Archive for August 2007

Let it shine

August 29, 2007

Pattern: Victoria
Yarn: Berocco Cotton Twist (70% cotton, 30% rayon), “Flame” colorway
Needles: U.S. 9 and 6 straight needles (plastic)

Almost three months after I cast on for it, and at least six weeks after I completed the knit pieces, I finally finished my first ever knitted garment. Having finally decided that Cady Gray needed to wear it on her first day of preschool, I girded up my loins and ripped out the too-long crochet straps and redid them a couple of weeks ago, right after the Secret Knitter’s visit. And last night, with only a few hours left before CG was due to appear at the Child Study Center, I wove in the last six ends and laid it out for her for her to put on when she woke up.

The excitement of her new school plus the excitement of a new dress (“Mom! You knitted it!”) had CG dancing on her toes while getting dress this morning. I confess that I quietly repatriated her chocolate milk so that she wouldn’t arrive at school with chocolate dribbles all over that brilliant orange stockingette.

I learned single crochet for the trim around the bottom, the armholes, and the straps. I improved my mattress stitch tremendously over the course of seaming the front and back pieces together. And my mistakes (miscounted decrease rows and back ribbing knitted too tight with too-small needles) don’t detract from the overall effect.

A lot of knitters don’t like to work with cotton, and at first I had a hard time with the looseness of the twist in this yarn. But I love its shine and saturated color, and I quickly learned to take proper care so I didn’t split it with my relatively blunt needles.

The reward for a lot of hard work (and a period of hibernation after my initial strap failure) was my daughter’s delight in her beautiful new dress, and the extra specialness of her wearing fabric from my hands and needles on her first real school day. She took to school with the same eagerness with which she approaches most of life. The sunshiney orange of the yarn matched her mood as she favored her teacher with a blinding smile and gave one of the student workers a spontaneous hug. I left her happily scooping pellets into a measuring cup, her dress the brightest color in the room.


And they’re off

August 27, 2007

The Box! It … it came! But … it’s only Monday! Too … too early! *choke* Must … knit … faster!

Team XDR (eXpress Dish Rag)’s box is a bit more crushey than it probably started out. One corner (mercifully hidden in this undated file photo) has basically collapsed. After my attempt at a repair, it’s more packing tape than pasteboard. Two more stops, little box! Hang in there!

It was 7 pm when I first saw the box, which had arrived with the afternoon mail around 4:30 or 5. I was at a school function which, to everyone’s surprise, ended about 30 minutes early. A half hour extra to knit — just what my nervous needles needed.

Here’s what was inside: A lovely red-purple-blue pinwheel dishcloth (a favorite pattern), two balls of cotton (brown and ombre-green), the READ ME sheet of instructions, an appropriately-themed card from my tagger, a set of bee-yootiful gold markers (my very first real markers ever), and a bar of dark chocolate that, sadly, was somewhat the worse for the 100-degree heat in the mail truck. I have hope that the refrigerator will revive it in taste even if it will never win a beauty contest again. Thank you, Amanda Of The Two-Hour Dishrag!

Amanda asked me to take a picture of the cartoon that her SO drew on the box, and I’m happy to oblige. A pirate sheep — could this project be any more plugged in to the cultural zeitgeist? (Answer: only if it were fighting a ninja sheep.)

Herewith a timeline:

7:15: Started my &%#@! invisible cast-on.

8:00: First quarter finished.

8:40: Second quarter finished. (Five minutes faster — I’m remembering how to read the stitches instead of counting.)

9:24: Third quarter finished. (Slowing down — I blame The Closer.)

10:08: Fourth quarter finished. Time for the interminable (and shoddy) garter stitch grafting.

10:47: Done!

Box repacked with my gifts to Lisa in Washington State. Blog written. Tomorrow: Team XDR’s box takes flight once again at the on-campus post office (which has assured me they can provide me with the delivery confirmation service I need). Go team! Kick ’em in the other knee!

I’m it

August 26, 2007

I don’t have stage fright when I get up to lecture in front of 150 students … or to give a graduation address in front of 300 graduates and their families … or to preach in front of 60 congregants. But I got butterflies in my stomach on Saturday when I went to Dish Rag Tag Central and saw this:

That all-caps shouting certainly projects an air of calm, doesn’t it? Certainly nothing to suggest that hysteria is the appropriate response.

In this nutty relay race, twenty U.S. teams of ten knitters apiece are sending increasingly ragged Priority Mail boxes from house to house.  When a team member gets the box, it contains a dishcloth knitted by the previous team member, two balls of dishcloth cotton, 4 oz. of gift items (that seems to be about one Chibi or four stitch markers or a small bar of chocolate, for most players), and instructions.

The box recipient takes one of the balls of cotton and knits a 9×9″ dishcloth with it as fast as possible.  She (in all but one case, I believe, the pronoun is accurate) appropriates the unused ball and the gifts, and then repacks the box with the newly-knit dishcloth, two more balls of cotton, and her own gifts for the next person down the line.  Off to the post office, get a tracking number, and you have fulfilled your DRT duty.

Piece of cake, right?  Except that the gold standard for speed is one day’s knitting, and I have never yet knit a dishcloth in one day.  Some players with morning mail delivery have been getting the box back in the mail the same day.   It’s all very intimidating.

So now that I know the box is on its way to me (having been mailed Saturday), I’m in my set position, U.S. 8 aluminum needles at the ready, yarn and goodies (unweighed … have I tried to squeeze in too many?!) sorta gathered and ready to shove in there.  I’m expecting it Tuesday, meaning that I might be knitting during the pizza mixer I’ll be hosting for my freshman students that evening, in order to get a head start and avoid, as much as possible, late-night short rows and grafting (which I can only expect would be experiences with seriously diminishing returns).

There are prizes for the win, place, and show teams, as well as special prizes for fastest turn-around, prettiest cloth, and other such accomplishments (booby prizes for slowness, too).  But with only two stops left on our team’s route, we’re pretty much in the middle of the pack, and I’m not expecting any swag to come my way.  So why stress?  For the same reason I always dreaded getting passed the ball in basketball, or having the ball hit to me in church-league softball.  I don’t want to let down the team, and I fear I’m not up to the standards set by my teammates.  All I want is not to embarrass myself and make a decent showing.  Our mail comes at 4 or 5 pm, so (happily for me) there’s no chance of a less-than-single-day turn-around; I’ll be knitting overnight and mailing the next morning, if all goes well.

Why do I feel like I should spend the next 36 hours just holding my needles points-out, in case yarn decides to jump at me?

Strange magic

August 25, 2007

After some agonizing over the choice of pattern for my all-important sophomore sock, I settled on ‘Vog On from this summer’s Knitty. (Hey, they did me right for the vital freshman sock. And look — the designer who created that pattern actually complimented me on my finished object! I may swoon.)

And so on to the new techniques: Judy’s Magic Cast-On, a technique that puts both sides of the toe on the needles at once and then knits in between them somehow; and Magic Loop, the counter-intuitive practice of knitting a small circular diameter on one very long circular needle.

Pinky the Flamingo is modeling the magic-cast-on toe that I spent all last night creating, along with a one and a quarter repeats of the lace pattern. One thing about the magic cast-on? The toe pocket is quite a bit shorter — maybe a third to a half — than a short-row toe done with a provisional cast-on. When I got done with the toe and put it over my foot to check the fit, it barely covered my toenails.

But isn’t that yarn beautiful? Knit Picks is about to put a variegated version of their Essential sock yarn on sale, and they had a test run that didn’t come out as vibrant as they intended, so they put it up for sale cheap as “Essential Multi Special.” I think it’s quite lovely as is.

Stop everything

August 21, 2007

In an effort to rid our lives of plastic shopping bags — I can’t think of any aspect of consumer life in America that makes me feel more wretched on a weekly basis — I’m going to try out several knitted market bag patterns. I’m starting with the Everlasting Bagstopper from the current issue of Knitty (it was one of the bonus extra patterns, and what great timing).

The marvelous Amy Singer designed it in organically-grown hemp — no environmental impact.  But after querying a fellow Raveller who knitted the pattern in the designated yarn, I decided not to hold out for the optimal materials.  My second choice was organic or recycled yarn from my LYS, but when I visited last weekend, there was none in stock.  So on to the third string: dishcloth cotton.  Economical to a fault.

I had a much more enjoyable experience knitting the garter-stitch bottom in too-small needles than I expected.  Can you believe that this is my first garter stitch since my wretched first practice swatches?  I had thought of garter stitch as boring, but my spring-green bag bottom was beautiful!  (You can just see it peeking out in the photo.)

But when it came to picking up stitches around the side of the flat-knitted bottom, I struggled.  First with the cable length: The pattern calls for 24″ circs, but when I looked at the length of my KnitPicks Options U.S. 5 needle tips attached to the cables for 24-inch needles, I was confused.  The length was virtually identical to my Boye Interchangeable needles with a 16″ cable attached.   So thinking I needed a longer cable, I attached the Options cables for 32″ needles and slipped them around the rectangle.  No dice — the circ was now far too long to stretch the knitting around.  So I went back to the 24″ circs, finally realizing that the cable was about 16″ in order to make the total needle length 24″ (the needle tips are 4″ long each).  For the Boye Interchangeable U.S. 11 needles to which I switched for the lace mesh, I had bought 21″ cables hoping that they would be long enough, but they made the total needle length too long — in this case, the cable wasn’t for a 21″ needle, but was simply 21 inches long.  Back to the 16″ cable I went.  Why these things can’t be standardized, I don’t quite understand.

And on top of that, I just had more trouble picking up the stitches than I have had in the past, related to bending the needles around those corners to get to the stitches.  I didn’t recheck any instructions on how to pick up stitches before diving in, so I probably did it the hard way, or maybe just the wrong way.  The next few rows knit around the bottom of the bag continued to be difficult.  I need to check with some veterans of the pattern to see if they have any tips for getting into the round more smoothly.

The lace is going fast, when I get a chance to knit it, which I haven’t for the past two nights.  Not sure yet what my plan is when I get to the top — I have the choice to attach fabric handles or make knitted handles.  Stay tuned.

Best foot forward

August 20, 2007

Pattern: Coupling
Yarn: vanCalcar Acres SuperStrong Sock Yarn (100% wool), Sage Heather
Needles: U.S. 2 (2.75 mm) double-pointed, aluminum

It’s actually been a few weeks since these came off the needles. And truth be told, the ends still need to be woven in. But look at them. They Are Socks. They look like real socks. They look like the socks in pictures of socks! And considering everything I learned to produce them, I am darn well going to be inordinately proud of them.

I started these socks while on vacation in Missouri. Actually I cast on — my first provisional cast-on, using the invisible method — before we left on the trip, thinking that I could probably negotiate the complicated twists and turns better on the couch than in a moving car. In quiet evenings at the cabin I completed the short-row toe (my first short-row toe) and started on the foot — only to lose my way through the lace chart (my first lace, my first chart). I couldn’t see the way out, so I frogged the whole thing and swatched the lace chart one and a half repeats; although I screwed up on the swatch before reaching the intended two repeats, I felt confident enough to unravel the swatch, rewind the yarn, and redo the whole thing from provisional cast-on through the toe and on up the foot.

Did I mention that these are my first adult socks? And my first toe-up socks?

There were a couple more firsts still to come. I didn’t divide my skein in two before I did the first sock of the pair, and I got worried that I didn’t have enough to do as many pattern repeats up the leg as were called for, so I made an anklet. The twisted-rib cuff was my first experience knitting through the back loop. When it came time to finish the cuff I was blissfully unaware that there might be problems with stretchiness, and I did a standard bind-off. I learned my lesson when the opening wouldn’t fit over my insole. Lesson learned, I thought, and I undid the bind-off, spit-spliced the yarn where I’d broken it, and bound off as loosely as I possibly could. Nope — still couldn’t get it over the heel.

At this point I decided to google for some advice, and found that toe-up socks typically require special techniques to get a stretchy enough cuff at the end. I had already started sock two, so I had to wait until I finished them (since I only had one ball of yarn) and bound off (correctly, I hoped) before going back to redo the bind-off on sock one.

In the meantime I joined Ravelry and read some advice on the Up With Toes group about bind-offs. I decided to try Elizabeth Zimmerman’s sewn bind-off; I didn’t mind getting out the darning needle to finish, especially since I had just done a couple of dishclothes that had to be grafted at the end. The sewn bind-off worked wonders, although I still tended to pull it too tight, something I realized halfway through the first attempt. Another undo of the bind-off on sock one, another spit-splice, and I finished that one with the sewn bind-off as well.

And here’s the result. Actual Socks. I couldn’t bring myself to model them in the 100-degree heat we’ve been having since I finished them, but it’s time to reveal them to the world. I’m just in love with the result. There’s something mystical about the way they become foot-shaped when worn, just as if every curve of the instep, heel and ankle were individually calculated. Just as if you need do nothing but keep the stitches coming off the needles, and something that looks exactly like a woman’s foot emerges. Truly, I’m just flabbergasted by the fact that these pictures of the socks on my feet look suspiciously like those gorgeous shots of handknit socks made and worn by Actual Sock Knitters.

Failure, Fiasco, or Secret Success?: No secrets here. Full-blown success all the way.

Circle in

August 14, 2007

Pattern: Round Dishcloth
Yarn: Lily Sugar ‘n Cream Ombre (100% cotton worsted weight) Summer Splash
Needles: U.S. 8 (aluminum)

After reading Susan’s claim that she knitted this dishcloth in two hours (!), and discovering I had an extra ball of variegated Sugar ‘n Cream in my dishrag stash, I decided to cast on and see whether it was as fast a knit as advertised. After all, speed is everything in Dish Rag Tag. Once you get your team’s box, it’s your job to knit a 9″ square or round dishcloth from one of the balls of yarn in the box, pack it up, and get that box moving on the highways (or, one hopes, airways) to the next person as soon as possible. A one-evening dishcloth is a must; a two-hour dishcloth, one that allows you to get the box back in the mail the same day you got it (I hate Susan and her early morning mail delivery), is nothing short of a secret weapon.

I must conclude that I’m not as fast a knitter as Susan. (Heck, the only knitters I could beat in a race would be those still in the middle of their first lesson.) I cast on (that provisional cast-on again and did two wedges — that was one two-hour stretch at the coffeeshop on Saturday. Did four more wedges Saturday night, in about another two hours (those short rows get faster as you learn how to keep count without referring to the pattern). But there was still one more I needed to get done before I completed the circle, unfortunately. The pattern refers to 6 or 7 wedges, but my dishcloth turned out to be a huge 7-wedger. And there was still the garter-stitch grafting to be done (much better than my first attempt, but still time-consuming). Nope — not a one-day knit. Three nights, and with practice, I could cut it to two.

Looks like 4 Corners is still my speedy dishcloth of choice. But this is a beautiful cloth, with those bound-off points around the edges, and those cool short rows that make everything they touch into a magical exploration of curves. I’ll come back to it when alacrity is no longer a crucial factor.