31 January 2007

Singing the Data Management Blues

I'm so totally delighted that you all seem to like my article about stash yarn collecting. Yay, us! Your comments and emails totally rock - and it's been very useful to read them out loud to Hubbster whenever they describe stashes that are significantly larger than mine. Always good for him to know what the alternatives are. Now, however, he insists that his tanks, as well as my yarn, must be behind glass. I think they'd be kind of cute together, don't you?

I'm sad to say my elation of yesterday has not really, entirely, survived the long hours of slogging away at the ol' chapter since the knitty surprises came out yesterday.

Can I just say...?

  • 22 notebooks, entirely filled in with hand-copies of archival documents.

  • c. 10 gigs of photographed archival material

    --NB: these are all domestic papers, hand-written 170 years ago, and though full of useful information, said useful information is scattered all over the place, in small cryptic references, undated and unsigned letters, and the sort of laconic daily notations that don't mean anything unless you add them up and show patterns over time. Oh, and the writers are not famous writers or public figures - they're regular people, and so like most regular people they don't spell very well and their grammar is sometimes a bit wonky and their style is a little...perplexing.

    And it's all in RUSSIAN, requiring the extremely precise translation of all that wonky writing and archaic vocabulary, yesirree, and NO, they don't teach us anything useful about translation in my grad history program, nope.

  • Also, a many-to-many database of absurd complexity that, for lack of a team of research assistants, is more trouble than it's worth

  • And a bibliography of several hundred books and a few hundred more articles, almost none of which are actually relevant, but most of which have to be dealt with in some way.


And I've never written anything remotely this long before.

The longest thing I've ever written before was about 60 pages. And I've only done that a few times, and it was a killer every time. This dissertation (depending on how you look at it) is either 12 chapters of about 35 pp each, or 4 chapters of about 100 pages each. Plus intro, conclusion, epilogue, and appendices. All of which are crammed with citations that absolutely must be scrupulously accurate.

The process of reading through the sources, choosing pieces I want to use, translating them, and plunking them into an appropriate piece of prose, by itself, takes untold hours for each little piece of a chapter.

I haven't really even begun to connect the various pieces that have been so slowly accruing over the past year.

I've said lots of big, sort of important-sounding things to my advisors about what it all adds up to, but in perfect honesty, I'm so hopelessly swamped in details that I really have no idea what any of it means, if anything.

30 January 2007

Me Me ME in Knitty!!!!

The Knitty surprises are up! And I'm in there! Look for me in features. I'm so totally psyched to be a part of knitty, and Amy did such an awesome job of formatting all the pictures, captions and article bits...I was really wondering how that could possibly come together in a coherent way, but of course Amy did it. And of course there are new surprise patterns, too. I love, love, love the neckline on dragonfly, and am excited to see the reversible cable scarf...of course, my non-reversible cable scarf is almost done now, dammit, but next one!! Thermal's a great idea, too. And no one can go wrong with felted mittens. Lots of good stuff.

That sure was effective in zapping the doldrums out of me! Here's hoping I'll coast along on this mood right through finishing a chapter today....!

P.S. Lovely comments from readers of the article are already hitting my inbox. Aw, shucks, people, you're so sweet!

29 January 2007


Julie Frick said it all for me today.

I've had a nasty cold, I'm stressed out of my gourd about deadlines but not really getting good work done, and as for knitting, I'm swamped in WIPs. I've also got a huge email inbox (in several accounts, actually) crying out for attention.


So I thought I'd use the 10 minutes of sunshine we had in our apartment today to take some de-familiarizing ultra-closeups of my WIPs. Such pictures of yarn always cheer me up, plus it's a good way to make me face the WIPs and...maybe do something about them. Or not. Anyway, here they are:

Both quasi-widdershins are up past the ankle, and this one is on the ribbing. I'm just knitting till I run out of yarn.

This is just the start of moccasin socks in KP peruvian wool worsted, as a sort of swatch for the Dutch fisherman's sweater I eventually want to make for Hubbster. So far, even when I twist all the knit sts (which is a pain in the arse), the pattern doesn't seem to stand out well. It's better when stretched out on my leg, but a sweater won't be stretched out. On the other hand, the motifs will be on a much larger scale on a sweater. I dunno. Verdict still out.

Was powerless to stop myself from starting a scarf from my new book (Victorian Lace Today). I love this "melon stitch." I love this book! Mainly because of all the rectangular-oriented patterns, but I also love the connection to our Victorian forebears, and the way the book is laid out and photographed.

I know it looks like the Great Wall of China, but actually it's one half of the collar steeks for the KP Palette Sampler cardigan. Curved steeks. Bring me some smelling salts! I'm not sure I'm up to this!

Red Scarf 1, which you've seen before: Handspun from Krista alternated with machine-washable nylon faux-suede. I like the way the textures play off each other.

Red Scarf 2, out of a Russian boucle yarn, in plain garter. The yarn is too busy for any other stitch, but I'm making it very wide and very long, so it should be ultra-cuddly. The wool blend yarn is soft and very unisex, I think. The only advantage of knitting such scarves is that you can do it in the dark. My progress to date was made in GA, while watching Eragon, Apocalypto, and Curse of the Golden Flower (NB: one of these movies was fantastic IMNSHO, and the other two pretty awful. Can guess which was good?)

The boucle is nifty on super-closeup, isn't it?

A quasi Irish Hiking Scarf (I made it up on vague memory of that general type of scarf, while in GA). The yarn is a strand of red Wool-ease with a strand of a Russian brand of wool/angora/acrylic in a darker, more burgundy-red. I'm going to try to stretch it with blocking to make the pattern stand out better. It's deliciously soft, though, I guess because of the angora.

Doesn't the extreme close-up give it a weird kind of internal-organ-like medical aspect?

I apologize for the total lack of links; I'm just too lethargic and stressed out for that right now. Everything I would have linked to here has been linked to in a not-too-distant previous post, so if you want to find what I'm referring to, see below.

Say, I have an idea for another way for us to amuse ourselves and provide blog content on those days when one's knitting just another sock, or black stockinette, or something similarly un-blog-worthy. How about, in addition to Friday Eye Candy or Saturday Sky, choosing a day to photograph a handknit in such a way as to make it look like something it isn't (like the great wall of China, or an internal organ?) Are there any days of the week free? I'm not exactly up on this kind of thing. How about Defamiliarization Dienstag, or something? Or, okay, I'm sure someone else could come up with a better name for it.

22 January 2007

I Heart My Mail Carrier

We have one of those Amazon credit cards that gives you a little Amazon gift certificate for $25 every so often when you've spent a hell of a lot of money. Hubbster and I take turns spending the certificates, and finally it was my turn again. (It seemed to take a really long time, but that's probably a good thing as far as our budget's concerned.) Since fun-reading is way too dangerous for me before the dissertation is done, for a long time now (that is, since the day I got the last volume of my favorite book, Neil Gaiman's Sandman) these Amazon certificates have been exclusively designated for knitting books. I can't justify knitting books otherwise, but Hubbster and I (both of us INTENSE bibliophiles) decided from the start that the certificates could and should only be spent on pure-fun books, on the theory that this would keep us from rationalizing spending money on non-PhD-related books any other time. (Believe it or not - especially after you read the sentence that's about to come - it really has worked, though that's also because we already own more books than we can possibly read and have had to move them FOUR times just since we've been living together.)

This time I went a teensy bit over the amount of the certificate, but justified it by the fact that I've been tutoring for extra cash very regularly lately, and we haven't been spending said cash, and...well...I was helpless when I realized that the two knitting books I was debating between for the gift certificate purchase were so drastically marked down by Amazon that I could get them both by going only $11 over the certificate amount. Free shipping. What's a girl to do, I ask you?

And then comes the waiting time. I forced myself to wait for several days without checking the shipping status or asking Hubbster "when do you think it might come?" more than once or twice. Until this morning, when I finally felt justified in logging onto Amazon to see if they'd shipped it yet. And they had! Today was the first day I could possibly expect it. But, of course, I've lived in NYC almost 8 years now and I know perfectly well that it can take as much as a week for mail to get from one part of Manhattan to another, if it ever gets there at all. I've seen my local postal employees gleefully taunting irate customers when their mail got "lost." So I didn't want to get my hopes up. On the other hand, we've recently moved into a new postal zone. I have a deep, abiding love for our new postal zone. The people at this post office (which is not at all in a "nice" much less rich neighborhood, I would like to point out) are NICE. Like - suburban nice. But they're also BEYOND COMPETENT. In fact, they rock. They know everything, they ask the right questions, they answer questions promptly and thoroughly. They're friendly as all get-out even when there's a bit of a line (and there's never more than a bit of a line). Their astonishingly un-postal-like magnificence has - frankly - caused Hubbster to get a little jealous. I'm more than a little in love with the whole postal establishment here at Ft. George. Sometimes, I go there in person even when I don't absolutely have to, just to remind myself that I'm not making it up.

But, even though we haven't had the slightest trouble yet with getting mail here in our building, and we got fast deliveries even before xmas, and they handled the mail-hold while were gone magnificently even though we didn't notify them until the last minute, but...I still wasn't sure...perhaps I was afraid to believe we could be this lucky...that the carriers were every bit as kick-ass as the people we see in the post office itself. We haven't been here long, so even though I've seen a couple different carriers in passing and they seemed very nice, I really had no basis to judge.

And then - there was a knock on the door.

He brought me these:

It's so cold outside that the books, after unpacking them, are icy to the touch. Yet my postal carrier arrived with a smile on his face. And when I said, "I was hoping you'd come today!" He said, "I knew you were hoping, so I made sure to get here." I asked him if he minded delivering in this cold, and he said, "No, not at all. I'm warm," while gesturing at his thick uniform coat.

What a wonderful, wonderful world it is.

So far I've only had a chance to page through the books, but they make my heart race, really they do.

Oh, gosh, I had a lot of work planned for the rest of today. What are the chances? I will do my best to resist the call...at least for a few more hours...

20 January 2007

My Very Own Yarn (and a KIPer review)

I got the yarn dyed for me by Krista!!!! Because I won her contest, she dyed the yarn specially for ME, and you all know what my color preferences are:

And of course she sent it in two separate hanks, which her contest-survey concluded is in fact the preferred way to have sock yarn, even though most sock yarns come in one skein. Why is that? Anyway. I love, love LURVE this yarn, and want to roll in it all day long. Krista named it "Strikke" for my blog, and had it on her etsy shop, though it looks like it might have already sold out! I've noticed that Krista's shop is updated constantly and there are always new colors - yum!


And now the long-promised review of my KnitPicks KIPer bag set! First - I think I figured out why there are so few photos of the bags on the KnitPicks site...black bags with black interiors are really hard to photograph. So, my apologies about the photos right from the start.

I've already said how much I'm in love with these bags. I've long been frustrated by the process of constantly moving all my stuff about from bag to bag and consequently never having the right stuff with me, and I've long day-dreamed about sewing myself something like this set, but never got around to it (because, frankly, I don't sew that well). Although I adore the many heartbreakingly darling knitting bags that have already been on the market since the brilliant Jordana Paige came out with her knitter's purse (in red!), my particular pauper's life in NYC has kept me from buying any one of them. Partly because I could only afford one such bag and how, how, how is one to decide among so many incredibly adorable bags?? More importantly, having invested in one of those adorable bags, my life would have become a constantly stressful mission to keep said bag from getting lost, ripped, scraped, or made filthy every time I stepped out into a subway tunnel or needed to set it down in a cafe. I don't need that kind of stress in my life. Instead, I very much look forward to a future where I'll have a car and live in a civilized place with trees and clean table-tops in cafes and I'll own at least one darling knitting bag that I'll carry with me everywhere. That'll be awesome, and I'm so looking forward to it. However, right now, I really needed something to carry my stuff in that was cheap, not ugly, sturdy, organized, and above all versatile. And in the city, the "stuff" that needs to be on my person at all times includes all the things that most normal people keep in their cars rather than their purse - things like water bottles and books and folders and whatever you bought or picked up while running errands. Yet, I also needed to have the smallest possible purse to grab for those rare occasions when we actually go to, say, a restaurant and a museum, and (since you can't check a purse, or lock it under the seat of your car) I needed to have something small enough to not look ridiculous and not weight me down (but still hold a book or a sock-in-progress for the train). I ask you, what was a girl to do? Ask Santa for KIPer bags, that's what.

I mentioned before that they turn out to look much less fake-pleathery than I imagined from the photos. In my opinion, at least, they're very respectable looking, if on the boring side, but that's what I was looking for. In every other way, as well, they are exactly what I needed them to be.

Here's how the set works (though each piece can also be bought separately): there's a small, simple notions bag, a purse with lots of pockets and credit card slots, then three bags of different sizes that can be attached to the purse. Everything except the notions bag comes with a solid, sturdy, adjustable pleather strap. So there are four possible bags to carry: just the purse, or purse+small bag, purse+medium bag, or purse+large bag. Each of the three attachable bags has at least a couple of interior pockets - one zippered, and one or more without closures. All of the bags have a one-way zipper to close them.

There was a small snag with my set at first - the smallest of the attachable bags had been damaged somehow (didn't look like in-transit, so probably at the factory), so that one of the clasps you use to attach the purse wouldn't open. We played with it for a good long while, but it wouldn't budge. The cylindrical piece that works as a hinge on the clasp had gotten bent:

This is what the undamaged clasps look like:

So, I was very disappointed and called up KnitPicks. Unlike every single non-yarn-related customer service line I've ever called in the past 5 years at least, they were very nice, very prompt, very clear. I explained the problem, and they sent a new small bag, and didn't even want the damaged one back (it's a perfectly good bag on its own, it just won't attach to the purse, so I suppose I'll use it to hold WIPs that say here at home; awfully nice of them to let me keep it, I thought). The replacement bag came in just two days, and was perfect, as were all the other pieces of the set. They seem very sturdy, and I can't imagine that the clasps could be damaged like that in any other way than being hit by a hammer or something along those lines.

This is the purse part:

At first I tried to put my large-size "ladies'" wallet in here, along with cell phone, pens, tiny datebook, chapsticks, etc, and though it certainly all fit, it bulged, and that annoyed me. So I dropped the wallet idea altogether, since there are credit card slots built right in anyway. The cell phone, pens, and CCs/metrocard/ID all fit neatly into pockets that are made for them. In the center zippered compartment I have my passport and random receipts/slips of important paper, etc. On either side there's still plenty of room for the obligatory chapsticks, datebook, keys, headache meds, thumb drive, and a small change purse for what little cash I ever carry. The zipper reaches all the way around three sides of the purse, so it opens very widely, but the interior vinyl lining is solid across each side, so nothing's going to fall out. The strap, if you wear only the purse, attaches to rings on the top edge, placed one on each side of the zipper. I found this slightly awkward when I'd crammed the purse over-full, with too much weight on one side. Now that it's less full and more balanced, it hangs very nicely. It's not a cute purse - but it's definitely a respectable, practical, and usable purse.

The purse has two small metal openings and two magnets on one side. Each connecting bag has two clasps that fit very securely into the metal openings on the purse, locking down inside the purse part, and two magnets below them to hold the bottom half of the purse flush against the bag it's connected to. I think it's very clever, and feels very secure.

This is the smallest attached bag, with the Widdershin in progress inside. About the only thing you can tell from this picture is that the sock practically disappears inside. That's because it's more than big enough for a bigger project than a scarf. Maybe not a sweater, but certainly a sleeve, most shawls, scarves, and of course hats or socks would easily fit in here, along with the notions bag. For my purposes, since I rarely take anything but very small projects with me when I'm on the move, I'm using this bag for almost all trips and put in it a sock or similar project and a book, or two books if Hubbster is along. There's room to spare for an extra ball of yarn or pattern, though I usually dispense with such things. I really like that I can sit on the train with the top of the bag open, knitting over it, while the part that contains my purse and cell phone is securely zippered (and the bag(s) can be carried so that the purse part is facing out for easy access, or against my body for greater security). Also, while running errands, it's really nice to be able to reach in quickly for phone, credit card, metrocard, or any other item in the purse without getting tangled in yarn or having a book either spill out, or swallow up the sought-after item between its pages, all of which was freqently a problem with the other bags of various sizes I've used, when everything was thrown into one big cavity.

This is the biggest bag, and as you can see it can hold the entire KnitPicks palette sampler - 30 balls of yarn - with room to spare. It's plenty big enough for an afghan or whole sweater project, again with room to spare for a pattern book, notions bag, and more. Obviously, this combined with the purse is slightly more awkward for running around the city, although like the other two attached bags, you can carry it either by handles or a strap around your arm/shoulder. It would be perfect for S-n-B trips if you drive - you could fit several projects to show off, its slight awkwardness is no biggie, and this way you don't have to worry about forgetting your purse, because it's attached. For me, for now, I'm thinking of it as the ideal weekend / carry-on bag. I can put a couple changes of clothes, essential toiletries, and a travel knitting project in here, and be totally ready for a train trip anywhere on the east coast. Cool. Now I just need to get my butt on the train more often! I can also see myself using it - though I haven't yet - for trips to friends in Park Slope or shopping in Brighton Beach where I need to carry along the various things that I used to drag in an assortment of plastic or canvas bags along with a separate purse and separate knitting bag. I could have all this connected to one set of handles, now.

There's also a medium bag between these two, which I forgot to photograph (but it looks exactly like the other two, but in-between in size, duh). Much to my intense JOY, it's just big enough to fit a standard-size folder on its side. I can put a few folders, two huge library books or an assortment of smaller books, a sock project and a bottle of water in this bag. I can put the sock and its ball of yarn each in separate open pockets on one side of the interior, so they don't get lost in the bits of paper and random crap that will inevitably eventually settle into the bottom of the bag once I've used it more. There's still an interior zipper pocket for a xeroxed pattern, or, say, a stipend check or other important document. This is the bag I've been dying for for years. It's perfect for trips to campus for teaching or library missions, but also holds some knitting for the train and, separately and securely, all the essential purse items. It's comfortable and not too ridiculous-looking to carry with the strap over one shoulder and across my chest, which is how I prefer to carry any bag in the city, though it looks more appropriate hanging on one shoulder. I love that it also has the comfortable, sturdy, handles for quickly picking it up and putting in down in the process of running around all over campus. So far, I've been keeping my current pile of folders and books in this bag, and putting whatever small sock or scarf I feel like working on in it on my way out the door. I keep a sock in the other, smallest bag and so far it stays there - I think I'll always keep a sock going to be worked only from this bag - so I can grab it and go for every kind of trip that's not to campus. The big bag, for right now, is holding my Palette Sampler yarn and still-not-fully-steeked sweater, in waiting for my next trip out of town (or at least to another borough!)

My only disappointment, really, is that the notions bag is just a small sack with no interior pockets. I would prefer a bunch of small pockets, slots, and loops in here so I could arrange my notions in a way that made them easier to get to, but I can understand why they didn't do it. Not only would it cost more, but every knitter would want a different arrangement. While I continue to fantasize about the customized notions insert that I'll sew myself someday, I've come up with something else, which is the result of another daydream I've had for a while:

In addition to the laminated cards that have crucial reference info on them, a thin graph-paper notebook, a needle gauge, waste yarn, extra markers and crochet hooks, I also have pinned into the side this chain. On my last trip to the going-out-of-business-really-slowly P&S Fabrics, the yarn was still only 10% (a couple of weeks into the sale!) but notions and random crafty stuff was at least 25% off. So I got this cheap little chain and few packages of various kinds of hooks and clasps. As you can see, I actually attached every hook and clasp I got to the chain, though I'm going to take off all but a few because they get so tangled. The idea was to have a chain like a charm bracelet that would hold the smallest essential things, the kinds of things that constantly roll under couch cushions (or subway seats): darning needles, coil-less pins, a row counter and a Clover cutter thingy so I don't scare security anywhere with my plastic children's scissors. I can just pull the chain out of the notions bag and leave it lying next to me on couch or table, or I can actually clasp the chain around my neck! (though so far I've only dared to do the latter at home - if you walk around dressed like Jesus and carrying a cross in NYC, you're not even looked at twice, but if you tie knitting notions around your neck in public you're a total lunatic). So far, I keep this notions bag mostly at home, because for the most part I'm careful to take out of the house only projects that require many ongoing rows of a simple pattern, with plenty of yarn/rows to last for the whole trip, specifically so that I won't require any notions. But since I've switched all my notions to this bag, I can easily grab it and drop it into any of the attachable KIPer bags whenever I want. I even fit in there some of the things I rarely use - like an extra-long darning needle, a mini-calculator, and for some reason that thingy for holding two yarns on one finger which I've never used at all. In addition, I have another notions stash of extras of everything plus the truly strange, unidentifiable notions and pom-pom makers are kept in my old, bigger notions bag in the craft closet. I really appreciated this new system when packing for our trip to Georgia - instead of sorting and deciding which notions could conceivably be needed for that specific trip, I just took this bag as it was.

I have really only one gripe, and it's not a gripe so much as my fantasy for the one improvement they could make in future versions of these bags: I would like to have two-way zippers. It's just a thing with me, but I really like to have them. For security in cities like Moscow and NYC, I like to be able to have the zipper end at the side where my hand is resting, so I know no one's opening it (lest you think I'm paranoid, I was pick-pocketed or almost pick-pocketed 5 times on a one-month trip in Moscow, and never had anything of substance stolen even though I was stupidly carrying lots of cash, my new palm pilot, and someone else's camera, all because I had stashed these items in hidden interior pockets or directly under my hand where it rested on the bag(s).) I also like to be able to zip up the sides of a bag but leave a small space open at the top, so I can leave the yarn inside while I'm knitting but still have the bag mostly closed. I can do this now, with the yarn coming out the side of the bag where the zipper is almost-closed, but because the yarn is coming out at an angle, it tends to get caught on the zipper. I wouldn't want to skip the zipper altogether - it seems like the most secure closure that doesn't add weight or take forever to get open, or require two hands - so a two-way zipper would be perfect in my humble opinion. Slightly more complicated, and probably less likely to happen on future bags, would be some kind of clever flap or loop near the top of the bags that you could feed yarn through, so you could have the bag itself actually closed while you knit. That would be neat. But not necessary. These bags are really, truly, great as they are.

All this new-found organization is really going to my head. I mentioned before that I also have this plan for a masterful knitting cheat sheet, on which I plan to gather every piece of knitting knowledge I could ever need in a form that can be folded small and taken with me everywhere. I already have a version that fits on one folded sheet and contains about 40 techniques (e.g., COs, BOs, incrs and decrs, when to use what, stretchy ribs, grafting, etc), about 30 patterns for the most versatile things or things I really will make over and over (e.g., EPS with all shoulder options, PGR sock and my new quasi-Widdershin with my own weird shaping, warshcloths, log cabin rules, fetching and Mrs. Beeton, etc), plus a small but growing list of small motifs that can be inserted into anything. I've included all those clever size-guessing hints in the Harlot's Knitting Rules book, also. How does it fit, you ask? The answer: tiny font. 0.3" margins. In 2 columns for readability. Printed book-style with 2 pages per side of each sheet, with a fold at the side, so it opens like a book and is read in that order. And I've abbreviated everything in my own idiosyncratic way that (sorry, guys) only I would ever understand. I use the shorthand I've always used for all knitting terms, and shorten words absolutely whenever possible (&, btwn, 'w' for with, etc). And I've taken out all parts of the patterns that I think - perhaps fatally - I don't need. Things like "join to work in the round, being careful not to twist" become "join" and "Bind off loosely. Weave ends" becomes "BO". Some of the patterns that I've done a lot are even more shortened, but patterns that confuse me no matter how often I do them - like when to do the first YO in the PGR toe - are written out almost fully. I've incorporated a lot of short cuts that I've only just recently learned from the EZ/Meg Swansen Knitting Glossary DVD (I've watched it all the way through 3 times now, and that's not counting the many, many times I've replayed a particular technique...like, 20). Most life-changingly, Meg has a super-simple way of explaining the otherwise insanely complex tubular BO (tho I'm still not certain it will work for double rib - will soon try and let ya'll know). Her explanations are also great - very intuitive - for a whole legion of cool cast-ons that I knew of from Montse Stanley but that had many times driven me to distraction. So I combined in my cheat sheet the awesome precis Montse gives for which CO/BO to use in which situation, but abbreviated the instructions according to the infinite wisdom of dear Meg Swansen. (Btw, Meg also finally de-mystified for me how to do tubular stocking stitch in the round. The explanations in books are always for flat knitting, usually without saying so, but I'd only ever tried it in the round, on cuffs, and could never figure out why it wasn't working. THANK YOU, MEG!!!!)

The only things that have defied my quest to be transferred onto a tiny sheet, so far, are charts for lace or color motifs (that may have to be a separate project), and the patterns for the various Bev Galeskas felted footwear items.* I would really like to have those, since I'm so likely to be knitting them over and over, and just at this moment I feel like I practically have them memorized so it'd be no big deal to type up a few reminders...but I know that I'm going to look at something like that a few weeks from now and be totally mystified. So maybe I should just separately laminate xeroxes of those patterns right out of the book, so they can be taken with me at the drop of a hat.

Eventually my plan is to laminate this cheat cheet, so I can mark it up with a dry-erase marker to help keep my place (since, after all, the text is miniscule), but right now it's still evolving constantly. I would really like to have it printed out in such a way that I could make it into a little book of index-card size, so it would fit into my notions bag and match the reference cards I have from Patternworks. But so far the best I've been able to get is book-size half-sheets, and that will still fit beautifully into the zippered interior pocket that's in all three attachable KIPer bags. The beauty, of course, it that I can laminate three or more cheat-sheets and stick one in every bag, or indeed, in every crevice in my apartment as well, so that it's always handy. Three cheers: I will never be at a loss to remember how to begin kitchener stitch again!!

*I seem to have convinced several of you to give the Galeskas book a try: so I might as well give you a mini-review here, especially since I saw one bad review of it on Amazon and I want to counter that. The bad review basically said that the patterns are boring. I would argue that, unlike most of the other felting books I've seen, the patterns are tasteful. But that's neither here nor there - it's not really the point of the book. The point as I see it is to break down the so-often unpredictable felting process in a reasonably scientific manner, so that the knitter can understand all of the things that happen, or can happen, and therefore get better at designing or adapting designs for herself and be reasonably certain of what to expect in the results. The patterns for purses, rugs, pillows and hats are indeed very plain, and obviously intended to serve merely as a template for how much yarn, needle size, and rough proportions you need - that is, the stuff that's really hard to just wing it with in felting - so that you can extemporize from there. Meanwhile, the patterns for the "ballet slippers", the moccasins, and the mittens - the only ones I've actually made from the book - are totally kick-ass by any measure and for any purpose. I've never seen a design so intensely clever and miraculous as her slipper patterns, and the resulting slippers are still the sturdiest and most respectable-looking of any felted footwear I've seen yet (though I still love fuzzy feet for quickness, ease, and the small amount of yarn required). I made the pair of mittens for my dad, too, and they're also wonderful, with some short-row shaping across the top of the upper hand to that they curl just so for greater mobility. That's the sort of thing that would have killed me to figure out on my own, which is what makes this book so valuable in my opinion.

15 January 2007

Homecoming and Photo Extravaganza

We're home in New York again, it doesn't stink any more than usual, and we've just had a lovely breakfast of the fresh, homemade pirozhki and bulochki that Hubbster's mom sent us home with.

I promised you a photo extravaganza, and you're going to get one. Next time, I'll do the promised review of my new KIPer bags. And sometime soon, but not yet, I'm going to start catching up on bloglines, podcasts, and email. It may not be real soon though. I'm facing a big deadline - I have to send off full, respectable drafts of the last two chapters to an advisor on Feb 12. One of those drafts is the one I basically finished before the holidays, though it needs a few small additions, and the other I made serious progress on in Georgia, but it's still going to be a pinch to get it out on time. And once those are done, I need to do massive revisions to an earlier chapter and write the intro and conclusion by the first week of March. Then I'll have a bit of a breather and just do revisions from then until whenever my main advisor will let me schedule the defense. So, in short, I'm going to be insane until the beginning of March, then slightly less so until approximately May. So I can't make any promises about catching up on those 971 unread feeds (and growing!) on bloglines any time real soon....

But for now, on with the photos! (I won't bother to mention which ones were taken in mostly-sunny Georgia and which ones were taken in my living room in NYC. It's too obvious.)

As you all know, I've been working on felted slippers, aka tapochki, because you can't have a Russian or even a Russian/Dutch-American household without a strong supply of slippers, as shoes are never worn farther than 2ft beyond the front door, even by guests. So for a long time now I've been day-dreaming about having a basket full of lovely homemade tapochki by the door. Our 3-week sojourn in the suburbs seemed an ideal time to do the felting, and so I went to work. You've seen some early efforts already, including a few pairs of fuzzy feet and a striped handbag made out of the leftovers in my felting-yarn stash.

Much fun was had, ladies and gentlemen:

But let me back up and attempt a chronological survey. Before we left, I also whipped up the following ad hoc patternless slippers, to use up some random loosely spun Norwegian wool I had in the stash, in orange and cream. I had gotten sick of knitting the fuzzy feet pattern, so these were done using the PGR method on the same number of stitches as fuzzy feet, continuing until I ran out of yarn and finished off with a sewn BO that was meant to be EZ's but I did it by memory and I think in the process invented some odd twist on the BO, 'cause it didn't look right. Oh well - that's the beauty of felting - it all came out in the wash.

I learned a good lesson from this: although the fuzzy feet toe is a little bit pointy when felted, it is infinitely preferable to the PGR toe, which is very, very wide when felted. If I do it again, I'll decrease a bit on each side of the rows leading up to the toe.

Meanwhile, the fuzzy feet came out great. The red ones, made in a 50-50 wool/mohair Russian yarn, were very much in danger of felting closed, into a flat, 2-dimensional foot-outline, but I caught them just in time and wrenched the sides apart. They ended up with very pointy heels and toes, which in the red color makes them very much like elf shoes, but I like that:

The orange ones, made with loosely spun 100% alpaca, felted SO quickly that the very first time I checked them (when other items were only beginning to felt) they were already tiny, and at first I thought I'd have to give them to Hubbster's mom instead of Hubbster, as planned. But then he tried stretching them over his feet (while they were still wet), and it turns out they're perfect this way - they fit almost like socks rather than slippers, but they're deliciously warm and comfortable. After I saw this, I made sure to keep felting the red elf-slippers intended for myself to a similarly tight fit. We both like these much better than the blue fuzzy feet I made first, which weren't as felted. (NB: I stopped felting the blues ones when I did because the length was just right, even though they were still rather too wide. It seems like they felt more lengthwise at first and then if you keep going the width finally pulls in as well. It may depend a lot on the yarn and overall shape of the object, but this seems to have been the case with several of the slippers I made, all in different yarns.)

Here are the orange slippers "in action" - Hubbster was playing with camera settings and took this picture by accident. :-)

After the experiment with the PGR toe, I decided I wanted to try to make a slipper that was quick and easy like fuzzy feet - that is, an enlarged sock pattern - but in garter stitch so that the felted fabric would be denser. I'd been seeing these marvelous Finnish slippers around the blogs, but didn't know where to get the pattern (not to mention that it's presumably in Finnish), so I thought I'd just experiment, and see what happened. What I learned is that while I can probably re-create most patterns through trial and error, the amount of trial and error required probably isn't worth it - I could possibly learn Finnish knitting terms faster than I could re-create the pattern exactly as I want it, given that you can't unravel felt....

Anyway, here's what it looked like unfelted (mind you, I was using leftover scraps of many colors because I didn't want to waste proper felting yarn if it didn't work out):

Here's the second one in progress. Basically, I cast on 20 sts (in two strands of worsted wool, in this case Paton's Classic Merino, on US#13 ndls), increased a few more at the center on the first and second rows to give the heel a bit of roundness (I folded the CO edge in half and sewed it up at the end), then I continued in straight garter stitch along the bottom of the foot. Then I did a PGR toe, except in garter of course, then continued straight along the top, knitting together the edge stitch with the loop on the selvedge of the bottom piece at the beginning of each row. Then, when I got to the last third of the length, I picked up sts around for an ankle/cuff. (NB: after looking around and finding a picture of the Finnish slippers unfelted, I realized the bottoms are done horizontally, from the bottom of the sole up to the top of the foot, rather than along the foot's length. Hrm.)

As we have now seen, the PGR toe ends up HUGELY wide after felting. When I took the slippers out, I had a shape something like the bill of a platypus in the front - the ankle and heel was fine, but then the slipper widened out enormously, ending in a gigantic, flappy toe. Unfortunately, I was too intent on what type of massive reconstruction might save this slipper to take a picture of it at that stage, but here's what it looked like after surgery:

Thus, the "Frankenstein slippers." I cut a triangular piece out of the top, then sewed together the pieces with a doubled strand of wool, just like lacing shoelaces. Then (after the photo above) I felted the slippers again, and now they actually fit quite well (like the others, the extra felting seems to have reduced a lot of width but not much length, thankfully). If I can't get a copy of the Finnish pattern (preferably in English...or at least Swedish?? I think I can handle Swedish...), then I might try again, but this time just decrease quite a bit before doing the PGR toe. That would leave me with a narrower flap for the top of the foot, which it looks like the Finnish pattern calls for anyway.

Meanwhile, I'm sure you're dying to know how the Bev Galeskas slippers for my in-laws worked out. Here's the ballet slippers:

And these are the moccasins:

Both patterns are from her book, as opposed to the one-off Fiber Trends clog pattern. I had been worried about the moccasins because in their unfelted state it didn't look like the toe could possibly be roomy enough. But it was - they came out beautifully, and both in-laws were delighted. I think they both wore the slippers non-stop as soon as they were dry and I'd sewn on the suede bottoms.

After that first round of felting, I used the leftovers from these slippers plus the extra yarn I'd bought as a safety (in case the moccasins didn't work out and I had to quick whip up some clogs instead), to make a second set of slippers for me and Hubbster. Hubbster got blue moccasins exactly like his dad's, and I would have liked to make mine ballet slippers like his mom's, but I'd forgotten to bring my xerox of that one, and didn't want to miss the opportunity to use the free laundry facilities (especially since these suckers took about 6 rounds in the washer!), so I made moccasins for me, too, in the same color as my MIL's ballet slippers, but with blue soles and one row of blue on the inside of the heel, since I didn't have quite enough of the burgundy/mauve color. I finished felting these only on our last day in Georgia, so I had to take the pictures here, and the colors appear totally strange:

I'm going to add suede bottoms to these too - I've had them ready and sitting in the stash for years (purchased back when I had a better stipend), but hadn't had the will to deal with felting a Bev Galeskas pattern in the commercial machines here in NYC. I use Paton's Classic Wool, which is my favorite for felting (and the Harlot's!), but the pattern is very dense (that's its virtue, of course), and the wool relatively slow-felting (though very reliable).

Also, I notice that the in-laws' slippers look much nicer because they're much more thoroughly felted. I made all three moccasin pairs in the same size, but in my FIL's case, I had to felt down 1.5 shoe sizes from the one the pattern was intended for (men's small, or 9), and did the equivalent for the ballet slippers. But Hubbster's moccasin needed to be a 9 exactly, and mine an 8.5 (but I skipped a row on the sole to make it narrower, thus also making it slightly shorter), and so they didn't need to be felted as far. As a result, the fabric isn't as smooth. When I do it again someday (as I know I will), I hope I'll remember to make one size up, and just felt the heck out 'em until they fit.

Oh, but what about the random-stripes handbag, you ask?

I love it. By some miracle, the straps came out exactly the right length (both of them!). The proportions of the bag aren't quite what I expected - smaller altogether, but oh well. It's still a nice bag.

There was one little snag with the items that I made using random leftovers from my felting yarns stash:

One of the yarns in the felting yarns stash did not, in fact, felt. It was a deep burgundy DK wool that I bought in Budapest. The label was in Turkish, so the only thing I understood on it was "100% wool" (and that only because the word for wool was written in several languages besides Turkish). I thought that was safe but...apparently it was super-wash. Luckily, in the handbag, I had alternated this burgundy yarn with two worsted yarns - a light pink below and a dark pink above - in one-row stripes, because I was worried about the DK weight being a problem. So, as you see in the picture, it's a very small space that didn't entirely felt. I wove a strand of the burgundy/mauve Paton's that I'd used on the slippers through that row of the handbag with a tapestry needle, then ran it through the washer again. The bag came out slightly smaller still, but it's now solidly felted, and it doesn't look doctored-with at all.

Unfortunately, I'd also used that same yarn rather heavily in the Frankenstein slippers as well, though always stranded with another yarn that did felt. The white 100% wool I'd used in the same slippers also didn't felt (though that at least I had half expected), but again, it didn't matter. I kind of like the effect, actually, and am thinking of doing it on purpose. What kind of pattern / object would best show off the effect, do you think?

Finally, there's the tea cozy:

I made it out of leftover Patons, again, this time using only "tea-colored" yarns - green, brown, and red. It came out fine, though it somehow wandered off under the bed after it finished drying, where I forgot all about it. Therefore there is no After Felting picture, much less a Sitting Cutely on the New Teapot picture, because it's still sitting under the bed in Georgia. Or it was, until Hubbster called his mom a few minutes ago. She found it, and is sending it soon.

So that's the end of my felting adventures in Georgia. But not the end of the knitting by a long shot! I was also working on red scarves pretty steadily, though I still have nothing to show for it. I'm working on three scarves simultaneously, to stave off the boredom, so none of them are nearing completion yet. I need to pick up the pace, though, as they need to be sent off before the end of January. I also added a few dozen rows to the Widdershin second sock, but it too doesn't look blog-worthy yet. And...

I finally made fetching!

In blue Paton's Classic Merino, leftover from the slippers. It was an emergency: after we arrived, it came up in conversation that the lab where my MIL works is freezing cold (it being Georgia, the AC pumps non-stop at all times), and her poor little fingers sometimes get so cold that she can't work the controls well. So Hubbster brought up the happy little factoid I had recently taught him about the pulse points on your wrist, where the blood vessels are very close to the surface, so that if you can keep them warm, it warms up your whole hand. (This was brought forcibly home to Hubbster on our last walk in NYC before we left, when I was wearing my Mrs. Beetons and he didn't have anything, and I was toasty warm while he froze his fingers off.) I'd already promised to make Hubbster some "manly" wristwarmers from his favorite alpaca after the holidays, but as soon as I heard about my MIL's dilemma I knew the time for fetching had finally come. I would have liked to choose a softer yarn out of the stash, but I also wanted her to have them asap, so I whipped up this pair in the next two evenings, and plan to make another pair (or maybe the wristwarmer pattern from Weekend Knitting instead) from baby alpaca or something sometime in the future. She wore the fetchings to work as soon as they were finished, and pronounced them perfect, and all her coworkers jealous. Triumph! The observant among you will have noticed two flaws in the photo above. First, the cables turn the same way on both wristwarmers, even though they're suppose to go opposite ways and would look much cooler if they did. I didn't catch myself until after the first three cable rounds on the second wristwarmer, and since time was a factor, I decided not to frog. Also, the twists look a little funny - more like gathers than twists. That's because I was trying to practice a method for cables without a cable needle that you can do all on the left needle without taking any sts off (until the twist is done), that I learned on my Knitter's Glossary DVD. But I'd misremembered it, and it came out a little funky. Still, it's cute and I like it. I also skipped the picot BO and made it plain instead. Actually, I don't think I've seen any Fetchings on the blogs with the picot BO - or maybe I just wasn't looking closely. I did it at first, but I thought it looked way too fussy, and also made the top curl outward. Anyway.

We did other things in Georgia.

We worked in the yard, breathing fresh air and getting much-needed exercise:

We rested*:

We played with my FIL's camera:

We ate well:

And we worked on chapter and orals, respectively, although no one took a picture of that, because it's bo-ring.

What was that about work? Oh yeah, better get back to it.

Many thanks, as always, for comments - I missed you guys while I was on dialup and unable to load your blogs, but the comments (which come to my email account and were much easier to load) never failed to delight me. Will try to get back to you all, and back into reading and commenting, when I can.

*It seems from the comments that many of you share my love for cheesy detective novels and historical fiction. Yum. I particularly love historical mysteries - possibly my all-time favorite genre of leisure reading. But I love any mystery set in England - it's just cozier that way, is it not? and will generally read any mystery, period, though I'm not into the bloody/violent/thriller types (I can live with that in a movie, but in a book somehow it's too "close" and gives me nightmares). And I love pretty much every kind of historical fiction there is, good, bad, and everything in between. Nice to know how many of you share this taste with me as well as the knitting. Not that it's terribly out of character for people who like to knit, I suppose...

09 January 2007

Saved from The Smell

Fortunately, we're still in Georgia, so we missed the Giant New York Stink Bomb (courtesty of New Jersey). How many people heard the mayor say they have no idea what caused the stink but that they "know" it's perfectly safe, and noticed that the first half of the statement makes it quite clear that the second half of the statement is an outright lie? And how many people felt vaguely relieved anyway?

I've been tagged by Tokyo Knitter to do the 6 Weird Things About Me meme, and that's good since I still can't post any pictures. Although I totally agree with Tokyo Knitter that it's hard to come up with 6 weird things when you're this many years out of high school, and you're used to yourself, and you really don't give a damn what's weird. I asked Hubbster what's weird about me, and all he said was that I'm a "good kind of weird." I think in the eyes of most people, the very weirdest things about me are exactly the things that make me utterly normal in this blessed little world of knitting blogs: 1: I dream about yarn. 2: I get twitchy if I have to go for a long time without knitting (long time = 24 hours). 3: I think better with sticks and string in my hands than without. You get the idea.

But, with some effort, I've come up with 6 other things which may or may not be weird about me:

1. I can't do story problems. The kind they always include in math textbooks because they're supposed to be easier for the people who aren't naturally inclined toward numbers, because they're about practical, real-world problems. Though I consider myself anything but naturally inclined toward numbers and I'm usually a great problem-solver, it's mostly only in cases where the real world is very remote. Real-world situations confuse me. The more abstract the terms, the better I like 'em. I have never understood the concept of accrued interest and never will. Anything involving money makes my eyes glaze over and my brain go into power-save mode. But give me a lovely complex algebra or calculus problem, or a code to unravel, or an LSAT-style logic problem, or an argument to parse, and I'm happy as a clam. I'd rather scrub mold than balance a checkbook.

2. I won't do anything that I'm told to do. I pretty responsible if left to my own devices, and am almost always very conscientious when I know anyone else is depending on what I do, but when blatantly told to do something - even by someone I respect - this stubbornness gene I have kicks in and I. Just.Can't. Do. It. I will endlessly avoid doing things that I really want to do and enjoy and know are important for no better reason than resentment of someone for telling me to do it. I will read anything other than assigned readings, so my scholastic career has been a long acrobatic dance of trying to make what I read in order to avoid the real reading assignment something that may be useful anyway, so that when it comes up later as an assignment I'll have already read it "for fun" and can get away with "not doing the reading." I know it makes no sense. I can't help myself. The best way to deal with me, as my husband (but not my academic advisor) has discovered, is to casually discuss the good reasons why something should be done, and to have exciting, inspiring discussions about how much fun it will be or how good the results will be...and stop there. There must be no further reference to the task from that point on, and there must absolutely be no checking on whether it's getting done. In those circumstances and only those circumstances, I usually am very good at doing what needs to be done, although best of all is when I get around to realizing something needs to be done on my own in the first place (Hubbster will say here that that eventuality, alas, cannot always be relied upon.)

3. I have the world's smallest bladder. That's the only explanation I have, anyway, for why I have to pee every two seconds. I know - more information than you needed. Sorry.

4. I'm morally opposed to running. I'm not against running in the sense of running for your life from a mad dog, and I'm not opposed to other people running for any reason at all. But I am morally opposed to me having to run for any reason other than an immediate need to escape. I believe this may stem from middle school phys. ed. experiences: we had two teachers, one who weighed well over 300 pounds (and was under 5 ft tall) and the other who was anorexic. They used to make us run around the building the whole hour, almost every class period, because (I presume) they couldn't think of anything else to make us do. Even when I'm in good shape, running -- especially with no warm-up, as in this phys.ed. class -- is really not the best form of exercise for me. It causes lots and lots of pain and none of the high of real, healthy exercise no matter how much I ever did it. I'm just not built for it - it makes my lungs scream and my head pound right into migraine-land. Other forms of cardio exercise -- like stairmaster or rowing or biking machines that can be set to start slow and then go up and down in difficulty -- are great for me. But just running, steadily, for any length of time and any speed, makes my whole body protest that I'm doing something very, very wrong to it. Yet, many people who like to run (like those who can sing) seem not to understand that not everyone is like them, and I have often been forced to run in unhealthy ways, almost always by (of all people) phys. ed. instructors (the middle school ones were the worst, but they were only part of a long line). Never again.

5. Even though I make my living out of playing with words (one way or another) and consider myself very verbal, I'm terrible at the kind of word games that make you come up with a word - like Scrabble, descrambler puzzles, crosswords, etc. As soon as I start looking for a word - poof - it's gone, and my head fills with all the words that won't work. In Scrabble or descrambling puzzles, my mind will incessently make up words or find foreign words out of the available letters, but all the time in the world wouldn't lead me to the answer to the puzzle. It's like a black hole in my mind. But I'm really good at other kinds of games, like Balderdash, that ask you to find meanings or compose something with words. I'm great at the kind of game where you get people to guess a name by giving them verbal clues, where you can say anything except the words of the clue itself. But I can't come up with synonyms. I think, actually, the explanation is that my mind is good at differentiating between fine shades of meaning - which is essential to any academic in the humanities - but also makes it harder for me to think in terms of synonyms. By now, especially, I'm so thoroughly trained in choosing exactly the right word, or at teasing out every possible shade of meaning from a given word, that it's like my brain protests when I ask it to bundle similar words together. That probably doesn't make any sense, but that also probably means it qualifies as weird. Except among my fellow humanities academics, for whom it's perfectly normal, maybe??

6. My feelings for anything considered by others as "normal" range from utter indifference to snide disdain. That probably explains why this meme was so difficult to do. And why I think it says very good things about the knitting community that so many knitters are so weird they don't know they're weird (to judge by the similar feelings most people seem to have about this meme).

I'm not going to tag anyone specifically, even though that's what the meme "rules" say to do (see #2 above). But if you feel like doing the meme, consider yourself hereby tagged.

Back to work! (It's going well, and thanks so much for everyone's good wishes in the comments! Things continue to be lovely here, despite highly unstable weather, and thanks largely to the goodwill of my in-laws - yes, I'm very lucky!)

The pictures of knitting are piling up, so expect a photo extravaganza as soon as a get back to the Stinky City (a few more days yet...)