Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Night Circus, in book and yarn forms

Twisted Fiber Art is not just an excellent source of delightful yarns, but also, book recommendations.  A few months ago Meg mentioned in her Ravelry group she was thinking of dyeing colourways to go with Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, about which I had not heard, so (as you may recall) I looked it up and bought the audiobook.

Most people seemed to love The Night Circus and the few who didn't all said the same thing: it's a bit slow.  Having finished at long last I think that what they really meant is:

a/ it's a really long book

b/ the action spans a very long period of time.

Most (all?) chapters begin helpfully with a date but with an audiobook it's difficult to flip back to see what the last chapter's date was, and I found it hard to keep track.  Also, the story seemed to jump around a bit.  One reviewer had complained that 'nothing happens' which I found a bit strange since something is happening all the time... but the time does stretch out so that the things that are happening look rather small in the big picture, and perhaps that's what he was getting at.

In any case, it's an entertaining story and the descriptions of the circus itself are nothing short of delicious, which is good because there are a lot of them, what with the circus being the core of the plot and of all the events that unfold within it.

One conceit about the circus' style is that it is presented entirely in black and white and all the shades between.  So it's not a surprise that one of Meg's colourways - the one I had to have - is black and white and grey.

I do remember ordering this, but not why I ordered one skein in Playful

and another in Yummy.

It might have been because I wanted black and white striped socks and a hat to go with.  I suspect that because also in Playful, I ordered the coordinating 'Night':

which is, as you can see, straight black. It's not quite common to find black yarn, have you noticed?  and it goes so well with so many things and in so many roles, such as heels and toes and sock cuffs.

I suspect my having intended the Yummy for a hat because it's got cashmere in it and who doesn't want that on his or her forehead?  But also because...

... this colourway does do an awfully good job of matching the magical cowl.

Now, of course, I'm wondering why on earth I didn't order some in the velvety soft and fiscally conservative Duchess.  So I am probably going to have to get on that, and fast.

Speaking of the magical cowl:  I've worked up some informal instructions for how to make one of your own, and with luck and time to type them up, I'll post them tomorrow.  Have a great day and I'll see you then!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chicken Heart and some holiday boogie woogie

An odd bit of trivia that came out of listening to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is that Chicken Heart was real.

Yep, 'Chicken Heart'.  Maybe I was just sheltered, but when I was a kid listening to Bill Cosby's Wonderfulness, lying on the carpet in front of the stereo set my dad had built (the actual record-playing part had the same footprint as a loveseat, and the matching speakers on either side the same as a set of rather large end tables - to say music dominated our family life would be literal) I assumed he was making up everything about those stories in his jokes.

But there it was in the audiobook - a reference to the real-life chicken heart on which was based the Lights Out radio show presentation of Chicken Heart (click on track #9, at the right of the page) which, as I knew in spite of its not being mentioned there, later led to Bill Cosby smearing the floor with Jello so the Chicken Heart would slip on it before it could eat him.

Naturally, this discovery sent me to YouTube.

It is truly amazing what people will upload.  And also: how many phrases I still use daily without realizing they came from listening to Bill Cosby.

In only partially related news (the link being listening to Henrietta Lacks), I mentioned I finished my Holiday Boogie Woogie socks, right?  Still haven't grafted the toes shut yet, of course, but miracles can't always happen.

Leslie was so right about this being the most fun colourway to knit.  I am pretty sure I don't have enough left over to do much more than a palm on a pair of fingerless gloves, but I have enough of the other colours in stripes from other Vesper colourways to piece something together if I'm willing to put in the work (we'll see.)

I am especially in love with the cute green heel I got on this sock.

Possibly somebody is going to wonder about the safety pins so I'll just mention that I use them to help me make both socks match.  The pin closest to the heel marks where I finished the gusset, and one closer to the toe marks 10 rounds short of where the toe should begin.  I use them for the leg, too - first to mark ten rounds short of the heel flap, and then where the flap itself actually begins.

Life: make it easy.  and as fun as possible!  Enjoy your day and I'll see you tomorrow with some yummy new yarn.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Knitting sock yarn into gloves

I just love the look of gloves with the fingertips cut off, but I've never knit more than a thumb because fingers: they look so complicated.  To be honest, even a bit scary.

Now though, I feel sure that neither my wardrobe nor my life can be complete without owning a pair of really nice fingertip-free gloves.  So I am knitting some.

I did say scary, right?  Try getting all those points on an airplane, and I haven't started the fingers yet.  I should probably get the thumb onto some waste yarn or stitch holders, and now that my weekend audiobook has released its grip I can actually go downstairs to forage for same.

I'm not sure this is an entirely good idea, but I seem to be improvising the pattern as I go.  I did start with an actual pattern written by somebody else, and I tried very hard to stick with it, but it turned out everything the pattern said to do was something I wanted not to do.  I'm pretty sure I'm even coming up with a new sort of thumb, in spite of having designed one that made a lot of sense to me a couple of years ago.  Probably that thumb idea will not work out: it's the way thumbs go.

Meanwhile, I quite like the way this one stands out from the rest of the glove, at least when it's in repose, and the shadows are playing on it.

The yarn itself: so spectacular, so out of production.  It's Viola yarn.  And I'm so glad I bought rather a lot of Viola and then never knit it because Emily has such a gift for piecing together colours such that they don't pool or stripe but just look companionable, and it will take me a long time to knit through my stash of her work.

Did I mention it's sock yarn?  Choosing to use it for my hands was kind of torture because I bought it thinking how lovely and restrained it would look as socks - and it would be good if I had at least one pair of lovely yet restrained handknit socks.  But then I told myself I would get to look at the yarn more if it wasn't stuffed into a pair of shoes at a great distance from my admiring gaze, and cheered up about it.

This colourway is one of my most favourites - it's called Orchard and I kind of don't care that I want the gloves for Spring and the colours evoke more in the line of Fall.   I just loooove them.

Okay, enough wistfulness - it's back to work for me.  Have a very, very good day (maybe with an apple in it?) and I'll see you tomorrow!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Increase your knitting capacity with audiobooks

My weekend was entirely hijacked by the audiobook of Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and if you have not read it, you might want to go right now and acquire a copy.

You know when people say they couldn't put a book down?  (a comment made in several reviews of this one)

Well, I couldn't press Pause on the recording, and when I really had to do that, I couldn't wait to press Play again.  The book grabs you on so many levels, in so many different ways, it's bound to have something big to offer you too.  And while I normally prefer reading with my eyes, this particular audiobook is fantastically well-read.  SO highly recommended.

Not wanting to move too far from my computer - I wasn't organized about getting the book onto something more pocket-sized after I bought it - I got a ton of knitting in for the duration.  Knitting time just seems to expand when you're willing to stay up till 2am even though you have to be up at 7am, just so you can hear a bit more of a story.

Probably this huge expansion in knitting time is what made me feel generous enough to cast on another pair of small-person socks.  (we will just pretend we don't know that generosity is much less needed for socks small enough to whip up in a very short time, shall we?)

These ones are knit with Duchess from Twisted Fiber Art, in a colourway I stalked for ages before it came available again:  Dapper.  It comes with a Denim semisolid coordinate, and also a Suede, which is what I used for the cuff of this pair.  The heel will also be Suede, and the toe, and I am so in love with knitting them I might do a second pair with Denim accents.

I think the stripes are lining up all right, don't you?

Important note

There is something about Duchess that I knew and forgot, because I was preoccupied with discovering that - in spite of what I'm about to say - it's still just wool and not as warm as the wool/mohair Stoddart I make in the same weight for cold weather.   Here is why that just doesn't matter though: knitting with Duchess is an amazing experience.  It's soft and squashy, but smooth and slick as it flies across your needles.  Touching it with your eyes closed you would think it's silk, or possibly non-sticky butter.  I need more of this yarn, and I suspect you need some too.

Back to the audiobook

Technically, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is about some human cells, which have been used among other myriad things to develop the vaccine for polio.  The cells that are the subject of the book are amazingly prolific for reasons that seem not to apply to other cells used in research, which makes them exceptional.  They are cancer cells.  They were all grown from a sample taken from a cancer patient called Henrietta Lacks.

The story is, then - and not in any particular order - about

a/ biology

b/ the life and death and kind of immortality of a remarkable woman

c/ this woman's children and in particular her youngest daughter

d/ ethics (or lack thereof) in medical research and the changes in laws that relate to them

and, for me personally one of the strongest yet invisible points,

e/ the unbelievable focus and drive and persistence of Rebecca Skloot.

Whatever you enjoy in a good story is almost certainly in this book, and it is supremely well written (I actually understand medical stuff about cells now, it was so clearly explained.)  But whoa, in all of that I marveled at the writer herself, who first heard about Henrietta Lacks at the age of 16 and not that long afterward started into ten years of active research for this book.  It's the sort of idea that might cross a young person's mind, and might even take them far enough to think of where research might begin, but it takes somebody pretty amazing to pursue the story the way she did and to such good effect.  I find the whole thing incredibly inspiring.

Oh, and did I say I knit a lot while I was listening?  Because I got halfway through the Dapper socks, and finished the second half of the Holiday Boogie Woogie Socks, and designed and knit half of a pattern for fingertip-free gloves to take to Italy for al fresco dining.

I finished the book around 1am on Sunday, and then because I was just so impressed I went to Rebecca Skloot's bio  page.  Guess what?

She's a knitter.

See you tomorrow - I have stuff to show you, owing to all that knitting time.  Yay audiobooks!

Friday, January 25, 2013

The concept of the crocheted square: persistence

The last time we talked crochet, we were looking at some different approaches to making a square, with stitches that look interesting but are easy enough to do while stiff with fright and minimal personal space in an airplane seat.

(I kid.  I won't be stiff with fright.  I'll probably shake instead.)

The problem is partly finding a good stitch, and partly choosing a yarn, but running through both of those factors is a biggie: and the biggie as about finding a purpose.  So here's my progress report.

Good stitch

I realized that while my idea of starting with a little circle and working outward did eventually produce a cool log cabin effect (thanks for making that connection for me, Leslie!) I kept messing up where to do the corners.  And if that's the case now, how would I manage with shaking hands?  Also, why mess with the stripe in that way?  I've found that simple knitting shows off self-striping yarn best, so what about simple crochet?

That's just single crochet there, in about a 6.5" square.  I like how the stripes sort of point into each other like a backgammon board.  The repetitive motion is addictive and it's hard to stop anywhere because you get to the end of a row so fast and then it only makes sense to turn and go on a bit longer.  These are extremely good qualities for my purpose.

Yarn choice

I love crocheting with my Vesper sock yarn - it's soft but sturdy in socks, and in crochet, where the yarn is coiled around in soft curls for every stitch, the softness is more pronounced.  And I have decided after doing tons of research on crochet patterns, and my gut reaction to same, that appealing-to-me crochet is about colour, which Vesper has in spades (and no running in ends between them, either.)

 Here's what I mean about colour being a perk:

At this distance even if you don't love these particular colours together - and I've decided I don't, really - you mostly see colour with a bit of texture.

This matters to me because the truth is, I don't love the look of a crochet stitch the way I melt for knit stitches.  Having done quite a few now I think it may be because crochet stitches are so tortured, while knitting lies flat and peaceful.  But when you add colour, you get these nice Vs wherever the change happens, so that even up close you get a sense of loving handstitch:

The other advantage of sock yarn is that it's very compact for the yardage, which is important because I'm hoping to travel with just my carry on.  So: sock yarn, yes.  Vesper sock leftovers... maybe?

I love the idea of using up scraps, but even though a lot of my leftovers have repeating colours, they don't add up to a Whole, if you know what I mean.  I'm picturing a patchwork quilt effect for when I eventually combine whatever squares I make, but I think I'd go well beyond the 'crazy' of a 'crazy' quilt if I tried this. 

It struck me that if I reduce the size of each colour blot and work the joins in white to break up the onslaught, whatever I get could still look great.  So I experimented with a 4" square:

I like this a lot better.  Maybe I'm just getting more experienced and keeping my tension more consistent, but I was able to keep the sides sharp at this size.  Also, the stripes look more like stripes because you can get a couple of rows in before one colour cedes ground to the next.


You have heard probably about the concept of process versus product knitting?  Process knitters love to knit and have no problem ripping out one week's work specifically for the purpose of working more stitches.  Product knitters knit because they want the end result and the knitting itself is merely a means to achieve it.

Recently I've been wandering into process territory, experimenting with new stitches and seeing how different yarns behave.  But I still like to see something in return for the time I've spent on a project.  So if I'm gonna crochet a bunch of squares they gotta add up to something.

This is where my blanket obsession came in - but I think we can all agree now that even a throw blanket made out of 4" squares of fingering yarn is a bit ambitious, especially for a girl who likes to make other things over the course of a year.

Cushion cover?  Could be very cute... but I don't see using my Vesper stripies as an accent in any room in my house.  Nor do I see myself carting around a woolen bag.

(though maybe... a string bag? that could be useful on a trip, right?)



My goal for this year was to learn to crochet, and I've done it, and I'm happy.  I like making crochet stitches and I've figured out single, double, triple/treble, and slip as well as chain.  I can even do a slip knot by the third try!

But I have more work to do figuring out what end product I want from all the in-flight crafting, and what yarn I want to use to achieve it, and maybe even what stitch is going to be best, in spite of my liking for single crochet.

Yeah, I've been to the library.

I don't know - the more I think of this the more I wonder whether I can go more than a few days without knitting.  Even in a carry on, I'm pretty sure I could bring a very small blunt-tipped circular needle for making a few cowls, don't you think?

Speaking of which... I started another project last night, and I got back to work on my fingerless gloves for dining al fresco in Florence, so I'd better wrap this up.  Have a great weekend, and I'll see you on Monday!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Handknits in the cold: how the magic stands up

Yesterday was the perfect day (aka, -19C plus windchill when I first left the house, paired with a zillion errands to do on foot) to test the efficiency of some so-called 'warm knits.' 

Magical Cowl

Omigosh, how did I ever live without this thing?

It's basically a turtleneck with a little collar split at the shoulders to cover up any gaps where the wind might get in, and it is warm.  The bulky handspun yarn I used was too big for the needles I had, so the cowl stands its ground - no flopping open, and it's thick as cardboard.  Because I chose ribbing, it clings to my chin.  I can walk with my head high and it just cups the edge, keeping my neck secure, or I can tuck my head down a bit and get the freezing tip of my nose into safe haven.  Of course when I do that, my glasses fog up, but I can always look over the top of those.  It's great in 'warmer' cold, but in the 'cold' cold yesterday it was stupendous.

Magical Hat

I probably should have chosen a better band stitch because this pseudo-mistake rib doesn't hug my ears as snugly as I'd like.

However, like the matching cowl, it is super warm, much more so than my other 100% wool hats.  I don't know whether it's the bulky yarn I spun, the fact that it was handspun - do you trap more air pockets when you spin? - or the sheep it came from (Polwarth), but I love this hat.

Warm Twined Mitts

I didn't expect these mitts to work in very cold temperatures because they are, after all, knits.  The wind is going to blow through the stitches.

At -17C, I had to keep my mittened hands in the pockets of my down coat to keep my fingers warm enough, but at -10C, after walking for about 15 minutes, my hands were a bit sweaty even when loose.  That's a great performance, and not at all worse than my storebought, high-tech winter sport mitts.  Again: is it the fiber (mohair and wool) or the handspun yarn trapping more heat?  No idea.

Sailor's Delight Socks

My tall white boots by The North Face  are crazy warm, but in this kind of weather, they need help keeping my toes from freezing.  Yesterday's pick was a pair of toe-up socks I finished off with my very first functional handspun when the blue/green yarn ran out - again, all mohair and wool from Stoddart, like the twined mitts.

Note: this picture was SO not taken yesterday.

Those things are toasty, as well as stupendously soft inside.  At -17C, I was warm enough; at -10C a little too warm.  In a waiting room where all were required to remove our wet footwear: attractively attention-getting.  Go handknits!

Hope your day is warm enough (and not too warm, my lucky friends in Australia and New Zealand), whatever you have to wear to make it happen.  See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Snow day dreaming

The other day I had an e-mail from my cousin in England, with a picture attached of her charmingly snow-covered back garden.  My reaction:

a/ MAN I have to get back on an England-bound plane, because tea just tastes better in my cousin's back garden, though possibly not if it's cold enough for snow and I forget to bring mittens.

b/ How come south London has snow and Toronto has none?

Then Lucy at Attic 24 posted about her more northerly English snow day, spent out frolicking and then in, crocheting by the fire with hot beverages.  In the words of various people I know who are not so much prone to swearing: "Come on!"

Yesterday, we got snow.

Proper snow days in Toronto are harder to come by though, because the white stuff has to be super heavy and deep to shut anything down.  I would shake a fist at the snowplows and salt trucks we keep on tap here, if I didn't have to be a grownup and drive a car most days.

So, on the upside, I finally got driving experience in snow (because I couldn't get anybody else to do it for me) and I didn't hit anybody or lose control of my steering (often, or for very long at a time, or too near a cyclist, thank goodness.)

Living better, with or without snow

During an ordinary break from all the ordinary weekday tasks of this ordinary snow non-fest, I got to multitask listening to a little more of my new audiobook, Andrew Mellen's Unstuff Your Life, with folding laundry and crocheting a few more rows of my currently-preferred square in progress.

I think I would like this book a lot better on paper because I retain more meaning from what I see than from what I hear, though for some reason I do retain more actual content what I hear.  If I had it on paper though, I would have to work harder to find time to review said content.  H'mmmm.  Either way: it's a very good book on organizing your house and, by extension, your life.  Or perhaps the reverse?

Listening to it is pulling together a lot of threads for me, like

Life is so much shorter than you expect.

Yet... life lasts a long time.

You can do a lot in, and with, very little.

The time you spend not doing a lot is so much better spent enjoying life, than hunting for some important thing you've misplaced.

Enjoying life makes it much easier to see what you personally are meant to do a lot of.

(if you look, and if there isn't too much clutter blocking your view.)

My life needs an art director

Judging by the popularity of Star Trek conventions, I'm not the only person who sees a movie and thinks That! I want my life to look like That!  I'm especially drawn to movies with proportionally huge art direction budgets, with quirky main characters who are misunderstood, yet have the sort of clothes, haircut, bedroom decor, and personal soundtrack the average teenager would walk a very long way to have too.

Or former teenager.  Have you seen the YouTube video of how to do your own Coraline doll makeup?

I don't even want to think about how that woman crosses the room at a party in her costume; turns out the button effect is achieved by gluing buttons to your eyelids and keeping your eyes closed.  That's just an owie waiting to happen if you ask me.

Anyway, I got thinking yesterday that I would prefer my snow days to be more full of fireside and my every days to be less full of clutter, and really,

why can't they be?

(okay, the fireside might not be literally possible - there's a big sheet of collaged plywood over my fireplace right now, because when there's a fire in there the thermostat shuts the furnace down and the rest of the house turns into a meat locker.)

All I need is a really talented art director to come in and re-envision my house to be full of cool things, thereby giving me something to live up to.

Or maybe I could just knit some cushion covers for the sofa.  I don't know.

What I do know

It's gonna be snowy again today, and even colder than yesterday which is saying something, and I will be super busy for the duration: too busy for decluttering or being creative.  But we're midway to the weekend, right?  And maybe I can have a real snow day on Saturday.  Or at least, hot chocolate?  Because really good hot chocolate makes everything special.

Meanwhile: you have yourself a good day whether or not is has snow, crafting, or clutter in it, and I'll see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

But is it earth tones? the drop stitch cowl story

This cowl took me all of six hours to make, including an hour spent sourcing the pattern (Drop Stitch Cowl, by Abi Gregorio) and choosing the yarn and needles, and twenty extra minutes on adjusting for a loose-enough cast off, for which I devised a Trick I'll tell you about at the end of this post.

It is an awesome knit and if you know somebody who would wear it and have some superbulky yarn in your stash, I highly recommend you make one too.

The cowl story, which starts with pasta

I've been going to the same restaurant every couple of weeks for about twenty years, which is in itself pretty amazing because normally when I find a restaurant I like it closes a few months later, which makes me feel more than a bit like I must have the kiss of death or something, at least as relates to restaurants.

When you go into a restaurant that often you get to know the people who work there, and that can be nice.  Superfavourite person: Heather, and not just because she threw in - not literally - a slice of chocolate cake that one time Pete got takeout on my birthday because I was too sick to eat in (though that was pretty great.)

Well, at the end of last August, which you may recall was without understatement a horror show, I went past the restaurant and it was GONE.  When I wasn't looking it got closed so a BANK could go in.  A BANK!!

Obviously it's sad when a place you've gone into that much closes, but I was really sad.  It bothered me a lot, and I knew I was overreacting so I just kind of squashed it all down and tried not to think about it, exactly as you're not supposed to do with feelings like that.  But honestly: the restaurant has a couple of other locations, and I just told myself it would all work out.  Still... it was two months before I did go to one of them.  I just knew it wouldn't be the same and I wasn't in any hurry.

Exciting conclusion: the moment I did walk into the next-nearest location, I saw Heather at the bar, and that was that - I practically leapt over there and gave her a big hug, and Pete wasn't far behind me.  We were so relieved!

After we sat down and tried to look all normal and stuff, I realized what it really meant to me to have thought I lost Heather and my favourite restaurant: it had become the home you go to when you leave your own home for a little, the place you go where you're welcome and you don't even have to ask for that thing you love to eat because the minute you open the door Heather sees you and tells the guys in the kitchen to start it.  And after all the losses the past few years, I just was not equipped to lose that too.  Pete said he felt exactly the same way, which made me feel I was being very sensible about it all.  So when Heather came back to the table for more catching up, I told her I wanted to knit her something and I asked her what colours she likes, and she said,

Earth tones.

Best intentions

I guess I was kind of imagining I would be making a very meaningful cowl out of my own handspun dyed by one of my artist friends when I told Heather I wanted to make her something.  So at first I didn't even look at my whole pile of yarn options. 

Later I got to panicking.  When you have a stash the size of mine, it is more than a little embarrassing not to have a skein of yarn in earth tones.  I was looking at blue green blends and trying to tell myself that water is on the earth, and pink meadow combinations and telling myself gardens are on the earth, and oh man, I made this commitment in early November and I've been too shy to go back to the restaurant since then because I hadn't figured this out if only by going into a yarn store and buying something new.

Friday night, I decided I'd had enough, and enlisted Trish's support via e-mail for pattern and yarn.  Oddly enough I was with Trish when I bought this skein in a grab bag - it's a now-discontinued Noro superbulky wool, which we decided was the most earth tone-y of anything I had.  Now that I look at it, it's more 'rock pile', but I don't care any more.  I am pretty sure Heather has some black tops or sweaters that would look good with this.

Anyway: done!

Details, details

It's not the softest yarn, so I thought I'd better make a cowl that wasn't too close to the neck.  Trish and I both loved this pattern and boy was it easy (though the non-superwash wool did grab quite a bit when I was dropping the stitches.)  In the event though, the dropped stitch part? sooo soft.

My hand isn't just there to show the softness.  It's for scale, because this cowl is big.

The pattern doesn't come with any sort of gauge measurement or finished dimensions, so that was a bit alarming.  In the end I did a bit of a swatch to see how many stitches per inch I was getting, figured I would want a 26" wide cowl, and cast on accordingly (I went for 74 stitches on a 6mm, 16" circular needle.)  I cast off just shy of 9" into the cowl which looked perfect.

Amazingly, I had enough yarn to do all the repeats with a bit to spare.  But when it came to the cast off, it just wasn't as loose as I wanted it to be.  I didn't want to redo it with the kind of super stretchy bindoff you use for the top of a sock, because that would go too far in the other direction from the width of the cast on.  So here is what I did:

You know how you wind the yarn around the back needle to pull it through the stitch?  Well, I put my index finger up alongside the back needle and wrapped the yarn around it and the needle.  Worked like a charm.

And best of all: I get to have somebody else cook pasta for me again.

That's me for today, but I'll see you here again tomorrow.  Take care!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Handknit ribbing and other stripey things

I got new yarn in the mail last week, so I thought I'd better cast it on and start knitting right away:

I'm improvising this as I go, but it's going to be a Thing that goes over your head and, if there is enough yarn, a bit over your shoulders too.  Well, over somebody's shoulders anyway.  I'm not sure it's for me - I'm sort of hoping I can get a start on next Christmas with some early victories.

The yarn is an evolution colourway from Twisted Fiber Art,

and it's the last of my club yarn for the current cycle, which means I have had some more decision making to do about whether or not to buy any more of this session's half dozen colours (yes) and what to buy (oh criminy, I want most of the colours in all of the bases.)  Hopefully I can work all that out on my own and not bore you with it.

Meanwhile: I have a start on something new, which is always a good thing.

Two new things actually, because I also cast on some fingerless gloves.  I'll tell you more about these as I get a bit further but what I wanted to talk about today was just the ribbing part, because it struck me that while I was being all picky about the ribbing for these...

... I was being the opposite for the ribbing on the cowl.

See, for the cowl, I want a good stretchy ribbing in case I (or whoever ends up with it) get a cold chin and want the cowl to stay put around it.  There is no stretchier ribbing than K2, P2, so that's what I did.  It's a pretty sporty looking rib though, and this is after all a cowl with cashmere in it and probably lace too, so I worked the knit stitches through the back loop.  I just think it looks more elegant.  Also, because you're twisting those stitches tighter in the process, it makes the body of the project sproing out a bit more when you shift from the ribbing to the stocking stitch.

The pattern I'm using for the gloves - for now, anyway; I've already started improvising and may go on doing a lot more of it - calls for K2 P2 ribbing for the entire cuff, and I just... ouch.  I could not put such a sporty rib on what I hope will be sort of arty gloves.

So I went with K1, P1 rib and did the knit stitches through the back loop again.  I'm kind of kicking myself for not coming up with some completely different option for the cuff that is dressier than ribbing, but I think this will work okay.  And if it doesn't, I can always start over, right? (I am joking.  I can learn to live with almost anything if it means I don't have to start over.)

Probably January is getting to me a bit because I cast on a third thing this weekend which doesn't have ribbing so much as strong vertical lines:

It's Abi Gregorio's Drop Stitch Cowl, which I think is genius in its simplicity.  Also in its speed, because I actually finished it and blocked it before the weekend was out.  But I'll tell you all about that another day.  Meanwhile: can you make out my gorgeous yellow paperclip stitch marker?  If that isn't the definition of impatience in knitting, I don't know what is... I couldn't even wait to find a 'real' marker.  The paperclip worked fine and even matched some yellow flecks in the wool (it's Noro, there's always lots of different colours crammed into those skeins, you know?)

Hope your weekend was super productive too, and that I see you here again tomorrow!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Blankets: knit vs. crochet, buy vs. make

Everything I've accomplished this week - assuming there is anything, it's hard to tell - has been entirely overshadowed by the thought of crocheting a particular Thing.

Honestly, it's like I'm possessed.  I don't mind telling you I never aspired to do anything with crochet even after I found Attic 24 and saw all the pretty projects Lucy shares there, but now that I've finally learned how... I'm longing make blankets.

At the same time, I know it is crazy for me personally to make blankets, so I'm working very hard to
a/ make a list of very sensible objections
b/ make a list of objections to the objections

There is a rather fetching item at the core of both a/ and b/, and it is this:

This is a smallish square acrylic blanket I found at a Salvation Army Thrift Store several summers ago.  It is impossibly soft and cozy and I love the red, so I had to have it, and I didn't have to think twice; it was supposed to cost five dollars, but they were having a half price sale that day.  You probably have a pretty good idea what this blanket cost in yarn terms alone, and you too have probably seen a crocheted blanket or three for sale in every thrift store you've ever entered.  You see my point.

My Inner Conflict

This is the old buy a sweater vs. make a sweater argument, and I never let it stop me from casting on a sleeve, but blankets are just so very big.  I've been pricing, and you know what?  I could buy a Pendleton wool blanket from Lands' End in the colours of my choice for less than it would cost in yarn to crochet a superwash wool blanket, and my toes wouldn't stick out through the fabric either.

Still: the heart wants what the heart wants, and if I could just resolve the supply issue, I'd be all set.  Right now the obvious answer is Road Trip to Romni and its bargain basement, and if I get an e-mail from Trish after she's read this saying Let's Go! then that's fate right there, because if Trish thinks something is a good idea it always is.

Failing that I guess I'll go on a bit longer with Plan A, which, as you may know, is to use leftover sock yarn to make squares and join them with more unused sock yarn, an idea that had merit until I started overthinking whether I really like the way the self-striping looks when you start to get a round too large for one colour to stretch out over all of:

I realize these are probably not the most vivid colours to make a decision on, and the grey skies don't help.  Still, what do you think?  Does it look like some paint cans threw up?

I'm having a similar problem here, with a sort of scalloped square I was trying out and am not yet very far along with.

In knitting, I'd have no trouble making one stripe of colour last, but it appears that crochet eats yarn like it grows on continents' worth of trees.

(this begs the question, why not just knit a blanket to save on yarn consumption? and the answer to that is, um, I dunno.  except that crochet stitches are super addictive to make.)

Set against all this self-questioning are the fabulous blanket projects other people have done and which are luring me away from ready-made Pendletons.

Temptation Links

For example, have you seen the simple elegant beauty of this almost-monotone Granny Stripe Blanket by Joelle at The Purl Bee?  At first I couldn't believe it was actually crochet because all you see are these pops of one consistent gorgeous colour striped at a fair distance from each other over a beige background.  Probably it would be boring to work in one flat colour for that long, but think of how affordable it would be if you stumbled across a huge bag of undyed or pale wheat yarn in a sale, and punched it up with an expensive yarn for the stripe. 

My cold, cost-conscious heart also melts over Solveig Grimstad's Flowers In the Snow - bright perfect circles of colour joined in snowy white wisps of crocheted lace. It'd be a lot of ends to run in. It'd be worth it.

In Conclusion

You'd never see either of those blankets in a thrift store, I bet.  And you'd never get either effect with Knitterly Things' self-striping sock yarn, either.  But what I will say for the sock yarn is omigosh, soft!  and when you're snuggled up with your arms out over a blanket and your eyes firmly on a book, isn't that the most important thing?

Hope your weekend is not so full of indecision as mine will probably be, and I'll see you on Monday.  With knitting, because I cast on something new last night and I'll probably make a fair bit of progress on it while I go on debating this Very Important Topic in my head.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

For the love of stripey knitting

In spite of getting a little crochet crazy, I've been busy with knitting all week:

I am so, so in love with the colours in the latest club yarn from Knitterly Things, I just can't stop working on these socks.  I knit straight through a movie on Sunday night, and through Wartime Farm on Monday night, and through a program on the health importance of getting up and moving every hour (but that would mean taking a break from knitting, so um, no?) on Tuesday night, and another movie last night.

(just looking up all those links, it occurs to me my tastes are a bit varied.)

But in between all those knittings two other things happened.  One was, I thought about how awesome this yarn would look in a glove where I could gaze upon it all the time.

That's probably because I watched Coraline again a couple of weeks ago.  Have you seen how her tiny wee stripey gloves were knit? (they turn up at about the 1:10 mark, if not.)

The other was, a friend who has been to Italy said that while I am there I must dine al fresco.

Naturally, these two events combined into Must Knit Fingerless Gloves.  Honestly, sometimes I can see the wheels turning before they even start, I am so predictable.

At the moment I'm considering Susan Mehringer's Fitted Fingerless Gloves.  Wouldn't it be nice if I could pull off a pair with the leftovers from these socks?  Wouldn't it be even nicer if I finished the socks super soon so I could find out?  Excuse me while I go try.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Seating for knitters who are not me

This morning I had to do a quick driving run before sunup, and while I waited at an intersection a bus drove past, its lit windows spotlighting a neat row of quietly seated passengers: it was, effectively, a moving advertisement for really pretty knit hats.  Almost worth getting out of bed for.

Last week though, an awful thing happened to me because the most direct route from A to B was past The Art Shoppe, with half an hour to spare, and I went inside.

The Art Shoppe is a huge furniture store in Toronto where, technically, if you have to ask what it costs you can't afford it.  Except that everything has a price tag so you don't actually need to ask - plus, they are having a massive sale.  Really I was looking for new dining room chairs (long story, extremely boring) and the store has a huge display of dining furniture in its windows, much of which looks like it would fit very nicely in a small almost square dining room that also serves as living room, library, and craft centre.

I went through the whole place before spotting these chairs, which I want very very much.

'Collette Dining Chairs', from The Art Shoppe
But then I also saw a sofa.  On a return trip just to confirm that the chairs really won't work (drat!) even though I love them because on top of being pretty and compact they are comfortable, I sat in this sofa in the hope that it would be horrible.  But no. It's got down in the seats, folks.

'Kelly Settee' from The Art Shoppe
Also it is twelve inches narrower than my current sofa, because it gave up its arms, which frankly I could live without for twelve more inches of floor space.  But was that enough torment?  Of course not.  The very nice saleslady I spoke with also suggested I look at this sofa.

'Napa Valley Settee' from The Art Shoppe
And... just... whoa.  This one is so, so comfy.  And the same width as the Armless Wonder.  And even more squashy.  I was ready to take my knitting out of my bag right there.

I can't help thinking either of those sofas would look great with this chair, while I'm dreaming:

'Jaden Wing Chair', from The Art Shoppe, in Toronto

But the fact is I can't have any of it.  Gah!  Mostly because my current furniture is not only fine but was recently reupholstered at not insignificant expense.

Still: shopping is nice.  And now I have pictures to torture myself with remember it all by.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Beginner's crochet

I'm going to start off this post by noting some very cheery leftover sock yarn, because it's the high point:

These are all self-striping yarns from Knitterly Things, all of them superwash wool, each with colours that share and complement each other.  I think they would combine (with the many many other compatible leftovers in my Knitterly Things stash) beautifully into a cushion cover or two, don't you?

I know you're supposed to use worsted weight when you learn to crochet because it's easier, but any yarn I have that isn't earmarked for knitting is sock weight.  (though why I should consider using sock yarn for anything but socks is a bit of a mystery.)

Anyhoo, you know that thing about crochet being super simple, and faster than knitting?

This.  This took me two hours to get.  And it's still awful.

Lessons learned

Just because you know how to work with yarn, and you know how to work with yarn tools, and you know the basic principle of pulling yarn through loops, there's only a very small chance you will be able instantly to master a new yarn skill as though it was bred into your bones.

Crochet is maddeningly simple, but it still takes time and practice.

It's probably a really good idea to start learning crochet with a worsted weight yarn even if you think you are a total smartypants.

Slip knots: they are essential in crochet.  You can't start without one.  And I am totally slipknot challenged for reasons I may never understand.  I mean, on Day One of crochet madness, I made slipknots every time I squiggled the yarn around the hook, and on Day Two I made string.  Luckily on Day Three, trying to solve the problem of How to Crochet into a Circle, I found this video:

It's one of a whole series of beginning crochet tips.  Every one starts with this excellent approach to slip knots.  (didn't entirely solve my problem though, since the pattern I'm using wants single crochet stitches instead of double ones.)

Just figuring out how to hold the yarn and hook and the work in progress for crochet is an adventure.  After about 90 minutes of working a long strip of nothingness I was treating the whole thing like knitting and 'throwing' the yarn over the hook rather than maneuvering the hook toward the yarn.  (this is what desperation looks like.)

Even though crochet doesn't come easily to me, it is super addictive.

Even though it doesn't seem to radiate Aunt Paula's crochet magic into my hands, I still love Aunt Paula's blue crochet hook.

And most of all?  The biggest, supermost important thing I learned about crochet in my first weekend of trying?

There is a big, BIG difference between 'slip stitch' and 'single crochet'.

See?  Persistence, that's all it is.  Persistence, the ability to retain instructions after you've read them and, I'm guessing, leftover yarn from a whole lotta pairs of socks.

I think this crochet idea could really work out for me.

Monday, January 14, 2013

In which knitted gift socks are delivered

I seem to do this thing where I have a bunch of different projects on the go and I pick them up and put them down and take ages to finish any of them.  It's why I need so many sets of needles:

(I couldn't resist, I love these things so much! and they arrived superfast to boot.  Love love love the Needle Emporium.)

Now, as you know, I was supposed to have finished a certain pair of socks about two weeks ago, because hello, small socks don't take that long:

Except when there are distractions like this:

Oh dear.  The colours: they are so fabulous.  And the socks: they are for me.  And I'm just... well, there's no other word for it, GREEDY.  I love new handknit socks, even though I have more than I could wear in a month probably.  Well, say two and a half weeks.

And check this out, which I stumbled over when I shouldn't have been in my little project drawer by my nest on the TV-viewing sofa:

It's, um, more Stoddard yarn.  And needles.  Just begging to be cast on for cold-weather socks.

Le sigh.  I think it's just so sad that something as luxuriously addictive as knitting sometimes requires self-restraint, don't you?  But apparently I do have self-restraint, not that it's something I notice often, because lookit:

I finished the Winter Gift socks.  And just in case they were done so long ago that you forgot about them, here is the matching pair:

Their new owner seems very happy with them.

The second socks' new owner: very relaxed:

In short, I am now a very popular Mary.  And also, a Mary with freed-up knitting time.  Ha!