Monday, September 28, 2009

Evolution of a design

Tomorrow? Did I say tomorrow? I knew it was a bad idea even before I finished typing it.

Between the promise of a next-day blog post and the looming grant deadline, things were perfectly poised for a smiting by the internet gods. We've had a wonderful few days of unwittingly paying .15 euros per minute for internet (on what was supposed to be an unlimited plan) because the salesguy forgot to tell us that we have to prepay the card and then call the company to get them to switch it from super-expensive to unlimited access. We couldn't figure out why it kept turning off when we'd just refilled the card...

So, yeah. Sixty euros later, and after our first experience of German customer service (there isn't's our fault that we didn't understand, and has nothing to do with the guy that didn't tell us there was an extra step), we have internet again. And my grant is now uploaded.

And soon there will be a blog post! Will wonders never cease.

It's not often that finished objects appear on the scene fully formed on this blog. Usually it's a more in-depth (excruciating?) trek through the wonders of designing. But the latest project kind of flew off the needles, and I suddenly find myself wondering why it hasn't yet made a real appearance here.

So. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

Tams are basically circles, so I started with a pie-like wedge. I was planning to have 5 or 6 pattern repeats, so I shaped the wedge accordingly.

I started filling in the wedge, but ended up with a squashed diamond design, and I knew that the actual knitting would look even more squashed, since the stitches aren't really square.

I decided that I really wanted the knitting to get a little wider at the tips of the diamond, so that it would look more star-like and less flattened out.

I borrowed a page from the quilting world, and made it into a Bargello pattern, like this quilt that I made a few years ago.

For a knit diamond, the Bargello pattern turned into this:

Then I started filling in the details:

These sketches turned into the hat that I have nicknamed Bargello Blues:

It is decidedly un-tam shaped. Turns out that I needed more increases than I used, and so it can't be be blocked out to flatten into a tam. My swatch gave me the right gauge for four pattern repeats, so I knit it in a fourfold pattern instead of the originally-planned five-fold. The four repeats were a 20% stitch increase over the ribbing, but I guess I like my ribbing fairly snug, so the extra increases didn't really do much. For a tam, I should have added in the extra 48 stitches to make 5 repeats.

Since I don't wear hats (except for possibly tams), Branden has now scored a second addition to his hat collection for the winter. Since his head is a little bit larger than mine, it fits him perfectly.

I didn't get my tam, but I have a feeling that this isn't the last we've seen of the idea, or of this stitch pattern.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Home stretch....forever

I wanted to have pictures of a rainbow vest to show you by now. There have been just two inches left on the back for about a week now. I got it down to an inch a couple of days ago. A few seams, some picked up stitches for the neck and armhole trim, and it will be done.

Except that I've gotten distracted again. By something smaller.

I tell myself that it's because it's small and easy to carry (the alpaca adds noticeable weight to my knitting bag at this point). But really, it's just because I'm distractable, and it was demanding to be knit right now.

The beret has taken over the knitting time, I'm afraid. Coupled with the start of my intensive German class, it has completely halted progress on rainbow vests. I don't have a picture yet, but hopefully I will get to take some tomorrow when there's daylight.

And maybe, if I'm very lucky, I'll manage to sit down long enough to knit that last couple of inches.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Role reversal

You know how husbands are always saying that they can't let their wives go into yarn stores unaccompanied, lest they buy too much yarn? Mmm. Turns out I have the opposite "problem."

Branden was in the US last week (and the week before). Since I had a specific yarn type/color in mind and it's hard to get laceweight here, I asked him to stop in a yarn store and pick up a couple of skeins for me.

As in two.

So, he brought me nine. Nine!

Granted, some of the skeins are duplicates to ensure (very generous) yardage. Four skeins of Claudia Handpaints, in Ink and Antique Jeans.

And then a couple of skeins of Cascade Sock, some Misti Alpaca, and a huge skein of Mountain Colors (Maria's Falls).

Oh my.

He does have good taste, though...

Guess I'd better get knitting, huh?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Question for the Blog

Every once in a while, I run across a piece of information that I can't believe I don't know.

Like how to shape a tam.

Since our last discussion (and actually for about a week before that) I've had hats on the brain. I even had a hat on my head last night, believe it or not.


I bought some Regia Silk planning to make a colorwork tam. I sat down to cast on, and realized that I don't really know the first thing about shaping one. All of my knitting resources books are in the US, and I didn't find much online.

I did find a Knitty pattern that seemed reasonably similar to what I want, and it has about a 20% increase in the stitch count right after the ribbing. I did that, but it doesn't seem like nearly enough to me. I'm ok with the decreases part since that's just simple triangle shaping, but how much should I increase on the way up?

Normally I'd just try it and see what happens, but I made the mistake of buying a very fine yarn, so I have about 200 stitches per round. I'm less than inclined to knit the whole thing up and then frog if my number is off, so I'd like to make sure it's ok before I get too far.

Those of you that have knit berets/tams, could you confirm that 20% is a reasonable number? Or perhaps provide a better one? You're also welcome to weigh in if you haven't knit a tam...your guess is as good as mine!


Wednesday, September 16, 2009


No, not that yarn. It's still waiting to figure out what it wants to be.

I bought some yarn for a hat for Branden on Saturday, remember?

I cast on Sunday night, and Monday morning I finished. I tried it on for you, but all I could get were fuzzy pictures (which might not be all that bad, since the yarn is fuzzy).

The cats were not interested in helping with this photo shoot, so my knee had to step in.

Though it might be easiest to see laid flat, as long as you ignore the glaring white of the sheets in the background. Today is apparently not the day to get good lighting in our apartment.

But you get the idea. Thick, (very) warm, soft, and fuzzy. Cables and ribs. Hard to go wrong.

I used a slip stitch rib (my favorite for things that should be stretchy), and then switched to a 6-stitch cable when I was ready to start the pattern. After every cable twist, I decreased two stitches, so that I ended up with the narrowing cables at the crown. Super simple, super fast.

Did I mention that it's warm?

ETA: I almost forgot the best part...the hat took a few yards less than a single ball. I bought two. (If I had known how much I'd like it, I'd have bought many. Good thing I didn't know!) That means that there's more where this came from...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New acquisitions

I went to the first Raveler meeting in Germany yesterday. It was in Backnang, which is near Stuttgart, about an hour and a half by train from here.

I already had a full bag, and our camera is heavy, so I didn't bring it. I tend to get camnesia anyway, and I didn't want to carry it all day. So we'll have to make do without pictures.

The meetup was hosted by the Wollstube Wollin, which is the closest I've come to an American-style yarn shop since we've been here. They had a great selection, and I could have bought 10 yarns in their store alone. But I didn't. I managed to stick to just enough yarn for a recently-requested hat for Branden (it's suddenly becoming fall here). The blue yarn in the bottom right corner is the hat yarn. It's a blend of merino, bamboo, cotton, baby alpaca, and super kid mohair, and it is soft. It's by Austermann, and the yarn is called Natura. I started knitting the hat today, and I'm almost sorry that I didn't get more.

The meeting marketplace had several vendors with very nice handpainted yarn. Drachenwolle was there, and they had a yarn that I really, really liked. It was a black laceweight, but was dyed with a specific set of color repeats so that you could create vertical stripes in your knitting when using the proper pattern. The center stripes were a vibrant progression rainbow that really stood out against the black yarn. Unfortunately, they don't seem to have a picture of the sample on their website. They should, though, because it's stunning. I liked the colorfulness, and I'm intrigued by the dyeing technique; I really wanted to buy a couple of skeins, if only to learn about planned dyeing. I dithered too long and they sold out. (This is a super-secret strategy that I use to avoid excess stash enhancement. I walk away for a few hours, think about it, and if it's still there when I get back, then I might buy some.)

I thought that Wollemeise was going to be there, but apparently not. Probably just as well, in terms of stash size.

The spinning fiber came from the Spinning Martha booth, which was great since I'm almost out of the roving that I brought with me. It's BFL, and it's simply beautiful. I appear to be on a rainbow kick lately.

I managed to resist buying some beautiful wooden needles made from leftover wood from musical instruments. They were warm and had just the right amount of polish, and the wood was beautiful. But I didn't really need any more needles, so I managed to escape. Barely.

Finally, I bought a huge skein of Kauni from Wollwerkstatt. I've been thinking about trying Kauni for a long time, but had never met it in person. It's a little on the rough side, but I like hard wools, and the colors are beautiful. I'm really looking forward to a sweater from this. Annette was very helpful, and super friendly. She had two spinning wheels with her that her husband had made by hand; one was hers, and one was for sale. The one that was for sale was optimized for laceweight, and it was a beautiful wheel. Spun like a dream...I didn't want to get up. Unfortunately, it was also quite expensive, as it's completely hand made from top quality material. It's not on my purchase list, but it was definitely a pleasure to spin with. I could have stayed there all day.

The second wheel and I didn't get along. It was smaller, and we were just not on the same wavelength. The tension may also have been a little off, as the yarn just kept falling apart in my hands. I think it's funny how you can take a spinner, put them in front of a few different wheels, and end up with a completely different experience. The big wheel could have sweet talked its way into my house in a heartbeat; the little one, not so much.

The people were also wonderful. It was great to see everyone so excited about getting together and knitting. I imagine that this vibe must have been like Rheinbeck or Madrona in the very early days; everyone was a little awestruck that there was a knitting meeting, and they were thrilled to be there. There was a lot of skill in that room, and it was fun to see all the different garments. Germans definitely have a taste for lace, so it was especially fun for my lace-loving self.

One thing that was especially nice about this meetup was the way they set up the room. The perimeter had all of the vendor booths, and the center was full of probably 40 or 50 banquet tables with chairs. The focus was really on the knitting meeting, and not just the buying and selling. People came and went between classes, but it was really nice to see the constant hum of spontaneous knitting groups all around the room.

It was also nice that the marketplace wasn't huge. I tend to get overwhelmed by too many yarn fumes all at once, and I just can't enjoy shopping as much. There were probably 10 vendors, and there was plenty of yarn to choose from.

I spent a good bit of time talking with Katho, who was teaching a class on sock knitting. We had a great chat about the challenges of teaching, how to prepare for classes, and all kinds of other teachery things. I also met a CrazyVet from Barcelona (Rav link). I'd send you to her blog, but it's all in Arabic, as she's originally from Israel. She's just moved here for grad school in neurobiology, so there were lots of things for us to talk about. She's also a beginning spinner, so we spent a long time playing on Annette's spinning wheels. Kiki (Rav link) was spindling away on some beautiful laceweight, which made me regret the decision to leave my spindle at home lest it get broken in my bag. Next time I will bring it along. (I am very proud of myself for not caving and buying a new spindle...they had some beautiful lightweight ones that would be perfect for lace...)

I also got to meet Jess and Casey of Ravelry. They're in Germany for the next week or so, and stopped by the Ravelry meetup for the day. Julester from the Heidelberg knitting group is a close friend of theirs, so I got to spend a little bit of time with them. They're both very nice, and I'm looking forward to the smaller Heidelberg meetup next week.

So that was my Saturday. A very long, very fun day. Today, I slept late, knit and spun. Not bad for a solitary weekend.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Que Sera?

This yarn is definitely asking what it should be.

Ekgheiy says a hat. It would make a great hat. And I could really use a hat in Madison this winter. Half of my brain is cheering loudly for a hat.

The other half? Muttering about how I never wear hats.

(The other side just chimed in to say that I’d better start wearing hats if I’m planning to live in the Midwest in the winter. It’s probably right.)

So I’ve been wondering. If I were to wear a hat, what kind of hat would I wear?

Not a beanie.

Not a skullcap.

Not one with a pom pom.

Not a cloche.

Maybe a tam? Or a beret?

I’ve thought about making tams before. If I were to become a hat person, I’d probably start there. Branden makes a funny face every time I mention them, though.

Then again, he used to make funny faces about coconut, olives, dates, and a variety of other things that he now likes. The face might not be a very good indicator.

Still, I keep getting a nagging feeling that this yarn might want to be more than “just” a hat. It looks like I will have enough for something bigger, too. When I finished it, I wound it back into one skein, and there’s a lot of yarn there.

(This cat was added partly for scale and partly because I couldn't keep her out of the picture. She was determined to get her blog time. Wouldn't want her sister to get all the attention, now, would we?)

The yarn has also been whispering something about lace.

So I’m dragging my heels. Waiting for the right moment, the right project. Sauntering through the stitch dictionaries, idly kicking ideas down the fiber-strewn path ahead, wondering what will be.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How to wear the rainbow

Remember this yarn?*

I bought it about a year ago at the Farmer's market in Seattle.

It's been waiting to become a sweater ever since.

The rainbow colors are the primary reason that I fell in love with the yarn. And they're also the most difficult part of turning it into a garment that I will wear. I tend to stick with dark colors and earth tones. I love bright flashy clothes, but not on me. I needed to tone it down a bit, so I bought a skein of dark blue to go with it.

I didn't want the horizontal stripes of colorwork, and I have equal amounts of variegated and base yarn, so I didn't want to establish just one dominant color, as that's a sure recipe for running out of yarn.

For several months, I looked at colorwork patterns, but none were quite right. I thought about Kauni sweaters and checker patterns, but they didn't seem to fit. And then, I ran across Knit One Below by Elise Duvekot.

One simple stitch. Two colors, worked one at a time. Vertical stripes. Perfect!

I've had both the yarn and the book for well over 6 months, but I just haven't gotten around to casting on for the next fingering weight sweater. I brought the yarn to Germany, because I wanted to knit it, and I knew I'd have time.

When I finished the alpaca stole, I pulled out the fingering weight and made a swatch.

Which I love.

The bottom portion is worked on size 4 needles. The colorwork part is knit on size 2's.

The best way to describe this stitch is that it's a slip stitch pattern that's slipped after the fact. You knit every other stitch, and for the ones in between you insert your needle through the legs of the stitch below and knit through the hole formed by the loop. Then you drop both the stitches off of the needle together, effectively making a slipped stitch a row after it's knit. The color and position of the slipped stitch is alternated every row, creating a vertical effect. I love the way the wrong side looks, too.

The stitch pattern also appears to have canceled out the bias that was starting to show up in the stockinette portion of the swatch. It makes a webbed fabric, so it's less likely to have horizontal stretching (which has been a problem in the past). In short, I like it a lot.

I've been knitting away at the sweater for a couple of weeks now, and it's starting to get somewhere.

Each stitch that you see in the pattern represents two rows of knitting (since they're all slipped), so that's a lot more stitches than it looks like.

It's also taking more yarn than I'd hoped. I only bought two skeins because they were huge and expensive, but I'm starting to think that I should have bought three. It will be close. I might end up with a vest instead of a sweater, but I'm looking forward to wearing a somewhat-muted rainbow.

*Sorry about the lack of pictures in the linked post. It's apparently far enough back in the archives that its pictures were broken when we had to change servers. I really do need to go fix those posts someday...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Socks springing up

I brought a ton of yarn with me to Germany. (In my opinion...Branden doesn't think that it's very much. Does that seem backwards to you?) But I brought all the "special" yarn that I've had in the stash for a long time and have been meaning to work with, not the bread-and-butter yarn that makes up my daily knitting existence. Too much "special" all at once leads to me flipping through stitch dictionaries with no projects on the needles. This is not good.

I have gone to a few yarn shops in search of everyday yarn, but there's not a whole lot to be found that isn't acrylic. I'm usually a natural fibers kinda person, so that makes it fairly safe for me to go yarn shop touring, but it doesn't help with the no-projects thing.

Unfortunately, the shops don't carry laceweight. Everyone I've asked says to go's apparently the only way to buy it here. It just so happens that Branden got sent back to the US for work this week and next, so he'll probably import some lacy yarn back into the country for me when he returns.

Until then, I've been knitting socks, because sock yarn is plentiful here. And rather cheap. I'd tell you how much, but I don't remember what it actually costs. Somewhere between 5 and 7 euros, I think (~$7.50-10 US).

I went for a wander around Karlsruhe with Leseratte last Tuesday, and we stopped in at the Karlsruhe knitting group. Manisha(Rav link) was knitting in a way that I've seen before but never completely managed to pick up, though it fascinates me.

I can't really describe what this method is, since I've never really paid attention to the names for different ways of knitting. I think someone else said that it was combination knitting, which I've heard of but never seen done. It's still a continental (two hands) method, but you use the needle to grab the yarn rather than wrapping it around the needle with the left hand (is this picking vs. throwing? It seems like it should be, but I usually hear that used to describe the difference between continental and English knittting...)

In any case, it's very much like the way that I knit, except there's a lot less motion in the left hand. You tension the yarn with your forefinger, and not wrapping means that the yarn doesn't have to travel as far. Generally more efficient.

I was curious. And it was horribly hard to make myself knit differently. Which amused me. I think it's very interesting how your brain can get stuck in a rut with muscle memory, and how hard it is to change. Which, of course, meant that I was going to change it. So I decided to knit the socks the new way.

I can't say it's completely comfortable yet. If I'm not paying attention my hands still switch back to my standard knitting, which is bad since I usually mount the stitches differently (I usually use a plaited knit stitch, so it's all weird and mounted backwards from everyone else). But in general, I've managed to get pretty good at it. And it is faster. Three days of not much knitting have produced a sock and a half:

Or maybe I just think it's faster because it's something new that I can play with while I knit. Who knows.

I don't love the purl stitch, and my tension is much looser this way. I assume that will change with time and practice. I had to drop down a needle size on the stockinette and three on the ribbing, leaving me at a size zero needle for the cuff. I plan to do some comparison swatches, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. So far, it's quick, possible, and it's been fun to challenge my brain a little bit.

And a new pair of socks never hurts, either.

Especially when they pop up out of nowhere.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Do you believe in magic?

Here's hoping that Branden's magic solution works...

I tried to test it on Friday before he left for the US, but the pictures that I needed were on the camera card. Which was in his computer. Which was at work. And then the weekend was busy.

So I'm trying it now.

The first image uploaded, which is a good sign.

We decided at the last minute to send my camera with Branden, since he's not taking the fancy one. So we threw it in his suitcase late last night. Without taking the pictures off of it.

I'll retake them later, but for now, here's what I have:

The finished alpaca shawl.

I knit until I ran out, and ended up getting one more repeat than I'd hoped for. This is what I had left over:

It blocked to about 72 inches long, and 16 wide. All of the green from the needles washed out nicely. And it's very soft.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Return of the missing blog posts, part I

I need to pet fiber before I am ready to use it. We need time to bond before beginning our adventure together.

And sometimes it’s hard to start, because the fiber feels perfect already.

But sometimes, I want to use my hands, too.

And a braid of 4 oz roving is just about the same length as a scarf.

Which is why Branden came home the other day to find me sitting at my computer wearing a scarf and knitting with alpaca. In August.

Does this make me a crazy fiber lady?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Technology stroke

Sorry for the rant. I've been trying to pretend that the internet thing is working just fine, because I want it to be ok and I know there's not much we can do to change it. (Plus, I don't like to be whiny on the's not attractive in person, and it's less so on the internet when people are taking time to come talk knitting, IMHO.)

And really? Why should it be such a big deal if my internet is slow? Seems like there should be so many bigger issues in the world to flip out about, yes?

Well. I've been reading a great book on neuroplasticity lately (yes, this is my "for fun" reading. What of it?), and the author talks about how using a computer actually changes the way your brain works; just like being blind changes the way you hear.* He argues that our computers become an extension of ourselves, reaching out into the digital world in the same way that our senses bring us the real world.

Considering how much time I spend working on a computer, having it stop working is something like losing all sensation in my left leg. Won't kill me, but it sure is annoying, especially when I try to get up and walk somewhere.

Or, in this case, especially when I want to talk to people.

Gives me a slightly different perspective on why such a small thing might be so distressing. Also gives me a different perspective on how dependent I am on my computer. Hmmm.

So. Branden thinks he has a new, simple, completely magic system that will make everything better. He has a Plan.

Of course, he wasn't able to download the things he needs to put the Plan into action last night because the internet connection is slow.

Yeah. Circular, I know. This is the problem.

BUT, he is downloading things today and we'll try again soon. And hopefully there will be no more occasion for temper tantrums on the blog about computers not working.

And it sure would be nice to be able to feel my left leg...

*This is a really, really great book. One of the best I've read lately. Completely fascinating. Sounds geeky, but it's just so cool...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Has anyone seen my blog posts?

Because I'm sure I've written them. Lots and lots of posts, things that I wanted to say, things I wanted to share. It's just that they are nowhere to be found.

I thought they were here. I thought they were in my blog posts folder. Heck, I even thought some of them had been posted to the blog already. But they're not here. Which I'm pretty sure means that I haven't written (or posted) them. Because there is so much between me and the "post" button that I don't even know what I have and haven't said anymore.

So I'm behind. Way behind.

And grumpy about systems not working and things not being where I want them to be when I need them.

Really, my whole blogging system is broken right now. And I hate it. I never thought of myself as the whiny artistic type that complains about things breaking "my flow." But they are. It is just not working, and I can't seem to come up with a better option. Stuck!

And so I'm not writing. Which is sad, because I want to write. Or rather, I want to want to write. You know? Sigh.

So. I think I need to go write some blog posts that are not trite, whiny, and boring. I'm sorry for the delay, and I'm trying to figure out how this can possibly work without me hating every step of the process.

I have lots of things to show you, and lots of things I thought I had already showed you. They're coming. Just as soon as I shake off the grouchy, crankypants mood and figure out what to do about the fact that I really can't work this way.