Saturday, December 09, 2006

A sad tale of scratchy yarn

Recently I purchased some beautiful-looking hand-dyed New Zealand wool on eBay. When it arrived, I didn't immediately notice that there was anything strange or unpleasant about it, and my friend Clare kindly wound the skeins into balls for me. It was only about two weeks later, when I started swatching for a shawl, that I realized that it had an awful, scratchy feel. I wasn't alarmed right away, because I have had experience with cashmere that had a sort of stiff feel but became incredibly soft and drapy after the oil from spinning was washed out.

This time, though, washing didn't help. The washed swatches were scratchy and stiff. I wrote to the vendor asking for advice, and also posted a query to the Knitlist. Several suggestions were offered, including a long (overnight) soak in a solution of white vinegar, fabric softener, or hair conditioner. I tried them all. The final result? Stiff scratchy swatches. I have over 1,000 yards of this yarn and was ready to write it off, when several Knitlist members suggested using it for felting. So instead of a shawl, this yarn has a tote bag and maybe a hat in its future.

On a happier note, I have finished my first pair of socks! They look a bit lumpy in the photo, possibly because they haven't been blocked. (But then, I don't plan to block them... they will block themselves on my feet when I wear them.) Because of my big feet, the only socks I wear are men's black synthetic socks, so it will be really strange to have something with color on my feet!

Pattern: Based on Queen Kahuna's Crazy Toes and Heels
Yarn: KnitPicks Dancing – 41% Cotton, 39% Wool, 13% Nylon, 7% Elastic, 2 skeins with a little left over
Needles: Addi Turbo US #1 (both socks knit simultaneously on two circulars)
Pattern choices: Regular toe, slip-stitch heel, K4P2 ribbed cuff

The second pair of socks is already on the needles, and I have to confess that even on the second pair I had to frog (but only once) before I got the toe right. It isn't hard, it's just confusing, until you get into the rhythm of turning the needles properly. This pair is for my husband, and they will be just as long but smaller around the calf, so I should be able to make the cuffs longer. I always wondered why people would go to the trouble of knitting socks, since they are tucked inside shoes and generally unseen, but now that I've done it once I can see doing it again. And again. And again.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Alberta finished!

I have a new favorite shawl, Alberta. It is my second Faroese shawl from Myrna Stahman's Shawls and Scarves, and it is destined to be worn as often as the first. It is warm, soft, and very pretty.

Pattern: Alberta by Myrna Stahman, in Stahman's Shawls and Scarves
Yarn: Hand-dyed Merino wool from Uruguay, purchased from 100purewool on eBay, single ply worsted weight, approx. 1200 yards; color Mamao
Needles: Denise size US 10 1/2
Blocked size: Length 32" (center back) x 88" (wingspan)

The Faroese shawls have a very nice shape that sits easily on the shoulders without sliding off. The GS Gracie I made a few months ago has become a staple of my wardrobe – I slip it into my tote bag and carry it everywhere, just in case I'm cold (a far too frequent occurrence). Brenda Dayne of Cast On says "If you're cold, put on a sweater... That's what they're for." I would add to that "If you're cold and already wearing a sweater, put on a shawl... That's what they're for."

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Swallowtail Shawl

The Swallowtail Shawl is complete – and several weeks before the deadline! It is a Chanukah gift for my daughter-in-law, who said she liked the picture in Interweave Knits, where the pattern was published. I hope she likes it when she sees it in finished form – and actually wears it! The nupps drove me crazy, but otherwise it was a delightful pattern to knit and went very quickly. As usual it looked like a total blob before blocking, and then metamorphosed like the caterpillar to the eponymous butterfly.

Pattern: Swallowtail Shawl by Evelyn A. Clark, Interweave Knits, Fall 2006
Yarn: Jaggerspun Zephyr, Aegean blue, approx. 30 grams
Needles: Addi Turbos size US 5
Blocked size: 48" x 25"

I eventually cheated on the nupps, but after blocking they are practically indistinguishable from the real ones at the beginning. So if I do this pattern again (which is a distinct possibility) I will definitely do them as Sl2, P 3 tog, Pass slipped sts over, instead of P5 tog. The only difference is that this time I won't feel guilty about it.

What is it that is so addictive about lace knitting??? I have my second (Myrna Stahmann's) Faroese shawl on the needles, in another warm squishy worsted wool from Uruguay, but after finishing the Swallowtail I have a longing to start any of the 6 or 8 other lace patterns sitting in a stack on my desk. Oddly enough, two of them are by Evelyn A. Clark, the same designer who created both the Swallowtail and the Pacific Northwest Shawl. I never even noticed who the designer was until after I had bought the patterns. There is a je ne sais quoi about her patterns that must speak to me.

Oddly enough, in the middle of all this lace knitting, I suddenly got to urge to learn how to make socks. Could it be the onset of cold weather? The fact that "bought" socks never fit me properly? The fact that the only socks that do fit are boring? Or the fact that every other knitter in the world is talking about socks and I don't have a clue how to make them? Or all that beautiful sock yarn that suddenly seems to be available? [The correct answer is "all of the above."]

With the plethora of sock patterns available, it was hard to know where to start. But one thing was clear... that I would have to do a toe-up pattern, to make sure I wouldn't run out of yarn. (Why is it that sock yarn is generally sold in skeins large enough for an average sock? Another case of discrimination against ampleness?) Finger-less gloves are one thing, but the toe-less sock is an idea whose time has definitely not come! I had been looking at the Queen Kahuna approach, which made a lot of sense, since you knit both socks together on two circular needles. So this week I took up my new size 1 Addi turbos, two skeins of Knitpicks Dancing, and Page 1 of Queen Kahuna's book.

The less said about the first three attempts the better! On three different days I started, reading every word of the extremely explicit instructions and studying the many diagrams, only to finish the session by frogging the whole thing. On the fourth day, though, it came together, and I made it past the toe section and up thorough the foot. Yesterday, when everybody else in New Jersey was at one mall or another, I tackled the heel section, and despite struggling with a few of the instructions and somehow being off by one stitch in the slip-stitch section of the heel, got to the point of starting the cuff. I took a deep breath and slipped one onto my foot and ... (drumroll, please) ... it actually fits!

This process is not for the dimensionally challenged. You are juggling two socks, with two balls of yarn, on two circular needles (the front of each sock on one needle and the back on the other). When turning the work at the end of each row you have to be careful to (1) knit on the correct part of the sock using (2) the correct needle end and (3) the correct ball of yarn. It sounds easy, but on several separate occasions I noticed that I had knit onto the wrong needle (easy enough to undo) or, worse, joined the two socks to each other. I now know to check after each round that they are NOT connected, so in the worst case I just have to tink a row. In the long run, though, this method has distinct advantages: the socks will come out the same (barring some horrible mistake) and, even better, they will be finished at the same time, thereby avoiding the Second Sock syndrome that plagues so many knitters. The only down side is that one of the big arguments for knitting socks is their portability. The two-at-once approach makes them somewhat less portable. But that seems to be a small price to pay.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Weekend at the Frog Pond

I spent this past weekend in central Pennsylvania with 5 other members of the A-K knitting group. It was a delightful weekend way out in the country (as in chickens, goats, and horses) – a nice change from central NJ – in good company. We spent the weekend knitting, talking, eating, and laughing. One of the highlights was going through a huge stack of old knitting magazines and practically rolling on the floor in hysteria at some of the designs.

The others were working on a variety of interesting projects, while I spent most of my time frogging. My first sweater after my 20+ year knitting hiatus was an Einstein jacket in Noro Kureyon. It looked absolutely terrible on me – I didn't realize that the stripes would be so pronounced, and the vertical stripes didn't counteract the effect of the horizontal stripes. It has been sitting in a lump, never blocked and ends never woven in, waiting for a reincarnation. The yarn finally decided that it wanted to be a knitting bag, so I took it along with an unfinished hat and a shawl to work on over the weekend. What a project! Because of the construction of the jacket, which is knit in one piece, with top part knit perpendicular to the bottom, it is extremely difficult to unravel, and seemed to take forever. I was beginning to think it was going to take as long to frog it as it did to knit it.

Back on the home front, I finished the Swallowtail shawl, which is blocking. Despite the torment of the nupps, it is a lovely design. I'll take a picture when it finishes trying.

On another note, the Reluctant Penguin was just accepted into the Knitting Blogs webring!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Pacific Northwest Shawl

This pattern seemed to call my name the first time I saw it. Since I had never knit lace more complicated than a simple scarf, it was quite a while before I tackled it. Here it is:

Pattern: Pacific Northwest Shawl by Evelyn A. Clark
Yarn: Jaggerspun Zephyr, peacock, approx. 75 grams
Needles: Addi Turbos size US 6
Blocked size: 36" x 72"
Modifications: Omitted I-cord edging along top edge (because I have never done I-cord before and couldn't figure out how to do it)

This shawl was a pleasure to knit, and it went very fast. The Zephyr yarn has a wonderful feel, and the pattern was generally easy to follow. The only problem was the small size of the charts, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology I was able to blow them up to a size large enough to see. It isn't quite as large as it should be, but blocking was a problem – it didn't fit on my blocking board and even the bed in the spare room was iffy. I may try re-blocking it, if I can figure out where to do it.

Here is another view:

By sheer coincidence, my next project was designed by the same designer. It is the Swallowtail Shawl from the Fall Interweave Knits. Here it is about 3/4 done:

It doesn't look like much, but then lace always seems to look like an amorphous blob before it is blocked.

The problem with this pattern, in a word, is... NUPPS. Nupps are bobbles made by knitting several stitches into a single stitch, and then on the next row purling them all together. In this pattern the nupps are formed by K1 YO K1 YO K1 in a single stitch, and then on the next row doing a P5 tog. Ouch! I don't consider myself a particularly tight knitter, but getting the needle through 5 stitches at a time is incredibly difficult. I even bought Bryspun needles, having read that they have sharper points than Addis, and in fact they do... but not sharp enough! The first part, the budding leaf pattern, was uneventful, and it seemed to be going well. Then came the next section... NUPPville! The lily of the valley pattern is very pretty, but almost led me to frog the whole thing.

Fortunately, there is a Knitalong for this shawl, and several knitters shared tips for dealing with nupps. The one that worked best for me was to slip 2, P3 tog, pass the 2 slipped stitches over. There is apparently a slight difference in how it looks at the end, but in my case it was either "cheat" or quit.

Thank goodness for internet support groups!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Shetland Tea-ish Shawl Finished!

This is absolutely gorgeous (if I do say so myself). It took a long time to knit, and then there was the saga of the missing blocking wires (which, in the end, I didn't use), but here it is...

Original Pattern: Shetland Tea Shawl by Dale Long in A Gathering of Lace
Yarn: Handpainted 100% Cashmere from Mystical Creation Yarns, approx. 4 oz. (~1625 yds)
Needles: Addi Turbos size US 4
Blocked size: 48" diameter
Pattern modifications: Open circle instead of circular pi shawl; substituted Madeira and Diamond pattern (fromHeirloom Knitting) for Diamond Madeira pattern; added additional repeat of Horseshoe before the edging

The yarn is absolutely gorgeous, but was so fine that it was like knitting with dental floss. As a result the shawl is somewhat smaller than I would have liked... but I just couldn't bring myself to face another increase round to over 1000 stitches! (As it was, the edging seemed to take forever... it would have been "forever times 2.") I may try blocking it out a little more, but it is wearable as it is, and soooooooo sooooooft.

This project was probably a little too ambitious for my limited experience with lace. By knitting an open pi shawl instead of a full circle, it was necessary to knit back and forth instead of around, which meant re-writing some of the lace patterns. Fortunately, most of them had plain knit on the alternate rows (or purl, when doing it back-and-forth), but the Diamond Madeira pattern was much more complicated. On the advice of several members of the Knitted Lace forum I bought the expensive but oh-so-worth-it Sharon Miller book, Heirloom Knitting, and found a similar pattern that was easier to do back-and-forth.

Now I just need an occasion to wear it!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Please, Mr. Mailman...

In the words of the old song, "Please, Mr. Mailman, bring me my blocking wires!" Well, maybe that wasn't how the song was originally written, but that's how it has been going around and around in my head for the past week. I ordered blocking wires about 10 days ago, with a few other items. The other items arrived promptly, but the blocking wires, which were sent out on the same day in a separate box, have been (according to the USPS tracking info) sitting in a warehouse a few miles from my house for the past five days. Meanwhile, the Shetland Tea-ish shawl is sitting in an undistinguished blob on my dresser, waiting and waiting...

In the meantime, I have started my next project, the Pacific Northwest Shawl, from the long-backordered peacock Zephyr. Thank goodness for scanners! To see the charts at a practical distance I had to scan them and blow them up to at least 150% the original size, then print them out on 8.5 x 14" paper held sideways. Now that the preliminary work is done I am full speed ahead (if you don't count tinking a few rows here and there, or having to frog about 10 rows down to a lifeline after trying unsuccesfully to find a missing stitch). I am counting incessantly and still manage to be short a stitch here and there – fortunately, the alternate rows are plain knit, so it gives me a chance for a recount and an opportunity to fix a missed yarn-over. Even then, though, mistakes slip through. There must be gremlins about who slip a stitch or add an extra when I'm not looking.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Endless edging

On and on and on I knit. It should have been obvious – an edging that is knit perpendicular to the body of a circular shawl is going to take forever. This particular shawl is about 500 stitches around the bottom edge. (Thank goodness I didn't do another doubling to 1000 stitches and opted to count on aggressive blocking to increase the length.)I have been knitting nothing but edging for days and am only about 1/4 of the way around... How many synonyms are there for the word "tedious"?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Shetland Tea-ish Shawl

I can't even enumerate the number of rules I broke in attempting the Shetland Tea Shawl (from A Gathering of Lace) with some gorgeous hand-dyed lace-weight cashmere. The pattern called for lace-weight yarn, and this was lace-weight. I didn't swatch first (after all, it is a shawl, and gauge doesn't matter so much for a shawl, right???) and just plunged ahead.

Not quite. My first deviation from the pattern was to make it an open circle, so instead of making a complete circle it was necessary to knit back and forth on circular needles. Big deal, you might say -- just purl on the alternate rows and all will be well. If only it were that easy! The first two lace patterns weren't much of a problem, since the even-numbered rows were plain knit. But then came the Diamond Madeira pattern, which is much more complex and in fact has yarnovers and decreases on all rows. It was quite a project to convert the pattern from knitting in the round to knitting back and forth, but with the help of the conversions in Barbara Walker's
Charted Knitting Designs it seemed possible. It was really hard!!! After about 8 rows (which involved much tinking) it was time to rethink. Several members of the Knitted-Lace group mentioned Sharon Miller's Heirloom Knitting book for a Diamond Madeira pattern knit not in the round, so I took a deep breath and ordered this very expensive (but quite wonderful, as it turns out), book.

The next step was to frog the 8-or-so rows of the STS's Diamond Madeira, back to the lifeline I had fortunately put in before starting it. It is much, much easier to knit lace that has plain K or P on the alternate rows!!! (Those plain rows are not only faster and easier to knit, but they also allow for the chance to double-check the counts between all the stitch markers and fix any problems right away.)

It still isn't a fast knit – each row (about 500 stitches) takes about half an hour. But at least I haven't had to frog or tink more than a few stitches at a time.

Now here is the problem. Because the yarn is apparently finer than the yarn called for in the pattern, this shawl is going to be much too small, even allowing for enthusiastic blocking. The Diamond Madeira pattern I am now using has a 52-row repeat, instead of the 36-row repeat of the original. If my calculations are correct, this level of the shawl can have about 96 rows before another doubling is required, so I could do another repeat of the Diamond Madeira before doing the edging. OR I could return to one of the earlier patterns (Horseshoe and Shetland Fern) and do enough repeats to accommodate the correct number of rows. I'm not sure which would be better from a design point of view. One thing I am sure of, though -- I hope it won't be necessary to do another doubling and have to deal with 1,000-stitch rows!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Exercising options

It was with great anticipation that I opened my package of KnitPicks Options needles last week. They had received excellent reviews in the knitting blogs and from Knitter's Review. I love my Denise needles but was looking for something with sharper points (not to mention that they don't have anything smaller than a size 5). Grumperina's scientific comparison of the weight of various alternatives had me a little concerned when the Knitpicks Options ranked heaviest, but it wasn't even clear that the difference would be noticeable.

Alas, this was not a match made in heaven. I hated the packaging and was really put off by the fact that the sizes were not marked on the needles. (This problem was mentioned by several knitters, but most found that to be a minor drawback.) I did order an optional set of Needle Size ID Tags, though it wasn't clear how to attach them to the needle tips when they weren't in use. More serious was the fact that the tips kept loosening from the cable. They didn't loosen enough to become detached, since I could always use the little key to re-tighten them, but the very fine laceweight yarn would snag in the join, and it was difficult to free it. Perhaps it was my fault for knitting too tightly, but after the fifth or sixth time I gave up and switched to an old Addi Turbo.

Grumperina was right. They are heavy. But there were things I liked: the skinny cables, the sharp points, the hole through which you can carry a thread for a lifeline (though I probably wouldn't do that anyway because of my liberal use of stitch markers when knitting lace). So it was with regret that I packed them up and shipped them back, exercising the option to return them within 30 days.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Blocking Gracie

With GS Gracie off the needles, it was time to block (or, as they say in England, to dress) the shawl. After blocking Scheherazade, I thought this one was going to be simple. It didn't fit on my blocking board, but it wasn't too big for the bed in the guest room, so with a beach towel laid out on the bed, I headed to the sink with Gracie and some shampoo to give it a quick wash. The rinse water was bright green – as was the second rinse, the third rinse... Off to the internet to check out excess dye in hand-dyed wool. "Heat and acid" they said, so the next washing was in warmer water with a little white vinegar. This looked like it could be a very slow process, so Gracie and I headed to the laundry room and the washing machine. Set to soak on the Very Delicate setting, with a little white vinegar in hot water, the washing machine took charge as I nervously waited, jumping up every time the sound changed to make sure it didn't actually spin after the water drained out. (Visions of a felted blob danced in my head.) One more rinse in warm water and – voilà! No more green water! The final test would be the color of the yellow beach towel after the shawl finished blocking, and in fact, there was no hint of green on the towel.

It took two days to dry, but finally Gracie was ready for the official photo:

Pattern: GS Gracie, by Myrna Stahman, in
Stahman's Shawls and Scarves
Yarn: Hand-dyed Merino wool from Uruguay, purchased from 100purewool on eBay, single ply worsted weight, approx. 1100 yds
Needles: Denise size US 8
Blocked size: length 30" (center back) x 84" (wingspan)

The yarn is delightfully soft and snuggly. I have a feeling that Gracie and I are going to be spending a lot of time together this winter.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

When is there one mistake too many?

While on vacation I started a Print O'The Waves stole and violated almost every one of the basic rules of lace knitting, including knitting on a transatlantic flight while cramped into a bizarre position and in inadequate light. Much to my horror, though not to my surprise, when I got home and picked it up again I noticed quite a few mistakes. I considered frogging the whole thing (about 15" worth of the central panel) but my husband convinced me that "nobody will notice." Since then I have done another several pattern repeats and made a few more errors. The question is... will the mistakes be more or less obvious after it is blocked? AND... can I give the stole as a gift knowing that it isn't 100% perfect?

In the meantime, I borrowed the Myrna Stahman book on Faroese shawls from a friend. What wonderful and practical designs! There was some nice green Uruguayan wool that was happily stowed in my stash just begging to be knit as a GS Gracie. I guess after all that lace-weight yarn it was time to switch to something thick and warm and cozy, especially with summer over and the temperature dropping. I have ordered my own copy of the book, but the yarn didn't want to wait until it arrived, so I just had to get started right away. It seems to be going very quickly, which is a good thing, because I have some more Zephyr on the way and another shawl at the top of the project list. (And we won't even mention UFO'S!)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Introducing Scheherazade...

Here she is... Scheherazade...

Pattern: Scheherazade, by Melanie Gibbons
Yarn: Jaggerspun Zephyr in Aegean Blue from Sarah's Yarns, approx. 90 gm
Needles: Addi Turbo size US 4
Blocked size: Approx. 22" x 78"

I have learned a lot from this project. It was my first lace shawl, and I probably couldn't have done it without the online support group from the Mystery Stole 2 Knitalong. There were hints about everything from the provisional cast-on to marking up and following charts, inserting lifelines, and blocking. What a wonderful group of knitters!

This has been a delightful knit, right from the beginning. I love the feel of the laceweight Zephyr, which is 50% merino/50% silk. It is light and airy and soft and squishy and drapes beautifully. The picture really doesn't do it justice.

So what's next? Maybe finish a few of the other projects already on the needles? Lace knitting seems to be addictive, and I already miss working on Scheherazade, so I have the feeling another lace project is in my near future. Maybe another knitalong?

Friday, August 25, 2006

57,559 stitches later...

Scheherazade, formerly known as Mystery Stole 2, is now finished and blocking on the bed in the guest room. I seem to be suffering from separation anxiety after 57,559 stitches (more or less, not counting re-do's). We have been close companions for nearly two months. The last few days were especially intense, working on the edging. Then this afternoon I bound off the last stitch and set it out to block. Instead of feeling the sense of accomplishment I expected after finishing this gorgeous stole, I was struck by a sense of emptiness. It's not like I don't have a whole basket full of other projects on the needles and a long To Do list!

Pictures tomorrow...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Knitting in the air

It has been a real challenge to prepare for knitting on an airplane – restrictions on scissors and other metal objects, not to mention knitting needles, required a lot of advance preparation. On our recent flight to Paris in June I had it all figured out: a simple top with interesting yarn but mindless stockinette, knit on plastic Denise needles, and even plastic stitch holders just in case they decided that a 6" metal stitch holder could be used as a weapon. A Clover yarn cutter pendant was tucked in my purse, though I subsequently heard that they had also been banned by some airlines. I got a lot of knitting done, and finished the top on a flight to Miami to visit my mother a few weeks later. Airport sitting time and squished-like-a-sardine time on the plane passed much more quickly, and there was even something to show for it at the end.

This time it was different. We were in Europe on a wonderful Baltic cruise when the news broke that a new terrorist plot had been foiled, but that it involved flights from London to the U.S., and that nobody would be allowed to carry anything onto the airplane – only travel documents, money, and non-liquid medicines needed for the duration of the flight, all in a transparent plastic bag. Everything else (cameras, electronic equipment, house keys, jewelry, and knitting) had to be put into our (unlocked, of course) checked luggage.

While the arrests by Scotland Yard of over 25 terrorist suspects was somewhat reassuring, we weren't entirely convinced that they had them all. (Maybe somebody didn't get the email that said the gig was off?) It was just too awful to contemplate being blown up, so most of us managed to shift our focus to the horrors of having our precious belongings lost, stolen, or otherwise "disappeared" once in the hands of the airlines. Some people were trying to calculate how much jewelry they could wear at one time and even suggested adorning their husbands with necklaces and earrings. Others were trying to figure out how much data to delete from their laptops and other electronic devices, lest they fall into the wrong hands.

Just imagine... you get to your destination, your checked-in carry-on bag has disappeared, and you have no car keys to get home from the airport, no cell phone to call someone to help you, and no keys to get into your house once you manage to get there. Meanwhile, you have had to sit on an airplane for 7, 8, or even 12 hours, with nothing to read and nothing to knit. How can anyone be expected to survive that???

It was difficult to put my camera, Archos video player, and laptop into a suitcase, but it was really torture to put in my knitting. I had started and completed a panta on the flight to Europe and it really helped to pass the endless sleepless hours on the plane. On the cruise I had worked on both the Mystery Stole 2 (see previous posts) and Eunny Jang's Print O'The Waves Stole and couldn't bear parting with them. After all, electronic gadgets can be replaced, but all those hours and hours of knitting. Even if I could get my hands on enough antihistamines/tranquilizers/sleeping pills to sleep on the plane without reading and/or knitting, what if they lost or absconded with the suitcase carrying these treasures???

In the eleventh hour (literally), the airlines relaxed the restrictions, allowing each of us one small carry-on (read pocketbook size), that could contain wallets, keys, even cell phones, cameras, and MP3 players. It was too small for the laptop, but I managed to squeeze in my camera. My husband used a small carry-on they had given us on the ship, which we filled with a book for each of us and.... (drumroll)... some knitting. I chose the Print O'The Waves on the grounds that it was less far along, so it was less bulky and I would lose less if they confiscated it, and it is being done on #5 needles, so I could use my Denise plastics, while the Mystery Stole is on #4 Addis. (It is really a shame that Denise doesn't come in 4's.)

The airport in London was a nightmare, even at 6:30 AM. It was totally mobbed, and it took us almost 4 hours to get checked in and get through two sets of security. We made it through the first security check exhausted but unscathed, and then they had another security check at the gate. They pulled my husband aside, patted him down, and then opened his carry-on (yes, the one with the knitting). I was literally holding my breath while they did it, but after poking around in it, they closed it up and handed it back to him with my knitting intact. Phew!

After a sleepless night, I violated one of my rules of lace knitting: DON'T KNIT WHEN YOU ARE TIRED. I haven't yet had the guts to look at what I knit on that flight, but at least it helped pass the time.

The good news was that we arrived safely in Newark. And, as a bonus, our luggage did too.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Lace Lessons Learned

As a beginning lace knitter, I have learned an enormous amount by working on the Fiddlesticks Venus Vest and then Mystery Stole 2 by Melanie Gibbons. Here are a few tips for anybody just beginning to knit lace:
  • Don't be afraid of charts. They might be intimidating at first, but they really are easier to use than written instructions.
  • Make an extra copy of your chart so that you can mark it up with colored pencils, and still have the original "just in case." Depending on the pattern, it might make sense to mark off every x stitches, where x is an arbitrary number like 10 or 20; or, if there are multiple repeats across a row, mark off each repeat.
  • Use some kind of ruler (PostIt notes work well) to block off the rows above the one you are working on. That way you can see the current row as well as previous ones, so you can check your progress against the pattern.
  • Make liberal use of stitch markers. If practical, use them in the same places as the colored lines you have put on the chart. Sometimes they have to be moved, if there is a multiple-stitch figure (K2tog, SSK, etc.) that spans the marker, but it is a small price to pay.
  • Use a row marker to keep track of which row you are working in case you put your work down and come back to it a day, week, or month later.
  • Count, count count! Count the stitches between markers, and count again on the wrong-side row if it is a plain purl row. If you have lost or gained a stitch, you will be much more likely to find it right away and not have to tink or frog.
  • Use lifelines! They are easy to do... just thread a contrasting piece of yarn through the stitches on the needle after you have completed a row that you know is correct. It seems easiest to do this on a wrong side row, at least with patterns that do purl (or knit) across WS rows. If you make a mistake that you can't correct, you just have to frog back to the lifeline and pick up the stitches -- much better than having to start all over from scratch!
  • Don't panic if you are off by a stitch. It is often possible to fix the error in the next row, as long as you have been counting and catch it right away.
  • Don't knit in bad light.
Thanks to many of the members of the Mystery Stole group who made several suggestions that I wouldn't have discovered by myself without much more trial and much, much more error.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Venus in the Closet

Venus has now been confined to the closet and is waiting for the weather to break before going out in public. The yarn is silk but it is a sort of fluffy silk that feels more like merino... lovely to knit with and I'm sure lovely to wear when it isn't 90 degrees out.

Here is a closeup of the lace pattern, complete with the white lifelines, before assembly and blocking:

I am almost sorry to be finished with her, since it was such an interesting pattern to knit and the yarn was so scrumptious.

And, speaking of scrumptious yarn, the Zephyr for the Mystery Stole 2 is also wonderful. As is the pattern. I have completed the first side of Part 3 and am extremely sad to have to leave it for the time being, since I won't be able to get the remaining clues while we are on vacation. It has been so much fun watching the pattern reveal itself that I'm not sure I can stand the suspense until we get back.

Meanwhile, I am trying to figure out what to take on the Baltic cruise. I have enough Zepyr to make another shawl but haven't decided which one. The Zephyr should be perfect for travelling, because it is very lightweight and scrunches up to almost nothing. Now that I am hooked on lace knitting I'd like to try something interesting, but will be out of range of help if I run into trouble. What to do??? For somebody who only started knitting two years ago (after a 20+ year hiatus) it seems pretty psycho to be planning my knitting for the trip even before I start thinking about what clothes to pack!

What I won't be taking: the cotton chenille baby sweater on size 2 needles that I hate working on. It is just stockinette, but it makes my hands hurt after just a few rows. I have to finish it before my granddaughter comes to visit in September, so there is a deadline. I have a feeling that I know what I'll be doing Labor Day weekend!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Just in time

Against all odds I managed to finish Part 1 of the Mystery Stole just in time for Part 2 of the instructions to be released. I had to stop for a few days to go down to Miami to visit my mother... lace doesn't make for good airport or airplane knitting since it requires so much concentration, and the complicated pattern means having lots of space to spread out. So instead of unpacking and doing the wash today I treated myself to a long knitting session, and here is how it looks now:

The photo doesn't do it justice, since one end of Part 1 is squished on a stitch holder – it is symmetrical both horizontally and vertically (but I wasn't willing to take the stitches off the holder for the sake of the photo). The next section will be knit from the bottom and then repeated at the other end. The yarn is wonderfully fine and soft... the whole thing can be mushed up into the palm of your hand.

As for airplane knitting, I took along a summer top that I started on the plane to Paris. I had finished the back and was planning to do the front and cap sleeves on this trip. Unfortunately, because of several extra hours in the airport when the plane was delayed, I finished it all before the plane eventually took off and had nothing to work on for the whole flight. I suppose I should have put it together today, but it was much more fun working on the Mystery Stole!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Venus: Vedi, Vidi, Vici

Venus is now complete! Well, not completely complete. It is officially off the needles, just in time to start the Mystery Stole (more about that below) since I had promised myself "Just Say No" to new projects until at least one was finished.

Here is Venus in her unblocked form, complete with dangling ends and lifelines:

The photo is a bit distorted because of the angle necessary to get the whole vest in the photo, but you get the idea. The yarn is Fiddlesticks hand-dyed Country Silk, and it is scrumptious.

This was my first real lace project, after doing several scarves. The instructions were extremely well written. There were charts, which I had never used before and found somewhat intimidating at first, but they were very easy to follow. The liberal use of stitch markers and lifelines kept me on track and I rarely had to do more fixing than pick up a dropped stitch between markers. It is knit from side to side, with a 16-row repeat, so I threaded in a lifeline at the end of every repeat. Even though I never had to frog it down to a lifeline, they came in handy for keeping track of where I was. Here are closeups of the lace patterns:

Blocking will have to wait, since I will be away part of this coming week and part of next week. But then it is too warm to wear it before fall anyway.

On to the Mystery Stole! I had already made four swatches in ivory alpaca to get it up to gauge. As you can see in my last post, the Penguin is looking at them dubiously, so I ended up buying a cone of the lace weight Zephyr (50% silk, 50% merino wool) that the designer was using. It was touch and go whether the yarn would come in time... I was itching to start, and if it didn't come in yesterday's mail I was going to have to wait until Thursday. But, miracle of miracles, it arrived late yesterday afternoon, just as I was about to dunk Venus in the sink! So Venus got a reprieve, and I started winding manageable-sized balls from the cone.

There were several false starts, not even counting the previous swatches. I decided not to do another swatch, since everyone else using Zephyr was using #3 or #4 needles, and I didn't have any #3's and would rather have it a little bigger anyway. I started on an inexpensive bamboo circular and after carefully marking up the charts, doing the provisional cast on, and putting in stitch markers, I did the first few rows. There were lots of booboos along the way... counting to 10 or 12 would seem to be a simple matter, but on the way back the number of stitches between markers would change. Aaaargh! And then the yarn kept catching on the join of the needle. Clearly it was meant to be frogged and restarted on the Addis I had once bought and never used. I was afraid that the Addis would be too slippery and stitches would slide off the needle too easily, but the snagging and catching with the bamboos was ridiculous. So back to the beginning!

By the time my eyes were announcing the end of the evening I had completed the first 20 rows of the chart:


This looks like it is going to be a beautiful design... but with 2 inches to show for an entire evening's work (with absolutely no distractions) it could be a very long process indeed.

And yes, I plan to thread in a lifeline before I do one more row!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Couldn't resist a mystery

For someone whose favorite genre of (junk) literature is the mystery, the Mystery Stole Knitalong was irresistible... even though I already have too many projects on the needles and had promised myself not to start anything new until at least one project was complete. The plan is for Melanie to post directions for a lace stole in six sections, one each week for six weeks. There is a Yahoo Group for the participants to discuss progress, questions, etc. as we go along. It sounds like fun, even though we won't know what the stole is supposed to look like until the end – but judging from Melanie's other designs, it should be a beauty.

We were give a head start to choose the yarn, do the gauge swatches, and cast on the first 99 stitches. Here the Penguin is watching over the four swatches as they are blocked...

The yarn is a fine ivory Superalpaca that I bought on eBay a few months ago. It took four tries to get it up to Melanie's gauge – I was actually hoping for a little larger so that the stole would end up bigger than specified in the initial specs. The first swatch is on size 4 needles, then 6's, 7's, and finally 8's.

I've already learned a few things. I cast off way too tightly, as you can probably tell from the swatches, and will have to devise a way around that. (There's only so much you can do with blocking!) I also tend to cast on too tightly but have learned to cast on with a much larger needle to solve that problem. This pattern calls for a provisional cast-on, which I learned to do from the excellent video from Knitting at Knoon. A provisional cast-on always sounded a bit intimidating, but it wasn't at all difficult and, in fact, I may adopt the crocheted cast-on on which it is based in the future. I've also learned (as if every knitter and pattern designer didn't already stress it over and over) how important it is to do a swatch. Or two. Or four.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A week in Paris

Not much knitting got done last week, other than on the plane. R had to go to Paris for a conference, and in an act of wifely devotion I agreed to go with him. We were celebrating a BIG anniversary, and our friends D & L were also celebrating theirs, so the four of us went together, and while R was staring at blackboards the rest of us enjoyed walking (hobbling?) around Paris and visiting museum after museum.

Since I have been there quite a few times, it was fun to seek out places I hadn't visited before (in addition to -- not instead of -- pilgrimages to the Musée d'Orsay and the Louvre). On Monday, our actual anniversary, the four of us went to visit the enormous and fascinating Père Lachaise Cemetery, where "everybody who is anybody" in French art, literature, music, and politics in the 19th and 20th centuries was buried.

On the same day, after a walking tour through the Marais section, we visited the new Mémorial de la Shoah,
a beautiful memorial to the 76,000 Jews who were deported to concentration camps in 1942-44, of whom only 2500 survived. The memorial includes a wall of names of all 76,000, and has a huge collection of photographs, documents, and videos, everything beautifully displayed but also catalogued for serious Holocaust research. Our visit was particularly poignant because we found the names of L's father and other relatives on the wall.

The next day we dubbed "Gray Tuesday." All our attempts to absorb a little culture went awry. On our short list of "must sees" for this trip was Giverny, the home of Claude Monet, about 40 miles outside Paris. We planned to take the train from Paris and then a bus from the Vernon train station to Giverny. After taking the Metro (with two changes) to Gare St. Lazare, we discovered that the train schedule was extremely limited, with only two return trains, one too early and one too late. So back to the drawing boards. (Of course, because we weren't planning to visit museums that day, we didn't have a guidebook with us.)

First we headed down the Champs Elysées to the Petit Palais, one of the many Paris museums that has recently reopened after a long renovation period. There was a wonderful exhibit of the 3000 Years of the Art of Peru, beautifully displayed, but the building itself is just as interesting as the exhibits. Then off to the newly re-opened Musée de l'Orangerie at the end of the Tuileries.... Whoops! Closed on Tuesdays! After lunch in a nice little café we walked over the the Musée D'art Décoratif, one of D's favorites... Whoops! Closed Tuesdays! Sore of foot and weary of heart, we decided to spring for a cab back to the Left Bank to visit the Cluny Museum, not far from the hotel and home to the fabulous 15th century "Lady with a Unicorn" series of tapestries. Awful traffic, lunatic driver, but we got there safely. Whoops! Closed Tuesday! (We did eventually get to the Cluny later in the week and were not disappointed.) As we dragged ourselves back to the hotel we found a nice little jewelry store where D and I consoled ourselves.

Then back to the hotel, which was one of the small hotels on the Left Bank with a great location, adequate rooms, and a tiny elevator. The three of us got into the elevator, pushed the button, and up it went... for about 10 seconds... and then it came to a dead stop about 4 feet up. There we were, between floors, and nothing we did would convince it to start again. After we rang the alarm a few times, Mademoiselle behind the desk managed to put down her phone and come to help. She forced open the outer door, we pushed upen the inner door, and then by sitting on the floor we were able to jump down to safety. They had to call the "fixer" (who took 24 hours to fix it) and in the meantime we had to climb up and down 5 flights of stairs. Aaaargh!

The rest if the week was much better. We were really lucky with the weather, which was sufficiently overcast to keep it from being hot and we had no rain except for a few sprinkles. There were some real highlights: dinner with L's cousins at their home outside Paris; visits to the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay; and our eventual visit to l'Orangerie, with its incredible Monet Water Lilies panoramic paintings totally occupying the oval walls of two large galleries. It almost made up for missing the garden at Giverny where they were painted! Almost as an afterthought we went downstairs to see the "small collection of Impressionists" donated by the widow of art dealer Paul Guillaume... over 100 works by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Monet, Modigliani, Derain, Soutine, and Picasso. What a gem of a museum!

Another obscure highlight was the Manufactures de Gobelins, whose history consists of 500 years of tapestries. By chance we discovered that one can still visit the ateliers of weavers who still weave magnificent tapestries on huge looms using historical techniques. One can no longer commission a piece – even assuming one could afford it – since the factory is now owned by the French government and the works created there are exclusively for government buildings or for gifts to foreign governments. They no longer make any of the old designs but only modern designs copied from paintings commissioned for that purpose. The entire tour was in French, so I missed a lot, but it was still amazing to watch people at their looms. The weavers have to serve a four year apprenticeship, and it takes several years to complete each piece, so these people have to be incredibly patient and immune to tedium!

And then the pièce de la resistance... the Opera! I've always wanted to see the old Garnier Opera House and never got there, even to tour the inside of the building. This time we made reservations two months in advance and got tickets for a performance of Gluck's Iphenigenia en Taurus. The production was a bit strange (why do they insist on setting old operas in modern times???) but the setting was extraordinary, as were the performances.



What an incredible week! Art, music, great food, good friends... What more could one want??? Well, too bad R had to work for most of the week. Otherwise (if we discount Gray Tuesday) it would have been perfect.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Perfection is overrated

This time last week I was in a tizzy because of a dropped stitch in my fircone lace shawl. It didn't show up in its initial incarnation as a lumpy blob before blocking:

but then, stretched out for blocking, there it was:

After fiddling around with a tapestry needle and a spare piece of yarn I managed to anchor the stitch so that it wouldn't unravel. It hardly even shows... though to me it might as well have little red lights blinking all around it. The truth is that very few peope would notice it -- the lacy design and the slightly fuzzy texture of the alpaca do a pretty good job of concealing the imperfection. Even my weaver friend Maxine could't find it until I pointed it out to her. And why am I so fixated on perfection anyway???

I found a wonderful quote from Isaac Babel (How it Was Done in Odessa) on the subject:
If you need my life you may have it, but all make mistakes, God included. A terrible mistake has been made, Aunt Pesya. But wasn't it a mistake on the part of God to settle Jews in Russia, for them to be tormented worse than in Hell? How would it hurt if the Jews lived in Switzerland, where they would be surrounded by first-class lakes, mountain air, and nothing but Frenchies? All make mistakes, God not excepted.

Friday, June 09, 2006

How could this have happened??

Disaster has struck. I just finished my third lace scarf, washed it, set it out to block and discovered -- about 4 inches from the beginning -- a dropped stitch!!!! I don't know how this could have happened, since on the next row I had the right number of stitches. Maybe it was one of the times a few stitches slipped off the needle and, in picking them back up, I missed the actual stitch and picked up something else instead. Aaaaargh!!!!! Once it dries I'll try to mend it. Guess I won't be giving this one as a gift!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Reluctant Penguin discovers Librivox!

Literature to knit by, and all free! provides books, poems, and short stories that are read by volunteers. I first discovered it via the CraftLit podcast, wherein a former English teacher discusses knitting, spinning, and assorted other crafts and introduces a few chapters of an audiobook every week. She is currently doing one of my all-time favorite books, Pride and Prejudice, nicely read by Annie Coleman via Librivox. Now that I'm caught up, I may just skip ahead directly to the Librivox version so I don't have to wait a week for the next installment!

So here's the scoop on Librivox. Anyone can volunteer to read... all it requires is a little time, a microphone, and free recording software. The literature is all in the public domain, meaning that it is mostly pre-1923, but that covers a lot of classic literature. The catalog is expanding all the time. The Reluctant Penguin got her feet wet with a few poems from
Fables for the Frivolous by Guy Wetmore Carryl and Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters (still in progress) and then went on to read several chapters of Candide by Voltaire (still in progress). Some projects are collaborative, with different people reading one or several chapters of a book, and others are solo, with a single individual reading an entire book.

Knitting is much more interesting while listening to a good book, especially this time of year when everything on TV seems to be a rerun.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Thank you, Theresa

If you use the long-tail cast on method, you know the intense frustration of casting on 90% (or 80% or 70% or all but one) of your stitches and running out of "tail." Rip it out and start again. Aaaaaargh!!! Try doing it with a pattern that begins with "cast on 501 stitches." After 3 attempts, I finally gave up and joined another ball of yarn for the last 40 stitches... it still remains to be seen whether it will show when the sweater is finished.

Then one day recently I discovered a solution while browsing the Techniques section of An article by Theresa Vinson Stenersen on "Casting On" says:
Another good way to avoid this problem is by using two balls of yarn -- or both ends of the same ball of yarn -- joined at the slip knot. Just cast on one extra stitch and unknot the slip knot when you're finished casting on.
Why didn't I ever think of that??? It seems so obvious when somebody points it out! I don't even know why I was reading the article, since I have done a long-tail cast on since my grandmother first taught me how to knit, but I will never do it another way if I have to cast on more than about 30 stitches. Thank you, Theresa.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Two projects off the needles

Yesterday I finished my opera shawl. (I call it that because most of it was knitted while sitting in a wonderful 10-week "Opera Without Tears" course.) Yesterday was the last day of the class, and the shawl seemed long enough. Plus, the room was cold, so there was an extra incentive to bind off and throw it over my shoulders. There is enough yarn left to make some fringe -- I just haven't decided yet whether it needs it or not.

This week was a good one for finishing things. I also finished my second lace scarf
from Elizabeth Lovick's Shetland Lace Workshop, this one the Horseshoe pattern. Just like the first one, this one metamorphosed after blocking from a blob of alpaca spaghetti to a beautiful scarf:

Next project: Summer Braids Cardigan from Cabin Fever. I cast on yesterday and knit a few rows in light blue cotton. Then UPS arrived with some scrumptious light green superfine alpaca I had ordered. The cotton looks nice for a summer sweater, but the alpaca is soft and luscious and it even knits up in the right gauge. What to do???