Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Things I Wish I Didn't Know

(Or Hadn't Found Out)

This pretty snowfall will soon be covered with sleet.

Not all wool is superwash.

Tea stains worse than coffee does.

The paper that books are printed on is very absorbent.

Pants that aren't yet hemmed will trip you.

Complex late-night knitting has poor odds of being mistake-free.

Carpets do a good job of cleaning the bottoms of shoes.

Dribbled toothpaste is hard to wipe off the front of a sweater.

The neckband of my Kid Hollow Mock Neck sweater is going to have to be redone.

Oh, well.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Casting Around

For an answer.

The sweater I'm knitting as a Christmas I.O.U. for my tall-elegant-mom is coming along nicely. All the pieces are done and ready to assemble. I'm using the same Kid Hollow Mock Neck pattern that I just finished making for myself in a different colorway. It's knitted in the Kid Hollow Farm brushed mohair that's just handfuls of soft fluff; it feels so light it might float away.

I made a few changes in the pattern this time to suit my mom's more tailored style. I changed the let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may rolled neck and hem to a ribbed edging, and made it a crew-neck rather than a mock-neck.

Everything was going great as I got the shoulder seams done, picked up the stitches and knitted the neckband. Everything, that is, until I tried experimentally pulling it over my head. Not a chance. No how, no way. It was not going over my head, and that was final.

It was my fault, of course. There is nothing wrong with Puff the Magic Rabbit's nice pattern. I had gone down in needle size for a neat ribbing but hadn't thought very hard about what it would do to the circumference of the neck opening. And I'd just bound off normally, without making much special effort for looseness or elasticity, other than going back up one needle size.

So I just admonished myself inwardly and set to undoing the bind-off. Then I bound off again, taking elaborate care to handle it loosely and not pull anything up too firmly. It worked, and I got a looser edge. This time, it went over my head without a problem, and I even tried it on world's-most-patient-husband for good measure.

So everything's fine, right? Well, there's just one thing. When the neckline is relaxed, that loose edge looks a little messier than I'd like. If the sweater were for me, I could shrug it off. But since it's a gift, it troubles me. I want it to be as nice as I can make it.

What do you think? Is this neckline noticeably messy? It seems to me I have these choices:

-- Try to bind off again, slightly less loosely to make it look neater. (But this risks making it too small again.)
-- Rip out the whole neckband and knit it again on larger needles. (That's not a prospect I relish, though I'll do it if I have to. But then would the ribbing itself come out looking too loose and open?)
-- Look for some extra-stretchy bind-off method and re-do it.
-- Leave it as it is; grin and make the best of it.

Not being quite ready just yet for the last of these options, I've spent a little time hunting around for stretchy bind-off techniques. Binding off loosely seems to be an issue of great concern for knitters of lace and toe-up socks. I've found several techniques and have tried out a few on my swatch. But if you look past the flim-flam (all that together-knitting, through-back-looping, left needle-returning, pulling-or-slipping-without-dropping), most of the techniques seem to boil down to one of two things: making the loops bigger or adding extra stitches between the original ones in the bind-off row. The former is what I've got already -- albeit with loops not necessarily of such nice uniform size -- and the latter can cause an edge that buckles when unstretched.

I haven't given up yet. Weebleknits has a page here that describes some interesting ideas that I may need to try out on my swatch. And I still haven't consulted Montse Stanley's comprehensive tome. The woman has 40 cast-on methods in that book; she must have an answer! (Perhaps I should have gone there first, but, honestly, her prose is a little stuffy.)

Oh, wherefore art thou, cast-off of my dreams?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Beginnings

Today, I stayed home from work to glue myself to the TV and watch, raptly, our democracy go through its quadrennial renewal, the peaceful periodic handover that has endured for the last two centuries. It is a wonderful thing. First, the solemnity of the ceremony, in the open, witnessed by cheering multitudes. Then the progress toward the White House and reviewing stand. Along the way, I am struck anew by the beauty of our nation's capital. Then the inaugural parade, a glorious jumble of brass bands, floats, and groups from every corner of the land.

I have to admit to some momentary frustration with the news announcers, breaking in, overshadowing, congratulating themselves on their technical trickery, looking for interest in bars and in crowds and in metro stations, in on-the-street interviews and in studio experts, pushing to the background the proud procession of our national celebration. The parade participants have traveled and waited eagerly, nervously, to represent their states in the nation's eye until, faces chapped from the cold, they have their chance to march by and salute our new President. They have donned their best; fine uniforms, fancy hats, sashes, plumes. They have practiced and polished their instruments and routines. Many have carefully chosen musical pieces symbolic of their states, some traditional, some waggish. Proud friends and relatives are no doubt watching the screen carefully for when they will pass by and be briefly visible back home, to clap and cheer. But in many cases, on the major TV channels, for naught.

Thankfully, I found the broadcast on C-Span, the public service cable channel, where the parade was shown unadulterated. Where there were no cutaways to spoil their big moments. Where I could revel in the whole untidy variety of high-school bands and flag twirlers, joyous dancing and high-stepping. Horseback riders, lion-dancers, mariachi music, Native Americans, bagpipes, and military units. I was touched when one marching band, in front of the reviewing stand, lowered their instruments and raised their voices in a patriotic hymn. And I was bemused by the Lawn Rangers, a unit of masked men pushing lawnmowers, who it seems, oddly, have been fixtures in past inaugural parades. I enjoyed it right up to the last moment, when a lunar vehicle representing NASA rolled down the parade route. Seriously, how could you beat that?

Closer to home, a day of TV-watching is of course wonderful for knitting. I've now finished all the main pieces for my tall-elegant- mom's Christmas I.O.U. sweater. The Kid Hollow brushed mohair yarn continues to be lovely stuff. I'm enjoying its soft halo more, as I've adjusted to working with the long fluff with neither entanglement nor over-carefulness. It now needs only finishing and a neckband, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it comes together.

Still, in the spirit of new beginnings, I couldn't resist starting the swatching for my dad's I.O.U. Christmas sweater as well.

Having them both going makes for a nice variety. :)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Good Night for Wool and Staying Indoors

Last night, the temperature headed emphatically downward around here, with bitter winds blowing. By the time I turned in for the night, we had made it below 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12.5 Celsius) and it still hadn't hit bottom.

This may be nothing remarkable for anyone who lives in more northerly climes. But here in the mid-Atlantic, where we only see single-digit temperatures a few times each winter, we watch in chilly amazement.

I went to work yesterday bundled in wool and silk long-johns under my wool slacks, and I was glad to have them. And in the evening when I got home, I tucked myself on the couch with a lapful of warm, fluffy, silky kid mohair to work on, never to budge for the rest of the night. Yes, it was a good night to be wearing wool, and a good night to be knitting with it. Of course, it's not so bad for me in my nice heated house; I wonder how the creatures out in the woods keep warm?

I was working on the Christmas I.O.U. sweater for my tall-elegant-mom, with the light gray hand-dyed brushed kid mohair from Kid Hollow Farm. I'm using the same Kid Hollow Mock Neck sweater pattern as in the sweater I just completed in a different colorway of the same yarn for me, just making some small changes. It's coming along nicely. By last night, I had the back and front done, and a start on the first sleeve. It's going a lot faster than the last sweater, the one for myself. One reason is that I've been concentrating on just one project, instead of going back and forth among several things. But it also helps to make sure I get close to gauge from the beginning, instead of knitting the whole sweater once for practice and then having to rip the whole thing out and redo it! So, this time, the sweater seems to be progressing much more smoothly.

And it's a good thing, too, because the yarn for my Dad's Christmas I.O.U. sweater has arrived.

I've got some serious swatching to do!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Married Life

Work has been pressing most inconveniently this week. I must figure out a way for knitting to take precedence. I'll just add that to my to-do list.

But I do have something to show you.

Wait... there! Could it be?

I think I spotted something among the presents.

I think it might be.

Let's just take a closer look. Yes, it is! It's the Eyelet Shruglet!

It's a pretty little thing knitted in alpaca, silk, and merino, as a just-in-case bit of warmth for a wedding day. It turned out not to be needed over a gown (after all, what bride is going to feel the cold, in all the excitement?)

But it has a life after the wedding layered over a long-sleeved tee -- hooray!

And I think it looks awfully cute on her, too.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Wishful Thinking and I.O.U.s

Well, speaking as someone whose summer tank tops are finished not a minute later than mid-winter, I could hardly have expected my Christmas preparations to be done in December, could I? Or January either, I'll warrant. There was a fair amount of knitting-good-wishes-exceeding-grasp in this household this year. But when the knitting needles won't fly any faster, I can still lob a well-placed I.O.U.

There's the yarn-destined-to-be-a-sock I.O.U., for my brother. This is Trekking XXL, in a nice varied brown, though it looks mysteriously orange in this photo. This I.O.U. was boxed and wrapped like a regular gift, instead of a gift-to-be. Though I'd still rather have had the socks made in time for Christmas, at least this way, I can ask him if he'd prefer them to be plainer or fancier.

There's the dolled-up-in-a-pretty-gift-bag I.O.U. Here it's gaping open so you can see inside, but by Christmas morning it looked prettier, all tucked in and dressed up with tissue paper. The yarn is another big skein of Kid Hollow brushed kid mohair, in silvery gray, due to metamorphose before long into a sweater for my tall-elegant-mom.

Then there's the present-that-weighs-so-much-nobody-could-ever-guess-it-was-yarn-related I.O.U. This one is a sort of pick-your-own exercise for my Dad. For him, I wrapped up a few knitting pattern books. Not that he would want knitting books, of course! No, they were for browsing, so he could show me what sort of a sweater he'd like me to knit for him.

In fact, I feel I've been sadly remiss over the years in knitting sweaters for others. I did once knit a sweater for my Mom. It was an argyle -- a monumental undertaking for me back then. But it's been a very long time. And I've never knit one for my Dad at all. So it's about time! This will be the Christmas of hand-knit his-and-hers sweaters. I expect they'll be ready by about the 4th of July.

So those are the I.O.U.s. And the wishful thinking? That would be this tidy little pile of skeins. It's the Dorset wool that I dyed with Kool-Aid last summer and just finished spinning on December 21. At that point, I had to face facts. I hadn't even figured out exactly what I wanted to make with it, and it surely wasn't going to magically transform itself into who-knows-what lovingly knitted gift in the four days remaining before Christmas. Especially with everything else that needed to be done in every waking minute. So, for the time being, it's still sitting here cute as a button, waiting its turn.

So, here's the view these days looking down from my forehead -- where the camera was steadied -- into my lap. As soon as I finished the Kid Hollow mock-neck sweater for myself, I started on a gray one for my Mom. Incidentally, also as soon as I finished it, I wore it to work. The next day, my friend bought a knitting book of patterns for mohair sweaters. Coincidence? Sure. :)

And now, I'd better get back to knitting!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Launching the New Year

With two finished objects to make it even happier.

Happy New Year, everyone! The holidays have rushed onward until, pouf, here I am in the New Year without even having observed all the proprieties. I have an appointment for a little make-up session with some oysters and some black-eyed peas that are going to need to be attended to if I'm to have a lucky year. So I haven't started the new year properly yet, but I'll just ignore that for the moment and act as if I have.

So, herewith, my resolutions for 2009:
-- Write thank-you notes promptly
-- Get to bed earlier for more sleep
-- Knit more yarn than I buy
-- Don't forget the eggnog.

That knitting one shouldn't be all that difficult, since I have piles and piles of beautiful yarns and spinning fiber already here in the house awaiting my pleasure. But, then, that's what I thought last year, too. Hmmm, we'll see.

To celebrate the old year's passing, here's my last finished object of 2008! The day after Christmas, when the rush to knit presents and cook and wrap and decorate and celebrate was over, I settled down to knit again. I got out a pair of half-done socks and knitted with zeal, with abandon, around and around, until they were finished. And, after knitting for others for the last few weeks, I greedily knit these just for me. :)

They're plain stockinette socks, but the yarn makes them fun. It's Colinette's Jitterbug sock yarn, in the Kingfisher colorway. I love the way a black background brightens other colors, and I thoroughly enjoyed these.

They're knitted on US size 1 (2.25 mm) needles, and mostly just lazily following the simple sock pattern on the yarn label. I did depart from it by replacing the smooth stockinette on the heel flap with a slipstitched heel stitch for variety. The yarn was a pleasure to knit with, soft bouncy merino, with those ever-entertaining Colinette color changes. (One minor note of caution, though: the skein does not have a huge amount of yardage, so if you're knitting for a larger size, you may need two.)

I also recently got around to buying a couple of pairs of shoes sized with enough room for socks, so I'm finally getting in the habit of wearing my handknit socks, not just admiring them in the drawer. I'm looking forward to adding these to the rotation.

And, even better, here's the first finished object of 2009, the Kid Hollow Brushed Mock-Neck Sweater, Hooray!

This is knitted of brushed kid mohair yarn from Kid Hollow Farm in Free Union, Virginia. It was a gorgeous hand-dyed skein that I bought at this year's Fall Fiber Festival, in Montpelier, Virginia. The yarn is so light and fluffy that the whole sweater only takes one skein of 8 ounces or so. (And I bought another skein that will soon be heading for mock-neck-sweater-hood, too.)

The design is by Puff the Magic Rabbit, who raises angora goats (more mohair yarn!) and angora rabbits in the Virgina countryside and who is lovely and encouraging. No wonder her goaties love her. :)

The fuzzy mohair is wonderfully warm and comforting to wear, and just look at those gorgeous colors!

The sweater is knit at a worsted weight. But I actually had to go down a size -- unusual for me -- to a US size 6 (4 mm) needle to stay close to gauge. Something about knitting with this delicate fluffy yarn seems to make me drift into holding it more and more loosely, treating it gently and solicitously. There, dear, can I plump your pillow for you? Bring you a cup of tea?

So, it still sprawled a bit, but it's a great sweater. It's a little loose and slouchy, and it has a relaxed slouchy neckline to match. (World's-most-patient-husband calls it my "hippie shirt.") I find I'm already reaching for it a lot. It looks terrific with jeans, and I have a feeling it might dress up well, too, with the right outfit. I'm pretty pleased with it. :)

I painted my toenails purple in its honor.

Hope your New Year has had as good a start!