Monday, March 31, 2008

Sock Progress

Louet Gems sport weight, two size 3 circulars, 48 stitches. Leg in Baby Cable rib from Sensational Knitted Socks. I tried knitting during Davidson losing in the last seconds, and couldn't decide whether to watch the action or my knitting. This was a lot of time invested for a very small return; I'm hoping that the rest of the sock goes faster and more pleasurably.

And me, knitting a shawl, fast. Amazing. I started on a Swallowtail yesterday, finally using the Handmaiden Lady Godiva that I splurged on several months ago. I managed 7 or 8 repeats of the first chart while listening to several audio discs of The Serpent on the Crown. This morning, I worked through about 3 more repeats. I'm wondering if I can use the structure of this shawl and plug in different patterns with the same number of stitches in a repeat, as a way to try designing a shawl. I'm much more visual and hands-on when I'm learning, and graphing and counting stitches on paper hasn't got me going yet.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

I Will Do This!

Starting a sock is like climbing a mountain. Over and over. I've now started the first sock for my husband at least nine times. Yes, I know that sounds excessive. In my own defense, I tested three different kinds of yarn, with different numbers of stitches, on a few different sizes of knitting needles.

The plan now is to forge ahead with Cascade 220 Superwash in brown. Size 3 needles. 52 stitches in a knit two, purl two rib. The helpful folks over at the Knitter's Review Sock Forum advised me to measure the foot, multiply it times the stitches per inch, then deduct 10%. That was tricky, because the sock started with 56 stitches was too big, and this math brought me down only 2 stitches to 54. In the other hand, 48 was too small. Hopefully, 52 is the ticket. And I don't even want to think about sjrunkage.

At this point, it's an intellectual exercise, a puzzle that I will triumph over. Gotta go now -time to turn the lights out for an hour~

Who ever thought socks would be so hard?

Friday, March 28, 2008

A lighter post with color

Yesterday I spread all of the Tahki Cotton Classic yarn from the Mitered Square Blanket onto the living room floor and reconsidered.

Actually, it was a sign of my feelings of disorganization lately. Whenever I feel especially scattered (you know, losing your glasses while you're trying to see the tiny buttons on the new stereo system at yoga, knowing that you hadn't moved from that spot, finally asking your student to help because you can't see because you don't have your glasses on, then discovering that you've been holding your glasses in your right hand THE WHOLE TIME), I go into what my family calls a cleaning frenzy. Translation: I "organize" by throwing out almost anything that's not nailed down.

I resisted temptation to toss all of this yarn. I think I'm just not a cotton kind of girl. I love the spring of wool, or the softness of alpaca. But cotton, not so much. It tends to feel like I'm knitting with an unresistant kitchen string, and the progress is so slow. Endless, mindless miles of stockinette stitch, and then a garment that had better fit right the first time, because there's no blocking cotton.

Still, I tried to stay positive. I love just looking at the yarn, all together, in a patch of sunshine.
So here's the new plan: a knitted version of the Sunshine and Shadows quilt in my Classic American Quilt Collection: Amish book. (Here's a version of the pattern. Mine will be much lighter in tone - Bubblegum Pink, Cranberry, Light Blue. And mine will have large borders of the pink and cranberry, instead of the traditional Amish black.) And, instead of plain stockinette squares or garter stitch (I know that it works for Ann and Kay at Mason-Dixon Knitting, but here again, I'm never happy with the look of mercerized cotton in garter stitch), each square will have a pattern from Barbara Walker. This will give me something to occupy my mind as I knit the many squares that will make up the blanket, and I'll have a manageable start and finish to each block.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Addendum to the Post Below

From Edith Wharton, A Backward Glance, quoted by Nancy Verde Barr in Backstage with Julia:

In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.

Resquiat in Pace: Rosie

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Pattern: Juliet
Designers: Sarah Johnson and Rachel Bishop
Yarn: Misti Alpaca Chunky, Aquamarine, color 3317, 108 yds/100 g - 5 skeins required
Source: Knitche, Downers Grove, IL
Needles: size 10 Bryspun circular for yoke, size 10.5 Addi 24" circular for body
Size: Small
Finished measurements: 38" bust, 48" sweep, 18 1/4" from back neck to hem, 6" armhole, 18" from shoulder to shoulder, 8" from shoulder to end of garter-stitch yoke
Gauge called for: 14 st and 20 rows in st st to 4" on 10.5 needles
Gauge of sweater: 14 st and 14 rows on size 10.5 needles and size 10 needles

The picture below shows the best representation of this yarn: a soft grey-blue. And you want to be a cold person to wear the sweater in this yarn; it's like draping yourself in a swath of warm, humid, tropical air, almost a bit too close for comfort, even for a perennially cold person like me.
Fun to knit, no seams to finish, and an easy lace pattern to memorize. But as most knitters noted on Ravelry, this puppy runs big. I measured the finished sweater, which was knit close to the gauge called for, and it ran much larger than some of the specs for the Small. The bust measurement, with fronts closed against one another is 38", the yoke is 8" long, and the sweep, or circumference of the lower hem, is 48". The sweep is not too far off from the specs, which suggest a 49.5 " sweep for the small. But the bust measurement? The Small should be a 34", not a 38".

But I do love the edging of the front panels.
And the earring-that's-lost-its'-mate as the closure.
If I Had it to Do Over Again: Next time, I'd make the XS at a looser gauge, or the S at a tighter gauge. And I would follow the pattern as written, instead of adding on extra rows (I worked 18 instead of the 16 called for) before binding off the sleeves. Also, I'd try this in a medium-bulky yarn that is not as insulating as the Misti Alpaca Chunky. It's a glorious yarn and a dream to work with, but perhaps too warm for anything but the coldest, middle of winter, days.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rowan Grab Bag

Someone, please, buy this, so that I can live vicariously through your purchase.

I am reciting to myself, over and over, I do not need cotton yarn, even if it's Rowan at $3.99 a skein.

Soon perhaps, a new dog

Approved Tuesday after our home visit by a volunteer from the Midwest Labrador Retriever Rescue people for adoption! My husband thinks that the deal was clinched when the rep's dog gave him a big lick on the face; apparently, he (the dog) is not big on kissing people he doesn't know.

Very nice to have a dog in the house again, even if he was just visiting. At first look, he seemed to be a chocolate Lab. But the longer he patiently hung out, lying down in the midst of the room, serenely inspecting his surroundings with that particular head-tilt that Labs have (as if to say, I am observing my domain and will not be disturbed by any unnecessary distractions, even the sound of the cat in the basement, plaintively protesting her imprisonment), the more I could see something else in him. His eyes were a beautiful light green, there was something stockier about his jaw line, and his tail, which started out as a conventional Lab otter tail, suddenly blossomed out into a bottle-brushy tail.

Now, we're waiting for the phone call to bring our own dog home. If adopting a dog is this multi-layered, I cannot imagine what the experience of adopting a child must be like.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Swatches for Socks

Honest: swatches. Two of them, even. On different sized needles, even. Swatch #1, in the background, is Louet Gems sportweight, a machine washable and dryable (not sure if that's a word, but that's what it says on the label, ma'am) merino wool, on a size 3 needle. I quake at the thought of making a whole pair of socks on such a tiny needle.

The second swatch, in the foreground, is the same yarn on a size 4 needle. Even in these pictures, you can see a distinct change in the size of the stitches and drape. The first swatch measured at about 25 stitches and a mammoth 35 rows to 4 inches after washing and drying. The second swatch is in the washing machine as I write this and dash back and forth from den to living room so as not to miss the beginning of Dancing with the Stars. With this swatch, I'm going to work on my patience and let it air dry, which is the preferred method advised by Ann Budd in her Getting Started Knitting Socks.

I'm taking it as a sign that the knitting store was completely out of 24-inch size 3 needles with a metal tip when I stopped in this morning on the way to yoga. Still, I soldiered through the swatch just to assuage my knitter's remorse.

Huh - just was informed that Dancing doesn't start until 8 p.m. I'm calling it now: Adam, who made a rude and not funny comment about Carrie Ann's score, needs to go away now. And Marlee Matlin deserves to win, even before she hits the dance floor.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Rules for Cooking

I made a cookbook for each of my daughters as part of their belated Valentine's Day present. Also included in each package were some great children's books (The Penderwicks - one of those quirky family stories like Half Magic or Circus Shoes - the littlest sister's name is Batty - and Ellen Tebbits for one, I Saw Esau and the first Hornblower - not a kid's book - for the other), a handknit washcloth, and chocolate, of course.

The first page was a note to them; the second page were our house rules for cooking:

1. Always use the best-quality ingredients. It’s worth it to spend a little more and get a great result than to skimp on the basics.

2. This holds true, especially, for olive oil and wine and pots and pans and bread.

3. Never, ever, ever use anything but fresh garlic.

4. Cooking is a whole lot more enjoyable if you pour yourself a glass of wine and drink it as you cook. It also makes you feel unbelievably cosmopolitan and European.

5. Clean up as you cook. Some of us are not as diligent as we should be about this, and then Dad comes into the kitchen, looks at the mess, and makes concerned comments.

6. Addendum to #5: if you cook, then the other person is the dishwasher. Don’t take No for an answer.

7. Always have ice cream the night before a Big Event. Even better, go to a movie and then go out for ice cream.

8. Chocolate is one of the basic food groups. Any chocolate will do, even the chocolate chips from the supermarket.

9. Underbake your cookies. And eat a few chocolate chip cookies straight out of the oven with a glass of cold milk.

10. Enjoy yourself. Life is short, and food and good books and friends and family make it all much better.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Juliet and the Problem with Cardigans

My Juliet sweater, posed on a chair in front of a beautiful painting by my aunt. I'm not sure if I love this shade of blue because of the painting, or if we chose the painting (a wedding gift - we went to her studio and were allowed to select the piece that we wanted) because I love this shade of blue.

I'm happy with the sweater. Is it possible to love cardigans when you've never knit a button band or worked a buttonhole? If you look back at my corpus of knitting, you'll see that I always use a brooch to close the front of my sweaters. It's laziness mixed with perfectionism: I'm convinced that I'll not be happy with a buttonhole that stretches or gapes at the edges. And yes, I could finish a knit buttonhole with an embroidered button stitch, but that seems too much like pouring ketchup onto scrambled eggs.

I played and played with the gorgeous tagua nut buttons at my knitting store. When I purchased the yarn for the sweater, I had a plan to use a seafoam green button and a purple button to close the front of this icy blue sweater. Then I realized that I'd selected buttons that matched my glasses (they're purple on the outside of the frame, acid green on the interior) and that seemed too match-matchy for my taste. I stopped in the other day with thoughts of a large ivory button, something like a scrimshaw piece. Nothing in that category, so I played with the tagua buttons again. Well, I eventually poured them out on the counter and sorted through them one by one, looking for the right set. That way lies madness. I abandoned that course and sheepishly left the store without a button.

At home, I found some beautiful carved ivory-looking buttons that I emerged from Stitches with last August. The right feel, but maybe too small and fussy?
Plan B is pictured above and below. What if I sew a ribbon backing onto the inside of each front edge and then sew hooks and eyes onto the ribbon? This will be the knitting version of treading water until I reach the shore of the right button. A good project to work on while watching You Only Live Twice. Screenplay by Roald Dahl.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New Knitty

New happy spring Knitty. And a possibility for my laceweight Shaefer yarn: the Lace Ribbon scarf by Veronik Avery.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Progress on the Mitered Square Blanket

Color, ahhh. There's frost on the windows and roof of my car, sitting outside in the cold.
Purple and pink square.
Orange and green square.

Monday, March 10, 2008

My Favorite Sutra

Every darn one. Each time that my teacher takes another apart, word by word, translating the Sanskrit, showing us the word roots, putting the meaning into practical terms, I think: I love this sutra! This is my favorite sutra!

Today we chanted up to the 34th sutra of Book I. We would have moved through more, but we had a really good conversation about choices and control and being on the fence about making decisions and trying to let nature or fate or destiny or Something takes its course, without trying to wrestle it to the ground. Or maybe that was me wanting to do the wrestling.

So, then my teacher here (my other teacher lives in San Francisco and another lives in India and another lives also in San Francisco - but I would say that I'm lucky and not over-teachered) said that she likes sutra 1.33, which says that it's good to be happy for others.

"Nah," I said. "I've got bigger fish to fry. The patience thing is what I need to work on." This weekend, I stood in two different airports and had Why Do I Have to Take My Boots and Coat Off Rage and Trying to Pile all my Stuff in a Tiny Bin Rage and Can't Find the Right Gate Rage and Can't Print My Boarding Pass at the Kiosk Rage and Can't Convince my Husband that I Know the Way to the Gate Rage. And this was just traveling between Boston and Chicago. How will I ever deal with international travel if I don't find some Air Travel OM?

Fitting then that when we covered I.23, isvarapranidhanadva, previously understood by me to mean that surrender to a higher power is a sure-fire way to find focus and clarity, that my sutra teacher told me that her teacher used one word to explain this sutra: patience. I now have a new favorite sutra! I love this sutra!

Or, I'm working on it.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Things to Recommend doing in Boston

  • taking public transportation and walking everywhere, even in a cold, driving rain that left my feet and jeans so wet that I took my shoes off under the table at dinner Saturday night. I love not having to drive. More to the point, I love not having to be in a car to get anywhere. Plus good street musicians, including a dread-haired young guy playing the accordion in the T-station at Harvard Square and another guy playing guitar and singing plaintively who reminded me of Glen Hansard from Once.
  • the Gardner museum. Especially the Rembrandt self-portrait and the two portraits of Isabella Stewart Gardner, including a John Singer Sargent that was gorgeous. But what Sargent portrait isn't? If I'd been a wealthy patroness at the turn of the century, I would have demanded that I sit for Sargent.
  • spending time with my daughters and friend. We laughed and ate and laughed and talked and walked and ate some more. Perfect.
  • going to a Celtics-Bulls game on Friday night. Even if the Bulls got creamed. I am not exaggerating: they have never played worse. It looked like a game of Hot Potato gone bad. Ben Wallace, where have you let them trade you to? And why?
  • Dinner at King Fung Garden in Chinatown. Think restaurant the size of the booth where you pay for valet parking, and I was warned to use the bathroom at the T-station, because they apparently will do anything to keep you from using the one on-site. Great great food, about five tables big, and in the middle of dinner, a crowd of extremely cute children came dashing through the restaurant looking for their dad in the kitchen. Mmm, scallion pancakes.
  • The food was a big theme of the weekend, as is usual in our family vacations. Dinner Saturday at a tapas place called Dali,(you do want to make reservations at 5:30 - there were at least 15 people waiting in the rain for them to open the door, and by 6 pm every table in the place was packed and there was a crowd waiting at the bar to get a table), then to Christine's in Inman Square for coconut almond chip ice cream. Tea at the hotel. A trip to the supermarket to load up my older daughter's pantry: purchase of very good molasses brown sugar.
  • Not much knitting accomplished, despite the hours sitting in wait in airports. I love the Shaefer silk-wool laceweight sent to me by Joan, but still haven't found the right use for it. I thought that combining it with Misti Alpaca in a deep eggplant color and using it for the Wing of the Moth shawl was the ticket. No good. Then I tried jury-rigging Icarus from memory. Nope. Then I tried a stockinette swatch. Still no. I think that this yarn wants to be woven, so the goal now is to finish the pillowcases on the loom and weave something large and rectangular and lacey out of the Shaefer.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Mozart and My First Sock

I've been receiving emails from a new New Age center in the Chicago suburbs, and this is what it said today: "True wealth is being easily able to manifest your desires." I promptly clicked on unsubscribe.

In fact, one of the most classic of yoga texts, the Yoga Sutras, says the complete opposite. It's persistence, confidence, hope, hard work that moves you closer to your goals. There are those special exceptions, which Patanjali notes in the 19th sutra of the first book. Bhavapratyayo videhaprakrtilayanam: for some special beings, birth itself is the cause. A Mozart, for instance. There's little explanation for his ability; he just arrived in this world with clarity, creative genius, super focus.

For the rest of us, the process is key. In the very next sutra, Patanjali talks about the ways that the rest of us move toward a goal. Faith - sraddha -, commitment to the goal, remembering where you want to go and maintaining that focus despite the roadblocks, strength of mind - these are the things that lead us closer to our designation.
So, for me, a non-process skeptic who read too much existential literature in high school, the process-and-hope-in-an-unknown-outcome experience is tough. To be honest, I have a hard time even saying or writing the word "faith," because it's become such an easy way to point toward a supposed effort that stays at the level of thought rather than moving into action. And I'm still not sure what faith is. When I asked my teacher why some people have a strong faith and others have a wobbly faith, she didn't have an immediate answer. Apparently some folks are born with a strong sense of confidence, while others waver along. A good teacher can make the difference, she acknowledged, by figuring out what brings out your self-esteem and confidence and thus nurturing the seed of hope.
Imagine my surprise, then, to have knit a whole, tiny little sock in just a few days, when I didn't believe, at first, that I could make a sock. You would think that my knitting would manage to teach me that same lesson that I keep learning over and over: it's okay not to know how something will turn out. In fact, it's even better to have that persistence, that faith in pursuing something, without a guaranteed reward.
I pushed along at the sock because I wanted to figure out the puzzle that is knitting a sock. I had sraddha - self-confidence, persistence, faith if you will - that there was a goal ahead, and that I would somehow manage to get there. But now I have a sock. What a surprise! If I could only work this willingness to suspend the outcome until I get there to the rest of my existence.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Log Cabin Washcloth

A Log Cabin washcloth, colors borrowed from The Classic American Quilt Collection: Amish. (Amazon has it for as little as $2.97 a copy, and this is a great source for weaving and knitting ideas, thank you very much, Mason-Dixon Knitting.)

Pattern: Mason-Dixon Knitting and my quilt book
Yarn: Sugar 'n Cream, in brown, black, turquoise, purple and yellow
Needle: size 6 Addi Turbo circular
Finishing: Machine wash, gentle cool; tumble dry low, permanent press (this cotton yarn takes forever to dry)
Size: after finishing, about 9" X 9"
Shrinkage: 10% lengthwise, about 15% widthwise

In weaving, we always note shrinkage; in knitting, I've not seen this measurement. But it really counts when you're making a textile to be used. If you start out, as I did, with a perfect 10 x 10 inch cloth, but the washing and drying takes up more widthwise than lengthwise AND the fabric shrinks, you (or, more importantly, the person who you give it to) will end up with a very different result after the first time through the machine.

Also, finishing provides very important information about how the fabric will perform. Again, in this case, I learned that my Log Cabin cloth will be nice and thick for washing as well as really absorbent. But I also decided that I'm not as happy with the colors and yarn after even one wash; they became a bit muddied in tone and there was lint from the black yarn fuzzing onto the other colors. Next time, I'd try this pattern with a mercerized cotton, like Tahki Cotton Classic, perhaps with a strand of linen worked in.

But not a bad first effort, and I hope that the recipient will like this one until I try the second generation of washcloths.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Sock Troubleshooting

Okay, I've hit my first sock roadblock. I'm skimming the page in Sensational Knitted Socks labeled "Troubleshooting," trying to figure out the gusset methodology.

Question #1: I'm picking up stitches after the heel turn to prepare to work the gusset. Am I just putting the selvedge stitch on the needle, or doing a conventional pick-up with a strand of yarn that loops through the edge of the fabric and then is placed on my needle?

And Question #2: how do I end up with 23 stitches on my needle? I have 10 from the heel turn; Schurch's instructions tell me to pick up 8 stitches, pick up 2 more at top of the gusset, place marker, P1, K2, P2, K2, P1. In my math world, that equals 19 stitches, not 23.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sock Beginnings

Here's the thing about making your first sock: every moment is new.

You start the cuff on two circular needles. At first, it feels very awkward. How tight do you have to pull the yarn as you move from one needle to another so that there's no hole in the ribbing? Where do you stable the other needle while you're working the stitches from the first needle? Are your stitches all lined up, or is there a twist somewhere that will reveal itself many rows on?
And then, it all begins to flow. You figure out that the yarn has to be really snug as you work the first stitch on the new needle. You realize that, by pulling the non-working needle out of its stitches so that it has some slack, that it will wait fairly quietly while you work the other needle's stitches. And there's no twist, and very quickly, there's a cuff. Great and immediate satisfaction.
And then it's on to something different. Next, the heel flap. A few rows to straighten out the technique here (lots of slipped stitches, which confused me for a bit, as I thought I was increasing, but there was no warning in the pattern, and then I got it down fine.) A quick learning curve, and then, something tangible to show for the effort. An actual sock in process. Even me, the slowest of slow knitters, can see something developing here.
I think I get this sock thing. Sense of accomplishment. Sense of learning something new. A very good combination.
I should mention that I'm working from Charlene Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks. I owe her a lot of credit. Her instructions and illustrations are clear and concise. The book is laid out so well that each time I hit a roadblack, I've been able to find clarification and directions in a millasecond. She gives options for working with four or five double-pointed needles or two circulars and has presented the information in a table format that does not frighten even the most math averse. To senses noted above, add great sense of confidence in the author.