Thursday, December 31, 2009


"Auntie Hannah, who liked port. . . ."

"Auntie Hannah laced her tea with rum, because it was only once a year."

"Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine. . . ."

Guess what we named our Christmas tree this year?

All quotes from Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales," 1955.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Second Gift of Christmas

This is (was?) the second thing I worked on (on which I worked?) (tenses and prepositions are clearly not my friends today). I know I didn't tell you about it. I was supposed to, last week, which we are all pretending is this week. You know, when I was supposed to be blogging every day.

This is the Quilted Cowl by Sarah Anthony. Once you knit the center section, you pick up stitches all around for the stockinette border, yo k2tog for a picot row, knit some more stockinette and then, using At Least a Six Foot Tail (!) sew down the live stitches. This makes for a lovely understated border, but I have to use Six Feet of yarn to Sew Down almost 200 Live Stitches.

Suffering from an acute case of Swelledheaditis Flushed with the success of the Leaf Lace Scarf, I just couldn't leave this one alone either.

This change, though, was just plain laziness and cheating, (and it showed, but I'm getting ahead of the story). I did a few rows of garter stitch and added the picot bind-off from Louisa Harding's Knitting Little Luxuries (the bind-off for the fingerless mitts I screwed up, see earlier post) to three of the sides, thinking to keep a cleaner look down the front of the cowl (or so I told myslef). Except I didn't like that end. So I went ahead and did the picot bind-off. The picots were too close together. They also looked huge.

There was another issue. Garter stitch is wider than stockinette and, because I didn't adjust the number of stitches I picked up, the edges were distorted. I tired to rationalize. It's really only the buttonhole end I need to worry about. I muttered. The other end will be hidden. I justified. The long edges don't look that bad. I whined. Maybe if I just frog the bind-off on that one end and space the picots out farther.

This was clearly a case where the original design was way better than the modification. At the time (late November/early December) I decided I wasn't going to re-do it unless by some miracle I finished all my knitting by the week before Christmas. No such miracle occurred, but I still ripped out the bind-off. All of it. In fact, I frogged the whole modification, reclaimed the yarn and knit the border according to pattern, sewing down the live stitches as called for before reblocking.

Details. Yarn: Malabrigo Silky Merino in Burgundy, almost exactly 1 skein. Just a few feet left.
Needles: Addi Turbos US 6/4 mm.
Buttons: Darn. I forgot to take a picture wth the real buttons. They were pewter with a circle of tiny ivy leaves. I really wanted to gloat about the buttons. Double darn.
Modifications: Not a one.

Sometimes the designer is right.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The First Gift of Christmas

We'll start with this one, because I have the most pictures of it.

At the time, the plan was No Modifications. Knit the thing as written. And I meant to. I really did. I knew the whole less-than-3-skeins-per-gift thing would work a lot better if I didn't keep changing things. I fell off that particular wagon almost immediately.

It all started Thanksgiving afternoon when I thought I had just about finished Gift Number 1, the Teva Durham Leaf Lace Scarf. According to the pattern, you're supposed to knit 1 leaf, pick up 9 stitches (even though you've only got 7 to work with), knit [12 rows stockinette, 6 rows garter] 5 times and finally knit the other leaf. Just because I didn't like the way the whole 7 into 9 thing on the pick-up row looked -- especially when compared to the leaf that just flowed out of the neckband knitting -- was that any reason to decide to knit two halves from the center out?

And just because 5 repeats didn't give me a scarf long enough to wrap twice around, was that a good excuse to knit a longer neckband? Okay, maybe that was a good excuse. This is Chicago and a 3-inch wide scarf isn't enough to keep anybody's neck warm. I got gauge, but the scarf wasn't going to make it around twice. I still can't figure out how she managed it in the one photo. That, and I really didn't care for the dangling dead-leaf look that resulted from just tying the ends (see other pattern photo).

Details. Yarn: Malabrigo Silky Merino in Teal Feather, double-stranded.
Needles: Addi Turbos, US 13/9 mm needles.
Modifications: Provisional cast-on, worked from the center out, two additional repeats of the neckband pattern (one on each end), 9 stitches to Kitchener. (Why does Kitchener stitch make no sense to me when I try to do it with the yarn on the needles, but is a piece of cake when the work is off?)

One of the fastest knits I've ever come across. Even after completely reworking it, it only took a day. Sometimes the designer is wrong. Sometimes you have to jump off a wagon before it gets up too much momentum.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Time Consumed

Um. Well. Hi there. Remember me? I used to post faithfully to this site. With pictures and everything.

I know, I know. I was supposed to spend these weeks telling you about my less than 3 skeins projects. Sorry, sorry. You know what, though? I kept taking pictures. See (just to whet your appetite) (and to give you an idea of my astonishing gift for chaos)?

The less than 3 skeins plan worked so well, I added a project.

Then I added another.

I had plans for a fourth, but wiser heads (Clare's and Marc's) prevailed. I suspect they tied my hands together while I slept, just in case I decided to try sleep-knitting.

So. I move we wind the calendar back, pretend this is the week before Christmas, and I'll try to get caught up before New Year (or maybe a little after it, you know, on those days when you still write 2009 instead of 2010).

Before I bend the space-time continuum to my will though, let me say, I hope your Hanukkah/Solstice/Christmas/Kwanzaa celebration was/is smashing. And I'll tell you all about the fun I had with project number 1 tomorrow.

Or maybe the next day.

Monday, December 07, 2009

For Everything There is a Reason*

or Eternity in 482 Stitches. Or, Why I Hate the Backward Loop Cast-on.

I've started my procrastination project. It's the largest of the Christmas knitting, requiring 3 skeins of Malabrigo Silky Merino. It's the Theory Shawlette by Sadie and Oliver. According to the designer, it is "sweetly simple" and (all evidence to the contrary) (here's the part I fell for) "a quick project with a delightful result."

I ask you, how could any project requiring a 482 stitch cast-on be considered quick? I don't really care that you bind off 320 stitches at the get-go. You have to bind them off of a backwards loop cast-on edge. Backwards loop cast-on, where if a cast-on stitch slips off your needle, you're left with nothing but a length of yarn to tell you if you've lost one. Or six. Backwards loop cast-on, the one where you have to keep your needles close together and your stitches near the tips, practically guaranteeing popped stitches, or you end up with an ever increasing float that you then need to try to work back into the piece. Requiring 480 stitches of backwards loop cast-on is an invitation to disaster.

The backwards loop cast-on, however, is so important to the design that there's actually a link to demonstrating it included in the pattern. I figured this was one time when I probably shouldn't exercise creative license.

Which brings us to the first row of knitting. The part where I discover that I apparently interpret BO stitches to count from the first stitch you slip over, and the pattern counts the stitch that does the slipping. Bottom line, I'm supposed to end up with 2 knitted stitches between every swoop of 4 bound off stitches, except unless I was paying really close attention, I kept counting "knit 1, bo 4" and using the K1 to bind off with. Every now and then I'd look back a few scallops and see a lone lorn knit stitch where there should have been two. Do you have any idea how unpleasant it is to un-bind-off a backwards loop cast-on? The only thing worse, I figured, was having to rip it out and start over.

Here's another wrinkle. I couldn't read the decreases. I don't know why I couldn't, but there it was. I couldn't figure out if what I had done balanced with what I had started with. I had no idea what I was supposed to end up with, only that given the pattern was one of those "repeat to end" kind, the work should have ended even.

Do you see the catastrophe looming here? Are you shuddering in anticipated dread?

Twenty-four stitch markers and several cups of coffee later, is anyone surprised to learn that I had extra stitches left? Or that I had no idea whether I had over-cast-on for stitches that had popped off my needle, or bound off a stitch too many a couple of times, or cast-on too few corrective stitches?

In needlepoint and counted thread work there are these things called "comp stitches." "Comp" for "compensating." You use them when the pattern doesn't fit the allotted space. I looked at those odd stitches. I contemplated the morning's worth of knitting that had resulted in one pathetic row. I considered the other household projects that had not even been approached. I decided comp stitches were the way to go.

After meditating on the instructions for the next two rows, at the end of which I am supposed to have 322 stitches, I figured out I should have had 80 swoops with two stitches between each swoop and two more stitches at the start of the row. I had 79 swoops. A lesser woman would have laid her head on the table and howled. I may have whimpered a bit.

Then I discovered the reason for the existence of the backward loop cast-on. Using the tail from the original cast-on, I cast on the additional stitches I needed, bound off 4 and knit 1. Just to make sure, I knit the next two rows exactly according to instruction.

Bingo, 322 stitches, and (insert heavy sigh) I'll never be allowed to malign the backwards loop again.

*Apologies to Ecclesiastes.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


That's the opposite of progress, right?

I have been composing a smug and snappy post in my head all week about how, despite the head-cold brought on (I am convinced ) by the longest period of sleep deprivation I have endured since dealing with newborns, I was just whizzing through the Christmas knitting.

Instead I have this.

"This" is what happens when you get to the bind-off stage and realize you have knit a pair of fingerless gloves for a mutant. Specifically one with two right hands.

I do have progress to share (later) (much later), but thought I'd make a flying visit tonight and get the-opposite-of-knitting post out of the way.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Number 1

Marco backslid a bit. When I took him in Saturday, the x-ray showed an "infiltration" in his left lung over his heart, indicating an "infection." He's been on the Enola Gay of antibiotics, an inhaler and nuclear cough syrup for 5 days now. I think he's feeling better. The doctor Saturday said "pneumonia;" when the primary care called, he studiously avoided the term, hence the description above (which sure sounds like pneumonia to me)(I think he thinks I'm an alarmist.).

This whole show has been going on for 13 days now. I've reached the point where a distraction is called for. Besides I've finished the second sleeve on Marc's sweater and need to avoid the whole cable thing for a bit.

Teva Durham's Leaf scarf (which seems to have vanished from the web) to be knit double stranded on US 13/9 mm needles. The yarn is Malabrigo Silky Merino in Teal Feather.

And I quote" The intermediate knitter can complete the project in 2 - 4 hours."

We shall see.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Good News and Bad News

I know, I know. Trite. The problem with trite is that it so often describes reality. I really do have all sorts of good news and bad news.

I thought I had gotten back into the swing of blogging, especially after last week. It's not my fault, though. The first bad news in Marco's got the 'flu. The good news is, he only has the 'flu.

One of the constants with Down Syndrome is a less efficient immune system. With Marco, this manifests itself not so much in the frequency with which he gets sick as in the severity of the symptoms that manifest on the rare occasion when he does catch something. Four days of mounting fever -- and it was pretty high to start with -- a complete loss of appetite and a cough that could drown out the seal chorus at Lincoln Park Zoo at feeding time had me spinning pneumonia, hospitals and antibiotics delivered via I-V scenarios. I blame some of my over the top response on sleep deprivation. The cough is a 24 hour thing that nothing works on, leaving me fantasizing about the good old days when cough syrup meant codeine.

Let me also mention my bemusement that anyone exhibiting those symptoms could belt out The Proclaimers cover of Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World" at the top of his lungs while simultaneously performing the percussion on the way to the doctor's office or conduct Walt Disney's Fantasia with an energy and verve that would put Leonard Bernstein to shame later that evening. Going by his behavior, he was healthy as a horse.

The doctor's visit was reassuring - no other, underlying infection (good news), too late for Tamiflu (bad news). He's on the mend now, obviously or I wouldn't be writing. Still running a temp, but it's been dropping for the last two days. All I have to do now is manage to remain vigilant enough to notice if he backslides.

All of that has reduced all knitting to the plain vanilla variety. All those little projects with which I hope to entertain you until Christmas are back-burner-ed. I have absolutely no progress to report. The tricky thing about little projects is that, while quick to knit, they take concentration. There's no long stretch of mindless knitting to occupy your hands and soothe your soul when your attention must be focused somewhere else. That's the second bad news.

The corresponding good news is that what's bad for the little Christmas projects is good for the big one. I've been just churning out rows and rows on Marc's sweater. The sleeves are almost finished. The whole knit two at once thing worked really well. I switched over to one at a time once I'd knit to the end of the respective skeins. With only the shaping for the sleeve caps left it didn't make much sense to use 2 balls of yarn. I doubt there's more than a few hours knitting left and these are done.

Which in turn brings us to the third set of good news/bad news. The good news is that I can cast on for the cardigan fronts.

The bad news is I can't put off figuring out where to place the cable pattern for much longer.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

False Start

If a marathon is distance and endurance, and a sprint is speed, what would a long distance speed race be? A Mint? A Sprarathon? Whatever you want to call it, the fact remains that I'm looking at a big project and short time-frame, at least if I want to deliver it in person.

The yarn arrived Saturday. Just because we somehow forgot to check the mail doesn't change that. Come Sunday morning there it was, leaning against the door-frame. It's for a housewarming gift and the housewarming aspect looms large (and soon) in my mind. A day or two earlier and, while a not a walk in the park, it would have been excitingly do-able. As of yesterday, I would have said it was fraught but do-able.

One day's knitting left me with three results.

Ten inches of blanket, the realization that "deep blue" isn't always the same as "dark blue" and the conclusion that, however much I liked it, it wasn't right for the person I was making it for. Which, I thought, puts the project right over into the impossible. The extended sprint. The high speed marathon.

Time to regroup. Do I really need to be there when she receives it? No. No, actually, I don't. In fact, all things considered, I'd rather not be around when someone opens something I've made for them.

I think I may have just bought some time. If I change the deadline, doesn't that work out the same as getting a better starting position? On your mark. Get set.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Three Skeins or Less

I need to finish some things. Anythings. My success rate for larger projects has been nothing short of abysmal lately. I long for afghans and sweaters, but my frustration level is rising. Even when, like today (and the rest of this week for that matter ) circumstances (broken storm drain and resultant plumbers) conspire to entrap me at home, I still feel too pulled in too many directions. The Knitter as salt-water taffy. And while I remain determined to finish Marc's sweater for Christmas, I think the a4A debacle was trying to tell me something.

Smaller projects. Much smaller projects. Many much smaller projects. A veritable raft of reward knitting to save a drowning knitter. So I have devised a plan. No snickering.

Over the past few days -- in between providing keys, observing broken pipe, talking to local small-job moving companies, organizing the emptying of one of our storage lockers (thank God for older children with strong backs and legs) (I don't want to even look at my dining room right now), cancelling local small-job moving companies, viewing new pipe -- I have searched for, downloaded, and planned out a series of small scarves, cowls, shawlettes, smoke-rings and neckwarmers for some of the female family members on my Christmas list. Not those who read the blog from time to time, because I don't want to raise hopes (or dread, "Oh no, Aunt Julie's knitting again! Can't we go to Paraguay for Christmas? Please?")

The operative word here is "small." Most take one skein of yarn; the largest calls for three. Of course, none of them involve simple rows of stockinette in the round, so I may still be deluding myself. In my favor, I have no plans to alter, improve or personalize these pieces beyond yarn choice. I've even limited myself there. All will be made from Malabrigo Silky Merino, thus saving myself from the endless knitting it take to get an inch of anything in sock yarn.

The last of the yarn came yesterday.

I can't deny that the lure of the big project is still there. Besides all the ongoing stockinette there are those other two sweaters lurking, the ones for my brother and nephew. They both have winter birthdays, which, as the result of some convoluted thinking on my part, is an added reason to knit for them for Christmas. I'm not letting myself even consider casting on, but honesty compels me to disclose that they're there in my mental peripheral vision while I'm trying to keep focused on more attainable goals.

Three skeins or less. It's kind of like the old "Shoe" cartoon from back before Jeff MacNelly died, about the way to get lawyers under control: "Shorten their pads." Except knitterly.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stocking Stitch Tales

Okay, so the title is a flagrant rip-off of James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking tales, none of which I have read. Not only that, I haven't even seen any of the movies, not even the one with Daniel Day Lewis. How can you take seriously a series of stories where the hero is named Natty Bumpo? Sometimes the search for a good title takes strange paths.

It does reflect what's going on around here, though. Stockinette stitch is the sum of my current knitting.

Actual stockinette in progress:

Marc's sweater (I've finished and bound off the back) (is that redundant?)?

And the eternal purple sweater for the next a4A Youth Campaign. The latest lame excuse for its still unfinished state is that I have to wind another skein and splice it on.

The promise of more stockinette to come:

Swatch for the afghan I have to finish in two weeks and for which the yarn has not yet arrived but over which I am refusing to panic. Because of course the USPS will ignore that fact that yesterday was a federal holiday and will still deliver the yarn -- which was shipped Tuesday priority mail from Maine -- today (hey, if we can put a man on the moon . . .).

Woefully neglected, but the exception:

The Fenna Shawl (remember when all I was knitting was shawls?). What does it say when your reward knitting is garter stitch?

I am reminded of the knock-knock joke that ends "Orange you glad I'm not a banana?"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


"Noun : A small specialized mechanical device. Synonyms: concern, contraption, contrivance, gimmick, jigger, thing. Informal: doodad, doohickey, widget. Slang: gizmo."*

I was all set to follow Diane's advice on the stitch marker system for knitting two sleeves on one circular when I remembered a clever little thing I got for Christmas last year. I've used this portable abacus on any number of projects, but just as a straightforward row/round counter. Once I started thinking about the complications that could arise out of color-coding stitch-markers with tallies -- locating a pen or pencil in the appropriate color, losing one of said pens or pencils, losing the tally -- it occurred to me I could use this thingumabob a little more creatively. I could make it do double duty.

Perhaps I should mention first off (and it's so obvious I hate to admit it) but I was surprised to notice that just placing a marker at the start of the knitting helped me keep track of whether I'd knit across both sleeves. If the marker is in the middle, I haven't. If it's at either end, I have. That was one frustration eliminated right there.

Here's where it gets really ingenious, though. Almost convoluted, but in a good way. I have devised A System.

The pattern calls for increases at each end every four rows. At the gauge and for the size I'm knitting, these four rows get repeated 18 times, so I'm counting by 5's instead of 10's. No really. This makes sense. This way, since there are nine beads on each strand, I can track different things. I'm using some of the beads to keep track of where I am within a given set of a 4-row segment and some to keep track of just how many segments I've done. Beads moved toward the top count rows; the larger beads count the left piece, the smaller beads count the right. Beads moved toward the bottom count sets of rows, that is, how many increase rows I've done. Small beads count single rows, large beads mark sets of 5. Once I have 4 beads at the top of each strand, I move them back to the middle and move a small bead to the bottom. Once I have 5 small beads on the bottom, I move them up to the center group and move one large bead down.

My head knows that I could do this by moving fewer beads. For example, while I would probably still want to move the 4th bead up on the first sleeve, instead of moving one up for the second I could just move one down to mark a completed set of 4 rows. I could do the same thing for the increases. My head knows, but the rest of me just doesn't trust me. Maybe after a few more repeats I will. Of course, looking at the beads, I'm half-way through the 13th out of 18 sets of increases, so in a few more repeats I'll be done with this part anyway.

I can't help but notice I've gone far and beyond "knit a few more rows before I give it up as a bad lot and return to a more conventional way of knitting sleeves." Admittedly with so many increases done, two sleeves on one needle knit an awful lot like the entire back of a sweater. I suspect the knitting equivalent of the Theory of Relativity is to blame here. I would have to knit two sleeves one way or another and knitting them on two needles would not, in fact, reduce the actual time spent knitting them. I anticipate the moment -- probably not until I actually bind them off-- when reality hits me over the head and I discover (no doubt to my astonishment) that the sleeves are done.

All thanks to the contraption, contrivance, jigger, doohickey, clever little device.

*American Heritage Dictionary.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Friendly Reminder

String Theory Yarn Company will sell hand-knit (by you ) scarves to benefit DuPage PADS starting the Friday after Thanksgiving. Clare and I went out to drop ours off on Saturday (as if we need an excuse to go yarn shopping). I'm parting with my least favorite learn-a-skill project: Branching Out.

Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool, on I forget what size needles and can't remember what colorway. I blocked it and, while it truly blossomed, I still have too many bad memories of how much I disliked knitting it to want to keep it.

Clare knit specially for the cause.

The pattern is from (I think) One Skein Wonders, although it might be from 101 Designer One Skein Wonders or even Luxury Yarn One Skein Wonders. She rid the house of one of the too many odd skeins of Blue Sky Alpaca Melange that I acquired when I thought I would be making Huckleberry Ascots for the entire city of Chicago.

While we were browsing (really, within 5 minutes of handing over our scarves) two separate groups of customers came in looking to buy shop models for Christmas gifts. I think String Theory will be able to sell all 50+ of what they have so far and then some, so send yours along to :

String Theory
477 North Main Street
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Theory vs. Practice

As I approach the bind-off for the back of Marc's sweater, and as I continue to avoid the commitment to cable placement that casting on the fronts for the cardigan entails, I'm thinking about sleeves.

I find sleeves are kind of like what other people tell me about socks. The first one is all gratifying and quick. The second one is just work. My standard method for dealing with this, and I regularly offer up thanks to Elizabeth Zimmermann for the idea, is to cast on both sleeves and knit on whichever one comes to hand. It works reasonably well. There are, however, always some issues. Separating sleeves for one thing. It's uncanny how often they end up at opposite ends of the condo. Keeping track of where I am on which sleeve is another. I believe I have already indicted myself on the whole failure to keep adequate notes, or to keep track of the notes if when I do make them. I want some clever and efficient trick for sleeves.

Clare is a sock knitter. Last year, her Christmas book was Antje Gillingham's Knitting Circles Around Socks. She churns out socks by the pair on a regular basis these days. I doubt she will ever have to pair up two one-of-a-kind socks as some kind of unholy odd couple again.

That is not the non sequitur it would seem to be.

Inspired by Clare and her two-at-a-time socks, I looked at the two sleeve cuffs I recently knit. Might it not be easier to knit them both on the same circular? Each sleeve would then always be knit at the same tension as the other. Both sleeves would always be at the same point of completion. They would always be in the same place. One set of tallies to track increases would suffice. I would never again confuse which tally went with which sleeve, thus ending up with one sleeve an inch or so longer than the other, depending on how long it took me to notice that I had over-knit one and under-knit its companion.

This sounded like such a good idea. You know what, though? It's, not to put too fine a point on it, not. I still seem to forget whether I've knit across both sleeves or one and now I have to juggle two balls of yarn. I've only knit four rows or so. I'll give it a few more before I admit defeat. Maybe I can figure out something clever with stitch markers. Meantime, I'm open to suggestions.

Honestly though, wouldn't you think reality, just this once, could run congruently with the ideal?

Friday, October 30, 2009


I need to finish something. If there is anything the 4 hats/0 sweater fiasco showed me, it's that it has been too long since the Bubbly Curtain and even that doesn't really count because I have to frog about a third of it and then make a companion (the only way I've come up with to cover the bathroom window without the curtain puddling on the floor).

I have options. Several sweaters started. Several more planned out enough that I have the yarn for them. Two afghans for neighbors in need (by my definition, not theirs). Giving up on getting the technical aspects of the Autumn blanket right and just knitting it up and sending it off for the a4A Cure Hospital campaign (in the nature of penance for not finishing the sweater).

I ran this by Clare at the dinner table a couple of nights ago, wondering how much I could get done by Christmas. She was, how shall I put this, wary. Not exactly skeptical, but clearly looking for a way to check my sanity without setting me off on an impossible path just from pure cussedness.

After a night's sleep or two, I'm ready to concede the need for further thought. Maybe those are all too big. Maybe I should redeem one of last year's incomplete Christmas gifts instead.

That way, I could spend some time with Ann and Kay. Besides, now that I've taken a class in intarsia, I have this great idea on how to personalize these. The recipient is in Rome; I could use that -- or, more accurately, her return -- as an added incentive. Deadlines are my friend.

Then I read the note in the book about using gloves with a" bonded fabric lining" "[t]o guard against tearing." Tearing? As in, I could get the cuffs attached and then they could de-attach? The source for such luxe rubber gloves was Williams-Sonoma. Note that "was." As in, past tense. They don't seem to carry them anymore, at least not on their website. I am now frozen over the pink gloves with scissors in hand, fearful of actually cutting into them. I'm wondering if using the knitting to attach glove liners at the same time would work. Would I need to buy larger size gloves to accommodate them? I think maybe yes.

I can't help thinking that ideas have a way of getting away from me. Maybe I better pick up a couple extra pairs of rubber gloves, too. Just in case.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Not a Sweater

Four hats sent out to afghans for Afghans on Monday. Four very cute hats. All knit from the Basic Rolled Brim Hat from Knitting for Peace, the top-knot variation. All knit from stash yarn. All knit as reward for perseverance.

Left to right (bottom to top?). Tahki Shannon in 19/Denim. Inca Alpaca in Peony and Blue Sky Alpaca Melange in Relish (my favorite). Dale of Norway Freestyle in 5444/Violet Blue, 4417/Fuchsia, 2106/Yellow, and a mystery green, maybe 9133/ Spring Green. Malabrigo worsted in 86/Verdeazul. All knit on 16 inch US size 7/4.5mm Addi turbo's until the decreases made me change to Crystal Palace dpn's.

Four hats, but no sweater. I am unreasonably disappointed in myself over this.

There it is, though, missing a sleeve, needing assembly, lacking the bottom ribbing and in want of neck finishing. No amount of reward knitting is getting this to San Francisco by tomorrow.

A smart woman would finish the sweater now. That way it would be ready for the next campaign (surely there will be another campaign next year?). Right now I'm leaving it on the dining room table while I try to convince myself that that smart woman is me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I didn't keep any notes on the purple a4A sweater. I have a hot pink notice from Marco's school with numbers scribbled back and front that was tucked in at the pattern page, but that's it. I know I made adjustments. I changed the size; I remember worrying about all those 10 to 12 year olds who weren't big enough to wear an adult small. I used bulky yarn. I referred repeatedly to Ann Budd's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns.

I remember that I hoped the yarn would take care of most of the resizing issues, but I knew there were places where I had to change the numbers anyway. You know, those parts where they tell you exactly how many stitches worth of something. Twenty stitches at worsted weight are a lot different than twenty stitches at bulky weight, especially if the bulky is Malabrigo bulky.

I investigated the sweater itself. I had 34 stitches left on the sleeve. I had 41 stitches (not 42?) left on short-cable circulars awaiting my decision to 3-needle bind-off or Kitchener. Near as I could tell, I had 136 stitches total before I began decreasing for the sleeve (thank God I had marked off the sleeve with coil-less safety pins and been too lazy to take them out.) 136 was a good number. There was an actual note on the pattern page that involved 136. It was the sum of 52+58+26 which were the numbers from the pattern for the stitches picked up from the front, the stitches picked up from the back and the stitches cast on for the neck.

I went back to the sweater. I only had 16 stitches for the neck. I could maybe fudge it to 18 if I counted the bound off rows from the front and the back, but there was no way I was going to get anywhere close to 26. The pattern called for about 84 rows for the front, 96 rows for the back. I have 74 and 86. I began writing all this down.

I lost those notes.

I gave up and started knitting something else from the book - the basic rolled brim hat. My theory was that if I stopped panicking and finished something, anything, for the Youth Campaign, I'd get my knitting chops back. I finished the hat this morning.

I went back to the purple sweater. No matter how many different ways I tried to count, I came up with 57 stitches picked up from the front and 63 from the back. The numbers bear no resemblance to anything in the pattern or on the hot pink piece of paper. For lack of anything better to do, I subtracted them from 136, the total number of stitches I was sure I had (because I'd counted them six ways from Sunday) before I started the sleeve decreases. The difference is 16.

Wait. Wait. Isn't that the number I thought I had cast on for the neck?

Friday, October 16, 2009

'Tis the Season

Just a little reassurance before I go into the main post. Yes, I found the knitting needles. They were in one of the knitting-that-has-fallen-out-of-favor bags. I can't imagine how they got there, although I suspect a 10-Second Tidy may have been involved (that's your link for Foolery on Friday). Also, I've given up on the 5 hour baby sweater plan. I have no idea what I'll knit instead, so let's focus on other things. How a bout a public service announcement post?

First, let me --appallingly, belatedly -- jump on the a4A bandwagon. You probably (I hope) already know that the Campaign for Youth is top priority. They have a container and it's leaving. Soon. Hats, knitted socks, sweaters, vests, and blankets for older kids - 7 to 14. Items need to be received by late October. Details here. How fortunate that I didn't frog the sweater I didn't finish for last year's campaign.

Almost prescient of me.

I'm so deeply into blanket mode at this point, though, that I may not be able to stop myself from trying to get one done for the Youth Campaign.

Some of this is even stash yarn.

Once you've finished your Youth Campaign knitting you can go back to knitting for CURE Hospital in Kabul. Details for that a4A campaign here.

Now you may have noticed that a4A doesn't take scarves. There's Red Scarf, of course, but maybe this year you could donate funds (there's a link at the sidebar on the Red Scarf Project blog). Then, when you need a break from all that blanket knitting, consider instead my current favorite in the "Think globally, act locally" category.

In her newsletter last month Janet at String Theory in Glen Ellyn came up with this great idea. It seems people start to wander into the shop around the end of November asking for hand-knits for Christmas gifts. All we need to do is knit (or crochet) a "gorgeous hand made scarf" and drop it off at the shop by November 27 (it's a great excuse to stop in). If you're out of the area, mail it. String Theory will sell the handmade scarves; the proceeds will benefit the PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) branch in DuPage County, right here in Illinois. Details and a bit of the story on String theory's blog.

In case you're unfamiliar with PADS, I did a little web-searching for you. I couldn't find a single, over-arching PADS link (which is why I don't include one). Based on the several sites I've checked, though, the PADS network operates outside the city of Chicago (not that Chicago doesn't have people in need, we just don't have PADS). As near as I can tell, PADS originated in Aurora and then spread across Illinois. What I really like about the program is that it doesn't stop at temporary shelter of the overnight housing variety. It provides services -- like advocacy and job training -- seeking permanent solutions for homelessness on an individual basis. It's one of those give a man fish versus teach him to fish things.

All that, and (as you will have noticed if you clicked the link to their blog) String Theory will provide prizes.

It's time to rev up the needles.

Friday, October 09, 2009

I Know I Had Them

It's not that it's been a bad week. Neither was the one before, for that matter. It was just one (two) of those "Where did it go and how did it get to be now so fast" weeks. Cross country practice every day after school means a pick-up every day after school. A meeting or two means time prepping. A volunteer obligation - especially one where you've been given a new space -- means, well, moving. Add in that all my new knitting is conspiring against me and I have to admit to a certain reluctance to sit at the computer and chronicle it all.

There's a downside to that, though. The blog is the best way I have ever found to keep track of what I'm doing. So when, for example, I am consumed with the need to knit a baby sweater because someone has joined the ranks of that rarefied and erudite group known as parents of children with Down Syndrome, and when I am convinced said sweater must be complete by Sunday and yet can't find the one essential piece of equipment I want (now that I have finally located a pattern I may be able to knit in about 5 hours) there's no point in turning to the blog to help me figure out where and what I've been knitting, because I haven't written about it. Herewith, then, in an attempt to go backward through my remembering and thus locate my stuff, is an inventory of what I think I have on the needles.

The fourth (or fifth) (or sixth?) attempt at an afghan for my neighbor.

No, I don't like this version either and am now sliding over into the idea of reverting to a striped blanket a la Cat Bordi's Island Embrace, except with with a moss or garter stitch border and stockinette body.

The back of Marc's idea of the ideal men's navy blue cardigan.

My. Look at that. That piece is really close to done, isn't it? I may have to figure out exactly where to place the cables on the front soon.


This is my reward knitting, Sadly, very little of my knitting merits a reward these days.

Not a Wool Peddler's Shawl because it's not red.

This is my frustration knitting. I would have thought I'd made more progress here.

Finally, the current cause of my aforesaid frustration.

The I Need It Done Yesterday baby sweater, languishing for lack of my new US 10/6 mm Kollage square needles - the "it" that I know I had, and not that long ago, either. I really need them. The size 9/5.5 mm are giving me 4 spi and I want 3.75. The 10's are not hiding in any of the projects on which I'm working, yet I know I own a pair; I have the empty package.

In the interests of full disclosure, I suppose I have to admit that the I Can't Bear To Send this to Afghans for Afghans If I Can't Get The Knitting Straight blanket is still active, too, if only in the sense that I haven't frogged it yet. No, I really don't care that I find the colors absolutely dreadful, it's the technical aspects that have me in a snit. Enough said. No picture required, right?

So there you have it. I figure if Diane was concerned enough to fabricate a need to stop for coffee the day before yesterday, maybe some of you would like to know why I seem to have decided tearing my hair out while running around like a lemming looking for a cliff was preferable to posting.

I feel like Captain Queeg and the strawberries; I know those needles are here somewhere.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bad Things Come in Threes

Knitting is not going my way lately. I hate to confess it, but I've been a little whiny about it. I've drooped around as if I had nothing to knit. Just because I can't get the join to come out how I want it to on the Malabrigo Squash Blanket doesn't mean I can't knit anything else. Jess left a comment (hey, Jess!) with a suggestion. I'll give it a shot when I'm less disgusted by the whole thing.

I decided to knit on the beaded scarf. I changed my mind about the color beads I want to use -- the clear amber will be more sparkly and I want sparkly for this -- and stripped the black ones off. Except in a strange contradiction to the laws of physics, matter would appear to have been destroyed, i.e., my beading needle has evaporated. Not a huge set-back, except the Michael's I went to was sold out of long beading needles, and so I can't string the new color and thus can't knit the scarf. Still, is that any reason to mope? Of course not. Well, maybe a little.

I regrouped. Perhaps, I thought, my error was in switching from knitting for others to knitting frivolously. I do want to gift another afghan. I arbitrarily and on the spur of the moment decided the ideal time for said gifting would be when the intended recipients get back from Colorado at the end of the month. This necessitated a pattern and yarn that would do the work for me. I thought to kill two birds with one stone and chose another mitered square afghan, this one written slightly differently than the one I've been fighting, in hopes that it would clear out whatever road-block I've developed.

Then I let myself be seduced by Lorna's Laces again. This never goes well. I finished the first square and thought I was on to something really good. A third of the way through the second square I realized two things. One - this pattern calls for all the decreases to slant in the same direction, joining them horizontally. The Squash Blanket has the squares oriented in different directions and they're joined vertically. I'm knitting apples and oranges here, aren't I? An orange you can peel without a knife; try that with an apple. So, it won't help me past that barrier.

Almost more annoying is how wrong I was about the yarn. For one thing, the more I knit, the louder the yarn gets. As the Light of My Life put it, the pattern is trying too hard for the yarn. I had hoped the continual decreases in a mitered square would keep the yarn from pooling, which it sort of did.

Just not enough.

I am trying to address all these issues. I've ordered yarn and chosen a different pattern for the afghan. I've ordered four beading needles from Beadaholic. I plan to thread them through painfully bright strips of paper, possibly even day-glo, so I never lose one again. And I am coming to terms with the fact that the Squash Blanket may have to be frogged, too. I'll try Jess's idea, possibly twisting the stitch on the return row to tightened it up, but if that doesn't pan out? It can just join the other two projects.

And then that's three and I'm out of the woods. Right?

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Knitter as Hunter-Gatherer

I sat down several times last week, well, off and on, trying to turn this post into something other than a tale of greed and acquisition. I failed. Let's just admit that Sunday at Stitches with no class meant a full day at the Market. A full day at The Market is not an activity inclined to elicit one's best instincts. Herewith, I give you "Stitches, the Story of a Knitter Run Amok."

I am a Stitches geek. Or maybe a junkie. I started last year's post, "I love Stitches" and it still holds true. I have loved Stitches since Diane dragged me to my first one when I started knitting. The next year Clare came. Last year I snookered my sister in, along with her daughter and our non-knitting mother.

Perhaps I should make clear that I do the essential Stitches. I've heard -- let's just say -- mixed reviews of the fashion show and the dinner. Mixed enough to make me avoid them.I'd always confined myself to a class or two and the Market. For the last two years, ever since they changed the venue, I've added The Hotel to the essential list. Staying on site is the best fun. Besides, I've always gone in good company. See above.

This year, for a not-change, let's start with The Market. I did. While we didn't get in early enough on Friday to scope it out, we were down bright-eyed and eager-fingered, wallets at the ready, Saturday morning (before my class). Even better, this year I didn't have to be anywhere Sunday, and none of us (my sister, her daughter, my daughter) had a class. Sunday we were dangerous. We didn't close the Market, but we certainly cut quite a swathe through it.

Some of my favorite people were missing. Jennie the Potter wasn't there. Neither was The Fold or Philosophers Wool. The economy maybe? Too bad. Philosophers Wool has some great-looking new designs up on their website. I would have loved to have seen them for real. Oh, who are we kidding? After last year, when I bought a pattern book, I was looking for a yarn fix. I was going to promote myself to a kit. Maybe next year. Besides, I managed to console myself quite adequately.

Coloratura Yarns (previously known as Hand Painted Knitting Yarns) was there, in an even bigger space. Behold Clare's Christmas present. It's a Giant Skein in Aqua (how did I buy something not named after an opera?).

She's promised to act surprised, again.

Fine Points from Cleveland Ohio was there. My husband was born in Cleveland. It would have been disloyal had I not bought something from them.

It's a Claudia Hand Painted Yarns kit. A Claudia Hand Painted Yarns shawl Kit. Not just a Claudia Hand Painted Yarns shawl kit, a Walk in the Woods shawl kit. What, I was supposed to resist? It's got mohair, which makes me a little nervous. I have not, as yet, attempted mohair. Oh, of course. That's it. I needed to buy the kit so I could broaden my skill set to include mohair yarn. I knew there was a good reason.

I discovered Tess Designer Yarns.

This was not the indulgence you might think it is. My neighbor of 20 years is moving in with her other daughter. I need to make She needs an afghan from me us.

The disconcerting thing? Once I went to take pictures for this post, I was forced to recognize that this is not everything. I'm too embarrassed to list the rest. Okay maybe not. I mean really, didn't I need a set of buttons (yes, but two sets?) for Lake of the Woods? Would Fenna be complete without a shawl pin? You did know they only sell shawl pins in Pennsylvania, where the vendor I bought it from is located. Nope, no shawl pins in Illinois. And what if I had skipped Yarn Barn of Kansas? I might not have picked up Wrap Style and my collection of "Style" books would be forever incomplete (there's not a Sock Style is there?). And then there was Green Mountain Spinnery. Am I the only one who read Understood Betsy and is therefore delighted that GMS is in Putney, Vermont? Of course I had to buy a book from them.

Come to think of it, except for my class (I'll tell you about that next time) the one thing I didn't do much of was knit.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Like the White Rabbit

I'm late. I meant to get this particular piece of yarn pr0n posted Monday, when the yarn arrived. Then the birthday background would have been topical. Also an explanation of why I haven't posted about Knitaplooza (a.k.a. Stitches Midwest) -- where I had been since Friday -- since Stitches and John's 15th birthday coinciding made for a somewhat hectic Monday.

The above is the latest shipment in the Six Kingdoms Yarn Club - Plants. The yarn is Unique Sheep's Green Sheep Wool Sport in Sequoia 1 through 6. The lace in the shawl grows a tree - shading from brown to green and widening from leaf patterned lace to tree/branch patterned lace. The shawl pin is oak. The candy made from honey, arguably a plant product.

Better late than never. Better never late. Real Stitches still to come.

Friday, September 11, 2009


"All of mankind is of one author and is one volume.... Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls."

John Donne
Meditation XVII (No Man is an Island)
1624 C.E.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Waiting for the Dishwasher Man

We've lived here at Chez WoolGathering for a long time. A really long time. We bought the unit back in the day when we were DINKS. One of the first things we did was replace the dishwasher. We did good. It's held up through three refrigerators and two stoves. The time had come, however, to say goodbye. It didn't work as it used to. It had become a tad, shall we say, temperamental ( more of that anon). Not only that, many of the non-motor and -water related pieces had broken. Half the little axles that held the little wheels that kept the bottom rack rolling smoothly in and out are cracked or broken. The cap for the rinse-aid dispenser is long gone. The kick plate on the bottom had been kicked too many times. The tines had had started to snap.

Worst, though, was the way it had started to decline to start if I didn't remember to hit the cancel button right after the final dry cycle had supposedly ended. Right after. We figured out that it (the drying cycle) wasn't (finished, that is) and that if the dishwasher thought it was still supposed to be drying dishes there was no way it was going to start washing unless we engaged in some pretty heavy duty persuasion. This persuasion took the form of pushing random buttons followed by the cancel button, slamming the door hard, latching and unlatching the latch (it's an old dishwasher; it had a latch) with varying degrees of force, creative language, more buttons, more slamming, hitting the inside of the door, more creative language, until finally it would consent to give up those last few clicks that signaled the real end of the cycle.

Perhaps I should mention how firmly I seem believe in inertia. This routine has been going on for months. I meant to have a new dishwasher in time for the graduations. Yet there I was, hitting the cancel button until it almost became second nature, going through the dishwasher dance when I forgot, for months and months.

Today, however, is the day. The new one was delivered yesterday. Today the plumber came by to install it. Okay, after some initial inspection accompanied by sundry thumps and mutterings, he left and has been gone for a really long time. I'm not nervous. I know he's not finished because the dishwasher is laying on its side in the middle of my kitchen floor. I suspect something about a 25 year old dishwasher-hook-up not meshing with a 21st century dishwasher.

To keep myself engaged (and patient, patient, PATIENT), did I choose something pleasant to work on? Something that was a delight to the eye? Something I actually like? In a word - no. I've picked up the Autumn's Delight Blanket, the one that I'm working on for Afghans for Afghans, a.k.a. the World's Loudest Blanket. I've been rather studiously avoiding it of late. I haven't kept you informed, because, well, look at this. Does this look attractive to you?

Ignore the yarn. Consider it solely from a technical perspective. Does it look like something you would want to send off to anyone? Does it even look right? I think not.

So here I sit, unraveling, dampening the yarn with Soak to relax it, checking it periodically to see if it's dry (not yet).

In the meantime, maybe I'll go read my dishwasher manual.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Eternal Question

What's for dinner?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Nothing Like

It doesn't take much to encourage me. A few admiring comments and I am all over this like Quaker on oats. I started on My Sister's Scarf. (Note the emphasis on "my." It modifies "scarf.") I made a design decision to go with one color for the beads - the pseudo-hematite (well, it can't be real hematite, they're glass).

I strung my 270 beads (actually 280, just in case. Taking as a rule of thumb the number of needle sizes up from the suggested gauge, I cast on using a US size 8/5 mm needles (she went from a US 1 to a US 6).

And started fudging and swearing my way through the pattern. It's one of those that make sense if you already know how to do what she's telling you to do, but if you're not sure and you don't speak knitting in her particular idiom (that is, if you are me) the only thing to do is start knitting. Trying to read the pattern and just figure it out are not going to work.

It turns out it's pretty simple. Two rows of garter stitch and one 2 row pattern stitch where the pattern creates a dropped stitch. I have done this before, just not the way she does it. The double wrap is the same, it's the way she drops the stitch. The pattern says to unwrap one strand and knit the remaining, now a single very long stitch. I think it's way easier to insert you're needle under the two wraps, knit the front leg of the stitch and slip the whole thing off in one motion. Just sayin'.

That, however, is not the real issue. After knitting a couple repeats ( it's only 30 stitches wide) I came upon a fundamental difference in vision. One that has nothing to do with whatever variations there may be in knitting vernacular. Each complete pattern repeat/4 rows only works out to about an inch. The pattern calls for adding beads to only the first and last 9 pattern repeats. Do you understand what that means? Only the ends are beaded. I want the whole scarf to have beads. And I do not want an 18 inch scarf. This is more that poo-tay-to, po-tah-to. This is more than po-tay-to, pomme de terre. This is po-tay-to, asparagus. Possibly po-tay-to, pomegranate.

I believe the phrase we're looking for here is, "Oh, snap." I have to do some Math. I have to swatch.

Then I have to string a lot more beads.