Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Little Sweater That Wouldn't

And now for story time with Megan:

This particular story goes back to my senior year in high school and begins with the purchase of six hanks of Cascade 220 roughly the color of oatmeal. I had bought the yarn with a mission in mind--a sweater that called out my name from the pages of the magazine, a sweater that catered to my slightly (very) skewed sense of fashion and love for cardigans. It was the Dollar and a Half Cardigan and even now when I look at it, I want it. I also happen to know better.

I was and am a headstrong knitter. I tend to charge on full speed ahead and without doing basic things like, say, swatching or checking fiber types or, well, anything prior to casting on. This is because I am an unabashed process knitter. I love making things, and I love learning while I make them. I couldn't care less if I needed to rip back a few rows, to drop an entire cable down 3 repeats, or pick out that panel that I just sewed on like an idiot. This is the allure of knitting for me. It's why I love lace--it's so risky and so rewarding. But I digress.

As the ancient Greeks say: "Know thyself." (actually, they say γνῶθι σεαυτόν, but that's my husband's department, not mine).I knew myself, and I knew that I hadn't just spent a hefty chunk of change to screw this up. I swatched. I washed my swatch. I measured my swatch. I was a good girl.

This is when I first realized that the gods of gauge are actually malevolent forces with natures better suited to destruction and chaos than kindness and grace. I knit and sewed up that sweater 3 separate times. First, it was a massive monstrosity, then, on reduced needles it became a sweater for an elementary school child, and then (up those needles again) a sweater for someone in between who clearly was not named Megan. By this time, it was winter of my freshman year in college, and a member of the theatre department told me it could be my "theatre sweater" to wear in the dark on tech day, since it's so cold. (or: it looks alright if the lights are out.) I gave up on the dollar and a half cardigan.

I briefly flirted with a free pattern that has long since been lost (good riddance. Desperation can be an ugly thing and result in poor decision making skills). That was discarded for the Rambling Rose, a sweater available in sizes minute and gargantuan, but I thought my math-y skills could make up for the difference. This expedition into the unknown was abandoned as well (though not for lack of trying) and soon switched for a sweater from Vogue knitting: the High Neck Pullover. I love this sweater, but it's made for smaller yarn and smaller women. Also, once finished, I couldn't fit my head through the neck opening, severely limiting its viability as a piece of clothing. It was frogged the end of my Sophomore year after several people ran up and down the dorm hallway trying to get it over their skulls. Shortly after this very public failure, I started the Wakame tunic for the first time. I made it through the band before I had to admit to myself that I did not have enough yarn, and the likelihood of finding a dye-lot 3 years old when ravelry was just out of beta was slim to none.

That summer, I made most of Shiri Mor's multi shape top, or through half of the yoke. It was so nifty--the construction, the lines, those circles on the side--but I suddenly realized that it was also sort of hideous, especially in oatmeal brown wool knit at an incredibly tight gauge. I tore it apart again, but unfortunately the multishape top was also the multi-piece top, and now my yarn lived in 30 small balls. My junior year, the yarn languished in obscurity. I think I may have actually left it on the other side of the continental divide when I left for school in the fall. Clearly we were not meant to be together. The following summer interweave published Leitmotif--a very interesting little number knit sideways with lovely hip shaping, extra shoulder room in the drop sleeves, and a charming little lace and cable motif. It spoke to me, as patterns sometimes do.

And so I picked up that oatmeal yarn again and set to work. It was slow going after the body was finished (this may seem counter intuitive to those of you who don't know what it's like to get bogged down in fields of stockinette, but for process knitters, it's like watching paint dry while someone pokes you with a sharp stick over and over again in the thigh. Just like that. In fact, the two states are basically the same so feel free to use them interchangeably.) I wouldn't finish the second sleeve until I needed to power through some virology lectures on controlling mosquito-born diseases in under-developed nations and communities. also something about SARS.

And so the sweater was complete, and just in time for me to graduate. This was that oatmeal wool's last try. I told myself that before I cast on. The sweater won't last nearly as long as my others because the yarn has been through so much. In many places, the plies have felted together and it had been spliced so many times (that multi-shape top, man) that frogging it would tear it to bits. If Leitmotif hadn't been "the one," I would have thrown away the yarn, with sadness in my heart. The sweater is a bit crinkly as a result, and the gauge is a bit wonky, but it all works out in the sweaters favor and gives it some character that I think it might have otherwise been lacking.

I do really like sweater number 9.

(extra lesson learned from this adventure--boucle yarn is not a good stitch holder)

Of Cake and Startitis

I've been listless lately. (The irony that this post comes so soon after my "I'm working out!" post is not lost on me.) I think it's probably a result of the massive quantities of cake which entered my house one my husband's birthday. His 9th grade students wanted to prank him, and that somehow involved 21 cakes (They love him so much; it's so adorable). 12 of those cakes made it home in various states of consumption, but about 6 of them were untouched. Nether of us really like cake, but we have cake in abundance, so whenever we're sort of hungry or mildly peckish, cake is consumed.

That much cake cannot be good for a person. We're down to the last 4. I may need an insulin pump before we're through.

And so lately I've been feeling a bit like dirt. Just a bit, though. Nothing dramatic enough to make me anything more than listless.

My knitting has also been unmotivated as of late. I screwed up the wrap and turns on a corner of Yggdrasil, and so it languishes on the futon--near finished but never finished. I keep it near me so that I feel guilty, but that's been having mixed results, seeing as I haven't touched it in over 2 weeks.

In order to pretend like I'm doing something worthwhile with my knitting, while still not actually accomplishing the task at hand, I've been start stuff. Just stuff. I started some things for a friend's baby. I started another plushie. I swatched some interesting concepts using intarsia and dropped stitches (these are promising, so they may not end up being "just stuff"). Also I started a sweater, but I have noble plans to finish this one, so hopefully it will not also be cast aside into the stuff pile.

The pattern is Wakame in "Spa". I kid you not, the name of the yarn company is indeed a web address. I feel like that was a poor marketing decision. (Actually, here is a link to their poorly designed, tacky website that seems to have fallen out of the late 90's... I feel like this whole rebrand by caron, the parent company, was not nearly as well thought out as it might have been) The yarn is alright--it knits up beautifully, and it's quite soft, but it splits like you wouldn't believe. I'm still trying to decide how to block it. It's 75% : 25%  Acryllic : Rayon. Wet block? Steam block? Break the acrylic since it's a lace pattern? Would that melt the rayon? I don't know, but we're a ways out from that, so I've got some time to decide (see also, swatch and attack with the iron).

Next time I'll tell you about the first time I tried to make this sweater, and the poor yarn involved. It's a good story but it's a bit long to tack on the end here.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Kitchen related observation

Brief moment of realization:

I have been trying to place the smell of thyme for quite a while now. It's sort of off putting, and since I cook mainly by smell, I never know how to use it. I finally figured out why:

Thyme smells like the pea gravel from my childhood big toy, or at least the way my memory thinks that pea gravel smells.

I suppose this is what they mean by "earthy flavor."

That is all.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Opposite of Knitting

I've been pretty sedentary for the past 6 years. Part of it is my hobbies--running with knitting needles is a good way to lose an eye or rupture a lung, and piano isn't exactly a marching band instrument. The other (larger) part is my body. I did gymnastics until I was 16. I wasn't particularly good at it, mind you, but I did it 14.5 hours a week, 51 weeks a year for a decade. When I hit high school, my knees began the process of dying. I don't know if you've ever had a body part degenerate on you, but it's basically awful. You go to physical therapy and they can arrest your descent, but unless you stop doing the thing that makes you hurt, you're never going to get well. When the thing that makes you hurt is putting any force on a bent knee, it makes that sport you dedicated your life to nigh on impossible.

The day I realized I was taking tylenol just so I could sleep through the night was the day I went to my coaches and quit. After that, I sat still for a long time. My body has, for the most part, forgotten just how badly I was hurting day in and day out (when it remembers, I have the most vivid waking dreams about injuring myself any number of ways back at the gym. It's pretty grim). This is one of the reasons I want to scream at the Marines for their "Pain is weakness leaving the body" slogan. Pain is not weakness leaving the body, it's your body telling you that if you don't stop that right now, you're going to irreparably damage something.

Since then, things have gotten better. Stairs are still a lesson in torture, but that's not too big of a deal unless I have an appointment in a skyscraper. Time heals all wounds, as they say.

Well, after a winter of being stuck in my apartment, unemployed, and generally bored, my body decided for the first time since I packed up my leotard that it wanted to work out. Now, I've worked out occasionally between point A and point B, but that was because it was "a good thing to do" or "healthy." Those are conscious mental decisions. My body wants to do push-ups. Badly.

So I wrote out a regimen based on my old conditioning routines. Other than bar exercises, gymnastics has awesome workouts you can do anywhere as long as you bring yourself. 5lb weights are helpful, but by no means necessary. The real trick was factoring in 6 years of not doing squat when calculating set numbers. My body still thinks it can do 3 sets of 30 clapping, diamond push-ups.

My piece of paper says we will do 3 sets of 5 regular push-ups. I may have been overestimating my abilities.

But I did my work-out yesterday for the first time in years. It felt great. It was exhausting. I really enjoyed it.

This morning I couldn't walk when I tried to get out of bed. I still almost fall whenever I try to stand up after relaxing the backs of my legs. I feel like a newborn calf.

Oh well. We'll work it off tomorrow. It'll be a good way to greet the day.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Meristem and learning to write patterns

A few months back, I wanted to make something nondescript. I walked over to my stash, dug for a bit, and came out with a ball of Mirasol "Hacho" I had picked up years ago on sale. I had nabbed 2 hanks because I loved the colors and because it was about 75% off, which is a steal and I am a sucker for such things. At the time, I had no idea how I would use it. I had tried a couple different patterns, but been unsatisfied because the dye-job on Hacho makes stitch definition difficult to see, the short runs make using it in fair isles confusing in the foreground and the background, and it knits up a little squat due to the fiber content and the way it's spun. (The recommended needle size is a 6, even though the yarn is no thicker than my other fingering weight.)

So, I had the Hacho in my hot little hand and I thought, "well, hand warmers don't need to drape... and I bet some simple directional stitches would show off the colors without being boring as drywall to knit." (it is, apparently, very boring to knit drywall.)  I cruised around ravelry per the usual, but I was wholly unsatisfied with anything I saw. The more I thought about it, though, the more I knew what I wanted. I wanted twisted rib, a thumb gusset, and a gentle arch with new ribbing blooming out of it invisibly. I got out my notebook and drew it. I grabbed my needles, ball-parked the number of stitches I would need to cast on (who's a lazy bum? this girl), and went to town.

Turns out decreasing in twisted rib is more complex than you would initially be led to believe.  You have to reorient every stitch that ends up "on top" a quarter turn clockwise before you do anything else (except maybe getting the stitch before it out of the way). It worked, though. The bind-off, on the other hand... that took three tries and three different bind-offs. Standard BO was ugly. EZ's sewn BO was an abomination (shiver). I settled on a tubular BO. Honestly, I should have started there; I knew better.

They ended up with my seester for her birthday. As I look back on it now, it doesn't seem such a big deal--they were just hand warmers--but really, that was the first time that I have ever made the "thing I see in my brain." It's certainly not the first thing I've ever designed that's ended up in my family's possession. My little brother has odd requests and is the proud owner of his own Pi scarf (to the 314th digit, like a boss) and Totoro guitar strap (that was certainly a learning experience... hoo buddy). And then there's the boobkini... Even the cropped cardi from hell, for all those shed tears, was a lesson in editing rather than writing. well, let's just  say these hold a special little place in my heart reserved for those monumental firsts. Most of the accomplishments in there are things like "first time I did a back tuck" and "first time someone sang an arrangement I wrote."

As cool as my "totally original" patterns are (and they are. I won't hear otherwise), they're just strips. So, I'm pretty proud of my little "Meristems". As I look at the photos, I need to move some things around--that top is too long and the cuff too short--but I really love the movement on the hand. I think it's awfully purdy. Since it only took 1 ball, I guess I'll use the second one to make a pair for myself.

I'll post a pattern once I finish my edit. (Send me a shout out if you want to test-knit them.)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Grafting Cables and other forms of torture

I finished the cable border on Yggdrasil. It took longer than I thought it would. Because I hadn't knit on it in a while, I was deceived by the distance between where I knitted to when I put the blanket down and where I needed to be. I thought "that's maybe ten minutes worth of grinding" but it was really closer to 3 hours. But that section is done now and unless I get a hankering to do the largest size, that's the last large cable border I'll have to knit.

Now, when the cable border is finished, you graft the beginning and the ending together so that it appears continuous. In my mind this was an easy task. I like grafting well enough. It's pretty straight forward once you realize what you're doing (which, for the record, is mimicking stitches by controlling the entrance, connection, and exit from each loop of yarn. The traditional knit-purl-purl-knit format mimics stockinette because it keeps the working yarn on the "wrong side" of both pieces, which are held with the wrong sides touching. Ergo, you enter a the first stitch on the right side, drop it off the needle, and then thread the yarn through as if to purl, connecting the stitches through the back and coming up through the center of the second stitch. Then you enter through the first stitch on needle 2 purlwise, thereby bringing the yarn to the wrong side of that section, and leave knitwise.)

That turned out wordier than I had initially thought it was going to be. All that is to say that when you're grafting together, say, ribbing or cables you need to be careful about how you enter the first stitch, connect it to the second stitch, and finally exit that second stitch.

Now here's where it bites you in the butt. When you do a provisional cast on with the intention of  grafting later, you cast on the number of stitches you will be working (no huge surprise there. Need 20, cast on 20.) When you expose the live stitches, though, you now have the number of stitches you cast on minus one. Why? Well, you're working with the undersides now, and if you think of it like a big strip of rick rack (which shouldn't be too hard if you've ever frogged your work.) you know that the zig-zag has peaks and valleys, and since you started with a tail, the line starts and ends with a peak.

So now you're grafting 20 stitches to 19 stitches. So you say to yourself, "no big deal, we'll just fudge it a little and it'll all work out." and if it were stockinette, it would. But it's not. It's cables, and the stitch pattern in Yggdrasil puts that first cable on row 1. Accuracy matters if the basket weave is going to look right. But it never will. No matter what you do, it'll always be just a liiiiittle off center and a liiiiittle strained . There are only 3 loops in the bottom of each of those cables (5 loops associated with the cables, but only 3 are directly related. Remember the rick rack.)

And so I finally gave up after the 3rd try today. It's grafted and it's ugly and I'm sad. Would you notice it from far away? No. How do I know? Well, I only figured it out after my first failed attempt and I've been looking at peoples projects for years. Now that I look at them again, they all have that wonky join.

So... my advice is don't do the provisional cast on. Do something without a lot of bulk, maybe a backward loop, but certainly not long-tail or tubular, and whip stitch the bugger together later. 20 stitches to 20 stitches. Matched up perfectly.

I'm going to go over one of the cables (the ugliest one) again with some duplicate stitching to clean it up when all is said and done. That should help.