Friday, February 29, 2008

Second thoughts

Sometimes you start a project and everything goes swimmingly. You just know it's going to work. And other times, doubt nags. And nags. And nags.

I've already whined about how I managed to forget how to execute a presentable cast on for the hybrid sweater sleeves. Fortunately, casting on doesn't last very long, and I've been happily zipping up the arms for the past 2 nights. Things have slowed down sufficiently at work that I am not bringing work home to fill my evenings as much, so I've been getting knitting done! This is also big yarn after Irtfa'a, which makes it feel even faster. I forgot that Branden took the camera with him, and haven't charged the other one, so I still have no pictures for you. You'll just have to take my word for it...I have gotten knitting done. The sleeves are up above my elbows now.

And, of course, I'm now having second thoughts about the sleeves. I didn't start increasing as soon as I usually would have, because I wanted to get through the cable colorwork before beginning to increase. That means that the sleeves haven't gotten big as fast as they normally would. In fact, they fit my forearms pretty nicely. This is a problem. This is not a sweater for me. This is a sweater for Branden, and while I would not say that he has big, bulky forearms, I would definitely say that they are larger than mine.

Now, I measured off of the swatch to figure out how may stitches to use. Generally my circular gauge is almost exactly the same as my flat gauge. I know that this yarn does tend to grow a good bit with blocking, but I really like the stitch spacing that I have now, and wouldn't want to rely on stretching during blocking to make much of an increase in size. I also don't know how well the colorwork will stretch out with blocking. My swatches tend to lie, so I generally tend not to trust them. I didn't want the sleeves to be baggy, but I also had no intention of making them form fitting.

So, I am now having second thoughts about continuing on this project. Branden isn't home, so I can't make him try them on and convince myself that it will be ok. I also have a sneaking suspicion that I know I need to frog and don't want to admit it. It's only 70 rows on two sleeves, but I really just don't want to rip it out. I don't usually have any problem frogging a piece; I think it's just that this is the only knitting progress that I've made in a couple of weeks, and I want to think it will just work out with blocking. (My sister's sweater definitely increased by at least 10 inches with blocking, though hers had much more ribbing and cable in it, so a lot of the stretch came from that. And, like I said before, I don't want to overstretch during blocking and end up separating the stitches too much.

I think I'm going to put this project aside until tomorrow night when Branden will be home. Then I will see just how bad it is, and probably rip all the way back to the beginning (I'm not redoing that cast on, though! The ribbing stays!).

Alternatively, I could finish the sleeves and claim them for myself, seeing that they do fit me quite nicely. This would require a new pair of sleeves for Branden, more buying of yarn, and knitting two sweaters from the same yarn. It seems better to frog, though I really wouldn't object to having a sweater in these colors...

Edited to add:
Wait. Did I say wait? I don't think I'm very good at waiting right now. Nope. Not at all good at waiting. Would it make any sense to put this project down for a whole day now that I finally have time to work on it? I think not. First sleeve is frogged. Second is about to follow. Knitting will commence immediately, and 70 rows of sleeve will take absolutely no time to redo. Don't know what's come over me lately...frogging is just part of knitting, for goodness' sake!

Edited again to add:
Have you ever noticed how much fun it can be to watch knitting un-knit? I'm not sure why I'm so amused by the little popping sound as rows and rows of little stitches come out. Maybe I've been sitting at home alone too much this week. Good thing Branden comes home tomorrow. I really should stop adding edits to the post, but then again, it is titled second thoughts...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

No pictures

I came back to lab this afternoon to find a hand-written note scrawled on a sheet of scrap paper sitting on my keyboard. It appears that my work computer has decided not to play nice with the internet, and has been denied access by the department tech service department until the "problem is resolved." This apparently means that I need to completely wipe my hard drive and reinstall Windows. Unfortunately, this is the computer that hosts all of the pictures for the blog, so if you're trying to catch up on blog reading (as I will be doing tonight), I'm afraid there will be no pictures. It figures that this happened the day that Branden left for a long weekend of Robots, because he's the one that would normally deal with this sort of thing. I, for one, am wholly unprepared to go rooting about in the registry for computer viruses. Fortunately, my labmate appears to think that is the most fun thing he could be doing, and spent a lot of today trying to figure out what exactly the problem was. It's strange seeing someone get giddy over hunting computer viruses, but if he's happy doing it, I'll be happy to have it done!

I think this is my fault. See, my students had their exam last night, and the paper for my class had been completed, and the latest manuscript had been submitted to my advisor. So, for the first time in weeks, I thought to myself last night that things were finally under control, and that I could try to spend some time relaxing (it would be really nice if my eyes stopped twitching sometime soon...). I think this was a bad move. First the computer, and now an email from my advisor stating that he doesn't feel that this manuscript is any better now than it was before I spent the last 3 weeks rewriting it. Yup. Definitely called the wrath of destiny upon myself by thinking for a moment that maybe I could start to relax a bit. I guess I asked for it, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

So, sorry for no pictures. I can upload new pictures via Picasa from my home computer (ironically, I ususally don't do this because I think of my work computer as more stable than an online picture service...guess maybe I should change that idea), so theoretically I will be able to show you new pictures, but the old ones are broken temporarily. Hopefully, my local computer doctor will have a solution soon that doesn't involve completely redoing my whole computer, as that's really a pain in the neck. Stupid viruses...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I don't have much to show. I did a lot of knitting this weekend (well, a lot for these days of no time and endless deadlines). Really, I did. I cast on 5 times for these cuffs. I am determined that this sweater will not be one that makes me cringe when Branden wears it (the last one does; it is poorly shaped and really not the right size). So, it must be perfect. Right down to the silly cast on for the ribbing. 5 times. I have no idea why I just couldn't get this to work. Actually, I have a very good idea. I firmly believe that the universe has decided that I have too much to do and therefore should be prevented from successfully accomplishing anything on the first attempt. It's a rather cruel joke, but it does seem that the busier I get, the harder it becomes to do simple things. Like cast on.

Anyway, no bitterness here. Fifth time was a charm, after an hour or so of fussing and working through some extra length of yarn that needed to be tightened up, and I have begun the sweater. I only had to pull back one sleeve's worth of the colorwork band, and I am now into the mostly brainless portion of the pattern, which should go much better. And, I really like the "cable" pattern.

So that's it for today. Two cuffs. The good news is that many of the projects that have recently swallowed me up are beginning to come together, and life will (hopefully) become less hectic soon. If nothing else, there are only 3 more weeks left in the quarter, and spring break will give me a chance to catch up on other things. This will theoretically leave me with evening time again, and allow us to return to our regularly scheduled program. Happy Tuesday!

Friday, February 22, 2008


I have done almost no knitting this week. Horrors!
Things have been a bit crazy, to say the least. So, what have I gotten done?

We picked a main color pattern for the hybrid sweater. Since it's going to be cably on the body, we picked a cably color pattern. It will be pretty minimal; just around the cuffs and the hem of the body. Branden found a very cool chart-making program, and charted up the two directions of the cable, and the transition for the back center.

Then, we needed to pick an overall color pattern for the sleeves. As I said before, I wanted something really subtle. Still, I was surprised when I started swatching at just how subtle the color difference is in some lights. It is really obvious in the camera flash light, but sunlight makes it almost impossible to see. I was originally thinking of doing a pretty sparse pattern of the dark color, but it just didn't show up enough, so I started playing with groups of at least two stitches together.

Branden really wanted me to try little blocks, so I tried little blocks. I'm not a big fan. Little diamonds don't show up very well, and neither of us liked them much anyway. We did like the V's (just below the blocks in the picture), but Branden likes them a little more spread out, so I tried them again at the top. I'm thinking that we'll do stripes of V's for now, and I may add other things is as I begin the sleeves; we'll see how things go.

This is my first time doing colorwork, really. I did a little bit of intarsia on my first sweater, but it was pretty small and I definitely didn't work very efficiently, dropping one yarn to pick up the other each time. I wanted to give colorwork another try, and this time I wanted to hold the yarn the "right" way, to make my life easier. So, I've been experimenting with different ways of holding yarns of different colors. I've heard people rave about the two-hand method, so I started with that. I'm not a huge fan. There's something about throwing with my right hand that just really slows me down; I can't seem to make it efficient. I did about 3/4 of the swatch two-handed, so I think I gave myself time to at least sort of get the hang of it. I didn't hate it, but it's not my favorite method. Once, when I picked up the swatch to knit, I instinctually grabbed both yarns in my left hand and started working that way. Muuuuch better. I can keep track of both yarns in my left hand, and I get to keep my speed, too.

I've also wanted to try knitting backwards for a while (knitting stitches off of the right needle onto the left one). I've heard about it, and I've always thought it would be fun to try. In fact, I even tried it for one repeat of the Irtfa'a edging, because the rows were only 8-16 stitches long and I was sick of flipping it over every few stitches. Then I came to my senses and realized that it was very, very stupid to try learning a completely new stitch technique while working a complicated lace that I wanted to look nice. So, I shelved it until Irtfa'a was done. The swatch, however, has provided the perfect opportunity to knit backwards. Since it's flat, I would have to purl back if I were knitting normally, which involves reversing the color pattern in my head as I go. This isn't a big deal, but knitting backwards lets me keep the knit side facing me all the time. So, I gave it a try.

...and ended up with stitches that looked more like herringbone than stockinette. Yet again, my preference for plaited knit stitches made things a little harder than they probably had to be. It was perfectly intuitive for me to knit plain stitches backwards. I just don't like doing them forwards. So, every row I would knit forwards and add and extra twist, and then knit backwards and not compensate for it. This gave me the herringbone look. It took me almost an hour to figure out exactly how to hold two needles and two strings the right way for making plaited stitches backwards. I'm not sure why it took so long, but it did. Now, though, I can fly through it. I had a few issues with tension at first, but they're now largely resolved. Can you tell which rows were done forwards and which back? I can't...

So, it may not look like much, but this swatch represents at least a little bit of knitting learning. I figured out the knitting with two yarns thing, and the knitting backwards, and may have managed to choose a pattern for the sweater arms. Not bad, I guess. And, look at the back!

I'm so proud of my tension. I have no idea how it came out this well. I didn't really pay any attention to it, but it looks about a million times better than I expected, and it doesn't pull at all in the later work. Who'd have thought I could get this much better at colorwork in the past year without even doing any?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I have no knitting

I have no knitting to show you. But boy, do I have an excuse. Ready? It's a long story, so settle back and relax. You might want an extra cup of tea or something.

Remember our houseguest?

This is a kitten that we're fostering for the Animal Shelter. Due to my allergies, we are not supposed to foster cats during the winter months when the house needs to be closed up. But this kitten came to us under some special circumstances. Oh, yes, this little 4 month old cat has a history.

One of the grad students in my department found the kitten (who shall remain nameless until the proper time). He had been eating out of a dumpster for a couple of weeks, and was clearly a stray. So, this good graduate student took in the kitten, even though he knew that he couldn't have pets in his apartment. He knew that one of the staff members in our department fosters cats, and so asked her what to do about the little guy. She said that she'd take him, but wasn't expecting that to mean that the kitten would show up the next day in her office.

So, kitten shows up in staff member's office (names withheld to protect the innocent), and she gets down on the floor to look at him. It's important to know that her office is adjacent to another office, each with a door to the hallway, and with a door connecting them. She thought that both doors to the hallway were closed. Turns out that the adjacent office door was open. So, kitten comes out of the carrier, nonchalantly walks into the next office, and out the door.

Now, this might not be as heart-stopping to you as it is to those of us steeped in the departmental policies, but suffice it to say that cats loose in labs are very, very bad. Worse, departmental memos have been sent in the past regarding the presence of cats in the building because of custodian complaints about "visitors." So, not only are cats not allowed, but they are also explicitly forbidden in the department.

So, what does this kitten do after sauntering out of a door everyone thought was closed? He wanders down the hallway, through a door that was propped open (another thing that is never supposed to happen, and under normal circumstances would have resulted in a serious dressing down of the responsible TA), and into a lab. This wouldn't even be such a big deal, except that the lab also happened to be full of students, as class was in session.

Kitten walks into lab, jumps up on the bench, walks the entire length of the radiator in the back of the room, and jumps down through a hole in the counter. A hole that leads behind the lab bench cabinets and is inaccessible from outside. Kitten is now ensconced within the building, immune to all attempts to remove him. Attempts can't even be made for 5 or 6 hours, until all students have been cleared from the room. Kitten remains hidden until someone discovers that the backs of the cabinets can be unscrewed and he can be fished out, at something like 2 am.

Kitten is removed to another office with no doors from which to escape, and is left overnight while tired staff member goes home. Next morning, kitten is nowhere to be found. Panic ensues. Kitten is eventually found on top of the light fixture, a good 9 feet off the floor. Kitten earns the name Houdini.

It was absolutely clear that Houdini could not remain in the department, but that presented a problem. See, everyone involved up to this point had many, many foster cats already and absolutely no room to spare. This is where I come in. We have a spare room. But we're not supposed to have kittens because they make me not breathe. We decided to suck it up and take him for the month or two it will take to find him a home. Since then, Houdini has been staying quite happily in our bedroom/bathroom side of the apartment. He is clean and quiet, and very affectionate. We have had absolutely no trouble with him, and have been debating whether or not we really should call him Houdini.

On Sunday, my next door neighbor came over to tell us that there was water leaking in the basement. We moved all of our stuff out of the drip zone, and called the landlord to let him know that the pipes were leaking. He spent all day Sunday trying to fix the leaks, but needed to come back again today to do some more poking and figure out where the leaks were coming from. It was discovered that one of those leaks was from a pipe connecting our toilet to the house water pipes. So, we got a new toilet today.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with a kitten? Oh yes, you might ask, and I bet you know that I'm about to tell you, too.

See, it turns out that the landlord had to remove our medicine cabinet from the wall in the bathroom in order to access the pipes that would allow him to change out the toilet. Now do you see where this is going?

Think about it. Kitten named Houdini. Open wall. Bad idea.

Apparently, on the way out after putting everything back together, the landlord noticed that the kitten was no longer sitting on the bed. It had even occurred to him that the kitten might look into the wall. Apparently it did not occur to him to check that the kitten was not in the wall before leaving.

Branden gets home before me on Wednesdays. Wednesday is group meeting night, so I'm at school until 8:30 or so. He came in and went into the bedroom side of the house looking for something. Eventually, it occurred to him that he had no company from a nosy kitten that would usually be all over us after a day locked up alone. (We really tried to let the kitten out into the main part of the house with our cats, but after a couple of tries gave up in the interest of his safety. He is very friendly, and he loves our cat that hates kittens. Letting him out might mean getting him killed.) So, Branden starts to wonder where exactly the kitten might be.

He calls, and hears a tiny little "mew" in reply. This goes on for a while. Branden calls, kitten meows...kind of a feline Marco Polo game. Kitten does not appear, which suggests that kitten is stuck somewhere. Closets are torn apart. Cabinets are opened and riffled. Under bed area is checked. No kitten. Mewing and jingling of his little collar bell, but no kitten.

Branden stops and thinks. New toilet. Plumbing. Open wall. Houdini. No....

Yup. The kitten had climbed into the wall unnoticed while the landlord was working. The landlord had proceeded to finish up the job, and then seal the kitten into the wall. We're not sure how long he was in there, but it was at least a few hours. He'd gotten himself up on a little ledge above the shower ceiling, about a foot out of reach, and was scared to jump down. I don't blame him. There aren't many places to land, and there's a hole under the wall that goes straight down into the basement. If I were a kitten, I'd have stayed on my nice, secure shelf, too.

We got out of group meeting late tonight, as one of my labmates was practicing her thesis defense, and that always takes a while. I called Branden when we got out, and he didn't answer. This was odd, as he's usually very good about that. A few minutes later, I got a call back. Branden apologized for not answering, but he had just been on the phone with the landlord and didn't want to put him on hold. Oh, and by the way, the kitten is in the wall.

Pause. Pause. Let words sink in. The kitten is where??? Have a moment of panic. Have visions of having to tear out all the walls in the bathroom to get to kitten hopelessly lost in the walls. Come back to senses and get an assessment of the situation. Branden says that he'll try to make a shelf and entice the kitten out of the wall. I hang up and start to put things together to come home. Twenty minutes later, Branden calls to say that cat is out of the wall, and he's on his way. On the way home he relates the story. It's now 10:15, and I have just managed to finish eating dinner. There will be no knitting tonight, I'm afraid. But, there is also no kitten in the wall, and I must say this is a darned good excuse.

The inside of our bathroom wall:

There's a ledge in there, apparently, just big enough for a kitten.

Kitten emerging from wall after his rescue:

Who me? Trouble? I'm no trouble at all!

(Kids and pets have to be cute, or else they'd never make it...)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Something a little different

After finishing Irtfa'a, I thought it would be good to spend a day focusing on some of my other projects that are a bit behind. (That, and I don't have anything worthwhile yet as far as sweater swatches; those will hopefully be out later in the week.)

I've been working on a stained glass window quilt for a couple of months, on the odd weekend day where I feel like doing something other than knitting for a couple of hours. I'm using the stack and slash method, and then just adding an extra little strip of black in between the colored pieces. I really love this method; it's fast and easy, no fussy measuring, and practically instant gratification as quilting goes. It's been a great stash buster (and yes, I do have quite a fabric stash...ask me how I know that I don't want a yarn stash...), which is what I wanted. I've been collecting bits and pieces of jewel-tone fabrics for years, planning to make a stained glass window design out of them. I had originally thought that I'd applique a vase of flowers or something artistic and complicated like that, but I decided last fall that I just wanted to get the project going. I picked the stack and slash method, and then did nothing about it until a few weeks ago. We have a guest staying with us at the end of next month, and I realized that we don't really have a quilt for the guest bed. I guess we could just use a normal store-bought blanket, but the need for a quilt gave me some incentive to get going on this project. I finished piecing the front last weekend, and Branden helped me lay it out for closing today.

As you can see, it takes up our entire livingroom floor, even with all the furniture moved into the other room. This, in my mind, means that it's the perfect size. It's about 90"x100", I think.

I just love the way the lines between the "panes" came out, and the apparent randomness of the design. It's surprisingly hard to introduce randomness into a quilt, and it's something that I really like when it's done well.

Aren't the colors just beautiful?

I still need to whipstitch the whole thing closed (it's currently more like a batting sandwich than a quilt), and then I get to do the fun part. It's funny; most quilters I know like the piecing and hate to quilt. I am just the opposite. I can't wait for the piecing to be done, and then it's the hand quilting that I really love. I'm looking forward to putting in a few hours finishing this baby off in the next couple of weeks, just in time to keep our guest snuggly warm.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Isn't she lovely?

I finished the edging for Irtfa'a last night. I really like the fact that there is no bind-off in this project. A couple inches of grafting, weaving in of seams, and she's done. That has yet to sink in...Irtfa'a is done.

This has been a really fun project, and, unlike most big projects, never hit the dragging along stage where you have to make yourself keep going. I think that's saying a lot for the design, considering how much knitting with small yarn and needles there is in this project (small for a sweater knitter, anyway). This was one of those situations where I knew I was throwing myself in a little over my head, having never really done any sizeable (or complicated) lace knitting before. I try to do this on a fairly regular basis; I've found that biting off a little more than you think you can chew is a great way to surprise yourself. It's not always a good surprise, but it's usually worthwhile, and there's a lot to be learned along the way, whether it's to success or failure.

In this case, I would say that the path was definitely to success. The pattern was clear, the charts were good, and the project itself was just really fun. I don't know if I'd cast on again for it tomorrow, but I might cast on for a different lace project tomorrow. Not like I have the yarn and pattern sitting by my knitting chair or anything...

Irtfa'a took her first bath this afternoon, and is stretching out in all her glory as I type. I would have started the blocking last night, but I didn't have any t-pins, and I decided that they would be a must for this project, given that my cats like to "help" with (i.e. lay in the middle of) a blocking piece. Actually, they were very good today...they must have detected the danger that they'd be in if they messed up this blocking project. They took naps in the sun instead. All in all, I used about 150 t-pins, which was fewer than I had originally expected, and only possible due to some very fancy blocking wires.

Here are some close-ups of the different stitch patterns.

The small feathers

The back panel

The quill and feather section

The quill edging

The picot edge

Drying in the sun (and still the cats resisted...I tell you, they were so good today!)

Wingtips (I love the way the corners flare)

And, of course, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Yup, those are knitting needles standing in for blocking wires. I haven't gotten a set of blocking wires yet, but I decided that I really didn't want to pin each one of those picots individually. And then I realized that I have a whole bag full of circular needles, that have great cables on them. I'm not sure I'll bother with blocking wires in the future; the needles work really well, and I already have them.

I was saying to Branden last night that Irtfa'a was a little smaller than I'd expected (she was about a foot and a half from shoulder to edge, I think). I wasn't worried about it, but it was shorter than I thought she'd be. And then we got to the blocking. I laid her out once and started pinning. Then I needed to stretch some more. And some more. And some more. The blocking board in the picture above? Yeah, that's a twin-sized day bed. Irtfa'a is no longer smaller than I'd expected. I've heard that lace stretches a lot, but wow. Her "wingspan" is literally from one end of the bed to the other, which makes it more than 6 feet. Amazing what a soak and stretch will do for you.

And, I even have some yarn left over. Branden keeps asking what I'm going to do with it, but as of now, I have no idea. There's a pretty decent amount left, though:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

You know your students are listening when...

I teach 4 quiz sections on Tuesday. (Quiz sections are basically just hour-long problem-solving sessions to supplement student's lecture learning.) Every Tuesday, we have a quiz in quiz section, and then we go over the answers. Before I give out the quiz, I make sure to ask if there are any questions.

This week, in my second section, a student actually had a question (this is an uncommon thing, and warms the TA's heart, as it proves that someone has at least a foggy idea of what they are supposed to be learning). So, I wrote the first example that came to mind up on the board and worked through the problem, from beginning to end. As I neared the end, I realized to my horror that the example I'd chosen was on the quiz. It came to mind so quickly because I'd covered it in my last class not 40 minutes earlier, after they had taken their quiz and we were talking about the answers. Feigning nonchalance, I erased the problem and administered the quiz anyway, suggesting that the student's classmates might want to thank him for having a question.

Today, I was entering grades for the quizzes into the computer system, and noticed that one of the students in that section had gotten the problem wrong. (It wasn't my turn to grade this week, so I hadn't seen the quizzes until today). Just out of curiousity, I decided to see how many students in that section had gotten the problem wrong, even though it had been done for them on the board not even 60 seconds before the quiz was handed out. There were four. Out of 22. Four.

Now, I know better than to be curious as a teacher. Generally, when it comes to figuring out what your students have actually learned, curiousity is a dangerous thing. Satisfying it usually leads right to depression and "why do I do this???" sorts of questions. But, I really do care what they're learning, and what kind of an effect (if any) I have on that. So, I decided to be very scientific and use my other sections as a control variable. I hadn't blurted out the answer to their quiz questions immediately before administering it, and so I could compare the number of students that got it wrong to see how much I'd skewed their grades by pulling the wrong example out of the air.

I counted the number of students that got the problem wrong in one of my other sections. Same number of students, same time of day (no excuses about early or late classes making people sleepy...). If anything, I would say that I have more students struggling in my control class than in the one I gave the answer to, so I'd have guessed that this group would have gotten more wrong even without the handicap. How many got the problem wrong in the control class? Four.

Now, to some degree it is comforting to know that my teaching has nothing to do with my student's success. It's especially comforting when I'm having an off week and feel like I can't manage to speak a coherent sentence, never mind inspire great ideas. It is a pretty well-documented phenomenon that the TA has absolutely no influence over student's grades. There are 3 TAs for this class of 300 students, and there is absolutely no statistically significant difference in the average scores for our students on the exams, even though we cover vastly different material in very different ways. This has held true in every big class I've ever taught; even TAs that don't do anything more than show up don't have a decrease in average grades compared to those of us that spend hours and hours preparing worksheets and lectures and interesting problems. I've come to accept this, and, as I said, even find some comfort in it at times. I'm ok with the burden of learning being on the students, and in general if I can make their learning more pleasant along the way I consider it worthwhile. Still, it is hard to accept that explicitly giving them the answer immediately prior to a quiz has absolutely no effect on their ability to do the problem. Somehow, words came out of my mouth for 3-5 minutes, and no one heard them. Or, at least no one that needed to hear them heard them. The people that already knew the answer heard me, I'm sure.

This is just one of those moments in teaching where you realize how immensely unimportant you are to a student's learning process. A good student will learn with or without a great teacher. A teacher can help, inspire, ease the path to learning, but it is the student that takes the first step and the final leap. It's discouraging at times to realize that nothing you can do will help them more than they can help themselves, and yet it is wonderful to know that each one of us holds the true power of learning, and one bad teacher here or there truly need make no difference. It's beautifully empowering for the students, and I'm glad it's true. It can also be crushingly unflattering to the teacher that thinks that their words actually matter. I suppose it highlights the essence of good teaching, though. It's not the facts, or the explanation, it's the inspiration to think and explore, giving the encouragement to try and the support necessary succeed. Teaching becomes such a different game when we remember that we're not transmitting information so much as inspiring students to learn for themselves and to live up to their own potential. Perhaps I like that role better, after all.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Halfway through the week...

And halfway through the edging for Irtfa'a. Branden didn't quite grasp the significance of the stitch marker at first when I showed it to him last night. This is probably because I just held it out with no explanation and waited for him to figure it out (we do this sort of thing to one another's kinda fun to watch the cogs grind...). He kept looking at me funny, trying to figure out why I was showing him a little plastic stitch marker. And then, it dawned on him that're halfway! Now I just need to do the left-hand edging...


Sorry, but no pics tonight...I am not feeling motivated to get out the camera, and I only have an hour and a half of knitting time before bed! Happy halfway day!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Serious lot, aren't we?'s a heavy night out there in blogland. I've only made it through two of my subscribed blogs, and they've both been the kind where you pause, think, and reread. Sachi talked about the paranormal, and then Susan got me crying (no mean feat, let me tell you...I'm about as far from weepy as a person can get...). Since it seems to be the night for it, I'm going to publish my "consumption" post tonight. I had intended to wait and put it up mid-week when I'd be short on blog fodder, but since we're all feeling pensive tonight, I think I'll move it up the list.

Math and fiber

Branden sent me a link to an article about crocheted models of hyperbolic space. Sound esoteric? It is, but it's also pretty cool. Seeing that I have nothing nearly as cool to talk about tonight, I figured I'd share. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Galloping Consumption

Did you know that consumption used to be a disease? Yup...that's right...tuberculosis (called consumption because it literally consumed people from within). Think turn-of-the-century books, like Anne of Green was one of the "romantic" endings for minor characters, and a source of great drama in love stories. Today, consumption has yet again been labelled as a problem, but for reasons that are more social than physical. I've just been reading a book by the author of "Affluenza," all about how our consumer lifestyle isn't so great for our mental/spiritual wellbeing (I didn't love the tone or writing style of the book, but it makes some very valid points). I'm not a spiritual person, but I do believe that using consumption as a measure of personal value is more than just silly; it's downright unhealthy. I am not a fan of "things," probably because I've never had a large living space, and adorable knick knacks quickly turn into clutter that doesn't have a place to be. (This may not be the only reason, as my sister and I have had very similar living experiences throughout our lives, and she's a packrat...) I just don't like to possess things that I don't need or won't use, and it bothers me to have stuff just hanging around.

Why does this belong on a knitting blog? Well, because I count stash as stuff hanging around. I love knitting, and I love yarn. There are some absolutely gorgeous fibers out there that I would love to have. But I don't want to just have them; in order to enjoy them, I would also have to use them. A beautiful yarn for a perfect project makes me happy while it's on my needles. I like to make pretty and useful things. But, if I let too many things build up "on hold" or in the stash without a purpose or not in active use, they begin to weigh on me. Then I begin to feel pressure to rush in order to get to the things that are waiting to be dealt with, and I can't enjoy the process as much. Life is so hectic, and it seems we're always playing catch-up. Do we really need to make that part of our knitting, too?

I posted a while ago that I am at something of a crossroads in life at the moment. For now, it seems best to stay the course come what may, but the possibility that change would be better has led me to do a lot of introspection lately. I used to spend a lot of introspective time; I wrote copiously and filled many, many journals during my undergraduate years. But graduate study doesn't leave time for thinking deeply about anything but the thesis, and I'm afraid my relationship with myself has weakened in recent years as a result. The past few weeks, then, have in some ways been a welcome reason to become re-acquainted with my own inner workings, even though stress is the main cause for my actually taking the time to stop and think about things.

One theme that I find myself dwelling on is the question of what it is that I seek to accomplish in my knitting. I have found myself feeling like I am "behind" in my projects, or that I need to "catch up" on my blogging, and I'm not sure I like this change. Knitting is a process, and it's something that I do to stop and slow down, to be productive and creative rather than costantly rushing for the finish line as I am required to do in the rest of my life. And yet, in some ways I have left that slowness behind since I started reading and writing blogs. As we all know, everything moves super fast in the world of technology, and it seems to me that our precious, timeless hobby is getting caught up inadvertently in the rush. It's so easy to look at others' progress and wonder why our own work isn't moving along faster. It's hard not to be tempted to go to every retreat and knitting conference out there (or to feel left out if you don't or can't). It seems like everyone that has a blog also has an online store of some kind, and it's hard not to buy, buy, buy, because the fiber is beautiful and you want to support the people in your community. When everyone is working on one particular pattern and you seen one gorgeous version after another flash by in cyberspace, it's hard not to put your own designs on hold and jump on board.

I really love the community of knitters out here on the web, and I'm glad to be a part of it. It's especially nice to have people that can understand (and share!) my obsession with fibery things, as I don't have a knitting group or any knitting friends in the area. There are many, many things that I value about the blogosphere, and I don't want to make it sound like it's all bad. But there are some less positive things that I have noticed about my own habits since I joined this cyber-family, and I doubt that I'm alone. (I've seen a few similar posts out there lately, the most notable being by Lainie of Red Thread Studio)

One new development is that I tend to work on my own designs less and am more inclined to spend time working on projects from patterns. This isn't all bad. I have really enjoyed the patterns that I've been using, and I learn something new from each piece. But the title of this blog is "knitting freestyle" for a reason. I like working without a pattern, and it's very important to me that I not squelch my own creativity in favor of someone else's. It's so easy to just follow a pattern rather than think one up, but isn't knitting really about making something original?

Another thing is that I am coming very, very close to crumbling on the stash rules. There is so much great yarn out there, with so much potential. But there are only so many hours in the day, too. If I'm not knitting faster than I'm buying, then I am just accumulating. Is it just me, or is there something deeply sad about yarn sitting in a closet for years waiting to realize its potential?

I also have a horrible temptation to sign up for every knitting retreat and fiber festival out there, regardless of cost or location. It would be so nice to meet people face-to-face that I have come to know online. And yet, people are losing their homes because they don't have enough money to pay the mortgage, while I'm sitting here contemplating running off to a knitting retreat halfway across the country for a weekend that will cost more than half a months' rent. This is simply nuts. Sure, I guess I can afford it, and I really want to support the people I know that run these events, but is this the best use of my money? What about the energy cost of travel? Is a weekend of knitting worth contributing to global warming? How do you strike a balance between making new friendships and fostering community and living a financially and ecologically responsible life?

I know, you came here looking for a quick, fun post and some pictures, and here I am getting all serious on you. I have a tendency to be a kill-joy sometimes. I also have a tendency to go on...and on...and on once I get on my soapbox. Sorry!

I really don't mean to say that patterns, stashes, and retreats don't have value. But I don't think that these things are the core of what makes this a good hobby, or even the things that necessarily build a good community. People build a community. Buying patterns and yarn and attending conferences may be ways that we help to support one another, but I really don't think that they should be the focus of our interactions. I am here because there are people (you!) out there that are doing great things that I want to get to know, not because I want to find the best deal or get the latest hand-dyed fiber. I don't want to get caught up in all the consumption and lose sight of the bigger reasons that we're all here, surfing the net, talking about our knitting lives. I'm not sure exactly what all of this means for my blog, my projects, or my life at the moment, but I do know that I have no intention of letting affluenza (or consumption of any kind) gallop away with me, and I hope that you'll make sure you're not carried off by it, either!


Slowly but surely, the afghan stripe is getting done. After catching up on today's blog reading, I'm at almost 2 feet! Only 5 left to go...

Guess I'd better start thinking about that sweater design, huh?


Still working on the edging for Irtfa'a. I'm at the 35th repeat of 116, so I have a ways to go. Fortunately, each 8 row repeat is pretty quick, and it's easy to see that I'm getting somewhere.

I love the way the corners flare out when the lace is released from the needles. It makes such a pretty line; lots of motion in it. I also love the way the wrong side looks dimpled in the small feather section. I'm going to miss the little hills and valleys when the finished piece is blocked.

The one thing that's concerning me a little is how quickly the yarn seems to be wearing as I work the edging. You can tell which stitches belong to the body and which have just been worked, since the body ones actually seem to be felting together from the friction of moving my hands over them while knitting the border. I'm a little afraid that this might mean that the yarn will wear quickly. It is lace, so it shouldn't have much wear and tear, but I don't want it to be too sensitive...

Fortunately, this is only showing up in the border area, and it's not too noticeable in the final knitting, just in the loops that stick together on the holder needle.

I had hoped to make great strides in the border today, but between talking to my mom on the phone, doing my civic duty (WA caucuses were today), and grocery shopping, it's suddenly late and I barely got any knitting in. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Uh oh...

Branden sent me this link today:

It's a nerd handbook. You know, for dealing with all those nerdy people in your life that are so difficult to get along with. Now, I personally take issue with the author's use of the word "nerd." I believe "geek" would be more correct in this context. Nerd extends a bit beyond those that diddle about with technology, in my opinion. But putting that aside, it's a pretty amusing article. First, it is funny because it assumes that nerds are inherently difficult to deal with. They aren't. I happen to have lived with one quite happily for five years, and there really haven't been many problems. Yes, he came complete with cave-making tendencies, which don't always mesh nicely with my neat-freak leanings, but generally we're pretty good about finding a happy medium. I may not have the same "brand new project" attention level that I had when we first met, but I also have not lost all interest for him, either (or at least I don't think I have...). I really don't understand the persistent myth that nerds/geeks/people with brains that think about more than small talk are hard to relate to. The wierd thing is that they seem hell-bent on perpetuating the myth and portraying themselves as inherently one-dimensional, which they aren't. I know quite a few people that fit the geek/nerd category, and they are some of the most multi-dimensional people I know. But anyway. I will get off of my soapbox now. The article is, as I said, amusing, albeit in a somewhat stilted and stereotypical way.

However, I would add to the "handbook" that all keepers of nerds, or geeks, or whatever you call them, should take note when they randomly get up from a programming and building project and decide to go check the mail. This is a bad sign. These are the people that can go all day and night without eating or sleeping because the current project is too engrossing to notice the rest of the world (sound familiar to any of you knitters out there???). When the mail suddenly becomes a priority and no new geeky toys are expected to be showing up in the mailbox, things are not going well. It's especially a bad sign because we were hoping that this project would be done tonight so that I could use it soon for collecting some data. He's making tea now, and this pretty much guarantees that I should be preparing to wait a while longer for my little microscale to be back in a working state...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Resurrecting the Eco Wool Afghan

I am generally very good about finishing what I start. I almost never get sidetracked and abandon a project. In fact, so far, I have only abandoned one project to the back burner. That project is the Eco Wool afghan. We bought enough Cascade Eco Wool last year (almost exactly a year ago, in fact) for me to make a full-sized afghan. It has to be about 7 feet long, as Branden is very tall. We picked out 5 colors of the undyed wool that we really liked, and I decided on a cable motif. This was my first time knitting cables, and I absolutely loved it. I made it through the first stripe in no time flat. In fact, I think I made it most of the way through the strip on the train ride down to Portland for Branden's robotics competition last year. It looked like I would be done with my 10 7-foot scarves in no time.

And then, I started on the center stripe. I'm making 8 narrow stripes, and one thick center stripe for the afghan. I made it wonderfully cably. (Sorry...I know it's hard to see...)

I love the way it's coming out, but I don't love working with the dark yarn quite as much. It must come from a different breed of sheep or something, as it's significantly scratchier than the other stuff. I absolutely loved the color, and really wanted to put it in, despite the fact that it's a coarser wool. But, not liking knitting with it as much has really slowed me down. Add to that the fact that I miss-crossed several of the early cables, and perhaps you can see why it's gone on the back burner. I did drop the offending cables and rework them, but I just haven't been enthusiastic about picking that stripe up again. Every time I finish a big project, I pull it out and work a few rows, but my heart isn't in it. That's too bad, because it's really beautiful. I have at least made it almost to the end of the first ball of yarn (another reason I love the Eco-wool...8 oz goes a long, long way!).

Rather than forcing myself to keep going on this stripe, I have started the second white one, and have sworn to finish it before moving on to Branden's sweater. I made it through about 10" while reading my blogs on Saturday (another reason I love big, simple projects; I can read while knitting them!). I'm hoping that I can make myself do one stripe in between each big project, and that this will help move the afghan along, rather than leaving it in limbo forever. Who knows? Maybe I'll even manage to finish this pattern before its second birthday! (A year seems like a reasonable goal...)

New books!

I said at the beginning of the year that I wanted to give colorwork another try. It was not my favorite technique the first time I used it (in my first sweater), but I've learned a lot since then and I think it's worth another go. I had heard about Alice Starmore's books, and so I went online to find her colorwork pattern books. Turns out that I probably won't be buying those anytime soon. Her Book of Fairisle Knitting goes for $175 on Amazon, and the one I really wanted, Charts for Colour Knitting a Designer's Source Book starts at $350 used. Um, yeah. I think I'm going to make darned sure I like colorwork before spending more than half a paycheck on those books!

Since the Starmore books are way out of my price range, I poked around in the Fiber Gallery's library a bit. With a little help finding books that had charts rather than garment patterns, I settled on two new color knitting books.

I really like the chart selection in both books, though I think I'll want to digitize the charts in the McGregor book, as they're a little hard to look at as shown in the book. Still, these should be enough to keep me busy poring over colorwork designs for quite some time!

A hybrid sweater

We went to Fiber Gallery yesterday to pick up some yarn for my next big project. I discovered with the sideways cable sweater that I really like having one lace and one big project going at once. I get the fun intricate stitches in the lace, and the gratification of adding inches quickly to the big project. Also, the big knitting hurts my hands after a little while, and lace doesn't, so I can switch between them and avoid the hand cramps. It works out well.

Since my last sweater was for me, I'm doing one for Branden this time. I don't like the way the last one I made for him turned out, so I'm hoping for better luck this time. We both like cables, so we decided on a cable sweater. I don't want to do a full-on Aran, but something with a cable focal piece would be nice. I think I'm going to practice steeking on this one, too, so the body will all be done in the round. Instead of having one cable focal point and the rest all stockinette, we decided that it could be fun to do some color patterning on the sleeves. I'm not sure what pattern I'll use yet, but we did pick out the yarn.

I love Cascade Eco wool. It's super soft, warm, and springy. It seems to hold its shape well, and it doesn't pill much. And, to top it all off, it's cheap! We really like the natural colors, and Branden was interested in an oatmeal sort of color. The main body will be in the lighter yarn, and the sleeves will be colorwork with the darker brown mixed in. We picked a "dark" color that's pretty close to the light one, so that the colorwork will be really subtle.

I have to admit to a moment of misgiving as we talked about the sweater design in the store. After all, colorwork and cables don't usually go together. But then, he loves his hybrid car, why not a hybrid sweater? I'll be able to practice some really simple colorwork in the sleeves, and then fly through the stockinette body and cable. It'll be simple enough to go quickly (important when knitting for someone who is 6'1" and has very long arms), and complicated enough to keep me interested. And, I'll get to practice two (mostly) new techniques on my list: colorwork and steeking.

I don't have the cables or the color pattern worked out yet, but I'll be flipping through the pattern books in the next couple of days to come up with something good. I'll keep you posted!

Feeling a little edgy?

I am! I finished the body of Irtfa'a yesterday, and started on the quill edging today. Some pictures of the finished body:

It's really nice to be back to short rows (8 to 16 stitches per row in the edging, compared to 466 per row at the end of the quill and feather section). I'm having a hard time "seeing" the lace pattern on the edging, but I haven't done too many repeats yet, so I probably just need to practice. I worked 5 repeats on the edging, decided that the first one looked funny, pulled them all out, and am back up to 3 again. It's going pretty fast, though I'm not altogether sure that I like purling through the back loops. Again, I think that's mainly practice; it's getting better already, and I'm sure I'll be fine with it by the end of the project.

I can't believe I'm already sailing down the home stretch on this pattern! For those that do lace more often, I guess a month is probably a long time to spend on a project like this, but it's actually a little faster than I'd expected to finish. As I get closer and closer to the end, I'm starting to ask: what next? There are so many more things on my list of techniques to try. I guess that's the fun thing about knitting; there's always another project just around the corner!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

You've gotta know when to hold...

I don't know who sings that song, but it's stuck in my head. Because really, the knowing when to hold, fold, walk away or run is sometimes very difficult, and it's always the most important part of this game we call life. I'm at one of those career-changing crossroads at the moment, and I'm just not sure what the best option is. Really, there are no good options. There's only the hope of things being maybe slightly better than they are now, but at the cost of a lot of time (1-4 years depending on how things turn out, which I have no control over). This isn't very comforting. So, yes, I am a bit stressed out about work. More than a bit, actually. You may have gathered from my lack of blogging lately that things have been crazy around here. I have gotten some knitting done, and I'll write about that later, but mostly I've been sitting on the fence of indecision wishing that I could just fall off on one side or the other, already. Neither side looks so great from up here, and it's an important choice. I apologize for being mostly absent, and I hope I'll be back more soon, but I'm afraid the majority of my time and brainpower is focused in a different direction right now.

On the plus side, it's a beautiful day outside, and it is a weekend, so I may just find time to clean the house, open the windows, and get some knitting done, all of which will make me feel better. Thank goodness for weekends!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Spring on my windowsill

It's amazing what a pot of happy little plants can do for your day. I'm always so surprised to see what a tiny little seed can do with some dirt, some water, and a couple of weeks. Aren't they cute?