Thursday, July 30, 2009

If I were a reporter, I'd be fired...

...because there's some exciting news that I haven't shared with you yet, and I've known about it for two whole days! No excuse. Fired!

So, on the off chance that anyone here has not yet heard, Jocelyn is doing a research project on knitting. She's created a survey to help her learn about the "intersection of personal identity and knitting."* Cool, huh?

Haven't you ever wondered what it means to be a Knitter? Why it matters to us whether or not we knit? What it means to be part of a knitting community?

Well. Jocelyn is one of those people that knows how to do humanities research, and she'd like to tell us. As a scientist, I find that task just a little bewildering. What? Unknowns? With people? How do you control for all these variables? Watch out for experimental bias! Oh no...subjectivity! Ack!

Ahem. Give me a beaker and some chemicals any's much easier than figuring out how to quantify what goes on in someone else's head. I barely know what goes on in my own head most days...

But anyway. That was a side note.

Bottom line: you should go tell Jocelyn about your knitting. She will take all our stories and put them together to figure out what they mean about Knitters and the way we communicate with each other and how we share our craft with one another. This isn't an opinion poll; it's a real research project that will help her to find out what it is that makes knitters tick. (Or click, I suppose. Click, click, click, clickety-click....)

I can't tell you how excited I am about all the things that we'll learn from this project, in a very geeky and serious research-y kind of way. There are about a million interesting directions to head with this project, and all of it depends on getting you to spend 20-30 minutes playing expert. And who doesn't love to talk about their knitting?

Here's that link again. You know you want to.

*There's more to it than that, but you'll have to go to her blog to read about it. She'll tell it better than I will...bad reporter!

Take two

Despite the fact that it served as inspiration for maple leaf lace the malabrigo was clearly not the right yarn for this stitch pattern. So, I looked around to see what else I had, and discovered that I brought a surprisingly small amount of generally useful swatching yarn to Germany.

I brought the malabrigo. I brought some handspun alpaca. I brought some super-fine tencel, some fingering weight alpaca, and some super-heavy handspun. Nothing plain and simple, really.

But, I had some sock yarn left over from my very short socks, so I tried the pattern in that.

Can you see it this time?

The center tip was a little too long, and I wanted to try to open up the area around the leaf a little more. I also wanted the base of the leaf to pull in faster so that there would be a little more curve in the pattern. So, I did some more tweaking, and came up with this:

I really like the lines in the leaf in this one. I love how the ssk edges make a kind of saw-tooth shape for the leaf, rather than absolutely straight outlines. It looks a little more like an oak than a maple leaf to me, but I can always come back to maple later, and for now I really like this shape. The base still needs a little bit of work, and I made a mistake right at the beginning of the stem, but other than that, I'm pretty satisfied with this central motif.

But in lace, it's not the central motif that matters. It's what you put around the motif, the graceful negative space that makes it sing, or makes it weep. I'm still working on that one. Right now, it's leaning a little more toward the weeping, I'm afraid.

How do you create good negative space?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On slippery slopes

Oh dear.

Sometimes you try something, and immediately realize that it’s a slippery slope. But by the time you realize, it’s already too late.

I am quickly running out of things on the needles, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what the next project will be. I have some silk Malabrigo that I bought because I loved the colors, but I have no idea what to make with it. I picked up a skein the other day, and thought “this makes me think of maple leaves.”

I’d just been flipping through the Walker books, and so I had a lot of stitch patterns floating through my mind, but none of them was exactly what I wanted. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a maple leaf stitch pattern. And then I had the dangerous thought. “I could probably design a maple leaf stitch pattern….”

Out came the graph paper. It started with a simple sketch:

Which then turned into a slightly more pixilated simple sketch:

And then got some stitch symbols.

Basically, I just created the shape that I wanted, and matched increase and decrease pairs to give the minimum pattern stitches on a stockinette background. This lets me play with the simplest version of the leaf pattern, and then I can add the lace background when it’s perfect. The leaf is stockinette, the edges are lined with yo’s, and the veins are made up of mirrored decreases.

At this point, I needed to figure out if this sketch was really anything like a plausible maple leaf before going any farther. So, I cast on for a swatch.

Knitting is always wider than it is tall, so I inserted a simple purl row for each pattern row, which makes the wrong side a breeze to knit.

Now, the swatch is awful for several reasons, but I’m going to show it to you anyway, because I learned a lot from this crumpled bit of fabric.

Better? (Yes, I know that the flash overexposes the image, but it makes it a lot easier to see the holes!)

The needles were a little small, so the fabric isn’t really loose enough to show the yo’s well. The color repeats absolutely don’t work with lace; they completely obliterate the pattern. I was worried about this at the beginning, but decided that I’d never know if I didn’t try. Well, now I know. I would also avoid the stacked yo’s that show up along vertical areas of the leaf; it looks too much like faggoting, and I think it’s distracting. I’ll need to alternate or move some of those yo’s elsewhere to avoid clustering too many together at the edges. Finally, the extra purl rows inserted way too much length into the motif, and the “leaf” is a little bit stretched out. But it is (just barely) there, so I have hope that the pattern is workable.

On the positive side, the ssk and k2tog’s make nice, strong lines for the veins. I would move them up a bit, I think, so that they fall in the middle of the leaf section. I would also change the central vein from a “ssk, k, k2tog” repeat to a centered double decrease to avoid having that one strong knit column in the very center. I think. I’ll have to try the CDDs before I know for sure. I also need to see the swatch in a yarn that lets me see the stitch pattern.

Designing stitch patterns is a whole new kind of trouble for me to get into. I’m not sure that I know enough (actually, I’m pretty sure I don’t), but when has that stopped me before?

I’ve been wanting to do more garments in lace, but I’ve been a little put off by the need to increase and decrease smoothly within a lace pattern. A good designer makes it seem effortless, but I just haven’t wrapped my brain around it yet. Still, the graceful change from one pattern to another makes or breaks a piece. Lace should be fluid and seamless, with one pattern melting into the next as if it had been designed specifically for that purpose and no other. It’s part of the magic.

Theoretically, building some stitch patterns from the bottom up will give me a better idea of how lace construction works, and will help me figure out how to use lace in shaped pieces. Yes, I know that it’s the long way around the barn. But this way seems so much more fun, doesn’t it?

Yes, this is why it’s dangerous to leave me alone without much to do. Very, very dangerous.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Still here, really

Just a quick post to say that I'm still here. I've even been knitting (and I have a fun project to show you). We finally got internet at home, but it's not fast enough to upload pictures, so Branden has to take them to work and upload them there. Hopefully he'll be able to do that today.

Meanwhile, I am stuck between projects. This is one of the reasons that I don't knit socks much. They go too quickly, and then I am completely unprepared to start another project. I suppose I could partially fix this problem by knitting my socks to a "normal" length instead of making them anklets, but I find that knit socks tend to droop around the ankles a bit at the end of the day, and that annoys me. So, I keep them short and sweet. Which means that I have a pair of (almost) perfect socks to add to the collection.

But I don't have anything else lined up. The big, thick, handspun sweater is not calling to me right now. I have made several attempts with some Malabrigo silk/wool blend, and it is not playing nice. I have some handspun alpaca, but I'm not really sure where to go with it. Dither, dither, dither. How is it that I packed half a suitcase full of yarn and don't have a single project with me??

Ah, well. I'm off to swatch some more, and maybe I'll have something to show for it soon.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Spindling along

I’ve been playing with my new spindle and some old top lately. I bought the top at least two years ago, to go with my first drop spindle. It’s a 50/50 silk-merino blend, and really needed a lighter spindle (or a better spinner) to make a good yarn. I made a good first try at it, but we were fostering kittens, and kittens and drop spindles generally don’t mix. So, I put it aside and forgot about it.

I knew that I wanted to bring a spindle with me to Germany, so I pulled out the old fiber a few weeks ago and started to spin it again.

I’ve had a couple of years to practice spinning since I last tried spindling, and so it’s going much more smoothly than it did the first time around. Still, I’ve never spun with silk before, so it’s been interesting to come to grips with the complete lack of crimp in the fiber. I thought that the merino would give it some crimp, but the tussah seems to be the dominant character in this mix, and it is slippery!

Since I got the hang of the fiber, it’s been a pleasure to spin. The spindle was only about half full when the cocoon of singles fell off of it, so I made a second of the same size, and then plied them together.

I ended up with about 130 yards of fingering-weight yarn, and should have enough fiber to make two more skeins of this size.

I love the shine of the silk in this yarn, and the colors. It changes from silver-gray to dark blue, to purple depending on the lighting. I’m looking forward to knitting with it, though I have no idea what I will make. Something shimmery and color-shifty, and probably lace. I’m estimating that I’ll end up with about 400 yards, though I suppose I should finish spinning before counting those chicks.

Until then, I have a pretty skein to pet.

A perfect sock

I have been in the mood for mindless knitting lately. I don’t know if it’s just a hangover from last month’s craziness, or maybe from the past 5 years of grad school, but my brain has decided that it’s just done for a while. This is good timing, since I really have very little to do at the moment. The sum total of my to-do list: 1) go to the market 2) write blog posts 3) make dinner. That’s it.

Between a total lack of schedule, a complete inability to speak to anyone (a lack of people that have a reason to speak to me), and no internet, the past week has been a little like sensory deprivation, especially compared with the hectic schedule of the past few months. It was a little unnerving at first, but then the quiet started to be kinda nice.

Mindless knitting fits well in that quiet.

And so, I have a sock.

Not just any sock. A perfect sock. And, like all perfection, it is proving to be completely irreproducible.

It started out with my (mostly) standard sock recipe. I made the cast on a little wider, but other than that it’s the same as the last few pairs of socks I’ve knit for myself. Increases underneath the instep, and plain vanilla otherwise.

Except that it isn’t just plain vanilla. It doesn't look like much, but somehow it fits my foot better than any other sock I’ve knit. It hugs my instep just right, fits at the heel, the toe seam lays exactly where it’s supposed to rather than twisting around or bunching up. It’s just right.

I kept careful notes while knitting, knowing that I would need to reproduce the same number of stitches and increases for the second sock, but I must have made a mistake somewhere. The second sock is now well into its second knit, and it just doesn’t match. I have followed my notes carefully. I have double and triple checked the number of stitches, the cast on, the increases, everything. I’ve even re-created all of the stitch counts from the first sock itself, and they match. And somehow, it is not the same. Close, but not the same.

The only thing I can figure is that there’s a slight bias that’s showing up in my increases somewhere, and that follows the shape of one arch and not the other. I can’t see the bias, but there has to be something there. To get a similar fit on the second sock, I’ve had to rotate the heel position relative to my instep increases by 10 stitches (out of 90), which is a pretty big difference. The sock still fits well, and I’m not sure that knitting it a third time will change anything, but I wanted two perfect socks.

The second sock is currently in time out after the latest round of ripping back. I might pull back again tomorrow, or I might just accept that perfection only strikes once. Imperfection isn’t the end of the world, but I’d really like to know what I did (and how it’s different than what I thought I did)…

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Peter and Paul

As I mentioned in the last post, I’ll be keeping most of my travel adventures on the Germany blog, but I wanted to share a part of the Peter and Paul festival with you here, too. The Peter and Paul festival is sort of a mix between a historical re-enactment, a parade, and a Renaissance Faire.

For one weekend a year, everyone in Bretten (our new city) dresses up in medieval garb, and goes out to celebrate. Many people walk in the parade, with separate “floats” for each of the different professions present in this town in medieval times. The number of people that participate is amazing, as is the latent talent in the modern people of this place. After the parade, many of the costumed people arrange themselves in booths to showcase the profession that they represent. There are bakers that bake in open fire ovens, metalworkers that shape brass into ornaments and belt buckles, and crafters that explain and teach their craft to visitors.

The costumes were beautiful, and there was a lot of attention to detail. We saw lots of lace gloves:

And a spinner:

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to find her after the parade, so I don’t know if she actually uses that wheel. Isn’t it cute, though?

We did find the candlemakers, basketmakers, and people caning chairs.

A tatter (making bobbin lace)

A weaver,

and many other crafty types. There were children learning to make rope:

and asking questions about many of the other crafts on display. There were also carnival rides, but the focus was on the town’s history, and the professions that made up medieval life, which made this much more than just entertainment. One woman tried to explain to us the difference between this and other festivals she’s been to: “here, it’s normal people, and it’s as if they really live it [rather than acting]. That makes it special.”

Yes. Yes, it does.


I’ve been struggling with the question of how to keep in touch with people in the US that want to know what we’re up to while we’re in Germany. A blog is very much the right format for quick updates, but I didn’t want to use this space for a bunch of personal and travel stuff, since this is a knitting blog, and I want it to stay that way. I don’t think that most of our friends and family are really interested in swatch pictures (though I think I’m up to three of Branden’s friends that read this blog, at least occasionally…go figure).

So, in order to keep this primarily a knitting blog, while still providing information for curious friends and family, I’ve established a new blog for our German adventures. You’re welcome to pop over there and check it out if you like, or just stay for the knitting (and there will be knitting!). We still don’t have internet, but I’ve found the one internet cafĂ© in the city, and so I think I can probably get updates out fairly regularly.

We had a bit of drama in the travelling when our suitcases didn’t arrive with us, but they made their way to us after a couple of days, so I do still have yarn (and clothes). With both yarn and free time, there should be lots of knitting this summer!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Half the battle

Ok, so it's a mile walk and costs money to use, but we've found the only internet cafe in Bretten. Of course, I forgot to bring my flash drive and I can't connect with my laptop, so I can't publish the blog posts that I've written, but now that I know where it is, I can come back soon.

So, not all the way to connected, but we'll call it half the battle.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


We're here and enjoying Germany, but there's no internet, and I'm not yet desperate enough to write real blog posts with a cell phone. Back soon when we find wifi!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Here, there, everywhere

In Madison right now, on a plane in a few hours. In Germany tomorrow!