Sunday, November 30, 2008

Improving on Perfection; And Lessons Learned

At Lisa's request, I've been playing with some Noro Kureyon, and the Mitered Mittens pattern in EZ's Knitter's Almanac.

Love love love how the stripes work in the miters -- this is, after all, what makes the Jaywalker sock so great.

Two things have become obvious during this process.

The first is that you really should read the pattern. Really. I seemed to have missed the "Knit one round" instruction. During first and second attempts, I thought to myself that it seemed odd that there wasn't an even round between pattern rounds... but by the time I got to the fourth attempt, I'd thrown caution to the wind and was proceeding on blind faith that our Great Mistress of all thing Knit, EZ herself, must have had her reasons.

Nope. Turned out I had simply missed that line in the book.

(Thing the First and a Half is that, as a pattern writer and technical editor, spacing can make a huge difference in the readability of the pattern. The "K 1 rnd." is immediately after the instruction for the second half of the first round, with no line breaks. And I missed it. I know why. The round is worked in two halves, with the patterning exactly the same on the second half as on the first. And as I read the instruction for the first half of the round in detail, noticed the litte note that said that the second half is the same as the first, and then ignored the rest of the line.

(Which I suppose means that Thing the First and Three Quarters is that Experience breeds Arrogance. I figured I knew what to do so I didn't bother reading any more.))

Anyway, Thing the Second is that you shouldn't -- and really can't -- mess with the genius that is an EZ pattern.

It turns out that it's impossible to improve on perfection. I've been working on them for a week, and all I've got are two bits -- both of which are going to be ripped out.

I don't like the cuffless nature of the basic Mitered Mitt, so I've been playing with a ribbed cuff, in the same mitered style, and it's just plain awful.

As is my usual strategy with mitts, I worked the cuff on fewer sts than the body. So on its own, the mitered cuff looks cool, but there are two big issues... the first is that mitering the ribs significantly reduces the stretchiness. And the second is that I really couldn't figure out how to make the increase flow smoothly into the hand. If I simply worked a couple of rounds of miters with only the increases and not the decreases, the pattern is retained, but it bunches oddly where the decreases should havebeen.

My original, middle-of-the-night idea was to offset the miters, so that I'd get a flat bottom to the cuff, rather than the angle that the pattern normally produces. But that didn't do what I needed it to do, for reasons I have not yet figured out.

Eventually, I gave up on the cuff and went back to the original design. 5 rounds of k1 p1 rib and then launch straight into the miters. Still riding on my high horse, I only worked 2 rounds of k1 p1 rib -- this seems to actually be ok. But because I've got tiny girly hands, I decided that the 48 sts that the pattern calls for, and that I'd been playing with on attempts numbers 1 through 4 was too damn big, so I cast on 40 sts. And of course, it's just too damn small.

Still cruising down that river in Egypt, I forged ahead for a while last night, and got far enough that I thought it might be time for the thumb. So I went back to the book to figure out what she says about thumb placement, and there it was... "K 1 rnd."

So. Back to the beginning. Again.

The eagle-eyed will also notice that I changed around the decreases... that might or might not stay.


And so all of this leads to Thing the Second and a Quarter... if you're going to significantly alter a pattern, it's probably helpful to have worked it according to the instructions at least once before...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Found one!

Found: one ball of Regia Nation Color sock yarn in red and white. Sadly, there was only one ball, in a bargain bin, labelless.

Even if the hand-written label hadn't been there, I would have bought it. It's unmistakable.

I reckon I'll do black ribbing, heels and toes, and I'll still be able to reverse the stripes - but it won't be quite as amusing as the all-over striped version.

Next up -- seeking the red, white and blue, and the blue and white... Santa?

Monday, November 24, 2008


I was teaching the other day, and a woman dashed into the shop. "I see you offer classes... " She seemed somewhat relieved.

"Do you have one on... you know... putting things together?" "Of course!"

More relief on her face.

"Is there one before Christmas?"

Yes Virginia, there is a finishing class before Christmas... And it's in the first half of the month, so there will be plenty of time to do whatever needs to be done for gift-giving.

On that note - some finishing of my own to report...

The second exploded ribbing sock is done, as is the fatigue-inducing mystery project - the edge of which can be seen in the photo.

The exploded sock pattern (I really need a better name for it) will be done by the end of the weekend, I promise. I have a bit of a queue of knitters waiting for it at this point...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Knitting MacGyver Tip of the Year

No cable needle handy?

Use a golf tee!

Big thanks to N. for the tip!

Now, if only Norman played golf...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sock Knitting: Practical Yet Insane

At the risk of whining about the weather, it's unseasonably cold and snowy here. Winter has arrived early. Too early for my tastes.

So it's back to my double-sock routine... a pair of thin cotton socks under a pair of hand-knit socks. I get really cold feet, and I need the extra layer.

I got caught out last night -- the snow started pretty seriously only after I'd left to teach a class. The good news was that it was a sock class, so I had a bag full of pairs to choose from for my extra layer.

I love teaching sock classes. Socks are my favourite form of knitting, no question. I had a student in my class last night, B., who has attended other of my classes. She's a great knitter, but she confessed to me a while ago that she wasn't a sock knitter... I got a sense that she was hesitant about the whole thing, that she really didn't understand the deal. It seemed pretty clear to me that she only really attended the class so she could see what the fuss was all about, and so she could help out her Mum, who has just started her first sock project.

I hear this reasonably often... puzzlement about what the big deal is. Sock knitting may well be the least efficient way of spending of your knitting time and money... I just spent nearly $40CDN (yes, forty dollars) on sock yarn with sterling silver thread in it. This is for something that goes on my SMELLY HORRIBLE FEET, to be HIDDEN inside my boots. And I'll probably spend between ten and twenty hours knitting a pair with this yarn (am noodling on a design idea, something fussy and interesting).

Socks can be complicated and challenging, and they require special equipment - insane teeny tiny needles, double points at that, which makes them more difficult to work with. And it's slow going, the tiny gauge.

It's not necessarily a rational thing, sock knitting.

Midway through my class last night, just after we'd turned the heel, B. looked up, smiled, and said... "hey, I get it now!" I think I've just converted another disbeliever...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Project Fatigue & Sparkly Encouragment

It's not an unfamiliar concept, project fatigue. When you tire of what you're working on, and need to take a break.

I see it often in my Project Classes. The Project Class is a workshop that runs for a few weeks; over that time, I guide students through their entire project - from choosing it, to swatching, to reading and working the pattern, to finishing it up.

I do encounter students who make excellent process for a time, and then partway through the class, suddenly stop. They're suffering from project fatigue.

I'm suffering from a serious case of it myself right now. I've been working on a commission, a set of items using the same yarn, for a yarn company. The yarn is great and I'm happy with the designs -- but I've been knitting nothing else for about 5 weeks now, and I simply need a break.

I've found myself scratching around the house looking for anything else to work on, any possible distraction.

I've picked up the long-abandoned Noro Kureyon Sock project...

(Remember how beserk I went when this yarn first appeared? Odd how I never actually managed to finish a pair... )

I've been working through the final few inches of the second Exploded sock so that I can write it up....

And I've been making far too much progress on the circular shawl thingy.

It happens. Sometimes you need a break from a project -- particularly a project that's big, or demanding.

This is all well and good, and I always recommend that knitters have more than one project on the go, particularly when one is challenging. I like to have an "at home" project, something that requires serious attention and goes well with mindless TV and radio. I also like to have a totally mindless project that goes well with engaging TV, movies with subtitles, in-car and in-the-dark knitting. More often than not, it's a plain and simple stocking stitch sock, because I can work them in my sleep. J. told me just today that she always knits a pair of socks between bigger projects, as a sort of palate cleanser.

My problem right now is that I'm actually on deadline.

So, as an encouragement to finish up the deadline project, and to finish up the others, I bought myself some sock yarn... some of the most stunning sock yarn I've ever seen.

Dye Version's Silver, in Midnight.

I'm not a sparkly girl, but this is absolutely magnificent. Look at it... shades of night sky, with a fine thread of silver through it.

And the thread of silver? It's actually sterling silver. Really!

I'm dying to start knitting with it. Can't wait. And therefore, it's going to sit, unwound, in plain sight, until I get everything else done. How's that for a reward?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Party, Party

See you there, perhaps?

The lovely ladies at the Purl talked me into participating in a charity... err... event... All will be unveiled today at 1pm. Visit the shop, or this site later for more information.

Let's just say that it's good thing I have a lot of pairs of hand-knit socks.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Things We Take For Granted: Sheep

I know that there are knitters out there who are wool-sensitive. Indeed, I've even contributed to Amy Singer's bible on the topic, No Sheep For You.

And I've certainly answered a lot of questions from knitters about non-wool sock yarns, and about good non-wool yarn substitutions in general.

Me, I'm the opposite of wool-sensitive. It's far and away my favourite fibre (yes, ok, I do love cashmere and the softer members of the wooly family), and I can wear some pretty scary scratchy sweaters without complaint. (I will wear Kureyon and Lopi next to my skin!) And so although I understood the problem intellectually, I'd never really internalized it. Indeed, I will admit that in the past I was one of those knitters who didn't really believe it was an actual allergy, that it was just a point of preference. Working with Amy disabused me of that notion some time ago... but that doesn't mean I've ever really thought about what it might mean when I teach classes.

Last night the whole thing was brought home to me in a way it never had been before.

A lovely knitter by the name of H. was in my class. The topic was Fixing Mistakes, and a key part of the class is having the students examine some mistake-ridden swatches I've prepared for the class.

(It leads into a fun discussion about the types of mistakes that you do have to fix vs. the types of mistakes you don't have to fix. I'm a pragmatist, after all. If the sweater isn't going to fall apart, if the pattering is working out, and the mistake isn't [very] visible, then why bother?)

And my swatches are all in wool.

H. is very wool-sensitive. Very. To the point where she took an antihistamine before she came to the class -- since she knew she'd be surrounded by wool.

I'd never considered that my teaching swatches might be a problem.

Lesson learnt. Thanks, H.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

"Can I Take Your Class Anyway?"; The Other Hand

I've been asked this question many times before, but this time it was obvious to me that there was a real sense of worry behind it.

I encountered a knitter at one of the shops where I teach who was interested in a class... We talked about it a bit, what I cover, how it works. And then she paused, lowered her voice a little, and said... "but I knit Continental, can I take your class anyway?"

My heart went out to her.

My answer was that of course she could take my class, and if anyone had told her that knitting Continental is somehow different from "English" knitting, then they were making a mountain out of a molehill.

(Follow the links above for more info, but the short answer is that English knitting is when the yarn is carried and wrapped around the needle with the right hand, and in Continental knitting, the yarn is carried and wrapped around the needle with the left hand.)

I wonder how many classes she's not taken, how many books and patterns she's put back on the shelf because she knits differently. It saddens me.

I've always thought the question odd, to be honest. In the grand scheme of knitting, it's such a minor difference, how you hold your yarn. As long as you're wrapping and putting the needle in the same way, it really doesn't matter a jot how you hold your yarn and needles and wrap.

I love watching a skilled Continental knitter go... V., who's attended a couple of classes of mine lately, knits like the wind. She's the fastest knitter I've ever seen work, and it's hypnotic to watch. Her tension is lovely and even and relaxed.

I knit English, and yes, it's ergonomically less efficient, and slower than it could be -- but it's the way I've always done and I just can't seem to program my fingers to work any other way. My theory is that how good you are at Continental is determined by a couple of factors -- if you learnt it first, but also (for right-handers) how capable you are with your left hand. I'm strongly right handed, very clumsy with my left. And I just can't make my left hand move the yarn in a controlled way to make even stitches if I attempt Continental. So I go back to my old way and enjoy it.

Now, combination knitting -- that's an interesting one. And that does absolutely change things...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Note to Self: Don't Expect to Get A Lot of Knitting Done When History is Being Made

In my defense, the start of the pattern is a little challenging -- managing 8 sts on 3 dpns, and making sure that the yarnovers at the end of each needle don't drop off.

However, now I'm onto a circular, it's plain sailing. And my god, this pattern is rhythmic and easy. Would be ideal public transport knitting if it wasn't so damn big.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Knitting

Please. If you're a citizen of the US, please vote. You've heard the rhetoric about why this is so important. Just get out there and let your voice be heard.

And then, once you've voted, consider what you'll be knitting in front of the coverage.

I've had this project waiting for a long time, and I finally have the yarn. "Opening Night", from the Manos book Metropolitan Diary, available for purchase here.

It's a circular shawl with clever armholes so you can wear it as a vest. A shawl that might actually stay on. Haven't knitted a circular shawl yet, so I'm looking forward to it.

The yarn I've chosen is Cascade Eco Wool , and I'm doing it in plain black for maximum wearability. Yeah, I know, I'm boring, I knit a lot of things in black. But at least I can guarantee they'll go with everything in my wardrobe.

The yarn comes in giant comedy skeins, which wind into giant comedy balls (that's what she said). So big that I had to take it off the ball winder and finish it by hand.

Skein and ball photographed with this evening's beer (Rogue Dead Guy Ale, seems appropriate, no?), for a sense of scale.

I'm keen to start this tonight because it seems like fairly simple knitting, and I suspect my attention will mostly be on the TV.

Ravelry pattern link.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Odd Socks, Sort Of

Odd, and yet not. Exactly as amusing as I'd hoped.

Love them.