelry (there's so much there that I haven't explored!)
Gallery of FOs
Work on photo skills
Blog the spinning stuff (I have a post that I've been meaning to write about
spinning adventures, and just haven't gotten around to it yet...)

Think that's enough to get me started? Happy New Year!