Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Cold Feet

And I don't mean just because it's February and I forgot to change into my boots when I walked John to Latin this morning.

No. It's the Hybrid Seamless Sweater. (Imagine a heavy sigh, here.) I've been reading, thinking, planning. I've got my 24" circulars for the body and 16" circulars for the sleeves (16" circulars are short. I take these out of the package, look at them, and feel deep misgivings). I've swatched to get my gauge. I've measured John. Now, as my latest delaying tactic, I'm winding yarn. Lots of it. When three skeins were wound for John's sweater (1 to start the body and one for each sleeve), I was supposed to stop. Then I did an extra (so annoying to be half-way through the body, and not have the yarn ready to go, right?). Then I started gathering the yarn to wind 3 skeins for Marco's sweater. After I found myself setting up to wind a 4th ball of his yarn, I decided to come over here for a few moments of truth and reflection. I mean, really. I don't even have the pattern figured out for Marco's. Sure feels like avoidance to me.

It's so embarrassing. The yarn is beautiful (well, I think it is, and I'm the one who'll be knitting it). The pattern means new skills, which is always exciting. Yet I seem to be freaking about knitting a sweater in the round. Enamored as I am of the minimal sewing up, I find myself thinking about casting on and my brain fritzes. Yes, I am aware this makes no sense, but there it is. Knitterly cold feet.

I'm going to read that chapter on seamless sweaters one more time and then, so help me, it's "unto the breach, dear friends, once more...for Harry, for England," and, well, for me.*

*Henry V, Act 3, Sc 1. I'd apologize to Will, but I don't really think he'd mind.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Join, Being Careful Not To Twist

I've ignored the Endpaper Mitts practically all weekend. Ignored my current knitting in general, actually. Part of this was the choice for Friday Night Movies. We watched Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Much too much swash and buckle to attend to stranded colorwork, or even the clever decreases that go with mitered-squares. In addition February turned snarky, again. Sleet/snow/freezing rain and drafts snaking around the window frames. I think I may suffer from Seasonal Affective Knitting. So I hauled out the Island Embrace Blanket. It's mindless, and long enough to cover my legs when I appropriate the entire sofa.

To further muddle me, the yarn for Marco's Boy Variation of the Perfect sweater arrived.

With Clare's sweater finished, I've been wondering: What would it take to knit the Perfect Sweater in the round? I'm thinking about in the round, because John wants an Elizabeth Zimmermann seamless sweater - the saddle shoulder-hybrid variation from Knitting Without Tears. I'm also thinking that, if knitting the sleeves at the same time helps keep the knitting intriguing, maybe working on Marco's sweater at the same time as John's might double the fun? I've got the yarn for both. The trick is to adapt and boy-ify the Perfect Sweater.

I'm pretty sure I can handle the lower body and sleeves. Cast on for the front and back and join. I can see myself putting stitch markers in place to mark where the side seams would have been. Cast on for the sleeves and join. Add some ribbing. Knit the purl rows. Lose the shaping in the body, keep the rest of the increases. Remember to knit every row twice.

What I couldn't figure out is how to handle the set-in sleeves. This is where I become deeply grateful that I'm literate, and that I like to read knitting books. In The Opinionated Knitter, I came across this: "I will always feel gratitude to the knitter who once said to Elizabeth, in a challenging tone, 'Well! You can't knit a Set-In Sleeve in the round.'" Turns out, there's a variation of the Seamless Sweater with a set-in sleeve in Knitting Workshop (I have that DVD), and/or in "Spun Out #21", which you can still get from Schoolhouse Press (I've ordered it; I believe in back-up).

John's is the mostly green with blue, Marco's the mostly blue with green. Set them up with Clare's yarn and the message is clear.

Knit those suckers in time to get a family picture.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Persevering in the Face of Adversity

I found the Elizabeth Zimmermann reference about knitting more than one part of a project at the same time. It was in Knitting Without Tears, under her discussion of needles. She notes that she likes to have two 16" circulars so she can work the sleeves simultaneously. I suppose I took this to an extreme when, briefly, I had all four pieces of the Perfect Sweater going at once. As a method, it certainly is speeding along the mitered squares afghan - a project I had begun to think would not be completed until my children reached advanced old age.

It makes sense, then, to cast on the second Endpaper Mitt, doesn't it? Of course it does. All kinds of benefits arise. I get to do the Italian Tubular Cast-On again, which I think is great fun, now that I understand that the purpose of the "tail" is to anchor a loop, which is why it stays behind the needle, and that alternating which side the yarn comes from is how the anchoring is done - trust me on this. Or, if you are of a skeptical mind-set, scroll down and watch the video at Fluffbuff. How cool is that?

I get to reinforce my M1L/M1R increase strategy. It takes a lot of repetition to get things into my Long Term Memory these days. 36 mirror image increases should just about do it.

I get to compare mistakes with corrections. Here we come to the true-confessions part of this post. All through the pattern, the instructions refer to when to use the Main Color, and when to use the Contrast Color. Cuff ribbing? Main color. Central pattern motif? Main color. Background pattern elements? Contrast color.

Behold the original mitt. Using the above criteria, the main color is black, wouldn't you say? That would make the contrast color blue-green. The pattern specifies a fake seam made by purling at the sides with the main color. Say it with me now: Main Color Is Black. Do we all see where this is heading?

Why, despite all the evidence to the contrary, have I been convinced that my main color is the blue-green? Resulting, of course, in a blue-green line down the sides of my mitt, instead of a black one.

No question. Time to start the second one.

Feh. Fraternal Endpaper mitts. On the other hand (no pun intended, at least not originally), it will satisfy my now burning curiosity to see what they would look like had I done them right.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Getting Past Stymied

I have to admit to a hiccup in my knitting. A hesitation. A query. A lapse into over-thinking. It all had to do with this:

"M1 (lifted bar increase)."

I thought I knew what it was. Then I was pretty sure I knew what it was. I manged to progress to "hmm, I wonder " and from there it was a slippery slope down to "I haven't a clue."

Google did not help. It led me further down I-Know-Nothing Road. Apparently there is a diversity of opinion among the knitting community re: What constitutes a "M1." A lifted increase that makes a bar? The same thing as k1f&b, which results in a bar? Lifting the bar between the stitches ? A stitch lifted from the previous row? With the left needle? With the right needle? Knit from the front? Knit from the back? With a twist? Shaken, not stirred? Wait, that can't be right. This is knitting. Although I begin to regret the lack of gin.

Confusion was compounded by the designer's expressed preference for what I had learned as the twisted yarn-over increase, where you YO on the increase row and twist the stitch when you come back to it in the next round. Nothing about lifting or bars anywhere. In fact, she specifically differentiates it from a "lifted bar."

Last night, frustration ensued. Paralysis induced by an overdose of information. A Mel Brooksian tragedy ("Tragedy is when I cut my thumb. Comedy is when you fall into an open manhole and die")*.

This morning, it occurs to me that I have "low-tech" resources available. They're called books, magazines and pattern packets. They include the Anemoi Mittens, which I'm hoping to turn into Anemoi Mitts once I finish the Endpapers, but that's receding farther and farther into the Future.

I went with my good friend Margaret. For one thing, she helped save the assembly of the Perfect Sweater. For another, in a fortuitous overlap of Zimmermania and Stranded, it's the technique Meg Swansen demonstrated on my Knitting Glossary DVD. Not only does the method come with stellar recommendations, it appears to be working. The thumb is beginning to flair out.

And while I feel some concern over my tendency to either stretch the stitches between the needles or to over-compensate in reaction, I'm reassured by the stranding inside.

Well, that and Elizabeth Zimmermann's assurance that Time, that great evener-out of stitches, will eventually work its magic. After this latest, labor-intensive, knitting blip, I could use a little deux ex machina.

*The Two-Thousand Year Old Man.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Drip. Drip. Drip.

We're thawing here. You can hear water. There are puddles. It's ugly as sin out there. Everything is wet and gray and brown and dirty green and I love it.

I'm so encouraged, in fact, that last night I unearthed the Endpaper Mitts.

It's not as bad as I remember. I only frogged three rows beyond the thumb gusset. I had it in my head I had lost an entire repeat but (and I find this so exciting), I knew by the chart where I needed to resume. (I know. I know. Small minds, cheap thrills.) Okay, so I picked the wrong place the first time. But I hadn't completed even one needle worth of knitting before I noticed I was repeating the row below. The woman begins to learn to read, not just the paper pattern, but what her hands are doing. She progresses.

And this high-wire knitting is apparently like riding a bicycle. I was afraid I might have forgotten how to carry the yarn in both hands. Or how to pick up the yarn from my left. I was envisioning having to untwist the previous rows knitting in order to get my left hand stitches to orient in the same directions as my right hand. Didn't happen. I even remembered how I'm most comfortable carrying the left-hand yarn. Which is a good thing since it's nearly as idiosyncratic as how I do my right hand carry.

Of course, now that I've worked back to the point of all my previous mistakes, comes the tricky part: the thumb gusset and remembering to mirror image the chart for the third and fourth needles. No. Let me rephrase. That's not where my knitting will get a little interesting. If I'm right about understanding how to work the increases (big if), the mirror imaging should be fine. It's when I go back to the pattern as given that I expect to encounter repeated lapses in short-term memory.

Oh, and lest I give Chicago in mid-February less than its due, "dart [your] sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky."*

If you look up, it's beautiful.

* Walt Whitman. "Miracles" from Leaves of Grass. 1900.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Things I Know Now and Things I Need to Figure Out

Bear with me. I'm still living in Perfect Sweaterland while I try to transition to whatever. And there are several whatevers to choose from. For one thing (two things?) I need to justify my membership in Stranded (must resurrect Endpaper Mitts) and Zimmermania (must cast on John's Saddle Shoulder Variation).

This, by the way, is the yarn John chose. Cascade The Heathers in 9411, Olympic Rainforest.

In addition, I need to figure out a sweater for Marco. After all, Clare has a sweater. (She finally got it yesterday. Stupid blizzard.) John will have one before the end of winter (I hope). Obviously, Marco needs one, too.

While I ponder, things I learned from the Perfect Sweater keep drifting in and out of the space between my ears.

Did you know that if, after the first few increases, you place stitch markers at the point where you started, that is, inside the increases, you can keep track of the number of repeats you've done by counting the stitches outside the stitch markers? And that it is much easier to keep your place in the pattern, especially if you have short-term memory lapses involving clicking the row counter or making your little tally marks? If you did, why didn't you tell me?

My habit of using a stitch marker of a different color to mark the right side of the work is now ingrained. I feel disproportionate levels of anxiety when I am lacking my little, friendly mnemonic, never mind that I can tell the right side of stockinette fabric from the wrong side.

Thick, ugly yarn is a great stitch holder. Also cheaper and less likely to disappear with the tape measures.

Working the front and back at the same time was brilliant. So was working both sleeves simultaneously. (In fact, taking a break from sleeve 1 at about the 13th increase to cast on sleeve 2 may have saved the sweater from finishing out its days in the most bottomless black-hole of knitting I could throw it into.) I just wish it was my brilliance. Diane reminded me that Elizabeth Zimmermann recommends casting on the sleeve at the same time you cast on for the body and working between the two. I couldn't find it in Knitting Without Tears, so I think it may be in The Opinionated Knitter? (Here's another ambition: how to underline in Blogger.)

Okay, digression here. Did you know we are so good at appropriating other people ideas and thinking that they're our own, that there's actually a term of art in psychological science for it? It's cryptomnesia.

The two-at-once trick worked so well to keep the knitting fun and engaging that I've incorporated it into the Mitered Square project. I have finished two, have two more going, and if I can find another set of US-7 circulars, I may start a third.

As an additional bonus, it justifies those extra sets of needles I keep buying instead of taking them from projects that are on vacation, as it were.

With all this new (for me) insight, I think I'll go finish swatching for John's Sweater.

While I do that I can figure out Marco's. I'm thinking about a boyish Perfect Sweater - crew neck rather than jewel or v, ribbing at the waist, cuffs and neck, no shaping through the body. I thought about this color, but Marco prefers this one. I admit, how to adjust for the crew neck has me rather stumped at the moment, but I have a fair bit of knitting I can do while I solve that problem.

And while I do that, maybe I'll figure out how to do it in the round.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Winged Cupid Is Painted Blind

That's okay.

He can find the chocolate by scent.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Aptly Named

Do you remember the Sesame Street bit with the little green tree frog? The one where Joe Raposo sings, "It's a long hard climb, but I'm gonna git there. It's a long hard climb, but I'm gonna git there. It's a long hard climb, but I'm gonna git the-ere. I'm climbing to the morning sun"? That's what these last three/four days have been like. I have been one with the struggling amphibian.

But I got there. Behold, the Perfect Sweater. My first sweater. My first set-in sleeves. My first go at weaving/mattress stitch. My first three dimensional garment. My first short-rows. Honestly, can you stand it? Do you realize that 1 year ago I wasn't even knitting? I think I can now officially upgrade myself from knitting groupie past knitting wannabe to knitter. Go directly to Go. Collect $200.00.

For the finicky, there's not a loose end in sight on the wrong side. What's not woven in is all down there on the floor.

While I'd like to continue singing my own praises (damn, I'm proud of myself), I need to introduce my two new best friends. Meet Margaret and Nancie.

While they weren't able to prevent all assembly disasters, those they couldn't prevent, they were able to correct. Like the fact that I only picked up the bound-off stitches for the neckband, resulting in the holey-est join in the History of Knitting. I would have put my head on the table and wept, except by then I was being so determinedly stiff-necked that my head couldn't go down that far. Or the complete blank with which, having accomplished seaming rows to stitches and stitches to stitches, I met rows to rows. I swear I spent 15 minutes looking back and forth from my hands to the knitting to the books to my hands, to - well, you get the idea. How did I ever think I might be spending too much money on knitting books?

Okay, okay, okay. Details.

Yarn: Cascade 220 The Heathers, color 9449, Midnight Heather. The pattern recommends 7 skeins, I bought 8. I used 6. Of course I've lost the receipt.
Needles: Addi Turbos, US-7's/4.5 mm for the seed stitch, US-8's/5mm for the rest. (I got gauge!)
Mason-Dixon Perfect Sweater (Dear Ann and Kay, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!)

Maybe I should have practiced on a simpler sweater first - dropped shoulders, no shaping - but I have to say, I think it's perfect. I love it. I wonder if I could knit it in the round?

Monday, February 12, 2007

And Under the Wire

'S wonderful. 'S marvelous. 'S Gone.

I did it. I'm going to take a nap now. Details later. Much later. Like, tomorrow.

Hot damn. I made a sweater.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Under the Gun

I meant today to be the day I would relax and write a lovely, long, meandering post about the joys of knitting. Not gonna happen.

Reality has caught up with me. The space-time continuum has, once again, failed to bend itself to my will. (Note to self, have heart-to-heart chat with those responsible for the Order of the Universe. Isn't it all supposed to be relative? Where's that Einstein guy when you really need him?) It is an inescapable fact that Clare's birthday is Tuesday. The Perfect Sweater is not done. It's close. At least, I think it is. Behold, four pieces.

Two almost completed sleeves. At 17 inches I can start decreasing for the sleeve cap. Very close, indeed.
Still, I must, obviously, spend today knitting my little heart out, tonight blocking my little heart out, and, I hope Sunday and a possible part of Monday head down in the joys of assembly. If I get it to Office Depot on Monday by 4, UPS will get it to Urbana on Tuesday. Sanity will be preserved with the help of the DVD of the new Jane Eyre that PBS aired last month. (The joys of living among males are many, but an appreciation of Jane Eyre is not among them. I also have to watch Emma - not the Gwyneth Paltrow one, and Pride and Prejudice on my own. So sad.)

Time to put my nose to the grindstone, my shoulder to the wheel, grit my teeth, keep a stiff upper lip, and then try knitting like that. You may expect to hear from me next, heart-whole and with the Perfect Sweater on its way to the Perfect Daughter, or a puddle of mush and guilt.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Because Everyone Needs a Cheerleader, Sometime

Honest. I was going to write about knitting today. I've achieved a lull in my current interesting times, a moment to suck in some oxygen before I go head-down for the next go-round. My reward was going to be some astute, clever and/or profound observations about the Way of the Knitter. Or something.

I've got Bok, Muir and Trickett playing in the background (He goes wa-, wa-, wa-, wa-, wa-, wa-, waltzing with bears).

I checked. I've been knitting (a little). Interestingly, it's all Mason-Dixon all the time, here. Those are Perfect Sweater pieces (the blue) and Weird-Partial-Garter-Miters-in-progress.

But I pulled up my email before I logged on to Blogger. There was a message from Clare:

"Subject: and now the grand finale
To: "Julianne McCauley"
Date: Wed, 7 Feb 2007 08:34:22 -0600 (CST)


And now, in the manner of musicals and Shrek movies everywhere...

Whirling bits of sparkly red fill your vision, before being whipped aside and
revealing two of my clones (who have had extensive training in gymnastics since they were four) who turn out to be part of a line of twelve, all doing
improbable acrobatics, alternately synchronizing and breaking up.

They are performing in a forest glade, and a dazzling array of sunbeams shine
through the spring green leaves. The words 'You can do it' are spelled in
sunlight on the ground, periodically decorated with red spots from the reflections bouncing off the sparkly red pom-poms.

Behind them, the ground begins to shake, and my clones avoid doing any jumps because they wouldn't know where the ground was when they tried to land. They compromise by somehow crossing cheerleading with breakdancing, and, lying on the ground curled up with a sparkly red pom-pom in front and behind them, spin until they look like sparkly red blurs. The trees shake madly, sending streaks of sunbeams all over the glade like a disco ball - except for the ones with the branches through which the sunbeams spell 'You can do it'; they are defying the laws of physics and previously asserted theories of botany and doing the tree equivalent of moving their hips to absorb the shock of the ground moving, and their branches remain almost entirely still.

Suddenly a large, flat rock bursts from the shaking ground, which immediately becomes still, though no one realizes this until a crash of noise from the band on top of the rock makes it begin to shake. The band (who channels everyone from the Beatles to Little Boy Blue and wear lots of sequins that reflect the sunlight.) plays a lively version of 'I Will Get There' by Boyz II Men as their opening song, and the vision dissolves in a blur of sparkly-ness.

Good luck!


P.S. Margie says 'good luck' also!"

Honestly, they just take your breath away, sometimes, don't they?

Knitting next time. Promise. I have to go now and find a Boyz II Men music video.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


February brings the rain,
Thaws the frozen lake again.
- Nursery Rhyme

DON PEDRO: Good morrow, Benedick. Why, what's the matter, That you have such a February face, So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?
- Shakespeare,
Much Ado About Nothing, Act V, Scene 4

February is merely as long as is needed to pass the time until March.
- Dr. J. R. Stockton

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

- Old English Song

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There'll be twa winters in the year.
- Old Scottish Song

Traditionally, we take the lights out of the window on Candlemas. First it got so cold (we've finally reached our negative double-digit wind-chills) and now it's gotten all gray out there. I just can't do it.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

This, Too, Shall Pass

There has been quite some tempest in my domestic teapot these last couple of days. To make matters worse, while I have been muttering 1) about how much I really do love my children, 2) that their failure to mention a major project due Friday which, as of Wednesday, they hadn't even looked at is no excuse for a failure of maternal patience, 3) reminders that when they wail they didn't understand it, I must refrain from shrieking like a steam whistle and instead grit my teeth and say as calmly as possible, that they made their choice and now must understand that TV and Game-boy and Lego Star Wars and the Nickelodeon website are now completely off-limits, on top of all that, I had to do this.

This is my concession. My acknowledgement that, once again, Winter in Chicago has defeated me. When one lives in a 1920's condo, rife with charm and idiosyncrasy, one's windows and storms often do not do the job they are meant to do. When the days begin to lengthen and the cold begins to strengthen, i.e., when the high is going to be in the low single digits, something must be done. There is, after all, a limit to the number of layers one can don before being rendered immovable.

I despise the claustrophobic feeling I get when I cannot open my kitchen windows. It's the moment when I realize that I have to pay up for Spring. The moment when, on an annual basis, I discover that February is, in point of fact, the longest month of the year and that it has nothing to do with number of days.

I know it's been an astonishingly mild winter here. Ordinarily by now we would have sub-zero highs and life-threatening wind-chill factors. This, however, is one of those times when the subjective has overwhelmed the intellectual. It takes a few days of not succumbing to frostbite overnight to outweigh living sealed in like yesterday's left-overs.

So, while progress on Clare's sweater continues apace (I'm almost ready to cast on the second sleeve, maybe even tonight), I think I need to add some hope to my knitting agenda.

I'm thinking it's time to add some sunshine, blue skies and new shoots to the mitered square collection.

If that's not enough, maybe some tulips, too.

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?