Saturday, October 30, 2010

More things knitters say

Well, not everything that knitters say will be posted here, actually, as some of the things that this knitter has been saying this week might be best represented on a family-friendly blog as: *&^$@#$!!!

Briefly, the shrug won't work. It got bigger in many of the right places, but also in some wrong places, leading to a weird pucker in front of the armscye when it's worn. I am becoming increasingly convinced that the only reason this thing looks the way it does in the pattern photos is because it was put onto a dressmaker's dummy and then steam-ironed to within an inch of its life. Alas that one cannot do that on oneself. I made it (once again) through to halfway down the first sleeve before realizing that this is a lost cause. It is currently in time out. After I can face it again, it will be frogged. Because I love this stitch pattern so much, I have devised a plan to knit a fitted pullover sweater, perhaps with a sweetheart neckline, in the non-lace version of the stitch motif, with long sleeves in the lace version. That will happen at some other time (assuming that the yarn survives a second visit to the frog pond). The only good news in the whole Shrug Saga is that, after searching futilely online for another ball or two of the yarn in my colorway and dyelot, I went into my LYS to drop off my blocking mats for a class, and lo and behold, there in the bin with all the other colors of this yarn, was one lone ball in my colorway and dyelot; someone must have returned it. So when I do knit my sweater, I shall have enough yarn. Small miracles.

Yesterday, in the aftermath of a really bad day that capped off an already-rough couple of weeks (you know how it goes: you just take a sigh of relief, figuring it's Friday and really how much worse could it possibly get, and then something falls down on you like a ton of bricks out of nowhere), I headed off to my LYS, determined to get some yarn to knit this hat that's been noodling around in the back of my brain. I cast on right there and then, before I'd even rung out with the yarn (I love that my friends there understand that sometimes, the only thing that makes anything better is immediate knitting gratification), and I knitted away last night and this morning (even though the smart little voice in the back of my brain was saying, "Isn't this looking a bit too big?"), and finished the hat before lunch. It is meant to be for Older Daughter, and, in fact, it turned out exactly as I'd hoped it would, except for one thing. It's too big.
This is based on EZ's three-cornered tam in The Knitter's Almanac (which I long ago declared would be my desert island knitting book, should I ever need one; it's perfect in every way: it's fun to read, the range of projects is enormous and the ability to vary them infinite, and it's exactly the right size to tuck into a bag and take everywhere - I worry that that last feature might have been lost in the new version, which I may have to buy nevertheless because I want to see what got added). I will be ripping this out once it dries (I somehow thought that blocking might solve my problem - will I never learn?) and starting over on far fewer stitches, but I'm going to try the same thing over again. I'm curious to see whether this travelling cable will work no matter how many stitches I have. This is exactly the kind of cheap, mindless entertainment that I need right now.

I also finished the second sleeve of Bel Air this morning, and will be casting on for the back. In the absence of success with the shrug, this may be my conference sweater. We'll see.
This is the only knitting that has worked out at all for me lately - the rest of my projects have been a litany of disasters and do-overs. It's good to know that good pattern-writing, combined with a nice yarn (fingering weight though it may be) and pretty colors, can still prevail in the face of a dire case of Murphy's Law Syndrome.

My paper remains a struggle. I think I've realized it's because I've become distracted by the thing I want to talk about instead of focusing on the thing I know I can talk about in 15 minutes. (BTW, krb, if this does come together into a shareable form, I'm happy to share; you can email me at jahlersATcsusmDOTedu.) Meanwhile, though, I have a few more quotes for you.

“The quiet, even, regular motion of the needles quiets the nerves and tranquilizes the mind, and lets thought flow free.” (Dorcas Magazine, March 1844; NIH 143)

“When the needles slip through the fingers, your imagination takes flight.” (NYT, May 12, 1936; NIH 267-8)

“Knitting relaxes me, keeps my hands busy but my mind free.” (Survey, 8/9/09)

I think that my mind needs that flowing freedom right about now. My knitting chair calls.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The things knitters say

First, a quick Shrug Slog update: I am about three inches away from finishing the back. Again. At that point, I will seam up the sides and try it on. If it does not seem to more closely approximate the fit that I want and see in the pattern photos, I will concede defeat. The only question left at that point will be whether the yarn will be frogged (again) and repurposed (in several years, when I am less bitter), or whether there will be a bonfire.

Some thoughts on the Shrug Slog and similar: Those of you who are more perspicacious than I (and evidence would suggest that this is all of you) may note that I did this exact same thing last fall, while knitting a sweater for the exact same conference, because I am presenting a paper on knitters and wish to Represent. Not only are those elements all the same, up to and including the frogging of a (this year nearly-, last year entirely-) complete sweater, but there is a structural similarity to the garments as well. They are both origami-type knits. Clever. Interesting. But put together in such a way that it is not possible to try them on as one goes. In fact, it isn't possible to get any sense at all of whether they will fit until they are done. I'm coming to the conclusion that such garments do not best suit my knitting style, and/or my personality (still contemplating where, exactly, the mismatch lies); in any case, I will be forewarned in the future. I should note that these experiences only reinforce my long-standing prejudice against cleverness for cleverness' sake. I'm all for cleverness that addresses an actual problem, or that makes things easier. Cleverness that only exists so that people can gasp in awe at the cleverness of the creator, not so much. I'm fairly ecumenical in my dislike; most of the snide marginalia I append to journal articles/conference presentation handouts/the notes I take during conferences, are for people who make up clever theories that really don't do anything that pre-existing theories don't already do (I'm currently struggling to see what Bakhtin's chronotopes do for us, really - can you tell?).


Anyway, as I struggle through my conference sweater, so am I struggling through my conference presentation, which is a paper in a session entitled "Circulating Discourses", and which has to do with discourses about knitters through time. I currently have culled 27 pages of quotes, falling into about 12 major themes, from my data and from (in particular) No Idle Hands, a brilliant book with an amazing range of quotes from primary source. (Note: this is a 15-minute presentation; further culling is required.) The common themes are quite striking (either that, or I've spent far too much time thinking about this - also a possibility). Just one set of quotes you might find interesting:

Lydia Sigourney, writing in the early 1800, recommended knitting as “quiet employment, favourable to reflection … a ready vehicle of charity to the poor … [and] well adapted to save those little fragments of time which might else be lost.” (No Idle Hands:54)

From my online survey: “I enjoy the process and the product. Knitting relaxes me, keeps my hands busy but my mind free. And there is nothing better than handknit socks.” (Survey 8/9/09)

Also from my online survey: “Knitting is a creative activity, a productive activity and also provides stress relief. It helps me to concentrate when listening through lectures or difficult meetings.” (Survey 7/28/09)

Some things apparently don't change all that much.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Y'all are the best

Thank you. Thank you to everyone who was brave enough to tell me to frog it. And thank you to everyone who said nice things (both on the pro- and anti-frog side). And thanks especially for coming out of the woodwork at a moment's notice to weigh in so I didn't have to make this decision all by my lonesome. (Although yes, those of you who basically said, "come on, you know what you have to do" were right; sometimes, though, one needs the backing of a few friends to get through something like this - better than a bottle of tequila, right? Look ma, no hangover!)

The semi-sweater from the pictures yesterday is now a bunch of little balls of yarn. It never ceases to amaze me how (relatively) quickly something that took so long to put together can come apart. (By "quickly", I mean an hour of ripping. It went faster once I remembered that I'd seamed the sides. Oops.) Brandy was not required for marination - I managed the whole process on the strength of a single glass of wine.

I think Mary Lou put it best when she said that, from the pictures, it looks like this thing should be a sweater with a shrug-like opening, rather than an actual shrug. And a sweater with a shrug-like opening is what I wanted - frankly, I have tried the shrug thing, and it does not suit.

I not only ripped last night, but I also pulled up my big girl panties and cast on again and finished the first two rows before going to bed. This is part of my general strategy to ensure that I don't fall prey to, for example, second sock syndrome - the (re)starting of a project is somehow much more daunting to me than the continuing of it. That isn't to say that I am not distracted by my share of shiny objects that lure me from the path of project completion, but at least this way it's started and in the bag and ready to go. Updates will be posted as they are warranted.

Meanwhile, have a glass of wine (or single-malt, your call) on me, and may all of your projects go more smoothly than this one has.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Help, help! Opinions needed...

I'm dithering. (I know, contain your shock.) And I need input. (Rick is making faces at me and asking whether he counts as input. I think we all know what the answer is. Yes, but I need knitters.)

I can't decide whether the shrug looks good, or completely stupid. So I have several very bad pictures (because it's a dark and stormy night, and because I didn't pick clothes that best flatter this thing, and because it's the end of a long work day), and I want all y'all's opinions on whether to finish this thing (to the tune of a sleeve and a quarter) or rip it all out, weep into my wine, and cast on for yet another size larger hoping against hope that the ball of yarn that it looks like I'll have at the end of this will be enough for a bigger size. So, without further ado, the side view:
The front view:
(That long sleeve will probably go another couple of inches, and the second one will match it.)

The close-up back view:
The long, full-contextualized back view:
So, honest opinions. Does it look stupid? More specifically, is it too short in the front and back body? I visualized it differently, looking at the pattern pictures, and I think that's part of the problem here. (As a commentary on patterns, it really helps to have pictures of a garment on an actual body - the pictures for this are taken without a full body, over a dress with what looks like a high waist, in hindsight, which really warps the view. And it also helps immensely to know what size was knitted for the photos!!) Take a look at how it's supposed to look, which is how I wanted it to look, and tell me what you think.

I think I know what the answer is. And I think me and the frog pond are on a collision course...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Will she have to knit it twice?

Only time will tell...

I've been working away on Eve's Ribs, and this morning at Older Daughter's double-header soccer game I bound off the body. (I actually timed that pretty badly, as it ended up that I only had about twenty minutes of knitting to do, and that's all I'd brought with me for two games. Alas.) I've been fretting that this is going to be too small (a change from my usual fret that things will be too big, I suppose), so I decided to block out what I have and seam it up to see how it fits before I knit the sleeves. I might even knit the sleeves in the round, we'll see. In any case, here it is.
This isn't a particularly good blocking job (note that bottom edge). Normally I'd run wires through the straight sides, but right I really just want to get a sense of how much stretch it'll hold when it's dry, and how it fits. Then I'll go from there. This thing feels very much like origami to me, but if I understand the plan, I'll fold it right in the middle of the sleeves (those stumpy things sticking out the sides), seam the bottom edges of the sleeves, then seam the side edges of the back (the lower bit) to the side edges of the long collar (the top bit). Has anyone else knit this? Does that sound right?

The stitch pattern is really quite lovely. I truly hope this does turn out, as I still like it very much, and I'd just as soon not rip it out (again) and knit yet one more size larger. (I also think I'd be pushing WAY beyond the yarn I have if I did, although it's looking like I have plenty for this size after all, so maybe not.)(And yes, I did get gauge when I knitted my swatch, but we all know that swatches lie like dogs when they feel like it.)
It is gray and a bit dreary here today - my favorite kind of weather, but not so good for taking pictures which are true to color.

This means that not only does that raspberry pink not show up well, but also that good shots of my finished tam will have to wait. Meanwhile, here's a not-so-good shot.
That's Anne's pattern Hellebores, knitted in my handspun (angora/polworth). This was a tremendously fun and easy knit - knitting candy. Short and sweet. This one is for my mom. It's a bit big for my teeny-tiny head, mostly because I was knitting with handspun which was a bit heavier than that called for in the pattern. I'm going to spin up more of this fiber, so I need to see if I can get it finer, because I really would love to end up with one of these for myself!

I also just wound up my three skeins of Malabrigo Sock (colorway Persia) for a new sweater project (yes, I do realize that I haven't finished the old sweater project yet, but that one's wet! And the sleeves will, if it fits, go quickly in any case)(we shall not speak yet of the potential for it not to fit...). This yarn is for Anne's latest, Bel Air. I've been looking forward to knitting this since it was a gleam in Anne's eye, and I know it's going to be something I'll wear a lot. It's also exactly what I need for the series of stressful meetings that I have coming up - plenty of stockinette in the back and sleeves, with the treat of the front to look forward to at the end. So I'm off to swatch for that momentarily.

One last thing: I got a new fiber storage unit, thanks to my in-laws, who were going to get rid of this cabinet, but who sent it to us instead when I said that I could really use something neat and pretty to keep my (burgeoning and almost out of control)(but I didn't actually say that) fiber collection in. Isn't this neater than a stack of bags of fiber?
Definitely yes.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Out of the mouths of babes

I had occasion to have dinner the other night alone with Younger Daughter while Rick and Older Daughter were at soccer practice. As we discussed our plans for the rest of the evening, I mentioned that I was going to finish plying the batt I'd started spinning. She commented, apropos of nothing that I seem to have a lot of yarn, to which I replied that yes, I did have some yarn stashed away. She then asked, "But Mama, what are you going to do with all of that yarn when you can't knit anymore?" As if such a thing were imminent. I said, "Why wouldn't I knit anymore?", and she said, "You know, when you get old." Again, as if such a thing were imminent.

Hmmm... I thought about it for a moment, and then pointed out to her that I'd only been really knitting for about six or seven years, and that I could easily knit another thirty years, and still not be as old as Memere is now. (Sorry, mom, but I think you'll see where I'm going with this in a moment.) She looked utterly enlightened, and not a little surprised, because it's pretty clear that her Memere still has plenty of life left in her, even at thirty years older than her aged mother. Memere could probably even summon up the energy to knit! It occurs to me that, from her perspective, Mom and I are both just Older, and Adults, and probably more alike to her in our adulthood relative to her feeling of non-adulthood than we are different from one another because of our ages. Maybe kids just don't see generations like we do. In any case, she seemed reassured that I wasn't going to fall by the knitterly wayside with a roomful of yarn left unknit.

Especially not this yarn.
Isn't it lovely? That's the angora/pollworth batt that I mentioned last time. This is a pretty close representation of its actual color, which is "pesto". I love it truly, madly, deeply.
This, plus more, is destined to become a pair of hats for my mother and me. I'll probably cast on for the first one tonight.

I think I also mentioned a couple of additional fallings-down from last weekend's fiber adventure. Both of them happened at the Carolina Homespun booth, which was amazing, not only for what it contained (an insane amount of wonderful stuff), but also because that's where I ran into Beverly, who'd mentioned in the comments that she'd be at Lambtown, and that she might say hi if she recognized me and it didn't seem too stalker-y. Well, I (serendipitously and entirely accidentally) saved her from that by accosting her as a complete stranger over the spindles to ask what she thought of them (apparently I have no shame when it comes to figuring out how someone could spin on those spindles that look more like nostepinnes to me than spindles). I should mention here that Beverly is a class-A enabler, too; as I dithered over the silk that I showed off in the last post, she stuck her head in that booth to tell me she'd bought one of their batts and that it was really wonderful. I committed to the silk very soon thereafter. It was nice to meet you, Beverly!

So, at Carolina Homespun, I bought myself this:
Silk/cashmere, in the colorway Persimmon. I kept walking up to it and picking it up, so I figured I should probably just commit. Doesn't it just scream "fall"? This may be the next thing to go on my wheel (although I confess that it feels too decadent to spin for some reason; I need to get over that feeling that I'm not good enough of a spinner for things like this).

The other purchase was one that my mom made. I have long been considering getting one of these "for the girls". Recognizing that "for the girls" really meant "for me and the girls", I have held off (no new fiber sports, right?). I showed it to mom and told her that I'd thought about getting them one for Christmas, and she said maybe she could do that. We chatted back and forth about it, until one of the weavers from the sheep to shawl competition heard us and told us how much she loves rigid heddle looms, that that's all she uses, and that this little one is a great one to start with and to do small projects with. That plus pointing out a few of the beautiful woven (as opposed to knit) scarves running around the fair pretty much did it. When I checked out with the fiber, mom checked out with the loom. (Thanks, mom!) I'm about halfway through warping it for the first time, and will probably finish that job this weekend and set the girls loose on it. Meanwhile, I'm contemplating what fiber in my stash might do well for weaving...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Best-laid plans

Remember how I said I wasn't going to come home with a fleece?


Now, to be absolutely, 100% fair, it's not my fault.

Point in my defense the first: This is alpaca fiber, not wool, and I'm going to contend that perhaps I didn't therefore come home with a fleece by the strictest definition. This may seem spurious until I tell you what won me over: because of the lack of lanolin, there's a lot more leeway (the word "indefinitely" came up) in terms of getting alpaca clean before it rots than there is with wool.

Point in my defense the second: I was surrounded by enablers. I had Older Daughter telling me that it really wasn't that expensive, and that seriously, mom, you should buy it. (Come to find out later she adores this particular fiber and has designs upon all products resulting from its spinning and knitting.) And my mother kept saying things like, you know, you'd spend that much going out to dinner. Seriously, how could I not haul out my checkbook then and there? (Credit where credit is due: this fleece is from Valhalla Farms Alpacas.)

I came home with a few more things, many of which I am entirely responsible for, although a few others, not so much. On this list of "not my fault" is also the gorgeous 2.4 oz batt of angora/polworth from Bungalow Farm Angora in the most stunning clear spring greens that my mother bought for me (see? born enabler). That is destined to become matching tams for me and her. (We live 500 miles away from one another, so that's not as dorky as it sounds.) I just could not get the colors to photograph well, so I'll post pictures of the yarn once it's spun.

I got a couple of little bags of gorgeous suri alpaca top to spin from Sterling Alpacas; they were the folks who were nice enough to talk to me about how to store and wash alpaca fiber. This may make mitts for Rick.

I also got some fiber to spin into socks: Blue-Faced Leicester (superwash) from Sincere Sheep.
That, too, isn't photographing very well; it's more pale green than pale blue. I'm looking forward to spinning this without killing it the way I did the last sock yarn I tried to spin. (I am still mourning the Wensleydale.)

And then I got some luxury fibers (I realize that I forgot to take pictures of one of the gorgeous bits of cashmere/silk that I got - another time). Look at these:
That in front is bombyx silk, and in back a merino/bombyx/tussah blend, all dyed using natural dyes from Dreamy Goat Design Studio. They had the most absolutely stunning fibers there; I had a really hard time choosing, but I finally decided that these would be beautiful plied together and then knitted into something lacey, so that is what I am going to do.

The festival itself was really fun, with good food, and friendly people and alpacas, live music and entertainment, and (as you can see) a wonderful hall full of vendors. There was a sheep-to-shawl competition, with three teams competing; I'd never seen one before, so that was really fun, too - we kept checking in during the day. I think I have a few pictures of that on my phone that I'll post later. Along with one more confession of a fiber-sport nature (also not my fault). (I feel like John Belushi.)

In the meantime, I am knitting. I have begun Eve's Ribs, and I'll show some pictures of that next time. It's going to be a real squeaker in terms of yarn/fit; my LYS was one skein short of the yarn in the colorway I fell in love with to knit the medium size, which was probably a touch on the larger size for me, so I bought the yarn and am knitting the small, which may be a touch on the small size for me. This one may be a twice-knit sweater; only time will tell.

Friday, October 1, 2010

And it IS a sweater!

What a week. I spent all day on Wednesday (and by all day, I mean from 9:30-5:30) in meetings. I did manage to find time for a bathroom break between two of the meetings (small blessings), and I got lucky at another meeting and ate a sandwich, but it was quite a day. (I should mention that my reward at the end of the day was to go to knit night; that really helped.) That wouldn't have been so bad, except that every other day this week has also included a meeting or two (not usually in my calendar) squeezed in between classes, or between other meetings and office hours, or... Some weeks are like that. All the meetings come at once.

The upshot is twofold:
a) I have had lots of knitting time (and many envious looks from non-knitters who have also been attending all of these meetings this week and just have to sit); and
b) I have had no blogging time to share the results of my knitting time (nor have I had any daylight hours to take pictures).

Tuesday's meetings gave me time to finish the neckline on the handspun sweater. I thought for sure I'd get home and be able to weave in the ends and call it done, but when I tried it on, I decided that I really didn't like the rolled bottom after all (very Jetsons; so Jetsons, in fact, that when I said I felt like someone from the Jetsons to Rick, he didn't say, "What do you mean?", he just started whistling the theme song instead), so I took out the cast-off edge and knitted a small seed-stitch border. I ended up having not only enough yarn for that, but even after adding the extra inch, I have a small bit left over in case I need to make any repairs or anything. So the sweater ended up taking under 1,000 yards of (heavy) worsted-weight yarn.

The pictures are just quick, non-daylight, shots. I'll work on some better ones when the weather is cooler and when I'm actually home during the day.
It seems to fit pretty well, and it blocked out nicely. It's soft enough that it didn't bother me to wear it over short sleeves (until I got too hot; we've had summer thunderstorms over the last day or so; it feels very East coast out here right now).
So there it is! This is definitely a casual sweater, rough-and-tumble, warm and, I hope, rugged. I think I'll get a lot of use out of this at soccer games and hiking and going to the mountains in the winter. But it's light enough (between the lace sleeves and the scoop neck) that I'll be able to wear it around here, which is good.

I also finished the Noro socks, and am very happy with my mismatched pair.
Alas, it has not been cool enough to wear either of the above out and about. Soon, I hope...

I spent most of Wednesday's meetings working on the Bermuda shawl, so maybe there will be pictures of that soon, too.

Meanwhile, today the girls and I head up to Sacramento to take my dad out for his 75th birthday, and to drag my mom and the girls to Lambtown. (Yes, Beverly, you guessed right, and please do come say hi to me if you see me! I'd love to get to meet you.) I'm really looking forward to it, both because there are events there that I haven't seen before (like a sheep-to-shawl competition), and because there are vendors there that I love (and I just got paid! my first non-furlough paycheck in a year! shopping!!), so I may treat myself to a few things (not a fleece, not a fleece, not a fleece; MUST spin the first fleece first).