30 August 2009

problem solved

When I learned to purl, I did it backwards. For months. No one noticed, since the knitting group I was able to go to was always more about hanging out, eating cookies, discussing books, and admiring others' knitting without analyzing it (way fun, with awesome people, but it only meets during the school year. I've missed them this summer). Stockinette was always twisted. Then, as I learned more, I suddenly realized that the stockinette sections of a tank top I was knitting were all twisted stitches. So I pulled up an internet video on purling in the continental style, figured out what I was doing wrong, and adjusted my knitting.

What I didn't adjust was the way I moved the yarn back and forth for purling. I had been bringing it forward and pulling it through the loop from underneath the needle. Now I had to wrap it over the top of the needle, which required more work. Soon, to get the purls to look right, I was wrapping the yarn with my thumb. This began to cause problems. The joint at the base of my thumb would ache from the constant swirling motion. I hated ribbing and seed stitch because they took forever. I pulled up another video on continental purling and watched carefully, trying to follow the other knitter's movements. And I failed. It just didn't work. My fingers wouldn't do what I wanted them to do. I sighed, and tried to just purl more carefully.

Today, while on Ravelry, I clicked on a thread about "What I learned this week" (I can't remember the exact title, but it was in the Techniques Forum). It listed different techniques and lessons knitters/crocheters had learned over the week. I'd learnt to cable without a cable needle (another problem solved with a sock I'd been knitting--when the pair's done, I'll write about them, since they've been in the works since July), so I had something to contribute. But on this thread, I read about something called "Norwegian Purling." There was a link to a video (think that's right; if not, go to YouTube and type in 'Norwegian Purling').

This was the solution I'd been looking for. I don't have to move my yarn in front, change my hand position, anything like that. I'll have to form a new habit, but this works. It works well. And my thumb will be happy.

27 August 2009

pictures of the pretty spindle

Picture time! Below is my drop spindle with a leader on it.

Here it is being spun around.

And here it is with yarn on it!

And this is a small skein of single-ply yarn that I've spun.

My first attempts were pretty messy, and while I still get bits that are too thick or too thin, or not twisted enough in places, overall, the yarn is starting to look more consistent. The fiber is a superwash Blue-Faced Leicester that I bought at the LYS. I liked the pretty colours. It's also nice and soft and I was told it was a good fiber to start with. I've actually spun about enough now to try knitting this hat. As it was written for handspun, I figure it might work decently well.

And, as I must do with many items, I have given my spindle a name (our old car was named Eleanor, my mandolin is named Jason, I've got a teacup called Hester--yes, it's silly, but I like naming things). So this spindle is called "Tara." After the character on Buffy. Yes, I'm a Buffy geek, and Tara is one of my favourite characters in the show. I was always so annoyed that they killed her off. And I've been watching episodes of the show while spinning. It seemed fitting. Plus, she seemed like the only character on the show who might spin her own yarn.

17 August 2009

Book Musings: Sunshine

A favourite book of mine (near the top of the list, actually) is Robin McKinley's Sunshine. I discovered Robin McKinley's books when I was in junior high (I think). I read Beauty and Spindle's End and Rose Daughter and The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. I even read Deerskin, although I wasn't really old enough to. What I loved about her writing was her ability to create a world so complete that it seemed entirely real. As you read, you knew there were huge numbers of things that weren't being mentioned, but they were still there, just because that world was so well realized. And as I have always loved fairy tales, I loved her retellings, her unique twists on classic stories. Her two versions of Beauty and the Beast were so different from each other, and yet, at the core, were the same story. It was amazing.

Despite my love of Robin McKinley's writing, I somehow missed it when Sunshine was published half a dozen years ago. I'm not sure how that happened, but it did. And I'm actually a little bit glad that it did, because I don't know if I would have enjoyed it as much then as I did when I first read it, nearly a year ago. When Dragonhaven came out, I devoured it. It was terrific. I felt like I was inside the narrator's head. To me, even though I recognized McKinley's writing style, it seemed different from the other books by her that I'd read. Then I ran across Sunshine last fall, and it is in a similar style (although every book she writes is so different--it's not like she tells the same thing over and over again, even when she retells Beauty and the Beast multiple times).

Years ago I would never have dreamed of reading a book whose theme centred around vampires. I didn't like the idea of vampires. They were too bloody and scary and I didn't do well with scary. During my third year of university, however, my roommate's boyfriend got me addicted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (thanks a lot, Peter). He wanted her to watch the first three seasons because he wanted her to see an episode half-way through the first season of Angel, and it makes no sense without the backstory. Anyways, I watched along with them, although at first I thought it was stupid. Then I got sucked in.There's something about this type of story--the way it explores the darker sides of the human psyche, the intense emotions, and, of course, the cheesy lines and fight scenes. Sunshine isn't like Buffy, though.

Sunshine was one of those books which I bought immediately after reading. Those are very few. I rarely buy a book unless I've already read it and know that I will read it again (exceptions are made for books by Jasper Fforde and classics such as Middlemarch). If the book has stood the test of being borrowed from the library multiple times, then I buy it. Despite this test, I have hundreds of books. While checking to see if Robin McKinley had any new books out, I found Sunshine. Robin McKinley. Vampires. Sounded interesting.

It was riveting. It's a breathless sort of book. The journey through Sunshine's world, the journey through her mind and her adventures is incredible. Totally evil vampires, with one that may be an exception (you're not always quite sure). A hint of Beauty and the Beast. A woman who manages to do the impossible, making giant cinnamon rolls all the while. There are so many fabulous-sounding recipes mentioned in the book that I want to try my hand at figuring out Bitter Chocolate Death or Sunshine's Eschatology. I always crave baked goods while I'm reading this book.

And the world is what I have come to expect from Robin McKinley: a world so real that it feels like I could step into it. This book was so good I wrote to the author to tell her how much I loved it, and I don't think I've ever done that before. When you get to the end, well, it feels like it's not the end for the characters. I can see the next morning and the week after that and what happens to them (sort of). There's room for a sequel if she ever does one, but there's enough closure at the end to just let it be. It's complete.

Now, granted, if you hate vampire lit, this isn't going to be the book for you. And that's okay. But if you enjoyed Twilight, read this. It's even better (Yes, I did like Twilight, and yes, I own a copy of the book, but while I read Twilight because the teenage emotions are interesting, Alice is a fun character, and Jacob's pretty cool, I read Sunshine because I want to spend time with the characters, in their world. And I want to think about cinnamon rolls as big as my head. The world of Twilight just doesn't captivate me as much, plus it's low on the baked goods).

Now that I've waxed almost lyrical about this book, you really should go read it. Despite the many words I have used here, it all comes down to this: it is a good book. Read it.

16 August 2009


The closest LYS is moving. Far away. Well, not really that far away, but far enough away, that, with the change in their hours, I will not be able to just drop by like I do now. Now I live about ten minutes walk away. In a month and a half, they will be about an hour's bus ride away. And they'll only be open in the middle of the day, when I am usually busy. I will miss them very much. I do understand that this is much, much easier for the owner of the store, as it's closer to her home and her other job, but I will miss them.

This is where, after I learned to knit, I finally found a place in the knitting community. This is where I bought my first good yarn, and my first set of circular needles and DPNs and my first spindle (currently my only spindle, but it will always be my first spindle) and roving. And this is where I met other knitters and spinners who live in the area. And I just became part of this community! This feels like the rug's been pulled out from under me.

I suppose this will be sort of a good thing, in a way. To buy yarn, I will have to make a special trip via the bus to the other side of town, so I won't be making impulse yarn buys quite as much anymore. And that will be good for me. And since the knit night centred around the store is staying put, just meeting at a local coffee shop, I won't be losing them.

I feel almost guilty for looking at the other LYS's website, though I really shouldn't. They've got most of the yarns I really like, and a few I've been curious about. I feel rather elated about becoming more familiar with this store, even though a few days ago, in the first shock of finding out about the move, I was unhappy about having to move to another LYS. I know it's a good store. It's just not the one that I'm familiar with. I'm not always good with change (says the student who picked up and moved to another country when she went to university). And yet I always adjust. And am often the better for the change.

So I'll probably make the two-hour round trip trek out to the new location once in a while to buy roving, but probably not to buy yarn and needles. I'll learn to be a regular at a different LYS, I'll meet more new people, and learn from them as I have from the people I've met this summer. We already speak the same language.

14 August 2009

Gored Denim Skirt

Just remembered that I had planned to post a picture of this. This is the denim skirt made from panels cut out of the legs of jeans.

If you're interested in making one of these, you begin by measuring around your waist. If you want it really gathered at the top, add an inch or so to this measurement. Then you decide how long you want it and the fullness you want. What I do is I draw a long trapezoid on a piece of paper. This skirt used 9 panels, so you divide your measurements by 9 (or by 8 or 7 or 4, whatever you want--really depends on the fabric you're working with. If you have a lot of wide pieces of material, you can use fewer panels--I would suggest 4 or more).

At the top of the trapezoid is the fraction of the waist measurement which you have chosen, plus about .5 inches/1.25 cm for a seam allowance. When you add the line at the bottom of the trapezoid, centre the two lines or you'll end up with a lopsided panel. You should add 2 inches/5 cm (or 1 inch if you want a really narrow skirt, or more than 2 inches for a much fuller skirt) to the width of the top for the length of the bottom line, plus the same seam allowance. The distance between these two lines should be the length you want the skirt, plus a seam allowance for the hem and waist. I used about a half an inch rolled hem (fold up once, fold up again to hide the raw edge), which means you add 1.5 inches/3.75 cm each (total of 3 inches/7.5 cm) for both the hem and the waist. Then, using a straight edge, draw two straight lines connecting the right and left sides of the trapezoid. You will have a tall, fairly narrow trapezoid pattern.

Cut out the number of pieces you need for your skirt, using the pattern, and pin them together. Try it on now or baste it first and check to see that it fits. If it's too small, you can add another panel if it's needed. If it's too large, you can take in the seam allowances or allow the elastic at the waist to pull it in. Sew the panels together, narrowest parts at the top, and then try on again to make sure it's right. Surge or zigzag stitch the raw edges of the seams.

Fold down the waist about half an inch, and fold over again to hide the raw edge. Sew this down, leaving a gap of several inches unsewn.

Now, you're going to put in the elastic around the waist. Fasten a safety pin to one end of the elastic and then, inserting the safety pin into the waistband, work it around until the safety pin comes out the other side. Then pin the ends of the elastic together, trying it on and adjusting the elastic until it is the tightness you want. Trim the elastic to required length, leaving extra to sew together. Lap ends of elastic over each other and sew together. Let go of elastic and sew up gap in waistband.

Hem the skirt with a rolled hem, as for waistband (but without the elastic).

You can do this with most fabrics, although I don't recommend this type of hem with satin or sheer fabrics. Cotton, linen, maybe wool or hemp would work well. I've done this with cotton remnants, or like here, with old jeans. It's useful if you don't like doing pleats or if you want to minimize the amount of fabric you're using. This technique, with the panels that are small at the top and large at the bottom, is called goring, hence the name at the top.

I hope this pattern isn't too confusing; if you try to use it and get really lost, let me know and I'll try to fix it.

I take the plunge

The news of my LYS moving to another city, over hour's bus ride away from where I live, when it used to be a ten-minute walk from my home, was saddening. I was also suddenly filled with a little bit of panic. Where else was I going to be able to go and drool over spindles and roving while thinking about buying one of those things and learning to spin? The other yarn store in the area, to my knowledge, doesn't carry these things (I've only been there a few times since I have no car and I'm only in that area of town on Sundays for church, and they're closed then).

I caught the spinning bug earlier this year, in the spring. Like knitting, it was something that I toyed with for a while in my head before succumbing. I watched people at knit night (spinning is a hypnotic activity). I read books. I admired the roving at the LYS. And the spindles--oh, they have some lovely handmade spindles there. One of my friends, the one who taught me to knit and started this whole fiber addiction, said, "Hey, we should learn to spin together this fall!" I agreed, thinking it sounded like fun. Sherie, me, a couple of drop spindles, some fiber, and a lot of laughter. Sounded good. So I thought happily about it all summer, looked forward to it, and a couple weeks ago, I bought my spindle. I'm starting early.

I talked with a friend at knitting group about what she thought was good for a beginner and what she recommended, so that's why I ended up with a Turkish spindle. Most of the spindles I'd seen before had been top-whorl spindles, with a disc-shaped whorl near the top of the shaft. I'd seen pictures of bottom-whorl spindles, with the whorl at the bottom, and Turkish spindles, where the whorl is made of two interlocking pieces of wood that form a cross, which the yarn is wrapped around as it is spun. You have to stop every once in a while to wind the yarn around, but when you're done, you slide the whorl off, slip out the pieces of wood, and you have a centre-pull ball. Ingenious.

So, that's why I have a Turkish spindle. It's pretty (although not as pretty as some top-whorl spindles I've seen--those seem to be more prone to decoration). I found some roving (at least, I think it's roving--there are all these names out there and I haven't gotten them all sorted out yet--maybe it's top) in pretty shades of indigo. A bundle of that is way more fun to hug than a ball of yarn. I could hardly stop looking at it and wanting to pet it.

When I got home, I looked up some videos and discovered after a few goofs, that when I spin with this spindle, I have to make a half-hitch near the top of the shaft (Why is it tipping sideways? Oh. That's why! All better now!). Then you give the whorl a spin and off you go.

Every time I seem to be getting better at spinning, I make another goof. The yarn is slowly becoming more even each time I practice, but then I do something that makes it lumpy. Or that makes it extra twisty (sounds like some kind of chicken). I seem to have problems with either over-twisting or under-twisting the yarn. It's going to be pretty interesting-looking single ply yarn (until I can produce a consistent result, I don't plan to try plying my yarn).

I started out standing, figuring that gave me more time. Now I'm trying sitting. Shorter lengths mean I concentrate more on what I'm doing. I looked up some of the various ways of drafting. Right now I take about a yard or so of the top, separate it into finer lengths, and work from those. Probably overkill, but until my spinning improves, this works.

I knit a coaster from the first very lumpy bits of yarn I made. It's blue and fuzzy and now lives underneath a vase on my coffee table. It was very lumpy. The next bit, a little less so. The stuff I just took off my spindle tonight? Even better. It still varies in thickness, but overall it's becoming finer. I'll have to wash it and set the twist and see what I can do with it. If there's enough, there's this hat pattern I want to try that was designed for handspun. If not, well, I can spin more. There's still quite a bit of top left in that bag.

13 August 2009

So, I started knitting in November. Apparently I'm supposed to be knitting lopsided squares. Sorry, somehow didn't get the memo.

...is it okay if I just continue with the stuff I'm working on? Those lopsided squares are pretty boring.

and I so hate consequences

This is the story of a beret. It was a lovely pattern. Irresistible to the new knitter. And it didn't look that difficult. So the new knitter looked at some yarn she had bought a month or so earlier at the department store. Brown. Soft. Acrylic-alpaca blend. Two skeins. She'd liked it very much, and now all she needed was a different colour in a similar weight. She paid her second trip the LYS and found what she was looking for. Orange. Soft. Superwash merino. Aran weight. She bought one skein. She bought a circular needle to go with her first set of DPNs. She swatched a little with waste yarn until she figured out how the pattern worked, and then cast on. She knit, meticulously following the directions, but in her naivety, she didn't realize that the yarn weight the pattern called for and the weight she was using were different. She wasn't sure how to check gauge in something that wasn't a square. So she didn't. And she knit and knit and knit. She had to buy another skein of orange. It was too big for her head after the decreases so she added another decrease round. When she finished the hat, she put it on, and it was...enormous. Like a mushroom. Or a hairnet. She was too ashamed to take a picture of it on herself so she took a picture of it on a chair:

That's right. A chair. Notice how the hat takes up most of the seat? It was a big hat. She is a fairly small person. So she wore it sometimes and people commented on its size. She knit another hat with the leftover yarn, and this time paid attention to the dimensions suggested by the pattern and stopped increasing when it was the right width. There was even a little orange left, even though she had started with a partial skein. There was a lot of the brown yarn She gave that hat to her best friend.

She tried to think of solutions to fix the hat. To somehow make it smaller. She thought about steaming it or trying to felt it. But it was superwash merino, and a 70% acrylic/30% alpaca blend. If she could get it to felt, it wouldn't felt much. So she wore the hat sometimes, thinking, "At least it keeps my ears warm." And she went on to other projects. Other hats. New techniques. And she learned.

I was that knitter. I wore this hat the other day when it was raining. Forced to admit just how ridiculous it looked, the obvious solution suddenly hit me. Frog the darn thing. Frog it back to the set of increases where I should have stopped, and reknit it. So, I did.

I took a picture of the pile of frogged yarn to remind myself of the consequences I face when I don't pay attention to yarn weight, gauge, and adjusting the pattern accordingly.

My husband helped me wind up the yarn into two balls and I reknit the hat. I reknit for the height of the hat, stopping when it would be the size I wanted, did the decreases, and the brim, and bound off. I did take a picture of myself wearing it, and you can see it on Ravelry (I look like a racoon, which is why it's not up here). I also took a picture of the hat on the same chair. Look how much more of the chair seat is visible.

The pattern is Nancy Marchant's Pecan Pie Beret, which is done in brioche stitch. My colours are similar to the original pattern because those colours worked so well (I don't generally choose my colours to match the pattern, but the orangey-yellow and brown just looked so good together). This was my introduction to working with two colours. I find it easier than fair isle, but of course, brioche stitch produces a very specific, distinctive result. You can't do motifs with this, as far as I know, but this is what has sparked my interest in mosaic knitting, which also uses slipped stitches. You can see the edge of Barbara Walker's Mosaic Knitting underneath the pile of frogged yarn. I plan to do some swatching to learn the technique soon.

My trouble with size in knitting varies. Sometimes things are too small. More often, they are too large. I frogged a sock toe the other day and am now trying to figure out whether I should go down a needle size (which may not make this particular yarn very happy), or if I should alter the pattern a bit (the motif will not take kindly to much editing, so I'm at a bit of a loss here--I can delete 3, possibly 5 stitches from the top of the sock and the same from the sole and have it still look mostly the same). We'll see. I'm still learning. And I'm glad I fixed this goof-up. The hat was definitely worth it.

Addendum: I wore this hat on the bus shortly after posting and got a compliment on it. Frogging and fixing was most definitely worth it.

12 August 2009

bits and pieces

You know, I think I've been posting so much lately just because I like to write. And it is nice to think that at least a few people might read what I write (and not be professors marking a paper that I wrote). Most of what I write, unless it's for school, is written for me. I have ideas for stories. I write them out. And I revise them. I'm not ready yet to pursue publishing (the stories I particularly like are not yet ready for other people to read them--they are in need of a great deal of editing before I will be happy enough with them to let others read them--there are plotholes galore and characters in need of rewrites and storylines in need of adjustment), and I don't know when I will be.

I'm up late tonight because I'm doing some editing for someone else who is less fearful about letting other people read their work than I am. I'd never really thought to be an editor, but my brother asked if he could hire me to edit a book he wrote, since my education apparently qualifies me to criticize others' grammar and punctuation. It's an enjoyable process, but fixing all the commas gets tedious. So I'm editing four or five pages, taking a break, and then returning to editing. This is my break this time.

In my sewing life: I tossed my new skirt into the washing machine today, and it came out in one piece. This is good.

In knitting: I need to find a better way to purl. I knit using a version of continental style and purling has always been a bit of a challenge for me. And since my latest version of purling has involved using my thumb to wrap the yarn, I've developed some achiness in my left thumb. This is not good. I'm trying to fix this but breaking old habits and learning new ones is not easy.

There's also been a problem with my knitting turning out the wrong size lately. Too small (Llama Hat). Too big (a sock I just started--a friend at knitting group pointed it out to me before I got too far in so I frogged it and will restart with smaller needles).

In reading: I'm starting on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but it's too hysterically funny not to read out loud, so J. will have to listen to it.

In health: This cold makes me paranoid. It's not bad but I keep worrying that I'm getting pneumonia again. The problem the first time was that I had no clue I had pneumonia. It starts out like a chest cold. Argh. Probably over-thinking it.

In family: In-laws coming to visit this weekend. This always sends me into a completely unnecessary tizzy. I like them, but I don't really feel like I know them well. They're very nice people who aren't going to complain about whether I've dusted or not, but I still freak out and want to scrub everything down with bleach and redecorate.

In general tiredness: I've been sleeping a lot lately, probably because of my cold, and I'm tired now. I need Brain Juice so I can finish this chunk of editing tonight (term borrowed from Hilary McKay's books about the Casson family: an energizing potion made of Coca-Cola and instant coffee), but we don't really buy soda, so I'm making do with just coffee.

Well, break's over. Time to get some more coffee and work through some more pages. I feel like a student again.

11 August 2009

book musings: Good Night, Mister Tom

When I go to the library, I often just wander through a section, looking at titles, and I pick up what sounds interesting. Lately, that's been a lot of non-fiction. I re-read some Dan Savage recently, a David Sedaris book I hadn't read yet, a book on the history of nursery rhymes (a favourite song of mine turns out to probably be about marriage), and a number of others. I like memoirs--non-fiction with an element of story to it, books that would probably fall into the sociology genre, and history (especially the way Sarah Vowell tells it). I found a book that was sort of an ethnography of dating in New York. After finishing it, I found it difficult to believe that so many people could be so callous about love and so shallow. I hope the author has exaggerated matters.

So after reading that, I felt depressed. To cleanse my palate, so to speak, I went to my bookshelf to find another book to read. I have hundreds of books, and many could serve this purpose. Not being in the mood for Chesterton's What's Wrong With the World?, I ended up with Michelle Magorian's Good Night, Mister Tom. This has been one of my "comfort" books ever since I first read it, at eight. I've only read a few books by Magorian, but I keep coming back to this one. She's a brilliant writer and the story is compelling and a good read. And yet, given the content, I wonder sometimes why I read it to keep away the nightmares. There's war, death, and abuse in it. But then I remember: there's also hope, deliverance, joy, and healing. When I couldn't sleep for fear of nightmares and I needed something remind me that the night didn't last forever, I would read this.

It's set during WWII in the English countryside. An older man who had shut himself off from the world years before when his wife died is suddenly forced to take in an evacuee. He ends up with a frightened little boy who's been abused all his life. Each begins to heal and learns to see life in a completely new way. So in spite of the tragedy and grief in the book, there is so much hope in it. And that brings me back to it again and again.

So yesterday, unhappy with the book I'd read, sad about the world, I picked up this one. And remembered that though there is a great deal wrong with the world, there are also things that are right in it.

old sweater, new buttons

I sewed new buttons on an old cardigan tonight. I've had it for four or five years now, and it's been in need of new buttons for three of those years. A couple of the old buttons broke off and when I bought some new ones, I accidentally bought ones just the tiniest bit too big. So the cardigan went without buttons for a long time and I just wore it open.

It's a slightly scratchy black cardigan, ribbed at the cuffs and hem. The yarn is an acrylic-wool-nylon blend that has felted very slightly over the years. I think the body is knit in stockinette, but it's hard to tell, given all the pills in the yarn. It's comfortable and warm, and its new light blue buttons seem to suit it. It's a bit tatty, I suppose, but I like it because of the people it reminds me of.

Five years ago? Six? while working at a retreat centre that my family has gone to ever since I can remember, I met a family who was also working there. I grew close to them for the summer, and still miss them today. I was close to the mother and the daughter, less so to the son and the father was working overseas at the time. This was a time when I was changing and growing a great deal, and these friends were a sounding board for me. I remember being utterly at peace with a great deal regarding my spiritual life, and yet terribly confused about my life and vocation. That fall I was starting what would be my last year of high school, and simultaneously my first year of college, and I was trying to make some decisions about my future, and I was filled with uncertainty and doubts about the course I had originally chosen. Ultimately, I stayed on that course, which has led me here to Canada and to continuing to study linguistics, and they went their way, thousands of miles away to join the father of the family overseas. I hear from them occasionally, but not often. But that fall, at Thanksgiving, back at the retreat centre, I stopped by their home. They were going through old clothes, getting rid of things. The mother offered me an old sweater. I love sweaters and accepted it with delight. Wearing it feels like a hug from her. In spite of the distance of years and miles, every time I put it on, I remember them, and their friendship, and the encouragement they always gave me, and that I was sort of part of their family, if only for a summer.

So sitting here, in a cardigan that I can finally button up again, I look down at my sweater, and am transported back to that Thanksgiving. The cold, wet woods, playing frisbee golf at the local YWAM base with my friends, sitting in an empty building listening to four of my friends playing djembes while the sound echoed off the walls, trying to keep preschoolers indoors out of the rain and entertained, and wishing it could last forever. I miss the peace of that place, and the friends I met there. It's been far too long since I've seen any of them. I wish them well, wherever they are.

08 August 2009

clumsiness and a new skirt

It is the outside of enough when an adult woman can't seem to keep from injuring herself from one day to the next. I cut my finger slicing a bagel last week. Then Friday I sliced into another finger while cutting fabric for a skirt. Yesterday I got a sliver in my palm from a shelf in the cupboard. Today on the bus I bashed the side of my knee. I'm not sure if it's clumsiness, carelessness, or a combination of the two. The slice in my finger was the most impressive, though.

I was cutting out pieces of old jeans with a rotary cutter and managed to cut my finger as well as the fabric. A rotary cutter (in case you've never heard of it before) is like a pizza wheel for fabric. It's very sharp and there's a guard thingy to keep you from cutting your fingers, but when you press on fabric with it, the guard moves out of the way enough to let you cut, and if your hands are in the way, woe betide you! I did get the skirt finished, in spite of the wound. I was going to take a picture but I wore it all day today and forgot. I cut out panels of fabric, gored to give it some fullness (aka, narrower at the top and wider at the bottom) because I don't like straight skirts unless they're wraparounds and trying to gather denim from jeans makes for headaches and broken needles, sewed them together, zigzaged along the seams because I don't have a surger, and then did a folded over hem and waistband, with elastic in the waistband. It turned out pretty well. I'd thought to embroider it when it was done but I rather like it plain. Next time I'll do embroidery. My husband buys jeans from the thrift store and then wears them a lot until they rip in odd places where it's difficult to repair them (one he spilled acid on the front and then it ripped around the pocket), and I can't justify just tossing the material, because most of it's good. I'm thinking of making a new purse with some of the odd pieces.

I was listening to the latest episode of Cast On while I made this skirt and it seemed to go along nicely with the theme of the podcast. This latest series, about making do and mend (inspired by booklets on rationing from WWII), has been really interesting. I like trying to re-use old clothes in interesting ways, but it's not nearly as much of a necessity for me as it would have been back then. Given that I don't have much money right now, though, it's more relevant than it would have been a few years ago. And while I don't have much money, I do have plenty of fabric I've picked up as remnants, been given as leftovers from a friend, and inherited from one of my grandmothers who didn't want it anymore (vintage fabric, yay!). I'm not lacking for clothing now by any means, but if I want something new, maybe I should try making or re-making it first.

During my first year of university, my roommate was an art major. She liked ripping apart her clothes and turning them into something else. I remember one skirt made of different layers, frayed at the edges. One of her black sheets became our curtains for while, and then turned into pajama pants. Most of her clothing was black, so mixing and matching was easy. I wasn't doing as much sewing then because I didn't feel I had the time, and I hadn't learnt to knit yet. My quilting supplies came with me, but I didn't sew a lot until the next year, when I had my own sewing machine and an apartment. Her boldness has inspired me now. I might as well rip apart some old clothes that can't mended to remain what they were. I've got nothing to lose, and it'll save buying a new skirt or a new purse if I'm successful. And my purse is starting to fray.

Oh, I finished a cowl I was working on. Very pretty lace. I think it'll be a Christmas present, although I haven't decided who's getting it yet. The llama hat is nearly finished. There's a couple pairs of socks on the needles, but as those take more concentration than hat linings (cables!), I haven't worked on them a lot yet.

And I got a look at the books I'll need for the fall courses I want to take. Just one, thankfully, but it's expensive. Why is that I think twenty or thirty dollars is a stretch for knitting books, but I have to pay sixty for a book on historical linguistics, and that's fairly reasonable for a textbook?

06 August 2009

the llama hat

I woke up this morning feeling like I'm coming down with a cold. Headache, achy joints, more congestion than is usually triggered by my allergies. I get a lot of colds, so this really shouldn't be too alarming, but my last cold turned into pneumonia, so I'm trying to be extra careful this time around. But that's not why I'm writing. I have made my most spectacular knitting goof-up so far. There was the hat that turned out too large and looks like a mushroom on my head. There was the tank top that doesn't fit quite right. There was the red horror that was knit in awful yarn from a not-so-great pattern. I've made some mistakes, and I've learned my lessons from them. This mistake, however, is pretty impressive, given that I thought I'd done everything right.

Several years ago, before I learned how to knit, I rashly promised my boyfriend a poncho similar to the one Pacha wears in The Emperor's New Groove. I told him when I learned to knit or crochet, I would make him one.

Flash forward to about two and a half years later. That boyfriend is now my husband, and I have learnt to knit. He is over six feet tall, and I realize that there is no way that I would want to knit him a poncho. It wouldn't look good on him, and it would take a very long time. So, we compromise. He has this hat that he wears constantly in the winter. It is falling apart. I will knit him a new one over the summer, with llamas on it. I do some sketching and make some charts, pick the yarns, swatch a bit, and start the hat. This would be my first project using stranding, or fair isle. I soon discover that I don't like fair isle very much. It's okay, but I don't love it. So, I knit away at the hat, thinking how nice it will be to finish it. There's a Celtic key pattern on the band, and then the llamas on the body of the hat. See the picture? That's the hat, about halfway done. I'm going to knit a lining and earflaps as well. The lining is to make more durable, and the earflaps are because he likes hats with earflaps.

It looks pretty good, doesn't it? For my first time at fair isle, it's not half bad, especially considering that I designed the whole darn thing. However, there's something about fair isle that I sort of knew, but since I hadn't ever knit it, it was something I knew in theory, but not in practice. Now, there are a number of things I have learned about knitting in the last year that I know in practice. Lace is stretchy. Lace will grow much, much bigger when it is blocked. Garter stitch is also stretchy, but not as stretchy as lace. Ribbing and cables pull in, and ribbing is stretchier than cables. Pair lace and cables together, and you get something that will stretch, but will also pull in, so if the fit's a little off, it's not that noticeable. I have learned how to get away with not swatching, and how to knit swatches and see how they compare to the finished product. All of these things I have learned, first in theory, then in practice.

Now I have learned that swatches lie, and that fair isle isn't nearly as stretchy as other types of knitting. I knew this. In theory. When I cast on for this hat, the 88 stitches I cast on seemed enormous, but my husband's head is pretty big (really, it is: I measured and it's about 62 cm around). I was knitting with a sport-weight yarn, the Mission Falls 136. It's soft, the colours are great, it pills and splits a little bit, but not too badly, and it's superwash. Should be perfect for him. I've nearly finished the llamas when an awful thought strikes me. It's looking a little small. In fact, so small, that I think it's not going to fit him.

Now, I am inexperienced with fair isle, and to be fair, I may have stranded the yarn a little too tightly on the llama section. This pulls it in a bit. However, looser stranding probably wouldn't have fixed this problem. Fair isle may not be all that stretchy, but the real problem lies in the the very beginning of the hat. This is a gauge problem. I'm getting about 7, 7.5 stitches to the inch/2.5 cm. This means that the hat's circumference, being 88 stitches around, is somewhere between 30 and 40 cm. I'm not quite sure how much I stretched it when I measured. It looked huge when I cast-on, but I didn't measure properly. My husband's head is large. Over 20 cm larger than the hat. This isn't an inch or so too small, where it can stretch to fit. There is no freaking way that this hat can be made to fit him. It looks like a Dr. Seuss hat.

The horrible realization finally dawned: I have knit a hat suitable for a toddler for my husband.

My options are these:

1. Frog the hat. Swatch again, adjust the numbers and the repeats of the fair isle patterns, and knit it again with the same yarn.

2. Finish the hat to figure out how to do the lining and earflaps, adjust the proportions based on the gauge of this hat, buy more of the same yarn, and knit it again. This would also involve more repeats of the fair isle.

3. Finish the hat, as per option 2, then buy more Mission Falls yarn in the aran weight instead of the sport weight, and then reknit the hat using the same numbers, adjusting if necessary.

Faced with these options, I don't want to do the first one. I've never knit a lining for a hat before and I want to try it. And it's not a bad hat. It's actually a pretty cool hat. Just because it's too small for J doesn't mean that it deserves frogging. Frogging it will only exacerbate the pilling and splitting. I also don't want to knit it in yarn of this weight again. It's the fair isle. It bugs me.

So, option number 3 it is. Thicker yarn. Bigger needles. And looser floats on the wrong side.

What should I do with the small hat when it's done?

I could keep it for when I have children. Then we could have father and child matching hats. I could mail it to my friend April. She has a son who should be about the right size for this hat. Or I could donate it to one of the many charities out there that accepts handknits. I haven't decided yet. Donating it is probably a good option. It's bound to fit some kid's head.

So I'm picking up stitches around the brim for the lining now. I'll finish this and then go get more yarn for the big one. Mission Falls 1824 seems to split less than the 136, which is an advantage for me. I need some sort of advantage over this hat. It's already outsmarted me a couple times.

03 August 2009

cookies, baozi, and toe-up socks

Today I baked cookies using this recipe. I omitted the white chocolate chips because I don't like them much and I didn't have any, and upped the regular chocolate chips a little to compensate. They are delicious. I would never have thought of putting apricots into chocolate chip cookies, but it's a really nice combination. Some of our friends came over and now the cookies are all gone.

I also wasted some time trying to find files I know I don't have to install East Asian language files on my computer. This isn't the first time I've done this, and I really should just give up. For some reason, my copy of XP didn't come with those files. I have a recovery CD that has the right service pack on it, apparently, but I'm leery of just sticking the disc into my computer without knowing the consequences. It's frustrating, not being able to see Chinese characters, mildly annoying at times, but it's not the end of the world. When I can get a new laptop, eventually, I'll make sure I have the language settings right, but for now, I can wait. This time I noticed the number-gibberish instead of Chinese characters because I was trying to find a recipe for baozi. We went for dim sum yesterday afternoon and had some and they're really good. I want to try making some at home. Baozi are delicious steamed buns with fillings. Barbecued pork is one type of filling. We had one with some kind of bean paste in it yesterday. Something with leeks would probably be pretty good. Anyway, I did find a recipe in English for the bun dough, so I'll probably give that a try sometime this week.

I'm trying to get the hang of the figure-eight cast-on for toe-up socks, but it's not going so well. I'll give it a few more tries before I give one of the other toe-types a go. My mum gave me some dark green yarn that is absolutely perfect for the Bombadil-sukat that I want to make, and those are toe-up. I've got the charts and most of the instructions figured out, and just need to work out some kinks with the heel now, so I can start on the toe and foot of the sock. They'll be my first toe-up socks. I like top-down (or cuff-down, if you prefer), but those are the only kind I've made so far. I think toe-up socks look like fun. The other socks I'm working on right now (Earl Grey) are interesting, but I'm only a third of the way down the cuff of the first one. Men's socks take so much longer. And I've half-way promised to knit a pair of argyle socks for my dad sometime. That means I'd have to learn intarsia. But many of the projects I knit, I choose specifically to learn something new. So, perhaps I'll knit some argyle socks this winter. After I finish the Earl Grey socks. And the Bombadil-sukat.

02 August 2009

the dangers of lemonade

The weather has cooled down quite a bit, which is such a relief. I can even wear long pants. My mum was up for a visit this weekend, which was a lot of fun. We went to a couple of bookstores, and one of the local parks, and she came to knitting group with me on Thursday and I helped get her knitting again. She really just needed help casting on and then remembered how to knit pretty well.

We went to my cousin's bridal shower yesterday. I wore a shirt that I rarely wear in public but my aunt was so busy with the shower that she didn't react much to it (it's red and black with a lower neckline than I usually wear and a lace-up front--very dramatic--when I dressed as a vampire for Halloween a couple years ago, I wore it). I was disappointed by the lack of a reaction, but she did think it was hilarious when I absently-mindedly drank two glasses of the spiked lemonade they had and then my balance went away. It was hot, I was thirsty, and it didn't taste that strong. I had to lean against door-jambs and counters, because sitting down just felt weird. Kept my mouth shut, though, so hopefully not many people noticed. It was a lovely shower, and my cousin got some really awesome vases and other cool stuff. She's going to be one of those drop-dead gorgeous brides, and her dress is absolutely lovely. My grandmother made it and then my cousin did the beading on it herself.

Not much knitting going on for me because it was so hot earlier this week and then I was busy this weekend. I did some knitting in the car yesterday on the way to and from the shower, and at knitting group on Thursday. In spite of that, my thumb's decided that it's over-stressed so I'm taking a break from knitting today. This seems to happen whenever I've been knitting with needles in the 4-6 mm range. Not sure why. Something about that gauge that bothers my hand, I guess.

And...I guess that's it for now.