Monday, July 28, 2008


It happens to all of us, usually when we least expect it.

You stop in at the LYS for something quick, and fall hopelessly in love with a yarn you weren't even looking for. Maybe you're good and walk don't have a project for that yarn, and the stash doesn't need any more padding. But it calls to you. It sticks in your mind, your hands can't forget it. You think of a million things you could do with it. It won't go away. Eventually, you give in to fate.

I found some beautiful alpaca tucked away in the back corner of the Weaving Works last winter. I was looking at bare yarn, thinking about dyeing, and then all of a sudden, there was alpaca. Beautiful alpaca. In natural colors. In huge, soft skeins. At an incredible price. But I had enough projects, so I walked away.

In April, I went back and bought it. When a yarn obsession has lasted 6 months, it's time to give in. And I had the perfect project.

Alpaca is currently my favorite non-wool fiber. It is so soft, and so warm. As someone that works in a constantly freezing office, I am always looking for warm things. Sweaters, mostly. And I really wanted an alpaca sweater.

I know. Crazy. Alpaca is very warm, and a whole sweater of 100% alpaca is probably just nuts. But maybe not, if the yarn is fine, and the sweater thin.

You do see where this is going, don't you?

The yarn that spoke to me is fingering weight. Most of the sock yarns I've used are thicker, but it's not quite as fine as laceweight. It comes in gorgeous 8 oz skeins of almost 700 yards each. It takes a size 3 needle. It will look beautiful with a colorwork yoke.

I swatched yesterday. 7 st, 8 rows/in. I must be crazy.

Sometimes, I like projects that make me think. I love lace, with all its fancy stitches and challenging patterns. But sometimes, lace is just too much. My brain yearns for the mindlessness of stockinette. Simple, rhythmic, meditative.

I think I may have gone off the deep end, choosing to knit an adult sweater on size 3needles. Off the deep end, and sinking fast. Into alpaca Oblivion.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The magic skein

Every once in a while, you run into a magic skein of yarn. You know the type. We all have one from time to time. You've used up 6 skeins, and you know exactly how many inches come from each one. Depending on the tedium of the pattern you're working, you may even swear you know how many stitches come from each hank of yarn. But the magic skein just keeps going. And going. And going.

It defies all logic. Every skein is the same size, makes the same sized ball, weighs the same amount. And yet, every once in a while, one seems to last forever.

I have to admit that I often don't really love the magic skein. It's usually the "this is taking it done yet???" skein. But every once in a while, I really have to appreciate the magic ball of yarn.

My second-to-last ball of yarn was the magic one. And, in case that wasn't enough of a miracle, it turns out that my mom measured all the way to the base of my sister's tailbone and called that the ideal sweater length, which means that I can take about three inches off of the original length and still have something that makes it to her belt line, I think.

One never-ending skein combined with a new measurement for the sweater length means that there is no need to rip back. There is no need for an extra colorwork band, no need for a yoke sweater. In fact, it means that the sweater can go on exactly as planned, minus three inches. Which is good news. Not that I want to push my luck or anything, but I might even have a little bit of yarn left over.

In fact, if I had knit to the original measurement, the wide colorwork band probably would have fallen a few inches low, over the wide part of the hips rather than at the waist. So, shorter probably means more flattering, too.

I will have to think twice about complaining the next time a ball of yarn takes forever to finish.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Well, I'm definitely short on yarn. A lot short. And, of course, the store is out, and it's a discontinued line. There's probably some to be had on Ravelry, but I'm thinking that I might just play with some redesign on the fly to see if I can make it on the yarn I have. Nothing like knitting on the edge, right?

I found an extra skein of the green color (of course, as I wasn't short on that one to begin with), and I have tons left of the pink used to make the flowers, so I'm thinking that I might make this a yoke sweater and switch back to colorwork at the end. Of course, yoke sweaters require different sleeves than non-yoke sweaters (what's a "normal" cardigan-type sweater called? A gansey?). This means that I'll be ripping back the sleeves a bit, which will give me a little more purple for the body. Not much more, but every round helps at this point. I'll take a few inches off of the sleeves, join them for a raglan/yoke sweater, and work the decreases until I'm almost out of purple. When purple gets low, I'll switch to green and do the rest in that, except for an inch or so around the collar to match the cuffs and hem. And yes, I will work a round or two of garter at the collar to avoid excessive rolling.

Of course, putting this plan into action involves thinking. And ripping. And I didn't really feel like doing either this weekend. So, I didn't. Instead, I did this:

The second picture is the actual color...the rest are all a bit too orange. I love the way this fabric works with the kaleidoscope quilting. It works up really fast, too, especially when your blocks are twice the size that the book recommends. I think that they're the right size for this pattern, though. The brighter fabric has a smaller motif and will need smaller triangles, but this one works really well with the big blocks. That is a wonderful property in a fabric destined to be a king-size quilt.

The blocks are all sewn, so now I just need to arrange them, sew them all together, and do the finishing. Sometimes quilting feels like pretty instant gratification, compared to the stitch-by-stitch growth of knitting.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Driven to distraction

Today, Branden drove me to distraction. A quilt store, specifically.

We are going to a friend's wedding in about a month and a half, and our traditional wedding gift is a handmade quilt. Can't break with tradition, now can we?

I've been thinking about the need to begin a quilt for a while, but hadn't hit on the perfect one. But, of course, the blogosphere had an answer for me. Cattywampus posted a few weeks ago about her One Block Wonder quilt, and I just had to give it a try. The wedding colors are gerbera daisy and tan, and we found these fabrics.

The orange is a little more muted in person; more orange sherbet-y. I'm not generally big on orange, but this one is quickly growing on me.

And then there was this:

Again, not our typical colors. But they caught my eye because I was looking for orange. And then they said sunshine. And how can you leave sunshine in the store? This is now destined to become a smaller lap quilt for us.

And, because I promised, I have a knitting picture.

I'm not as far along as I'd like on the sweater, given how long it's been on the needles, but I've been taking it as bus knitting, and it is slowly getting done.

It has now become unavoidably obvious that I am going to run out of yarn. I thought that 8 skeins of the Malabrigo would be more than enough. My handy-dandy yar requirements chart said that I would only need 6 based on stitch count and garment size, I think. I thought I would have tons extra buying 8 skeins. But I needed to go down a needle size (to a 4!), and I think that did me in. So, we'll have to make a trip to the LYS to see if they have more of this color. If not, we'll have some creative crafting to do.

The bottom edge is a classic example of I-should-have-known-better. In fact, I did know better. I had every intention of doing a few garter stitch rows to keep the edges from curling. But then when I did the sleeves, they didn't curl at all. So, I figured I was just being fussy and that it would be fine without the garter stitch. Well, it's not really fine without the garter stich, and the bottom hem rolls up horribly. I'm going to have to do something about it. I'm thinking of sewing some grosgrain ribbon in as a facing to stabilize it, but I'm not sure yet. Guess I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. For now, I'm more worried about running short of yarn...

So, I think that's it for tonight. I need to go be distracted for a while...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

All caught up

I'm afraid that I'm still having a very hard time finding the desire to knit. I know it's there somewhere, but I'm just not feeling it this week. And so, I've been doing other things.

Like reading. It's been a long time since I've just sat down and read a book. Last week, I read two; The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel, and Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammett. The Solace of Leaving Early was a good book, but it wasn't a good book, in my opinion. Kimmel is a good writer, but not quite my style, I think. Born on a Blue Day was a fun peek into the mind of a synesthete (someone whose senses "cross," so that they associate colors with sounds, for example). It was funny to see how many of the things Daniel wrote about were familiar to me, and also how many were just completely different from my way of perceiving the world. Always interesting to "get inside" someone else's head.

Last night I started on a much longer book, which will probably take some time; Tragedy of an Optimist, a biography of Primo Levi. I've never read him, but my thesis advisor ranks him as one of the best authors of all time. I've heard so much about Levi that I thought it might be an interesting read.

For the first time in months, my Google Reader feed has no unread knitting items. It's been a long, long time since I've actually been caught up. This is either due to my reading a lot more, or to others feeling the same draw away from knitting as summer progresses.

I've also been spinning some. I realized the other day that I've never actually blogged about spinning; it's one of those things that occasionally goes on in the background for me, but never seems to make it to the blog. I may have to remedy that one of these days, but not tonight. I am not feeling inclined to get out the camera at the moment, and the sun is rapidly retreating from the sky, in any case, which decreases picture quality.

Some knitting has occurred, but I think that, too, is a post for another day. There will be some fibery news soon, though, I promise.

On the moth front, I continue to be skeptical of the efficacy of pheromone glue traps. We've caught one moth. We've seen 6 (and killed the other 5). So, new tactics must now come into play.

I don't like pesticides. I'm a chemist. I read those MSDSs (materials safety data sheets), and pesticides are some very nasty chemicals. I know that things don't get approved for household use unless they can be shown safe, but I don't really want anything to do with any chemical that can kill insects. I mean really. Were going to take something that will poison the few species that would survive nuclear holocaust and call it safe for use in my home? Seems a little crazy to me. We're not dogmatic, but we avoid pesticides where we can. We will save the big guns
for later. For now, natural products are our first line of defense.

Lavender, rosemary, and juniper (cedar) oils are said to repel moths. We obtained packets of fresh lavendar from the farmer's market and cedar oil from WholeFoods this weekend. They have now been deployed in all of the most vulnerable areas (i.e. the stash). The only problem is that I'm very sensitive to strong smells, and usually develop an allergic response to essential oils with repeated exposure. Unfortunately, this means that the stash will not be bathed in lavendar, as it would cause me to itch and sneeze whenever I came near it. Instead, the yarn is all tucked inside plastic bins, with lavendar packets and cedar oil on the outside. Hopefully this smell-shield will dissuade any hungry moths from developing their taste for wool.

We are also fortunate to have citizen aid in our battle. The cats absolutely love chasing moths. It's the one good thing about having them in the house; they're the most popular cat toy ever. Unfortunately, our great huntresses couldn't catch a moth if it landed on them (ask how I know...), but they are very good early warning systems. Just listen for the chittering...

Hopefully this strategy will aid in defending against the little guerrilla-warrior moths. It will at least make me feel like we're doing something, rather than just sitting around waiting for them to get into our stored goods. For stash and pantry, we continue to fight.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

In which war is declared on all things moth-y

We are normally peace-loving folk. Stray spiders, flies, even slugs that come in on the lettuce are captured and released outside. I don't mind bugs, in their proper place (which is not in my house!). But the pantry and the stash are at risk, and we all know that this means war. We have been formulating a plan of attack.

First, identify the enemy:

We captured an enemy scout some time ago, and identified it as a white shouldered moth,
apparently a confused little bug that likes both grains and wool. Best to be vigilant on all

Next, determine enemy position:

Our high-tech surveillance equipment arrived on Friday, in the form of pheromone-glue
traps. They have been placed in strategic locations around the house to identify the high-
traffic areas.

(Does anyone else think that it's strange to use moth pheromones in traps placed where you
least want the moths to be? Isn't that like calling them in for dinner? The arms dealer (aka
the pest control website) assures me that this is the best plan of attack, but I must admit to
having my doubts. It is also odd to use a pheromone which only works on males when it's
the females laying eggs and causing all the trouble. I know the idea is that females don't lay
eggs without male help, but it does seem a little unfair. Still, this is war, and we must exploit
weaknesses where we can. It's so much easier to make a male moth lose his sense of

Update: The traps seem to be working, as far as calling the moths out of hiding. Not a single one has been trapped yet, but we've seen three since putting out the traps 24 hrs ago. They've been out in broad daylight, too. We didn't really give the traps a chance to catch them, once they were seen, but I don't really think they're going to catch many. Oddly enough, all sightings have been in the livingroom. No food in there, and very limited yarn, which has all been closely inspected. Very strange.

A note on comments: I just got a new laptop, and don't have my default email clients set up yet. I will resume comment-responding soon. In the meantime, thanks for the moral support! =)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Don't bug me.

Our first apartment was a 14x20 studio in Boston that didn't even have a private bath or kitchen. It wasn't ideal, but it was what we could afford. When we moved out, there were many, many things we were glad to leave behind, but among the top things that I would never miss were the moths. I spotted the first one moments after walking in the door at night for the first time, and we would routinely catch 5-10 a night for the entire time that we lived there. The landlord and landlady lived in the main part of the old house, and rented out rooms to help pay their land taxes. They were on the high end of the eighties, and she couldn't see very well. Once, she was cleaning out her kitchen and gave us a bag of flour that she wasn't going to use. It's just as well that she didn't, because it was old enough that the paper was crackly, and it was full of moth larvae. All of our food had to be kept in hermetically sealed glass and hard plastic, and they still found their way in. It was an endless, hopeless battle, and it's one that I never want to fight again.

Unfortunately, I think we may yet again have an apartment that comes with moths. We noticed a couple here and there when we first moved in, spaced a week or so apart. They were promptly despatched, and we told ourselves that it might have just been one or two. But they've continued to appear, just one or two once in a while, but enough that there must be a population established somewhere in the house. We didn't have them in the other apartment, so I think they must have been here before we arrived. The house was empty for about 6 mos before we moved in due to the landlord's health problems, and so whatever population there is is good at surviving in an empty house, without the support of human food. This, of course, makes it harder to starve them out, as they are perfectly capable of living here without us.

About a month and a half ago, I had definitely decided that there were moths living in the house, and that these weren't just occasional wanderers from outside. (Really, we knew this from the second moth, but we managed to kid ourselves for a while.) We took the entire kitchen apart, put almost everything in glass, and went through every last bit of grain-based food. Nothing.

We went through the stash, moved it all to plastic bins. Nothing.

We checked the sweaters, the coats, everything that contained wool in the closets. Nothing.

My fabric stash was sorted and thoroughly checked. Nothing.

And yet, the moths keep coming. We're even seeing more of them, unless I'm much mistaken. And I have no idea where they are. And it's making me crazy. Somewhere in this house, there is a small army of larvae, crunching their way happily through something or other, waiting to sprout wings and invade my living space. But I can't find them. I have looked everywhere I can think of. Cat food bags, litter, stored food, kitchen, fabric, closets, stash. Everywhere. And I can't find a single sign. Until the lights go off at night, and a small white thing flutters just out of sight at the edge of the lamplight, looking for somewhere to lay a new clutch of eggs. I really hate being bugged.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Happy fourth!

Hope you all had a happy Fourth of July! We made it down to see the fireworks this year, which was fun (it's been years since we've battled the crowds to see them). I got some knitting done on Hannah's sweater while we were staking our claim to seats on the grass, so I've now finished the second sleeve and moved onto the body. Really, this project is moving pretty fast, considering how little time I've had to spend on it lately. And after knitting, there were these:

I was shocked the other day to realize that I just don't want to knit right now. I come home, sit down in the knitting chair, pick up the needles, and then realize an hour later that I haven't done anything yet. There's been a large amount of staring blankly at the wall, which makes for very little knitting progress. It's so unusual for me to just not feel like doing anything. It's even more unusual to have that "anything" include knitting. Fortunately, I think the lack of motivation is likely to be short-lived. The grant proposal is supposed to be out on Tuesday, so theoretically I will soon be able to reclaim a few brain cells (and my weekends!!) to keep the needles clicking.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Worth a read

If you haven't seen it already, J. K. Rowling's commencement address at Harvard is well worth the read (or listen, if you prefer mp3):