Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I got a new toy...

I don't know if writing counts as a craft, but if it does... I got a new toy!!

It's super-lightweight, was on sale (it's discontinued, but if you want one, see if there are any left here), and does more - but weighs less - than my Dana, and it helps that I don't have to convert my files once I write. And that I can see more than three lines of text at a time. Don't get me wrong - I finished a couple of books using my little Dana... but I have a new toy now. Plus, it's red and shiny, and I can play all the Spider Solitaire I want...! And did I mention TINY? It fits in the front pocket of my backpack. Which is not large. This is a very cool little gadget for me - and since we got NortonAV for it, it's actually a computer for me. Right now, we have a REAAALY old Mac and dial-up at home; this lets me haunt the local library and get stuff done on weekends, rather than having to deal with reeeeeaaaaaallllly slow internet. Yay!.

Yes, my Spinning Wheel got a wee bit delayed by this. But this, I'm using now... the Spinning Wheel is still in the dream stage.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Masters Monday, week three - lots of re-knitting ahead

This week, I knit a LOT. Got up through the first nine swatches, and discovered several important things:
  1. Knitting ribbing is tricky. The trick is to make all the stitches the same size, and there sure is a trick to it.
  2. Stockinette should be smooth - all the stitches the same width and height. There's a couple of tricks to that, too, and it's important, since a lot of the swatches are "stuff done to stockinette stitch".
  3. Selvedge stitches should all be the same size, on both sides of the swatch... and should be the same size as the stitches next to them, too.
  4. Increase and decrease stitches should be the same size as the stitches around them - there are a lot of tricks for that.
  5. Casting on and binding off need to be appropriate for the swatch involved in size and appearance.
  6. Basically, there are a lot of tricks involved just to get the basic appearance of the swatches to the point where they're worth turning in for evaluation - and I haven't mastered any of them!
Now, to get to this point, I had to do a few things. First, I chose to lug all my stuff - and there's a lot of stuff involved! - over to my parents' house, which actually has tables.

Then I started getting organized. Got all my "On Your Way to the Masters" articles sorted out in order of subject (casting on, tension, gauge, increases, decreases, binding off, cables, lace, pattern writing...), got my four reference books out (Montse Stanley's "Knitter's Handbook", "Big Book of Knitting Stitch Patterns", "Knitting for Dummies" and Maggie Righetti's "Knitting in Plain English".

Now, "Knitting for Dummies" isn't in anyone's bibliography, but it really should be. For the very, very basic stuff, (cast on, increases, decreases) it has explanations that make sense and don't assume that you know anything - which means you may actually learn something, rather than making assumptions yourself. While I won't cite it as a sole source, I'm going to cite it so it's on radar. And recommend it for folks building up their knitting library - even if, like me, they've been knitting for double-digit numbers of years.

One of the coolest things to organize was my Basics, Basics, Basics binder. In addition to all the revised materials that Arenda just did (which are just wonderful, btw - if you've been thinking of taking the course, these materials are even better and clearer than the ones I had, and they were pretty darned good!), I've got all her responses to my answers and swatches right there, and, knowing what's involved in passing Masters I, I have a better idea of what she was telling me, and how to apply it to my knitting.

Then, research on the questions. While there are a lot of questions (like the gauge one!) that require properly knit and blocked swatches to supply the answers, there are a lot that are answerable with even a not-so-wonderfully knit, un-blocked swatch. I've been going through my resources subject by subject, and getting as much written on my answers as I can. I figure I'm about 1/3 through the actual questions. Likewise, I've got the bare-bones outline of my blocking report ready to go, and I'm tracking down my sources for that.

Actual knitting... well, here are some swatch photos, and what's wrong with each of them that I'd like to fix. And yes, I understand this is hand knitting, and they're not going to be perfect. I'd like to hand them in with the minimum number of flaws that my style of knitting allows, however.

ribbing is uneven

really visible increases

increases on the right aren't really visible - but the ones on the left are

seed stitch - may actually be OK!

Chose my "choose your own cable" - decided to do a set of mated cables, to make sure I could get both types of crossover to work up to the standard I'd like to have.

Then... there is The Hat. The Hat scares me. Getting gauge is really, really important, and it's gauge after blocking that counts. And it's in the round... flat swatches and round swatches can be quite different in size. While I'm not too worried about the increases across the top of the ribbing section, picking the right decrease will be crucial. And can't affect the gauge. Plus, there's that whole "jogless stripes" thing - luckily, TechKnitter just had an article about that very thing in Interweave Knits! And I'll be finishing the hat with a pretty, fluffy pom-pom. I'm quite good (I hope) at pretty, fluffy pom-poms, and I like them better than the i-cord loopy-bow. I'm trying to decide whether to go two colors or three colors... there's strong temptation to make a white-and-red Where's Waldo sort of hat, since I could see wearing it (I'll be doing the medium-sized adult hat for myself), or go patriotic with red, white and blue. I'm certainly going to stay away from my usual eye-bleed-inducing color choices, since that's just not nice to the reviewers.

So, this week, I'm going to try to finish up the answers to the rest of my questions that I can answer without having swatches finished, and get all my references in approved Blue Book format. No, Blue Book format is not required, but after Law Review and years at a reference desk, I'd just feel silly if I didn't use it. I'm also going to try to get at least six swatches that I'm willing to turn in (that actually show what I feel actually is my "best work"), choose the other color (s) for my hat and get going on that, and start writing up my cable pattern.

Or not... it *is* a three day weekend coming up, so I might just kick back and goof off!!

Friday, June 26, 2009

UFO report: I finished something!!

As you probably guessed from yesterday's entry, and the associated photos, I finished the Serenity Stroller Snuggie, so thus far, the UFO Friday Project is working. Here it is, in all its warm, fuzzy glory:


See the cables! See the lace!

It was a lot of fun to knit, I must say. Since I was completely winging the border, I decided to take a stab at charting it up... and then realized that, no, winging it is more fun. I was going to chart it all for you, using the detailed how-to provided by Wendy), because if anyone needs a pretty border for something, it did come out nicely. But then I realized that things like "laundry" and "sleeping" needed to happen too. Sorry 'bout that - maybe later, when I find "spare time", whatever that is.

Next project to knit-to-completion will be, I think, Clapotis, since it's all sorts of lovely July-and-August colors, with just a hint of fall thrown in. See you next week!!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Blocking in 10 Easy Steps (HA!)

How shall I block thee? Let me count the ways!
Having actually finished (!!!) the Serenity Stroller Snuggie, complete with a nice, smooth-yet-bouncy cast off and all the evil little ends woven in, I had to block it. Since both types of yarn were labeled "washable", I wasn't too worried about getting it wet. And my mother, for no apparent reason, decided to give up the interlocking foam pads we got her to use as a "gym" floor - so suddenly I have interlocking pads that I can stick pins in (through a towel).

Note: stroller snuggie started smaller than blocking board, edging included.

But what's the best way to block a small, wool blanket made from hand-dyed (yet possibly not quite colorfast) fibers?

Internet to the rescue!!

I found To Block or Not to Block, Jessica Fenlon Thomas's great blocking article from the last Knitty of 2002 (and there's also Marilyn Robert's Swatch Out! from the first Knitty of 2003). Cirilia & Norah of the Berocco Blog answered some blocking questions just a few weeks ago. Plus, I have several books and articles about the process, and I have learned a bit about it from the TKGA Basics course. So, based on all this advice, here's what I did:

1. Read the label. Frequently, I lose yarn labels - but I've taken extraspecial care to keep track of these, since I'm giving the blanket away as a gift. (This is rare for me. I don't Knit For Others hardly at all, so I had to remind myself, over and over, to NOT lose track of the labels, and NOT lose track of the extra yarn...) Care instructions can give a good hint to what to do. Here, the Dulce requires gentle hand washing in cold water, and the Mini Mochi requires the same. (I'm going to give the new owner the leftovers of the yarn, too, in case repairs are ever needed, but as you can see, there's not much left.)

2. Determine type of blocking necessary depending on fiber and pattern. Things are a bit different for, say, lace versus cables. Naturally, I decided to make something with both, just to drive myself nuts. For cables, you want to not block, or if you must, cold water block only, so the cables don't get stretched out and flattened. For lace, on the other hand, you want to really stretch things out, to open up all the yarn-over holes and expose the pretty pattern. Lace always, always needs blocking. (Unless you knit really loosely - I didn't have to block my Secret of the Stole II, and it looks fantastic.) Cables interspersed with lace? I figured cold water blocking would work, if I was careful about how I pinned it.

3. Get tools together. I now have stainless steel pins (since my regular pins did, as promised, rust!), and interlocking floor mats, since this is bigger than my little clear-trashbag-covered-flattened-box will allow.

4. Get the sucker wet. Because of the care instructions, I reasoned a brief, unagitated total immersion, followed by being rolled, not wrung, dry in a big fluffy Martha Stewart white towel would be the way to go. Thankfully, I found (and washed, and super-fluff-dried) the towel last week, so it was washed and ready to go. Because of the cables, all this was done in cold water, and the floofly edges were kept mostly dry, since if the lace in the edge doesn't show up all that much, that's perfectly fine.

5. Start pinning. This blanket is supposed to end up being a square shape, but it's got a ruffly edge that, while not exactly the original plan, looks really, really pretty. With that in mind, I and my Helper Elf (aka my incredibly patient husband, who realized I was going to drive myself into a tizzy if this wasn't Exactly Perfect) figured out about how big I wanted the blanket to be in the end, versus what was its actual probable finished size, and figured out where the four corners on the board would be, and which parts needed more stretching than others. This lace-and-cables thing? YIKES..

Then it was a giant game of "add pins at appropriate points" until we ran out of pins.

... it's full of stars..!

6. Measure everything to make certain it's straight. And remeasure. And check with a right angle, unless it's a curly bit. And obsess about it. And worry. And finally get taken out to dinner because Helper Elf has about had it with the dratted blanket.

Center of snuggie now size of blocking board, so edges must dangle down to floof and dry.

7. Let dry for the appropriate amount of time. Having little or no idea how long this would be, a space on the floor was cleared so the house's central fan would speed the process. Lace, especially, shouldn't get touched until it's bone dry. Actual drying time: approximately 30 hours. (It may have been shorter; there was some sleep in there.)

8. Unpin. I took the pins out in more or less the opposite of the order I put them in, because it's headed for a baby's stroller - and I'd vastly prefer said baby to remain unpinned.

9. Examine carefully. Decide that it's quite pretty, and even though you're giving the blanket to a really good knitter, she'll understand that you tend to wing it a bit on patterns, and will appreciate that hey, YOU ACTUALLY FINISHED SOMETHING. And just in time for the baby, who made her way into the world last week, although she certainly won't need a warm, woolly stroller snuggie until October or so... she'll now be guaranteed to have one when she needs it.

9 (a), optional. Post arty shot of finished product on line for everyone to admire.

10. Decide that it's gonna be a while before you try anything like this again.... and then remember that you've got at least five things "like this" already started.

Repeat as necessary.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Banking for Crafts...

This one is mostly for my cousin, who collects banks. She's got some of the coolest looking things-that-hold-money! Anyway, a while back, I told you about my amazing money-counting bank that I'm using to save up for Crafts Stuff. Here it is, full-up:

According to my husband, it weighed slightly over four kilos. That's on the heavy side for a jar. Not so much for a jar full of metal, though. Now, during the process of filling up the bank, we discovered that it wouldn't take $1 coins - well, it would take them, it would just count them as quarters. But we put some in anyway. Just before we emptied it into the Giant Money-Eating Machine at the bank, it thought it held this much:

... but it actually had this much:

Later that day, I took my final trip to Scarlet Thread, and spent all of it. (The actual cash was handed to my favorite Muse, with another $120 on top. Hey, it's a my-favorite-LNS-is-going-away event; I HAD to buy it all; it WAS going out of style!!)

Now, the saving up begins again... and this time, it's going to be a several-jars project. I think I'm going to be trying to justify getting a spinning wheel sometime in 2010!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In Memory...

Long ago (back in the 90's), a lovely lady named Jan O'Donohue opened The Scarlet Thread in Old Town Fairfax, right off the main drag.

A few years back, Jan passed away, and another lovely lady, Sarah Leigh Merrey, kept Scarlet Thread going in Vienna, again, right off the main drag - and conveniently located near a bus stop. I could actually get there under my "own" power! Last year, the rent on that space went crazy, so Scarlet Thread moved out to Great Falls. And then, as you know, the economy crashed. Luxuries for many fell by the wayside, and cross stitch and all its little necessities are luxuries, even though they seem like necessities to me. Last Saturday, June 20, was the store's last day. These are photos from the weekend after the closing was announced... it was such an inviting, come-in-and-see sort of store.

just inside the door

a peek around at the counter

into the next room...

... and tucked into the farthest corner

It was the best cross-stitch store for at least 100 miles (probably much further, but that's as far as I'm willing to try to get someone to drive me), and it will be sorely missed!!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Masters Progress - Week 2

Master's Monday, Week 2: Knitting Math & Swatching. Since a whole lot of the Masters seems to be getting gauge, figuring out gauge, and related mathematical things, I made up a handy excel chart to help convert ruler measurements to math measurements, since there's a good chance I'll switch digits betwixt brain and paper if I try to add or multiply in my head.

(My husband also got the KnitGauge app on his iTouch for me. And the NeedleSizer app. True love is letting your spouse put knitting apps on your gadget!)

Anyway, added this "project" to my Raverly WIPs and my giant list of UFOs, just to help keep track of it all. Bought two more reference books (I won't be getting the RR history anytime soon... a beat-up copy goes for over $50!), got some floor blocking squares, and totally doused my first swatch to double-check for curling and other potential oddities that might occur with this yarn.

First, make sure the top of the swatch is flat.
Because this is garter stitch, I'm not stretching it much,
just making sure it's square.

Sides are next.

Then, once it's all set up...

...drown it.

Since there's not a *ton* of shaping going on here, I wet it after it's pinned in place; for the eventual lace swatches, I'll wet first and pin later. (Plus, with garter stitch, I don't want to flatten out the stitches!) This first swatch didn't come out too bad, actually; the selvege stitches all look the same, the "ditches" all look the same, and the increases are relatively hidden in the ribbing. I'll see if I improve as I go, and if this swatch needs reknitting later, but it's actually waaaaaay better than what I turned in for the Basics class so it might actually pass muster. It will be Officially Measured once it's completely dry - probably later this evening or tomorrow morning.

I've also been prepping for the report, and it's really pretty amazing how much stuff my brain has retained about (a) the subject at hand and (b) writing reports. Since this one doesn't have to be 200 pages, double-spaced and end-noted, it's not all that terrifying. I'm actually worried that I'm going to write more than I should, so I'll have to be ruthless when editing. I need to get all my research for the question section organized this week, so I can find everything I need when I need it. Thank the powers-that-be for Montse Stanley and Knitting History Online!!

I think if I concentrate on the questions right now, I'll have a better idea of what, exactly, the goal for each knitted swatch is. (Does that sound like I'm trying to put off knitting? Maybe I am. The knitting is the scary part.)

So, goals for this week are:
  1. rough draft of report;
  2. roughs of applicable parts of questions;
  3. at least one more swatch; and
  4. study hat pattern.

Friday, June 19, 2009

UFO Friday... some progress, sort of.

Okay, so I've had a week to finish (or at least work on) something, right? Well, yes, but it's also been pretty busy. I was out of work a lot last week, so I had a lot of stuff to catch up on. My dad was in town for a visit, too, and tomorrow, I get to see my nieces & nephew for the first time in two years! I'm really looking forward to that, and it required some preparation. Yes, yes, I'm avoding saying anything... you noticed that, did you?

Okay, okay, here goes. Here's what I've done this week (and yes, if it's in a bag or shoved under a table, it was probably there all week):


Serenity Stroller Snuggie:

Made it far enough to take out all but one of the stitch markers!

Phoenix (cross-stitch):

Peacock Stained-Glass Pillow (canvas):

Forget-Me-Not Shawl:

Yeah, I kinda snuck the Forget-Me-Not shawl in there, since it's almost time to find something else to work on until it's done. It's so soft and fluffy, I think it will be the knitted thing to play with for a while after the Serenity Stroller Snuggie is finally done.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Yarn on Thursday: links to a few lovely shawls!

Shawls in my Queue... just in case you haven't stumbled across these lovelies, here's a selection of shawls, stoles and wraps that are Out There (and either in my queue, or which I've already knitted up).

Secret of the Stole I, II and III by Nauticalknitter (aka Deborah F.) are amazingly lovely "mystery shawls", where every week during a specified time period, more rows of the pattern are revealed. They're all beautiful, and I'm waiting for Secret of the Stole IV. I'm knitting SotS-1 in some Pistachio Claudia Hand Painted Silk Lace, with these amazing coppery pearls. I got to about row 100 and managed to drop a stitch, and wasn't quite up to getting everything back on the needles back then, so it got frogged, swatched again, and I got this far:


Take II of SotS-1

Secret of the Stole II? This one, I actually finished. It's made from Sanguine Gryphon's Gaia Lace, and is soooooo soft. And the pattern was a total blast to knit!

SotS-3 started great. I found this wonderful (blockable!) yellow cotton yarn, and some great orange/yellow/red/garnet beads, and was chugging along just fine...

... and then I realized the shawl was going to have snowflakes all over it... which didn't exactly go. So, that got frogged, and eventually I will have a kick@ss beaded cotton sweater. And when I restart SotS-3, it will be made of The Really Limited Edition One-Time-Only Bernat Sparkle Yarn That Had To Be Hunted Down From Virginia to Pennsylvania. The folks at the Fairfax, VA A.C. Moore, who did the actual hunting for me, totally rock.

Aeolian, featured in the Spring 2009 issue of Knitty, is a popular one for sure (and if you look at the pictures with the pattern, you can see why)! This is the stuff I'm going to make it with, coffee blended to straw blended back to coffee.

Ever Green Knits knitted a lovely version in green, and was *very* happy to have it finished. (The post is called "Aeolian-Albatross".) Plus, if you search "Aeolian knit" in GoogleImages, you'll see lots of other lovelies (or just look at the projects page of the pattern in Ravelry).

I have THE prettiest sapphire-amethyst-emerald Claudia Hand Painted Silk Lace for Some Knitting Required's Pretty as a Peacock Shawl, which I've started twice and frogged due to Pattern Confusion. Being a much older and wiser knitter (by at least two, possibly three, years), I realize all my troubles could've been solved by the proper application of stitch markers. If you remember the UFO Friday shot of the Serenity Stroller Snuggie from two weeks ago, there were A LOT of stitch markers involved, and it's made that project go smoothly. I'm looking forward to starting this one yet again, now that I have Stitch Marker Skillz.

Fiddlesticks Knitting's Peacock Feathers Shawl is one of the Really Cool Shawls out there, and the first tricky (actual CHARTS! Eeek!) shawls I attempted. Sadly, this was quite some time ago, and I attempted it in baby-weight acrylic. Yes, you read that right. Acrylic lace. Thankfully, I was only to the third page or so when I realized it just wasn't working, so it got frogged out. (This is how you can tell I'm a process knitter; I had a grand old time knitting several hundred rows of a complicated lace pattern, and wasn't terribly upset to rip it out. My mother is a product knitter; she almost keeled over in a faint when she saw me winding the yarn back into a ball.) (Also, errata here.)

Holli's Go Fly a Kite has been in my queue forever, and somewhere in my house is the blue/gold yarn I mean to knit it up with. My house... it eats yarn. I don't know what it does with it, really!

Clapotis, from the Fall 2004 issue of Knitty, seems to be everywhere. Seriously. Other than my peeps at Nature's Yarn that do the Secret of the Stole stoles with me, this is the shawl I have seen most often in the wild, done by knitters I don't already know. ("Oooo! I love your Clapotis! What yarn is that?" is a great way to make new friends!) Mine is currently stalled here, in a small plastic bag:

I modified the Travelling Roses Lace Scarf by Leanne into a shawl by using bigger needles and adding a fluffy border. For no apparent reason, as soon as I'd hunted every Michael's in drivable distance to get enough Patons Lacette to finish this thing... the DOLLAR STORE near my gym decided to have a bushel-full. (*Sigh.*) Anyway, here it is, all finished, and being modeled by me last Easter:

The kit for Evelyn Clark's Pacific Northwest Shawl (which I got from Nestucca Bay yarns) just arrived recently, but I've wanted to knit it since I saw a navy blue one (no surprise, that's the color I got for my kit, too) about three years ago at Stitches East. I believe that the one I saw was actually THIS very shawl, by Glynda. (She's also done Peacock Feathers; hit the link, go look!!)

One of my few finished Fancy Shawls is Lilly of the Valley by Nancy Bush, published in Lace Style. It was fun to knit up, and I realize that I really, REALLY need to get a decent picture of it. And maybe get around to blocking it, too, now that I've got a set of interlocking blocking squares...

I'm modifying Toni M. Maddox's Tiger Eye Lace Scarf into a shawl. I have this AMAZING skein of Claudia Hand Painted Silk Lace in browns and blues and creams, and it told me it wanted to be in this shawl. Here's a shot of the lovely yarn, and a shot of the beginning of my shawl. It's actually quite a bit further along than in the bottom photo... but I kinda lost it in my house. I know it's there somewhere...

Forget-Me-Not by Shui Kuen Kozinski is lovely when finished, and the pattern isn't too hard, but tricky enough to keep me interested. And I have to be careful: I'm making it in HOT PINK MOHAIR. Seriously, I was insane when I started this shawl, but the yarn called to me, the pattern called to me, and I managed to buy enough that I can actually make a nice, large (but oh-so-light-yet-warm-and-fuzzy) shawl. Projected completion is some time in 2011.

So, there are some of the things I like; please share your favorites!