Tuesday, May 23, 2006

You know you're getting popular when...

...you get your own automated spammer. Woooooooo!

I've turned on word verification. I'm hopeful I won't have to turn off anonymous comments. Come on, spam gods; you can do better than my humble little blog.

Made by magpies!

Icarus is progressing slowly but surely. I'm a few rows into the second repeat of rows 19-42. I must confess that this has been more of a learning process or test of patience than I'd bargained for. Here I think this is a nice simple pattern, and all of a sudden I realize that I've got an extra stitch at the end of the row before the YO. So I've had two or three major "rip out the triangle of stitches around this one" sessions, which has slowed my progress significantly. Still, I think I'm getting better at looking out for them and faster in between.

Only now do I remember that I'm the kind of person who needs constant reassurance and benchmarks to get motivated, even if they're self-imposed, and "do this thing five times" doesn't really cut the mustard. Moreover, when each of those five repeats gets wider and wider... yeah, this is another reason why I haven't done shawls. Still, it's moving along and I like the texture and look of it. I'm about 10% done. We'll see.

In other news, I decided to start looking in earnest for some ideas about my dad's sweater vest. I'm pretty excited about the prospect, but I'm having a hard time narrowing down my options.

My dad is a great guy who decided several years ago that his interpretation of a midlife crisis would involve purchasing fashionable clothing that a) is neon in color, b) is covered in blue flowers, c) is based on a venereal disease (such as his gonorrhea tie, viewable midway down the page) or d) uses a Coogi sweater as its centerpiece. (Yes, these are the Cosby sweaters on crack. The one he owns involves pretty much every color on a simple color wheel. He once offered it to my in-need-of-Homecoming-outfit boyfriend. Ouch.) In short, he enjoys clothing that is, as Mister Husband would describe it, "made by magpies." I have little problem with this, as he is generally properly dressed and seems comfortable.

Obviously, I could get away with something a little more complex. However, I keep leaning toward the more drab tweeds as a way to mute the effects of said bright-orange or deep purple oxford shirts. But I want to give it a bit of flair that would suit him well, and not just splatter a giant argyle strip across the chest. So here I am right now, trying to decide what direction I should take with the design. Ideally, I'd also like to put this into publishable form for something like MagKnits or Knitty, although I say that about all of my ideas and have yet to put anything actually into play. Still, it's nice to have a goal, even if it doesn't end up happening.

I want to make this of a slightly finer gauge yarn -- at least a dk. He can wear regular wool, but my mom assures me that he spills, so a washable drab color, probably heathered, would be ideal. I'm just debating what kind of allover pattern I might be able to get away with. He has some muted sort of diamond-pattern ones that I might like to replicate, but I have yet to really sit down and examine the necessary variables for that.

I really like Eunny's experiment with a subtle brocade. I don't know if I could go into that much detail, but it seems that if I used a fine enough yarn I could make a fabric that might still be fairly drapey but would have a neat pattern to it, especially if I used sort of a tone-on-tone effect.

On the simple end of the spectrum, I was thinking of doing something like an 8x3 rib with seed stitch in the "gutters" instead of just plain purls. But I can't help but think that, for my very special dad, that would be too plain. Something across the chest would be add more interest, but I don't want it looking too preppy or golf-shirty.

So many options... I just don't know. I'll have to go over to my parents' this weekend to peruse his closet again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Blog improvements

This will be an updatable list of ways the blog could look better and little doohickeys that I want to add in here somewhere. Even though I'm using a template, I like trying to play with the code. It makes me feel not quite so wussy.

--Find a wider template that allows for more text.
--Photos of past FOs: Mom's socks, Tim's We Call Them Pirates hat, Hello Yarn fair isle hat, Celtic Cable (now fuzzy), Tilling the Soil vest, Space Invaders hat, bunny hat.
--See where people are linking from.
--Organize sidebar more attractively.

Stuff to buy

This will be an updatable list of stuff I want to buy, either in the near future or down the road. Includes yarn, patterns and books.

--A brush-holder, maybe, for dpns?
--That KnitPicks zippered circ binder thingy
--More small but long circs for socks
--Consolidate and check off what needles I do have

Books and magazines (also listed on Amazon wishlist):
--Big Girl Knits
--Knitting On the Edge
--Knitting Over the Edge
--Knitting Beyond the Edge
--Nicky Epstein's Knitted Embellishments
--Quick Baby Knits (Debbie Bliss)
--Special Knits (Debbie Bliss)
--Barbara Walker treasuries, vols. 1 and 2

Things to knit

This will be an updatable list of stuff I want to knit, either in the near future or down the road.

Name: Office cardigan
Pattern source: Maybe the Lucky wrap from SnB Nation
Recipient: Me.
Yarn: Brown Sheep Cotton Fine?
Timeline: Any time now. It's fricken cold in here, and it's the middle of August.

Name: Fair isle cardigan of some sort
Pattern source: Maybe Dale of Norway's Ingeborg?
Recipient: Me.
Yarn: Falk, perhaps? I'll have to look into it.
Timeline: Back burner. Oy.

Monday, May 15, 2006

It's Eeyore kind of weather.

Before I start, a hearty hello to anyone wandering in here from the Midwest Knitters ring. I swear I'm not usually this mopey. Really!

It's been One Of Those Days for more like six weeks here at Chez Madam. Last week I had The Spring Cold, like I do every year, from Sunday all the way through... well, through today, when I'm fighting off the residual crud and hoping that the people at my concert tomorrow won't notice me sniffling between "Three Little Maids" and the finale to HMS Pinafore.

I ended up staying home on Friday, but I didn't have any yarn to play with. (Okay, I didn't have THE yarn, GOOD yarn, whatever that was. Just say yes and we'll move on.) So I tried to reserve the nearby car in the car fleet we use, only to find that it's too short of an amount of time to do online and I have to call the lady to plead for an exception over the phone. "I'm sick and I have to make a quick run to the *cough* store," I say. You know what that cough was hiding. So I walked up the two blocks to the garage, the first time I'd been out all day, and... the car was gone. Some guy had driven off with an unconfirmed reservation. No yarn for me.

So my husband and I went out on Saturday in the now-returned car, and there at Lakeside Fibers we beheld the glorious Wall of Cascade 220. I bought 6 skeins of eggplant 220 Superwash for the aforementioned should-be-in-Lush lacy cardigan, returning three leftover intended-for-babywear skeins.

Why I Love Lakeside, Yet Again: I give the yarn back, saying, "I didn't take it out of the bag, so I can just trade these three for another color, right? I bought the two using this receipt, but the third was from a month ago or so, and even though it's still got your label I wanted to make sure--"

The lady interrupts me. "Don't worry about the receipt. I remember helping you that day."

Then I get home and swatch it. Lo and behold, the sweater I'd coveted for nine months, first as a store sample and then as a pattern sitting on my desk waiting for yarn? Eh. Needs a bit more "line" to it to give it a smidge more architecture. Sigh. The yarn, of course, won't go to waste, but the jury's out on the sweater.

Happily, though, I did pick a new project. You'll notice that in my continued efforts to spiff up the blog I neatened up the sidebar again AND added a progress calculator (I've always wanted one of those!) for the Icarus Shawl from the most recent issue of IK. I've never been much for triangular shawls (okay, I think they look too granny) and as we have previously established, lace and I do not go well together. The pleasing solidity of the piece, though, drew me to it. Yeah, I know that's typically made by using this magic technique called "not knitting lace." It's amazing!

I still have the laceweight lying around from the ill-fated Print o'the Wave, so I thought, "Why not?" And not a moment too soon, either, as Froggy has created an Icarus Knitalong. No time like the present to jump on a random bandwagon, eh? I started and found it refreshingly simple.

I got to the middle of row 25 and felt pretty pleased with myself. Of course, then I lost a stitch somewhere in an eyelet pattern. I made like a dishwasher and "let it soak" overnight before tackling it again tonight after rehearsal. Might I say that I may not be more than a row ahead of where I was yesterday, but even though I had to "ladder up in pattern" over a 5 row x 5 stitch area, I FIXED IT and now I can be on my merry way.

That's what finally made me feel like a real knitter all those months ago: I messed up, but I fixed it. Well, I may be REALLY real with this lace, but maybe I won't need to wrangle it too much. It's turning out delicate and soft, and at the very least I'm looking forward to the thrill of blocking such a scrunchy bunch of lace.

More later.

See; things aren't that bad at all.

All Done (The Sweater Song)

Originally uploaded by Madam.
First, a picture post for all of the visual learners out there :)

This is young master Max, wearing a very stylish pullover. To quote his dad in the thank-you e-mail accompanying this photo, "It's unusually cold and rainy for May, but it doesn't matter to this young lad as he warms his feet by a roaring fire in his stylish, hand-knit V-neck."

I decided to eliminate the button on the placket, partially because it looked pretty well finished as-is and partially because I stink at buttons.* I guess the sizing was a little wonky, because I aimed for the 9-12 month range (working by measurements and not rows, no less), but here he is at what I was told was an "average-to-small six months old." But since the weather's been crappy here, he gets to wear it right away, and danged if he doesn't look happy to do so. Matches his socks :) The picture looks a little more olive than the actual color.

Thoughts on the pattern:
Overall, I found this a fairly quick knit with an easy-to-follow rhythm and a clean product with less-than-tedious finishing. However, I did run into some pattern-related issues, cleared up when I finally checked out the errata. For example, if you had never knit a bottom-up raglan sweater before, you might wonder how the sleeves and body got put together. The short story is that the edition of Last-Minute Knitted Gifts that I have neglects to mention that the underarm stitches get grafted together at the end. Which I kind of assumed, but seeing ZERO mention of those eight stitches at any time following "put them on holders" made me spend two days trying to decipher the instructions and make highly technical diagrams (reminding me, suspiciously, of health class and the female reproductive system) in hopes that I could get someone online to help me figure the danged thing out. (And now my picture's shrunken. Woe!) To wit:
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Now, see, that's just sad.

*Yeah, I know they're easy, but sewing onto larger-gauge knit fabric is a little different than, say, fixing one on the cuff of an oxford shirt. As evidenced by my mom's gorgeous vest, which would be perfect if three of the eight buttons weren't accidentally sewn through the button AND hole sides when attempting to hide the tail securely :P Anyone have a tried-and-true reference book for improving your finishing? I know there are multiple options...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Followup on the Wendy Phenomenon...

Yes, I am spending entirely too much time on this issue. it is one that has perplexed me for some time now.

Upon further discussion over a light repast (mmm, fish sammich), Mister Husband and I have agreed upon several points. To wit:

First, she obviously has values that differ from mine, and it is entirely possible that my values will become more like hers as time goes on. However, I also believe that it is entirely possible to live the Bad-Ass Knitter Manifesto in a way that is not quite so... hoardworthy, just a little more connected to others in the world through better use of resources.

You know the inspiration vs. perspiration equation? I forget the actual proportions, but suffice it to say that they're both present in an activity requiring exertion and/or talent. We want to se hard things made easy, or at least shown in a way that says, "You know, it's accessible to me if I do X/Y/Z." For example, why do we watch This Old House? We want to see complicated things broken down into smaller, simpler steps, expertly done.

It's the PROCESS of the matter, and Wendy seems almost exclusively a process knitter. Except that when she describes her process, she doesn't really describe the process. Sure, there's a bit of explanation as to yarn selection, and she does not admittedly spend much time writing as opposed to knitting, but as Mister Husband said, "dropping a wad of cash and applying brute force until it works is not 'process.'"

The knitting world is about utility, individuality and inspiration. You learn to knit so you can create unique items, or items that serve purposes or fit in a particular way, maybe both. So now we go back to the book. Why do people buy knitting books? You're most likely looking for tips, tricks or inspiration -- even if you don't LOVE a pattern, you can use shaping, for example, or add an edging.

This reminds me of my mom's writers. My mom teaches a writing class to mostly-octogenarians, and she helped a woman write her memoirs of growing up in an Italian neighborhood. Others wanted my mom's help to do the same, but my mom couldn't help them all. In particular, she kept trying to encourage one woman to be more descriptive. "We went to the dance, and it was such fun," the woman writes.

"But Gertie, WHY was it fun?" asks my mom.

"Well, there were lots of people there, and it made for such a lovely time."

Similarly, getting a book that says, "I went out and bought it, and came home and did it..." Who wants to pay money to do that? That's not inspiration.


(Not so) quick and dirty book reviews, with accompanying thoughts

I suppose that if I start a book review with a load of disclaimers, I probably should wait until I’ve actually had time to digest it. But… you know, first impressions and whatnot. And I DID sit down and do a concentrated skim, which is usually more comprehensive than what most people would consider a flip-through.

But anyways.

On my last trip to Large Corporate Bookstore, I specifically wanted to check out Big Girl Knits, the much-discussed book of patterns and techniques for garments that flatter Ladies Of A Certain Size and those who share some of their curvy attributes. I am pleased to say that it looks to be a winner, albeit with one reservation which I’ll discuss later.

It is colorful and well-constructed, with very nice pictures and some great strategies. I am particularly fond (as are many others) of the book’s overall tone. I’d describe it as dual-pronged: first, that just because you’re large doesn’t mean that your clothing shouldn’t fit close to the body; second, that curvy women are curvy for different reasons in different places (sometimes in combination). “Finally!” I can hear women screaming. “Finally, a book that splits the difference between potato sack and Anna Nicole Smith!” After all, hardly anyone is a straight-out Size [insert number]; regardless of size, so often women are left to make do with clothing that hangs like a curtain because it’s the only thing that’ll fit our busts, or clothing that hugs something higher than where it should.

While I haven’t yet adapted a garment to fit my own needs, this should prove an invaluable resource. Much has already been said about the “boobs, belly, butt” system the book outlines. I was VERY impressed by the extensive, easy-to-follow diagrams and guidelines for each area. In addition, I enjoyed the mini-What Not To Wear-esque suggestions of which necklines and silhouettes flatter best. I won’t go into a lot of detail since it’s been discussed elsewhere, but suffice that I have the greatest respect and admiration for the straightforward manner in which it is presented. Too frequently there’s this see-saw between “make me look skinnier” and “Go out there and be FAAAAABULOUS, girlfriend!” This book helps carve out a niche which shouldn’t be a niche: helping women larger than model-skinny find clothing that makes them look and feel their best. To me, properly fitted clothing shows, more than anything, that you are confident about your body in its normal state and that you take the time to care about finding clothing that shows this. I know I speak for many when I say that I neither want to draw unnecessary attention to myself nor blend in with a crowd; this book understands.

That said, my only reservation is the patterns. I’ll have to go through again and reread, but I’m not sure I’d make many of them. I think some would work very well with a couple of modifications, but what was it that I just didn’t like? I’m not sure. Of course it’s worth buying just for the reference alone, but I’ll have to look closer. One commenter noticed that some of the model garments didn’t fit quite right or hadn’t been blocked to perfection, and I’d have to agree. They’re not sloppy, but there’s a sense in a few of them that even though this is a larger garment, it shouldn’t sag here and there. However, it’s definitely worth checking out. I hear that before the publishing date they were already planning for a second volume :)

My second, and a bit more perplexing, read goes to Wendy Knits: My Life in Knitting by the infamous Wendy D. Johnson. Ah, Wendy. How to describe? For those of you (few) who haven’t been to her blog (see sidebar!), word on the street says that she must be harboring a garret full of Guatemalan immigrants, since a Norwegian ski sweater that would take regular people six months takes her about two weeks. Including yarn spinning.

I can’t describe Wendy’s particular allure. Let’s get some business out of the way: yes, I am insanely jealous of her. Seriously, who wouldn’t be? She’s got time to knit; she’s got a near-infinite vocabulary of skills; she’s got money to burn. That’s a dangerous combination. Now, of course, she has these things because she has chosen to live her life in this way: she gets up early and has a long commute on a subway (though, really, if I had to commute I’d probably enjoy that time), she has no kids aside from the ubiquitous Lucy Of the Cat Pictures… she’s also considerably older than me, so she’s got many more years from which to draw.

I suppose this is partially a review of her book and partially my long-simmering philosophical rumination on the Wendy Phenomenon. First, though, the book.

I’ve got a couple of beefs with it. First, it’s in black-and-white. That shouldn’t be a big bummer, but it would have been really nice to just make like Stitch n Bitch and put in a couple glossy picture pages in the middle. The smallish black-and-white pics on regular matte paper makes it hard to see some of the detail.

Second, I don’t know if the book really knows what it wants to be. Is it a tell-all memoir of the glamorous life of a superstar knitter? Is it a how-to primer on Living Like Wendy? Is it a pattern book? (No.) I was skimming through Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitting Without Tears this past weekend looking for tips on seamlessness and baby sweaters. It occurred to me that EZ occupied a similar niche, in that her books were conversational yet no-nonsense as they outlined techniques and reasonings behind them. And of course there were the inevitable jags into “I came up with this because we were living in X Location and my kids needed Y, and so I [personal reflection].”

Maybe this is my issue with Wendy. She knits in the kind of vacuum that I can’t fully grasp. She knits almost exclusively for herself, which is well and good, but then she DOESN’T WEAR THEM. She’ll say, “This is just too heavy,” or “It fits in a wacky way.” Then she puts them in a corner, and they stay there. I suppose they fit the bill as “process” sweaters, but come on – they’re some of the most complicated sweaters you’ll ever see, and with the kind of yarn she’s using that’s easily $100-$200.

At this point we’ve got the philosophical debate about Art vs. Craft, and paying for enjoyment. I waffle back and forth thinking, “Geez, I could never pay that much for yarn!” except that I find myself remembering, “Okay, so not only do I not have to BUY this thing, it’s also providing me with both an activity and a sense of accomplishment.” If I cook something, does that mean I have to save it for posterity? There’s this sort of Zen koan aspect to the situation.

The other philosophical aspect is that Wendy very clearly endorses what she calls the Bad-Ass Knitter’s manifesto: knit what you want, when you want, how you want, and don’t let people pooh-pooh your method or your madness. And she’s obviously not looking for acceptance in the blogging world, as she’s been around forever and seems to write mainly as a fun little record of what she did. And that’s great. She’s picked up readers like couches pick up cat hair, and I am one of them. I just don’t know why.

So then we get back to the book. It’s like reading an extended blog entry at times. “I wanted to start spinning, so I bought this stuff with no problems, and it probably cost a lot but whatever, and I just did it.” Not very deep and not really acknowledging that most people have neither the time or money to do things quite so easily. Now, I realize that in many ways we live vicariously through people who have the appearance of being more fortunate than you or I, such as wearing colors and makeup like we see in Cosmo or trying to copy a room from Architectural Digest. And it is fully my choice to read said blog, just as it is fully my choice to purchase her book.

But her book just seems so… shallow. Maybe that’s what I was going for.

I agree with her that the first priority is doing things in a way that satisfies YOU. I think, however, that there’s a difference between a free blog and a book you pay for. I don’t know what people are looking for when they buy her book, and it’s not my concern since I won’t be buying it any time soon, if at all. However, I think that perhaps when you are trying to reach a mass audience that will pay money to read your thoughts, maybe you should take some pause and examine the responsibilities of being a role model. Yeah, Charles Barkley didn’t want to be a role model -- but no matter how much he protested, he was.

I don’t know why this bugs me so much. Maybe it’s just my nature as a person who has been raised to think about other people in a particular way. If I’ve decided not to buy a book, that should be it.

I guess the jury’s still out on that.

"Math is hard! Let's go shopping!"

Blogger seems to be on the fritz today, so I began writing this offline. [EDIT: ...and they're doing their thing messing with the links again, which drives me bananas... so none of those links to Amazon will work. Dear Blogger, why you gotta be hating?]

I'd been meaning to churn out a post on some recent book skimmings. First, however: the March of the Babies.

After my previous post, I realized that I had missed TWO OTHERS. One is more pressing, but thankfully it’s also giving me a chance to take advantage of a book I liked but hadn’t used yet. I’m SO CLOSE to being able not being too lazy to do the math to make my own sweater patterns. (I’m sure that I am entirely capable at the present time.) I also haven't sewed up the sleeves on my Debbie Bliss cardigan... must get on that.

The newest baby in question belongs to Mister Husband’s coworker and partner in crime. He was recently adopted from Korea and is about six months old. Leems, you’d appreciate the fact that he already owns his own Ramones t-shirt :) Given the circumstances of the adoption, we knew the baby was coming, but I heard that they had run into some bureaucratic issues with the INS and it wasn’t happening just yet. Imagine my surprise when I found out that not only had they adopted him, but his dad had been on leave for a month and was ready to return this week. Curses! Didn’t they know I wasn’t ready yet?

I made a mad dash out into the crappy weather on Saturday and bought some yarnage at ye olde Lakeside. Of course, their supply of Cascade 220 Superwash isn’t too extensive yet; they seem to be slowly building up the variety, so they mostly have girly pastels. Which wasn’t exactly what I wanted for this kid, given that his dad is kind of a no-nonsense hipster who is fond of earth tones. I ended up with two skeins of Hyacinth, a nice solid blue, but there’s a SMIDGE too much purple in it to really satisfy me. Plus the care still wasn’t QUITE as easy as I thought it could be. So I grit my teeth and broke into the 2000-yard cone of a hunter green GGH Samoa clone (a worsted cotton/acrylic blend) that I bought last year for my own first sweater. Hopefully it won’t make TOO big of a dent.

The pattern I’m using is the Child’s Placket-Neck Pullover from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts. I got it from Lemur last year, and while I like the simple look of the patterns, nothing has really jumped out at me as being something I’d make for a gift (last-minute, a present to myself, or otherwise). I’m very much an in-the-moment sort of knitter; for all my pattern bookmarking, I have to knit what feels right for a particular giftee, and thus haven’t used many things that I nevertheless like a lot. I had searched all sorts of sites and books and leaflets for a sweater knit with a minimum of seaming and a minimum of fussy stuff, and somehow I missed this sweater on my first go-round. Thankfully, when googling blogs to check out some recent baby FOs (another good way to see what sources people use), the pattern came up. It is good! We are saved!

As for modifications:
The book uses Koigu Kersti, which is a merino wool that I believe has a skinnier row gauge than what I’m using. The pattern is mostly stockinette, so it’s easy to just go to the specified length instead of counting rows and measuring all the time. I also changed the edging from eight rows of seed stitch to six. I liked the slightly thinner look, and it’s probably wide enough anyways given the row gauge. I’m also debating whether to just let the neckline flap open without a button or two, or maybe just add one button. It’s a raglan design, so I’ve made the body up to the point of separating out the stitches for attaching the sleeves. I’m maybe a third done with the first sleeve (stupid long dpns and two circs… grrr, must buy longer 7s). So far I like the yarn; it’s provided nice clean definition, but it should still be both soft and sturdy enough for a cute little boy. It’s on the big side, but I have hopefully timed it so that he’ll be able to wear it from September all the way through next March :)

On a side note, I’ve realized yet again how spoiled we modern knitters are when it comes to interesting patterns with good yarns. Sure, I might not like everything out there, but there’s SUCH a difference between what most of us see and create and what our grandmas did and do. The number of weird-looking variegated pastel acrylic bonnet-and-dress combos I’ve seen… oy. You’d think there would be more patterns out there with clean lines that are suitable for either a boy or a girl – in essence, something closer to what you’d see in a store. Apparently not.

In fact, the dad in question seemed to harbor some reservations when his wife took an interest in knitting last year. I think he was worried it was too much of a granny activity – and wth patterns like those out there, who wouldn’t? Mister Husband, however, couldn’t wait to show him all of the cool things in my Stitch ‘n’ Bitch book to prove him wrong. (Hey, maybe THAT’S where it went…)

So. Two thumbs up for the pattern and the yarn. Also of note: the cotton chenille baby Bath Blanket feels even more horrendous in comparison and is still a royal pain to work with. Hmph.