Saturday, January 31, 2009

Crack Me Up Saturday--"Rocket Balloons"?

Younger Son brought these "Rocket Balloons" home from the store the other day.

Am I the only one who's not seeing rockets?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Aran Angst

Bertha was kind enough to model the Aran-in-progress for me this morning. As you can see, the back and both fronts are done and sewn together. As you can probably also see, it is running a bit small.

It will still fit--I think--thanks to this:

That's a whole lot of ribbing, and fortunately, it's very stretchy. I've tried this on, and it will seems like it will close, but it's going to be a lot more fitted than I intended.

Other than the sizing, I'm really happy with the way it's turning out. I've planned all along to close this with a zipper, but I am debating whether I should add some sort of zipper band to give it a little extra width across the front. I think the fronts turned out about an inch narrower than they should have. It's surprisingly difficult to get an accurate gauge measurement over a cabled surface until it is finished and sewn up and blocked (I steam blocked these pieces before sewing them together). In fact, it's not all that easy to get an accurate measurement even after it's all sewn up, which is why I only think the fronts are somewhat narrow, and I'm not sure that I need a zipper band.

That little gap on the side seam is deliberate. It occurred to me as I was sewing that on-seam pockets would be nice. I love to wear sweaters, but it's a pain not to have pockets. This sweater is sturdy enough to handle pockets, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

To keep the pockets from gaping open and ruining the lines, I will insert zippers to close them. At least this is my plan. If it turns out to be too much trouble, I can always forget the pockets and sew up the seams.

Now I just have to work out the sleeves. The pattern calls for bottom-up sleeves, knitted flat and sewn in. This sounds like a lot of trouble to me, and ribbed sleeves are notoriously difficult to sew into the armhole neatly, so I decided to pick up and knit down, shaping the sleeve cap with short rows. This means no sewing, and I can get the sleeves exactly the right length. But it also means I have to figure out the short rows for the shoulder, and I do not excel at this. Actually, I'm kind of wishing I had another project on the needles so that I could avoid thinking about it for a while. But I don't, so if you hear swearing and whining from the lower left corner of the country tonight, you'll know I'm knitting.

Here We Go Again

Remember this?

This was my ill-fated Autumn Leaves. Great yarn, great pattern, not so great together. Like ketchup and peanut butter. After taking this picture, I buried it at the bottom of a stack of sweaters and moved on. But I find it difficult to accept failure, so I thought I'd try at least fixing the color. I threw it in the dyepot with some brown RIT dye. Oddly, the dye didn't cover the existing color; it just sort of darkened and toned it down. Here's the after:

I think it's...better. Here's a closeup of the new color:

I'm still not sure about the style. I can't decide whether it's sort of cute or really frumpy, like a housecoat.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Aran Report

Is anyone else starting to feel that updates on the Aran Cardigan are becoming a regular feature on this blog? Most of my projects don't have power. Here's today's picture:

That's two fronts and an almost completed back. It's possible my love affair with rough brown yarn is beginning to wane. Ten million rows of 3x3 ribbing can have that effect on a person. Since the sleeves--all both of them--are also 3x3 ribbing, I'm starting to play games with myself to keep it interesting. Games like: "How many rows can I knit during the next set of commercials? How many rows can I knit without looking at my knitting? How many rows can I knit behind my back?" [Remember the scene in "Amadeus" where Mozart is playing the piano upside down and backwards? That's next.] But seeing the approach of the end of the endless back is heartening and may give me the strength to tackle the first sleeve, at least.

But while my urge to knit with rough brown yarn is fading, apparently my urge to spin with it is not. Check this out:

That is a lot of roving from my beloved Beaverslide Dry Goods. There was a reason for this, which seemed perfectly logical at the time. I was drooling over the various yarns on their website, as I am inclined to do on a regular basis, when I saw on the sale page that they were offering "natural black" roving for a truly amazing price. Being me, I quickly determined that I could buy and spin the roving and end up with about the same worsted weight yarn that they also sell on the website for a mere fraction of what it would cost me to buy the already-spun yarn. And I would get the added entertainment value of spinning it myself. Although I am (nominally, anyway) in a stash-abatement period, fiber does not count as stash, since I don't have any real fiber stash to speak of. I whipped out the American Express and ordered way too much roving.

Alas, when the roving arrived, I was sorely disappointed. It was a) not black at all, or even mixed charcoal grey, as described on the website, but rather a dark, chocolatey brown (which I love, but dudes, there is a limit to how much brown yarn I can possibly use); b) not even remotely like the the yarn I so love in texture, but instead coarse and very, very springy; and c) well, just too much.

But I decided it wasn't fair to judge it so harshly without even testing it, so I spun up the equivalent of a swatch:

I didn't much enjoy spinning this, truth be told. I am spoiled from spinning commercially-prepared super-soft merino, alpaca, and silk rovings. This is a much-closer-to-the-sheep sort of fiber. It doesn't slip easily through my fingers while I draft, and there is no way I could ever make this stuff spin up smoothly. But after plying and washing it, it's starting to grow on me. Although it's not as soft as Beaverslide yarn, it's no rougher than the fishermen's wool I'm using for the Aran Cardigan. It has a nice springiness to it, and I suspect I will eventually decide it's just perfect for some future project. I'm not in a great rush to spin up this monster pile of fiber, but I imagine it will gradually fill up my spinning basket.

I realize this post is getting much too long, but I do want to show you one more thing before I go:

This is the swatch I knitted up for Wisteria, from the merino-silk roving I've been spinning. You can see that even knitting it didn't completely tame the lumpiness of the yarn. I've decided to call it "character" and move on. The good news is, I am getting gauge! I had pretty serious doubts about that, since the yarn seemed significantly heavier than worsted weight, but perhaps it's just fluffy. The swatch has a nice drape, even worked up on size 6 needles to give me 18 stitches to four inches, so I think Wisteria is a go!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Winter in San Diego

Ever wonder what you do for fun in the winter when you live where there's no snow? No sledding, no snowball fights, no snowmen? Well, if you live in San Diego, you go to the Zoo.

(Note the t-shirts. It was warm and sunny.)

The San Diego Zoo holds a special place in my heart. I've been hundreds of times. When I was a kid, my parents took us every Sunday. In high school, I used to cut class and drive over with my best friend. When the kids were babies, it was a great place to go and walk, pushing them in the stroller until they fell asleep. Now they're old enough to appreciate the animals and the scenery. They like the Children's Zoo, where they can pet various animals, including this type:

Who says you don't need wool in San Diego?

These little girls seemed to be enjoying the goats. I was charmed by their winter attire.

I especially love the Zoo in the winter, because it's mostly empty (the summer tourists are notably absent) and cool enough that the animals are out and about. This Komodo Dragon usually hides behind the rocks, but not this time:

I'm not the only one who prefers the Zoo in winter. These are visitors, not full-time residents:

But the locals don't seem to mind sharing their space:

And neither do we.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


You know it's going to be a rough day when you awaken to a child standing beside your bed, saying, "Hey, wake up! I have to be at the bus stop at ten 'til!"

I, in my sleepy stupor, could think of no response except, "Ten 'til what?" It seemed a perfectly reasonable question, even though the answer has been "ten 'til seven" for nearly six months.

Unfortunately, this was at 6:42. Fortunately, it was my husband's morning to get up.

The day didn't improve a whole lot after that, but at least I have yarn and fiber to turn to for comfort.

I am slowly making progress on the Aran Cardigan:

I know this looks the same as the last picture I showed you, but this is the second front! I also have about half of the back done. I am working it simultaneously with the fronts because it is flat 3x3 ribbing, and sometimes I don't have the concentration to work these cables, as evidenced by the four separate times I had to rip back the first front.

And I've finished the spinning for my Wisteria. Seven 100 gram skeins of worsted-ish weight two-ply wool and silk:

I still can't get a completely accurate picture of the color(s). It's mostly grey, with a purplish cast, due to the burgundy and green accents in the roving. I'm pretty happy with the way it has turned out, although I'm not convinced it will work for the intended pattern. If it doesn't, I have a backup plan for this yarn. It's a couple of projects back in the queue anyway. I need to finish the Aran Cardigan first, and then I have a very simple sweater project in mind for our annual ski trip, which includes 22 hours in the car. I learned my lesson about car knitting two years ago, when I tried to work a lace pattern with two kids and two dogs bouncing around in the back seat. Suffice it to say, I ended up ripping all 22 hours of progress on that one. Now I know: nothing but plain stockinette in the car. The added advantage is that I can knit stockinette in the dark, so even after the sun goes down, I can keep knitting. Obsessed? Of course not. Just...ah...determined.

I did mention that I'm not the driver, didn't I?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ah...Now I Remember...

Why I haven't done a cabled sweater in a while, that is.

I love cables. I love the little magic that happens when you rearrange a few stitches on a knitting needle. I love they way they create shadows and hollows and depth in even the most boring yarn. I love the way they dance across the fabric, making something static look like it's in motion.

What I don't love is how. long. they. take.

This is my progress on the Aran Cardigan:

I think (with no modesty whatsoever) that it's just beautiful. The wool is as woolly as you could possibly get, still full of lanolin and springy and scratchy (in a good way), and it shows the cables perfectly. There is no way this stuff will ever stretch or pill or, for that matter, wear out. I am going to love wearing it.

But I think I've spent as long on the left front as I usually spend on a whole sweater. Part of the issue is that I don't have very good spatial orientation, so I have a hard time memorizing charts. Part of it is that I added seven inches to the length of this sweater (seven!), because the original is only 20 inches long, which would put the hem somewhere above my belly button. Part of it is that, for reasons known only to the designer, who undoubtedly does not suffer from the same degree of asymmetry-aversion as I do, the armhole shaping cuts into the main cable--but only by three frickin' stitches, which is just enough that it throws off the balance of the cable, but not enough that it looks intentional. [This could not be allowed to stand, so after working halfway up the armhole, I ripped back and reworked it to keep the cable intact. This will require a slight shortening of the sleeve cap, when I get there, but it's not a big deal. And it's important that I be able to look at the finished product without hyperventilating, so it's worth the trouble.] But most of it is simply that it takes a lot longer to stop and rearrange the stitches as you work them. (I can't even imagine how long this would take if I were using a cable needle. Please, if you like knitting cables--or are planning to do so anyway--take a few minutes and learn to cable without a cable needle! It's not hard at all, and it simplifies the whole process immensely. There's a link over in my sidebar to Grumperina's truly excellent tutorial.)

I'm not complaining. Actually, I'm patting myself on the back for having the cleverness and foresight to realize that I don't have the patience to knit an entire sweater covered in cables, and so choosing one that only has cables on the front. (It's all a lie, of course. It was completely accidental. Although I have made several all-over cabled sweaters--Death By Cables, anyone?-- including one in a 50 inch chest that I designed myself and had to have done in only three weeks--god save me from ever making that sort of choice again--I have a selective memory where cables are concerned. It's like childbirth. No matter how much it hurts while it's happening, no matter how clearly I remember the pain, it seems to have no bearing on my decision to go through it again.)

Fortunately, we finally got season four of Lost from Netflix, and we're trying to catch up before season five starts in a few days, so there is a lot of knitting time built into the next few days.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Spin Cycle

I've been knitting away on my Aran Cardigan. It's rather slower going than usual, due to the moderate complexity of the cables, but very satisfying. I still have to read the charts as I knit, so I'm only about halfway through the left front so far. That's fine, since the cables are only on the fronts. The rest of the body and the sleeves and collar are all just 3x3 ribbing, which will fly by.

I've also been spinning away on the roving I want to use for Wisteria. I have three 100 gram, 2-ply skeins spun. Here are the first two:

The color is pretty accurate in these pictures. In this closeup you can almost see the green and pink tones in the grey (they're a little bit more noticeable in person):

I'm not the world's greatest spinner. As you can see, even my plied yarn is not especially even. But I've found the knitted fabric disguises a lot of the unevenness. (I tell myself that it doesn't matter; if I wanted perfectly smooth, even yarn, I could just buy machine spun and be done with it. I don't quite believe it.) My yarn may not be perfectly spun, but man is it soft! It's 70% merino, 30% silk. The roving is like buttah, I tell ya. I've spun it fairly tightly to help prevent pilling, but even so the finished yarn is soft, with an itch factor of zero--important for a high-necked design.

I think I've got close to the right gauge. I'm getting 9 wpi (wraps per inch), which is a worsted weight and the same wpi as the yarn called for in the pattern. But common sense tells me this yarn is heavier than worsted weight. Maybe aran? I don't think I've entered into bulky territory, though. I'm hoping I can make this work with the pattern. I wish the pattern had smaller sizing; even the smallest is a little big for me, and if my yarn is indeed heavier, I'd prefer to knit a size down from what I would usually pick. I may have to make some changes to the pattern to accommodate this yarn, but I think I can make it work.

Three skeins down, five to go!

Friday, January 9, 2009

It Came!

If anyone needs me, I'll be knitting.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Next Up

I've been having an unusually difficult time choosing a pattern for my next project. I am in a woolly sort of mood these days, probably because the weather is (finally!) consistently in the 50's and 60's, which is as close to winter as we get around here. I have an urge to knit a zippered aran cardigan from some brown fishermen's wool I have in the stash. One would think, of all the thousands of aran sweater patterns, it should be easy to pick one that suits and just get on with it. Not so. After a truly absurd amount of time perusing the options on Ravelry, in my various books, and in every back issue of every knitting magazine I own, I finally found a winner (Ravelry link). Ironically enough, it was already in my queue, which is, of course, the last place I looked. Alas, it is not available for download or individual purchase, and is from a four year old magazine. But, oh, I love the internet! A copy should even now be winging its way toward me--I hope.

In the meantime, I am unwilling to cast on anything else, since I know I will want to start the aran as soon as I have the pattern in hand (yes, I really do try to keep to one primary project at a time). I have been keeping busy instead by modifying some of my FO's to better suit. As I've mentioned before, I've come to realize I like my sweaters a bit longer than I usually make them. So I've been altering some of my favorites. This one, for example:

This is my Not-So-Sahara, knitted from lovely Cascade Eco Wool. I wear it almost constantly. But the wool is springy rather than stretchy, and I find it tends to shrink up as I wear it after blocking, causing me to tug at the bottom and cuffs. So I picked out the bound off edges (just one more advantage to top-down knits) and lengthened them about two inches. Now it looks like this:

I'm much happier with it now.

I also fixed one of my husband's sweaters, which I knitted about three years ago (the yarn is discontinued Cervinia Londra--wool and acrylic; the design is my own).

That's Bertha modeling it. She's smaller than my husband, so it's a little drapey.

This one was done in pieces, bottom up, and sewn together. So it wasn't until the whole thing was done that I realized the sleeves were long enough for an orangutan. He's worn them rolled up for years, but it's always bugged him. So I shortened them. This proved to be much more difficult than I expected. I figured I could just cut the sleeves where I wanted the cuffs to start, pick up the live stitches, and work downward. It works well in theory. It was hugely frustrating in practice. The yarn is slightly fuzzy, and has been worn and washed a lot. It was tough to locate individual rows, much less individual stitches. And then there are a multitude of cables and textured stitches, which complicated things. It ended up taking me several hours to get all the stitches onto needles in a way that made sense. And then I realized that I had made all the sleeve increases below the elbow, so that after cutting off the bottom four inches of sleeve, I had a really, really w i d e cuff to work with. I ended up decreasing a lot of stitches, hiding the decreases in both the last pattern row and the cuff itself. I was afraid I was going to end up with a weird sort of puffed sleeve effect (anyone remember the "puffy shirt" from Seinfeld?), but it seems to have turned out pretty well. Here's a close up:

My husband is happy with it, anyway, which is what matters.

Next up is going to be this:

This is another recent project, my Kochoran Scoop. There is really nothing wrong with this, except that I think I would wear it more if it were longer. Since I have more of the yarn I used, and this one is also top-down, it's a simple thing to add a few inches to the bottom. That should keep me busy for this evening, at least.

And finally, I've set to work on a new spinning project. I have about a pound and a half of merino/silk roving in a silvery-grey with green and burgundy accents that I think would be perfect for Wisteria.

I was pretty ho-hum about that particular pattern, until I saw this version (Ravelry link). I think the stripey-ness of the semi-variegated yarn used in the original turned me off; I love the more subdued look of the heathered grey. I spun up some of my roving last night, and it is coming out a muted silver with a beautiful silky sheen.

Color in spinning is utterly baffling to me. I never have the slightest idea how a roving will look spun up--or if I do, I'm completely wrong. The spun singles here is almost solid, although it's a little darker in person than in the picture. I like Wisteria better in a solid color, so that's okay. I think I'm spinning to get about the right gauge (after I ply it)--although spinning gauge, too, is always a mystery to me--so it may work out. Don't look for an immediate cast on in any case; I'm not a very fast spinner, and a pound and a half is a lot of roving.

There you have it: what a sweater knitter does when she doesn't have a sweater on the needles. I mean, other than sit in a corner, rocking and moaning and sucking her thumb.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Hats Off Parade!

I'm generally not much for hats. I don't like to wear them, for all the usual reasons: I look silly in them, they mess up my (admittedly not all that well styled to begin with) hair, they itch. Since I live in a climate where hats are almost exclusively a fashion statement (although what all those guys are trying to say with the brims facing backward escapes me) rather than a necessity, I've only knitted one hat in my life. You may remember last year, when Younger Son was required to "dress like a 19th century immigrant" for school, and I knitted him a newsboy cap. It was worn once, for about ten minutes, and that was the beginning and end of my hat knitting experience. Until about three weeks ago.

The hat craze started with Oldest Son (who rarely makes an appearance on this blog). He is 23 and just finished college, and he specifically requested a knit "beenie" in his school colors (black and gold). [For the record, and because I know some of you are doing the math and concluding I must have given birth in middle school, he is my stepson. But I started dating his dad when he was seven, and I figure 16 years of raising a kid gives me the right to refer to him as my son in casual conversation.] I wasn't especially enthusiastic about the request, but, hey, a knitting request is a knitting request. So I spent a few hours and whipped one up to stuff in his Christmas stocking. Alas, it made so little impact on my knitting psyche that it didn't even occur to me to take a picture. But as little ripples spread out far further than you would expect, so does word of knitted caps in winter.

The next "request" (okay, so it wasn't so much a request from him as an offer from me) came from my brother. He has recently started shaving his head (to deprive Mother Nature of the satisfaction of rendering him completely bald, I suspect), and his head gets really cold. He was wearing an ill-fitting machine-made synthetic fiber knit cap when I saw him over Christmas. He complained that none of his hats fit and that they only come in ugly colors. Well. How could I leave that unanswered? So I mentioned I could, you know, make him one, in colors and size of his choice. He looked a little skeptical, and joked that maybe I should just make him a sweater, like the one my husband was wearing. I don't think my brother has quite caught on to the fact that his sister knits, because he was astounded when I pointed out that I could, in fact, make him one just like that, since I had designed and knitted that very sweater. I don't think he actually believed me, come to think of it. Nonetheless, I went home and knitted up this:

This is the ubiqitous Koolhass, by Jared Flood, and there are about 7 million examples of it on Ravelry. Apparently, though, I'm stupider than all 7 million knitters who have gone before me, because I ripped this sucker four times in three different spots, due to my complete inability to distinguish between "k2tbl" and "t2togtbl", which led to a particularly strange decrease pattern that bore no resemblance to the actual pattern. Or a hat.

Still, it is a wonderful pattern, and I did eventually work it out. This one was done on size 5 and 7 circular needles, magic loop style, with about half a skein of Cascade 220 from stash.

And I thought that was the end of the hat-knitting. Alas, I was mistaken. It seems there is something about hats that draws attention in a way no sweater ever has, because Older Son immediately decided he just had to have a "beenie," too. Since he was heading off to sixth grade camp in the mountains for a week, this seemed a reasonable request, and I asked him what sort of hat he'd like.

Blue, "without all those criss-crossy things" (although he did allow the ribbing):

The yellow initials at the back were also by special request, "so that no one could steal it." This one was also done on size 5 and 7 circs, magic loop style. The yarn is Knit Picks Swish Worsted, which I had left over from another project. [And again, I break in here to point out that the hat is shaped exactly as a hat should be. Those odd lumps on the sides are his ears, which evidently stick out much, much further than I ever realized.]

Any of you who have kids know that, at this point, my fate was sealed. There is no way you can give the same thing to two of your kids and not to the third. Younger Son put in his request for a dark red hat "just like Uncle Joe's, but with a different pattern." Hmmm. If you're at a loss as to how to interpret this, you're not alone. Younger Son is...picky. And not always clear in expressing his vision to those less enlightened, such as his mother. A little interrogation led me to make him this:

I based it on this pattern I found on Ravelry. My gauge and sizing were different, and he didn't want a rolled brim, so I made the appropriate changes. My favorite part is the decrease pattern:

Isn't that swirl cool? This one was also done with size 5 and 7 circs, magic loop style, and the other half of that skein of Cascade 220.

He seems to like it, too:

Although it's kind of hard to tell with all that hair in his eyes.

And now that every head in my immediate vicinity is clothed, I'm going to seize the opportunity to cast on a nice, satisfying sweater!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

FrogFest 2009

Yes, folks, it was an exciting Sunday afternoon.

I spent most of it turning this:

into this:

For the record, that's: one shawl, in my own handspun alpaca-silk, that just really wanted to be something else; the back of a cardigan, from my "novelty yarn" phase (now in the destash pile); the front and back of a pullover I started for my son about three years ago, before he announced he hated the pattern (I started over and made a completely different pullover out of the same yarn, but never did frog the first one); and the front of a pullover in (Hello? Did you forget you're a REDhead?) magenta wool.

Oh, yes. And this:

Do you remember the drama of the round yoke cardigan? The one I knitted and ripped about eight times in an effort to make the yoke work? The one I finally got going, only to discover, after the whole body was done, that it measured roughly 42" around? Oh. I didn't tell you that part, did I? I was pretty disgusted with the whole thing by then, since even I know that 42" (the circumference of the sweater) minus 35" (the circumference of my chest) = way to freakin' big! It's been in time out in the yarn closet for a while. Now it looks like this:

As a rule, I don't mind frogging failed projects, since, as far as I'm concerned, it's like getting free yarn (and besides, having no trace of a project in evidence makes it much easier to deny it ever existed). I have to admit, though, this one stung a little bit. I'm consoling myself with thoughts of all the lovely things I can do with this fantastic yarn.