Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fait accompli

I'm really not sure how I pulled this off (though I do know I didn't get near enough sleep last night) but it's not even 10am the day before the deadline and I have finished uploading the photos of both new designs to the Land of 1,000 Hats.

Plus I finished the other big deadline I had for today, and that leaves me with just three more for the week, two of which I'm sure I can get done in one day, plus of course writing up the patterns for the two new hats.

Isn't it lucky that my hold on The Principles of Knitting came up again at the library yesterday? I am hoping even harder than usual that the new edition comes out this fall as planned, but in the meantime, I have three yummy weeks of learning lined up.

Starting right after I take a nap. Because I really, really didn't get enough sleep last night.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Have knitting, will travel

SUCH a busy hat weekend. And everything I did was in multiple colours. Mobility issues! And since I couldn't get out of being mobile, I adapted:

Why are you carrying a coffee bag? people kept asking me any time I lifted it out of my larger bag full of other travel oddments. Um, no reason really...

(forgive me the plastic tub, Helena; it kept the in-play ball rolling and preventing the needles from poking out the bottom of the bag.)

I was busy with knitting bits even before I heard about the 1,000 Hats, which means the at-home display bucket is overfull with my multiple projects-on-the-go as well:

But my irrational overcommitment habits paid off. I got many nice shots of a completed First Hat, and Second Hat has another hour's work in it, just in time for me to meet my unrelated June 30 deadline and move on to the three deadlines I face at the end of this week. Thank you for all your good wishes - they worked!

Friday, June 26, 2009

In the pink

Last night when my eyes were already sore from speed knitting I discovered I had dropped a stitch an hour's work previously, in a place where crochet-hook-pickup was not an option, just before elaborate patterning that sets the stage for the rest of the hat. I had no choice but to frog.

And now I will pause to recover myself before telling you...

... I got more yarn in the mail this week:

Heels and toes for my next socks! which will be top down, with a super roomy cuff, and honestly, I should be able to do something cool with a cable even on huge stripes, shouldn't I?

Or not. Either way it looks like I will have to wing a pattern this time, and lift instructions for the heel and toe as I go along.

And now I will go reknit the pattern patch I frogged. I'm going to try to finish that hat tomorrow so I can get started on the to-die-for second one with Jessie's yarn; if you've got any spare Good Thoughts can you send 'em my way?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Just in time

I have decided that when a pattern writes itself as neatly as the one I used yesterday, it's best to leave it and fiddle with some other pattern that didn't fare as well. And I must say, the stitch/yarn/colour combo I'm assembling for contest purposes is... oh, bliss.

But having had the idea for a second design to submit... well, I couldn't help jumping for joy when this arrived in the mail after lunch, from Jessie at A Piece Of Vermont:

It's a little more of her Bristol, in colours I thought would be just fabulous together. I was so right. And I have two stitches all picked out for making the most of them, as soon as I'm done with hat #1, which should happen by Friday. No fiddling here either! I can't wait to knit it all, never mind the increasingly impending Other Deadlines. After all, you have to live a little of your life on the edge, right?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Exciting new developments

Yesterday I had a note from Louise at Biscotte et Cie about a hat-making contest. How can I resist a hat-making contest?

(No really, how?)

The deadline is July 1, which fits in nicely with my current deadlines of

June 30
July 15
ASAP and
July 28 (for a baker's dozen of things)

Upon sitting down with my notes about hats - yes, I have a book of notes, owing to the multitude of hat designs that keep popping into my head the way ideas for stories do, only the hats are easier to see through to completion - I got a wonderful awful idea.

So I went to get my stitch dictionaries.

And the wonderful awful idea got bigger.

So I went to my stash. Actually, I used my stash pictures in Ravelry to help, and discovered I have more of something than I thought I did, which tells you something nice (Ravelry is great!) and not so nice (I would be sunk without Ravelry!)

And then I had to wind a lot of yarn into balls from the skein, one skein of which was hopelessly tangled. I name no names. But I will say that when you use my ball-winding technique on such a skein, while standing on one of the two chairs you've set in front of the living room window to catch the last of the natural light, you will find out exactly how many of your neighbours walk dogs of an evening.

I stayed up till midnight making a swatch and blocking it - no shrinkage, no stretch, huzzah! - and I absolutely LOVE the idea.

Only this morning I discovered that in my sleep I embellished said idea a little more, and now I am torn.

Fitted hat? Fuller slouchier hat? Both would look good.

Time constraints say fitted. Rereading the contest criteria suggests slouchy. Gut instinct says try slouchy and if it's awful, go back to fitted. Time constraints tap the watch and the list of existing deadlines. Brain says, More Chocolate. Now. Gut returns stubbornly to the slouchy option. Brain says Oh be quiet everybody, the first idea is almost always the best one.

The gut won't give up though. It's muttering that I should make time for two hats, one fitted in one lot of colour, the other slouchy with the colours in a different order, and enter both.

I can't start knitting till later today - what do you guys say?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In search of a sock

Kathi wants to know - and I can actually hear her evil cackling as she asks this - what socks I plan to knit next?

I want to know too. I keep seeing very attractive patterns for socks but having worked my way through one skein of the yarn I plan to use next, I know they won't work with such an assertive stripe. Probably the I'll do more of the same, fine-tuning the number of stitches so they're a bit thicker with more give in the ribbing. I'd like to try a different heel that lends itself more easily to mending later on too. The heel will be pink, I can tell you that - and the toes - because, naturally, I treated myself to the matching-yet-contrasting solid.

Which leaves the following burning questions for any sock knitters inclined to help me out:

Is it easier to achieve a stretchy cuff when you're casting on there, or casting off? I am guessing casting on, assuming a second needle that's three sizes bigger than the one you plan to knit with is held alongside the first throughout the process.

Is there any toe as cute as a toe-up toe?

How do you do an afterthought heel? (wait, Kathi's already answered that and sent me instructions, only they arrived right before The Very Bad Day, and I think I have mislaid them.)

Can you go toe up and top down and meet in the middle for the best of both worlds?

Is there an effective way to eat chocolate and knit socks at the same time? By way of Tootsie Rolls, perhaps?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mary's school for spinners

Hot on the heels of my escapist reading from the nonfiction section of the Children's Department at my local library, I have opened a school for the social history of textile craft. Welcome and thank you for joining me!

Lesson #1:

Process versus product crafting goes way back. If Penelope wasn't a process weaver, ripping out part of her work every night for three years just to hold back some would-be second husbands would have driven her even more insane than the 10-20 years she spent wondering whether the first one was alive or dead.

Lesson #2:

Ancient Greek non-slave women didn't have to make time for crafty endeavors like we do today. Their husbands set them up with slaves to do all the housework and gardening, and spared them the need to put in appearances at the theatre or even at a party (slave women covered for them there too, by way of providing the entertainment).

Lesson #2a

The husbands of Ancient Greek non-slave women also got to choose whether or not the baby they'd just given birth to was going to go on living or not (if it looked sickly or was a girl or was just one more mouth too many, out into the street it went) and the babies they did get to keep, if they were boys, were sent off to boarding school or the military at age seven). Still! Their wives got to spin and weave cloth till the cows came home.

Pop quiz:

How many tears were shed over Ancient Greek spindles?

Is the urge to spin now hardwired into some part of the human brain, and if so, is that why it's so soothing to do even when we're really bad at it?

Bonus question: The Vindolanda letters between early Roman soldiers stationed in Britain and their families back home include complaints about the cold and tell of socks and underwear sent north. Is this further proof that wartime automatically breeds sock knitting?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I finished something!

Something I can talk about, that is:

My very first socks! And oh how I heart them. They are all tingly to wear, owing to the intense softness of the Vesper Sock base yarn. And I do think they look cute in my shoes, though I'm not likely to have those out again till late September. Like I didn't love fall enough already :^)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mary, it's your stash. We need to talk.

I know I've said this before but man. I've gone from 0 to 120 on the stash front in the past three and a half months (and bought more this week. But I needed it, honest!)

It's a funny thing about stash. The more you have, the more it talks to itself, and then it sort of gangs up on you. Here I thought I'd fall out of love with the early purchases and only care about what just came in the door, but no. I still love the old stuff. Sometimes I bought for that love and now I'm getting inspiration for what to do with it, and sometimes I bought for an idea I had that didn't pan out, but I love the yarn all the same, apart from the purple stringlike wool that would make a good bag maybe, and has moved out of the Active Stash buckets into no-knitter's land until I get around to making said bag.

My point: now that I have pressing projects in hand, my stash is getting impatient. Let's take a look at drawer #1, in which I keep hand-dyed superwash wool. Except for the Tanis Fiber Art, which got its own drawer, owing to my going a little crazy when I got to see it in person at a big Knit Fest this spring.

There is a lot of Twisted Fiber Art here (pause for drooling) but you probably recognized all of that because I talk about it so much.

And tucked in between brighter colours on the left is an ordinary-looking beige morsel which, ha! is actually a bison blend that cost a bomb and is probably destined for socks, though I can't help thinking mitts whenever I get to groping it.

I also have a few things from The Black Lamb, including that rich blue skein which is half superwash merino and half silk and all unspeakably awesome. See that brick/yellow/green one? that one is begging to be socks. It's the same yarn I'm using in the stripy part of the Adventure Sweater and the feel of it knit up is comparable to Vesper Sock Yarn. Which is, I must tell you, Saying Something.

And up in the top right corner is a delicious skein of A Piece of Vermont's Homestead Aran Superwash... 185 yards of green-tinted 'Fade'. That one is whispering haaaaat, and I think also miiiiiiiiiten, in a taunting but delightful way. I probably can't get a whole hat and mitts out of it, unless I pair it with a second yarn as an accent, which is pretty do-able especially since Jessie has more in colours of great gorgeousness.

However, I won't be knitting any of those things anytime soon, because of the Other Obligations to which I have been alluding. Leave it to the stash to get all uppity about being left out. Don't worry, stash. It's not for long. Mwa ha ha ha ha.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Writing about knitting

Right now, I am writing about knitting more than I am knitting, and what I am knitting is tiny swatches to measure yardage or count stitches and rows per inch (pre and post blocking.)

And while it's no surprise to conclude that this sort of thing is of no interest to others even if I could post about it, it is a surprise to discover that it's still endlessly fascinating to me.

Meanwhile, if you start seeing short posts with pictures of stuffed animals playing with yarn, you'll know I'm hard at work and not just procrastinating about my socks. I'm not. Even though I, ahem, used some time I could have spent on them yesterday to wind the second skein from the spring sock club.

I couldn't resist, it was too gorgeous!

And now I will get back to the swatching. But first:

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Why hasn't anybody made a darning needle that's, maybe, 1.5" long?

(I throw this out into the ether remembering that not long after Karen described her cost-saving technique of using home reno store interlocking sponge floor tiles as a blocking mat, KnitPicks began stocking just such a product.)

Seriously. When was the last time you cut a tail, ran it through the live stitches at the top of a hat or mitt, pulled tight and tacked it just enough to stay put, and then tried it on only to discover you really need an extra row? You might have left enough of a tail to do the job, but -

that darned darning needle. The ones I meet all seem to come in a 2.75" length. And that means you need at least a shade more than 3" of tail - over and above what you need for stitches - to get the job done. And 3" is a lot of stitches when you're down to the wire!

Somebody could make a fortune.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Weekend knitting

After recovering from getting the Meditation Mittens pattern all set and posted, I spent the weekend working on projects I can't talk about because they're for publication elsewhere.


And while I'm on that subject, I must say I am learning a great deal about pattern-making this year. For example,

a/ There is no point in getting emotionally attached to the number patterns in the size you design, because when you are finished you will have to figure out three or four more sizes and the numbers will all change and not be as pretty.

b/ It's helpful to write the pattern down before you knit it, while you are still enthusiastic enough even for for the writing down part, because later you probably will not be.

c/ No matter how thorough you are in writing down the pattern before you knit it, if you are me, you will be rewriting it as you go, scrawling all over the paper little curse pictures for forgetting to note things like pattern maintenance while increasing and decreasing, and the stabilization of stocking stitch edges.

d/ You can knit a lot of flat things with strings of double-pointed needles, but it will take longer and your tension will show the lack of motivation to go forth and find straight needles in the correct size and length.

e/ This is especially true if your sample knitting is done while sitting over the axle in a vehicle moving over a concrete highway.

f/ If you are going to knit at all under such conditions, it is best to accept only icing dipped donuts, which do not leave sticky residue on your fingers like honey dip (allover sugar) or old fashioned glazed (ditto.)

g/ Rewriting the pattern will be challenging if multitasking efforts include watching a movie, particularly if it is one you saw in the theatre when it was first released, and more so if you're pretty sure it was at a drive-in, in which case you may be distracted by 1/whether or not that is true, 2/if so, with whom you saw it, and 3/why you are watching it again instead of being responsible and resolving all those little pattern issues because after all it's not like you haven't seen it before somewhere.

Plus I learned a lot about yarn and the importance of wrist-strength training for marathon knitting, neither of which is likely to be as important to you as this:

The movie was The Goonies, which did come out in June in a year that falls into my personal drive-in era, and I kept flashing back to crickets and mosquitoes while watching it, which I think is a Big Clue, don't you?

And now I will get back to my needles.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Meditation Mittens - a free pattern

I don't share much about my non-knitting or -writing life (gosh, is there even anything left after writing and knitting?) but I will say this: the last month or so has been a time of High Stress, without any of the amusing moments of the similarly named High Anxiety.

Shortly before the HS began, I cast on for these mittens. I had stumbled across the blog What Housework? and loved Jessie's writing and photographs, and then I visited her shop and really, really loved her gift for colour.* I fell hard for this lovely green in Bristol Real Vermonter and when it arrived, along with an undyed mate I thought might be an interesting contrast, I was amazed by its touch factor. This yarn was made to Jessie's specifications and shows her flair - it's got bite, somehow, and it's invigorating to work with.

I started right in on my favourite mittens in Favorite Mittens, but I couldn't follow the pattern to save my life. So I decided to maximize the softness and warmth for Jessie's yarn by stranding it and designed this pattern, right on my hand. Later I designed a man's size, on a nearby man's hand.

During the HS I've been knitting three projects. One is pleasantly mindless; one is eye and hand candy (I'm looking at you, Vesper Sock Club Socks); and these mittens - these are the ones that calm me down. You can't be stressed and be weaving yarn back and forth as you change colours for each stitch; the work reminds you with every movement to breathe deeply, to slow your pace, to be where you are. I am enormously grateful to have had the support of these mittens, and even though it is now summer here I am enormously pleased to put them on, every time I notice them on the side of my desk.

I hope the same is true for anyone who cares to knit a pair themselves.

Download the .pdf of Meditation Mittens

* I am also more than smitten with Jessie's spinning gear, but that's another story - suffice it to say that next time she stocks up with her husband's hand-made applewood nostepinnes, the line forms behind me.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

One last teaser

Today I have just one goal (unless you count dealing with Laundry Mountain):

Getting the free mitten pattern loaded up here.

Aren't they lovely?

This is what they looked like before blocking in Soak. Now they're softer and more rounded and generally a delight to my hands. I've been working hard all week fine-tuning the second size and translating between left and right thumbs, and I think it is time I freed up some desk space for all the other projects in the pipeline, yes? So if you'll excuse me, I have a date with some graph paper.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Knitting myself into a corner

So. I'm well on my way with the three projects I started a couple of months ago, and I have three more in the wings (one of which will be another freebie posted here, heh heh heh).

When, one might ask, am I finding time to write? Since that is after all my Real Calling.

The answer:

I'm not, and I don't quite know when I will be, though I'm hopeful I will be working on a novel throughout July.

In the meantime, the half-dozen knitting projects are very small and - no, wait, there's one more, also probably a future freebie if it works, or two if you count the second socks with the heel and toe yarn I have not yet ordered.

And then of course I'll be repeating mittens at least five times more, but that can be travel knitting over the next six months.

Probably this is where a lesser woman might start to worry, but I'm not lesser (in that way, today at least), and why?

Because I just hired somebody else to do house painting for me this summer. That's right. I delegated. I never delegate! But I should definitely do it more often, because knowing that I can work on my novel or knit endless Christmas presents while other people take care of my annual paint extravaganza is preeeetttty darned blissful.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why I joined the sock club

Need I say more?

I'm not quite finished with the first pair of socks, but apart from the nervous moments around the short-row heel in the pattern I chose I've enjoyed them a lot.

I totally get what the fuss is about now. Socks are so portable, and so compact! and it really is nice to be able to finish something quickly in very fine yarn and wear it next to your skin.

But it's not just the socks... it's the fun of Stuff In The Mail. The Knitterly Things sock club is so much fun I'm going to join the Biscotte et Cie club as well.

I did feel pretty irresponsible joining the sock club when I didn't even knit socks or want to start, but having thrown caution to the wind, I am thinking that with the new skein I need solid heels and toes. I should really spend that little bit more and make this new pair the most expensive socks I will ever own, don't you think?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Needle rescue

My aunt gave me the gift of sanity this weekend by donating her old metal straights to the Adventure Sweater effort. I mean, check out this pic!

They look so unglamorous here but let me tell you, they are an awesome present. Unlike the plastic needles I had in my own collection and was stuck using, these babies don't bend.

They're strong enough to support the weight of the sweater and they're soooo smooth, and they are 14" long, exactly what I needed! What are the odds of that?

and - get this - not only did she have 3mm needles to give me, plus 3mm and 3.25mm in 10" lengths, she had 14" 2.75 mm needles. I can make sweaters out of fingering yarn with them, which I realize sounds insane, but would be awesome for slim layering, don't you think? And almost as useful for endless portable knitting as a sock, what with the 4,386 stitches per inch you'd be averaging.

None of this is sarcasm, by the way. I've been looking everywhere for teeny tiny straights and nobody near me seems to sell them any more. What gives?

In other needle-related news, Binnie sent me a sweet little care package last week all tied up with string. Except it wasn't string, it was yarn. And even though I could tell it was really really nice yarn, I also noticed it was exactly the right size to serve as a stitch holder for the neck on the Adventure Sweater. And shoulders, come to that.

So I bit my lip, because I hate using beautiful yarn for unbeautiful purposes, and trimmed off the two bits for those. Then I used the rest for the remaining stitches and then I read an e-mail from Binnie confirming it was a Fleece Artist remnant. Ouch. But it will serve me well as a 3.5mm stitch holder for many years to come. Thank you Binnie!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Knitting lace

Do you guys know about the 1884 Knitted Lace Sample Book? I love this blog. Vintagekathleen, its author, found a scrapbook of lace patterns and samples in a used bookstore and she's posting entries from it with photographs and instructions. And her knitting is perfection, so all the samples look really pretty.

Every time I see a new entry I think not only about all the work she's putting into this for the benefit of other knitters, but about what knitting was like in 1884. I also think a lot about the woman who collected all the news clippings and patterns from friends to make up the book in the first place.

Back then, she'd have been knitting decorative things for her home as well as trimming for her clothes, and her children's clothes, don't you think? There would have been a lot of things to make and mend or replace, and perhaps even gifts to create, and over time a longing to keep it all fresh. She was probably excited by all the new possibilities presented by each pattern she found, the way knitters are now, even though today we knit so much less from necessity.

Unless, you know, you count satisfying an obsession a necessity. And I do!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A nest for needles

Last week my new double pointed needles arrived from KnitPicks and I must say I'm quite pleased, if mindful of the admonition "Don't Step On Your DPNs!" Those Harmony wood tips are sharp.

There is just one catch, and that is the helpful plastic storage pouch the DPN sets come in. You do need good storage for these needles in part because of those sharp tips and also because the sizes are not printed on the side, a sacrifice I'm totally willing to make for smoothness. But oh dear, the plastic. It smells. It smells very, very bad. And it makes the needles smell, and I don't want that smell right under my nose or getting onto my lovely yarns even if it is going to dissipate eventually.

So... I decided to turn a longing gaze on my Brittany birch needles (which, frankly, are becoming my ideal DPN except for being a little expensive to own duplicate sets of, especially when in the throes of an addiction to Twisted Fiber Art) and copy their adorable needle pouches.

First up: making a pattern.

(In case you decide to go with the idea yourself - I put the angles in the wrong place on the pattern! They should have been at the top of the little box at the bottom of the strip. I caught myself when I trimmed the final product.)

And then replicating it on bristolboard for all six sets of needles:

And then some presto change-o folding and snipping and taping and writing the size in the top right corner of each pocket:

And then plunk.

Did I mention there are six needles in every set, rather than five? I like that a lot. I also added a hole at the top in case I ever get organized with a wall of knitting tools.

And now that I'm done - I have to do the same for the new nickel-plated DPNs. But I think I might knit a little first.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Classic knitting

I am a sucker for vintage patterns even though, when you make them up as written, the armpits sit higher than a five-scoop ice cream cone. Honestly, how did women survive all those centuries with that kind of armpit restriction, let alone cook and clean?

So you can see how I would perk up when I stumbed across this book, titled Knitting Classic Style. It's everything you want in a knitting book - inspirational patterns, beautiful photography, and informative introductions. I did not know, for example, that the practice of layering a short-sleeved T over a long-sleeved T was begun by skateboarders. Apparently they were trying to show off their sponsors' logos as printed on short-sleeve Ts while protecting their arms from injury, but obviously they also knew a thing or two about cramped armpit-avoidance.

I'm finding it hard to go through the book and keep my hands on the pages... I keep looking up and noticing I'm simultaneously reading and walking down to the stash cupboard to see what would work for which garment. But here's the biggest shaming moment of all:

What I really like are the socks.

How is this possible? I bought a ton of Tanis Fiber Art Green Label Aran at a recent KnitFest specifically so I could make a sweater, and now all I can think of is what warm squishy socks it would make. I don't know what's come over me.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Stash by mail

Yay! The latest Twisted arrived yesterday! More duty fees, still worth it, must initiate self-restraint procedures anyway.

I think the new Weimaraner colourway is going to be fabulous in the Adventure Sweater, yes?

It looks completely different than I thought it would, and matches even better than I hoped. Also I love it, which is beside the point but a nice perk.

And I can't wait to get going on something matchy with my Valkyrie Duchess now that I have a perfectly tinted near-solid (Thunder) that equals it in softness:

I've spent some time this morning adding my latest indiscretions into my Ravelry stash list and, well, ack. I seem to have come a long way since the days when I bought yarn, knit with it, and bought more yarn. In my defense - back then all the other knitters I knew were students knitting from patterns. We all knew exactly how much yarn we needed, and none of us had the money to go buying stuff we couldn't use that day.

Now the other knitters I know are Evil Enablers.

First there's Karen, whose stash size is still nearly twice the size of mine and had better stay that way. Oh, the beautiful stuff she finds... and then the projects she chooses... it makes me want to have all the same things.

Then there's Kathi, ditto re. the yarns and projects, who says it's important to have a big stash when you're designing patterns so you're not held up at the point of inspiration because you don't have the right yarn. Sadly, I have found this to be true, and while I am not designing patterns to the degree of publishing multiple books of same (watch for The Big Book of Socks coming out this fall!) I do still prefer being free to knit on impulse.

Excuse: sticking to it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sock hop

Minor progress on a sock this weekend, and not much else, though I did finish the Left Mitten and worked out more of the pattern details. It's very sad because my only goal for the entire two days was Finish The Right Mitten and I had so many other things on my plate I barely made it past the thumb. Maybe today.

Of course, I still have something exciting to share - my new sock travel aid:

I know everybody who knits socks has probably used these tube things forever but I'd never seen them before I went to KnitPicks for needles and tossed one into my shopping cart.

Technically it's to keep double pointed needles from jabbing you or slipping out of the stitches or getting lost in transit, but I love how it removes all the rest of the gear from the equation and draws attention to how much work you've done.

I'm such a product knitter.