Monday, January 30, 2006

The Beginner's Knitting Bag/Supplies and Tools

Opening the UFO bag put a big smile on my face. In addition to the half finished project, the remaining yarn, the required needles and the pattern, the bag contained 3 other pairs of needles in unrelated sizes, a single needle with a broken tip and another unrelated pattern.

I remember those days, back when I could keep all my knitting tools in my knitting bag. Back when I only had one knitting bag in which I kept my current project with all those tools.

Now? Well, I always have at least two bags with active projects in them -- the portable project and the home project. And then there's always a couple of "less active" projects lying around -- sometimes just a pattern and the yarn set aside, sometimes a UFO or a design-in-progress.

My supplies and tools? I have two cardboard tubes that used to store scotch bottles for my needles -- a taller and a shorter. Then another, flatter box with a lid for things like cable needles, stitch markers and the like. (This used to contain a fancy wine-bottle opener. I sense an interesting trend... ) These I keep in a cupboard with all my sock yarn, below my two shelves of knitting books. Beside this is the desk in which I keep more yarn, design projects on the go, and assorted magazines and notes.

The bag that's with me the most is a largish clear-sided pencil case. In this bag I keep my most critical tools: scissors, pencil and eraser, a small notebook, calculator, stitch holders, a needle gauge/ruler, a couple of crochet hooks in different sizes, a tape measure, and an Altoids tin containing stitch markers, 3 different sizes of darning needles, and lots of safety pins.

This pencil case tool bag moves around between project bags. I never go to a class or workshop without it. I have an edited version that I've built for carrying on planes.

Chefs carry their own knives with them. Me, I carry my tool bag.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Finishing & Knitting for Money

I've finished up the UFO commission. Fixed the front neckline, worked the top halves of the sleeves, assembled and knit the v-neck trim. Easy. And about 10 hours' work.

Doesn't photograph well, being a tweedy dark blue yarn, but you get the idea.

This is, as I mentioned, a paid gig. But what on earth do I charge? My usual hourly teaching rate would put this in the range of something designed by Burberry. And yes, I did take the time to weave in my ends, but that still doesn't mean it's worth that much.

The work was done for a friend of a very dear person in my life, so I'm happy to charge a sensible amount and keep the friendship, but holy cow is knitting-for-money an absurd proposition.

I get asked fairly often why I don't sell my work, my finished objects. I'm sure every knitter gets this question. I buy very good materials, and I'm a busy professional with two paid gigs. Even if I charged my lesser hourly rate, a simple pair of hand-knit socks would cost hundreds of dollars.

Sock yarn: $20
Hours to knit the socks: 10
Sitting on the couch with the dog watching Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Priceless

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

UFOs - A Meditation on the Abandoned Challenge

I'm currently finishing up a sweater for an acquaintance. It's a paid gig -- "whatever it costs", she said.

It's a straighforward 5x2 ribbed v-neck sweater for her young son, in an acrylic-blend chunky yarn.

The project was handed to me in a nice bag, zipped up tight in a way that suggested that it was never going to be opened again without some help. The story goes that she bought it up at the cottage one rainy weekend and made a lot of progress in the initial week or two of knitting. The back was complete and perfect when delivered to me, and the sleeves were half-finished, both being worked at the same time. The front was cast off, but something had gone wrong in the working of the v-neck. The knitter knew enough to know it was wrong, but didn't have the confidence (or patience, maybe) to fix it.

Fixing the neckline was simple, no more than an hour's worth of knitting in front of the TV Sunday night. I called her to let her know I'd fixed it. She asked me to finish it up for her -- "whatever it costs". She just wants it to be done and off her conscience, I think. I know that feeling very well, I think every knitter does.

We've all done it. All knitters have a few UFOs in the back of the cupboard; some have more than others. I hate an unfinished project; I obssess about them. I *need* to finish them. I will, most often, just finish the damn thing, but I'd still rather rip something out than leave it half-completed.

My two worst UFO experiences were both sock-related...

There's the Turkish sock variation. I started the Turkish socks from The Spin-Off Socks Special Edition sometime around 1998. I got the first one done but then discovered that the damn thing didn't fit. It's got an odd heel shaping, and I was knitting far too tightly (first stranded fair isle project) so I couldn't actually get it on.

So I ripped it back to above the heel, adapted the pattern for a standard heel, and completed it. I cast on for the second, worked about 2 cm, and then abandoned it. The completed one was a great sock -- I would look at it sometimes in my knitting box and admire it -- and I did want to do the second. I was being discouraged by a simple thing... the finished sock looked much tighter than the 2cm of the second sock. I figured I was doing something different somehow, and that the pair would never match. It bugged me, though. I liked the sock, and I'd enjoyed the knitting.

I started taking the finished one to my sock knitting workshops to show as an example of fair isle colourwork in socks. Every time I pulled it out of my bag, I felt of pang of want, of sadness, of disappointment that I'd never made its mate. So this summer I sat down, dusted off the original pattern and my insufficient notes, and finished the second. It took a while to figure out how to match the tension (I'm a better fair isle knitter now than I was back then), and what modifications I'd made, but I did it. And they're a seriously great pair of socks.

The second sock UFO is the Vogue Knitting Christmas socks to which I alluded earlier. I should have known, really. Knitted flat, intarsia holly leaves and vines in 4 or 5 different colours (two shades of green), of course I was going to hate it. And I did. I started it around the same time as the Turkish sock, and I got part of one done before I zipped the project up tight in a bag.

About 18 months ago, I sought expert help from Abby, who suggested that I cut back on the intarsia and do the holly leaves in duplicate stitch after the fact, but even the simplified variant was a tough slog. I managed to get the first one mostly completed, but my attempt to seam the damn thing pointed out what seems to me like a failure in the design -- no selvedge for the seam so I'd have to eat into the ribbing to create one, breaking the rhythm and look of the cables. So back they went into a plastic bag at the back of the cupboard.

They were UFOs for different reasons. With the Turkish sock I was being stopped by what was really a minor problem of gauge. I knew that once I could deal with that, the knitting was going to be enjoyable for me.

The Christmas sock is a different story. It was unpleasant to work on. Yes, I liked the result but hated the process.

Hence a UFO, and a dilemma. I'd either have to suffer through the pain of knitting the second one -- with all the intarsia and duplicate stitch and seaming I hate-- or abandoning the project entirely.

Just last week I bit the bullet and ripped out that disastrous Christmas sock, and sketched out a design to keep the elements I liked best and use up the yarn. It will be an all-over cabled sock, with a couple of cm red at the top, and red heels and toes. I may even go wild and bend one of my own rules and knit the foot portion flat so the sole can use up the darker green and the instep can be in the lighter green. But if I do, I'll ensure there's a selvedge to seam up neatly. And I know I'll be able to get the damn things done and enjoy the process the same time.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Olympic Project

It's decided: a lace shawl.

As I said the other day, if I really want to stay in the spirit of the event, lace knitting is my ultimate challenge.

I have completed three projects that would qualify as lace knitting. I did two mohair stole/shawl things back in the late 1990s. The same design -- my own -- mostly garter stitch with a pattern of eyelets forming diamond shapes around the edge. The mohair wasn't very fine, and the lace wasn't too bad as there was only one repeat of the pattern running down each side of the piece, and at its widest the pattern was 12 or so stitches wide. Not too much room for error, and not too fiddly as I was working with lighter colours in a fairly heavy mohair on largish needles.

And then there's the triplets' layettes. Wyla was making three layettes for her impending grand-triplets. Partway through the project she broke her arm. I offered to finish them up. Each layette had a cardigan, a bonnet and a pair of bootees. Very classic and elegant -- old school, if you will -- with a fine scalloped edging. She'd managed to complete one bonnet before the accident. That left me with 3 cardigans, 2 bonnets and six bootees. It nearly killed me. I was working with horrible acrylic yarn, on long, fine metal needles, to a deadline. In hindsight, a change of needles would have helped immeasurably, but I gamely forged ahead with the supplies I was given. I got the project done, but there was much ripping out and using of foul language and knitting in the cafeteria at work at lunchtime (which was a bad scene for a whole list of reasons). The depressing part was that it was only the edging that was in the slightest lacy. The body of these damn pieces was garter stitch.

I finished the last piece the day before the shower. I'm not sure the triplets ever actually wore the damn things, but, as they say, it's the thought.

And then there's the fact that I'm not really a lace kind of girl. I'm all about clean lines and simplicity and minimal adornment. So lace doesn't appeal as something to wear. That having been said, I found the beauty and complexity of lace patterns incredibly compelling. Birch, for example. Stunning. Hypnotic, even. I own a copy of Folk Shawls even though I never in a million years actually thought I'd knit something from it. Certainly I'd never wear any of them.

All of which goes to say that my Olympic Challenge is a lace shawl.

A wise knitter I know (Denny) suggested that the Wool Peddler's shawl is probably a good place to start, as it's not all-over lace. Part of me thinks this might be a cop-out, but hey, walk before you run. Perhaps the real challenge is to get it knitted within the deadline and cast on for Birch in Kidsilk Haze....

And for those of you knitting Rogue for the challenge... easy-peasy. I completed my Rogue in about 3 weeks without breaking a sweat. ;-)

Oh yeah, and if it works out well, I can give the shawl to my mother as her birthday present in early March.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

8-ply and Waffling

Well, duh. No wonder I couldn't make the math work. 8-ply is a DK, not a worsted.

But the girls at the Sheep were applying some light peer pressure today re: my Olympic project. It's true that that this is about finding a proper challenge -- and my challenge is lace knitting. So a lace shawl seems like it would be the thing to do. We chose the Wool Peddler's Shawl in Folk Shawls, and I tried very hard to choose some yarn, but I couldn't find enough in a colour I liked that wouldn't kill me (that is, not black).

So I will continue to look around and think.

The Wool Peddler has a fair bit of garter stitch to get me moving. Since this is my first lace project (Clapotis doesn't count), I think I need to keep it pretty simple. Although I do like some of the full-lace ones in the book, I might die.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Socks, Elections and Olympics

Am thinking about the Knitting Olympics, absolutely. We have a more important TV event to knit through before then, though... the election on Monday. I'm hoping, frankly, that it will be a good night of television in that I fear the Tories will do very well, and I really need the races to be close so that they don't get the majority the pollsters are predicting. Although I am absolutely anti-Tori for a multitude of reasons, it's got to the point that I feel that the best I can hope for is them to form a minority government. (The depressing nature of this is a whole separate screed for another time.) I'm planning to knit socks, as I can knit on autopilot, no matter how excited/tense/despressed I might be.

(No matter what your politics, please exercise your right to vote.)

I'm going through a sock thing at the moment. Am into my second pair of Fleece Artist merino socks, this time trying a 3x1 rib for the leg and upper foot. This colourway has been dubbed "1970s appliance". (It's a bit lighter than the picture shows, all avocado and harvest.)

I wore the first Fleece Artist pair (2 inches of ribbing at the topic but otherwise all st st) this week and found they got rather baggy by the end of the day. I'm hoping that the 3x1 will stay tighter. Am washing the first pair today so we'll see how they hold up.

Have even cooked up a design to use up the 2 shades of green, red and white sock yarn that I bought for the long-ago abandoned Holly Leaf socks from the first Vogue Knitting on the Go Sock book. Love the design but there's two major problems with it -- they're knitted flat, which I think it absurd, and they're a nightmare of intarsia. I got halfway through one, had to scale back the colour work, and it still nearly killed me. I unravelled it last week, four or so years after starting the damn socks, and have some ideas cooking for how to make my own Christmas sock.

Also bought a skein of Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock bee stripe.

On the topic of the Olympics, though, I'm a bit frustrated. The suggested yarn for the Teva Durham double-knit vest, Heirloom from Australia, is hard to find in North America, let alone in Canada. Have emailed the distributor asking if anyone carries it that might be able to ship it to me, and I haven't had a reply. Of course, I can make a substitution, but am finding the gauge information about the two yarns somewhat vague... it's an Ozzie 8-ply, which I think is a worsted but it might also be an aran. Need to do more research.

My other thought, keeping to the idea of making it a challenge, is to knit a lace shawl. Or perhaps lace socks? I think I'm more likely to wear lace socks than a shawl. Regardless, I've got a bit more time to consider.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Knitting Olympics

The Yarnharlot is a sick, sick woman and I love her for it. The gauntlet has been thrown down.

The timing actually works out.... Feb 10 to 26. I have a writing/designing deadline of Feb 15, but this would encourage me to get that completed in good time.

I think it would have to be the Loop-D-Loop double-knit vest. It's either that or the Mukluks.

Yes, about those Mukluks. I've gone kinda quiet about them, haven't I? Well, here's the thing... I got my copy of the issue of Interweave Knits over the Christmas break, and having looked at the pattern in person, I'm not as amused. I'd never wear the damn things. Not that I haven't gone there before, viz. Clapotis, but it's not like this they're a particularly cool or interesting new technique for me. Plus I'd have to buy the yarn (Clapotis was a stash-buster). I wouldn't wear them outdoors, and I can't wear them at home on our hardwood floors. Unless I wanted to invent a new Olympic floor-sliding event.


I shall consult with the girls from the Sheep and see what kind of peer pressure they're going to apply.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Blast from the Past: Mismatched Needles

Odd needles. Remember that? Didn't everybody's mother knit a vest with this technique in some kind of nasty angora/acrylic blend to wear over a polyester blouse?

This Rowan Cotton Rope worked with one 6mm needle and one 20mm needle.

After having struggled with a student's first drop stitch project in a recent class (not a good idea in a highly textured yarn), this seems like a good cheat.

Am noodling on this for a summer design.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Pair of Socks


Love the yarn, but as I've said before I'm a little worried about wear. It's 100% washable merino. Should I have knitted in some reinforcement for the heels?

Another pair pending, in a yellow-green mix.

On a different note, it's good to hear that I'm not the only knitter that sometimes has to spend an entire evening fixing mistakes and making no progress at all.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Vass Variation & A Crisis Narrowly Missed

A much better fit than the original design; very happy with it. And I'm pleased with the colour progression, afer all that fretting. The stripes don't quite line up on the sides, but it's fairly close.

Great fun to knit, and the sewing-up wasn't too boring.

This sweater is an interesting sartorial departure for me.... way more colours than I'm used to. I'm planning to wear it to my class tomorrow night to get some feedback. The sleeves are also going to take some getting used to -- they're sort of lumpy.

As for the crisis, check this out...

That yarn tail is how much I had left of the final ball when I'd cast off the final row. Those last couple of rows were nail-biters. I wasn't totally out of yarn, so I could have fudged a solution, but it wouldn't have been a smooth fix, because I would have had to add in a different colour.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Progress on the Vass Variation

Looking good. It has indeed brightened up. For your reference, the colourways used are 153, 139, 134, 138, 154. I'm currenly heading back down the other side, and am reversing the order of the colours.

I will confess that I rewound the second 138 ball so that I started at the other end. I wanted to get roughly the same order of stripes on the downward knit as on the upward knit. I will likely do the same with the second ball of 154, too. I was secretly hoping they'd line up at the sides, too, but that's not going to happen.

I should really just relax and remember Brandon Mably's exhortations from that workshop last October... more can indeed be less.

This also means that I'm approaching the end of this project. What next? I've been noodling on a design for a dog sweater, and have some mitten ideas in mind, too.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Project?

Just finished the book Julie & Julia, written by Julie Powell, the Long Island secretary who cooked her way through all 524 recipes of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume 1 -- I understand this detail is important) in a single year. It's a companion to the blog she wrote while completing the project.

I read the blog a few times and was amused, amazed and awe-struck by the whole thing. It's a good read, if more of a general memoir than just a book about cooking.

It made me wonder -- what would be the equivalent feat for a knitter? Knitting every single Elizabeth Zimmerman design? I'd need more than a year, though. Knitting everything in her Knitter's Almanac wouldn't be out of reach. Of course, it would help if I liked her designs. I admire her technical ability, her sense of inventiveness, and her innovation, but I really can't get excited about the shapes she creates. Not what I'd call flattering.

Something to ponder, anyway.