Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ordinary Days

It's been the sort of week when I think- 'gee, I should write a blog entry, but there's nothing going on'. Which of course isn't true at all, as there's always something going on, but mostly it's pretty low key. Which is good, really. I enjoy it. It's just that excitement makes for more interesting blog entries. So, let's see what's been happening.

-I've been knitting mittens. There really isn't a lot to say besides that.

-I've also been knitting the back of the gansey. I've traversed approximately 11 inches of fine-gauge stockinette with another four or five to go before anything interesting happens. No photo- you can go look at the last one and picture it longer if you like.

- I'm still on a reading binge. Looking over the list, it's clear that Mike Brown may have to be let off the hook in favor of Donna Andrews. I started the month reading her first three Meg Langslow mysteries, and courtesy of the library I've just finished number 9. Three more to go before I'm caught up.

- I have dished out vast numbers of meals for cats. It's gotten so we number them. Jonathan: "Cookie! Good boy! You're very affectionate. Are you looking for dinner?" Me: "He seemed to really like first dinner and second dinner, but I think he's jonesing for third dinner." Jonathan: "Ah." What makes this amusing of course is that as often as not Cookie succeeds in conning a third meal from my softhearted husband. Besides, if he doesn't get his own food, he just eats Biscuit's.

-Biscuit is not nearly so stomach-oriented as Cookie. While Cookie is diving into the food dish in the morning, Biscuit will sit at my feet looking up wistfully until I stop and pat him and scratch under his chin. Preferably for quite a long time. While this is adorable, I do monitor the food situation pretty closely to be sure Biscuit is actually getting anything to eat.

-I felt unreasonably organized and pleased with myself when I got in the car this morning and realized I was starting my longest driving day of the week with a full tank of gas. Before I got too smug, I reflected that my method of tidying the coffeetable consisted of restacking the magazines so they'd stop sliding off onto the floor, and shoveling random skeins of yarn back into my knitting bag. Okay, it's useful, but not such a vast difference I should be congratulating myself.

-We took our first long walk of the year Sunday down in Andover MA. It was sunny but very windy and cold. Despite this, I spied my first crocuses of the season. The town is upscale and quite pretty, with lots of nice old houses and a pricy and very attractive private prep school at its center. We stopped and walked around their small but lovely (and newly renovated) art museum, which I quite recommend. And also checked out the Andover Bookstore, their lovely independant bookstore. I brought the camera but then forgot it in the car, so I can't actually show it to you.

-We've been plotting our vacation trips for this year. We quite enjoy visiting places that we've read about or seen on television, so we've been doing research. After extensive watching of British mystery DVDs, we've determined that Oxford is probably safe (we aren't academics, nor do do we have illicit Oedipal relationships- we've determined that these are the key factors in becoming murder victims on Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis). However, we may want to stay out of English villages altogether, as Midsomer Murders has shown us they are positive hotbeds of crime and villainy. Anyone got any good fiction (or non-fiction) recommendations for Bristol, Canterbury or Dover?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I Blame Mike Brown

Okay, so it's not actually Mike's fault. Mike did not make me buy a whole stack of used books in Dallas (we shipped them home, they arrived last week). Mike's book wasn't even one of the ones from Dallas, it was loaned to me over the weekend. Mike did not make me shove the knitting to one side so that I could read book after book after book like a junkie going after the latest fix (that's 9 books in the last 7 days, for the record). I never said it was his fault, I said that I'm blaming him.

See, last night, when I had intended write a blog post, I found myself with Mike's book in my hands. And I could have put it down- in fact I did put it down- to eat dinner, and then go to the library to return a DVD that was due back today. And then I got back home and picked it right back up again. I ignored the dishes, forgot the laundry, and only absentmindedly rearranged my lap for the evening procession of cats (who inspected the lap and then went and curled up elsewhere, probably because I was too absorbed in reading to Properly Attend the Cat).

Not that they were especially distressed. Cookie went and struck a goofy pose on the floor:
Cookie in a goofy pose

And Biscuit ensconced himself comfortably in the castle and enjoyed the view:
Biscuit watches from the castle

Where was I? ...oh, yes, the book. The book is How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown. He's an astronomer at Caltech, and the book is a charming mixture of astronomic history and biography levened with a generous dose of humor. It explains what astronomers, do, why it's exciting, and delves into the controversy over de-planeting Pluto, and yes, Mike Brown's part in its murder. Admittedly, I have both an interest in and more than a general grounding in science, but I think that this is accessible enough that anyone would find it fun. And while I'm still mildly inclined to say grumpily, "When I was a girl, we had nine planets.", his arguments against Pluto do make sense. I highly recommend it.

So, you're wondering, has there been any knitting at all? Well, some. There's this nice soft ribbed hat, destined for the 'give away' pile.:
2x2 ribbed hat

And these mittens, also destined for recipients unknown:

And in a fit of ambition (between books) on the weekend, I swatched with the blue yarn my mom and I dyed, and discovered somewhat to my dismay that the yarn really wants to be knit on US size 2 needles. At which I said, and I quote, "Urk!" And then did the math and cast on for a largish sweater. On size 2 needles:
the start of the gansey

The plan for this sweater is that it's going to be a gansey (or Jersey or Guernsey, choose your spelling) style affair- the sort of thing that will be light and warm, and yet not add excessive bulk to the figure of a gentleman friend who is perhaps a tad sensitive about a certain middle-agedness in his midsection.

As for the pattern-- well, I know what the bottom half looks like- ribbing (which I couldn't resist throwing a few little cables into, just for fun) and then miles and miles and miles of stockinette. Then a change to light patterning just below the armscyes. The actual patterning... is TBD. I have a book of traditional patterns, which has given me a few ideas, and I figure I'll have plenty of time knitting stockinette to think about the patterning before I get there. Plenty of time....did I mention this sweater is going to have 300 stitches around the chest? On size 2 needles. I think I'll blame the size 2 needles on Mike, too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


It's been busy in the knit department. At the end of last week, I once again woke up to realize that I was going to be seeing my mother-in-law Saturday, and would have a chance to give her her scarf, if only it were done. So I hustled through the last few repeats, despite determined feline 'assistance'. Biscuit's turning out to be a wonderful little helper. For example, here he is, helping me brush my teeth:
sink of fluff

I finished the last blessed row of tulips late Friday evening, but was determined to block it before I went to bed. Under the circumstances, I figured that soaking the scarf in a bowl in the kitchen was the best plan (or at least more likely to let me defend the project from curious paws) . Biscuit and Cookie both watched me block it, since anything happening in the sewing room is Keenly Interesting.

It blocked beautifully:
blocked scarf

And it dried overnight (okay, it was a bit damp at the edges, but it dried completely in the car) and I wove in the ends on our way west. My mother-in-law was gratifyingly pleased with it.
completed scarf

We had a delightful day in western MA- in addition to visiting, there was a large maple-drenched brunch at the South Hadley Sugar Shack, a stroll around Northampton enjoying the sunshine, and a superfluous but pleasurable browse through Webs (I was very restrained, out of consideration for the amount of yarn currently occupying my living room). And we finished the day with Mexican food before undertaking the long drive home.

With the scarf finally off the needles, I had some leisure to finish up both the cabled mitts and the latest hat. Biscuit likes the hat even more than the scarf- so much so that I had some difficulty in getting a picture:
Biscuit claims the hat

But human guile prevailed in the end:
Red garter rib hat
Garter rib hat with twisted rib border.

I'm now wallowing in my new yarn knitting up a few more hats and mittens before I cast on another big project. Not least because the cold I thought I had shaken before the Texas trip has wrapped another tentacle around my lungs, like the unkillable Creature from the Black Lagoon. The coughing- and resulting poor sleep- is not conducive to concentration on anything complicated. And the next streak of even moderate ambition I experience is going to be dedicated to sorting out tax paperwork. (Don't worry, I won't be posting pictures of that. Unless it has a cat sitting on it in a cute pose.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sporty Cabled Mitts

I finished the mitts over the weekend, and since Lisa asked for the pattern, I thought I'd post it: (If you spot any errors or have any questions, please do let me know- this is only the second pattern I've ever written up- and I don't think anyone but me ever knit the first one!)

cabled mitts
Gauge: Note that this design is super-stretchy, and should fit most adults even with some variation in stitch gauge.
Stitch gauge: 5.7 st/in in stockinette
Row gauge: not important.
Yarn weight: Sport
Needle size: US 3

K - knit
P - purl
M1 - make 1, create a new stitch by putting the left needle under the yarn between two stitches, lifting up, and then knitting or purling it through the back loop.

Cable chart:
cable chart

Instructions (Right mitt):

1. Cast on 48 stitches, and join, being careful not to twist. Arrange on dpns with 24 stitches on needle 1, 12 each on needles 2 and 3. If knitting on two circulars or using magic loop, arrange with 24 stitches on each side.

2. Work in K2, P2 ribbing for 2 1/4 inches.

3. Begin patterning and thumb gusset:
Round 1: Work first row of cable chart across first 22 stitches, P2, M1 (purl), K2, M1(purl), continue in pattern to end of round.
Round 2: (and all even rounds): Knit the knit stitches and purl the purl stitches.

Continue knitting, following the pattern chart on the back of the hand increasing 1 stitch on each side of the thumb gusset every fourth row, maintaining the rib pattern. Use stitch markers if desired to mark the beginning and end of the gusset. (Note there will be two knit stitches- one rib- in between the first two increases...the gusset will be centered on that rib.)

Therefore, the increase rounds will look like:
Round 5. Work the fifth row of the pattern chart, P2, M1 (purl), P1, K2, P1 , M1(purl), continue in pattern to end of round.
Round 9. Work the ninth row of the pattern chart, P2, M1 (knit), P2, K2, P2, M1(knit), continue in pattern to end of round.
Round 13. Work the first row of the pattern chart, P2, M1 (knit), K1, P2, K2, P2, K1, M1(knit), continue in pattern to end of round.

Knit 2 1/2 repeats of the cable chart, ending on row 5 (Round 29)
Increase until there are 18 stitches in the thumb gusset (Round 29)
Knit one more round, knitting the knit stitches and purling the purl stitches.

4. Knitting the thumb cuff:
There there are two ways to go- put everything except the gusset stitches on stitch holders and work the thumb on four needles. Or do what I did (because I didn't have stitch holders with me) and put all the hand stitches on two of the needles and knit the thumb flat on the remaining two.
Method 1 (in the round): Distribute the gusset stitches on three needles, cast on two stitches across the gap. Knit 8 rounds in K2,P2 rib (or to desired length) and cast off.
Method 2 (flat): Cast on 1 stitch at each end of the thumb gusset. Knit 8 rows (or to desired length), cast off and sew up the thumb.

5. Finish knitting the hand:
Redistribute your stitches back over three needles, join the yarn to the right of the gusset, pick up and knit two stitches across the thumb, and continue in K2 P2 ribbing for 2 1/4 more inches (or to desired length).

6. Cast off and weave in ends.

7. Left mitt: Work as for right except when you begin working the patterning and thumb gusset; work first row of cable chart across first 22 stitches, (K2, P2) four times (16 stitches), M1 (purl), K2, M1(purl), P2.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spring Fling

Over the weekend, I was in Dallas for the North Texas Irish Festival. It's always a good time, but this year was a standout.

The weather was sunny and warm. There were green things growing. (I know you folks in warmer climes are puzzled, you have to understand that by March we're starting to forget what green looks like in New England.) I walked around without a jacket on. In short sleeves. That's not going to happen around here until probably the end of May. Here's a couple of photos- ignore the Texans with jackets. They didn't really need them. The photos just don't do justice to the size of the thing. We're talking in the neighborhood of 40,000 people.

The music- the music is always good there, but this year, it was amazing. Ten stages, over 50 groups. We saw Tommy Sands, who performed with his son and daughter, who were both excellent. We saw Altan. We basically rushed from stage to stage, trying to pack in as much music as humanly possible into the weekend. (As a side note for my fellow music fans- this festival is a really good deal. The festival ticket was $25. For the whole weekend. A concert ticket to see a single one of these groups one time would cost more. And it's not an expensive place to travel to or get lodging in, either.)

Of course, two 5 hour plane flights with attendant waiting in airports, not to mention listening to awesome music meant there was knitting. A lot of knitting. And there were odds and ends of things I did in the run up and time after to add to that. So.

I finished the red and black socks:
red and black plain socks
The red was Wildfoote from Brown Sheep Company in Geranium. The black was some leftover Trekking solid, which annoyingly I can't seem to find more of. A pity, as it was a very useful contrast color.

And then, because socks are such useful travel projects, I cast on another pair. These were supposed to be the Herringbone Rib socks, but after a lot of frustrating knitting, finding my stitch count off, ripping back, re-knitting, I finally concludes these were Not Suitable for Travel Knitting. I frogged the whole mess and cast on for my usual basic toe-up socks, in Twin Rib, which I know well enough to knit even with the distraction of world-class music and occasional hit and run Celtic step dancers. (They roamed the festival in pods, when they weren't performing, looking for groups playing lively instrumentals. The Energizer Bunny would be left choking the dust of these kids.) Anyway, the socks:
twin rib socks in Trekking

I finished the crocheted red beret to go with the red mittens and matching scarf, so here's the set:
beret, mittens and scarf set

I took a couple of balls of sport weight wool to Texas- it's a very pretty brown plied with strands of blue and gold. I don't like sport weight for mittens (unless they're colorwork, to double the thickness) but I thought that they might be just right for fingerless mitts. Of course I don't have a pattern for fingerless mitts in sport weight yarn, but that sort of thing has never stopped me before. I've knit so many mittens over the years that I have a pretty good grasp of proportions, so it was just a matter of adjusting for gauge. Also, I'd been wanting to try something that I'd seen Lynne from my knitting group doing, which was a mitt in 2x2 rib where the ribs flowed into a cable pattern and back out. However the ones I'd seen her doing were just tubes, and I have a strong preference for thumb gussets. So I started with her idea as inspiration, swatched for gauge, and cast on, essentially doodling in yarn. Here's the first draft:
sport weight mitts, version one

These are perfectly functional mitts, the gussets work and they're comfortable. But there were still a few things I thought could be improved. So here's the second draft, still in process:
sport weight mitts, version two

The most visible change is the addition of a second repetition of the cabling, which I think looks more balanced. I also made some small adjustments in the length of the cuff, and the number of stitches around the thumb, to tweak the fit a little. I'm quite pleased with the second version.

Then for my next didn't think I was finished, did you?...I did a little salvage job. One of the things that came with my gift yarn were these two pairs of mittens.
legacy mittens

Examining them, I think I have a fair reconstruction of what happened. The knitter was almost done, and she found that the decorative stripes of red yarn had broken. She tried to fix it, using more of the same yarn and tried to weave in the loose ends, but the yarn was simply disintegrating. In the end, they were banished to a dark corner of the stash where they sulked alone for many years, firmly ignored.

I could see a couple of options. The most elegant would have been to extricate the red yarn and graft the bits back together. I rejected this for two reasons- first the attempt to weave in loose ends would make getting it out without disturbing the other stitches difficult, and second because I really stink at grafting in pattern. I can manage a reasonable graft for a short span of stitches in stockinette, but my skill level isn't really up to an invisible repair around a whole cuff.

So I went with plan B, which was to amputate the cuff, frog it, pick up the stitches at the wrist and reknit the cuff in the other direction. I could have tried to just knit from the red stripe down, but I figured that re-knitting the whole cuff would help to disguise the change in direction of the knitting (as well as the change in knitters) and give a smoother result. So that's what I did.
mitten surgery

I added some decorative stripes in a non-disintegrating yarn to make up the difference in length, and four cuffs and one thumb later, I have two more finished pairs of mittens.
legacy mittens, all fixed now

Of course it wasn't until I got done with the last mitten- one of the brown ones- that I saw the insult added to injury. This poor woman had not only had disintegrating yarn, but she'd knit two left mittens. (Take another look at the first photo.) It's no wonder she never wanted to see them again. (I took out the tip decreases in one of them, refolded it into a right-hand mitten and reknit the tip in the new orientation. Somewhere, I'm sure she's heaving a sigh of relief.)

I plan to wash these before donating them anywhere- they have the look of heritage mittens...passed down from mother to daughter, still unfinished (which I believe is actually what happened).

And that really is the end. Next up--adventures in maple sugar! Because that's how we start our pre-spring celebrations in New England.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

One of Those Weeks

It's been the kind of week when I'm perpetually a day behind, thinking it's Tuesday when it's really Wednesday, and Wednesday when it's really Thursday. This led me to work late as there were a couple of deadlines that hadn't so much rushed toward me as crept around to my back and were preparing to cosh me from behind.

Having hacked my way through thickets of paperwork, I figured it might be time to blog about the craft stuff, before I forget all the stories that go with these photos!

This is the project formerly known as 'secret', now revealed as a scarf. Technically, it's the Reversible Herringbone Scarf by Sammie Carraher, though I did substitute a seed stitch edging for her perfectly charming garter and rib edging. I'm not sure why, actually, except that it's the sort of thing I do, abusing perfectly good patterns in the name of individuality.

The yarn was Rowan Tapestry, which is very pretty and soft. I've been referring to the scarf as 'ocean ripples' for the delicious shading of blue into lavendar and back. I quite liked the yarn, though I did find 4 knots in 3 skeins, which was a bit more than I would have expected, especially since they're not overly large skeins.
Ocean Ripples Scarf

The scarf was for my mother, whom I saw this week and who loaded me down with goodies. There was a present for Cookie and Biscuit. (They were fascinated.)
Smells very interesting!

I need a long pole to put up the bird feeder, but I predict it will be popular. This was what happens when there is just one bird in the bush outside the window:
Hey, look at that!

I think that a constant stream of birds will make for excellent cat entertainment.

There was catnip, which Biscuit had off the top of the refrigerator less than ten minutes after I put it up there. Fortunately I caught him before he managed to tear the bag open and scatter it all over the kitchen. (He reports that it's very good stuff, and not too old as my mother had feared.)

There was yarn for me, and some needles and notions and a book of patterns, generously passed on to me by friends of my mom's who are destashing:
the new yarn

I'm quite delighted- I'd slacked off in the mitten and hat department, because most of the yarn I had left was light colors, and I needed more that were bright, or at least darker. And now I have them. The blue and brown sitting on the floor are wool. So I've been distracted from casting on a new sweater by the need to cast on bright hats and mittens and sample the new yarn. Also distracted from housework (not that it takes much with me) and various other worthy projects.

I'd take some photos and blog more about it, but I have to go knit mittens now.