Monday, December 29, 2008

Raspberry Sorbet

Is done. I was going to get all nit-picky and explain every last detail of the shaping, but I think I won't. There are increases and decreases to give waist shaping, and a few short rows to help keep the back section long so that it doesn't pull the neck opening backwards. I made a fairly large turtleneck to echo the hem pattern, and to keep from drawing too much attention to the hips (not really where I need to direct attention).

We took advantage of a few moments of sunshine yesterday to take some photos. They're not great, but this is what you get when you have literally 5 minutes between clouds to find the sweater, camera, and photographer, and take a picture or two.

Considering that I knit the sweater to be 4" smaller than the point where it would hit my hips, it turned out pretty loose. I measured gauge in stockinette so that I would be able to tell what the body measurement would be, and the moss stitch really added those extra inches back in. Even the stockinette is also loose, though. I wonder how many inches smaller than the measurement my hips really are? (At this rate, I could be downright skinny if it weren't for mirrors and cameras...drat them!)

I could have used to decrease a bit more in the back near the armholes; there's some extra bulk in there. But, overall, the sweater is comfortable, and I've found myself reaching for it pretty frequently, so I think we can call it a success.

In other news, I thought I should share my fiber-related Christmas gifts. My sister bought me two new knitting books:

I'd heard of both, but had read neither. She managed to find two books that I really like, and that aren't in my collection, without even snooping around my bookshelves. Is that talent, or what?

The Country Weekend Knits book is chock full of beautiful sweaters, with all kinds of intricate cable details and lace insertions. It has a little of everything, and the photos are excellent. Definitely a book to turn to when in need of ideas.

I don't usually knit small projects, but I'm thinking that One Skein Wonders will be great for testing out handspun; that way I can play around a bit without committing to a full sweaters' worth of spinning every time!

I set Branden loose in Nicholas and Felice's Etsy store, and this is what he surfaced with. Another case of good taste. Now I might have to knit a shawl or two to show off the shawl pin...

And he also got me this nifty little contraption:

It's a bit hard to see in the box, but it's a measuring spoon with a digital scale built in. I'd ask where he comes up with these things, but I think I have a pretty good idea. Now, you might be wondering what on earth a person might want with a measuring spoon accurate to within half a gram, but only if you've forgotten that I've been thinking about dipping my toe into dyeing for a while now. A good balance is useful for many things, but for repeatable dyeing it's indispensable.

I have had dyes sitting around waiting for months, but I've hesitated to use them on my bare yarn because I'm not ready to knit it up yet. But the One Skein Wonders book, the smart spoon, and the latest issue of Spin Off have me thinking...maybe I should be dyeing top for spinning rather than bare yarn?

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Hope you all had happy holidays! Between spotty internet connections and no spare moments, I managed to go a whole week without blogging. You missed hearing in real time about my re-knitting (three times!) of the top of the raspberry sweater, some handwarmers, and a half a sock. If it weren't for that sweater, Branden would have been right; I would have been short on knitting, left with just a sock by the end of the trip.

But, obligingly, I suppose, the sweater refused to play nice. I knit it once, and the sleeves didn't fit nicely once grafted on. I pulled it out and tried re-grafting, but it needed extra length in the front, unless I wanted puffed sleeves. Not being Anne of Green Gables, I prefer a flatter shoulder seam. That meant pulling back to the neck split so that I didn't end up with a huge neck opening. But first, I attempted to avoid the obvious by knitting moss stitch saddle shoulders. I tried taking stitches from the saddle shoulders and switching them front to back to make an interesting almost-cabled neck opening, but they were too wide to cross nicely. Then I tried just a simple boat neck opening, which worked much better.

Just a hint: moss stitch saddle shoulders are not delicate and feminine, even if they do sound like a good idea at the time. In fact, unless you're a fan of military epaulets, I wouldn't suggest going with that style.

After careful consideration and much muttering, I ripped back and reknit.

This time, I stuck with plain stockinette for the shoulders, which was the right choice. (I knew that from the beginning, but didn't really want to admit that I needed to ungraft the sleeves again and pull back that far) I wanted to echo the moss stitch cuffs at the neckline, so I made a large moss stitch turtle neck. I was sure that the neck opening was too large at first, but once I put the collar on it was just about right.

I was ready to begin the grafting when the plane touched down in Boston on Wednesday. I finished the sweater on Tuesday. So much for running out of projects to work on !

I'll post finished pics tomorrow. It's dark already (actually, I don't think it was ever light today), and it takes prettier pictures with at least a little natural light.

I wish that I had thought to take pictures of all of the intermediate sweater steps, but I was working and ripping at family gatherings, and just didn't manage to get out the camera. I also made a set of handwarmers for my ex-roommate and best friend and completely failed to take a picture of them. They were in Cascade 220, and came out very nicely for a colorwork pattern that I made up as I went along.

Besides a half an alpaca sock, that was it for holiday knitting projects. We got back in on Christmas night, and started work again yesterday. Holidays are such a whirlwind deal!

Hope you had a great holiday season, got to spend time with family and friends, and managed to complete all of your Christmas knitting on time!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oh, my. It's almost Christmas.

I know, it's amazing that it hadn't really hit me yet. I have been in this cocoon of deadlines lately, and it has kept me well away from goings-on out here in the real world.

The denial has just come to a rapid end, however. Packing a suitcase has a way of doing that. We're flying home for the holidays tomorrow, and so suddenly my brain has transitioned from "I need to finish this chapter" to "what on earth am I going to knit??"

Sweaters are bulky, but I think sweaters are the best option right now. (Nothing else planned, and less than 12 hours to plan anything new. Last minute knit planning is dangerous, anyway.) So, sweaters it is. Too bad they take up so much space. Branden has offered to vacuum seal them so that they fit in the bag. He's not an enabler at all, is he?

Sorry for the short post, but I really need to go panic now. Pack. I meant pack. =)

We'll have spotty internet access, so enjoy your holidays if I don't see you again before then!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Buying time

Time is one of those things that you really can't buy. But I can try, darn it.

The sweater is progressing nicely; I'm almost to the point where I split for the arms (I know...I can't believe it's going this fast). Since it's plain stockinette, it doesn't look much different than it did before, so I will save the pictures for when it has visibly progressed. But, it is growing steadily. That, of course, means that I need to be planning my next project.

Since it takes weeks for me to get through the mulling stage and into actual designing, the fact that I have no new project scheduled is a bad sign. If steps are not taken, this could mean a break in the knitting continuum. That would be bad.

But I am not ready to plan the colorwork sweater. I started the raspberry one to fill the gap while I re-designed the colorwork pattern for the flowers and vines sweater. I thought I'd just get the raspberry sweater out of the way, since it was going to be mostly stockinette, and come up with a plan for the more complicated colorwork while I knit.

The only problem is that I haven't come up with a plan, and I'm about to run out of knitting again. I'm going to need a plan soon, or risk spending time in the "between" space. We all know how dangerous that is.

So, I did what any sensible knitter would do. I bought some time.

9 skeins worth, to be precise. Cascade 200. For a sweater. For Branden.* That is a lot of time. I might just manage to get the colorwork design finished before I run out again.

I love this color, and it was on sale for 15% off. Not only did I manage to buy time, I even got cheap time. That luck might just be enough to get me through a Branden sweater.

Oh, and the picture? It was taken using my new point and shoot camera. We've been thinking about getting a little camera for occasions where we really don't want to carry the SLR and its lenses around (they get heavy, you know). I now have a very cute little Sony camera. It does a pretty good job, no?

*Yes, I really think it will take that much yarn. I might have one skein too many, if I'm really lucky.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Darned alpaca

I may have mentioned that my favorite sweater is getting old (only once every few weeks, I know....). Two weeks ago, the unthinkable (and entirely inevitable) happened; a hole developed in the cuff.

Now, I should probably just accept that the sweater is old, that it's not even that flattering, and that it's probably only going to get worse. But I like this sweater. There is no other in my collection to replace it yet, and it doesn't look all that ratty, despite being quite literally threadbare in a few places.

So, we embarked on a quest. We went to the yarn shop in search of a color match close enough to darn the cuffs. We got something that I thought might be close enough. It wasn't.

In digging through the stash, I discovered that the light grey alpaca from Oblivion actually matched pretty well. So, I darned the cuffs with that.

That was two weeks ago. Alpaca is slippery yarn - more slippery than I gave it credit for. Every time I've worn the sweater, an inch or so of the darning yarn has worked its way back out of the fabric. Alpaca is also fuzzy. It's a little odd to have a fuzzy spot on the cuff of a not-fuzzy sweater. Clearly, I needed to rethink this solution.

Thursday we went to another yarn store and began the hunt again. I found one yarn that was far too thick, but at least the right color. The sweater is knit in a DK weight, and the yarn we found is a bulky. If it were a plied yarn, I'd have just split the plies and used those, but it's a single. I decided to try anyway.

So, this morning, I un-darned the sweater, removing all of the alpaca.

This left a hole, and some very threadbare yarn. (Can you see my finger through the sweater?)

Then, I re-darned with the wool (Donegal tweed, by the way...I love it. If it weren't a single and rather expensive, I would be thinking of making a sweater in it).

Not bad for a twice-darned sweater, huh?

Twice-knitting seems to be all the rage around here lately. I decided a while ago that I didn't like the way the shoulder shaping came out on Oblivion. In fact, I knew I didn't like it within moments of putting on the sweater for the first time, but I wanted to wear it a few times and see if I really minded. Well, I did. I had done a 50% decrease a few rows before the neck bindoff, and it was just too much; the fabric puckered all around it, and pulled the sweater up around my shoulders instead of letting it sit where it belonged. There were only 2 or 3 inches to pull out (not all the way to the colorwork), and I just didn't like the way it fit.

So, last week I pulled it out, and this week I've been reworking that section with a more gradual decrease and a little extra length to help the colorwork sit in place. We all say that the best part of knitting is that you can always do it over; why is it that we go so far to avoid do-overs? It only took a night or two to re-knit, and I'm much happier with the sweater now. I finished weaving in its ends this morning, and it's currently taking a bath, getting ready for blocking.

I think I've had enough darned alpaca for now!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On autopilot

It's amazing what you can accomplish without even knowing it. Ask any nervous eater what can happen when you're not paying attention.

I'm not a nervous eater, but I do have one habit that sometimes surprises me.

(Sorry for the horrible picture...I have been meaning to take it during daylight for the past few days, but daylight is a fleeting thing nowadays, and I keep missing it)

Put some mindless knitting next to my chair, and even if I don't feel like knitting, or haven't thought about what I want to knit, somehow the knitting will grow. I can be reading a book, surfing the internet, writing emails, blogging, waiting for something to bake in the kitchen, and somehow my hands find the knitting and get to work.

Most people have to try and curb their automatic habits, but I think I'm going to let this one continue to run wild. Not too wild, though. There were a few times on the leaf-socks-that-aren't where I distinctly said that I did not want to knit (I know...but it's a sock, what can I say?), and then 10 minutes later Branden looked over and said "I thought you didn't want to knit." It was only after he said something that I realized that I'd picked them up anyway, just to have something to knit on. Believe it or not, I actually caught myself pausing and looking down at my hands in surprise, before shrugging and admitting that it was better to knit on them than on nothing. And they got done, simply on merit of being the project closest to hand.

This is a great thing to know for those neglected projects that really need doing. I have very few UFOs, but I think I might start moving them closer to my chair one at a time, just to see what happens. Or maybe I'll just surreptitiously place cast on socks around the knitting basket, hoping to fool myself into doing them without realizing it. The only requirement is that the knitting must require little thought. That way, I can knit without interfering with getting other things done. Too bad I won't be churning out any fancy lace this way, but I'll take what I can get from my "in between" moments.

I don't feel like I've been knitting much in the past couple of weeks, but then again, I have two sleeves and a quarter of a sweater that have magically appeared in my knitting basket. Mindless knitting is a wonderful thing.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

More fat yarn

I've filled a few bobbins with singles since my spinning class, and I finished plying yesterday. The yarn is no thinner than before, but I did these as three-ply rather than two-ply. So, even though my final yarn is the same size, my new singles are 33% smaller than the last set. I'll consider that an improvement. It's more even than the last batch, too:

And, I'm very proud of the fact that it came out perfectly balanced. Right off the spinning wheel, it hung straight and relaxed. I haven't set the twist yet; I think I'm going to wait and do it all at once.

I love the color. I fall hopelessly in love with every dark natural brown that I see, so this isn't surprising. But I particularly like this one. I don't know yet what I want to make with it. To be honest, I'm tempted to get more roving and go for a sweater, but that's a lot of spinning. I've made it through about 6 ounces so far, and I got just over 200 yards. So this is definitely a super-bulky yarn.

I've knit sweaters out of Cascade Eco Wool before, and that's 500 yds/8oz, so about the same grist, or a bit lighter than mine. At that weight, I'd need a little over a pound for a sweater. Depending on whether the handspun gives 3 or 4 st/in, my handy-dandy sweater calculator sheet says that I'll need between 930 and 1325 yards. Which would mean that I have a lot of spinning left to do if I want a sweater, considering that I'm only at 200 so far.

I find all of these sensible calculations really hard to believe. Doesn't this look like a lot of yarn?

In terms of yardage, that's the same as one ball of Cascade 220. I just can't wrap my head around it.

But wouldn't it make a beautiful sweater? (If I ever actually made it through that much roving.)

And the real question: Am I crazy enough to try? (Or maybe, should I let myself be crazy enough to try...I have no doubt that I could muster that kind of craziness without batting an eyelash...)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's over

Ten weeks of continuous miracle-working really takes it out of you. But it's over. As of yesterday, I am no longer in an impossible teaching position. And it feels really good.

I have learned a lot this quarter. I think my students may have learned something, too. Maybe. It's hard to tell when they're being actively encouraged not to recognize it, but I think some of it got past the "too cool for this" facade and into their brains. I know that I kept at least one person from quitting, and I which is really all that I could ask.

This was not the most stellar miracle that I've ever worked, but I was up against a lot, and I am happy with what I managed to accomplish. The people that hired me have begun to realize just how much they asked, and I think that they will also be happy with the results.

And I am really ready to take off the superhero costume. Spandex is so not flattering.

All of this to say that there is now a chance that I will come back to the world of the living and knitting and blogging. That is, if catching up on writing my thesis draft (I want it done this month) and planning a syllabus for next quarter (eep!) don't swallow me up before I manage to come up for air. But they shouldn't. Both processes are well in hand, though there's still a lot of work to be done. Right now, I am ready to spend an evening realizing that my adrenaline levels can now return to a reasonable level, and that there is nothing more that I need to do right now.

What is Success?

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson*

And, by that definition, I have. Now, I'm going to go stare at a wall for a while...

Back soon with more knitting content.

*I vaguely remember reading somewhere that this poem is misattributed to Emerson, but for now, I'm just going with it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My apologies to the swatch

I believe that I owe my collective swatches an apology. I have often maligned a swatch, claiming that it has lied to me. This has been the result of many, many swatches incorrectly predicting the number of stitches that I must cast on for a particular project, as evidenced by the fact that the final garment bears no resemblance to the size that a swatch led me to expect. But, I stand corrected. It's not the swatch.

It's the measuring tape.

I have proof.

In preparation for the alpaca oblivion sweater, I took more measurements than is probably healthy for anyone's self-esteem. If there was something that could be measured, I measured it. I measured with sweaters and without them. I measured over jeans, and without. My sketches are littered with numbers and brackets identifying the measurements to which each set of numbers pertains. I only stopped when entirely confident that I could make a complete, fully accurate 3D model of my upper body. I swatched. I knit a sleeve. I checked gauge on several areas of the swatches and sleeve. I calculated my stitch requirements, and I knit.

The sweater was intended to be fairly form-fitting; it had zero ease at the hip (didn't want it to be clingy), and never any positive ease. Despite numerous countings, recountings, and recalculating of stitch counts, the sweater is not close-fitting. It's rather baggy, to be perfectly honest.

To be even more honest, it's something of a relief to have a slightly baggy sweater after measuring yourself accurate to within the quarter inch. But that's beside the point.

The point is that this sweater was meant to be form fitting, and it just plain isn't. I chalked this up to another instance of lying swatches. They're deceitful little buggers.

Or so I thought.

Last night, I finished the sleeves for the raspberry-colored sweater. This means that it's time to cast on for the body, which brings me back to the perennial problem of how many stitches to cast on. I knew that the alpaca sweater was a wee bit large, so I figured I'd measure it, compare its circumference with that of my hips, and determine the measurement for the new sweater based on that number. So, I laid out Oblivion.

It measures exactly 44 inches at the bottom hem. Which is exactly the size of my hips + jeans at that point (I told you that some bagginness was a welcome thing). This is exactly what I had planned based on my measurements.

The only problem is that the exactly 44-inch hem is at least 4-6 inches bigger than my hips when it's actually on my body. It does not appear stretched when it's on. I measured it in an unstretched position to get the hem length. So, somehow, the sweater becomes instantly bigger when put on, but shows no signs of stretching.

Either that, or my hips become smaller. Now that would be nice, but I have no delusions in that regard.

All the evidence says that the swatch was telling me the truth all along. I cast on for 44 inches, and I got 44 inches. It's just that the 44 inches are somehow not actually related to the size of the sweater on a human frame. Now, the only remaining arbiter between sweater and hip size is the measuring tape (yes, it's the same one, there is no stretching of measuring tape to blame.)

It's not the swatch; it's the measuring tape that's out to get me.

My deepest apologies to the swatches.