Friday, February 29, 2008

Teeny Project Runway

It's been a tough day. Teeny Project Runway made it better. Voting is over, but if you go back to yesterday's blog entry at Mason-Dixon Knitting, you can see the entire strange, wonderful, great show.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Ninepatch Dishrag from Mason-Dixon Knitting

< Pattern: Ninepatch Dishcloth
Source: Mason-Dixon Knitting
Designers: Kay Gardiner
Yarn: Sugar & Cream in various colors
Source: Hobby Lobby (don't forget, they close on Sundays and at 8, not 9 p.m., and the cashiers are vigilant, even with all the husbands that had been sent in at the last minute and were trying to avoid eye contact with any Hobby Lobby employees in their quest for that one more glue stick or hank of green superwash)
Amount of yarn needed for one cloth: about 1/2 ball of two different colors
Needles: size 6 Addi Turbo circular 24" for square patches, size 5 Addi Turbo circular 24" for mitered corners
Other notions: needle for finishing ends, stitch marker (the kind that looks like a large but squat plastic saftey pin), scissors

Notes: These go so much faster than the squares for the Mitered Squares Blanket. For me, that's about one cloth per day, with the first half done while listening to a book on my Ipod and the second half done during either DVDs of Gilmore Girls or The House of Elliot (a British soap opera about two sisters in the fashion business in the 20s - great clothes and sets) OR good reality T.V. (and that's not an oxymoron.)

Sugar & Cream trumps Tahki Cotton Classic if you're going for speed. And the fabric is just right for either a washcloth or a dishcloth: cushy, thick, springy. Kay of Mason-Dixon Knitting says, in the pattern, that the Ninepatch doesn't match the Ballband dishcloth in waffle factor, but I actually prefer it - a bit more drapey, not so stiff. And the knitting is much less fussy. No constant yarn forward and yarn back and slipping stitches as in the Ballband cloth. And with the Ninepatch, as in the Log Cabin, you're still picking up stitches, but not as often and with more regular edges than in the Log Cabin cloths.

Best of all, with the Ninepatch, you get to play with color, for barely any investment in yarn. It's like making a tiny quilt.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Beauty from Steph

I can't call this entry "Random Beauty from Steph," and I need to go back and edit the entry about Sherry's gift, because there's nothing random at all about these two packages. Thank you, Steph, it's wonderful. (Sidebar: this is not about the Cool Kids on the internet. I am usually the one to be chosen last for kickball, and I still have a blog, and a few colleagues who read it, and even people willing to spend postage to send me things that they have created.)

But Steph. I'm amazed, and have a serious case of knitting anxiety at the prospect of sending anything off to either you or Sherry or to my two contest winners, Stacey (honorable mention for pouting) and Carrie, or even to Joan, who I know a bit better, for redirecting traffic. (Sorry, Carrie and Joan, I didn't intend everyone but you two to have a name that begins with "S." Feel free to take on a pseudonym, if you want.)

In the tiniest of envelopes from Belgium, Steph sent me a minature journal that seems handmade, or at least, handsewn. And a dark kind of necklace, sort of magical, with the perfect color of ribbon and coppery clasp to echo the color of the center piece. Reminds me of what Tilda Swinton might have worn as the Ice Queen in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

A largeish pin/brooch of copper wire and aqua beads. I'd been waiting until I finished my Juliet sweater to choose the buttons, but this will be perfect and much more beautiful.
A bracelet of mixed media: beads, leather, silver fixings, and a coin. I love bracelets with lots of color and texture. And I can put it on myself (not always true for me, there's the moment of struggling and then trying to find someone else in the house to put the thing onto my wrist).

Polymer buttons in a pumpkin orange and a grey-blue. One largeish and several smaller. These are the kind of buttons that precede the yarn and the sweater. I'm not going to rush it; I'm putting them in a safe place (aka one that I will remember having put them there) and wait for the right project to present itself. And even the card is handmade and a tiny piece of beauty. Even the writing on the envelope is beautiful.
Yep, I know that it's not a competition, but I do want to send these folks something special. What I have put together so far: several of my favorite books from the Frugal Muse (the best used bookstore in the Chicagoland area), including children's books that I loved, like Half Magic and Ellen Tebbits, and things with chocolate recipes in them and a crazy book about candy called CandyFreak; chocolate itself; dishcloths (I'm playing in the big leagues now and working on the Nine-Patch from Mason-Dixon-Knitting); and some beautfiul things from my stash that will find a better home with another knitter, such as as skein of Suri Alpaca and some Handmaiden silk. Or I could send a pledge to knit something in the next year and send that off with some store-bought good stuff. Or you could leave a comment and try to talk me down from my gifting-anxiety with any suggestions of your own? (Gift recipients are welcome to weigh in.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

More dishcloths

It continues. Just came back from the store with four more colors of Sugar and Cream. At $1.49 each. Using our practice of comparing all unneccessary consumables to the price of a latte at Starbuck's, that's far less than a Grande.
The variegated was calling to me, including the odd one at the left foreground below, with pale green and beige and white. The right-hand skein screams "Fiesta" or maybe "Carnivale," and the two at the back say something about water and beaches.
I did have some yarn at home that I could have used for the last few washcloths, but I tried three different patterns today with the bright yellow and couldn't motivate myself to finish. The variegated yarn is much more fun, and easier on the eyes. The Ipod in the picture is a necessary instrument to making dishcloths; they use relatively so much less of your brain that you can actually concentrate on two things at once.
Here's a closeup of the Travelling Vine Cloth from Smariek Knits. I'm thinking that the pattern, from Barbara Walker's first book (page 219), would be a beautiful design for a lace shawl. It reminds me of the Lily portion of the Swallowtail Shawl. Perhaps I can start with Thistle Lace (from Walker's second book, the one that disappeared between my house and the yoga studio) and then transition into the Vine pattern?
Dishcloth/washcloth posed on sink.
I'm trying to wean myself away from Travelling Vine and Vine Lace to try something new. I've not been a big fan of garter stitch, but if I'm going to make dishcloths, how can I not at least try a pattern from Mason-Dixon Knitting?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Peaches & Creme

I love that the Peaches & Creme site looks so fiftiesh. And there's a monthly dishcloth Knitalong, with pre-packs of yarn that arrive at your door. And a pre-pack of Mason-Dixon colors. Crazy. I'm a bit worried at my interest in this; I may never get to the sock project.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Progress on the Vine Lace Cloth

Tulips, day eight. Becoming very unearthly.
And my first stab at washcloths: the Vine Lace Cloth from Smariek Knits. The cloths here are Sugar 'n Cream cotton yarn, knit on a size six circular needle: my version of sock knitting, in that these are quick, easy to carry around with you, and fun to knit.
(Her blog is a good source of free patterns, lots of playing with Barbara Walker's treasuries and cabling of hats and scarves, and an inquiry into the best way to make the thumb in a pair of mitts, which I was stewing about when I made a pair of Fetching and am looking forward to investigating.)

The green one reminds me of the tulips.
The pink one, whose colors range from a pale pink to a deep pink to a soft tan, made me happy. Then I realized: it's the color of ice cream, the way it used to be packaged, in a cardboard rectangular box with the ice cream in thirds of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Spring

The view from my den window, which made me wish for spring.
The closest I'm coming right now. But my tulips are at a favorite stage. When white tulips begin to wither, they become like other-wordly life forms. And I love the color.
Which made me work on this:
It's preferably a washcloth, or maybe a dishcloth. I had some Sugar and Cream yarn from Hobby Lobby, bought for a Mason-Dixon dishcloth. I've been wanting to knit a washcloth, so that I had something everyday but handmade to use, and the green called louder than the other colors in my stash. Not sure how large this will turn out or where it will go; I'm slowly gathering things to send to friendly bloggers and to my daughters for their belated Valentine's Day presents.

And my swatch for Wing of the Moth shawl. Hmm.
Not as open or lacey as I'd expected it to be. I used a strand of the Shaefer (I'm told it's the same yarn as Zephyr) and a strand of laceweight Misti Alpaca. It's a beautiful but high-maintenance pattern, and my thought was that by using a heavier weight of yarn and a size 6 needle, I'd end up with something smaller than the original pattern as well as a weightier fabric (I like shawls that tell you that you have them wrapped around you). I'm going to make another try, perhaps on Icarus by Miriam Felton.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Beauty from Sherry

Thank you, Sherry. It's lovely. Lots of color against a beautiful copper platform. I wonder if it will verdisgris?

My favorite part: the catch. Simple, functional, unassuming, beautiful: like a cross between a hex nut and a piece of jewelry. I may wear the necklace backwards sometimes, so that the catch becomes the front.

The necklace is photographed against Charlene Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks, which arrived from inter-library loan today. My husband has already informed me that any of the four, five or six-stitch patterns would be appreciated. And the author gives instructions both for double-pointed and circular needles, so I may be able to face this project without an army of small needles that need to be juggled at the same time.

And I'm blocking the swatch from the Wing of the Moth shawl of hand-dyed Shaefer silk and Misti Alpaca.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Yahoooo

Eeek. I signed up for the Yahoo group called Elizabeth's Year (the group is knitting each month's project in Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitter's Almanac) so that I could read up on other people's experience making an Aran sweater and I had 81 emails in my Inbox tonight.

And I now have a giant Yahoo toolbar at the top of my computer.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Snap Cardigan

Blue Sky Alpacas Snap Cardigan.

Knit in Malabrigo in Velvet Grape and Rhodesian (about 2 skeins of the grape and 3 of the rhodesian, I think). Ribbing on a size 7 needle, body (except the top of the back, where I bailed and switched to a larger needle) on a size 8, both circular Addi Turbos. Size Small. Measurements after finishing (but before washing) are dead-on, even though my gauge with the size 8 needle in stockinette is 17 stitches and 26 rows instead of 18 stitches and 26 rows to 4" as called for in the pattern. Design by Leslie Scanlon.

This is an easy knit, even though the pattern calls for intermediate level experience. All stockinette and ribbing on a large enough needle that it goes fairly quickly. The size Small truly is a small (I usually wear a 4 in a jacket and this fits me.) And I love the Malabrigo: the kettle-dyed colors that have some varigation in the skeins, the colors themselves, the feel of the yarn.

The neckline. I reworked it a few times, then gave up. I don't love the way that the edge, where I picked up stitches for the collar, shows as a heavy seam. I steamed the collar and front edges, and now that I've (immediately and already) worn the sweater for a few hours, the fabric is relaxing and the collar seems to lay better and cover up the seam.

The only real trouble I had was in working the collar. The directions have you seam the sweater together, then pick up for the collar and work the K5P2 ribbing for eight inches. This was tricky because the sweater is bulky; it would have been more comfortable to be able to knit the collar on its own and then attach it to the sweater.

Also, I never, to my perfectionist satisfaction, managed to pick up the stitches so that the ridge between body and collar looked good enough to me. As I mentioned above, I don't think that this is an issue once you start to wear the sweater and the collar relaxes enough to lie flat over the neckline (at least if you knit it in wool instead of the cotton called for in the original pattern). But it seemed that there might be a more efficient and prettier way to connect this large sailor-style collar to the body of the garment. I'm just not experienced enough to know what that would be.

A great, practical sweater. I have a feeling that I could use the pattern as a template, a la Ann Budd's book, and try different sleeves or collars or buttonbands onto the basic shape.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Socks Ho!

My husband has asked me to make him hand-knitted socks for his Valentine's Day present, and I promised myself last year, in the midst of the sock furor sweeping knitters' blogdom, that I would never learn to spin or make socks.

How many crafts does a woman need? I gotta stop somewhere. Even though my neighbor at Melissa Leapman's cable class at last year's Stitches tried to talk me into the wonders of spinning. I'm fairly open-minded, but not to spinning. Cause then I'd want the sheep, and the carding combs, and the fleece shears, and the farm. See where spinning would lead? (My younger daughter called me long-distance from a beautiful knitting shop down South and wanted to know if I wanted carding combs. I spoke gibberish for a bit (at least to my mind); I was embarrassed to admit that I am afraid of owning any spinning tools, because that could be the first step on the slippery slope.)

Socks may be more controllable. Although, there seems to be a definite relationship between sock knitting and a very large stash of yarn. Maybe those little skeins don't seem like much, and then suddenly. Well, we've all seen that Star Trek episode about the tribbles.

But, really, can anyone help me out here? Any suggestions for how to's or books? Toe up? Cuff down? (I'm so new to this that I don't even know the right lingo.) And I'm frightened by even the thought of the tiny doublepointed needles.

Progress on the Juliet sweater

First, some spring.
And progress on the Juliet sweater. About a third to halfway done with the body. My second sweater worked in the round, so I'm looking forward to almost no finishing but darning the ends in. Misti Alpaca Chunky is a perfect yarn: soft, springy, no splitting when you accidentally put the needle through it, and colors from a great chocolate brown to pale celadon to my favorite, this grey blue.

Tonight, catch-up on Survivor and knitting, I hope.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Congrats

Congrats to dkidd2020 and Carrie, winners of the contest.

Thanks, everyone for playing, and I'm looking forward to stopping by your blog sometime to visit. And something for Joan, too. She acted like the guy on the tarmac, motioning the planes into the gate, then redirecting them my way.

Please email me your mailing info at jbwb@att.net and something will be on your way soon-ish. Don't look too soon, though; I'm betting it'll be week's end before I have time to putter and shop and think about surprises. And if you want to spread the love some more, you're now tagged to Pay It Forward on your blogs.

White Tulips

A picture later today of the white tulips that my husband gives me every year for Valentine's Day.

And a note to my daughters: I do love you, even if I was a slacker and didn't get a card or candy in the mail to you. Can I claim that I wanted to surprise you next week with an unexpected package?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Contest!

Yeah! Gifts from Steph and Sherry on their way to me, and I agreed to pay it forward.

Nothing tricky this time around: the first two people to either leave a comment or email me at jbwb@att.net win a prize. If no one plays, it'll be sad.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Random Beauty



One of my employees brought in several pins and left them on the break table so that we each could choose one. I hesitated over the beady-eyed giraffe, then saw this one with the profile of a Lab. Immediately pinned it on my sweater.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Inventory

My favorite part of inventory on Saturday evening was when I leaned in toward the supervisor and said, as nicely as possible, "I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't inventory the socks while you're on the phone."

Woof, as my friend Greg would say in college. The part that really bothered me was not her tardiness, or her ineptitude, or her habit of laughing inanely as a way to get around my and my boss's requests for some activity (she spent an hour and a half on the phone with tech support trying to fix something on her laptop - more on that in a moment), but the fact that she lied. Several times. The most obvious moment was when she was on the phone with her boss, who my boss had called to get her moving, and she declared that she had six people scanning the store.

Hmm. I only saw two people in maroon shirts scanning. Went to the stockroom. Three more. That makes five. At that point, I was trying to let things go. We had chocolate from Ethel's. We had Perrier water left over from our last event. We all had something from Starbuck's. Food is a necessary antidote to stress. We discussed birthday cakes, and the need to eat more cake in this store, which lags way behind my old store in both cake-consumption and desire for cake-consumption. And wierd requests, too. I asked my manager, whose birthday is in February, what kind of cake she'd like. Angel food!! What? Not chocolate? With chocolate icing? My amazement made one of the scanners, a nice one who was very good at her job, smile and look up. (This request was bested only by the associate who asked for a spice cake with a molasses buttercream icing in November. )

So, dilemma: do I get her the angelfood cake that was her first thought, or do I go with chocolate, which she then claimed to prefer? I'm concerned about Stockholm-syndrome cake requests.

We would have been finished with the whole inventory by 8:30 if we'd had a different supervisor for the team doing the scanning. I eventually had to become the Tough and Mean Boss-person and take charge. I clapped my hands together and told her that we needed to start scanning. I co-opted the phone from her as she was whining to her boss about equipment failures and asked him "what are we going to do now to solve this problem?" I suggested that going to the supermarket 10 minutes away to buy a new memory stick (I think they carry them) made more sense than driving a memory stick an hour and a half from the northern suburbs. I questioned whether they needed some sort of magical, anointed memory stick, or if just anyone would do. When she advised her employee that she would need to back out of every scan in a cumbersome way because we, the store staff, had started her on ticket 75 instead of ticket 1, I looked up from my work and announced, "the area at the front of the store is ready, and you can move her there now." My manager looked at me, said "whewwww," and went back to her work.

And at the end of the night, at 10 p.m. instead of the 7:30 p.m. finish that would have been possible (the nice scanners complimented us for how well-prepared we were), as she set up her laptop for me to do my evaluation of the team and the inventory, her last defense against fate was to tell me that I could score things anyway that I wanted, but that I should be aware that if I gave them a low score, that I would receive a phone call. A fruitless threat. It's the only time that I've ever completed a survey with 1's and 2's.

I didn't realize until she had left that I was supposed to have a print-out of the evaluation to send to my corporate office. How quickly can you say data failure? Woof.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Not Yet a Contest

I loved this contest. I was so excited that I tried, fast as possible, to answer the questions and win the booty. Before I realized that the contest was over. I'm hoping that she'll do another and this time I'll win. In the meantime, I'm trying to come up with a fiber version and hold my own contest.

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower

My husband handed me Mr. Midshipman Hornblower to read last week. I would never have picked it up on my own, and after 27 years of being married, he still regrets my resistance to reading The Boat who Wouldn't Float by Farley Mowat.

But Hornblower is great. This is, chronologically, the first book of the series, and in this one he's 18 years old, green, seasick, nervous and unsure inside but always aware of the need to act like a leader on the outside. Anyone who's ever been in a position of leadership will recognize the signs.
And it's funny. My favorite chapter has Hornblower manning a ship filled with cattle and grain for 3 weeks, while he and his small crew are quarantined from the rest of the fleet because they were exposed to the plague by the motley crew that sold them the foodstuff. They sail about on their own, keeping an eye out for the Spanish fleet and trailing a cloud of odorous air behind them. And getting the cattle from the barge onto the boat is a great scene of mayhem and silliness: "And the emptier the lighter (the barge the cattle are being transported from land to boat on) became, the more room the cattle had to rush about it; to capture each one so as to put a bellyband on it was a desperate adventure. Nor were those half-wild bullocks soothed by the sight of their companions being successively hauled bellowing into the air over their heads."

And there are women in this sea adventure, though admittedly only two: one a seasick maid and the other a second- tier character actress making her way by posing as an English duchess, although with Cockney accent that surprises Hornblower.

In knitting, I continue to go forward, then a bit back, and then ahead again on the Juliet sweater. I've cast off for the sleeves and now need to decide whether to do a few short rows on the back. The sample in the shop was riding up in the back, and I'm thinking that a few extra garter stitch rows might even that out.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ananda

I finally made it past vitarka and vicara and reached ananda in my work on my Juliet sweater. Ananda is the third stage of learning of four that Patanjali lists in the 17th sutra of Book I of the Yoga Sutras. No matter what we're learning, we start at the gross or unrefined level and slowly move to a more subtle understanding of what we're doing. Vitarka is the most superficial level, the clumsiness of a toddler learning to walk. Vicara is a deeper understanding: now we have an idea of how to walk, but we still fall a lot. Ananda means "bliss" or "joy": now we're getting pretty good at walking, so we love it and we want to run and jump and skip.

To get to ananda, you have to go through vitarka and vicara. For me, that seems to mean figuring out what needle to use by actually knitting the sweater. Swatching doesn't work: each project, I discover that I'm hapier knitting on a needle one size larger than what worked on the swatch. For me, vitarka: choosing the pattern and working a few rows. Vicara: getting a physical feel for how the yarn works in my hands, what the structure of the fabric looks like, whether I'm enjoying or struggling with the work. Ananda: after trying a size 9 needle on the yoke for several rounds, then switching back to the size 10.5, and finally, trying my favorite needle, a Bryspun, in a size 10.

Suddenly, pleasure in knitting. A beautiful fabric, firm enough to have body but loose enough to drape. And no fighting with the yarn on every stitch. I finished the entire yoke in one day and am ready to put the stitches on a piece of scrap yarn so that I can decide whether I'm ready to cast off the sleeves.
On the right size needle - for me - even the increases are pretty.
Oh, and the fourth stage of learning: asmitarupa: we take on the form, metaphorically, of what we are doing. We know the process so well that the work is effortless, we can do it without thinking, as though it's second nature.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

New year, new yarn

I wanted to call this Loose Knits Sink Ships, but I resisted. Well, at least in the title, which is a zone of many puns.

Here's my swatch for Ilga Leja's Antique Lace, worked in Handmaiden Lady Godiva, a worsted weight silk-wool. Pattern calls for a size 7 needle. I went down to a size 6, and the gauge is still loose. But lately, I've been finding that there is a difference between the way that I knit a swatch - even a large one - and the way that I knit once I'm working the project. With both the Snap Cardigan and Bianca's Jacket, the larger the piece that I'm working on, the tighter and faster I knit. The result is that my size small sweaters end up a shade smaller than I want them to be, a bit shorter in the body or a bit tighter in the chest. I've jury-rigged solutions by using a brooch to close the front, instead of buttons (I hate making buttonholes, a perfectionist's nightmare), but I still want to know why: why would knitting longer rows at a quicker pace tighten my knitting up?

Here's today's You Had A Hard Week at Work and Deserve a Present. Misti Alpaca Chunky to make the Juliet pattern from Zephyrstyle.
My favorite yarn store set a display at the front, with a sample of this cropped cardigan with lace panels and a copy of the pattern for inspection. It was like the Sirens calling to Odysseus. I could only resist it so many times. Today I gave in. Instant gratification knitting is needed. For me, that probably means two or three weeks of work, compared to the weekend that it would take my friend Joyce and the day that it took the shop owner to make the sample. Never mind.

I'm in swatch hell again, though. I tested the gauge with a 10.5 needle and it was huge - 10 stitches instead of 14 to 4". I worked about 10 rows on the next size needle down, and that felt too tight. Switched back and started over with the 10.5. Left it to brew while we went to the symphony. (Go, coronet section in Petrushka! And Pierre Boulez: I want to be that spry at 83. And even a Berlioz song cycle that I enjoyed.) Came home and measured the size 9 work so far: dead on where the measurements should be for size small. So, here's the next choice: struggle some to knit with the size 9 needle, or switch to the 10.5 and make the X-small size a bit bigger than the specs? Like sewing, knitting doesn't allow for much guaranteed planning.

And lastly, Misti Alpaca laceweight to go with the beautiful Schaefer laceweight silk-wool given to me by Joan. You can't see much purple in the skein, but in real life, these look goood together. This one is going to be a very long-term project. I'm thinking of trying Wing of the Moth: a gigantic lace shawl designed by Anne Hanson, or something rectangular that could double as a blanket when I fly. On an airplane.