Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Good Omen

What better way is there to start a long holiday weekend than by finishing socks?

chevron socks complete
They are still only distantly related, but I love them anyway. The chevron pattern pulls in more than I expected, and unlike ribbing? Does not stretch out again. These were 78 stitches on No. 1 needles- if I do this pattern again, I'll need to try and get a few more stitches in. (Chevron pattern from Charlene Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks, only I did them toe up.)

I used the afterthought heel, on the theory that it wouldn't interfere with the striping (ha!), and wound up ripping out my first one and adding a couple more stitches at the beginning to loosen it up around the ankle.

Next up! More socks:
red wool socks

I brainlessly neglected to check the weight on the yarn when I bought it (Is it possible that Cascade 220 superwash comes in both sock and worsted weight? I could have sworn that the yarn I used for socks last fall was lighter in weight.) But, this is New Hampshire, and heavy wool socks have their uses. So I cast on, and started the toe- checked gauge. Got what seemed like a reasonable number of stitches- 68, about what I recall doing last year. Okay, so far, so good.

Got through all the increases. These socks were humongous. Bigfoot, professional basketball team humongous. So I checked all the numbers- which said that they ought to be the right size. But measuring it on my foot clearly showed that this sock was going to be huge. I considered whether my feet might have shrunk overnight. Discarded that hypothesis on the grounds that my shoes still fit.

So I ripped back to the increases, and started knitting again. Still too big. Ripped back again. Now they were finally getting close. In a lighter weight yarn, I'd have just changed to a ribbing pattern to suck up the extra width, but I didn't want to do that in a heavy yarn. And this is superwash- I'm expecting that if anything, it will stretch when washed. I reduced stitches again- this time to 48. (Unheard of in my sock knitting career to date- my family runs to large feet.) But. They finally seem to be fitting. Or at least until I get half the foot done and discover they're too small! But if I actually make the socks on this number of stitches? These are going to fly!

So, that takes care of my knitting for the Memorial Day barbecue with friends tomorrow. But for Monday, I'll have to take some other project- because both the socks and the gray merino sweater are surprise gifts for people I'll be seeing. I suspect it will be yet another pair of socks, since I'm on an airplane later in the week, and therefore will need to have something I can knit on my specifically-procured-for-air-travel bamboo sock needles.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Bag Lady

My husband and I have had for some time the intention of taking reusable bags to the grocery store. We approve of recycling, the plastic bags take an enormous amount of time to break down in landfill. However, our Yankee upbringing revolts at the idea of actually *buying* bags for this purpose. Certainly buying bags printed with the logo of the grocery store- paying for the privilege of giving them free advertising while *saving* them money for bags- just struck us as wrong.

So I looked around and found a bunch of nifty looking bag patterns, and have been considering sewing or knitting bags. Because of the aforementioned cost issue, I wanted to use relatively inexpensive materials, preferably something I already owned. Sewing seamed like my best bet (sorry, couldn't resist!), since I have a lot of leftover fabric from various other projects.

Then I went out to the sun porch to open the door so the cat could watch wildlife through the screen. Woats is an avid watcher of wildlife- but, as I was saying, I went out to the porch and what should I see but? A bag. A cloth bag, suitable for groceries, carrying of. I'd gotten it as a freebie at a trade show. And that got me thinking. So I spent half an hour rummaging around in closets, trunks, boxes not yet unpacked from one move or another. And I'm not done- I'm quite sure that I'll come up with a few more. But my haul?

Six cloth bags. Six. Four of them were empty and not even in use. Two from conventions, two employer freebies, the trade show one, and a gorgeous bag I received as a gift and have never used. One was attached to a green and white beach towel- another corporate freebie. That was doubly useless, since the towel was awkward to use with the bag attached, and almost nothing would fit in the bag besides the towel. I've detached the towel for general bath and beach usage, and will resew the bag seams to use for groceries.


I've pushed any bag-knitting or sewing plans back down in the queue. Nor shall I seek to purchase cloth bags. Clearly what I need is to mount an expedition into the farthest corners of my home, probe the depths of the closets and pry off the lids off the remaining unlabeled packed boxes. I wonder if I've got a pith helmet around here somewhere?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hey, Everyone- Swatch This!

So the first pattern idea I had for the gray merino was one that I've wanted to knit for a while. But a quick swatch showed me that no, the worsted wasn't going to work in a pattern written for DK weight without a lot of fiddling. So I set that pattern aside, and found another:

sweater pic from pattern

A nice basic traditional sort of pattern. So I commenced the ritual swatching.

Swatch#1- I knit with the needles called for by the pattern. It came out with immensely more stitches than the pattern requires. I went back and scrutinized it carefully. Perhaps the no-longer-available recommended yarn was a bulky, not worsted weight? Impossible to tell. But wait! It says swatch 'in pattern'. I did a block of stockinette. This wasn't an accident- several of the patterns used by the sweater are designs of purl bumps on a stockinette background. But some weren't. So I picked the design that looked like it would pull in the most (a garter rib, if I'm not mistaken), and started over.

Swatch#2 Garter rib, pattern needles. Still way too many stitches.

Swatch#3 Garter rib, smaller needles. Because I was brain-dead probably, and thought that smaller needles would make larger stitches. The laws of physics are unforgiving, however and this was not the case.

Swatch#4 Garter rib, larger needles. Now there are fewer stitches but not enough fewer.

Swatch#5 Even larger needles. By this point the knitted fabric was almost lacy in its looseness- definitely not what I want for the sweater. And there was still half a stitch more than the gauge called for.

I paused and regrouped. Carefully read through the directions. Pulled out a calculator to check the numbers. Found that I was going to need row gauge as well as stitch gauge, because the pattern was written for certain number of repeats. This means that having the right row gauge with many more stitches is A Problem.

So I cast on for the largest size with the needles called for by the pattern. Because at the gauge I was getting, the largest size in the pattern should come out at the size I want in the tighter gauge, so long as I use the number of pattern repeats for the size sweater it will actually be. I think. I'll just have to keep a close eye on the overall dimensions of the piece as I knit.

beginning to knit sweater

That's what I love about using off the shelf patterns. The way I can just knit them without all the extra calculation and figuring stuff out.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Done at Last!

Some of you may recall that back in January, I was sewing theatrical drapes, for reasons that seemed good at the time. I'm going to omit pictures, because frankly, it all looks the same (and not very interesting at that).

I finished a big batch of it in March, and in April I was in a drape hiatus (it got bumped out of top position by the sweater), but finally, finally it is done. The last six pieces are bagged and waiting for pickup, the drifts of fuzz have been chased around the room with a broom- I swept some out, but I have a suspicion that there are some larger clumps evolving into fuzzy new life under the baseboard heaters.

The project debrief:
(Mainly so if I ever have to con someone else into make additional drape, I'll remember how it happened.)

Black pieces: 10' 9"
Tan pieces: 10' 1"
Seam width 0.5 inches.

The finished length is 10 feet. Single-sided drape (black) was cut to 10' 9", and a casing sewn in each end. Double-sided also had a casing sewn in each end and the sides were left open. The double-sided drape methodology could be used to make lined curtains, though I would consider leaving a ruffle at the top, sew a casing in only one end, and possibly omit the supporting flap (unless the fabric was very heavy).

1. Sew the selvages of the pieces.
2. Put right sides together on a flat surface, with the tan fabric centered on the black such that there are four inches of black sticking out from each end.
3. Pin the two pieces together, and mark a line at the 4.5" mark at each end (such that there is 10 feet of cloth between the lines).
4. Sew along the marked lines.
5. Turn the piece right side out, and pin with the seam at the top and bottom, such that only one color shows on each side. You will have a flap of the black fabric folded inside- this is to form a casing so the weight of the whole drape is not suspended on a seam. Sew the ends of the flap to the tan side, so that a pipe cannot be inserted down the wrong channel.
6. Lay down the end, smoothing it so that all three layers lie flat.
7. Measure 3.5 inches from the seam and mark the line across the drape with a row of pins.
8. Sew across this line, forming the casing. Drape has casing on each end to extend the life of the drape (also ensuring that the panel is still usable at the event if one end is damaged).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Bastard Brother

So I was knitting along, feeling the Chevron love, when I came across a knot in the yarn. I carefully unknotted it, joined the next piece and kept knitting. Some rounds later, I noted that I wasn't getting the color I was expecting. Okay, I thought. So the new piece was joined at a different point in the color repeat. This yarn has a very long color repeat. Not so surprising. A few more rounds though, and the real truth comes out:

See it? Instead of beige/green/beige/purply-gray/green/beige, I'm getting green and *then* purply-gray. The color repeats in the yarn after the join are going in the opposite direction.

I had resigned myself to the idea that the socks weren't going to be an exact match when I declined to excise five rounds worth of yarn to get the first stripe in the same place as the prior sock. I was glad I hadn't been too set on identical socks when I found the knot. But these are more like kissing cousins than fraternal socks. And, while I could pull out the purply-gray bit, join the yarn from the other end and see what I get? I won't. Instead, I think I'll look at it as a chance to practice suppressing my anal tendencies.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Sheepish Tale

Over dinner, I casually brought up the upcoming sheep and wool festival. "An agricultural fair," I said to my husband. "Handicrafts, that sort of thing. Interested in going?" It was a tossup really. He doesn't have my enduring interest in fiber, but he does generally approve of handcrafting and local agriculture.

He didn't seem impressed.

"Lamb kabobs?" I offered, knowing that festival food is a good lure for this kind of thing. And they were mentioned on the website.

He gave me an utterly horrified look. "Lamb kabobs?!"

I was rather puzzled. "You like lamb."

"Do you mean to tell me, that you have this happy fibery woolly festival going on, and they're serving lamb kabobs?"

I blinked. I hadn't really thought about it in those terms, but, "Yes."

"What, do they have the Woolly Lamb Petting Zoo, with the Children's Abattoir in the corner?" he asked.

"I feel sure they separate the whole slaughtering operation from the gambolling lamb section," I told him.

"I couldn't eat a lamb kabob, with real live woolly lambs wandering around," my normally carnivorous guy said.

At that point I was pretty sure he wasn't going to go for it. "They probably have hot dogs, too."

He shook his head. "I can't believe you would eat lamb- and then go back to looking at the festival."

"But you like lamb," I couldn't help repeating.

"Yes, but I'd be happier if it was called something different," he said. "Not like a-" his hands waved descriptively in a sort of lamblike outline.

"Like beef doesn't sound like cow?" I suggested.

"Exactly!" he nodded. "Or mutton." The thought clearly diverted him somewhat. "I keep thinking we should try mutton when we're in England. It's such a quintessentially English dish."

I shook my head. "So you would eat a grown-up sheep, but not lambs if you could see them- what, you don't want to eat them because they're cute?"

"Well," he said. "Yes, basically."


I think my husband's still a little disturbed about me being willing to contemplate kabobs at the festival. But I'm not an irredeemably bad person. I haven't said a word about his fluffy sheepskin slippers.

In the end, I didn't go to the festival. Couldn't justify driving up by myself with the price of gas so high, or the time when there are many other things I needed to do at home.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Will the Violets Never End?

Sadly, yes, but I'm enjoying them like anything while they're here:

And, lurking around the back of the house, the Mystery Bush is at it again. Anyone recognize these? I love the flower, but have flipped through a number of books and not managed to identify them. The Bush is a bit less than waist high, and shows no inclination to get bigger, thought that could have something to do with its shady location.
mystery bush
(Edit: Karen and another friend have both identified this as a flowering almond. Mystery solved! Thanks, guys!)

Anyway, they certainly make a nice change from the beige front that's been passing through this blog lately. For example, I am still adoring the Chevron Socks:
chevron socks

But the discerning eye will note that there is a certain amount of beige in the colorway. Alas the new sweater, being gray, will not liven things up much. It's quite possible that there will have to be more socks before that really gets going. Bright, cheery socks.

The fact that I'm totally not getting gauge on swatch number five for the new sweater? Doesn't help.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Positioning Buttons

One more thing about the sweater- I noticed when I was positioning buttons that I was using a trick I can't recall having seen it written down anywhere. (So where did I pick it up? No idea!) But I find it useful to use safety pins to check the button locations. I use the safety pin as a toggle, put it in place, and then button the sweater using the toggle-safety pins:

This lets me check the positioning side-to-side, make sure nothing was spaced unevenly, etc, before actually sewing the buttons on. Not too bad on this sweater because I could use the pattern to ensure consistent positioning, but it still provided a useful sanity check.

Back to socks and swatching the next sweater!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Declare Victory and Move On

So there I was, knitting the button band, when I started to feel a little apprehensive... 'this button band sure is taking a lot of yarn' I thought. And 'isn't it a good thing that I saved the bit left from the sleeve instead of knitting it onto the body the way I'd planned?' I finished the skein, joined on the bit left from the sleeve. I kept knitting.

And then, four inches short of the length of button band I needed? I ran out.

Now I did have a backup plan. This is a long sweater- swiping a couple of rows from the body wouldn't have any difference to the wearability of the sweater. But it sure would have been annoying to take out that whole hundreds-of-stitches cast off and re-do it. Fortunately, before I had time to get too worked up, I remembered something else. The Strategic National Yarn Reserve, savior of more than one of my prior projects- aka, The Swatch.
swatch saves the day

And I was saved! After that, it was finishing the sewing, weaving in a million ends, and sewing on buttons for the win!

Excuse me while I gloat for a few minutes:

This was how much yarn was left:
very small amt of yarn

And now for the project debrief:
I'd forgotten how long this particular button band needs to be, but also how smoothly and neatly it finishes the sweater- totally worth the trouble. The sweater isn't really as long and narrow as it appears, the knit columns broken up with purl rows tend to pull in like gigantic ribbing- which should not only accommodate the larger size of the recipient, but gently gloss over any slight mis-sizing.

I like the Berroco Love It yarn well enough. It was a pleasure to knit with- very flexible and easy on the hands. I'm a little concerned about how it will wear- it didn't take well at all to being pulled out and reknitted- the yarn looks a bit scuffed. Although it's supposed to be machine washable, I'm going to recommend that it be washed inside a mesh bag to prevent excessive rubbing or stretching. I'm still a bit worried about whether it will pill. Time will tell of course.

I'm very pleased with the pattern - the top down construction made it very easy for me to try it on and decide if I was going badly wrong or not. It does need a certain amount of interpolation on the part of the knitter- one does need to think about sleeve decreases (preferably more thoroughly than I did before knitting). I enjoyed being able to use whatever designs I wanted on it (though it does take more planning to do because of the need to add increase stitches in pattern as the yoke grows in size). At the same time, I may think twice about using it again for something this large. By the time I hit the halfway point, it was hard to carry with me, which slowed my progress considerably, since I tend to do most of my knitting while running around. It would be completely brilliant for kid's sweaters though.

Altogether a very enjoyable knit, and I learned a lot. But for my next sweater? I think I'm going to knit a pattern from my bookshelf, and enjoy having the design done for me. I've decided that I don't require this level of deep thought in every project I do!

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Whirlwind of Activity

I don't know where the month went, I truly don't. It was March, there was this blur (with a gloriously summery week in the middle) and then, poof!, it's May. May. I'm wondering if some scoundrel has made off with a week somewhere.

Last weekend I went out to WEBS to see Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (along with hundreds and hundreds of other people). Everyone and their mother has already blogged about this so I will say only a) Northampton was as lovely as ever, and had all her spring flowers out to welcome us, b) Stephanie was as funny and gracious as everyone says and c) sock yarn was on sale:

I consider that I was fairly restrained, though part of that was that I wasn't vicious enough to elbow and or trample other knitters to get to everything that I liked. The store was very busy and crowded when I got there- by the time I left for the theater, people were packed in elbow to elbow, and you could hardly see the yarn.

On the cardigan front- I knit on the way out to Northampton. I knit while chatting with my lovely and hospitable mother-in-law. I knit while waiting at the store, during the talk, on the drive back. I've knit all week since I got back. This damned sweater? Isn't done yet. (Okay, I'm on the button bands. But I'm not making any more predictions about how long this is going to take to finish. I'm out of the predicting business. It will be done when it's done. Didn't I say some weeks ago that I tend to overestimate my speed at getting things done? I wonder why I didn't listen to myself.)

So. It's a cold and rainy Friday. And that's a good thing, since my plans involve throwing in a DVD, drinking a cup of hot chocolate and knitting button bands. However, I did get just a little bit of sunshine- it came in the mail. Woats helped me open it:

I could tell you that she loves yarn, but that's a lie. She really wants to eat the tape on the package. (She wasn't allowed to. She's still sulking.)

So beautiful sunny Lola (in a colorway appropriately named A New Day), my prize from Karen's blogiversary contest, is hanging out with the other sock yarns. She doesn't have a plan yet, but I'm turning over a few ideas.