February 25, 2010

WIP Dancing Wrestling

The extended silence here has not been for a lack of knitting. More along the lines of excessive knitting.

I have been trying desperately to finish my gigantic log cabin blanket for the Ravelympics. It seemed like such a great idea. It would finish a giant project off, get it out of the project bag it has taken over and onto a bed where it belongs, showing off all it’s amazing garter beauty. 4002331303_c63e6a8b9b

But there were several things that I see in hindsight that I did not contemplate adequately.

A. Blankets, after a certain point (and that point usually come up quickly) are not at ALL considered portable knitting. When you are trying to rapidly finish a project and sneak in knitting time whenever and wherever possible, it is not ideal that the project in question is too large to leave the house. Other downsides to the thing getting so large? It feels like I am being swallowed by my own unfinished project. To turn back across a row requires me to nearly stand up at this point!

B. Endless garter stitch is not nearly as simple as it first appears. I thought about what projects I could do long and hard. I only had a couple WIPs that qualified for the Ravelypics and this was one of two log cabin blankets I really need to finish. Besides starting something new, which I felt would have been irresponsible given the current number of projects I have going, there were no other options. I figured that at least it was all garter stitch, so that would make it somewhat faster, and I could knit it while watching tv, movies, the internet. Mostly that has been correct. The only thing I failed to consider was that endless garter stitch can wreak havoc on the muscles needed to execute said stitch when performed for hours and hours at a time. Add to that the weight of the blanket at this  stage, and you have a first class wrist-wrencher. Ouch!

4002330785_e365095685C. I don’t know if you are familiar with the log cabin idea, but let me sum it up for you – you start with a knitted square and pick  up stitches along the edge to add a stripe, and then you cast off and do it again along another edge, and another. Round and round. The part that you should read into this is that  - IT GETS BIGGER every time. You’re thinking ‘duh’ right now aren’t you? Well, it sneaks up on you (or maybe just me) and takes you completely unawares. At some point you are going around merrily and the stripes are flying by and you are all excited and giddy about your forthcoming blanket. And then the ratio strikes. You reach a point where the stripes take longer, the picking up is an entire night’s work and the speed at which you were knitting stripes declines, throwing off your entire calculation. I need algebra to figure out the exponential increase in stripe knitting time as stitches are added. So while initially two stripes a night seemed perfectly plausible, it is no longer even remotely feasible. I can barely force my tired hands to get through one or 3/4 of one. Beware the ever-increasing stitches!

D. Some of the idea that was originally behind the knitting of a blanket like this was that I would enjoy the time it took. I knew that I would neither have the time, stamina, or yarn budget to complete the thing within an immediate time frame. I cast on fully aware and in fact embracig the idea of always having an on-going project like this, ready for when I needed simple garter stitches for tv purposes, or when I could afford another ball of yarn to add another stripe. It was all calculated into the process and I was happy about it. Somewhere along the way (perhaps in an over-zealous blog and Ravelry reading afternoon) I came up with the idea that the blanket would be the way to go. I may or may not have been drugged at the time. I believe I may still have been suffering from ptks (post traumatic knitting syndrome) brought on by my holiday run-in with the notorious seed stitch scarf. Whatever the cause, I may find myself not on a podium at the Ravelympics because of it.

I will keep trying. That is what this is all about. I am challenging myself to work through the pain in my wrists, to knit faster than I ever have before. I can’t very well give up, can I? (If that’s an option, would someone let me know?) So I will keep on, hoping to somehow miraculously finish 7 more stripes in the time left (roughly 3.5 days). I might be able to crank out 2 in the next two days, leaving the lion share for the weekend when I am home, but that would require me to knit through the entire weekend . . . not likely.

We’ll see, I’m not throwing in the towel yet, just wishing I had knit one instead.


(note: pictures are from before the recent push, so don’t reflect the (measly) progress I have made in the past two weeks)

February 9, 2010

Not So Easy Being Green

I’m not sure what I got myself into with this latest pair of socks for Keith. They started out so simply, using up a yarn in the stash that was the perfect color and a good weight. I had it all planned out – I would cast on and knit these great socks for him from Knitting Vintage Socks, and he would love them.

Except nothing else played along. I tried several different patterns, both from Vintage Socks and from More Sensational Knitted Socks, and even from the ravelry (the internets can’t lead me astray, right?). In each case, I liked the ribbed cuff and hated the way the pattern looked. At first I thought it was the pattern, so I switched that. No luck, it still looked like crappola.

I eventually (I will not admit how many restarts were attempted, a lady does not reveal such things) caught on that this yarn, Berroco Ultra Alpaca Fine, while a lovely yarn and a great green color, was not made for my socks. It lacked stitch definition, which I guess I like to see in my knitting, seeing as no variation looked right. It was splitty as well, which didn’t really bother me, but it was another strike against it when I finally decided to give up.

Still thinking I might be able to solve this problem simply, I stopped by Knitterly, the local yarn store in Petaluma on the way home from the city on Saturday. I haven’t been there in a long while, so it was a chance to peek in and see what they had. I also thought they would be a good place for a good green sock yarn. No such luck.

They had lots of yarn, lots of sock yarn, but nothing in the green I was looking for. It was disappointing. And odd that I walked out of a yarn store with nothing. So I decided I would make an extra swing by Balls and Skeins in Sebastopol. I don’t usually go there, they just aren’t my kind of place. Nothing wrong with the store and they have been helpful in the past, but they have a limited selection and just don’t compete with Cast Away for shop vibe, or Village Knitters for yarn selection. But I have a gift certificate from Christmas there, so I figured it might be worth it.

They didn’t have what I wanted either, and by that time I’m calculating in my head the number of days until Valentine’s and the pace at which I knit socks and the various other factors which could influence this time ratio . . . and decided to take a risk. I bought a less-than-great shade of Cascade Heritage sock yarn. I like their yarn. It’s priced well, is ok to knit with, and is durable for Keith.

But the closest thing they had was a wretched citron green which no guy would pick out himself.  I wouldn’t even wear socks that color, and I like almost all colors. But then I had an aha! moment. I recalled that I have been wanting to dye my own sock yarn. I had researched kool-aid dyeing and a few other techniques for hand dyeing at home and this terrible green was just the chance!


So I bought it and another skein of clearance sock yarn which I haven’t had a moment to touch given the looming Valentine’s Day deadline. I brought it home and didn’t show it to Keith, just nonchalantly put it in my basket. I didn’t have time to get to it until yesterday. On the way home I looked for kool-aid in appropriate colors while doing my weekly grocery shopping. Nothing. Arg! I hastily re-did the calculation of time remaining and promptly decided that I did not have time to check multiple stores for kool-aid flavors on the off chance I might find lemon-lime somewhere. I re-evaluated and decided that though I didn’t want to, I would have to use fabric dyes.

I stopped by the JoAnn’s and eventually settled on some options. I got a bottle of Kelly green, and powdered teal, royal blue, and navy blue. I headed home with a vague idea about how this would all work.

I started by immersing the yarn in a water/vinegar mixture for half an hour. I prepped the dyes by putting a little into separate small cups and adding vinegar and water. They all seemed dark and probably used more dye than I needed. I then laid out the yarn on plastic wrap and started dabbing these colors on with a foam brush. This method, while possibly good for un-dyed yarn, didn’t really seem to be working well for my already green yarn. So I did a little more dabbing of the darker colors, especially the blues, and then gave up.

Next, I heated water on the stove and poured it and a mixture of the various dyes into a bucket. I used a lot of the green, a little of the blues and all of the yellow in hopes that it would mix with the rest and make a more yellow green. I immersed the yarn and let it sit for maybe 10 minutes, poking at it occasionally and checking the color.

I pulled it out and was amazed by the change. While it wasn’t exactly what I was going for, it was still a great color and a vast improvement over the pastel original. I rinsed the yarn in warm to cool water baths and then wrapped it up in plastic wrap and put that in an open ziploc bag. I microwaved this bundle for one OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         minute increments with cool down in between for a total of maybe 4 minutes. Finally, I rinsed and rinsed with cool water until most of it ran clear. I wrung it out and dried it in a towel, and then hung it up on the side of the bath tub hoping for rapid drying.

I became impatient and worried about starting the socks with so little time left, that I actually pulled out the hair dryer and started gently blowing it dry! It worked and shortly I had a beautiful skein of dry, greenish yarn with hints of blues. Interestingly, the patches where I dabbed on the blues before giving up are now visible only as slightly darker areas which give great variety and depth to the over all color. Unexpected bonus!

So now I’m on track. I cast on last night for the Gentleman’s Sock in Railway Stitch from Knitting Vintage Socks and it’s looking great. I haven’t finished the cuff yet, but I am anticipating that the pattern will be more defined than with the Berroco.

Now, can I knit out two of these in roughly 5 days with work and a fresh round of thesis editing in progress? I think I can!

February 4, 2010

Knitting Frenzy

I don’t know what it is recently that is bringing this on, but i have become a fiend. I am only interested in knitting, I talk about it constantly, and I have more projects actively going than I ever have before. I’m excited to be into something this much, but at the same time it scares me a little. Will it somehow wear off and leave me high and dry with a million unfinished projects and no desire to complete them? I’m not sure.

I thinks it’s the post-thesis free time. I turned in the completed draft about a week ago and since then the free time has multiplied exponentially. It’s misleading when I say it like that though. I hardly ever worked on the thesis at home, only in the last few weeks of pushing to get it wrapped up. I compartmentalized it at work and tried not to bring it home too often for my own sanity. It worked well and I think I did a good job of navigating the stressful process. So what do I mean by all this free time then?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I think I mean mental free time. While I may not have been physically working on the thesis, I was mentally focused on it. I would think about it in the shower, in bed, watching movies. It was always there, in the background, waiting. I liken it to a refrigerator (I know, weird, stay with me). You don’t really think about the refrigerator most of the time, just when you are actively hungry or want something, but it’s always there in the background humming. My thesis was like that.

Now that the humming has ceased, my brain suddenly finds itself with crazy amounts of ‘free time’ in which to contemplate all kinds if wacky projects. So while I am constantly scheming about knitting, other things such a making my own cheese and yogurt, building a chicken coop, and rigging complicated bike pulley systems in the high-ceilinged kitchen have also wormed their way in within the last week. It’s crafty overtime in there.

I appear to be lucky that this has only manifested itself in an increase of knitting projects thus far. Next week might find me elbow deep in milk and live cultures desperately hoping that they form the thick gooiness that I love to eat. So counting the projects I intend to return and work on in the next month or so, I now have 7 in progress. Yikes.

There is also the possibility that the weather has had something to do with this obsession. Currently it’s pouring outside and has been quite rainy over the past few weeks. I think I am getting a little stir crazy from having to spend so much time indoors. I want to be out in the garden or hiking around, or riding my brand new bike. Instead I am stuck inside and constantly dreaming up new projects.

I think I’ll go work on one right now. If I keep my hands busy, they will not be tempted to browse ravelry for yet more new projects.

February 1, 2010

Stealthily Socking

So instead of working on the seemingly endless projects I have going right now – shawls, Michelle’s sweater, or 2 blankets, I pulled out my sock books and plotted a second pair of socks for Keith. I rationalized it as a Valentine’s gift that will need to be finished before the 14th. But I’m still not really certain that was the reasoning behind it.

I love knitting socks. It satisfies every need that I require of knitting in one easy, small, portable project. Socks are my go to comfort project. They require me to pay attention, to concentrate, to precisely measure my gauge and the wearer’s foot. In short, they force me into good knitting habits. There are a whole host of other reasons that I enjoy knitting socks however:

1. They are usually intricate and detailed. I love watching all those tiny little stitches move around the small shiny needles.

2. They are one of the best ways to show someone just how much you love them. While any knitted gift is good for this, socks (to those in the know - as in they have watched a knitter moving the aforementioned tiny stitches around on those toothpick-sized needles and heard the indelicate cursing under their breath) are by far the best. Alternately, they also appear to be a very valuable gift when calculated by cost of yarn and human hours spent knitting. Everyone always asks me how much I could charge for a pair of socks, and I explain in detail that no one would ever pay what it would costs me to make a beautiful pair of socks with hand-painted yarn to fit the wearer. (estimate $20 for the skein of yarn, and then what? even at a sadly underpaid wage, they would still come out above $50 and who pays that for socks?).

3. The wide-eyed look of fear the 5 DPN needles and the tube of fine-gauge yarn gives the uninitiated. It is a great way to improve your knitting reputation. The minute you pull out that little mess of tiny needles and fine yarn, people are fascinated. They seem to be able to grasp straight knitting somehow, but in the round makes them nervous.

4. The feel (and knowing that those you knit socks for will also feel) the warm, squishy soft feeling of wearing them. For awhile, I only had a couple pairs of hand knit socks for myself (they were too costly to give away to just anyone!) and I wore them sparingly. I had rules, like only when I was really cold, only around the house, only without shoes that would wear them out faster. I followed these until one day I just gave myself a mental scolding. What was I waiting for? What was the point of knitting them if I didn’t wear them? What did I think was going to happen? That they would wear out? That was the beauty of it, if they wore out I could knit more! And since I love knitting socks, was that such a bad thing?


5. The secret joy of walking around wearing hand knit socks. I liken this to the feeling you get when you wear fancy underwear beneath your normal clothes. You know it’s there, and no one else (or at least not anyone you haven’t specifically chosen to show it to) does. It’s a little personal secret.

6. The extreme warmth. I am a constantly cold person. I cannot get warm in the hottest places, and forget about ever having warm feet in the middle of January. Hand-knit socks are the closest I can get to being really warm. If I curl up in may fleece pajamas with a pair on, I can achieve almost perfect warmness. For that, I love the socks most of all.

It makes me happy knowing Keith appreciates my knitting, and socks most of all. He wears them frequently around the house and I want him to have a few pairs so that he too can move beyond the ‘special wear only’ taboo. He rarely asks me for anything knit, but I know he likes them. So these will be a good gift if I don’t blow the secret.