Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 Wrap Up, Part 1

I have been a very busy and productive knitter this year, and especially this quarter, but since so many of the things that have come off my needles are waiting to be wrapped so they can be unwrapped tomorrow, the parade of FOs is still on hold.

If I had to sum up 2011 in one or two words, they would be "Bi-Polar".  I work very hard to maintain equilibrium and a calm focused center core, but this year was as manic-depressive (I still prefer that term) as they come and calm focus was a wistful dream for much of it. So this post is going to be the first of my "Year In Review" posts and one that I never thought I would be writing - a post where we say goodbye to old friends and end on a cheery note by saying hello to a new one.

Death is a natural part of life.  I know that, I accept that, and I accept that whether I approve of it or not is really not relevant.  But I remember my Mother mentioning years ago how she had hit a year when her view of death was changed dramatically because the people who died that year were not "old people" but her age.  For me, that happened in 2011.

The first loss (I knew about) was Jim Schultze.  At 64, he was not quite "my age", but was certainly shockingly too young to go.  And the suddenness of his passing left everyone who knew him reeling.  Jim, we miss your passion and stubbornness, which  can be a trying combination, but you made it work.

Then Jim's daughter, Beth Kilpatrick, suffered a brain aneurysm a few months later.  She rallied and we thought we'd get to keep her, but she passed a few weeks later from a second aneurysm.  She turned 29 between the 2 events.  This article: A Paddle Out for Beth Kilpatrick  describes her better than I ever could.  Beth, I miss your invigorating conversations about everything from astrophysics to Harry Potter.

Finally, we lost Jim Edwards on Dec 27, 2010 at age 41.  I just found out about Jim yesterday and my heart is aching for his wife, Karin, and 3 little kids.   Words fail.  Jim, Karin, I miss our rousing games of Spades and trips to the K Wings hockey games.  Those years together in Kalamazoo hold some of my favorite memories.

 As the Solstice is the time where the sun "rests" before being reborn with longer days and more light, so life goes on.  This Solstice we celebrated the arrival of a new friend, Freya.  She's 6 months old and still trying to figure out where she fits in our pack, but she's already bringing more light into our short, dark, cold days.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Nerdy Knitting

In the last episode of Rainyknitsalife, our intrepid knitting heroine had just joined the Nerd Wars knitting tournament as a representative of Team Rangers (Babylon 5 fan nerds).  And now, for a new adventure of Ranger Rainy, knitting geek!

Each Nerd Wars tournament consists of three monthly rounds with 6 challenges each.  You can submit one project for each challenge.  Each challenge you complete earns 10 points for your team, with an extra 3 points if you can tie the project in to your team's theme (Babylon 5 for us).

The six challenge categories are always the same, but the actual monthly challenges change are posted at 12:01am on the first of the month.  The categories are: scientific, intellectual, technical, nerd culture, team spirit, and giving geeks. Projects cannot be cast on before 12:01am EST on the first of the month and must be posted by midnight EST on the last day of the month to count, with the exception of the giving geeks (charity) challenge. For giving geeks, the important part is the GIVING not the knitting, so previously knit items or even monetary donations may be allowed in this category (depending on the challenge) as long as the donation occurs in the challenge month.

I am thrilled to report that I managed to go 6 for 6 for both the October and November rounds!  So, without further explanation, let's see some knitting!

Scientific - the October Scientific challenge was Prehistory -
"Nerds have been around since the dawn of time. That guy who invented the wheel? Totally a nerd. I mean, come on. All the other cavemen are out doing manly things like killing saber toothed tigers and that one nerd decided to stay home and invent a wheel. Just because it was just about the most useful thing ever doesn’t mean that guy wasn’t a total nerd.
This month, take your inspiration from things from before anyone thought to write things down. Dinosaurs, cave people, prehistoric fauna and flora. Land your time machine in a puddle of primordial goop and find your inspiration!"
For this challenge, I knit an iPad Cover for my Mom for Christmas (shhh!  don't tell her!).  
Rav project link  this is knit in Madelinetosh Tosh Merino (worsted) colorway: Terrarium.  This stuff knits like a dream!  
To make it fit the challenge, I chose a colorway that reminded me of a primeval forest, so that ancient races who visited our planet in prehistoric times could use this bag to hide their advanced tablet computer technology from the prehistoric humans.  See how well it blends with a mossy oak tree in a primitive forest (aka my backyard)?

Knitting the bag was a snap.  The hard part was "liberating" the iPad from my Mom's house so I could make sure it fit and decide where to place the button and, of course, take the picture.  That was accomplished by an extremely lame subterfuge.  The even harder part was getting her to leave the living room again an hour later so I could return the iPad.  That was accomplished by an even lamer subterfuge.  Fortunately, my Mom just assumed I had lost my mind, so my petty larceny appeared to go unnoticed.

Intellectual - the October challenge was to write a haiku inspired by something you knit.  This was a dual purpose project, it was a test knit and a Nerd Wars submission, I made a pair of felted men's slippers:

 I love to compare sizes pre and post felting, that never gets old!

They are really much better looking in person, I can't seem to get a decent picture of them.  The color is darker and richer blue-purple, not the bright pink they appear here.  The matching haiku is only the second I've ever written, so don't expect much.  It is for Commander Sinclair, the first commander of Babylon 5, to honor this hard working (and probably very tired) man:  
Thirty-Six hours straight
“Commander, we have problems” 
Slippers feel like hugs

Technical - the October challenge was colorwork.  This one was great fun and is probably my favorite FO of them all.  Babylon 5 is "our last best hope for peace".  Bob likes peace signs, so I made Bob's Last Best Hat for Peace:
The main yarn is also Madelinetosh Tosh Merino in a dark purple colorway called Duchess.  He barely takes it off.

Team Spirit - the October challenge was to make a birthday present for someone in your nerdom.  I made a lacy butterfly dishcloth for Delenn.  Fans of B5 will know why Delenn would want this.  For you non-fans ... well, it's complicated, but trust me, she'd love it.

Unfortunately, while it is very pretty, it is an awkward size - 12" by 11.5", which in my opinion is way big for a dishcloth.  So, it is currently in the "time out" pile waiting to decide what it will become.  It would make a pretty pillow, or if I make a few more, it might be a doll blanket.  We'll see.

Nerd Culture - the October challenge was to make something that someone in your nerdom would wear.  Remember the 198 yds of Heavenly Malabrigo  I made last year?  Well, I love it and wear it a lot to work, but it really is a bit too small and dense.  So I made another one, only this one is 225 yds of 70/30 alpaca/merino on size 10 needles and it is much better.  I wore it as a head scarf for the B5 tie-in, but assume it will be worn as a shawl primarily.  I do love the way the pattern and striping shows up in this picture though.

The yarn, Cascade Eco Duo, is two tones of undyed alpaca and merino.  As you can see from the two pictures, the striping is more visible when it is wet and quite subtle when dry.  It really looks more like waves or texture than color change.  I will definitely be using this yarn again SOON.  It is so soft and subtle.

Giving Geeks - since October is cancer awareness month, the challenge was to donate (money or FO) to a cancer charity.  Monterey Yarn has a "Knit For The Cure" donation box.  Hats or other FOs in the box are brought to the oncology departments of local hospitals for distribution to cancer patients.  

I have noticed that most of the hats in the box tend to be either for babies or pretty and feminine for adult women.  So I decided to knit a hat that would be appropriate for a teen boy or young man with cancer.  I couldn't find a pattern I liked with the yarn I had, so I designed this hat myself: jumpgate-blue-teen-charity-hat

It doesn't fit Bob well, but that's okay since it was designed and knit for someone with a smaller head.

I like that Nerd Wars always has a charity related challenge, I have wanted to make some hats to put in that box for ages and it finally motivated me to DO IT.

And now, if you will excuse me, I am off to my Mom's to watch the thrilling Season 3 of Babylon 5 on her fabulous TV while I knit more Christmas gifts.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Nerd Alert!

If you read the Nerd Alert! title and immediately thought "Danger!  Danger, Will Robinson!", then this post is for you!

Three days after my last post, I stumbled across a wonderful Ravelry group called Nerd Wars.  It is a series of knitting tournaments that appeal to your inner geek.  Since nerds come in all flavors, Nerd Wars participants break into teams according to their preferred nerdom and then the teams compete against each other to complete knitting challenges.  (Okay, 1/3 of the readers just ran screaming from the room and another 1/3rd just said "whoa, cool!)

Since I heard about it several hours before the sign-ups ended for the three month tournament beginning October 1, I had to make a quick decision.  One the one hand, it sounded like a hoot!  On the other hand, did I really need MORE time pressures and commitments?  On the third hand ...  Since I immediately started to think of races of beings with more than 2 hands to justify my reference to the "third hand", I realized that nerds who knit truly were "my people" and knew the decision was made.  It also helped that the sentence ended "on the third hand, I don't really need to come up with extra projects, I can mostly knit what I was going to anyway and just find a tie in to my group and it will actually motivate me to knit faster and start the christmas knitting earlier."

So the decision made, I started the sign up process.  All went smoothly until I needed to pick my top three team choices.  The teams cover a huge variety of nerd genres, things like anime, computer games, vampires, zombies, Dr Who, Star Trek, forensic TV shows, firefly ...  My first choice was simple -- Dumbledore's Army (Harry Potter nerds), I know those books backwards and forewards and tying a project in to that genre would be so easy - anything red, gold, blue, silver, green, white, or yellow could be "house colors" as a start.  And, to be honest, the idea of being in Dumbledore's Army set my inner nerd all atwitter :)

Second choice was almost as easy, Team Precious, the Lord of the Rings nerd group, was just up my alley.  While it has been a while since I read the books, I remember enough to get by and, frankly, if it looks "elvish", I probably already want to knit it, so that's no hardship there.

Third choice was tough!  We were out of my easy comfort zone and mostly into things that I either had no interest in (sorry, Mom, I've tried to like Anime, but I spend way too much time saying "well that made no sense", and how could I join the forensic TV show group when I don't watch television?  Honestly, only 1 other team had any interest to me - Team Rangers, the Babylon 5 nerd group.  Now I loved Babylon 5 - in 1994 through 1998 though!  I hadn't seen it in 13 years and hadn't thought about it in close to that long.  How could I do team tie-ins with a show I didn't remember?  Turns out, I could and did :)

Ranger Rainy, reporting to duty, Entil'Zha!

Tomorrow, we return to KNITTING, when I will share the 1000 yards of knitting completed for round 1 of Nerd Wars Tournament 3.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Something happened here about a week ago.  Suddenly the days became drier and cooler, the sky turned that incredible shade of blue, the sunsets became earlier, more abrupt, but also more vivid and vibrant, the nights requested a blanket, the knitted garments came out to play, and the air filled with a different palette of colors and scents.  Pumpkins appeared for sale outside supermarkets, gas stations, and yes, even Home Depot.  

I love Fall; it might just be my favorite season.  I say "might" because every Spring I decide that is my favorite season,  until Fall comes along and I change my mind again.

That seems fitting, somehow, since Fall to me is all about balance.  The autumnal equinox, which occurred on Friday, was the day when Earth's axis was tilted neither towards nor away from the Sun, giving us all an almost perfect balance of light and dark.  

So this Fall season, as we celebrate the bountiful goodness of the harvest and the return of excellent knitting weather, my goal is to notice the balance without and work on achieving and maintaining balance within.  For example, instead of complaining about the colder longer nights, I'll remember that the best fleeces grow on sheep in colder, darker climates, not on Hawaii.

But where, you ask, is the balance to offset all the wonderful things about Fall that I listed in the first paragraph?  Ah, I was hoping to not have to mention this yet, but I guess this is the right time.  There are only 90 knitting days left until Christmas.  No pressure.  

And now, I present for your enjoyment a definitive sign that Fall has arrived at our house.

Cold Noel kitty and cold Bob trying to stay warm together in the computer room because mean Rainy won't turn the heat on in September.

Noel insists I also include this picture, which did not make quite make it into yesterdays post:

Don't worry, no Mountain Colors CrazyFoot sock yarn (90% superwash Merino wool, 10% nylon, colorway Osprey) was harmed in the making of this photo.

Happy Fall.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Where I explore why I feel let down by my stash

Fact:  knitters acquire stash.  It just happens inevitably.  Many of us, like me, start off virtuously only buying yarn for our next project.  This seems like a great idea, until the first yarn emergency strikes.  

Maybe the resolve ends the first time you sign up for a test knit on a Saturday afternoon and realize there is no way you can cast on until at least Monday and find yourself thinking "boy, if I only had a spare skein of worsted (or laceweight or fingerling or DK or bulky) in the house, this wouldn't have happened".  So next time you are at your favorite yarn store, you pick up a skein of your favorite color Cascade 220 "just in case".  Of course, the next yarn emergency requires a different weight or color or yardage, so you buy another "just in case".  Little do you realize that you have just taken your first tentative step on the slippery slope that, in its extreme, can lead to STABLE (stash acquisition beyond life expectancy).  

For many of us, our self control (or, more likely, our budget) prevents us achieving STABLE condition, but we still wind up with a more than impressive collection of beautiful fibers just waiting for our attention.  These yarns appear from a variety of location:
  • bought for "next projects" that were re-prioritized or reconsidered,
  • souvenir yarns purchased from non-local yarn stores that carry a brand or line that you don't normally have access to,
  • purchases from indy dyers whose wares we can't resist trying after hearing another knitter swoon over, 
  • gifts or discards from other people
Some people scoff at a knitter's stash, but honestly, do we tell cooks that they have too many spices (do you REALLY need cardamom, coriander, AND cumin)?  or golfers that they don't need more than 1 putter?  when we visit an artists studio, do we sneer if they have more than 3 shades of green paint or acrylics AND oils?  No.  So I refuse to be defensive about my yarn stash, which fits very nicely into 2 Rubbermaid tubs, thank you very much!  Oops, that was rather defensive, wasn't it?

But while I refuse to feel defensive or insecure about the quantity (or quality) of my yarn stash, I do admit that sometimes I feel kind of let down or betrayed by my stash and it took me until today to figure out why.  I love yarn.  I love the feel of it, the texture that can be sleek and cool like silk or bamboo, or weightless, warm, and fluffy like alpaca, or just plain soft like merino wool (ooh don't believe people who say "wool is itchy!", there is butter that is scratchier than good baby merino wool).  I love the color of it, the depth and richness of hue, the way it can soothe the eye or be the visual equivalent of 10 minutes on a treadmill.  I love the almost infinite possibility that exists before needles and pattern are selected and the slip knot is cast.  I love it, but it lies.  Ooh it lies like a fickle lying liar.  

See this?

It's 800yds of Luxe (25% tussah silk, 75% superwash merino) from The Unique Sheep (non Rav link) in the Silverlode colorway.  This is one of their unique and awe inspiring gradiant colorways.  Notice (even in the bad picture) how it segues smoothly from deep rich blue at the top through the blues to finish as a silver gray at the bottom.  It is a work of art that two amazing women thought up and hand dyed just for ME.  I was searching for just the right color to make a Weekend Shawl that would remind me of the 24 hours Bob and I spent at the Oregon coast 2 years ago.   I didn't think the "right" color existed -- and then I found this.  The pattern of the shawl evokes the water rushing onto the shore. The dark blue at the top is the deeper water of the ocean, lightening up as it becomes shallower at the shore. The light blue is the shallow water rushing over the sand and the silver gray is the foam being pushed ahead of the water.  Perfect.  The mental picture is so clear.  But it is a lie.  That isn't a shawl.  It is 800 yards of incredibly beautiful yarn.

Just like this ... 

(Madelinetosh merino light in Tart) ... is NOT an Asterope

This ... 

(Knitpicks Shadow laceweight yarn in Cattails, much less spinachy IRL) ... is NOT a Maia.

THIS ...

has stubbornly chosen to remain 10 skeins of Classic Elite Moorland in color Loch Ness, refusing to turn itself into THIS:

These two little suckers have refused to even TELL me what they intend to become, firmly remaining ... 

Black Bunny Fibers (non Rav link) Bulky Blend (85% merino, 15% alpaca), 350 yds of Ocean Rock (it's a bit greener and brighter IRL), and 

KnitPicks Shadow laceweight in Oregon Coast colorway.

To paraphrase a real conversation:
me:  ... and I got a skein of Oregon Coast (holds it up)
Bob:  you didn't just buy that for the name, did you?
me:  ooh, look, a butterfly!

Okay, so perhaps it is a bit of hyperbole with more than a dash of anthropomorphism to claim that the stash yarns LIE.  But do you see the problem?  I don't BUY a yarn.  I BUY a concept, an idea, a vision, a dream.  And frequently, the concept, idea, vision, dream is realized (at a rate of about 6 kilometers of realization so far this year), but until then I gaze longingly at my stash expecting to see Weekend Shawls and Asteropes and Maias.  And instead, in the box, gazing back at me, is just beautiful fiber and beautiful dreams.  

Maybe "just" is a bit harsh.

Maybe ... just maybe ... it is enough to have dreams and the skills to turn those dreams into reality.  Someday.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Zombies Ate My Brain!

Well, no, not really, but that sounds a lot better than any of the other excuses I have for my absence, most of which involve a computer in the shop for a week, no DSL for three weeks, and a new iPhone that I haven't learned to post from.  And technically, if you consider how much time I have spent playing Plants vs Zombies on the above mentioned iPhone since we last chatted, you could say that the title is accurate.  But this isn't why you're here, is it?

This is:

Merope Shawl from Romi's 7 Small Shawls Year One: The Pleiades in Dream in Color Starry, colorway: Cloud Jungle.    The color looks odd  in that picture but if you tip your head to the side and squint a little, you can see the lovely silver threads that run through the yarn, making the shawl all glittery.  

This picture of the work in progress, is more color accurate:

Merope is also my first beaded shawl, as this close-up shows:

My adventures in beading will be covered in their own spellbinding post.  Soon. I promise.  No, really.  Whatever!

The only thing harder than getting a good photo of this yarn is getting a good photo of the BEADS on this yarn.  Trust me, it is really pretty.  Subtle color tones + sparkly yarn and beads = a shawl I love to wear.

And, just because she can, Romi also threw into the ebook a little matching cowl pattern so we could have christmas gifts for people who don't love shawls (they exist! I know, that's what I said!  Shocker!).  So I introduce for your viewing pleasure, Merope's Cowl,  I love the way she segued from one Merope motif to the next with a little Asterope  thrown in for fun.

I knit this with ArtYarn Glitter 100% cashmere plus silver thread (don't get me started on how it can be 100% something plus something else).  My first time using 100% cashmere.  Must.Do.It.Again.  (BTW, this marvelous christmas gift does not have an intended recipient yet.  If you are related to me or a friend on my gift list and want this warm and incredibly soft cowl, tell me.  Consider it your reward for letting me know you actually read my blog!  If you want it but need a different color, let me know that too, I'd love to make this pattern again, it is that awesome to knit).

As you've probably figured out if you are still reading this, I have developed a massive crush on Rosemary Hill's designs (you can find her at, a non-Ravelry address for a change).  I love her Seven Small Shawls Year One: the Pleiades and have been busy acquiring yarn to make at least 4 more of these, Maia, Asterope, Celeano, and Alcyone.  I also subscribed to her second e-book, Seven Small Shawls Year Two: the Muses.  She just released the first Muse, Kleio (the muse of History) so we have 6 more to look forward to in 2011.  

I have another fabulous Romi shawl on the needles now, Live Oak Shawlette.  No pics yet, I'm only on the second row of the lace so it doesn't look like anything yet.  I am just enchanted by the little oak leaves that make up the border.  So autumnal!

For you Ravelers, after checking out Romi's designs and falling in love, come join us in the @ Romi's Studio group.  It is filled with some of the nicest, most encouraging, and most fun people I've ever met.  I am honored that they let me hang out with them.

You may have noticed that my Merope's Shawl is actually called Psyche's Shawl.  This is in honor of our kitty, Psyche, who passed away on June 4th.   We miss you, Princess.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Classic Anniversary

Do you remember where you were 7 years ago?  I do, and to give you a hint, it included a long off-white dress, a flowered wreath instead of a veil, and a two tiered carrot cake ;)

(Imagine a lovely wedding picture posted here, as it would be if I could find the CD.  And yes, I can instantly lay my hands on the left over copies of the wedding program, my draft and final notes for the ceremony, all the engagement and wedding cards, the wedding expense spreadsheet, the wedding logistics spreadsheet (who needs to be picked up at the airport when and where they are staying), and the list of what needs to be returned to the caterer, but I have no idea where either of the 2 wedding picture CDs are.)

I can't decide if it feels like the wedding was a month ago or if it feels more like we've always been married (in the good way), but either way it does not feel like it has been seven years.  So many memories from that time, but mostly I remember the unbelievable joy of having the 40 people we were closest with in the whole world all in one place at the same time.  Since then, four of the people in attendence and three of the pets (we had the reception in our home so the pets got to attend too) have passed on, which makes us even more grateful that they were all here together for us.

So many memories ... the rain, the fun, the storms, the joy, the cancelled flights, spending the second night of married life with my stranded Mom, Aunt, Sister, and infant niece sleeping on the living room floor directly above our bed, grilling the hamburgers for the rehearsal dinner gettogether in our garage during a monsoon, Bob helping our friend Chris change his flat tire in a hurricane (I pulled "bride's perogative" and stayed in the car, 20 people were waiting for me at home and my hair was frizzy enough, thank you very much) ... 

Did I mention the rain?  That year it was 50 degrees and raining from January till June.  Amazingly, it stopped raining the minute I walked into my hairdresser's house on the wedding morning and started again the minute we checked into the B&B that night, but not a drop in between (clearly the knitting goddess likes me, or maybe it was Odin giving Bob a wedding "thumbs up", either way, thanks).

With this so on my mind lately, it was with great excitement that I perused the list of Modern Anniversary Gifts that fell into my hands last week.  Seven years seems so momentous, what would be an appropriate gift?  Linens? that would be great, we could use some new towels and sheets!  China?  We have china, but could really use a gravy boat or salt and pepper shakers, they make those in china, right?  What would it be?

YearTraditional (U.S.)Traditional (UK)[11]Modern (U.S.)
3rdLeatherCrystal, Glass
4thLinen, SilkFruit and FlowersAppliances (electrical)
6thIronEggWood objects
7thWool, CopperWoollenDesk sets/Pen & Pencil sets
8thBronzeSaltLinens, Lace
9thPotteryCopperLeather goods
10thTin, AluminumTinDiamond jewelry

Desk sets.

No, really, could I POSSIBLY make this up?  Desk sets.  Yeah, uh huh, that's what I said.
Now looking around my desk I see 3 knitting bags, several finished projects waiting to have ends woven in or to be mailed or felted (I know, I'm awful about finishing things), about 3 inches of knitting patterns, a yarn scale, assorted stitch markers, a calculator (for changing gauge), and a gorgeous skein of 100% silk cream laceweight yarn that I'm afraid to knit with.  Does this LOOK like a desk that wishes it had a desk set?  I suppose that cuppy thing in the middle could be used to hold Double Pointed Needles, but I'm not even sure what some of those other things are.  And don't you DARE use that pointy thing to open my squishy packages; if you cut through my yarn we're going to do more than just talk about it!

Needless to say, I was so horrified at the idea of desk sets as an appropriate anniversary present that I had to check online to see if it was some kind of joke.  There I learned that there are apparently two lists of appropriate anniversary gifts, the Modern and the Traditional (actually these are also two Traditionals, one US and one UK, but that's not important here).  While Desk Sets really are the suggested seventh year gift, they are only the Modern one.  The Traditional gift idea?  Ready for this?   Wool and Copper.  Yeah, two of my favorite things in the whole world.

Better yet, combine the two into copper colored wool, like this:

KnitPicks Shimmer laceweight color:  Spice  mid winding and dreaming of being a Haruni someday

 If you are afraid that wool and copper is too traditional, feel free to shake it up a little with some of this lovely copper colored 100% silk instead:

Claudia Hand Paint 100% silk lace weight in colorway: Copper Pennies, photo from

So while you are out and about shopping for our anniversary gift in the next few days, think traditional.

But I'll give you advanced warning, when it comes to 10 years and my choice is "Tin and aluminum" (traditional) or "Diamond jewelry" (modern), I'm a modern girl all the way ;)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

And then a miracle occurs...

Remember the old Far Side cartoon? 

Knitting lace is a lot like the formula on the blackboard.  To the left on the blackboard, you have the mathematic variables, the yarn, the needles, the pattern, the actual knitting of the lace, during which time you have an object that looks, at best, like an uninspired lump of yarn, and at worst like limp ramen noodles or a pile of used dental floss.  To the right on the blackboard, you have the solution to the formula, a gorgeous lacy finished project. 

Unblocked lace looking kinda "meh"  The Grateful Crane project linkand pattern link yarn: Debbie Bliss "Angel" 

"Step two" has a special name in knitting, it is called Blocking and is truly a place where miracles occur.  During blocking, lace opens up and reveals just the right balance of matter (string) and anti-matter (air).

I like to think of my knitting as my baby.  I conceived the idea for the project, it gestated for a while until I came up with the right combination of elements (pattern, yarn, needles), and as I knit it, it became an object in its own right, separate from me.  Just like a baby, sometimes a work in progress (WIP) is a darling, playing happily on the needles, growing by leaps and bounds, other times it may suffer from colic and need some gentle nurturing; still other times it may be a complete brat and earn a bit of a time out to think about its misdeeds.   

At some point, my "baby" will be all done playing on my needles.  Since it has a tummy full of the yummiest yarn I can provide, it is now ready for a bath and a nice nap. 

Giving your baby a bath  AKA a step by step guide to blocking your (wool) knitting:

These instructions are intended for wool or mostly wool items.  Read the label on your yarn before following this! 

1- start by washing out the sink - you wouldn't put a baby in a dirty bath, would you?

2- fill the sink with nice warm water and a little mild wool wash (gentle shampoo works also in a pinch). Make sure the water is not too hot or too cold. 

3- put your baby gently in the bath water, making sure to submerge it completely.  Hold it under the water for a minute, if needed, to let the air bubbles escape and ensure that it all gets wet.

4- let the baby rest quietly in the water for 10-20 minutes to ensure that the water penetrates and relaxes the fibers.  Do not aggitate the baby, they don't like that and may cry (or felt) if aggitated while wet.  This is a good time to make up a nice bed for the baby.  Interlocking foam pads (called Blocking Boards) are ideal, but if you don't have them you can make do nicely with any bed you aren't going to be using for a day or two or a freshly vacumed carpet.  Put down a few layers of towels to protect the bed or carpet (foam pads work better without towels).  For small items like hats or cowls (or sweater parts), an ironing board works great and has the advantage of being waist high, which is much easier than crawling around on the rug.

5- after the baby has been thoroughly soaked, pull the plug, being careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. 

6- while the water drains, prepare several towels for receiving the baby.  I use at least two, but bigger or bulkier babies might require more.  Spread the stacked layers of towels out on the bathroom floor.

7- gently but firmly squeeze the water out of your baby.  Don't wring or twist though, that would be mean and might cause pain, or worse, stretch the baby out of shape.

8- drop the baby -- err, gently lower the baby onto the nest of towels.  Spread it out a bit, allowing it to room to kick its little legs and arms, but try not to stretch it out. 

9- fold the bundle of towels over, tucking the little tyke in carefully.  Now roll the towels tightly and step on the roll, letting the towels absorb as much of the moisture as possible.

10-  bring the bundle over to the crib -- err, blocking mats and unroll.  If you don't have blocking mats, the bedspread or sheet or freshly vacuumed rug will all work fine.  You may want to lay down a few layers of dry towels to help keep the bed/rug dry, but be aware that those extra layers can make the baby take longer to dry.

At this point, the baby analogy really runs out.  If this were an actual baby, I would recommend tucking it in with its blanky and teddy and kissing it goodnight.  The management of this blog does not recommend or endorse yanking, stretching, and pinning out real babies.  To avoid being viewed as a sick and twisted person, I will now switch from "baby" to "FO" (finished object).

11 - smooth the FO out on the mats, approximating the desired shape/size.  I recommend making note of the pre-blocking dimensions at this point.  Note that it still looks pretty "meh", the only real difference is that now it is "meh" and wet.

12- select two directions most important for final shaping.  In the case of a shawl, these are most likely to be along the wing span (top edge) and along the spine (middle back).  For a sweater, it would most likely be the width and length of the sweater body.  Since this FO is a shawl, we'll start at the center back of neck and work out along the arms and down the center back,  stretching and putting in some preliminary pins.  I like to block lace quite aggressively, so frequently these first pins need to be moved as the entire FO begins to relax, stretch, and take shape.

13- if the FO has straight edges, blocking wires can frequently be threaded through the work to maintain a crisp sharp straight edge.  There are lots of options, ranging from pre-packaged blocking wire kits (most expensive and not necessarily long enough wires) to dental floss or cotton yarn (cheapest) threaded through and pinned taut like a clothes line. I use stainless steel (fairly rigid) and coated carbon steel (thinner and more flexible) welding rods that I picked up quite cheaply at Fleet Farm.  

This picture shows why I love blocking so much.  See how the pattern is opening up and emerging on the far right?  At the point when the picture was taken, I had threaded the coated carbon steel welding rod through the yarn overs along the border and stretched the wing out widthwise along the rod, pinning at intervals along the way.  Then I had stretched and temporarily pinned down the center back to maintain a fairly straight line.   Then I began working my way down the side, stretching out and pinning each point to make the scalloped edge.  Typically, I alternate top bottom side to side to maintain even tension.  In this case, however, I was so enraptured watching the lovely feather pattern emerge that I worked around counterclockwise from the left edge.

See what I mean about blocking being miraculous?  From "meh" to "ooh" by the magic of water and quilting pins.

14- once it is all pinned out, go around and adjust any pins as needed to straighten out a line or even out the scallops on the edging, etc.  Try not to obsess over this stage.  Then stand back and admire.  Make sure you allow the FO to fully dry before removing the pins. Once dry, the wool will "remember" the way you pinned it, although some yarns may do a little "bounce back" and lose some of the size you gained or the sharp pointed edges. 

15- take post-blocking measurements and photos and enjoy your post-miracle item!

So, to recap ...   Before                     
And After                     

About the shawl
This lovely shawl was a test knit for designer Joy Gerhard.  She called it The Grateful Crane after a wonderful Japanese fable and through July 31, 2011, she is donating 50% of the proceeds from the pattern sales to MSF (Doctors Without Borders) to aid in disaster relief from the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan.  Great organization, great cause, great pattern. 

While working on it, I kept thinking there was something familiar about the feather patterns.  Then one day, I looked up at the marchesite swan watch pendent from my Great-Aunt Jean and it hit me.  Joy may have named it The Grateful Crane, but to me, it is The Grateful Swan.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

While My FLS Gently Blocks

So much to post, so little time lately.

First stop, my poor long suffering February Lady Sweater has finally made it to the blocking mats.  I love this sweater.  I love the simplicity of style, I love the lace, I love the history of it, I love the yarn, I love how easy it is to modify to my taste and body, I love how forgiving the lace pattern is.  I enjoyed every minute of knitting it, and would knit another in a heart beat.  I think this is the first sweater I've made for myself that will really fit me well and I'll be proud to wear in public (still got my fingers crossed here).

Ravelry Project Link Visualize Whirled Peas FLS

I am simply at a loss as to why it took me from July 2010 to May 2011 to make it.  How did I let myself get distracted over and over again with another project (or 2 or 3 ... )?  For that matter, how did it take me a full month to block it after I finished?  I understand that my 198 yds of heavenly malabrigo was on the mats when I finished FLS, but still, that was done blocking in 2 days.  Sometimes I don't understand myself at all.

I learned a lot from this sweater, and that learning carried over to the blocking.  I have a very firm preference on where the yoke ends and the lace begins; I want that line to be between the middle and bottom of my breasts.  So after reading other knitters comments about how their FLS grew when it hit water, I made a conscious decision to stop the yoke about 2 inches above where I wanted the yoke to end  - roughly 10" vs 12-13 -- expecting that the weight of the yarn and lace body would pull the yoke down that much.  Likewise, I bound off a couple of inches shy of where I wanted the sweater to fall at mid hip -- 22" vs 24-26.

So, I gave the sweater a nice bath,  squeezed the water out in towels and plopped it down on the mats, where it measured 26" long (perfect), but still precisely 10" at the yoke.  Hmm...  

Then it hit me, in a classic "duh" moment ... when I changed the yoke from garter stitch to stockinette, I completely changed the angles and degree of stretch.  The lace body stretched because it is so open and, well, lacy.  Plus, last year when I learned that EZ got the same gauge on a size US 6 needle that I got on a US 9 (and read her comments about new knitters knitting too tightly), I followed her advice and made a conscious decision to loosen up a bit, so the gauge on my lace was looser than the gauge on my yoke.  This was fine with me because I want to make sure the sweater overlaps a bit in the front, but I should have included it in my calculations.

So instead of the easy just-lay-it-out-and-smooth-a-bit blocking I was expecting, I had to do quite a bit of gentle stretching to bring the yoke down to 12-13" from shoulder while gently "smooshing" the body to maintain the 26" length. 

Just a thought, but am I the only one who is surprised that my measurement from shoulder to mid-breast are exactly half the distance from my shoulder to mid hip?  I always thought I was short waisted and joke that my ribs practically touch my iliac crest when I sit, but I think this confirms it.  I swear that on nicely shaped women (like my friend Gayla),  mid boob would fall about 1/3 of the way to her hips.  I'm going to try very hard to resist the temptation to run up to women with a tape measure this week ...  

Next time, I know to knit the yoke to desired size without expecting stretch. 

And this ends today's lesson.  Now a word from our sponsor, the jolly short-waisted 5'5" giant:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bob and Rainy's Heavenly Day

I love spring.  It is definitely my favorite season.  I love watching the way the buds on the trees are bigger at lunch than they were in the morning and are even larger when leaving work that night.  I love watching the grass turn green before your eyes.

What I don't like about spring in Wisconsin is days like last Saturday, where large globs of slush fall from the sky, mixed with cold stinging rain and leave an inch of semi-transparent grey goo on the ground.  

But this time we managed to take a yucky day, a computer, a guitar, and a ball of Malabrigo and turn it into the perfect day.

It all started when I went rummaging through the worsted stash and stumbled upon this little gem:

a full skein of Malabrigo Worsted weight 100% merino joy in the Whales Road colorway that I had bought to make my nephew a hat and never used.

Now I am not a big fan of variagated yarns.  To me, they can be too arbitrary and distracting -- it's white!  no, it's Red!  no, it's green!  now it's pink!  I really prefer tonal colors, where the yarn moves subtly from lighter to darker shades of the same basic color, cohesive without being boring.

For example, a variagated "muddled mess":

versus a harmonious tonal:

And yes, I know you can find as many knitters who prefer the variagated picture as you can who agree with me and prefer the tonal, it is totally just my subjective preference, but this is my blog so we are talking about what I like :p

Anyway, the Whales Road is just a little stretch of my comfort zone, tonal cool blues with a splash of tonal purples and rich mallards to make it more exciting.  It was the perfect antidote to falling slush.  But what to turn it into?

A quick search on Ravelry found the perfect thing, a shawlette (little shawl) designed to use a single skein of worsted weight yarn; aptly named 198 yds of Heaven (Rav pattern link).  There is nothing like lace on US 9/5.5mm needles
to give a sense of instant gratification.

So, Bob fired up his computer (mine was still in the shop <sigh>), loaded Heroes of Might and Magic V, and  made a new map, while I cast on my shawlette.  Heroes is a fabulous game and our game of choice for two reasons:  (1) it is turn based, which means I can knit while he plays his turn and he can play guitar while I do mine, or we can both walk away and do dishes or cook dinner without any negative results; the game sits and waits for OUR convenience, and (2) we can create custom maps that allow us to play as ALLIES.  I like my husband and like being married to him too much to play against him.  We are both too competitive to have THAT end well, trust me on this.  Game developers who lament their inability to woe women gamers should pay attention to this (but won't, which is why Heroes is unique).

And we passed a heavenly day of domestic and knitterly tranquility.

Our Happy Family:  happy Bob engrossed in his game with happy Noel taking a bath while happy Psyche looks on.  Happy Daisy is out of sight on her bed under the computer and happy Rose is off stage to the right waiting for me to put down the camera, pick up the knitting from my chair and pet her some more.

And by Tuesday, I had this:

Almost instant gratification.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Trio of Finished Objects

It feels as though I've had less knitting time than usual lately, however I've actually accomplished a lot in the last few weeks, so today I actually have three (THREE!) finished objects for your viewing pleasure.

First up, we have Nancy's Comfort, a comfort shawl to help Nancy deal with the sudden loss of her husband at age 64.  I haven't been saying much about this project, but here it is finished:

Pattern:  Janet's Shawl  Knit in Lion Brand Home Spun Colorway: Wildfire.  Ravelry Pattern Link  and Project Link

Totally unlike Cindy's comfort shawl, since their personalities and situations are so different.  For Cindy's, I wanted an earth tone for grounding and a somewhat tailored shape.  For Nancy, I wanted FIRE with a rustic, homespun feel. 

The shawl came out just the way I wanted it, the color, texture, and shape are just what I envisioned.  Only one problem; I really dislike the yarn!  The shawl desparately wants a good blocking, but sadly it is 100% acrylic and doesn't block the way wool does.  It is also lacking wool's wonderful "bounce", so even though I did Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off using needles 2 sizes larger than I used to knit the body, the edges are still very rigid compared to the stretchiness of the garter stitch body.

The pattern is a very basic elongated V shaped shawl with YO at the beginning and end of each row for increases, and garter stitch in between.  I modified it by adding a row of YO, K2tog across 2 rows before the bind off to add an eyelet row across the long edge to match the eyelets caused by the increases on the two sides of the triangle.  You can make this out in the left side of the picture just above the knot. 

The second finished object is Ginny's Not Boring Poncho.  My original design (or as original as you can get with a poncho, which is a pretty basic garment), I am really pleased with how it came out as well.  LOVE the color and it was a fun, quick knit.

Pattern from my head.  Yarn:  Viking Balder 100% superwash wool.  Ravelry Project Link
I wound up using all but about 15 inches of 3 skeins.  Instead of a ruffle at the bottom edge, I switched to US15 / 10mm needles for the final skein and did a decorative border to mirror the collar (1 round purl, 1 round knit, Purl bind off).  The bulk from the purl rows on 10mm needles actually cause it to ruffle really nicely.

I have never used superwash yarn except sock weight, so I wasn't prepared for the way this GREW when it hit water.  Measurements on the blocking mats are:  Neck = 19-20",  Spine = 27", sides = 25" long, bottom = 44" across.  I was aiming for length in the low 20"s, so this is a bit longer than I had planned.  I guess if it is down to her knees, they can mail it back and I can remove a bit.  But I'm reminding myself that it is April in Florida (it is April here as well, but not quite the same kind of April), so she won't probably be able to wear it much longer this spring anyway and it will still fit her next year (and the year after that and the year after that).

If she likes it, I'm thinking of making a smaller, lighter, more decorative poncho from bamboo or cotton that she can wear in warmer weather.  Something like this:  Karen Stelzer's Summer Poncho (Rav link).  We'll see :)

And finally, we have my February Lady's Sweater, finished knitting just needs buttons, blocking, and ends woven in.  I totally can't wait to block it, this yarn gets so incredible when it hits water.  I just need to wait for the poncho to dry and come off the mats. 

February Lady Sweater  non-Ravelry link! is Pamela Wynne's lovely tribute to Elizabeth Zimmermann's Baby Sweater on Two Needles (aka February Baby Sweater) upsized for women.  It is just a fabulous knit.  Super easy to modify as much or as little as you want to exactly meet your needs.  As of today, there are 10,660 projects for this sweater on Ravelry and an additional 11,320 people have it in their queue, waiting to be knit; that is just amazing!  Great job, Pam,  EZ would be so proud.

When I started mine, I was frustrated by sweaters that DON'T FIT right (yeah, Entrelac Tee, I'm looking right at you!) and really wanted to make this one fit well.  Pre-blocking, it is fitting very well, just a tad short.  That is intentional; I'm assuming that the sweater will grow in length between the blocking and the effect of the lace and the weight of the border.  If I don't pick up the inch or so that it needs, I will most likely undo the bind off and add a few more rows to the body.

The only real modification I made was to the yoke.  The original pattern calls for a garter stitch yoke and, as you well know if you've been reading this blog for a while, I hate garter stitch.  I'm not crazy about the look, but mostly I dislike the way it stretches in unpredictable ways and can really ruin the shape of the garment.  I did NOT want to be one of the people who knit this sweater and bemoaned the fact that it fits wonderfully except when it is falling off their shoulders.  I did a search on "stockinette" in the project pages and found quite a few lovely examples of this sweater with a stockinette yoke and went with that.

I also did my increases by lifting the stitch from the previous row.  I really like the neat and tidy way this increase looks.  It even looks great with the lifeline still in the picture.

The yarn is Misti Alpaca Tonos Worsted, 50/50 alpaca/merino (sigh, I love this yarn) in the Muir Woods colorway.  WEBS link  I call it my "Visualize Whirled Peas" FLS. 

More photos to come.