Friday, November 25, 2005

Pebbles in the Sand

When I was a little kid, my family used to take trips to the beach. Some years, that'd be our only vacation. The nearest stretch of coast that any of us knew about was Pismo Beach, California. It's a good surfing beach, which didn't matter to us because we didn't surf, and it's adjacent to the Oceano Dunes State Recreational Vehicle Area, which didn't matter to us because we didn't ride motorcycles or own a motorhome. It was the closest place that we could get to by car, that had something for my brother and I to do, and that would allow my parents to sit on the balcony of the motel room and watch us while we played.

We'd walk up and down the beach, make the long pilgrimage to the pier for Hot Lix lollipops and the video arcade, and test our individual fortitude by trying to wade in the frigid surf until just beyond the point where our legs turned blue. Pismo is a very windy, very cold beach. About four miles up the shore, there is a good sunbathing beach, Avila Beach, protected from the sandblasting wind by a gentle curve of the hills and a generous breakwater. We never went there. I didn't know about it until I moved to San Luis Obispo to attend college. No, we only knew of Pismo.

So my brother and I were two little kids, making sandcastles and freezing our asses off on this long stretch of barely hospitable beach. We loved it.

The thing I loved most about it was that, because the surf is so rough and the shore that it's beating against is so rocky, the beach after high tide would be a mosaic of multicolored pebbles. I'd walk along the shoreline for hours, picking up the most interesting rocks, washing them in the water, tucking them in all of my pockets. My mom would lay out all of the rocks at the end of the trip and make me choose a handful of them. If she hadn't done so, I would have hauled home five pounds of pebbles and smooth bits of sandstone at the end of every vacation. I'd always beg her to let me take more, and she'd say no, and as we drove away from the motel, I'd think about the little pile of rocks that I'd had to leave behind and I'd stare out the window and cry. I wasn't always the happiest child in the car. As it was, my mom would usually miss a few stones in my pockets, only finding them once she did laundry and heard them beating against the inside of the dryer.

When this ball of yarn arrived as part of a thank-you package, it took me back to that time. I knit it up on size 19 needles, and the more I knit, the more it looked like those pebbles, spread out on a hotel towel, waiting for me to pick my handful. The yarn is Cervinia 'Fiamma', a thick-and-thin wool/acrylic. It was a dream to work with, so soft and fluffy. I managed to get the whole scarf with just one 92 yard ball.

It was a quick knit. I think it's only about twelve stitches across. The ends fluffed out a little bit because I didn't think to knit them with smaller needles, so I sewed their corners together. Now I can tuck one end into the other and keep them from flapping about in the breeze, or pull one end through the other keyhole-style. It's warm and soft, and I plan to wear it all of the time.

Not to Pismo Beach, though. I'd never get the sand out of the fibers.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Something New in Something Old

For my next trick, I'll be making this lovely cabled polo sweater, as seen in "Knit It Now!" by Julie Montanari. I picked this book up at a crazy estate sale earlier this year. I say 'crazy', because you'd never believe how much yarn was spread out on the lawn that morning, or how much my friend and I saw people walking away with before we even made it through the gate. People were climbing over each other to get to the bins, picking things out of other people's piles, picking up things they didn't necessarily want because it looked like someone else might want whatever it was. It was a madhouse. We two-man teamed it, one of us guarding both of our hoards, the other venturing out to scout the bins for stuff that either of us might want. "Gold carry-along?" "GRAB IT!" "For what purpose?!" "DON"T CARE!" I don't even remember picking up this book, but I guess I must have done so, because I know I didn't buy it in a store. I also walked away with three lawn bags full of yarn, including ten skeins of Colinette 'Skye', but that's a post for another day.

The yarn for this project is going to be the very oldest yarn in my stash, purchased more than twelve years ago when I was still in school at Santa Barbara. It was the first yarn I ever knit, and it was an ill-advised first project. Who gives a beginning knitter a project on size 3 needles? I wasn't ever going to get through that thing. A couple of years ago, I frogged the three inches I'd knitted, and put all of the yarn in a bag. I had no idea what to do with it, but I knew I wanted to do something special, something that would make the twelve years of hauling this yarn around worthwhile.

Then, while flipping through a book that I didn't remember buying, a book that seemed to have found its way into my disorganized pile of knitting magazines completely on its own, I found this cabled, ribbed pullover. I have a strong hunch that this is going to be the perfect marriage between yarn and pattern. Here's hoping. I'm going to knit the swatch this week.

Friday, November 18, 2005

La Historia de Gloria

I think I've got your number.
I pulled you from that stack of crap
That you've been living under.

But I really don't remember
What the lost instructions said.
Did they fall under the bed
For the 'Gloria'?...."

The Fates did not want me to finish this sweater. I thought it'd be an easy one. Garter stitched sleeves, borders and upper body, heavy worsted yarn, no special patterns to remember - it should have been easy.

Here are the things that went wrong:

I bought the Mountain Colors yarn at Stitches, but from two different vendors. I didn't realize that my two matching skeins colorwise were two different thicknesses. 4/8s isn't the same gauge as Weavers Wool Quarters. It's close, but not the same. Thus, I got home with two skeins of 4/8s that don't exactly interact harmoniously and one skein of Weavers that can't be mixed in with them. I'd also bought the solid yarn at Stitches, but in spite of my careful reading and rereading of the yardage requirements, and my knowledge that I was knitting a medium, and the fact that I kept a copy of the pattern in my purse as a reference, I managed to buy just enough to finish the small.

I started the sleeves but quickly figured that they'd be too wide at the bottom. Frogged them. I restarted the sleeves using the smaller size, but lost track of my row count while shaping. I frogged them again, because they wouldn't have been even unless I ripped both of them back to the second row.

I decided that I should give up on the sleeves and work the body instead. I made the fateful decision to knit the body in one piece up to the armhole split. Not stopping to read the pattern at a critical point, I didn't start waist shaping at the right time. By the time I realized that I'd forgotten the waist shaping, I was at least twenty rows beyond where it whould have started. But the whole body was that far along because I knit it in one piece, so frogging back wasn't an option. Sure, it could have been done, but emotionally? Not an option. I started decreasing from where I was, and just shortened up the space between decreases. Decreasing every ten rows five times turned into every five rows five times.

Well, O.K., that wasn't so bad. The waist shaping was a little more pronounced, but I kind of liked it when I laid the piece flat and looked at the contour, and...wait a minute. Why were the edges curling that much? Another failure to read the pattern. The edges were supposed to have a garter stitch border to hold them flat. Oops. But if it was too late to frog back for the waist shaping, it was WAY too late to restart for this.

I got up to the garter stitch portion of the body. This is where I realized that my two skeins of 4/8s didn't match. The colors in one skein were much stronger than the colors in the other. Well, that was fine, because I had two skeins of the subtler colorway, the one I like. Except that I didn't. See above. So I knit the upper body with two rows of the stronger colorway, then switched and knit the rest of it with the subtler one. I got everything on stitch holders and took stock of my remaining yarn.

This is where I realized that I didn't have enough of the Debbie Bliss to finish two sleeves. I pawed through the project bag, through my yarn stash, under the couches and the bed, and in my desk drawers at work. It didn't make sense...until I figured out that I'd bought enough yarn to make a much smaller sweater. No problem, because the solid color would be mixed in with the variegated wool, so dye lot matching wasn't an issue. I ordered two more balls from and went to work on other projects.

When I came back to this one, it was sleeve time again. Still thinking I had two skeins of 4/8s in the softer colorway, I did the smart thing and divided my yarn into two piles, one for each sleeve. Then I realized that I did not, in fact, have enough of the subtle yarn to make both sleeves, that the Weavers was DK weight and I needed heavy worsted. I started knitting the two sleeves at the same time with the brigher yarn, and figured I'd switch about halfway up the arm. The sleeves looked a little big and awkward, but I was following the pattern, and there was no turning back.

Until I got about three quarters of the way up the sleeves and realized that the stronger color made the striped sleeve look like a sarape, and that it would have comfortably held both my arms when sewn up, and that I'd run out of the subtler color at the sleeve cap. I tried to use the Weavers Wool, but the gauge difference between it and the DB Cashmerino Aran was just too great. Frogged both sleeves.

At this point, nearly broken but unwilling to stop for another seven month break, I made the choice to completely redesign the sleeves. If I only had enough 4/8s wool to knit the sleeve caps, then only the sleeve caps would be garter stitch. I'd make the sleeves themselves stockinette in the solid color, and I'd knit them in the round so I didn't have to seam them. They'd look just like the body.

I had two sleeves to do, and now they weren't going to be striped, so color matching was suddenly going to be an issue. I knit up one sleeve with one skein of the solid color, and stopped just before any shoulder cap shaping. I got about to the elbow of the second sleeve and ran out of yarn again. Yep, I hadn't taken the stockinette modification into account, and I used up way more yarn than I would have with the stripes. I bought more yarn, this time from Webs because I couldn't make the Knitting Garden website sell me the color I needed, I think because they were out of stock. It let me add every other color to my basket, but not the red. Desperation won out over loyalty. It showed up at my door a few evenings later, and I happily tore into the package, dug out my yarn and set to work finishing the solid portion of the second sleeve. But the lighting over the chair where I was sitting isn't very strong, and sometimes subtleties in shading get lost. You see where this is going.

Meanwhile, somewhere in my house, the pattern book disappeared. I'd been working from a dog-eared photocopy of the pattern, hauling it around in the bag with my yarn, so I hadn't kept track of the book. In a fit of organizational zeal, I'd also recently gone through every scrap of loose paper in my office, my purse and my file pile and either thrown out or shredded every unnecessary piece. I suddenly had this sinking feeling that I'd thrown out the printout. I hadn't needed it for most of the sleeve, because I'd made it up as I went along, but I really needed it for the cap shaping. I didn't want to get that wrong, not when I was so close to being done. I spent the next two hours overturning every cushion and rifling through every book and notepad in my house. I never found the book, but I did find the printout in a stack of mail. I guess it was making a bid for freedom.

The next night, I was happily knitting the sleeve cap on the first sleeve, and stopping about every three minutes to lay it next to the second sleeve. "See, honey?" I'd say to Accountant Boy, "It's going to be so pretty! Look how good the stockinette looks...stockinette...that's the part that looks like knitting...see how nice it looks next to the garter stitch...yeah, that's the bumpy part..." I was sitting in a different spot in the room, because Buddy the Cat prefers that I sit on the chaise with him, and he meows at me if I spend too much time in the armchair. The lighting's stronger in that spot. "Hey, honey? Take a look at this sleeve and tell me what's wrong with it..." "It looks good, but why does the shade of the red change at the elbow?" Yep, two different dye lots. The second sleeve got frogged completely one more time, and knit back up with a single skein of the Cashmerino.

Once I finally got all of the damned thing knitted, everything fell into place. The seaming went well, because I took the time to read about garter stitch seaming in my handy copy of 'Stitch 'n Bitch'. Buddy the Cat provided moral support.

So here it is. It's a little bigger than I wanted it to be, but that's O.K. Once I weave the ribbon in around the collar, it'll fit a little closer. I've worn it twice, and I've almost picked all of the embedded cat hairs out of it. Welcome to the wardrobe, Gloria!

What did I learn from this experience? I learned that I'm not as wide as I think I am, which is a recurring theme among my post-project musings. I need to remember that knit garments stretch, and that I'm usually a small in store-bought sweaters. For my next fitted project, I'm going to take accurate measurements, and more importantly, I'm going to believe them.

I learned how do work paired lifted increases, something I didn't understand when I was making the Greek Pullover. I'm really proud of the increases on the arms, and now that's my favorite kind of increase.

Would I make this sweater again? Definitely. I'm thinking of making another one out of some alpaca yarn in my stash. Just as soon as I buy another copy of the pattern book.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

You Want Me to do WHAT for the Camera?

Here's the finished Greek Pullover from this fall's Interweave Knits. It needs some side shaping, so I need to learn how to sew with a sewing machine, 'cause this baby's not getting frogged. Note the strange rolls at the belly. That's not me in there -- that's extra sweater. I promise. The yarn is Rowan Kid Classic in Lavendar Ice, just like the pattern in the magazine. I tried to get my accessory cat to sit next to me, like in the pattern photo, but he'd have none of it. ("I have my dignity. I'm not a trained circus bear." - Buddy the Cat)

Accountant Boy was behind the lens, and at this point I think I was supposed to be giving him "passion and anger!" I'm a database programmer, not a model. All I could give him was "Huh??"

This is a more representative picture of me, and also of what's wrong with this sweater. It's simply too big. The arms are good, but the body's just...not quite right.

That throw off to the right in both pictures is a non-Colinette version of the Absolutely Fabulous Throw. I made it back before I knew how to control my gauge. It's enormous. The lovely folks at Skein Lane in El Cerrito helped me pick out the yarns. It's been finished for more than a year. I should probably take it in there and show them the results.

And finally, this is what happens when I take my own picture with the Sony on self-timer. This one's from the first SnB book, knit in Interlacements Merino. I left off the cowl, because I'm just not a cowl kind of gal. It has a nice, high rolled neck. If I had it to do over, I'd knit the body and the sleeves in the round. It'd suck to have to do all of that purling to get garter stitch in the round, but the colors at the seams would have been much nicer. In fact, I'd knit this one again, out of the same brand and type of yarn. Looks like I know which booth I'm going to hit first at Stitches West next year.

Flamingo Baby

Some people keep their stashes in a closet. Some people keep their yarn in a chest of drawers. I keep my yarn in the yarn cave. It's more of an attic than a proper cave, but "yarn attic" sounds too much like someplace I'd shop, and not enough like a creepy space above the kitchen of my house, accessible only through a gap in the underdecking of the roof. Yarn cave is so much more mysterious. Note how the door into the cave isn't as tall as I am. This house is so damn weird.

O.K., so I'm swapping some yarn on the Swap-O-Rama, and I'm sitting at work thinking about what I have to offer. And I think to myself, "Hey, I have whole big bunches of this thin, pink yarn at home in the yarn cave!" I'm all excited about trading out yarn from the yarn cave, for reasons that will become apparent once I finally catalog the collection. Plus, I kind of like crawling into the cave, for reasons known only to me and probably every seven-year-old on the planet. I want to build a fort in there. With blankets for walls, and a lantern and a little radio. But I digress.

Then, I find the yarn. And it's nice and all, but completely not what I have in mind. I thought I had some good baby garment yarn in a nice shade of baby pink. How I got that idea, I'll never know. Here's what I found when I dug through the stash in the cave.

It's Vendome Mimmosa in a lovely shade of seashell pink. It's a two-ply, shiny 100% cotton. Lovely for fine ladies' garments, but not exactly baby appropriate, unless you've got a very sophisticated baby on your hands.

Swappy buddy, if you still want it, I'll send a couple of balls of it your way. If you'd rather have some Sirdar 'Snuggly' DK in baby pink, that can be arranged as well. It's a little thicker than fingering, but it's more in keeping with what I picture the fashionable baby wearing.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Well, maybe just a little playtime

I took this little test, and here are the results. I think that this means that I'm perfectly qualified to be a national news anchor. General enough to be understood by almost everyone, Yankee enough to sound like I know what I'm talking about because of all of that fancy book learnin', with a little bit of Dixie in there for that Dan Rather-esque flavor.

Your Linguistic Profile:

50% General American English

30% Yankee

10% Dixie

10% Upper Midwestern

0% Midwestern

"Playtime's over, Bighead."

The wig, she is done. Wow. That was...not as much fun as I thought it would be. I think it would have been better if I'd done a couple of things differently, namely:

  1. 1. Paid attention to the pattern, especially once I got to the bangs,
  2. 2. Knitted it in something other than this fuzzy, squeaky acrylic crap,
  3. 3. Cared about the outcome beyond just getting it done.

I knitted the majority of it during the tailgate and subsequent 49er-Tampa game last Sunday. I knit straight through most of the third and fourth quarters, only standing to clap when the special teams running back/quarterback/waterboy/whatever-the-hell-the-team-needs-me-to-do-this-week guy came into the game. He needed some encouragement, did poor Cody Pickett. If he'd been hurt, I think the Niners would have had to pull a volunteer quarterback from the stands. The guys behind us were more than willing to do the job.

Anyway, the Hallowig. I said I'd do it, and this is part of my new "Do What I Said I'd Do, No Matter How Stupid It Was of Me to Say I'd Do It" campaign. So far, the DWISIDNMHSIWOMTS campaign has done nothing but get me into trouble. I'm at the gym until 8:00 at night because I said I'd go and traffic is no excuse to skip it, I'm making plans for the holidays that make everyone but me happy, and I'm knitting hot pink acrylic wigs for myself. Maybe the plan needs a re-think.

Oh, and the most important thing of all? The wig fits my great big melon.

Now, playtime's over. No adult-sized chicken viking helmets, no knitted lock ness monsters, and no more frightening acrylic wigs. There are projects on the needles, and many fine garments waiting in the queue. Time to get serious and produce something I'd actually wear.

Well, maybe the chicken viking helmet will find its way to the top, but only because it's Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks.