Thursday, March 31, 2011

Knit and Crochet Blog Week Day 4: Where are they now?

The fate of a finished object. Ideally, they would last forever, fit perfectly, and be well-loved. I touched on this subject a little bit last year, describing a well-loved hat made by my aunt. That finished object was part of the inspiration for my first 'no pattern' project: the cozy cabled hat. I think of it has the 'workhorse'. Whenever I need something simple and warm on my head:

like when I love on the dog,

or get my ski on,

or get my drink on,

or play some fetch,

or each some lunch in the backcountry,

or pet some sheep.

So what's better? Something beautiful that is so intricate and delicate that you feel like you can never bring it out of the drawer for fear of damage, or the truly utilitarian knit? I think a case can be made for both--but considering that I'm wearing the hat in question as we speak, I think I'm putting my money on utility.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Knit and Crochet Blog Week Day 3: Tidy mind, tidy stitches.

This day's topic made me laugh. Guffaw, even. "How do you keep your yarn organized?" My answer, which I'm assuming will be the consensus from most people, is not at all. Sure, there are going to be a couple of people with an intricate filing system, and we'll smile and nod and say "What a great idea!" whilst secretly rolling our eyes.

I had an idea at one point that I would organize all of my knitting stuff in an antique washstand, because antique furniture rocks and washstands are an entertaining conversation piece--you can casually bring up how chamberpots used to be stored in them. I think my husband is still slightly horrified that a piece of our furniture was possibly used for poop storage.

I do have all of my needles, measuring tape, markers and various knitting flotsam in here--as well as a sewing machine stashed in the commode--but I wanted to display my lovely yarn for the world to see. I have an odds and ends yarn bucket:

But the meat of the yarn goes into a big old pile. My mom ordered the basket online as a gift for me, and was appalled at the size when it arrived. I assured her I could fill it, and it wasn't too difficult (read: I could barely fit everything in there)--but it became clear that I couldn't leave it out when we were gone.

See! It's been out for maybe 30 seconds and he's already thinking about getting his face in it.

Our dog loves yarn. Loves it. Other than peanut butter and dead animals, I think it's his favorite thing. Loves to pick it up and do the 'kill' on it--you know the thing where dogs shake their head back and forth to kill prey? He managed to stalk and nab some prey yesterday.

It's the yarn I just wrote about, the one I carefully placed back into a bag and into the basket. If he learns to open doors, it's game over, man.

A discussion of yarn storage wouldn't be complete without a mention of my portable yarn storage unit:

My relatives got it for me for Christmas last year, and it pretty much rocks. Don't be too jealous.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Knit and Crochet Blog Week Day 2: Skill + 1UP

One of the main reasons I enjoy (obsess over?) knitting--the same reason I love snow skiing--is that there is always something new to try, new territory to be charted.
Comparing my repertoire from last year to this year, it doesn't look like my style of knitting has changed very much--I haven't added any big new leaps like a first pair of socks, for example (that was last year).

What I have started doing is working on projects without a pattern. I've been on a creative and/or self-destructive cycle of getting an idea for a project, looking for the appropriate pattern, and upon not finding it, deciding "Eh, it can't be that hard. I'll just write the pattern myself!" Words you should consider carefully before uttering--"How hard can it be?" Sometimes it ends well:

I hesitate to use the word design--let's just say I make stuff (stuff could be replaced with a four-letter word that also starts with s). I realized it's just a matter of an idea + simple geometry and algebra + experimenting to see what works. But there are usually a lot of steps in between that look like this:

Yarn explosion! Sometimes the dog also causes a scene like this.

which makes my production process very slooooooow. Fortunately, the process of knitting is my favorite part, so I try to think of it as getting multiple uses from the same ball of yarn. I just finished this guy for my husband:

I had the idea that I wanted it to look like there were ski tracks coming down the sides of the hat. Finding no suitable pattern, "How hard can it be?"

I've also been incredibly entertained writing up the patterns and making charts (seriously!). I discovered the Free Pattern Testers group on Ravelry, and awesome place to test new designs and/or get your designs tested. They can try out your pattern, find any errors, and tell you if your design sucks. I've got those fingerless mitts in the last image swirling around in the test pile right now. I'm tempted to try a sweater next...that'll probably only take about approximately one-thousand years for me to bang out.

Knit and Crochet Blog Week Day 1: A tale of two yarns

Knitters, crocheters, cats...who doesn't like a good yarn? On second thought, those categories probably only encompass a small percentage of the population, and yet, yarn still kicks ass. But not all yarn is created equal.

I used to have a real problem picking out yarn for projects. I'd either buy yarn I thought I liked and have nothing to do with it, or buy a pattern without a clue as to what yarn to use. I also used to be a yarn cheapskate--there's a certain amount of sticker shock when you first start knitting. As I recounted in a previous K & C Blog Week post, this resulted in some outright monstrosities.

So when I decided I wanted to make the Sahara sweater, I thought I'd take the easy way out: get exactly the yarn that the pattern recommended, regardless of price. Tilli Tomas Pure and Simple. With a name like Pure and Simple, what could go wrong? Everything, it turns out.

I called that 'stretched sadness'.

The yarn was unplied silk, which was not only unpleasant to work with, but also resulted in uneven and stretched out stitches. HATE. I plowed ahead and ended up with something resembling a sweater - then upon washing, the blue yarn leaked dye and sullied up the cream part.

I learned a couple of things.

1) Choose your yarn colors carefully--you may someday want to wash your garment.

2) Expensive yarn does not necessarily mean good/enjoyable yarn.

I somehow ended up on the Tilli Tomas e-mailing list--and several months after finishing my 'sweater', I received an email advertising a screaming deal on an experimental batch of TT yarn, a wool/silk blend. I still reeked of the stench of failure, but the bargain was too great for me--I bought enough for another sweater. And I loved it:

All that's left of 10 skeins.

My mom enjoys her wool/silk sweater (I think....I hope).

I liked the experimental yarn so much, I am now in possession of a heaping pile of it:

Tilli Tomas 'Elsie' yarn - 33% wool, 33% silk, 33% milk protein - 100% awesome.

So I also learned,

3) Keep trying, and you'll eventually find yarn that you love!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Performance anxiety

I went ahead and threw the Ace Fingerless Mitts on the Free Pattern Testers group over at Ravelry. For the uninitiated, Ravelry is a website sort of like Facebook for knitters (only much more useful and less voyeuristic), and the FPT is a group that has a nice simple framework where you can get a new pattern tested, and/or to help designers out by working through their patterns.

I've been on both ends of the system and had mostly good experiences. I love to test for people--you get first crack at new designs with direct access to their creator, and it's fun to go through a bit of the design process with someone else. Of course whenever you put something out for 'everyone' to see, there's the potential for the devastating specter of non-constructive criticism (whether real or imagined) to rise up and bitch slap you in the face. I like to think that I've developed a reasonably thick skin over the years, and for the most part I think I have.

At work discussing science-y stuff, I will shoot you down and convince you to believe whatever inane bullshit happens to be spewing out of my mouth that day--I'm not really sure why it's different for designing something to knit. Maybe it's because fashion is so subjective, almost art. If someone says you're wrong, you can bust out mad logic skills, but if someone says your work is ugly--game over, man. No on wants to be told they're uninspired (or end up on Regretsy).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Winter's last hurrah

Between Wisconsin politics and worrying about the status of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, I was ready to get the hell out of dodge. Conveniently, I had a last-minute work trip planned to go back to Berkeley, the mother-land of the blog (in the sense that I was on a three month work-visit there when I started it). Berkeley welcomed me with open arms:

But it didn't help that I was working with a group of nuclear engineers, ergo about half of the topics of conversation revolved around the aforementioned nuclear plant. But it was warm, there were no protests (remarkable for Berkeley), and you can't have it all.

A few weeks ago, I had decided I was totally over winter. Oh-ver it. Done...with the minor caveat that I hadn't done nearly enough snow skiing. What was up with winter turning into a nasty slushy mess of winter/spring limbo before I'd shredded1 an adequate amount of gnar2? So, while in the Bay Area, I figured the copilot and I might as well take a little trip to Lake Tahoe while we were in the area.

We checked out a smaller resort, Sugar Bowl (get it?? The snow is the sugar, and the slopes are the side of the bowl...nevermind). We ventured into the backcountry for a quick off-piste trip and found:

a mini village of snow buried summer cottages. I want one (unburied, of course). But it had to be a quick trip out-of-bounds, because an epic storm was coming in...the National Weather Service actually used the word 'epic' as a descriptor in their in their forecast. And indeed it was:

Our pitiful 2-wheel drive rental car. Chains transformed him into a bad-ass!

Thirty inches of freshies, chains on our tires, and a 45 car, 7 semi pile-up (!!) that closed the interstate. Fortunately, we were trapped on the right side--the side with not crowded Sugar Bowl powder skiing. However, it turns out 30" of pow is a lot for two relatively tiny people to plow through on skis. At one point, I found myself on a black diamond run pointed straight downhill, going nowhere. I had to kind of hump my way down, much to the delight of people on the lift watching. Still, epic was the correct word. I don't have my fill of snow skiing (does one ever?), but it's a step in the right direction.

I also made a little headway in the war against winter with the completion of these babies:

Dunzo. I have dubbed them the "Ace Fingerless Mitts", a name inspired by the remedial wrist bandage that I was afraid they were too reminiscent of. I'm thinking of submitting the pattern to the Free Pattern Testers group. These are a Merry Xmas to my good friend E, and only three months late. A new record!

[1] Skied with vigor.

[2] Exciting and/or challenging ski terrain; derivative of 'gnarly'.

Monday, March 14, 2011

2nd annual Knit and Crochet Blog Week is coming soon

Get excited, guys....Knit and Crochet Blog Week is back!

For the uninitiated, this is a week of seven daily topics, written by knit and crochet bloggers across the land. If you'd like to participate, see more details here. I really enjoyed participating last year; you can read any of my old posts by clicking on the tag 'knit and crochet blog week'.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bouncing back with some mitts

First, let me say that you guys rock (situation normal). My copilot encouraged me to blog about the lost sock, saying that I'd feel better with the support of some fellow knitters, and of course he was right (the three words every spouse loves to hear). Thanks for being awesome.

I took pretty much all of your advice and I'm not even thinking about socks. Screw socks (OK, no, they are still wonderful inventions. And I think Smartwool read my post bitching about their socks wearing out in specific areas, because I just got a new pair and they are totally reinforced in said areas. Go Smartwool!).

Through Dec. and Jan., I was periodically working on a pair of mitts for a friend that were supposed to be Christmas presents...they've gone through various stages of partial completion and varying degrees of despise by me; only to end up looking like this. Then I banished them to the yarn basket.

Last month, I happened to be in the state of WA for work during the Great Midwestern/Eastern Snowstorm of 2011 (GMES11)--you might remember it, the one with like 3 feet of snow. The people of Richland were bitching about their unseasonable 28 degree weather--I'd hate to have seen the shit-storm that most certainly would have occurred if there had actually been any snow. Despite the lack of inclement weather, I still had a day where nothing was working at the lab--this happens every time I go there, so I'm very familiar with their antique shops and LYS. I am slowly collecting a set of Betty Crocker cookbooks, as well as a nice set of buttons from one particular antique store:

So after THE INCIDENT I decided I wanted to use some of my buttons. I had yet another idea for the mitts, partially inspired by the little flap on the Battleboro hat, and it incorporated some buttonage. The majority of the mitt was worked flat, so the texture wraps around the hand in a way that I think is pretty cool:

I like it, but I'm afraid it rides the fine line between eclectic fingerless mitten and fancy ACE wrist support. I'm sure the color has quite a bit to do with that, but I'm hoping it falls on the side of ecletic mitt. On to the next one!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Majorly bummed.

The socks I've been working so long on were ready to be finished up on my second flight home from a work conference yesterday--until one of them came up missing. Fell out of my bag during first flight? I don't know. Between this, job stress, WI politics, etc. my heart has hit the floor. Two and a half months of work down the drain. How do you even start to bounce back?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Heel issues: bring in the reinforcements

Can we talk for a minute about socks? I love them, first of all. I'm one of those people with perpetually cold feet and hands, so I'm a huge fan of wool appendage coverings. I developed a minor obsession with Smartwool socks a couple of years ago; after making fun of those idiots who would pay $18 for socks, I figured out it there was a method to their madness. I've recently run into a slight flaw beloved woolies--they eventually wear out. Check out this heel:

Sigh. Unwanted heel ventilation.

This got me thinking about how it's fairly standard practice to reinforce the back of the heel when knitting socks. But how? The most common way that I've encountered to reinforce the heel is to work every right side row of the heel flap (Slip 1, Knit 1) repeated to the end of the row, and simply purl the wrong side rows. It looks a little something like this...

The result is a firm fabric, slightly thicker than stockinette, with every other column of stitches backed up by a strand of yarn carried along behind it. It's easy to see why this is the most popular method of reinforcement--nothing difficult, no extra needles, yarn, or sewing involved. But what if you want the simplicity of stockinette?

I found myself in this situation with the socks I'm knitting that have been dubbed the "Powder 8's". I chose a variation on what Nancy Bush calls the "Balbriggan Heel" in Folk Socks--a simple heel with no short rows (but with Kitchner stitch--probably an equal trade off) that complemented the cables I wanted to run down the heel flap.

The most straightforward way to reinforce a heel flap done in stockinette is to hold two strands of your sock yarn. Pros: no additional materials required and no 'post mortem' work required (i.e. reinforcement occurs during normal knitting). Cons: Changes gauge and may be overly thick.

A variation on this method is to add a strand of nylon thread instead of a second strand of yarn, and this eliminates the cons of changing the gauge and increasing the thickness. Unfortunately, it also negates the pro of no additional materials required.

Another way to reinforce your stockinette heel flap is to again use two strands of your sock yarn and alternate the strands of yarn for each stitch (i.e. Yarn A used for stitch 1, Yarn B used for stitch 2, Yarn A used for stitch 3, Yarn B used for stitch 4, etc.). Pros: no additional materials required, no 'post mortem' work, and theoretically no change in gauge. Cons: all of the difficulty and tedium associated with two color-knitting without the benefit of two-colors--stitch non-uniformity will be more obvious.

The last method for your consideration is to thread yarn through alternating purl bumps on the wrong side of the heel flap. This is the method I settled on for my pair of the Powder 8's. Choose where the area you want to reinforce, and using a tapestry needle, thread a strand of leftover sock yarn under a column of alternating purl bumps:

When you reach the top of the area that needs reinforcement, turn around and thread through the next column of purl bumps, threading through the rows that you skipped on the previous round:

Contrasting color used for illustration--use yarn of same color if available.

Repeat until desired area is covered. Pros: doesn't change gauge or stitch uniformity. Cons: requires 'post-mortem' work--if you hate weaving in yarn ends, this isn't the technique for you.

I think I may even start reinforcing all the main points of contact on the foot--the back of the heel, the bottom of the heel, and the ball of the foot. My Smartwools affirm wear on the ball as well:

I guess I should be impressed that they've lasted this long. Still, I'll miss them when they disintegrate off of my feet.