Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Darker, Less Helpful Time

I mentioned that I've been given some bits and pieces from some old knit stashes... a few interesting books, some needles, and some yarn.

This was in one of the bags.

I'm guessing by the price ($3.79) that it dates to the 1980s. And it's awful.

In so many ways, it's awful.

Oh, the colour is nice -- simple, clear white. No issues with that.

And it looks pretty good -- a mohairy sort of thing. I like a good mohair.

Here's what's awful about it.... look at the back of the label.

Let me count the ways.

There's the fibre content -- 36% Acrylic, 30% Viscose, 24% Mohair and 10% Nylon.

And yet even with all that, they demand it be washed by hand.

Then I look for the normal info I'm used to finding on a yarn label... a gauge, maybe? Yardage info? There's nothing. Yeah, ok, a suggested needle size -- which in itself is sorta an odd one.

I wonder how much of the fall in popularity of knitting in the 1970s and 80s can be blamed on this sort of idiocy? If you don't provide gauge or yardage, you are dooming this yarn to be used only for the patterns published, for all but the most adventurous of knitters.

I can sort of understand a yarn company wanting to drive more sales of their own patterns, but knitters like to have options. Knitters want to be able to fall in love with a yarn and find a pattern that suits their own tastes. And to be limited to the handful of patterns that are published by the yarn company seems just frustrating. Not to mention foolish as a sales strategy.

A darker, less helpful time.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

FO: Black socks; Previous Generations of FOs

Just in time for the dog days of summer, black wool socks.

We watched a movie the other day that was filmed here in Toronto back in February. My god, the snow.... In this hot, hazy, humid weather, it was sort of nice to be reminded that these socks will actually be useful in the future, but it was also quite terrifying to contemplate the 4 foot high banks of snow.

On a related note, I've been lucky enough recently to be gifted with a selection of vintage pattern books, from a couple of knitters' stashes. Some tremendous books....

It's fascinating to examine the progression of styles and techniques. Some of the designs are utterly timeless, others so incredibly of their time that I can't imagine that they were considered fashionable for more than about 10 minutes.

Click to embiggen this one to see a few. Love the name for the tunic-length sweater: a "seat cover".

The Beehive Winter Headgear book made me laugh... on a balaclava pattern, I found annotations in my husband's grandmother's handwriting, with his measurements. He doesn't recall having such winter headgear; I suggested that post-traumatic stress disorder might be causing him to block the memory. This was a Beehive book of the 1970s, after all. The yarns used are all various acrylic horrors. Could you imagine wearing an acrylic balaclava???

Thursday, July 24, 2008

BSJ Yarn Requirements: Thinking About It the Wrong Way

A helpful commenter suggested a way to slightly shorten the BSJ and save myself a bit of stress about the yarn requirements... there's 10 even rows in the middle that could be reduced or even omitted.

But after admiring all these wonderful pictures of completed BSJs online and in Ravelry, I had a thought. I really shouldn't be working it in one colour at all. It's screaming out for stripes, to show off the interesting construction.

Back to the stash.

I actually have four colours of this yarn in varying quantities... I have the same quantity of a red mix (which, I must confess, I was saving for something else, possibly a hat), a teeny tiny bit of a black mix, and about a full ball's worth of light pink.

All sorts of possible combinations result...

I think I'm going for the strawberry-pistachio combo... although I lose the non-gender specificity of the pistachio on its own, it does look great with the pink, and selfishly, it allows me to keep the red and black for another project.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New Project: Baby Surprise Jacket

I have a confession to make. I'm not ashamed, but it's not something I talk about very often.

I am not a fan of the designs of Elizabeth Zimmerman.

I love her writing, absolutely. I love the way she thinks about knitting. I'm definitely a fan of her mathematical analysis, and the freedom and flexibility she encourages in changing yarns, gauge and garment size. And I adore her architectural approach to knitting.

But I've never knitted a single design of hers. I suspect that it's all about EZ herself, and how she is built. I think, from looking at her photographs that she's much taller and broader of shoulder than I am, and she's definitely not as busty.

She builds all these raglans and seamless yoke pullovers that look just horrendous on me. I just don't have the shoulders for them.

There's been a fair bit of discussion of late about the Baby Surprise Jacket in my knitterly circles. It's never really fallen from favour, this design, and it's going through a trendy phase again. (Ravelry link.)

So I figure it's time to dip my toe into the wonderous world of the EZ construction.

And so I begin, with my copy of the Opinionated Knitter, a 4mm 24 inch circular needle, and some yarn from the stash. I've got 2 full balls of 140m each of this lovely bright green mix DK -- Australian Merino from Filtes King/Needful, and about another partial ball of about 25m... 305m in total. I've been madly googling and surfing Ravelry to get a sense of how much yarn this design requires.

Seems like it's anywhere between 280m and 330m...

Now, I do have some more of this yarn in a complementary colourway, a rather fun red mix, so I could add stripes, but the thrill-seeker in me sorta wants to see if I can eke the damn thing of the yarn I have.

What do you think? Worth the gamble?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Two Things: Olympics and Socks

I've been quietly following the discussion about the Summer Knitting Olympics.

I laughed out loud the other day... someone was saying she wouldn't participate because she doesn't enjoy watching the events in the summer, doesn't like spending that much time in front of the TV in the summer. It had never actually occurred to me that actually watching the Olympics was a prerequisite for participation...

If it is, I should return my medal from the last one....

On a different note, I'm working on my black socks.

Very seasonal, I know. Hot hazy humid weather - ideal for knitting black wool socks.

The eagle-eyed would have noticed that although I have a fairly extensive wardrobe of socks, they're all fairly bright and wildly coloured. Sometimes, a girl needs a pair of reasonably plain dark socks.

I'm on a tear... this fall will be all about dark and neutral socks. Not aways plain, but dark and neutral. These are the first - the body is a mostly black with white flecks yarn that I found in a bargain bin, and the cuff, heel and toe are plain black. (There was only one 50g ball of the flecky yarn, and there was no way I was going to get a full pair out of it.)

So yes, first of a series of dark socks.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Reader Mail: Teresa's Question About Basic Ribbed Sock

Teresa asks a question about my Basic Ribbed Sock pattern...

I've enjoyed this pattern, but have hit a snag, if you will. I'm at this point in the pattern:

Re-establish Round and Create Gusset:
Knit all heel stitches. Using that same needle, pick up and knit 15 stitches along selvedge edge at side of heel, using slipped stitches as a guide.

I've picked up 15 stitches, but still have about 9 stitches to pick up before I get to the 33 stitches on the holder. In the directions prior to shaping the heel, I did 21 rows of stocking stitches, so it seems like I should be picking up at least 21 stitches.

Any advice?
All you need is 15 stitches, spaced evenly along the edge of the heel flap. If you slipped the first stitch of every row on the heel flap, you'll find that those double height (i.e. two-row tall) stitches are a nice guide for where to pick up.

Hope this helps!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Because it really is... The Perfect Turtleneck

(No modeled pictures, sorry... have you seen the weather???)

I usually take (or wear) this sweater to my Cables 101 classes. It's always admired, and I'm often asked about it.

(horrible pic, sorry, having camera trouble)

It's a Paton's pattern, from a book called Urban Neutrals, and it's called, aptly enough, the Perfect Turtleneck. And it really is.

It's chunky and a quick knit, and it's beautifully tailored so it really doesn't add bulk in the way that you'd think a chunky cabled sweater would. Tons of fun to knit, and fab to wear. Another knitter's version, with a different centre cable can be found here. Ravelry page is here.

It seems like the pattern booklet might be out of print, but there's at least one online store that still lists it. I've also heard that the booklet can be found in some of the larger, older yarn stores that have older stock. (In Toronto, that would be Romni.)

There's a swatching story connected to this. (There is for many of my projects, have you noticed that?) I swatched for this three times before I decided on the yarn. The pattern calls for Paton's Up Country, which is their since-discontinued Lopi clone. My LYS at the time (I knitted it 6 or 7 years ago) didn't stock that yarn, so I tried two others before I simply went back to the source and used actual Lopi. The challenge with super bulky yarns (13 sts per 4 ins) is that they're often very lofty, and they really don't have the substance I wanted to stand up to the cables and show them off. I was getting the gauge right all along, but it didn't look right. It was absolutely worth it the trouble, I love this sweater. So much that I'm thinking of doing one in a different colour.

It's very unusual for me to work a garment in the colour of the sample in the pattern. I'm slightly sheepish about it in this case, precisely because I'm always encouraging people to personalize their garments, and I wear it so often to classes. I really wanted to work it in a warm, creamy winter white "aran" colour, but I blame my choice on the colours available in my LYS at the time. The light grey is lovely to show off the stitch work, and it is a good colour on me. So yes, the next one will either be the perfect aran colour, or in black.

I will be honest, it's not the softest of sweaters... but I rinse it with a good old cream hair conditioner and wear a tshirt under it.. My particular version is NOT for the wool-sensitive. It could be knitted out of steel wool, I'd still wear... it really is perfect.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Food for Thought - On the Olympics

As mentioned before, the Harlot is not participating in, coordinating, or promoting any specific knitting activity around the Olympics. She cites her reasons here.

There is some discussion of boycott.

As I've already posted, I've chosen to participate. I enjoy the challenge, I'm looking forward to having an excuse to knit something for myself (instead of samples and designs for other people), and I need some encouragement to tackle steeking and colourwork. Political concerns really aren't foremost in my mind.

I'm not one to shout my politics from the rooftops (although I will sing along at the top of my lungs at a Billy Bragg concert). Perhaps that's good, perhaps that's bad. Do I want to condone human-rights abuses? Of course not.

I choose not to judge anyone's decision about participation, either way. Knit, or not. Crochet, or not. Do what you feel is right for yourself.

There are formal events being organized on Ravelry. I'm not feeling any particular need to get involved that way... I just want to knit.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Harmony DPNs - I will never go back

I've been working on a couple of sock designs, all cables and twisted stitches.

I'm using my Harmony DPNs.

It's amazing how much of a difference the right tools will make.

I do like the bamboo DPNs, but when I'm working twists and cables, I've always been a bit worried that they'll snap, and the points were never really pointy enough. And I've had the points shred, so that they're no longer smooth.

The Harmony needles make a huge difference. They're very hard -- and no matter how many purl-through-the-back-loops I work, no matter how many cables-without-cable-needles, no matter how much acrobatics I do with them, I feel completely confident that they'll hold. And the lovely, long, elegant, sharp points make it all so very easy.

I'm absolutely a convert.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Knitting Olympics

A commenter has posted that she wasn't sure that the Harlot was "doing" the Olympics this year.

Given that the Olympics are all about dedication to one's sport and personal challenge, I'm not really worried about whether other knitters are participating.

If the Harlot, doesn't, I will miss the gold medal graphic, but otherwise there's absolutely no difference for me.

I have a challenge in mind, and this is a good way to tackle it.

Citius, Altius, Steekius.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

All This Talk of Le Tour de Fleece

and the nice man on the radio pointed out that the opening ceremonies for the Olympics are a month today...

I realize that I need to get myself organized for the Knitting Olympics.

I have my pattern chosen -- Eunny Jang's steeked argyle vest. There's two reasons for this choice (other than that it's a terrific design, and exactly the sort of thing I would wear) -- it's colourwork, and it's steeked. (Click the link for a very clear and helpful definition courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The steeking choice is simple: I've never done it before. (Insert obligatory "Kipling" joke here.) It's one of the few strange and wonderful knitting techniques I've never actually tried. And since I talk about it in my sock classes (in the context of "hey, really, I promise you'll get the hang of knitting in the round... and in fact, some people have such a strong preference for knitting in the round over knitting flat that they'll knit cardigans in the round and cut them") , I figured I really should give it a go.

And the colourwork.. .well, it's a side effect... because after all, steeking is used predominantly in the context of Fair Isle. (Not always, but most often.)

But if truth be told, I tend to actively avoid most colourwork. When I was first knitting, I did a fair bit of both Fair Isle and Intarsia -- designed a few baby sweaters with stripes and dots and various geometric shapes.

And there's the infamous penguin sweater. More on that later.

But I gave it up in favour of socks and cables and lace and other interesting textural work.

Other than some wild stripes, the most recent colourwork project was a houndstooth felted bag which took me a good couple of years to finish. And that was nearly three years ago.

So it's time to pick up some colourwork again, to refresh my skills -- and to try steeking!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Actively Resisting


Sorry, definitely not. No way.

I will not take up spinning.

I mean, spinning seems fun and interesting. And I love the idea of making my own yarn.

And the concept of Le Tour de Fleece does make me chuckle.

But no.

I don't have enough time in the day to knit as it is. And the idea that I'd be spending time not knitting, first of all, but then creating more yarn that I have less time to knit.

Away with you, you and your gorgeous fleeces and beautiful spinning wheels and tempting handspun. Away!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Indeed, Socks Do Happen

I usually grab a handful of socks from my drawer when I'm heading out to teach a sock knitting class. I've been asked often enough how many pairs of hand-knitted socks I've got.

Since it's summer, and none of them are in the laundry, now's the time to get an accurate count.

16 pairs of socks -- all my own work -- are in regular circulation in my sock drawer.

Including the latest pair.

Yes, I'm in the tub.

I think I've already mentioned this before, but my foolproof method for blocking socks is to get them wet and then put them on. I don't actually leave them on -- just get 'em on and off and then let 'em dry. Easy.

The other night I was having a nice, soothing bath. And I had a pair of socks sitting on the counter in the bathroom, waiting to be blocked.

There I was, in the tub, looking at the socks. Hey, my feet were already wet -- why the heck not? A pair of perfectly blocked socks and a story my husband will be telling for years...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Law and Order: Special Knitters Unit

It's no secret that I'm a TV knitter. I love knitting in front of the TV -- whether I'm watching The Daily Show, the news, Battlestar Galactica, or anything in the vein of a procedural mystery. If it's got a body and the police, I'll watch it.

Law & Order is great knitting TV, not only because there are seven million episodes to choose from, across the four associated series, but because they've got enough expository dialogue that you don't necessarily need to be actually watching to follow the story. "So, Doc, you're saying that this wound, here, in our victim... this gunshot wound... the one that killed him... this was caused by a gun?"

An episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent I watched this weekend actually used knitting as a plot point. I nearly fell off my chair laughing. The mother of a suspect was sending notes to him while he was in jail, concealed in the underarms of sweaters she was knitting for him...

I don't know... it's hard enough to get a good fitting armhole and sleeve as it is without hiding jailhouse contraband in it.