Sunday, December 31, 2006

Swimming in yarn

Sometimes your family really amazes you.

I've been the lone "crafty" member of my family my whole life. My sister is passionate about cooking and my mother used to draw, but no one got into the sewing/embroidery/quilting/decoupage/whatever quite as much as I did. They have a mild interest but not a defining passion. Meanwhile, I had a subscription to a quilting magazine at age 12, did cross-stitch from age 14, and made a yo-yo quilt in high school by hand.

So when I asked for yarn for Christmas, the family responded. Mom bought me the new Tracey Ullman knitting book and took me yarn shopping at a LYS in Spokane--more about that adventure in a minute. Megs ordered me six skeins of Noro Kureyon in an amazing red/pink colorway, plus a "What Would Jane Knit?" bag from (because my other passion is, of course, reading, Jane Austen being my favorite. I love this design so much that I want to order all the rest of the merchandise and wear nothing else for months and months). And Dad simply made a stash enhancing contribution and I'm dreaming of the possibilities. Since we haven't had our Christmas exchange with the in-laws yet, I don't know whether the (knitting) joy will multiply.

My knitted gifts were well received, too. I hadn't realized just how many little gifties I had made until they were all opened on Christmas morning. M was floored by his Thuja socks and wore them all day. I completely surprised him with those. The armwarmers, scarves, and warshcloths all found good homes.

We had ended up changing our holiday plans at the last minute, packing up the kids and heading for Spokane rather than welcoming my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and niece here in Bellingham. My folks had both planned to purchase me gift certificates to a LYS here, so were left partially giftless. Dad went the "convertible" route while Mom proposed an after-Christmas expedition. Megs had noticed a yarn store near her home on the north side, so on the 27th us girls (Mom, Megs, me, and babies E and G) packed up and headed off for Allinda's Knitting Boutique.

I have never seen such a place.

The carpet was burnt orange and smelled like it had been there since the store opened in 1978. The pattern bins were a treasure trove of early '80's style as interpreted in acrylic yarn. (Stitchy McYarnpants should hop on a plane for Spokane RIGHT NOW.) The stock leaned heavily toward Plymouth acrylic blends, much of it hearkening back to the '80's as well. But tucked in between the old and the musty were good quality, stout yarns. I found Cascade 220 and bought my first skeins of that to make the girl from auntie's celtic cap. I saw a scarf knitted in Kureyon but didn't see any in stock. I found real Peaches & Cream (Kay and Ann would be so proud) and bought three balls for $1.75 each. And, ready to make my first foray into sock-knitting for myself, I bought some forest green Norwegian Silja yarn and size 4 Inox metal circulars. (I'm slowly working my way down to fingering weight...)

Allinda herself was the real capper, though. She was a little Swedish lady--my sister pegged the accent right away--in her late 60's or early 70's. Friendly, helpful and just the right amount of bossy, I earned her approval when shopping for sock yarn. As she hovered over my shoulder explaining about self-striping yarn, I mentioned I'd just knitted my first pair of socks. "You made them with two circulars, of course," she said, in a manner that brooked no argument, that assumed correctness, that implied a test. When I, blushing, confirmed her guess, she clapped me on the back and said, approvingly, "Good girl."

So while the babies played in the corner with my sister, I wandered the aisles and made my final choices. After Allinda totalled my purchase--by HAND, of course--and corrected my mother's pronunciation of her own name, Sigrid, she disappeared into the stockroom and returned with a blue tote bag just the right size for my yarn.

I don't know if I'll return to Allinda's, since I'm sure a city the size of Spokane must have some more, um, contemporary yarn stores...but, then again, how can I not?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Knitters unite!

I had a lovely knitters' Christmas with thoughtful gifts from one and all. I will post photos soon!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Six Weird Things

Well, I had a whole Christmas presents/presence entry clanging around in my brain, but since it needs a bit more processing, I'll take the keyboard biologist's dare and post some weird things about me. I can't promise six.

1. When I was a child, and much more flexible than today, I used to bite my toenails. (Everybody: ewwwww!) This continued until I was hygeine-aware enough to think, yuck, feet in my mouth? This has, luckily, not translated to a foot fetish of any sort, although my (own) feet are still my favorite body part.

2. The most favorite thing I have ever bought was our new dishwasher. I researched it, picked it out, and now love to do dishes. Really.

3. In college, I had life-size cutouts of Han Solo and Jean-Luc Picard in my dorm room. Besides announcing to the world that I was either a) extremely uncool or b) too cool to care whether I looked cool (you can decide which), they also provided the side effect of scaring the crap out of people walking by--a real conversation starter. When I drove the 400 miles home for the summer, I placed Jean-Luc and Han so they were peeking out my rear windows. Made I-90 almost fun.

4. I did not see the Atlantic Ocean until I was 27, unless you include flying over it.

5. My first car was a 1977 Dodge Aspen that I bought for a dollar from my grandmother. I actually liked driving it because I could just leave it unlocked and not care. It was baby-poop yellow, had three-on-the-tree manual transmission, and had no power steering. Her name was the Sunshine Mobile.

6. I am a Christian and I am a Democrat. I also see no problem reconciling creation and evolution. This may not seem weird to everyone, but it sure did to people in my church growing up, which has led to an extreme fear reaction whenever I start to get involved at a church.

I made it to six!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Up in arms

My wrists are feeling better. Thank goodness.

It never ceases to amaze me how much of my daily life is affected when something is wrong with my hands. Even a hangnail can make daily tasks, if not miserable, at least challenging. So late Thursday night, as I hauled, er, gently lifted, Baby E from her co-sleeper into bed with me to nurse, bending my wrists all cattywampus while doing so, I had this uncommonly clear thought for the middle of the night: Your hands and wrists are a delicate machine. Take care of them.

So I did. No knitting, little typing, mouse with the left, no cutting with knives, no extra pressure. I even had M open my ibuprofen bottle for me.

What's worse is that I just itched to knit on Friday and Saturday, forced myself to forgo the needles until Sunday afternoon, and then I limited myself to an hour. I want to be one of those little old ladies still churning out the stuff when I'm 90, not wailing in my hospital bed about my carpal tunnel.

That said, the final orange toe is taunting me from its hiding place under the dresser...Must Finish. Must Move On! But no more 6-hour marathon sessions.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Twelve Inches of Margin

Twelve inches, or thereabouts. That's how much Cappucino yarn was left over after unraveling Sock One's toe to finish out the foot of Sock Two. Big sigh of relief.

Sock One now has a charming contrast toe and Sock Two's is in progress.

Which brings me to the worrisome part of this post.

My wrists are hurting. Hurting to the point of not wanting to use them, of wincing when I pick up Baby E, of feeling all the time a low grade buzz and pull. I was trying to deny it, to keep knitting, but I must take a break. I'm hoping a couple of days off will do the trick.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Most Expensive Socks in the World

Socks for Christmas. That was the idea, a month ago when I impulse-bought the yarn to make Knitty's Thuja socks for M.

Things I Have Learned:

1. When impulse-shopping online, make sure you buy the right number of skeins.
2. Seems self-evident, but I've learned How to Make a Sock. Including heel stitch, heel turn, gusset, picking up stitches, toe, and kitchener. Whew, and Yay!
3. Sock making, even when Extremely Frustrating, is also AWESOME.
4. When you slink shamefacedly into your LYS to purchase another skein of Artyarns Supermerino since the internet source for your original yarn has totally let you down in the third skein department and you need to finish these socks SOON (because shapeless mass of yarn on Addi Turbos doesn't quite give that Holiday Vibe) your almost-four-year-old will pick a color you never dreamed of for the new contrast toes and it will look AWESOME.
5. That trick about threading a lifeline when ripping back is a great one. And really works.

Since my LYS didn't have the original color I was using (Cappucino 137), and I wouldn't probably have ended up with the same dyelot, anyway, I decided to rip out the toe on sock #1 and do a contrast toe. Mr. D chose a bright, warm orange which looks wonderful with the warm variegated browns and cocoas and creams of the Cappucino.

I threaded a lifeline:

Ripped out the toe:

And ended up with this:

Will it be enough? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Milestones, Knitting & Otherwise

I've had so many posts bopping around in my head that I'm amazed I did not post in the past week.

It's been a week of milestones:

1. I have nearly finished My First Socks. They are a gift for M and are the Thuja pattern from Knitty. I'm a bit nervous, because I ordered one too few skeins and then quick ordered another, and it's been two weeks. assures me that #3 shipped, but I am still nervous. Because it would just be horrible if I did this huge knitting task, including learning how to turn heels, do gussets, and then one sock stayed undone. Or had to be done in a different colorway. My LYS carries the Artyarns Supermerino, but didn't have the color I used (Cappucino 137). Since M. wears khaki pants nearly every day--nothing covers the detritus of third grade like khaki--this yummy light brown was just the ticket. Here's hoping it arrives SOON.

2. I received my first box from KnitPicks. It took almost a week...I couldn't figure out why, because they are located only about 250 miles away, in Vancouver, Wash, but then when the box came I realized that their distribution center is in the Midwest. Ah. I ordered sock yarn (two colors) and some sportweight cashmere blend for moebius scarves. I also ordered their new teeny circulars (sizes 2 and 3) for sock-making purposes. I do love my few Addis, but these are a bit more affordable, and I've heard good things from the blogosphere. We'll see.

3. Baby E had her First Plane Ride. We flew to Spokane to celebrate #4 below. She did wonderfully on three out of four of the flights--when we were able to nurse during takeoff she was a champ, but on the hot and squished-between-two-businessmen flight to Spokane from Seattle, her latent Irishness surfaced and bansheeing ensued. Lucky it was only an hour.

4. My grandmother turned 90 and the family turned out en masse: all seven of her children plus spouses, nine of ten grandchildren, and nine of ten great-grands. (Yes, that means that D was the only absent great-grand.) The party made the front page of the Daily Bee and about half the town turned out, or so it seeemd. GH was exhausted--she IS 90, after all. It is so hard to see her in a wheelchair.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

My life, my (new) blog

I like the idea of seeing people's real handwriting. I think handwriting says a lot about a person.

I first saw this over at Fricknits.

I am not going to apologize for the semi-unflattering photo, even though that was, sadly, was my first instinct...I absolutely love this picture of baby E and me on her first day in the world. Considering I had just given birth for the second time with no drugs and/or epidural, I think I look pretty damn good! Why use drugs when you can have endorphins?

Mason-Dixon Madness

Back last April or May, I impulse-bought a book from Crafters Choice. (Crafter's Choice? Crafters' Choice? Crap, I should know this, I'm a friggin' English teacher!) Something about the cover art spoke to me. I still don't know why I did it--I was a long-lapsed, not-very-skilled knitter--but I'm so glad I did.

Behold, the fruits of weeks/months of warshcloth knitting, Mason-Dixon style:

I've actually made a few more than this, but three are in use in our kitchen, two were given as hostess gifts, one went to my mom when I was visiting in October, and one was a birthday gift to our artist friend Heather. (How flattering it was to have her open and say, "Wow, I could never do that!") My favorite ones were black "background" and forest green bricks, with a one-stripe dash of a hot green/blue/yellow ombre (Sugar & Cream Summer Splash)

These are my holiday warshcloths:

and...wait for it...
My First Intarsia!!!!

I took a leaf from Kay's Warshcloth Madness (scroll down to June 2's entry) and tried my first little block of is so fun. I'm fascinated by how the black background makes the color come forward while the white background makes each color recede.

I'm really on a black/white kick with the backgrounds, seeing how the various colors play together. No more matchy-matchy like I started with (orange ombre with orange background, etc). Besides the fact that you start to "lose" colors because the slip stitches sometimes don't show, it's kind of boring, kind of safe, kind of Dana. At $1.99 a ball, I can afford to be a little crazy! And I owe this pattern for teaching me to purl.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Gauge Woes

I finished the Noro armwarmers, only to discover two things:

1. I grew to like the yarn more and more as I worked with it, getting more comfortable and facile with its squishy wooly goodness.
2. The left armwarmer, knitted second, is almost an inch longer AND looser-fitting.

This means that I probably was getting actual gauge there by the end (and the fabric looks better and the armwarmer fits better, too...) So now I'm stuck wondering if I should a) unravel #1 and reknit or b) start over on the right one, aiming to match the colorway better?

I'm leaning toward b) but the choice feels daunting, because it means committing to another project whilst trying to finish some secret squirrel projects for Christmas. What to do?


Friday, December 01, 2006

Ganseys as Social Rebellion

I just bought my first issue of Interweave Knits magazine. So many ideas, so little knitting time (and, er, ability/experience).

In the magazine was an article about the "fishing lasses" of Scotland's coasts, who would leave home for months each year to travel with the fishing boats gutting the catches. They wore large oilskin aprons and hand-knitted fishing ganseys. (I wish I could include a photo, but don't have a scanner, and I can only find images of mens' ganseys online.)

I found the article quite poignant, as the author explained the care and worksmanship of these knitted sweaters, which had elbow-length sleeves. She described how the women would work different stitch patterns--presumably for warmth as well as fun--and even incorporated details of the fashions of the day, such as slightly puffed sleeves.

It made me humble to think of these women, whose jobs were a thousand times more demanding than mine, working and working to create clothing that approached being stylish. (Because you know these gals weren't exactly getting off the boat and going to the tea party at Lady Whozit's.) Lovely as the detailing was, it only underscored the social distance between their lives wading in fish guts and the lives of the aristocracy. What would be the modern-day parallel? Inner city girl wearing Payless knockoff shoes?

Now, knitting pretty much exists as a middle class hobby. Like sewing one's own clothing, knitting's really more expensive than purchasing readymade, especially if you use good yarn. It's a crying shame that our crafts, our arts, are no longer financially accessible to the masses. Now that they are "hip," not everyone can do them.

Craft must become elevated to become art, to become respected, to be reclaimed from the dustbin of "work", of "women's work", of necessity. I get that. And I bow in admiration of the gansey-knitters, making beauty out of fish guts. Makes me wonder why I've taken up this hobby.

Ultimately, a hobby like knitting, quilting, or even, hey, blogging provides the ever-elusive room of one's own. Those women knitting the ganseys weren't doing it to submit the patterns to knitty. They did it to find themselves, to challenge their minds, to impress their friends, to create something beautiful out of a long string.

And, fundamentally, to have something warm to wear on the deck of a fishing boat off the coast of Scotland so they could earn a living.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Happy final day of Norovember!
These are the something something Spring armwarmers from Stitch & Bitch Nation. Hurry Up Spring? Spring Get Here Already? Hey, Spring, You Bastid, Where Ya Been? Something like that. Anyway, they are a gift for my sister-in-law, she of the Perpetually Cold Appendages. The idea is that she could wear them in the cold cold lecture halls and still be able to take notes. (And, to be perfectly candid, I wanted to buy some of this-a-here yarn I been hearing so much about on the internets.)

I'm finished with the right one and about 33-50% done with the left. The left is going more quickly, I guess that makes sense, and I think my gauge is better, too. The pattern calls for size 7s but apparently I am a tight knitter. I'm trying for a more zen-like approach.

Interesting side note: I was kind of disappointed with the stitch definition in the cable/leaf panel on the first one. It didn't look as clear as in the pictures in the book--I thought it was just because I chose a darker yarn, or was knitting too tight. But the stitch pattern looks really clear in my photograph, so I guess it must be a Light Thing rather than a My Knitting thing. Whew.

I don't even remember who organized Norovember, but this is my contribution. Better late than never.

Why o why won't Blogger let me title my entries?

I've done what it asked...downloaded Firefox to work with my creaky Mac...I'm even dragging out my HTML book from last year's web design class to look at ways to modify my page. I want to be a writer online. And I want to use titles.

Ah well. maybe this is Blogger's way of saying, "You can hang on the periphery of this community, missy, but you gots to prove yourself."

Sort of like knitting. Many are the dilettantes in the knitworld. The one scarfers. The garter-stitchers. The three-hatters (as I was; let's not remember the Christmas yarmulke as Hat V1.0.) These people are to be disdained by the bloggers.

Knitting is so personally satisfying, and so should writing be. So am I joining this "community" for me, or to find others? I love reading about others' work; I love the idea that mini-essays and photo-essays can spring up at all times. That I can, as Lucille Clifton said about her poetry, hold an idea in my head all day and write it down at night when the kids are in bed. (That's why, she said, her poems were all so short.)

Why, then, do I keep convincing myself that I shouldn't or can't or won't write? I love to write. I am a published writer. I teach other people how to write.

When I wanted to knit, I bought yarn and needles.

I want to write.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Scarf That Started It All

Ok, technically it was a teeny sweater that started it all. Or, waaaay back in 1997, a neighbor's knitted hat that started it all.

But this scarf is where I really caught the bug.

I had been reading and knitting and reading patterns and knitting and learning as much as I could--absorbing this craft in great theoretical gulps--and I wanted to learn to cable. I bought two skeins of this brown Lion WoolEase and went to work on a cabled scarf of my own design for M.

What I love about it:
1. I designed it.
2. M will wear it. He likes it.
3. I love the chocolatey color. I've since learned that all the cool knitters despise WoolEase the same way the cool girls at school, wearing their REAL Keds, despised the imitation Keds from ShopKo, but it's cozy, was an inexpensive tryout, and gave me cable confidence. Not bad for $5 at Jo-Anns.

What I'd change:
1. the seed-stitch-to-cables transition is a little, um, ruffly. Since it was my first cabling experience, I didn't know about the whole pulling in thing. Next time I'd just start in the cable pattern unless it were a scarf for a woman.
2. I'd figure out how to make it reversible, an important scarf quality about which I was semi-ignorant. Melissa Leapman's new book shows how to do this. I don't actually own this book yet, but, oh yes, it will be mine.