Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Letter to my Knitting Goddesses

Dear Ann and Kay,

It must be interesting being a knitting luminary. On the one hand, you're relegated to the local morning talk shows (I wish I'd known you'd be on KING-5 yesterday morning between the traffic and the weather), but on the other hand you have the capability to make a normally-normal high school English teacher get all kerfluffled and give you a bag of coffee and make it sort of sound like she sort of doesn't like your books when in fact she practically has them memorized.

So since you've been busy and haven't had the chance to catch up to yourselves blog-wise, yet, I thought I'd write to you about last night's reading at the University Bookstore in Seattle.

(I must say that you did look just a TETCH tired last night. Who wouldn't be? Being on a book tour must be like Cro-Kay-ing a border all the way around a big blanket: a bit tedious, kind of daunting, but secretly satisfying.)

They had us stashed in Poetry, which I hope made your literature-loving hearts happy. (Has anyone else noticed that Colin Firth is looking more and more like Robert Lowell every day?) And, of course, they totally didn't have enough chairs. And the AV didn't work. But who needs AV when you've got a whole table full of handknits to show off? I ask you.

Anyway, you two talked about how you met...had some nice patter about being on the road...and then shared about your vision for your books: to create a kind of knitting book that wasn't there before.

This stopped me short. I looked down at the hat I was knitting (a striped Noro/Cascade 220 number) and I thought. Huh. Never before.

Because, to me, you guys are the Ur-Text. Your book is Lucy.

As I mentioned in my unfortunate schoolgirl blather while standing in front of you at that table last night, yours was the first knitting book I ever bought.

In college, I learned to knit from my neighbor, but I really only ever considered hats. I made four, got frustrated, and stopped. (Ye Olde Demon Gauge was the culprit, as he so often is.) I knew there were books out there for crafters: books on sewing, quilting, embroidery, cross-stitch. I had spent hours and hours of my childhood and adolescence perusing my grandmother's collection of Better Homes and Gardens craft books, circa 1975, full (as you can guess) of LOVELY crocheted THINGS. I myself owned several books about quilting, which was my first crafting love. But knitting books just didn't OCCUR to me. And then I set down the needles for those intervening eight years.

Meanwhile, there was this whole world out there about which I had no idea.

And you guys wanted to revolutionize it from within.

Meanwhile, I picked up your book on a whim, and just thought that's how the world was. (No wonder so many other books have been disappointing to me.) You assumed that I (your reader) was smart, functional, creative, dedicated, whimsical, and had a good sense of humor. You recommended all of the right books to me (I owe you BIG TIME for Maggie Righetti and Elizabeth Zimmermann) and you showed me how to knit baby kimonos and ballband dishcloths. You introduced me to Good Yarn and told me why it was important; you also introduced me to dishcloth cotton, which shows that Good and Cheap are not Mutually Exclusive. You made me laugh (your captions are the best) and you made me think and--best of all--you inspired me to knit, which I've done nearly every day since I picked up your book and perused the internets for a video that would teach me this mysterious and arcane Casting-On-of-the-Long-Tail Maneuver.

So, I hope you had a great time in Seattle and got to see more than your hotel and the airport. We didn't lie when we told you that the weather's not always that nice, but I do think that we all appreciate it that much more when it is gorgeous. I hope you enjoy your Tony's coffee (roasted right here in Bellingham) and I'm sorry I didn't think to bring you a ziplock bag so you could divvy it up.

If I were standing in front of you again, I'd add the following items:

  1. Your books are actually precious to me. And that whole story about me not putting my name in book 1 and thinking I might send it back, which I'm afraid came out a little bass-ackwards, was actually intended to make the point that I really fell in love with it and read it over and over and I couldn't believe tonight that I never HAD put my name in it and so I did and now it has rubber stamps of you two and that makes me inordinately joyful.
  2. The hat I'm knitting is juicy and blah for you, Kay, and the same color of Cascade 220 as your Perfect Sweater, Ann. Is that weird, coincidence, or fate? Discuss.
    (Not an option: stalker.)
  3. I want to knit a Margaret Sweater and embroider the First Amendment on it--I teach journalism, too.
  4. Oh, and I actually have read your entire blog archive.
    (Again: not a stalker. I was a nursing mom at the time. I also read all of the Yarn Harlot and about half of Grumperina until she pissed me off.)
  5. And I am knitting REAL fair isle for the first time.
  6. Thanks.

Monday, October 13, 2008


It fits! And it looks good! And I wore it! And I sweated! And it was fabulous!

And on Tuesday...I get to meet Kay and Ann.

Dreams do come true.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

So far, so Good

The mods on the Aquatic Raglan are going really well so far. I stayed up far too late last night hoping I could finish the ribbing and wear it today...but it might be tomorrow instead. I'm about 1.5 inches from the end. We are driving down to Bellevue today to visit some friends, so if I'm the passenger I'll definitely finish in the car. I plan on using the 2x2 rib invisible bindoff again; it's a big fussy, but the elasticity is a huge benefit for top-down sweaters! (It's not really "invisible" when done in a bulky yarn like Pastaza, but that's OK.)

One other mod I made that I forgot to list yesterday was to add a 10-st panel of 2x2 ribbing under the arms. For some reason, Japel's pattern doesn't have you cast off an inch's worth of sts under the arms like other top-down patterns; that means that you get a weird armpit bunching effect. That plus the too-big-ness of the body gave me wings that flapped out onto my back, like wearing a too-small bra and getting the dreaded bulge. Definitely not flattering. So, inspired by this top-down sweater on Ravelry, I ribbed under the arms as another way of getting the shaping I want.

(I always thought that was a great character detail on The Sopranos--how Carmela always had bra bulge. All that money and no taste.)

I tried it on twice again last night (use your head to save your feet, as Grandpa always says) and it is fitting SO MUCH BETTER! Can't wait to finish and redeem it from the land of UGH!

Pictures soon once I charge up the camera batteries. Could be a FO by the end of the weekend...just in time for the weather to turn! We've had frost the last two mornings.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Second Draft.

I wouldn't be a good English teacher if I didn't believe in the power of some ruthless editing to improve a creative work. It appears that my frustrations with the aquatic raglan, although justifiable, were not as dire as they seemed.

At first, I decided to unravel it completely. Before I did so, though, I spent some time on Ravelry looking for a suitable pattern for repurposing the yarn. Turns out there aren't many sweater designs in Pastaza--the most popular is, ironically, the pattern I'd already knit. The yarn is a heavy worsted/Aran weight (8 wpi) so I would have to do some serious maths to reuse it on any other patterns. I also swatched for the Counterpane Pullover, but that one is designed for a bulky weight yarn (7 wpi) and I couldn't get gauge.

So. Either I was going to make a sweater of my own design, or I was going to rework the one I already had. Since the pattern was already a basic top-down recipe, it seemed silly to re-do it as a different plain-vanilla top-down. An EZ style seamless raglan from the bottom up seemed reasonable, but also a bit redundant.

Who's the boss of this sweater anyway? I thought. The neck, shoulders, and arms fit great. The issues come lower down, with the body itself. And since it is top-down construction, that area is the easiest to redo.

I looked again at my problem areas.

#1: the chest. I made the 40" size. Now, my chest DOES measure around 39", but the 40" was just too big. I think I wanted some negative ease. and shaping but didn't really know it. I have relatively broad shoulders, but my chest is more compact now (I also started the sweater way back when I was still nursing Miss E, so the assets have, shall we say, resumed their previous upright positions.) I didn't want to do a bunch of decreasing because that might give it a triangular shape. Easy fix: switch from a size 10.5 to a size 9 needle. Let gauge be my friend. It looks slightly wonky where I made the change, but I think it will block out.

#2: the ribbing. It started too low. Easy fix: start it higher.

#3: the length. It was too long and hit me weird across what EZ referred to as "what we euphemistically call 'the hips.'" Easy fix: stop sooner.

I took a deep breath, unraveled up to the place where the body began, steamed the yarn, rewound the balls, and started the body again. I've tried it on twice (no pics yet) and am pleased with the solutions so far; I finished the bust area and am about 2 inches into the ribbing.

Cross your fingers... It might still be a keeper.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

To finish or not to finish?

I've got a lot in the hopper right now. I'm trying to finish up a bunch of projects, kind of cleanse the palate. This goes for work, too. Keeping up, clearing off, moving on: that's my ever-moving target.

The hardest thing for me to do is to know when to say when, when to say no. To a knitting project, a friend's favor, a job opportunity. I tend to try to do everything, to fit it all in, to see the plenty, the abundance. For the most part this suits me well.

Take these Muscari socks, for instance. I started them in great zeal last summer and really zoomed along. Then, somehow, when I got to the second heel, I couldn't find the notes I'd made on my modifications. My gauge was nowhere near the 10 sts per inch called for in the pattern, so I had to rework the directions for the short-row heel. Not a big deal, but enough to keep me from picking up sock two. So they've languished in the basket, while many other small and not-so-small projects have been finished (and started).

I like these socks. They're fun. They're colorful. (The yarn, FYI, is KnitPicks Felici, Coney Island colorway.) They will make me smile. I should finish them. I will. They might not be the first thing finished, but it will happen eventually. There is room in my life (and my sock drawer) for these stripey bits of sunshine; the problem is technical, not fundamental.

The ugly hated sweater, though, is a harder nut to crack.

On the one hand, it's done. It's wearable. It's warm. I spent $75 and a few months making it.

But, unlike the Muscaris, this one I really need to frog. I would rather start over than look at it every time I open my closet. It was an AFGO; another f-ing growth opportunity. I now know much more about what style suits me, and what doesn't; to trust my gut about a project's relative worth and fit; to measure myself more accurately. (Although, the measurement is still right. I think it's just the proportions of my body that I didn't take into account, and the fact that I like a bit of negative ease.)

I have some leftover yarn that I can use for swatching while I try to decide on another project. I was thinking Pam Allen's Counterpane Pullover. I'm really taken by the construction of this pullover, I think it would suit my body, and it's knit in a bulky yarn.

What I don't know is whether an alpaca/wool blend like Pastaza is appropriate. Anyone care to chime in?