Thursday, June 28, 2007

Making Progress, or: Chucking the Hard for the Easy

You will recall my little rant about socks in my last post. Well, a few weeks ago I started my second pair of socks (the Pomatomus socks from Knitty, designed by the very talented Cookie A.). Yes, they are much more difficult than the Monkey socks were, and no, they don't look nearly as fine as the ones on the website. (I'm blaming it on the fact that I'm using cheaper yarn.) Here is what I have after sweating it out for weeks with some dull bamboo needles:

You really need some sharp points with this pattern, since every other stitch is knit through the back loop and if it's right after a yarn-over, it can be pretty rough! I made it halfway down the leg and ordered some metal needles from KnitPicks since I've heard such good things about their smaller needles. (Incidentally, I have their entire Options set and I love it--it's all I use to knit with.)

So, even though I hate to leave things unfinished (even temporarily), these socks were driving me nuts and giving me huge blisters so I cast on for the new baby blanket for my sis the other day. Progress after 3 days: satisfying to knit something so quick and easy! I am making the Big Bad Baby Blanket from the Stitch 'n' Bitch book. I am using gray and blue yarn from KnitPicks, held together throughout. Half of each row is a knit stitch, the other half is purl stitch. Which brings up the topic:

I have been hearing / reading a lot lately about people having difficulty doing purl stitch. I was teaching my 7 year old sister how to purl the other day, and my mother made a comment that she had heard of people who can purl just as fast as they knit! And I often read in the notes for patterns that something is "knit in the round to reduce purling", etc. I have to say that I have never had a problem purling as fast as I knit, but now that I know I'm "supposed" to, I'm feeling rather self-conscious about it. What else have I been doing that I should be having trouble with? And does everyone else really have trouble purling, or is it just a coincidence that I have been hearing about it a lot lately?

Either way, I'm glad it's not slowing down my progress on this blanket!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Swimming in Yarn

Ah...nothing like new yarn to make you want to jump ship on any currents projects.

As mentioned before, I had two boxes from KnitPicks waiting for me when I got back from LA:

The Luxury Knitting book, by Linda Morse, is one I got out of the library about a month ago and just loved. Even though I can't really afford to knit a throw out of cashmere, I think the author did a good job explaining about where these luxury fibers come from and what makes them so special (and worth the money).

And Favorite Socks...well, I'm one of those people who wonders about the knitting socks thing. Sure, the socks you knit by hand are fancier and fit you perfectly, but I still never understood the appeal of knitting them when you can knit things like sweaters that might take a bit longer but are more impressive, in my book.

I even tried the whole sock thing just to see. A few months ago, while in Pittsburgh for grad school, I wandered down to the LYS and picked up two skeins of Brown Sheep Wildfoote and a set of dpns. I had never knit with dpns before, and never made anything on needles smaller than size 8.

And of course, being the overachiever I strive to be, I chose a lacy pattern that I probably wouldn't recommend to someone who has a) never used dpns, b) never used such small needles, and c) never made a sock before. But, feeling confident, I went home and cast on for some Monkey socks.

Let me tell you, those socks took a lot out of me! I don't know what people are talking about when they say that they knit socks for something "quick and easy" between harder projects. These socks took me forever to finish, and once I was done I realized that I had made one toe half an inch longer than the other. No matter, I gave them to my sister and told her she shouldn't expect handmade socks to be perfect. But I ordered more sock yarn anyway (heck, it was on sale) and figured I might be happier if I tried some simpler socks first since I'm always reading all over the place about people knitting up socks in no time and joining those clubs and basically having more fun than you can shake a stick at. We'll see...

The blue and gray yarn is for the new blanket I'm knitting for my sister's baby. Since she still hasn't popped the thing out yet, I still have some time. I already started it, and it's a pretty easy knit so I should be done in no time.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Knit Break

Oof. I just got back from southern California last night. I spent four days out there with The Brain, searching high and low for a suitable place to live which would allow him to commute south to San Diego and me to commute north to LA every day for our jobs. I was hoping it could be a pseudo-vacation, since we never got a honeymoon after we got married last November (in fact, we only spent 3 days in the same city together...but more on that later).

Instead, we spent half a day on either end traveling, and then 3 days driving all over Newport/Costa Mesa/Irvine, and learned many things about the differences between Minnesota apartments and California apartments:

1) While it is standard in Minnesota (and everywhere else I've lived) for landlords to require a 60 day notice before vacating, in California most places only request a 30 day notice. It would have been nice if someone had mentioned this during the past couple weeks when I was calling to make appointments, since we would have made the trek in July instead. As it was, we spent 3 days visiting apartments only to find out that the landlords had no idea if they would have anything available in August or not.

2) While it is standard in Minnesota (and everywhere else I've lived) for landlords to show your apartment to anyone who is interested as soon as it goes 'on the market', I was informed that in California, this is 'just not done'. This means that the rental agency is happy to take you through elaborately decorated and furnished models that represent what you will be getting if you sign a lease, but there is no way to actually know how the actual apartment will compare.

3) Pretty much every place we visited was owned by the same management company, and gosh, I really hope they're a good one because it seems as though they own all the land in southern California!

4) Southern California is actually much cooler than Minnesota in the summertime (especially near the coast). You really don't know misery until you're landlocked in Minnesota in 95+ degrees and air so humid you can swim through it, with swarms of bloodthirsty mosquitoes just waiting to suck you dry. I can't WAIT to get out there!!!

I know this post really has nothing to do with knitting. I left it all at home because I really didn't have time to do anything anyway. But I did have two packages from KnitPicks waiting for me when I got home!!!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Keep It Moving

High off the rush of completing a sweater, I started looking around for other things to do. I did a few Google searches for 'yarn' and 'patterns'. Turns out there's a lot more out on the web about knitting than a non-knitter (or former non-knitter) would suspect!

I discovered and did a search for a baby blanket I could make for my older sister, who is expecting her third child. I found the Wild Stripes Baby Blanket and quickly put in an order at Knit Picks for the yarn. Knit Picks turned out to be a great discovery for me because I still only had two different Addi Turbo circular needles and, being a grad student on a budget, I really didn't have a lot of money to spend on needles and yarn. I was so excited that the yarn I needed was so cheap that I could afford to get more needles too!

This blanket knit up very quickly. Well, relatively quickly for something of its size. I had never done stripes before, so the hint in the pattern about weaving in the ends as you go was a good one.

I absolutely love this blanket. The colors are so vibrant and are a nice change of pace from all the pastel stuff that babies seem to generate. The only part I really disliked about the blanket was stitching the backing onto it by hand. It took forever. I enjoyed the knitting part, but the finishing? Not a fan.

But as soon as I finished the blanket, I ran into a problem. I love this blanket. I think it's fabulous. Plus, it's the first thing I've completed that turned out pretty much the way I intended. (I like it so much I even used it as the background for the banner on this blog!) is my problem:

My older sister was supposed to be the recipient of this blanket, but it's made of 100% wool with a cotton backing. You can't just throw the thing in the washing machine when it gets dirty. If I give this blanket to her, it will be ruined as soon as the baby spits up on it!

So I did what any rational person would do to spare one of their proudest creations: I rolled it up and stuck it in my stash cart (yes, it is only a cart for now), and I ordered some new superwash wool from Knit Picks. It is gray and blue. She will be getting a very plain, very washable blanket. And if she ruins that one? least my beautiful Wild Stripes blanket will have been spared.

So...what did I learn from working on the blanket?

1) Weaving in ends is not fun. I will definitely do them as I go along. But stripes are not as scary as I thought they would be.

2) Hand stitching a backing to a blanket is not fun either. It is certainly not something that can be accomplished in a few hours the day before the baby shower. But come to think of it, not being finished with the blanket is probably what saved me from having to give it to my sister so I guess in the end it was a good thing.

3) I learned how to tie a French knot (after searching all over the internet for directions) and they do look quite nice, if I do say so myself.

4) You should always match the project to the recipient. It's not enough to make something for someone else just because you like it. If it's not right for your friend, save yourself the trouble.

But now here's my question: has this happened to other knitters too? Has anyone else ever made something that they like so much they just can't stand to see it go to someone else? Or have I violated some cardinal rule of knitting? You know, like You Are Not So Great That You Deserve To Keep All The Good Stuff or something? Good thing I have no readers yet because otherwise I might be too ashamed to admit all this! ;-)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Third Time's The Charm

For my next trick, I decided I was ready to make something for myself. Something that real knitters make. Something that would prove that I had finally made the leap from someone who only dabbles in a craft to someone who could call herself A Knitter.

It was time for my first sweater.

Last December I received a copy of Stitch 'n' Bitch Nation for Christmas and immediately ran out to the neaerest yarn store to get some yarn for the flower sweater. I liked the simple shape and I wanted to make it in a dark brown, without a flower.

I am very tall (5'10") so I wanted the sweater to be a bit longer than the pattern called for, and I have very long arms so I wanted the sleeves to be longer too. I came home with a LOT of dark brown Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride worsted and cast on.

Several months later, after nearly causing irrevocable damage to my hands (I used to hold the yarn WAAAAY to tightly and have since learned how to hold it better), I had a sweater. Behold, the beautiful thing!

You may notice that the arms are very long. There is a reason behind that. It's true, I am very tall and do have long arms. I wasn't particularly self-conscious about them until I was on the 3rd date with my new boyfriend, The Brain (now husband). We went rock climbing, and when he saw me come out of the changing room in my tank top, he immediately burst out with, "Wow! Your arms are so long! You must have a really positive ape factor!"

Gee...thanks. I know I have long arms, but come on! It's not like my knuckles are dragging on the ground!

Anyway, the sweater was completed, albeit with different types of shaping on either sleeve (I did one side with the shaping right on the edge, and the other side with the shaping 2 stitches in from the edge.) The blue and orange squares are felted and waiting to be cut into shapes and sewn onto the sweater. I hate hand stitching so this may never happen.

Overall, I am happy with the way the sweater turned out. It is very soft and feels like a snuggly sweatshirt when I put it on. Unfortunately, I finished it just in time for the warm weather this year. I was in Pittsburgh for grad school and spring starts a lot earlier there than it does here in Minnesota. Now that I am back in Minneapolis for the summer, it is H-O-T here! A lot of people don't realize how hot it can get in Minneapolis. I think we have one of the greatest temperature ranges of any major city in the world (I heard this somewhere recently). Plus, I am moving to southern California in August so I may never get a chance to wear my nice warm sweater!

Too bad, but it was fun to make and of course I learned several things while making it:

1) If you insist on pulling the yarn as tight as you can because you fear droopy, uneven stitches, you can count on getting hand cramps so severe that you cannot take the cap off your chapstick. I am addicted to my chapstick and The Brain was tired of taking the cap off for me, so you can understand why something had to change.

2) Placing your increases and decreases a few stitches away from the edge makes things look nicer and makes it easier to stitch up seams. Wow...all those books that told me to do that were right!

3) Soaking wool for blocking makes it smell like a dirty sheep. This was a shocker. I even went to my LYS in Pittsburgh to make sure I didn't have contaminated yarn. Yeah right, like the yarn company made it out of decomposing sheep or something. They probably enjoyed laughing at me after I left.

4) All yarn is not created equal. If you knit a big square with angora, and felt with angora, it will still be fluffy...just like angora. Just because you felt it does not mean that it will magically look like the flower in the book that was felted using wool.

5) It is best to have someone else help you take your measurements. I know I have long arms, but I should have known something was wrong when my calculations told me to add seven inches to the arm length! I would be more upset except that I have never in my life had sleeves that are too long and I kind of like them that way.

6) If I can knit up my own sweater, I can do anything!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

If At First You Don't Succeed

Well, since my first project was such a crapshoot I decided to give it another try. I gave the hideous pillow to my brother who was heading off to college (hence, no picture) because he thought it was really cool. He is colorblind, which I think helped.

I headed over to the yarn store again for some of the beautiful new Malabrigo yarn I had been drooling over. After all, I had already completed a project: I was good enough for the expensive yarn now!

I should note here that I tend to charge head-on into things and do my best to figure them out as I go. I tend to get myself in over my head this way. Like the summer I was fresh out of college with my theater degree and I somehow stumbled into a job running the light and sound board for a local theater that has since won a Tony award. Every night I thought I was going to throw up because let's face it, I didn't major in technical theater and I had no clue what I was doing! The worst night was when the lead actor lost his voice and they had one of the founding members up in the booth with me performing his part as narration. People kept yelling at me to "Boost the bass just a bit!" I twirled some dials and hoped for the best...

But I digress. Armed with my massive amounts of experience from making one pillow, I went to the yarn store and bought two skeins of Malabrigo in the olive colorway. I went home and cast on, and merrily knit away.

I loved making these pillows. I love love looooove Malabrigo wool. It is the softest, prettiest, most luscious yarn and I search it out in every yarn store just so I can stand there and pet it. Mmmmmm.

Fortunately, I managed to knit up two pillows (2' x 2') with no yarn overs and no dropped stitches. Since I was new to knitting, endless rows of stockinette didn't bore me. They still don't bore me. I love watching rows of even stitches joining the ranks as the cloth gets longer and longer.

Unfortunately, however, I didn't know everything yet. Here are a few things I learned from knitting my pillows:

1) Not all yarn is created equally. Just because on my last project I needed only 2 skeins of yarn, it doesn't mean I will always only need 2 skeins. In fact, I needed 5 skeins to complete the pillows and I had to get them from 2 different stores.

2) Just because a yarn says it is the same color, it doesn't mean it will match exactly. "Dye lot" is now part of my vocabulary.

3) Even more perplexing, hand-dyed yarn will never be identical, even if it does come from the same dye lot. I did not learn about the concept of alternating skeins until after I was done with my pillows.

4) Gauge is a useful thing to be familiar with if you want your pieces to match up right. Just casting on "about two feet" of stitches and knitting "about two feet" of rows will produce four squares that are "about the same size...but not quite".

5) No one makes pillow forms that are 24" x 24". It took me a year and a half from the time I finished knitting the pillows to the time I was able to convince someone with a sewing machine to sew together giant squares for me. I was so upset that my husband, The Brain, was about ready to sit down with a needle and thread and stitch some up for me himself.

6) It was all worth it because now I have two of the most squishy, soft, beautiful, and expensive throw pillows on my couch!

In the Beginning

It all started out innocently enough...two and a half years ago I was living in the suburbs (gasp!) outside of Minneapolis with my sister and her fiance. I had been lulled into leaving my precious city to head out of town with my boyfriend and sister by the promises of reduced rent and an on-site fitness center. If I had been able to think clearly I could have told them that social isolation and an hour and a half commute into downtown Minneapolis every day for work just wasn't worth it.

To make matters even worse, my boyfriend split after 3 months leaving me socially isolated in the suburbs, having to leave at 6:30 AM to get to my job by 8:00, and depressed. I worked full-time and was taking night classes towards my 3rd degree 4 days a week. Most nights I wouldn't get home until 10:00 at night. But I needed to be completely exhausted before I fell asleep so I got a subscription to Netflix. Pretty soon I discovered that watching an episode or two of '24' before I went to bed still wasn't enough to keep my mind off other things.

I needed something to do with my hands to keep me occupied. And here's the kicker: I lived across the street from the cutest little yarn store you've ever seen! Except I didn't know it was a yarn store. How clueless was I? It's called Yarn Cafe and I just thought that was a really strange name for a restaurant. Finally, my curiosity overcame me and I decided to drop in and see what it was all about.

Wow. I walked in the door and was completely thrown. This place wasn't like those icky acrylic yarn sections at the local chain craft store. This place was overflowing with needles and books and comfy places to sit. And the was everywhere and it was so pretty! I had to have some. I had to have some right now.

Turns out knitting for a newbie is a lot more complicated than I thought. I mean, I thought I would just get a pair of needles and some yarn. Who knew that needles came in so many different sizes and types? And yarn? All yarn is not made the same. Luckily, there was a very sweet and helpful woman working there. She helped me select my Stitch 'n' Bitch book, a pair of size 8 Addi Turbos, and a giant skein of Plymouth yarn. I went home and cast on for my very first project right away.

I learned a few things while making my giant pillow:

1) You must pay attention to which side of the needle your yarn is on, or you will end up with holes in your knitting. Only later did I learn that those are called yarn overs.

2) Multi-colored yarn can have a tendency to pool. I was very disappointed when I made this discovery.

3) You can't make a 2' x 2' cushion out of one skein of yarn.

4) I was hooked. Must. Knit. More. Stuff!