Friday, March 19, 2010

A Week of Knitting

My friends thought I was crazy when they heard I was going on a “knitting cruise.” In truth, there were moments when I thought I might be nuts. For one thing, the ship that was far larger than the other ships I had been on, and the thought of being onboard a floating city had always been horrifying to someone with a dislike of crowds and a terrible sense of direction. But when my friend Debby heard about Debbie Stoller’s Stitch ‘N Beach cruise a few months ago, we decided to sign up – even before we knew about the horrific February we were going to have to endure in New Jersey before the much-needed escape.

We had doubts about whether we would make it to the ship, whose main virtue in my view was that it left from Bayonne, NJ, so we didn’t have to fly (unlike many of the participants, some of whom had real horror stories to tell), but departure day was the third day of a snowstorm that paralyzed the entire Northeast. Amazingly, there was absolutely no traffic on the turnpike (for the first time in recorded history) so we made it to the entrance to the port in about 45 minutes, but then it took another hour to crawl to the less-than-2-miles to the terminal. Once on board, we were able to delete those images of snowdrifts, badly shoveled sidewalks, and dangling icicles from our minds and imagine sunshine and balmy Caribbean breezes.

Or not. The first two days were pretty rough. The second night was interesting. I happened to be awake before 4 AM and decided against getting out of bed because it seemed especially rocky. Suddenly I realized that the ship felt like it was listing to one side and not moving. After what seemed like an eternity (but in fact was only a couple of minutes) it righted itself and started moving again. At one point there was a crash as a toiletries case flew off the shelf in the bathroom – no big deal, though we heard later that there was a lot of breakage in the dining room as china set for breakfast flew off the tables. Twenty minutes later the captain got on the PA system and announced that everything was now fine, but that we had been experiencing 40 MPH winds, and then suddenly a 100 MPH wind had blown up from another direction, forced the ship off course and put out the autopilot, and that they had “temporarily lost control of the ship.” (NOT words anyone ever wants to hear.) The autopilot was back on, we were again on course, and all was well. We should all go back to sleep. Yeah. Amazingly, Debby and I didn’t panic, though we spent the next half hour or so giggling about a variety of apocalyptic scenarios. We heard the next day that some people had panicked, donned their lifejackets, and headed for the muster stations before the captain made the announcement. We also heard that a few morons had gone out to the deck to investigate, one telling us that he was glad he was able to light a cigarette in all that wind! (If this had been an IQ test, he would certainly have flunked.)

While that was the most exciting few minutes of the cruise, the rest was fabulous. We spent 8-10 hours knitting each day. On sea days we had morning and afternoon classes, and every night we had dinner together and then adjourned to one of the lounges for a Stitch ‘n Bitch at Sea, bringing either our own knitting projects or something from one of the classes to knit while we chatted and drank mudslides or mojitos. Most nights we went off to bed to knit “just a few more rows” before turning off the lights. Who would think someone could knit that many hours a day without suffering from achy hands and wrists?

Debbie Stoller is wonderful teacher. While the participants had a wide range of knitting skills, everyone left every class having learned something new. We had sessions on such topics as double knitting, slip-stitch designs, alternative cast-ons, crocheting for knitters, designing your own sweater, and how to fix knitting mistakes. Some of us learned that we had been purling wrong all our lives, holding the yarn wrong for a long-tail cast-on, or twisting stitches inadvertently. Others learned how to crochet for the first time or how to hold the hook in a more efficient manner. Even the accomplished lace knitters learned something about the structure of lace stitches and improved our ability to “read our knitting.”

One of the highlights of the cruise was the “Yarn Tasting” event. Debbie had gotten yarn samples from a wide range of companies, from the big companies to very small producers. We were given lengths of yarn to knit into a sampler, so that we were able not only to look and touch but actually to knit. Not only were there wool and silk, but exotic fibers like bison and yak, wonderful blends of these fibers with merino and cashmere, and some lovely hand-dyed yarns. Many of the companies had also sent her full skeins, which she distributed in such a way that we all came away with several skeins of something we loved. We all expanded our yarn horizons and will unfortunately have to expand our yarn budgets as a result!

We did get a few days of the sunshine and the warmth we were craving, but that was the least of it. We had a nine-day “high” with a wonderful group of knitters from a variety of places and backgrounds, learned a lot about knitting, and discovered what nice, friendly, generous people knitters tend to be.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Finishing the year with Finished Objects

It has been a long time since I have posted a blog entry. Is there material for a New Year's Resolution here?

The last month has been very productive, knitting-wise. I have completed quite a few projects, and while I have entered all the details on my Ravelry site, they didn't quite make it to the blog.

The most ambitious was the Masked Ball in Venice shawl, which I had hoped to finish in time for the High Holidays in the fall, but because I ran out of yarn (twice), that didn't happen. I used yarn that was a slightly heavier gage (really just a tiny bit heavier) than the pattern called for, thinking that it was just a shawl so gauge didn't matter. With all those stitches (about 1200 per row by the end) scrunched up on the needles it was impossible to tell how big it was. Then I bound off and washed it and set it out to block. Oh my goodness -- it was enormous!

Pattern: Masked Ball in Venice by Monika Eckert
Yarn: Jaggerspun Zephyr

This was done as part of a KAL, but I fell far behind. The pattern is gorgeous, and the KAL was fun because in addition to the pattern, sections of the story that inspired it were released from time to time. I really needed a black shawl and had a substantial part of a cone of Zephyr left from another project, thinking it would be enough. Wrong! Unfortunately, the beautiful detail of the pattern will probably not ever be seen, since I will be generally be wearing the black shawl over a black dress. Lesson learned from this project: Gauge does matter, even with shawls. And "a little bit off" can add up to a lot when there are hundreds of stitches to a row.

The two sweaters that were finished this month were both done with Colourmart yarn. The first, a pullover, with cabled neckline and sleeve detail, was done in Extra Fine Merino, which is soft and luscious.

Pattern: 114-8 Jumper with cables by DROPS design
Yarn: Colourmart 100% Extra Fine Merino 12/30NM Super DK Weight
Needles: KnitPicks Harmony US #7

The yak cardigan was a real labor of love. The designer had offered to customize the pattern for members of the Colourmart group and I jumped at the opportunity, fortunately before she realized that her generous offer would be far too much work if more than a few people responded!

Pattern: Classic A-line Yak Cardigan by Margarete Dolff
Yarn: ColourMart Superyak/Extrafine Merino (50/50) 3/14NM Fingering Weight
Needles: KnitPicks Harmony US #3

The yak/merino yarn is very soft, very light, and very warm. Despite the miles of potentially boring stockinette (on very small needles), it was so delightful to knit that it wasn't a problem. It was perfect for knitting during movies, lectures, and conversations with friends. The ribbed band is knit separately and sewn on because it is a different gauge from the stockinette, and that turned out to be the perfect project for one of my flights down to Florida to visit my mother, even when the return flight had a 4-hour delay.

And speaking of labors of love, I made backpacks for my grandsons for Chanukah, but only after asking them if they thought they would like them and asking them to select which of the adorable patterns from Morehouse Farms they would like. One chose the Owl, and the other the Snake.

They are knit with the yarn doubled for the bottom and top band, and a slip-stitch pattern for the body, so they are quite substantial – especially because they are knit on size US #5 needles, quite a bit smaller than what one would normally use with this yarn. My friend Debby, who had made the Hippo backpack for her granddaughter, realized that nylon straps with buckles instead of knitted straps would be much more practical, and she offered to do the same for mine. The kids seemed to like them, so the project was a success. Now on the needles... two more for the other grandchildren.

A New Year's wish for all you knitters... May all your projects knit to gauge, and may all your UFO's be finished by the end of the coming year!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Can you have too many shawls?

One of my New Year's resolutions this year was not to knit more shawls. I love knitting lace. I love knitting shawls. I love wearing shawls. But how many does one person need? I have a whole shelf of them in one closet. The more delicate and complicated the lace, the more I love it and the less I wear it. Since I live in the northeast, where it is cold most of the year (even in summer, where there is a tendency to over-air-condition public places), I almost always have a shawl with me to throw over the other layers. But I rarely get "dressed up" and the lacier, dressier shawls seem to languish in the closet. But I can't resist the urge to knit more of them!

I also have a hard time resisting a puzzle. So when Kalinumba announced the Wings of Horus KAL, it seemed like a natural. There was even a cone of light blue Zephyr sitting calmly in the stash, perfect for this project. So I succumbed.

But then something terrible happened. Renee of Goddess Knits announced the Anniversary Mystery Shawl 09. Since my previous attempt at one of Renee's shawls ended in a trip to the Frog Pond, this was an opportunity to redeem myself. And... there happened to be some cream-colored Colourmart cashmere available in exactly the right weight. How could I NOT?

Both projects are proceeding nicely. There were some scary moments with Wings of Horus. In order to download each of the weekly clues, we had to solve a riddle involving ancient Egyptian mythology. I solved the first one quickly, but the subsequent riddles were more difficult. Thank goodness for the KAL group on Ravelry! Thanks to Google and some hints provided by more clever and knowledgeable group members, disaster was averted. In fact, there were a few awful hours when I thought that after knitting the first five clues, I wouldn't be able to get the final one! As much fun as it was, I may have to remember those feelings of dread the next time I consider doing something like that. There are just about 20 more rows to finish, but by now there are over 500 stitches in each row, so it may take a while.

And speaking of shawls, I never blogged about the large, lovely, soft alpaca Klabauter shawl from this past winter. That was another KAL by Monika Eckert. (I was seduced into making that one after my experience with Moni's Slow Bee Mystery Shawl, now available as the Icicle Lace Shawl.) It was a fast knit, done in Lavish Superfine Alpaca in a mint green. The yarn is a little heavier weight than most of my lace shawls, but Moni was very clever with the design – she offered edging options at several different points along the way, so there was a lot of flexibility in the size of the finished shawl. It is large enough to snuggle up into, and I expect it to become a staple of my wardrobe in the future.

Unfortunately, it has one problem. The alpaca sheds. I wore it out last night over a black knit top, and by the end of the evening not only did I have little wisps of greenish-white fluff all over my formerly black top, but even the sleeve of my husband's sport jacket was covered. (He had the misfortune of sitting next to me.) I am a little afraid to machine-wash the shawl, but hand-washing didn't remove the loose fibers when I originally blocked it, so I'm not sure where to go from here. Suggestions welcome!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It IS a jacket after all!

I had my doubts, many times in the course of this project, that this oddly shaped piece of knitting would ever metamorphose into a wearable garment. While I was always an A math student, plane geometry was a challenge, and involved brute memorization of formulas and proofs rather than any intuitive understanding. (Does anyone do proofs any more? My mathematician friends complain that even college math courses are light on proofs until the upper levels.) Visualization of three dimensional objects was totally beyond me, and even two dimensional objects could be problematic.

To backtrack a bit… In Italy in October 2007 I bought 12 skeins of Filatura di Crosa 127 Print. (Probably not enough, but all they had in the little shop in Tuscany where we stopped on our way back to Florence.) I searched for months for a pattern that would not result in horizontal stripes and eventually came across the Boku Mitered Jacket. After purchasing the pattern, I had my first doubts even before casting on. There was no schematic, and I wasn’t sure about whether I could fudge the size, length, or anything else to accommodate the amount of yarn I had. Eventually I ordered a few more balls of yarn from Webs, and while it wasn’t the same dye lot, it was close enough.

At various points I set it aside to work on other things, partly because I was so uncertain of where this was going. With most patterns, you start with the back, then the front(s), then the sleeves, and it is clear where you are at any time. This pattern, though, begins with the center back and works at an angle… okay while you are still on the back, but then it wanders over to the sides and the front, and you pick up stitches at various points along the way. (With any luck, you will pick up the CORRECT stitches, but it is hard to know for sure.)

Eventually it started coming into place, but I was almost ready to give up when nearing the end, since it didn’t seem to fit properly, but adding additional rows to the edging around the collar made a big difference. I had added some solid Elann Peruvian Highland Wool for the cuffs and the band around the bottom and collar, and I think that finished it off nicely. (In truth, I used the solid black because I was still afraid of running short of the 127 Print, but I might have done that anyway.) In the end I was happy, but it was probably the most stressful knit I have ever had… partly because I wasn’t sure all the effort was going to result an a wearable jacket, and partly because the yarn had such wonderful associations with the trip to Tuscany that I didn’t want it to go to waste.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hats, Hats, Hats

Earlier this week I looked at my blog and discovered that I hadn't posted since the end of October. I guess it's time for a New Year's (slightly used New Year) resolution to blog more regularly.

It's all Ravelry's fault. In the past several months, the time I would have spent blogging seems to have been gobbled up by Ravelry. Between updating my own projects and looking at other people's projects, it has become a real time sink. But what an amazing one!

This has been a dreadful winter in the Northeast, and as a result I have been on a hat knitting kick. It started with the Meret beret, which was a free pattern offered by Wooly Wormhead as part of a Ravelry KAL. I had just finished it when I suddenly needed a birthday gift for my sister-in-law, so I decided to give it to her and make another one for myself. Only this one I decided to give to a friend as a Chanukah present.

Meret was a well written pattern, and I enjoyed it so much that I bought Wooly Wormhead's book (despite her unfortunate name) Going Straight, a collection of 24 designs using a sideways construction method. The biggest problem was deciding which hat to make first!

The winner was Guimauve, a slouchy beret with an unusual, slightly-pointy shape, though the point is much less pronounced when worn than it is just sitting for a photograph.

Like the other two hats, I made this one from stash yarn – in this case Park Avenue, a now discontinued alpaca-merino blend by Lily Chin. Because the yarn is a heavier gauge than the pattern calls for, I needed only 8 repeats instead of 10. The fit is perfect.I may try the same hat again some time with a variegated yarn as it is shown in WW's pattern photo.

Another ball of Park Avenue was leftover from a sweater and too pretty to abandon, with just enough for a not-too-big hat, so I next tried Trinity. It was a good travel project – extremely portable and not too difficult. It was a little too small – wearable, but too small to be pulled down over both ears. After deciding not to wear it day after day, I decided to extend it by picking up stitches along the bottom and adding a brim. There wasn't quite enough Park Avenue left, so I added some green KnitPicks Wool of the Andes, which blended in perfectly. It is now my favorite hat.

On really cold days, my favorite is Strudel, for which I used Lavish Superfine Alpaca that was leftover from a shawl (a subject for another post). It is another nice warm hat, that fits well and covers the ears. The horizontal cables give it an interesting look, and it stays put even on windy days.

There are still several hat patterns in the WW book that are on my To Do list. Maybe next winter. (If this one ever ends.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Second Chances

This was a week for second chances – at least knitting-wise.

Last winter I made the wonderful Oblique sweater by Veronique Avery. It me took about 5 months to knit it, and in the end it was too big. When a member of one of the on-line knitting groups offered to buy it from me, I decided to sell it to her, and immediately bought yarn for another one. It was the same yarn – even the same color, though the dye lot for the second one was a little grayer. I was surprised at how much faster it was to knit the second time! The lace patterns were far less intimidating, and after the first few rows I barely had to look at the instructions for each section. Here is the finished product:

Pattern: Oblique, by , Knitty, Fall 2007
Yarn: Ella Rae Classic Wool, approx. 9 skeins (1900 yds)
Needles: KnitPicks Options US #8
Modifications: Omitted waist shaping; shortened cuffs

I have already worn it twice and expect it to be my standard grab-it-whenever-cold sweater for this winter.

My other Second Chance was the Alix Shawl. I had made one for my mother over a year ago, using some colorful sock yarn that seemed a little too colorful for socks. She seemed to like the shawl, but it mysteriously disappeared shortly after I gave it to her. I decided to make her another one, since she is always cold, even in Florida, and wanted to use either sock yarn or a washable wool, and found a nice superwash merino in variegated blues. It was good that it was a totally different colorway from the first shawl, since as I was about to finish it, the original one turned up in one of her dresser drawers!

Pattern: Alix's Prayer Shawl
Size: 64" x 30"
Yarn: Fibranatura Baby Merino (superwash), 4 skeins
Modifications: Crocheted bind-off

As with the Oblique sweater, the shawl was much easier the second time. The pattern for each row seemed very easy to memorize. I'm not sure whether it was easier because I had done the same pattern before, or because of all the more complicated lace knitting I have done in the interim. Either way, it certainly shows that experience pays off.

One more object (though this was not a re-do) finished recently is the Syncopation Mitered Bag:

Pattern: Syncopation Miterd Bag by Sheera Designs
Yarn: Cascade 220 (a little more than one skein) andMadil Yarns Rebus (1.5 skeins)
Needles: US #6
Modifications: None
New skill learned: I-cord

This pattern had the potential to be a nightmare, but it has such clear diagrams that even somebody "geometrically challenged" was able to do it. Once I started to pin labels on each completed section to identify the number of the section, it became much easier.

This pattern may have a Second Chance in its future.

Monday, September 01, 2008

I can't believe it's over

The end of summer always comes as a surprise and a disappointment. Since I love the two months of summer and hate the six months of winter so much, the end of August is always a depressing time. We still operate on an academic year calendar, and while the start of the new school term always brought with it the promise of a fresh start, for a retiree it just means the onset of cold, gray misery.

But enough whining (or whinging, as the Aussies would say).

August was wonderful. We had a delightful vacation cruising in the British Isles (where in fact it was cold, gray, and rainy everywhere we went). And I got an amazing number of UFO's finished.

My "cousin" Michael's wife had twin daughters in July. (The relationship is more complicated than that, but the details are irrelevant and boring.) My major objective for the cruise was to finish these for my visit shortly after our return:

The variegated yarn is Bella Colour, a cotton and acrylic blend from Plymouth Yarn. The pattern is the Toddler Jumper that I got from Discontinued Brand Name Yarn when I bought the yarn in the pink and gray the first time to make a dress for my granddaughter. I bought the blue for the second dress (before I knew the baby would be twins) and had almost enough of the pink left over for another one, but not quite. Fortunately I found the solid gray (Caron Country, a washable wool/acrylic blend) which coordinated color and texture-wise at the local A.C. Moore just before we left. They came out quite nice, don't you think? The babies' mother was delighted with them, which is always nice when you give a hand-knitted gift (and happens far too infrequently).

I couldn't go to visit without a gift for the twins' two-year-old brother, so the few days between our return home and the trip to Miami I went on a knitting blitz and finished the Childhood cardigan just in the nick of time. The yarn was Mission Falls 1824 cotton, which has a very nice feel to it and is supposedly washable (though I would always recommend handwashing for hand knits). The mom was equally delighted with this! One interesting thing about this pattern is that it calls for snaps instead of buttons (though it is shown with fake buttons sown on). I didn't have time to buy buttons, and my wonderful friend Clare had the perfect snaps. I think I like it just as much without buttons, unless you happened to have particularly interesting ones. And it was nice not having to bother with buttonholes.

My other major project for the trip was the Revontuli (Northern Lights) shawl. (Yes, I know the pattern is in Finnish, but the designer fortunately translated it into English.) My mother lives in Florida but is always cold, so I wanted to make her something both colorful and warm. When I saw this pattern on Ravelry I knew it would be perfect in Kauni wool yarn, which comes in a rainbow colorway with very long repeats. It was, unfortunately, less soft than I would have liked, but once knit and washed, it was acceptable. I wasn't sure if my mother would like the colors, but she seemed to be very happy with it. (And she doesn't fake happiness very well.) I had two skeins of yarn and still have about 1/3 of the total left. Until it got really big, it was a good travel project, because the pattern was very easy to keep in mind with only an occasional glimpse at the pattern at the beginning of each row.

I actually did some more knitting in August, but that's enough for one post. More coming... along with some photos from the trip.