30 July 2006

Drilling and Yarn

What could a power drill have to do with knitting? It's actually very simple...

My friend Ruth had a brilliant idea one day last year, in the Izmailovskii market in Moscow. They were selling blank wooden Matryoshka dolls - the nesting kind - so you could paint them yourself. We each bought a set, but Ruth's brilliant idea was to drill a hole in them and use the bigger two as yarn feeders. So, that's what I'm up to. I drilled the holes (one on top, for center-pull balls, one on the side for the other kind), and sanded them, and now they're resting until Hubbster feels like varnishing them for me (I don't dare do it myself because strong fumes give me migraines, and we don't have a yard to do this in or anything). Here's what they look like so far:

And I still have 5 nesting dolls to paint!

28 July 2006


And now: The Most Frustrating Evening of Knitting Ever (or, Never Frog from the CO Edge Up)

These two sleeves are not identical. Can you spot the Problem Row? (Click on the picture to see a bigger version)

Okay. So, there's this brown Fair Isle sweater with a gauge problem (scroll down to the bottom of the post). I had one sleeve, the bottom third of the second sleeve, and the body done. The gauge was all mis-matched in the main color parts, but the Fair Isle parts were fine, and after blocking and becoming enamored of the Fair Isle in the body, I *really* did want to rip any of that out (I was also slightly afraid that doing so would create a gauge problem there, too). So, I decided to frog the top few inches of the body, and the top and bottom few inches of the second sleeve. If I could re-knit this in the gauge I was originally getting to match the bottom of the body and the first sleeve, all would be well.

Since I had no idea what got my gauge off in the first place, I had to take a couple weeks off, working on other projects before I could deal with this.

So, two days ago, I frogged the top part of the second sleeve. I re-knit, up to where I'd stopped, and beyond, all the way to the top of the sleeve. Huzzah! - no problems. It knit up just as it should. The secret, I believe, is to NOT THINK ABOUT KNITTING WHILE KNITTING. This seems to keep my gauge right on track. I recommend watching Sopranos re-runs as the best way to achieve this Zen-like state.

So, all proud of myself and convinced that the Bad Knitting Voodoo had vanished, I set out to frog the bottom couple of inches of the sleeve, which had been too tight. I had started with a provisional cast-on, so I didn't even have to laboriously pick apart the edge.

Now, I know that when you start knitting down from the bottom edge of a piece, you're really knitting the loops *between* the loops you were knitting upwards before, so that you end up with once less loop, and so a careful eye will spot a slight difference at the start of the row/round.

I had full confidence that I could handle this. I've read Montse Stanley cover to cover - I can do anything.

I planned to rip only to the last row in the main color, so that the switch wouldn't affect any of the Fair Isle section, and I didn't particularly care if the round join looked a little odd, since it's the underside of a sleeve. I started ripping, and...something strange happened. The loops all obediently popped right out of their places until I got to the beginning of the round, and then I found that the loose end of the yarn went right *through* the loop, instead of being looped through, if you know what I mean. It was a knot, not a loop. Like the last loop on a bind-off, when you put the end through by itself to secure the last loop. Except it wasn't a bind-off row. As far as I understand knitting, it ain't got no business having a knot (that is, anything but a loop inside a loop) anywhere but the first or last stitch. And it's not like this even happened just where I had made my M1 increases -- those were every 5th row, and I found this knot thing 2-3 times at the beginning of every round. Yes, 2 to 3 times. Sometimes it was 2, sometimes 3. This *really* makes no sense, since every row should be the same, at least.

I began to contemplate how the cuff bottom that I vaguely remember having knit myself in the usual way had, in fact, been knit by aliens in some weird alien way that makes no sense and is very bad for frogging. I ran this theory by my husband, who made sensitive, supportive noises.

So, I frogged each row by pulling the entire length of the unravelled yarn through those 2-3 loops at the beginning of every round. Normally, frogging a couple inches of cuff should take about 5 minutes, if not less. This took a good hour, and the closer I got to the Fair Isle section, the more the wool MC yarn started to stick to itself or catch little bits of the alpaca I'd used for the Fair Isle, so that it didn't want to rip out.

I had planned to frog for five minutes, get the needles into the last row of MC, ready to re-knit down those few inches, then take a break and have a shower before dinner, since I was sweating like a loon under all that wool and alpaca. Suddenly, Hubbster was saying (gently, so as not to provoke) that dinner was kind of ready already, and I was sitting there with a huge, knotty pile of kinked wool all over me, and only half the cuff frogged. I found myself unable to pull words together to respond to Hubbster. I could only make noises, and gesture.

Hubbster is a very clever boy, and offered me beer. Not regular beer, which I despise, but green-apple flavored imported Belgian beer, which is something else entirely. A drink. This one thought penetrated my flummoxed, wooly brain and I flung away the whole mess and drank my beer. Also ate, and did all the other necessary things, so I could return to my cuff with renewed energies. Hubbster asked, conversationally, over dinner, as if this was something normal people discussed, what had gone wrong with the knitting. I explained my alien theory. I worked myself up into believing that if I could just get to that last row of the MC and pick up the loops (the loops between loops, I remembered, because I'm so clever), then all would be well.

I went back to frogging, but all of a sudden, for reasons I am completely unable to explain, the last MC row was already more than half gone, and I had a big fuzzy knot that included both the wool MC and the alpaca CC, and the knitting that remained still in place was totally unrecognizable as knitting. I would have taken a picture of this for you, if I hadn't been completely hysterical.

This is when I started to laugh and cry maniacally, and to grab my scissors and start hacking at random. This is when Hubbster started like a frightened deer and hovered nearby, ready to help but making sure not to get too close to the scissors.

I hacked off the MC yarn -- in the process making all that laborious frogging a complete waste of time, since I could have just snipped the yarn at that point in the first place. In the emotional state I was in by this time, this was enough to make me weep. Now I was left with the first Fair Isle row instead of a plain row to pick up. It was a simple one, just one-by-one stitch in the MC and CC. But the stranding, being so short, was indistinguishable from the loops, and here I was trying to find "loops between loops"! I tried several times, and each time the expletives got louder, and more sacreligious.

Okay, so I wasn't thinking all that clearly. But finally it did sink in - trying to pick up stitches in this row was probably REALLY STUPID. That maybe trying to pick them up in the next row, which was plain CC, would be easier. It was. I picked them up, I knitted down. Miraculously, my gauge when I knit down was fine. The row where I picked up is a bit tight, and of course the frame-shift caused by picking up the bottoms of loops and knitting in the opposite direction is much more noticeable this way than it would have been if I'd managed to do it in a plain MC row. And yes, I'm well aware that it would have been MUCH easier to have just ripped out the whole second sleeve and started from scratch, since we're only talking about a few inches of knitting here. But pray keep in mind that, having decided I want to keep the Fair Isle bit and blithely believing that frogging from the CO edge wouldn't be any harder than frogging from the top, I had already frogged the top part and re-knit the entire top of the sleeve. In the right gauge. If I tried it a third time, clearly, the gauge would have gone back to Bizarro-world gauge again. Everybody knows that's how the Knitting Voodoo works; you can't mess with it.

So I showed the sleeves to Hubbster, the intended recipient of the sweater, and asked him if he could see the difference. Not that he really had a choice at this point, but he claims in all honesty to be completely oblivious to even the slightest imperfection in the sleeves, or indeed in any of my knitting. Nice Hubbster. He grew up with the sort of grandmother who never, ever swore except while knitting, at which point she sometimes became quite colorful, as I'm sure we can all imagine. So he's well-trained.

Last night I frogged the top part of the body -- no alien invasions here -- and am now re-knitting it, apparently at the correct gauge.

Clearly, the Sweater Gods have had it in for me lately. Equally clearly, the Sweater Gods were called in for vengeance on behalf of the two unfinished sweaters sitting in my closet for about a year and a half now. I let too many sweaters sit in the closet for too long, and now they're ganging up on me. Maybe I've read too much Harlot, but I fear my own knitting. Honestly, I've never seen anything like that frogged cuff, I don't understand it, and I think Other Powers have to have been at work.

The smart thing to do, here, would be to finish those last two sweaters in the closet before I start the new, really exciting one using the KnitPicks Palette Sampler. But I'm afraid, so afraid. Plus, I stuck them in the closet in the first place because they didn't seem to be quite living up to their potential. Does anybody know any sweater exorcisms??

Next post: I use a power drill. And yes, it's related to knitting. Muhahahaha.

27 July 2006

Seriously Good Luck


Before I get into the felted sweaters, I just want to say...wow.

Our internet connection was down yesterday, and when I went online today to see how/if anyone responded to my post of yesterday, I was amazed at the quantity, depth, and sheer wonderfulness of the responses! See, now this is what I love about the confluence of knitting and the internet! Everyone added so many more reasons that the Mason-Dixon book is so compelling, each of which had me going, "yes! exactly! that's it, too!" -- it just goes to show how powerful an effect the book has, or how powerful a niche it's filling. And I want to thank everyone for adding so much more to satisfy my own curiosity about why the book and its projects attract me so much.

As I said in the original post, that was really what I was most going after (i.e., understanding what it is about warshrags, etc, that have suddenly taken over my brain and my fingers, to my own surprise!), so I hope I didn't start or dig up a controversy where there wasn't one. I only saw a couple of posts on blogs (and I honestly don't remember where) that expressed disappointment or scepticism about the book -- which I'm sure appears on blogs somewhere about *every* book that gets published -- and which I thought was interesting only because, while I totally understood what these people found to complain about (the simplicity of the patterns, etc), YET, I loved the book, and bought it happily with no regrets, even though I'm on a strict knitting-book budget. That's what I was trying to figure out, and, with the help of all these good folks who posted, I do feel like we've nailed down a lot of the ways in which this book is much more than the sum of its parts. I hope that convinces a few people to try it who haven't yet. That's why the handful of comments I got about my Absorba the day before prompted me to write the post. Those weren't people who had issues with the M-D book, but they did say they were hesitating, or half-convinced, and I guess I just wanted to find a way to convey to them and others still thinking about getting the book, or doing a particular project in it, what it is that's just so *satisfying* about it.

That said, one of the not-so-enthusiastic blog posts that I remember seeing a while ago was complaining (mildly) about the book, about KALs in general to some degree (mentioning also the Icarus KAL, of which I'm a member too), and was saying that it was annoying for everyone to always be on the same bandwagon. Now, this was just that person's opinion and wasn't at all expressed in an offensive way (I don't see how one person's opinion can be offensive, anyway), so I don't want to go looking for that blog again just to point it out as if it's a bad example of something. It just intrigued me, because I, too, dislike doing what everybody else is doing, or wearing whatever everybody else is wearing, and I too thought, when I first browsed M-D, "well, but that pattern's just from the ball band, and that I could do myself....", etc. But, unlike this other person, I LOVE knit-a-longs, I was delighted to have so much company in making the Icarus, and I found myself unable to resist buying M-D (indeed, the quality of the photography and editing and writing helped here - I started by reading the intro in the bookstore, and I think that sold me, patterns be damned), and of course have since become a total convert to all the projects from the book, and the blog.

So, what about this bandwagon thing? This anonymous blog poster, again, expressed annoyance that "everyone else" was knitting Icarus, and said that she wouldn't do it now, even though she'd liked the pattern and had wanted to knit it when she first saw it. Now, okay, I have to say that I think it's totally insane not to do something you want to do, just because other people like it too. [And, though it may indeed seem in the knitting blagosphere that "everyone" is knitting Icarus, I live in NYC and have yet to see a single other Icarus walking down the street! Not even a Clapotis, or a Jaywalker! :-) ] But -- does anyone else have maybe a slightly less pointed reaction to the overwhelming popularity of certain patterns in the internet knitting world? I'm wondering if a sort of backlash to the knitting trend is starting to turn up? I would absolutely hate to think so, because even though the really chic-chic, Hollywood-y aspects of the knitting-as-yoga trend do make me occasionally roll my eyes, I could not be more delighted or grateful to have perhaps a handful of mere trend-followers to join us hordes of die-hard knitters. Whatever it takes to keep the LYS's in business, and the pattern books coming!! I'm perfectly happy to be slightly discomforted by a visit to a certain extremely uppity "luxury yarn" store on the Upper East Side if it means I can get my alpaca-silk when I want it!

So ever since the trend started, I've been living in shivering, quivering fear of the moment when a backlash will set in, knitting will go out again, and we'll have to knit our kitchen cotton because we have no selection of other, fuzzier fibers available, rather than because we feel like it. But, upon reflection, and upon seeing the response to my post yesterday, I'm going to bravely claim that I don't think knitting will ever go back into hibernation as it once was! Indeed, I think that life today necessitates something like knitting, or yoga, or sculpting, or quilting, or model building, or ANYTHING that serves to keep one in touch with one's body, one's imagination, and the outside world. And I think the internet has a key role in all this. Spending most of our time sitting in front of computers is probably part of why we all need the knitting therapy so desperately, but at the same time, the community-building power of the internet makes it possible, for the first time, for no knitter to have to work out a pattern alone (or abandon it in despair), for no knitter to have to teach himself every skill from scratch, for no knitter to have to hide her knitting lest people think her all kinds of things she isn't, and for no knitter to suffer from the inability to find or make a pattern to express *exactly* his own personality....and so, dear ones, it seems to me that there is no longer any reason for a knitter (who can get internet access, that is, usually free at public libraries!) to run into the kind of situation that so commonly used to cause those infamous "knitting lapses" (mine lasted for years, during the Red Heart Era).

It was you, dear commenters, who have brought me to this hopeful perspective, and I thank you. You have also served to explain why I love knit-a-longs all of a sudden, even though I've always been one of those ornery, non-joining type people. While I grudge no knitter or blogger the right to be annoyed or to post a gripe, I'm so glad that to an overwhelming degree, the browsing of knitting blogs never fails to make me feel inspired, interested, humbled, and motivated.

Oh, and yes, if I could be writing my disseration about knitting...well. I would be a lot closer to being done now, wouldn't I? :-) Ah - the good thing about being a historian, though, is that *everything* becomes history as soon as it happens so, who knows, maybe someday I'll get to write a book about the Great Knitting Revivial of the Early 21st Century. Meanwhile, I take comfort in re-reading my sources for my diss and catching occasional references to knitting there. I'm even contemplating, yes indeedy, working up these small references into an article someday.

BUT - Back to knitting. Er, no, actually, I still don't have any knitting pictures to post, but I do want to tell a felting story. It's a good one, with a happy ending.


So while Hubbster and I were in Michigan, visiting Mom, we went shopping one day at the nearby outlet mall, looking principally at an antique store, where I was hoping to find some old knitting equipment of any kind. No luck there, but we did find a consignment store further on that was offering everything in stock for $2 per item. And guess what, folks - I found no less than 7 gorgeous feltable sweaters:

Some were so beautiful I was almost ashamed to felt them. One is Abercrombie & Fitch, another is DKNY. Two are 100% Shetland wool, and four are 100% lambswool (the seventh is 100% Scratchy Wool, and no, that's not what it said on the tag, but I'll bet it's why it was for sale). I love the lime-green hoodie with the cute cable pattern and the kangeroo pocket. Crying out to be made into a handbag, n'est pas?

I took out all the tags and also several of the seams in the hoodie, since that one's quite bulky and I didn't want to waste the fabric in the seams by letting it felt into a big fat wormlike shape. Here it is, undone, looking a lot like a really accurate schematic:

The DKNY sweater is really interesting, too. It's plain stockinette, but knit side-to-side, with some shaping around the neck and the sleeve decreases going down the top of the arm. I was really tempted to just wear it as-is, but it's pilling pretty badly and a bad color for me, so I decided to felt it after all. I might want to replicate the pattern someday, though, so I took some detail shots of the shaping. Here's a couple of samples:

And in case anyone wants to copy those cables from the hoodie, like I do, here's a detail shot of that:

So, I went to the Laundromat to start felting, and after three cycles (at $1.75 each), I decided to give up temporarily and finish the felting at home, by hand. They all at least started to felt, the blue Fair Isle one felted completely and the Fair Isle parts of two others got close. But I just couldn't stand to sit in the humid Laundromat paying that much for a 10-minute wash cycle anymore. What I wouldn't give to own my own washing machine!

So, back at the farm (er, the 1BR apartment), I dumped the 6 sweaters in varying stages of unfeltedness into a big plastic tub in the bathtub. I added lots of soap and hot water, got out a big wooden spoon and a book, and whacked, swirled and smooshed away at the sweaters for a couple hours while reading. Then, I pulled each one out, squeezed out excess water, and took a look at my handiwork: two hours of rather laborious work had yielded...nothing. Hmph. Time to get out the heavy artillery. The metal cooling rack (the kind you use when baking cookies). I ruthlessly put all my sweaters "on the rack," alternately rubbing them by hand, or laying them across the rack and rubbing at it with the wooden spoon. One piece (half of the hood from the hoodie) felted pretty nicely this way, but it took forever, and by the time I'd gotten that far I was out of all patience, it was past midnight, and Hubbster was beginning to wonder what evil spirit had possessed his wife (and whether she remembered that she's getting a PhD in history, not felting). So I dumped the sweaters back in their soapy tub and left them there to feel guilty while I slept.

Next day, I decided that shock therapy would be the ticket (and, a lot less work). I poured out the old water, filled it with the hottest-of-hot, almost-boiling water from the tap and more soap, took out a little bit of my pique with the wooden spoon, and stalked off to see how it liked this treatment. I re-visited the tub whenever the water had cooled, drained it, and "shocked" the wool with more hot. Apparently, though, this wool was pretty unshockable. Throughout the process, it displayed a uniformly English attitude of restraint and imperturbability in the face of anything I threw at it. Must be because there was Shetland in there.

After two days of this, Hubbster was beginning to laugh at me, and to tell jokes about my undisciplined sweaters to all and sundry.

So, pulling the tatters of my dignity along like Linus' blankie, I gave up and dragged the sweaters, in their tub, down to the basement. Let them be half-felted handbags. Like I care. I'll sew them together with yarn that really does felt, and it'll all be fine. I planned it like that the whole time. And damn if I was going to waste any more energy wringing them dry and then laying them all out on towels to take up the next week to fully dry in this weather. So, I threw them all in the dryer, and put in enough quarters for an hour and fifteen minutes. That outta do it.

So, 75 minutes later down I go to pick them up, firmly convinced that the tags had all lied, that they'd all been stranded with super-wash or nylon or something, and....I took out from the dryer six teeny, tiny, heavily felted, very thick sweaters.

So, in other words, I've invented a new, highly efficient, and cheaper means of public-laundry felting. Dunk your stuff in soapy water till they're full, then stick 'em in the dryer. End of story. The beauty of it is that while $1.25 to $3.00 will get you only about 10 minutes of actual heated, agitated, washing time in a public machine (the rest being rinses and spins), every minute you pay for in a dryer is actually heating and agitating the sweaters. If only I had thought of this from the beginning! Best to keep them each in their separate, zippered pillowcases, though, as you would in a washer, because otherwise the fuzzies will all stick to all sweaters equally (one arm of my grey sweater escaped its confines).

(Grey fuzz on purple-and-red sweater.)

The punchline is....none of the sweaters were actually dry.

They're now hanging on the drying rack in my living room, where they've been for 24 hours, with no sense of dryness yet showing itself. I'll give it a week, or maybe until fall?

Here's a shot, though, of the felted sweaters, minus the very obedient blue Fair Isle one that felted right from the start, and is already dry, which paid for its obedience by being totally forgotten when picture-taking time came.

Both the grey and sideways-green ones were big enough for me to wear before felting. The grey one looks only slightly smaller now, though noticeably shorter, but the green one is miniscule. A good illustration of how much more stockinette stitch felts vertically, than horizontally.

Didn't the cables come out looking really cute?

So, they weren't exactly the incredible bargains I told Hubbster they were, after all those washer and dryer cycles, but I've now actually got the results I originally wanted. Will keep you updated on what I do with the sweaters after they dry. Right now, I'm planning to make at least a few handbags, a la those in Leigh Radford's AlterKnits, and cut up the rest, along with some felted bits and pieces from a previous run to Goodwill to make a couple of big pillow covers. And maybe another handbag. Or two.

Saving for a future post: the Most Frustrating Evening of Knitting Ever (or, Never Frog from the CO Edge Up) and Knitting and Drills.

25 July 2006

About Mason-Dixon Knitting

I was going to post today about the sweaters I bought on consignment in Michigan, which are now felting (it's taking longer than I expected). But after reading the comments to yesterday's post, I decided to let that wait till tomorrow and say something else instead.

I've noticed (though forgotten where, in my aimless blog-browsing) that some people have had as surprisingly strong a reaction against the Mason-Dixon Knitting book as many people have had a strong reaction for it (as evidenced by the very active Knit-A-Long, see button at left). I find this really interesting.

I recognize the problems or gripes some people see with the book - as far as patterns go, there's a washcloth pattern that's been available free for eons on the Suger & Cream ball band, and log-cabining is an incredibly simple technique that has likewise been around for donkey's years. And a lot of the book is just sort of gabbing (much like the blog, also available for free), but not really coherent stories or jokes, like the Harlot's books. So some people wonder, reasonably enough, why are people paying hardcover prices for a book that doesn't seem to have much in it that you aren't doing or couldn't do for yourself?

As somebody who really loves the book, and now the blog (which I only discovered through the book), and has been making quite a few of the patterns and plans to make more, I feel like making a stab at explaining my personal response to it (not claiming to speak for others). This is really because I'm trying to figure it out myself. I'm so interested in the hugeness of knitting culture right now and how the whole phenomenon has developed, and I think the reactions this book gets are an interesting window into the culture.

I see the book not as either a pattern book, or a book about knitting that's meant for reading, like the Yarn Harlot's books, KnitLit or For the Love of Knitting, or America Knits. I think it's something different - not just something in-between, but something of its own. I think the M-D book offers an attitude about knitting, principally, and a lot of practical and immediately gratifying ways to go and play out that attitude right now. I also think it offers a really interesting bridge between what I'll call the New Knitting-as-Yoga culture or image, and the old Red-Heart-Knitting-for-Grandmas-and-Diehard-Crafters culture. Now, in naming two types of "cultures" relating to knitting, I'm not trying to say that every knitter falls into one or the other, or even on a scale between them. I think these are two ways knitting is marketed, mainly, and any particular knitter might be more or less attracted (or repelled) by either culture, or image, at any given moment.

Here's an example: me. I have been knitting long enough to remember the days when only Red Heart and Kitchen Cotton could be found at my local "LYS" (which was actually a sewing store). And we all still see what used to be the only kinds of patterns easily available every time we pick up an issue of Knitter's or similar magazines (Interweave Knits and Rebecca being the only regulalry available new-style print knitting magazines, bizarrely enough!). Then, light-years away from all that in look, style, and marketing, there's the new stuff. The fancy new LYS's popping up everywhere, filled with luscious built-in wooden shelves of natural fibers in every hue, tint and shade. The gorgeous new books coming out almost daily, filled with projects so breathtaking that you tear up when you look at them (and then really cry when you realize the recommended yarn required would add up to hundreds of dollars). As a student, I absolutely can't afford to indulge in yarn and projects at the level being marketed to me, and which act on my senses like chocolate-mousse cake or a bottle of $200 champagne. Yet, my senses rebel at the idea of making yet another hideous, unwearable sweater out of 100% acrylic that feels and looks like plastic. Also, since I'm supposed to be writing a dissertation right now, I really can't afford either the time or the mental energy to embark on the really ambitious and magnificently complex patterns that call to me, and to my ever-improving skills. (I know some people flourish and find renewed energy in challenging themselves this way, but I'm not one of them. In my enthusiasm for an especially challenging project, I get over-tired, make mistakes, get frustrated, stubbornly refuse to stop, make worse mistakes, etc....in no time, I not only haven't finished my knitting project, but I'm in no fit state to work on anything that requires even more concentration!)

This is where Ann and Kay at Mason-Dixon step in. None of the patterns in their book, I grant you, are terribly complicated, most not at all, and none of them require luxurious yarns, or very much yarn at all. Many of the patterns could easily be figured out or acquired for free by any late-beginning or intermediate knitter with internet access or a library card. What the book does is inspire and demonstrate an attitude toward patterns and materials that are not difficult or expensive, but which can yield results that you can really be proud of. Most of the patterns call directly for kitchen-cotton yarn, or can be made out of it. The most expensive yarn required in the book is 100% linen, which can be found far from high-end. Several projects make good, pleasing use of scrap fibers. The two biggest pattern features in the book, log cabins and mitered squares, can be made out of anything (and are great stash-busters). And this is the most essential point: once you've started thinking this way, once you've developed the attitude, it's only the beginning. Just looking at the blogs and the M-D KAL will tell you that the basic techniques and ideas discussed in the book have already blossomed in a million directions. This is knitting as it should be; as it is with Elizabeth Zimmermann's books or something like Leigh Radford's AlterKnits: the idea is to provide starting points, ideas and inspiration, rather than projects (with their implied beginnings, ends, and "right ways"). The starting points in M-D are much less intimidating than those in AlterKnits, and more obviously up-to-date than the stuff photographed in EZ's books (though of course EZ is timeless!).

It's knitting for when you're tired, maybe, or stressed, or short of time or space, and for those who are, shall we say, not necessarily about to turn professional artist, but not yet dead to the world of creativity, either (that would be me I'm describing). I can see why this type of thing might be dull or even annoying to those who have long been pursuing their creative muse on a higher plane, or who find relaxation in knitting only when challenged, or who revel more than anything else in using only the best materials and/or most fussy or inventive techniques. But that's not all of us, at least not all of the time.

In other words, using patterns, techniques, and even yarns from the Bad Old (but affordable) Days, Ann and Kay have beautifully photographed and narrated a bunch of fun, up-to-date, and satisfying projects that are pleasing to a young, urban eye (and most other kinds of eyes, too), totally afforable, and totally doable for people who have many other things on their minds. It liberates the poor, over-stressed knitter from the confines of the old boring-colored warshcloths and obvious uses for kitchen cotton, providing FOs that are cute, useful, and impressive, without asking too much of an investment in time, money, or difficult decision-making (even I can afford to buy a few extra colors to experiment with if we're talking about Peaches-n-Cream!).

So, sure, if I'd thought about it for a bit I could have thought of Absorba the bathmat all by myself. And if it had occured to me to buy Kitchen Cotton (despite the bad associations I'd had with it from my youth, and that first long-unfinished plain blue dishcloth), it might also have occured to me to buy it in a swank, interesting, new colorway, instead of automatically drifting toward the same colors I'd been taught to knit with when I was 7. And there are lots of days when I'm in a creative mood and I think of things all on my own that are just as cool. But there are a lot of other days when I'm thinking about other things, or not able to think, and when I'm desperately in need of knitting therapy that I can afford (in every sense). Mason-Dixon fulfills this need for me very nicely -- which I only realized when it occured to me that I've knit more patterns from that book than from any other knitting publication I've ever bought. And whereas I alter almost every other pattern I use, I've been blindly, and happily, knitting M-D objects pretty much exactly as told, or at least until I ran out of yarn. I and my family have loved and used everything I've made; even the World's Ugliest Dishcloth (see below) is pleasing in its own way, and that's saying a lot.

It's not the only knitting book in the world, and thank god for that. I still worship Elisabeth Lavold's book on Viking Knitting, and one of these days I really am going to make a sweater from it (especially if I can get the yarn from KnitPicks). I love all my knitting books for different reasons. Elizabeth Zimmermann may be my daily meat-n-potatoes, Lavold or Norsk Strikkedesign may be the decadent dessert that I only occasionally allow myself to contemplate. The Yarn Harlot, no question, is the salt that makes *everything* tasty. And I suppose Mason-Dixon is like the bread: I need some everyday, for filler between other, more complicated courses, for the comfy, full, down-home feeling it gives me. Crucially, what they've made is neither the heavy, impossible-to-digest "health" bread that was offered in my youth, nor today's fluffy, insubstantial pastry with the fancy marketing. It's like the good, soft, dense, mixed-grain bread you buy at the corner market, eat everyday, and mostly take for granted.

I guess this exercise has helped me to figure out why I like warshcloths so much all of a sudden. I wonder what you all think, though - feel free to leave a comment! I'm really glad those of you who commented already like my Absorba, and are thinking about making one too! It was so much fun, and the FO is so pleasing, that I'm now feeling energized enough to tackle the Lovely Sweaters That Don't Want to Felt and the already-described Gauge Disaster Sweater. Happy knitting!

Oh, and since this is a post without knitting pictures, here's a random picture:

Will show and tell you all about my gorgeous cache of semi-feltable sweaters tomorrow.

PS: Grumperina posted a really interesting analysis of the new Knit-Picks Options line of needles on her blog. Forget my dream of a Boye Needlemaster set - I'm now saving for a complete line of the new needles, despite the problem Grumperina has very impressively proven (and which I think will be an advantage for me). See the really interesting discussion going on in the comments section. Do you like your needles light, or heavy? How big are your hands? Is there any connection?? I'm dying to know.

24 July 2006

What Else I've Been Knitting

So, after finishing the mom sweater at last, I went back to some easy-peasy relaxing Mason-Dixon knitting, since that's what I'd brought needles for. We went to WalMart (since I have yet to find a source for Peaches & Cream yarn in cones in NYC - can anyone clue me in?) and I bought three cones for an Absorba bathmat. I wanted to do the neutral colors in the book, not so much to match my bathroom, as because my bathroom is one in a series of rented apartment bathrooms that have in common only being tiny, mildewy, and uncomfortable. They had white and cream, but the other cones were all variegated, so I ended up with a denim-blue variegated with the white and cream. I'm much happier with the results than I expected to be when looking at the cones separately. (But of course I bought them anyway, because I have a chance to go to WalMart once a year, and didn't want to pay shipping for cones). Lo and behold, when I tried it out in my bathroom, I realized there's a blueish tinge to the tiles and it looks really good. Anyway. I didn't knit Absorba in Michigan because, MUCH to my chagrin, I realized I'd accidentally brought size US17 needles instead of 15. Damn. So instead I spent my blissful Fisherman-sweater-free last day and a half of vacation knitting time finishing a burp cloth and a baby bib. The burp cloth ended up a bit short because I only had one not-quite-full skein of that yarn, but it's useable. I like what the slip stitches do to the variegated pattern.

The bib has been finished since taking this picture. One skein was just right.

When I got home, I immediately cast on for the Absorba. Realized my problem in grabbing the wrong needles was caused by not actually owning either a size 15 or 13 circular needle (that, and having put a 17 in the 15 slot of my holder), except for the ones in my Denise interchangeable set. Thank god for those. They turned out to be perfect, since I used one 13 tip, the extra extendable cord and a stopper to hold the inactive stitches around three sides of the mat (since I didn't BO each panel, but just held the stitches till I came around again). Anyway, I finished it really quickly, totally enjoyed the process, and my hands didn't even hurt. I think that's because I used the size 15s instead of 13, like a lot of people on the KAL are using. I think the mat would be cushier if I'd used smaller needles, but the 15s were much more comfortable, and the mat is still cushy enough. My only problem now is which to make the right side, which the wrong side? One side, shown here, is very smooth and with remarkably even transitions between panels (a surprise even to myself).

This side has gaps between each panel, but each gap is the same as the others, and I kind of like that it emphasizes the log-cabin structure, which is almost lost in the variegated colors on the other side. What do you think?

Finally (and I know this picture looks just like the previous two), here's Absorba in situ in the bathroom. It matches the mildew as well as blending reasonably well with the tile.

Stay tuned - I ain't done yet with telling stories of our exciting journey into the Midwest. Next up: wool sweaters on consignment, ya-hoo!

23 July 2006

The Lake

This is not about knitting, but I had to post some pictures of the pretty lake. Lake Michigan, that is, where the water was warmer than usual and where we had a delightful time almost every day, until the biting flies got us on the last day. I did do some Mason-Dixon knitting on the beach, but mostly I just did nothing. It was lovely.

Oh, and did I mention that we got to spend quality time with the most adorable dog in the world? You don’t have a personal web page until you’ve posted pictures of a dog.

22 July 2006

Mom Sweater Complete

So. Like I said, I’m back from my trip to Michigan, where I really did for real – no, I’m not making this up – finish the Mom Sweater on time.

Naturally, because the @#^%# sweater has been cursed from Day One, I couldn’t get a decent photograph of it. Part of the reason was the awful weather (no light) and part was the infernal blackness of the yarn, which was the problem from the start. One of the problems. Anyway, lest you disbelieve that I actually finished the thing (rather than hiding it beneath a dumpster somewhere and just pretending I had no memory of the thing at all – what? Me? Promised mom a sweater for 50th birthday? You don’t say!), herewith I post some Really Bad Pictures:

Here it is, blocking on a sofa cushion. It was so humid, it took two and a half days to block, and that was with a dehumidifier running right next to it for the last 6 hours!!

This one was taken with a flash on, to pick up the detail of the cables, which are otherwise almost invisible even with the naked eye. It’s not a total loss, though – they still give a nice vertical look to the sweater that’s flattering.

Here’s mom modeling it, out of focus. That’s probably for the best, since she wasn’t too happy about her image being posted on the internet. She’s not even entirely sure what the internet is, after all. Anyway, bad picture though it is, It does at least show that the sweater fits, the neck hole is about right, the sleeves are long enough, and it’s not grievously big or small. In fact, it looks damn good, really. Too bad it’s still pretty itchy, even after washing with lanolin wool wash. But mom loves it, and points out that it is, at least, very likely much the same as the traditional sweaters our ancestors might have worn, and that was the whole point.

I cannot begin to describe how happy I was to be free to knit something else – ANYTHING else. Will post again soon to show you what else, exactly.

Back from Michigan

We're back from our trip to visit my mom - and.... ... I did indeed finish mom's sweater (just) in time for it to be blocked and dry so she could try it on before we left. It's gorgeous, she loved it, all is well. Pictures to come, soon. Lots of pictures - of the lake, of the absorba (already done) and other odds and ends. But must do dishes now, or can't eat supper. That's what hubbster says, and I think it's in my best interests to believe him.

11 July 2006

Mom Sweater Gasps Its Way to Completion

Am. Almost. Done. Now. Gasp. Hack. Wheeze. Cough.

One sleeve done. The other is half-way. Two days remaining before our departure for Mom's house.

I took only one break from the sweater and the diss this week, and that was to work up a quick dishcloth for my friend's birthday, and to go to her party. I did it in delft blue and teal P&C, with lemon (color and scent) soap for accent color, and gave it to her together with a clutch of divine, fresh-dried lavender wrapped in yellow tissue paper. I was rather proud of myself for how well it came together (I think lavender & lemon are nice scents, together, too). It was a matter of sheer coincidence that my knitting needles, scissors, and darning needle were also yellow.

Also working steadily on the diss. Ever so slowly, teeny tiny tidbits of information are coalescing, taking shape, and finally starting to tell me what they mean. So, in short, it's a lot like knitting, but fewer bits of fuzzy wool end up on my shirt after working for some hours.

06 July 2006

Log Cabinning

Here's the beginning of my first square of a Mason-Dixon Log Cabin sampler afghan. I know, I know, I'm supposed to be working on that Mom Sweater. And I have been. But while I was doing round after mind-bogglingly boring round, I was thinking about log cabins, and so I just had to get out the yarns I was thinking of using, and play with them, and once I'd done that, naturally I had to try out a square. But I swear, REALLY, I'm only going to do a square at a time of the afghan and let it take me months or even years to finish. Even though this techinique IS as addictive and instant-gratification-y as everyone says. Ahem.

Anyway, because I have no money but do have a huge stash, I'm forced to make do with the yarns I've got, even though they were originally purchased with different projects in mind. So the colors aren't what I'd choose if I could just walk into a store and buy what I wanted (that'd be Debbie Bliss cashmerino aran, is what that would be), but on the other hand, it's fun to make do with what you've got. Constraints breed creativity.

So what I've got is mostly a Russian yarn brand called Semyonovskaia, in a very light DK weight. They're all some blend of wool with either alpaca, angora, or mohair, and each also has a little bit of acrylic. I bought these to play with because they're cheap, come in bazillions of colors, and I wouldn't care too much if what I made sucked so much that I had to chalk the whole thing up as a loss, without even enough psychic energy (or long pieces) left to rip out and reuse the yarn. So, that's what kind of yarn I'm using, and it's probably for the best, since if this does eventually become a finished afghan, I want it to be the kind that's always laying on the couch and gets tons of use (and thus needs to be washed pretty regularly) rather than the heirloom type that I can't, right now, afford to store or have cleaned properly. I'll make that kind of afghan some other day, in the misty future, when I have a house and a real income.

Anyway, there are a couple other random yarns thrown in there too, because they almost match the Semyonovskaia in weight and because I've got nothing else planned for them, because they've all got a little bit of something synthetic in them (though everything is at least 50% wool; mostly more than that).

So I've divided the colors into three groups and I plan 9 squares of 12" each. Each square will probably use only two of the color groups at a time, but they'll be evenly balanced around the whole afghan. Two squares will be like the "blanket of many colors" afghan from the Mason-Dixon book, two will be in the courthouse steps style, two more will be modernes, and two will be mitered, but in garter stitch and with only a few very wide stripes, so that it's not too jolting of a difference in shapes next to the log cabins. The center square will be made up of concentric squares in thick stripes (maybe 4 colors), using the "picture frame" method described in M-D for borders. I'll knit the squares together with strips of black garter stitch, and finish with a black garter stitch border.

That's the plan so far. These are the three color groups (shown above, though the third group came out all wrong in the picture; it's actually grey, ice-blue, and teal). I've switched them around again about six times since the photo, but now I'm back to where I started. I think I'll do like my commenters recommended on the M-D KAL: just make some squares, and whichever ones I don't like can become pillows.

This is the sketched plan I'm working from, though it's totally out-of-scale, generally wonky, and with non-representational colors. I only put it up here for giggles.

I'm not binding off at the end of each strip, btw, as suggested on the KAL, and I'm slipping the first stitch of every row purlwise. I'm keeping all the live stitches from the three sides not in play at any given moment on one long circular needle, which works much better than using up all my stitch holders at once, and works right up to the end of the square, since it's never going to get any bigger than 12". I'm not even bothering with putting stoppers on the points of the holder-needle -- when they get in the way, I just poke them into the knitting.

While digging out this yarn, I discovered a sad, lone little mitten that I'd completely forgotten about. It's the Elizabeth Zimmermann pattern, made in garter from side to side. I like how the combination of color (dark heathery grey), stitch, and flared cuff make it look a bit like a medieval gauntlet, and I really like how it actually fits (when stretched) my freakishly long fingers, unlike every commerical mitten or glove I've ever seen. I really ought to make the second one one of these days...except I have no idea whether I altered the pattern at all, or what I did...if I kept notes, they're lost. How silly of me.

Hubbster and I are going to go take a walk now, because it's grey and cool outside, and lately that seems like good weather. And then, I'm back to slogging. Through the diss, through the Mom Sweater. Sigh.

P.S. I am SO excited about the new issue of Knitty. I love each and every issue in its own way, but this one brought back memories of FINGER KNITTING, and that just made my day. Oh, the miles of strips I used to have lying around my childhood bedroom! I remember exactly the colors of variegated Red Heart I used, too.... I have to say, the reason Knitty is such a runaway success is not just that knitting is trendy and that knitters are online in huge numbers, or that the patterns are both hip and free. It's that knitty is a really professional publication. It's beautifully designed, reliable and consistent, well-written and well-edited. That's the difference, I think, between just anybody throwing some stuff online, which these days anybody can indeed do (and that's good!), and what can happen when someone really talented and passionate creates something of substance. And for all that, the thing still has a sense of humor! I think it's a major feat, and Amy Singer is amazing. Go Amy, and congrats on quitting your day job!!

04 July 2006

Oh, dear, I was afraid of this


Which Princess Bride Character are You?

this quiz was made by mysti

Time to stop playing the web. No - really. So much for being good today...


Am still slogging away at the first sleeve of the Mom Sweater. I have almost reached the point I was at before I frogged. Sigh. But, the good news is, my knitting is at this moment so un-entrancing that I've been able to get much more work done on the diss than usual. If the weather weren't so damn-blast-bloody awful that I have migraines every other day, I'd probably be getting still more work done.

It's so tempting to go knit up some pretty little burp cloth or something, just to have a pretty picture to put here, but I'm really determined to either finish this sweater before the (end of) our visit to Mom's, or at least to fail only because I was writing so much, NOT because I was knitting other things.

I'm being really good, actually. I did yoga today, too.

02 July 2006


Working on Mom's sweater. Had to pick up and start the first sleeve three times until I could get it into my thick head how many stitches I needed to have it start with. Then knit 96 rows before I realized I had totally miscalculated the length of the sleeve, and therefore the slope of the decreases. Frogged back to row 27 last night. Tried modeling the sleeve in an Excel chart this morning to make sure it's really going to work this time, and it looked awful. However, I think this was due rather to my inability to make Excel do what I want, than a problem with the math. No, really. I checked all my math this time, and re-measured, and fixed my schematic. So, here goes, I'm going to try again. Schedule of getting this thing done before visit to Mom is all shot to pieces, though...

And let this be a lesson to my future self....never draw messy schematics, where it's not clear whether the sleeve length measurement begins at the neckline, or at the shoulder. You never know when you're going to set the schematic aside for a few years and forget all the details...