Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Casting on

There are some yarns you either love or hate. And I think I have just made a mistake, the kind of mistake you make when $40 more will get you free shipping so you order 6 balls of yarn without knowing if you're a lover or a hater. This is the pattern photo that did it:
I can't explain why I thought I would want to knit this twice. I would be very excited to wear this scarf, and I picked great colors for matching my coat, but the pattern itself seems very simple. I just started working on the first version this afternoon, and so far, I'm a hater. Now that I've had a chance to collect myself, I realize that a more appropriate needle would have made the whole experience a lot smoother. At first I tried some generic and pointy aluminum needles, but they were way too heavy, so I cast on again using Addis (the regular ones, not the lace version). I'll give you a peek at how things went:
This is what Mo would call "a hot mess". This particular disaster is because I jumped up to grab the phone, but the experience as a whole was fairly unpleasant. I think it's still early enough to manage without resorting to scissors even though I've heard this yarn is a terror to take out. I may leave this until I can get my hands on some nice, pointy lace needles.

To avoid dealing with the magenta business above, I decided to start my swatch for Alouette. Sometimes, it turns out, I'm a lover. A lover who wants to do the gauge swatch right. A lover who doesn't mind having to cast on again and again and again. A lover who is willing to go back and fix mistakes.
I love how the pattern is turning out. I can't wait to see how the colors play off each other in the stitch pattern, but I'm attracted to the simplicity of a single color; it seems luxurious in person. This swatch is much wider than any I've done before. I just listened to the swatching episode of the Knit Science podcast, and she recommends doubling the suggested width and measuring from the center to avoid any weird tension changes near the edges. For a while I toyed with the idea of going all out and making a complete sleeve as a gauge swatch, but I worried that doing all of the stripes would leave me with unusable scraps of yarn if I ended up having to make changes and start over. The swatch is so large that it's likely I'll need to unravel it in order to finish the actual sweater. I'm not sure what the implications are for how I wash and block it before measuring. It would have been a much more rational purchase to spend some of that $40 on an extra ball dedicated to swatching and a back-up ball of Calmer.
I spent all of yesterday sewing up the pink cardigan, but I'm holding out for some sunny weather before taking pictures. smbelcas warned me this morning that the Blue Sky Organic Cotton stretches out. I was using the Dyed Cotton and not the organic version, but they seem as if they would behave in an identical manner. I'm hoping that the eyelet pattern will be enough to hold the stitches in somehow. Does that seem reasonable? And if I keep it buttoned, mightn't the negative horizontal ease keep the stitches from collapsing?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Mission accomplished!

Finishing up this hat was intoxicating. I had worried about switching to dpn's, because I had trouble keeping a smooth join in my Norwegian Stockings (and that was using two circular needles). Fortunately, Calmer is very forgiving, and changing the position of the joins every row definitely helped. The obligatory view from the top:

Do you see the section where two cabled braids begin to merge and form arrows pointing to the top? While I was knitting that section they reminded me of flying buttresses on huge cathedrals. It's a bit hard to see, now that the whole pattern of the star is visible, but I really enjoyed that section. I quite enjoyed the whole thing, actually. Towards the end of the arrow-y bits I realized I'd been doing the centered decreases incorrectly, not slipping two stitches knitwise. Slipping them knitwise makes the decrease disappear, fading in as a regular knit stitch, and you might be able to see the difference between the two decreases in the bottom of the photo above, near the middle.

When you give someone a gift that you made, do you feel compelled to point out your mistakes? I fight the urge, but sometimes I cave. I know that they wouldn't see it otherwise, and it usually serves no purpose to tell them. But what if the person you give it to is a knitter? What if they are learning how to knit, and you're teaching them? Does it make a difference if it's your mother?

I showed her my mistakes. I think she likes it anyway, no? Goofball. Technically she isn't learning how to knit, as she has the knit and purl quite well covered. She knit me a sweater when I was born, as well as a striped blanket with some kind of zigzag eyelet pattern. She hasn't knit in a long time, though, and I'm trying to entice her back to the craft. I eased her into it, suggesting a felting project. "You could make coasters," I said, "for presents." She liked the idea; a lot of people have been checking in and making sure she's okay, and making small thank-you gifts seems appropriate. We got all the way through the felting process, but I must not have warned her to bind off loosely, because the whole thing is curved like a piece of Brio train track. (Brio trains are so much fun!). After felting that first piece, I could sense enthusiasm was on the wane (evidence: leaving the yarn behind while going to a doctor's appointment. Not good. What else is the waiting room for?) so I promptly suggested another project. A scarf! Even better: for me! And here's where I go in for the kill: in Manos del Uruguay!

Hah. She's besotted. For a while I worried that the My So-Called Scarf is too tricky, because the stitch pattern is hard to read, especially if you're just getting reaquainted and you're using handspun. Not having made it myself, there are definitely times where her stitch count is off and all I can contribute is a puzzled shrug. However, I think something that challenges you is a better hook than something that is beautiful but tedious. The only other scarf that I've had my eyes on is the striped Noro, and I worried that feet upon feet of 1x1 ribbing would be too much even for the most enthusiastic recruit. I tend to prefer variegated yarn that isn't all out craziness, and this has just enough zing.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Knitting goals.

I don't have very much practical experience as a knitter, and I know that when it comes to pattern and color choice I'm fairly unsophisticated. I'd like to say that I consider a pattern and yarn choice separately, but the truth of the matter is that if I'm not drawn to the color in a photo, I'm not likely to consider knitting a pattern. I'm also a bit wary of substituting yarns, having recently made the poor choice to knit a summer type of garment in a fall or winter weight yarn. The top is more than fairly ridiculous, but I'm waiting for proper fall weather before making a decision about frogging vs lengthening the arms (I have plenty of yarn left over).

Because of a general skittishness with changing yarns and colors, when I fell in love with Alouette (from Rowan's Vintage Knits) I decided to wait until I could find 4 ply soft. I think Webs started to carry it simply because I queried their search engine so many times. They don't have the colors I'm looking for, though, so I tried a local (and very upscale) knitting shop. It was an unsuccessful attempt, so they started suggesting substitutions. All of the substitutions seemed very, very expensive. The only price tag I can specifically remember was for a ball of cashmere, which was $25 for a tiny tiny ball of yarn. I'm talking in the neighborhood of 25 to 50 grams. Now, I know knitting is generally an expensive hobby, but I am not prepared to spend from $225 to $450 for a single sweater. For one thing, the pressure might crush me. I might even stop knitting altogether.

Okay, that won't happen, but can you imagine the guilt? Buying more than $200 worth of yarn and then not touching it? I know this is what people generally refer to as, quote, "stash", but I don't think I am constitutionally equipped to handle the inner drama.

In their defense, the women who worked at the local shop suggested many different yarns, not all of which would have doubled the cost of the sweater, but I was so shocked by the cashmere that I blocked everything else out. I think I murmured something of a vaguely negative nature before retreating to the section marked "SUMMER SALE" in large, yellow letters. Clearly I had found my corner, and switching to Blue Sky Cotton from another worsted weight yarn for the Vogue Short Sleeve Cardigan was much less scary than speculatively buying 1,700 yards of fingering weight.

I tend to wear lots of neutrals. Just the day before my mom said, "I have a question. How does someone who loves bright color so much [that's referring to me] end up wearing so many boring clothes?" That may not be an exact quote, but the gist was "Why do you always wear gray?" Besides all of the neutrals, I usually have one color dominating my wardrobe. I am sure this is entirely driven by the fashion industry, since everybody else seems to be wearing a lot of green lately too. I would not say that I am against wearing pink, I have just already gone through my pink phase. I hate to say it, but switching to a pink instead of a tan was very close to the boundary of my comfort zone. I bought the yarn mostly because my mom liked the color, and I felt bad for dragging her to a yarn store that didn't even have colors of Calmer to look through. It didn't help when I found out that the colorway is called Shrimp (not a fan). I wasn't sure about the color when I cast on the next day, and I wasn't sure about the color when I sat knitting for six hours while my mom had her first chemo treatment. That's a lot of not being sure about a color.

By now I think I'm convinced, if only because my love for the process of knitting this has worn off onto the product. As long as this fits it should be fantastic with my green skirt. I really need to get better about this separation of patterns, yarns, and colors, though. I feel like I am usually trying to make an exact replica of what I see in a picture, with only the occasional tweaking. It was a big shock to hear how many modifications Jenny and Nicole make during the most recent episode of Stash and Burn; even more shocking was the huge variety of modifications suggested for the Corset 9 on Knitting Daily (if you haven't signed up yet, you should consider it; for one thing, there isn't a ten thousand million person waiting list). I would like to cultivate that type of independence in my knitting, and I think the best way to push myself is to try designing something from the beginning. I am so impressed by Mandy at zigzag stitch, her first sweater design had steeks! And a zipper!

I might be up for a vest.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Great Reveal

I had a bizarre experience finding out that my mom had cancer. For one thing, biostatistics is all about cancer, that and heart disease, so almost all of the studies we’d looked at or been told about for the past four weeks had involved clinical trials of either a chemo treatment or a beta blocker. Makes me quite glad to be getting back to completing my math degree; I don’t think the risks associated are quite as dangerous.

“Rachel, I have to tell you something. I found a field.”
“Hmm, let’s have a picnic!”

“Rachel, I have a set.”
“Of dishes? That’s good.”

“Rachel, I found a ring.”
“Wow, that’s lucky! Is it pretty?”

“Rachel, there’s suddenly a river flowing through the backyard and we need to know the cumulative volume of water flowing through our property over a week.”
“We have equations.”

See? No problem. Terrible math jokes aside, it was pretty intense coming home two weeks later, because my mom had waited for a few weeks before telling my brother and me. This meant that she had already had surgery before I got home, and was in the midst of a flurry of doctor’s appointments before her first chemo treatment. That first week was pretty much all cancer, all the time.

Well, that’s not exactly true. There’s been quite a lot of knitting.

Yes, I know there’s a mistake in three quarters of a row of the first repeat. The cables are what I like to describe as a non-event. I think there may be a row of cables crossed in the wrong direction as well, but I couldn’t quite figure it out when I looked earlier. The real issue with the hat is that it isn’t quite a hat yet.

More of a bowl cozy. I realized somewhere around the beginning of the fourth repeat that I was running out of yarn. You know that point where the center pull ball is no longer a solid object and starts collapsing in on itself? Very scary for that to happen when you aren’t even close to starting the decreases. Especially if you are on a road trip taking your brother to visit colleges and you have no other suitable projects for car knitting. I knit tighter and tighter as the rows went by, but I couldn’t make up for the incredible looseness of those first repeats. Fortunately for all parties involved, there was another ball of Calmer left in Khaki from the same dyelot. In fact, there was only one, so it’s lucky that I got to it first.

(By the way, if anyone is looking to buy Rowan yarns, Richesse Online is having a sale to help clear out there warehouse for a move. Now that I have stocked up for several projects I can let you in on the secret.)

Besides the whole running out of yarn issue, I love this pattern. It’s interesting, each row is easy to remember (although I did clearly make a mistake, so just be careful when you pick it up again after putting it down), it changes frequently, and it keeps you on your toes. Grumperina’s excellent tutorial on ditching the cable needle has been invaluable (I thought that word was right and I checked); I don’t think I would have gotten half as far in twice as much time if I hadn’t finally taught myself the technique. For anyone starting the pattern I would suggest using a sticky note to underline the working row, and crossing out the row numbers as you complete them.

In sum, I’m very glad to have started this project. That yarn delivery had better hurry up, though, because hair is on its way out and the wig is on its way in.