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Monday, November 28, 2011

It's therapeutic, really.

I'm a passionate knitter.  By passionate, I mean that I feel my way through knitting, that I'm personally, deeply involved in my knitting.  When things go well, I'm deliriously happy.  I've been known to point enthusiastically at other people in public (like for instance, the Durham Museum of Life and Science...ahem) when they correctly guess I'm knitting with Noro sock yarn.  By the way, whoever that was, I'm sorry I freaked you out.  Also, an apology to my friend Liz who was a tragic bystander to that moment.  I probably shouldn't have jumped up and down at the same time as pointing.  I just really really REALLY like knitting.  I get really really passionate about it. 

This is soooo going to be a part of my retirement plan.  Just don't tell my mother.

I also get really passionately disappointed when certain things about knitting do not go my way.  When my stitches don't count out correctly, as in lace knitting.  Or when I forget to double check my cast on stitches and end up knitting a foot long arm warmer that is tighter than its mate.  Frogging 12 inches of knitting tends to make my blood pressure go up, and I start feeling like perhaps I may morph into the Hulk. 

"Don't make me really wouldn't like me angry."

So think of this little story I'm about to tell you as a sort of PSA.  If you struggle with these feelings like I do, take heart.  Read on.

I love some of the tools that come with the knitting territory.  Specifically, I adore my yarn swift and yarn winder.  Maybe I'm easily entertained, but it just makes my day to bust those two things out and use them.  Something about the twirling of yarn (hey, it's dancing!!) and winding it from a pretty skein into a manageable little cake of yarn that beckons to the excitement of casting on for a new project, or serious progress being made about a larger project, it feels like its own achievement to wind a few hundred yards into a nice little compact ball. 

I had bought a wooden swift and a yarn winder a while back.  The swift is a beautiful, fantastic tool.  I highly recommend buying one for yourself or the special knitter in your life.  The yarn winder is also a valuable tool.  You don't necessarily need a swift for a yarn winder, but if you just have a swift, well, that's like having a bowl of soup with no spoon.  The winder is the spoon that makes it all so much easier. 

This ball winder just looked like a winder.  In fact, it was a smarmy little punk of a winder that had a soul full of clothes moths and porcupines.  It loved to eat yarn.  It started out so innocently.  It wound the first five or so balls perfectly.  Then we had a hiccup.  A ball of worsted didn't come out with that uniform drum look to the skein.  It was rather bell shaped...upside down bell shaped.  It was still workable, so I shrugged it off.

My friend came over one day and asked to borrow the yarn winder to wind up some laceweight.  We set it up, and I manned the crank, happy to see hundreds of yards of yarn get wound up without having to use our arms or feet or a chair for winding.  Immediately it all hit the fan.  It was as if we had boiled up eighteen boxes of angel hair pasta and then threw a stick of dynamite into the mix.  Yarn everywhere.  It was a veritable rat's nest.  It even looped under the holder and fouled up the gears of the yarn winder.  I began to feel angry.  Why the &$%@ would you even have exposed gears on a yarn winder?!?  We had several more gray hairs by the time we rescued every blessed yard of laceweight from the rabid yarn winder.  It went into quarantine on the shelf while I questioned myself about whether or not I broke the winder. 

'How could I break it by just turning the handle?' I asked myself.  'Well, you are you,' I answered.  'If anyone could do that, it'd be you.' 

I tried taking it out and winding other yarns, but we never got back to a workably wound ball of yarn.  I took it apart, blew any lint out of it, put it back together.  I tried going slow.  I tried going fast.  I told myself I just wasn't going to get that mad about yarn, for cripes' sake.  I mentioned pitching the yarn winder in the trash, but my friend said she wanted it, that perhaps she could make it work.

Time passed, but the simmering resentment of having a tool that mangled yarn smirking at me from the bookshelf ate at me, I confess.  Perhaps I hadn't been getting enough sleep.  Maybe too much coffee.  I am still at a loss to explain my actions.

One day we hit critical mass.  I pulled it out, told myself I would try again.  I wound two skeins of worsted and it looked just about normal.  I felt like we had made it through our rough patch.  I pulled out some fingering weight, and all h-e-double-hockey-sticks broke loose.  I tried to handle it like an adult.  I did some muttering, pulled the winder apart some more, tweaked cogs and various thingies.  My husband and son retreated upstairs when certain language made an appearance.  I tried to wind one. last. time. 

It chewed it up.  It broke the yarn.

I flipped the frak out.



I came back to myself.  I was sitting on the kitchen floor, bashing the yarn winder, swinging it by its handle into the floor.  I was muttering something about it needing to look as broken as it was behaving.  I could hear Steve telling my son to wait a few minutes before going back downstairs.  Andy asked why.  Steve said (and I quote), "Because Mommy is really mad at her yarn winder right now."


In the middle of what I guess must have been a rage blackout, I heard that and started laughing.  I got up, pitched the little schmuck into the garbage, and went on my merry way.  A wiser knitter (one would hope).  My husband, who somehow loves me in spite of myself, made sure to get me a proper yarn winder from Yarns Etc. for Christmas that year. 

I haven't had a lick of trouble from that one.

I believe that a knitter is only as good as the tools he or she has.  I believe that a knitter should use the best yarn she can (sort of) afford.  I believe that it's OK if my knitting has me seeing red, maybe even crying a little bit.  Or cussing.  Because even though knitting can be very satisfying, fulfilling, and meditative, it can also be quite dramatic.  There can be cliffhangers, tragedies, obsession, love, and hate.  If you've ever felt anything like I felt the day I bashed a yarn winder, know that you're not alone.

However, if no one out there has ever felt that, please don't tell me.  Please also do not send the men in white coats to my house, either.

I'm much better now.  Honest.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Best Laid Plans

I had this grand plan.  It was so simple.  Aren't those the two silliest sentences ever uttered/typed?  Every time I get really excited and start hatching a plan, the forces that be start laughing maniacally and get to work. 

I had planned on knitting two sleeves to go with the ginormous sweater I've been gestating for three years now.  I had planned on having oodles of time to knit both sleeves...this was going to be so freakin' easy that I'd sit down to knit and, 45 minutes later, I'd have two sleeves.  I had planned on then measuring the depth of my armholes, measuring the tube o' sweater I had finally, officially,  finished earlier this week.  Then I planned on breaking out the sewing machine, setting a nice line of stitches around my basting and breaking out the scissors for a little steeking.  But that wasn't meant to be, oh no.

Firstly, since I had oceans of time to knit two stranded knitting sleeves, I might as well cast on another project or two, since that's just not enough to occupy my time.  So then I busted out some graph paper, some good old Cascade 220 in black and white, and attemped to design mittens for my knit-finicky four-year old son that must have airplanes.  Not just any old airplanes.  They must be P-51 Mustangs.  Basically airplanes with propellers.  Does anyone out there have a freakin' clue how to do that?!?  I gave it my best shot:

That's my attempt right there.  I'd like to think that the art of knitting can encompass anything.  I've seen many a knitted thing that I didn't think possible.  I've heard tell of knitted boats, bizarre knitted animal attacks, and really teensy tiny knits.  I figured that I'd bang this out and it would totally look like a dang airplane on a dang mitten.  Um, no.  Also, if I try to follow the "rules" I've heard about stranded knitting (no more than two colors per row, no further than five stitches in one color), then you end up adding a lot of little "embellishments" to your airplane graph.  I'm attempting to explain it as flak to anyone who asks.  Including my son.  The palms are really rather nice, though:

Sooooo, after that little experiment, I thought I'd buckle down and start knitting up those sleeves, but then Violet got an ear infection.  It was accompanied by all manner of sad, feverish symptoms that made my poor little girl a very miserable, clingy, unhappy baby.  So, here is what came of my plans:  

Yup.  I'll be generous and say I think that's about 1/3 of a single sleeve.  In fact, since that picture, I have almost doubled its size, so at least progress is being made.  I also had to go to the fabric store and purchase more bobbins for the sewing machine since I sort of cracked the last one.  My sewing machine was originally my mother's.  It is beautiful, and you must treat it with respect.  It is not going to kiss on the first date, and the cracked bobbin was evidence of that.  I was being way too forward with the grand dame, and she let me know, in her dignified way, that I was out of my mind, sewing-wise.  My big plans for a post on steeking will have to wait for another post.  (I hope that might be next week.  I am now going to throw salt over my left shoulder, spin three times counterclockwise, and knock on wood.) 

Meanwhile, my lovely friend DJ gave me a moebius.  Not just any moebius, but a Cat Bordhi moebius:

Behold the Lacy Moebius Cowl!  Gorgeously knit up in Malabrigo Rios, in the color "Arco Iris". 

I just love the gorgeous colors in this.
So, for now, I'm still knitting sleeves.  I plan hope to be steeking in the next few days, but I must admit that it is the same kind of hope that I have when I hope I'm only in the dentist's chair for a little while, and that no cavity/gingivitis/unicorn/explosion is found.  I've been reading up on steeking, and I feel relatively prepared...except for the scissors going cutty cutty on my knitting.  That part gives me a hiney cringe.  There's just no other way to put it.  See you next time.  Oh, and:


Monday, November 14, 2011

What a week!

It is a historic day, at least at my house.  A rare event has occurred.  The last time it happened was possibly at least seven months ago, and goodness knows when it may happen again.

My friends, I have finished a project.


I know.  Me, too.  Stunned.  I have to wash it still, so perhaps not fully done.  I may be penalized for technically lying to you all...and I have to do a teensy bit of grafting to be truly, absolutely done, but really, I'm done.  Honest!!  Oh, and block it...

Anyone else getting reminded of a particular Monty Python sketch?

It's done entirely in Cascade 220 wool, and it's a fair isle yoke pullover à la Elizabeth Zimmermann and The Knitting Workshop.

It's a lot of firsts for me...first pullover, first Fair Isle, first time not following a pattern, first time something I've knit didn't ferment in the "unfinished project" pile, first time using the EPS whirlygig, first time I've knit something for myself that I didn't immediately start tugging and pulling on various parts to make it "fit better".  I did a swatch, got gauge, and then set to measuring myself and figuring out how many stitches to cast on, and the EPS formula did the rest.  And it fits!!! 

It's about 12am in this shot...not exactly my most glamorous time of the day.

I don't know about other knitters, maybe they're serene and confident the entire time they're knitting, but when I was knitting along, as I got further up, the more I became nervous about whether or not this would be a complete disaster of a knit.  One downside to a bottom-up sweater is that you can't shimmy into it to check the fit.  It's a total leap of faith the entire time.  Doing the Fair Isle, I stuck strictly to what wool I had in my stash.  It was a bit more colorful than I expected, and I was a little more worried that I would look like an Easter egg on drugs from the armpits up.  It seems to be all right, though. I modeled it for my son and my husband, and neither of them would lie to my face and say it was pretty if it wasn't, and no one dropped to the floor and had convulsions from the colors.  I'd say that counts as a success. 

I've also been making some fingerless mitts, using the Funky Chunky Mitts pattern I like so much.  I got some Plymouth yarn...and I've lost the label (de l'Air???), but the merino yarn looks really cool even before you knit it up.  Check it out:

I love how fall leaves make any picture look super pretty.

These mitts are a thank you note to someone who gave me a quite a pleasant surprise last week.  Unbeknownst to me, a friend of mine had signed me up for a sort of nationwide secret Santa.  So I received a big box in the mail last week with all sorts of goodies for my family all the way from Washington state!  I'm supposed to pay it forward, and I will, but I just have to give something back to my  extremely thoughtful secret Santa. 

And that's about it for me this week.  I had hoped to be finished with Steve's sweater as well, but that's going to be my goal for this next week.  I'll be steeking with the best of them, and taking lots of pictures to show here!  See you then!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sweatah Weathah

I hope you all had a wonderful Halloween.  My son went as an airplane, which is different than any other day of the year, when he is an airplane.  If I were Super Mom (or perhaps well-rested) I would have remembered to take a picture of him, but alas, I forgot.

We also have had the funk.  The nose-swiping, circus-seal-impersonating funk.  Both the children and I have it, and my husband is somehow immune.  That's probably a good thing,  because we can't handle a man-cold around here.  We still have PTSD from the last one in July.  Violet was up quite a bit last night, gritching about her stuffy nose.  It's really hard to reason with a baby at 4 am, by the way. 

I have been knitting, quite a fair bit, too.  I find that I really go to town on something simple when real life is whupping my butt.  That sweater I was knitting a couple of weeks ago?  It didn't really work out, so I did a mercy killing and started something else.

This is my lovely assistant Violet showing the almost-completed body and the almost-completed sleeve of another Elizabeth Zimmermann pattern, the yoke patterned sweater (Cascade 220 in Denim Heather).  I swear I do knit other things that aren't EZ, I promise.  I'm just...going through a phase.  Maybe I need to branch out.   But right now the endless rows of stockinette are very soothing. 

Here is another project I've been working on.  This is the Landscape Shawl by Evelyn Clark (of Swallowtail Shawl fame).  I've knit this before, and I'm making this for someone for Christmas...which I found out is only 53 days away.  Gulp.  Please don't smack me the next time you see me.  I'm just telling the truth here, folks. 

Anyhoo, this shawl is made from the wonderful, cushy, bouncy Elsebeth Lavold Merino Lace, but in my humble opinion, it is rather thicker than lace.  Maybe more like a fingering weight.  What's nice about the shawl pattern is that it has instructions for different weights of yarn, from lace all the way to worsted.  Each section/chevron of the shawl is knit in garter, seed stitch, stockinette, moss stitch, or reverse stockinette, and it has a nice picot edging along the sides.  What is also very nice about the pattern is that I can actually knit it.  I am missing that part of my DNA that allows other competent knitters to make lace.  I couldn't knit lace if you held a gun to my head, or a flame to my stash.  I cannot even knit the super-popular Swallowtail Lace Shawl that everyone and their blind, three-legged dog can knit.  I've tried three times, and ended up saying things that blistered paint. 

I am also reaching into the mists of time, sifting through the stash for another goody that needs to be finished. 

It's Elizabeth Zimmermann again (sorry, folks, I'm going through a phase), the Ski Sampler Sweater.  My husband has been waiting for this albatross for about three years now, and this year (knock on wood) it's gonna happen.  I am knitting this up in fantastically rustic Icelandic Lopi.  My husband loves that sort of thing.  In fact, as I'm knitting along, sometimes I come to a bit of a twig still in the yarn and you know what?  I just keep it in there and knit it into the sweater too.  He loves scratchy clothing, which strikes me as bizarre to say the least, but at least I'm doing my part to make sure he is itchy-scratchy all over.  My husband is...well, that's another post for another day.  I'll just say he's hard to knit for.  So is my son, come to think of it. 

I'm almost done with the body of this sweater, and then comes the sleeves and then....DUM DUM DUM...I shall be steeking.  That's right, cutting my knitting all up.  Making armholes.  I've never done it before--have you?  I find it makes me nervous that in the books I've read about knitting, whenever steeking comes up, the author invariably recommends you either have a drink afterward, or lie down in a dark room.  Sheesh. 

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