Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Quest for the Perfect Poncho

A few weeks ago, my Mom mentioned that I should knit a poncho for my will-be-7-this-week niece, Virginia.  I agreed that ponchos were wonderful for kids because you had your arms free for play and they bridged a wider temperature range than most sweaters or jackets.  However, I was strangly reluctant.

So I thought about it over a few days and finally realized why I was reluctant.  To me, Ponchos = the 70s.  I remember the 70s.  I really disliked the clothing then and, frankly, I don't think it has improved over time.  Bell bottoms, hip huggers, tie dye, fringe ... not exactly a shining moment (or decade) for fashion.

I remember being 8 in 1972 and talking to my BFF at the time, Patty.  Patty was wearing bell bottom hip huggers and a tie dye top (yes, at 8).  She asked me why I never wore tie-dye.  I told her I was allergic to it.  Fortunately, she believed me.

So when I think "poncho", I think this:

And this:

And this "men's montrosity horror poncho" -- oh goddess, I'm starting to get hives ...

And I just can't do that to a perfectly charming almost-7 girl.

So time passed.  And I started looking at this as a challenge.  I'm a knitter.  I am in control of what comes off my needles (in theory anyway).  Was it possible to make a poncho that I wouldn't hate?

So I started looking at patterns and just couldn't find one that I liked.  Actually, I found one that I liked a lot, but made the mistake of showing it to my Mother who "pooh poohed" it completely because it "wasn't a real poncho" (no kidding, that's most likely why I liked it).  She also "pooh poohed" ponchos with cables (an improvement in my opinion) and everything else that I showed her.  So I came away from the conversation with 2 decisions made: 

(1) I was going to have to design one myself, and

(2) no way was I letting Mom know what I was doing until it was too late to change it.

My research underscored the two things I had to avoid in my poncho, a big stretched out gapping neck that would fall off one shoulder, and FRINGE.  Now, I have no quarrel with the TV show of the same name, I've never seen it but I've heard it's good, but NO FRINGE is allowed anywhere NEAR my poncho, and this is non-negotiable!   There were also 3 givens, it had to be pink enough to please Virginia but not so pink I couldn't bear to knit it, it had to be machine washable for my sister's sake, and it couldn't be boring for Bob's sake  (Bob is on a kick where he is rebelling against "mundane" and "boring" colors, a completely natural response to this winter).

So, armed with a germ of an idea, I trotted off to Monterey Yarn on Thursday, March 24, in the hopes of finding the yarn that would make this all possible.  I made it through 3/4 of the store and had found only one yarn that I considered "right" when Kathy caught up to me.  I explained my mission.  She said she knew EXACTLY the right yarn, and went straight to the one I had just considered.  We held it.  We rubbed it.  We read the label.  We agreed... just right.

Yarn:  Viking Balder superwash 100% wool, 100gr = 137yds/125m.  Colorway:  465.

I CO 46 stitches  on size US 11 (8mm) circ needles and started with a little bit of a "collar" knit flat 1 row purl, 2 rows knit, 1 row purl (this is how it looks on the outside, it is actually knit as 2 rows purl, 2 rows knit to get that effect).  This gives a little notch at the throat to allow room for the poncho to go over her head.  I will make some I-Cord ties so she can tighten the neck if it is too big or chilly.  I also plan to run a row of single crochet around the inside of the first row so the neck can't stretch out.

Then to join it into the round, I knit to the stitch before the last on the needle, did a YO, knit last stitch on this side, first stitch on the other side (that joined it into the round), YO, K21, YO, K2, YO, K21.  And K around the next row.

This established the pattern, with YO, K2, YO every other row in the front and in the back as increases.

After about 4 or 5 inches, I switched to size US 13 (9mm) needles.  I would have done the whole poncho on 13s, but wanted to do the shoulders a little tighter (okay, so I'm obsessed with not letting this stretch out of shape completely, but I'd rather be cautious than disappointed).

I'm REALLY liking this.  I think Ginny will love the color (it earned the Bob says it's not boring stamp of approval).  and it is SUCH a quick knit!  I started on Friday afternoon and it is about 14" long unstretched (more than twice as long as in the picture, taken Saturday afternoon), which I'm estimating would = about 18" post blocking.  I intend to block it rather aggressively for length.

My intention is to continue knitting till I finish the second skein (coming up quickly), then to switch to US 15 needles and increase in every stitch (ie double the number of stitches) to make a ruffle as long as I can with the remaining (third) skein.  I'm not sure if doubling the stitches will be sufficiently "ruffly", but I hope so.  I could triple the stitches, but that will eat up a lot of yarn and make the poncho correspondingly shorter, so I'd rather split the difference between fullness and length and go with twice the stitches and bigger needles. 

I should point out that it is REALLY hard to design something for a virtually-7-year-old without one handy to measure.  This might come back a week later in the mail with a request for a complete re-knit.  Which would be fine, as long as it was accompanied by a photo of it on her or measurements :P

Now comes the really hard part.  I'm about to head over to Mom's for several hours of DIY bathroom improvement shows.  No way am I not going to work on this poncho while I watch, which means showing it to Mom and reminding her that she can always knit one herself if she doesn't like mine.  Wish me luck.  I vow to not negotiate on the fringe! 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

My Reality vs Real Reality

I like to think of myself as a rational, realistic person.  Sadly, I have recently had to confront the fact that my version of reality often does not match real reality.  It is a bitter bitter truth that I was confronted with during my recent vacation from work.  My reality says that when I have 6 days off from work I can accomplish massive amounts of fun things that I normally don't have time for.  Case in point:

#1 - Fantasy:  if I'm off work, I can do blog posts every day!  Reality:  my first March blog post is the 26th.  Gads.

#2 - Fantasy:  I am absolutely committed to finishing my February Lady Sweater during my vacation!  All I have left is the two sleeves and they are only 3/4 length.  Easy Peasy!  I'll just consider it a "test knit" with a March 12th deadline and get right on it.  

This one has two odd thought patterns in it, the first is easy to spot, that I thought I would finish the sweater by March 12th.  Observe Reality as shown in a March 26 photo:

Project link: "Visualize Whirled Peas" February Lady Sweater
Pattern link:  non-Ravelry Pattern Link 
Knit in Misti Alpaca  50/50 Merino wool/alpaca  100% sheer heaven   colorway: Muir Woods

Please note that one and about a quarter sleeves are done, but that's probably more than you were expecting to see.  <sigh>  (and trust me, it will look better after it is blocked!)

The second fallacy is harder to spot, but it is in the pledge to consider this my own personal test knit, thereby implying that I won't be distracted by someone else's test.  Yeah, right.  But on the plus side, Bob has a lovely new sock.  (As I told my boss the other day when he suggested that perhaps I had a knitting problem, "I don't have a problem, I HAVE a sock." )  Unfortunately, I don't appear to have a picture of the sock available at the moment, but here's a link.  Louche Sock  It was a very fun pattern to knit and I'm looking forward to knitting the second one.  The socks are mirror images of each other, so I will have to bend my mind around the pattern being backwards. 

Bob is also looking forward to the second sock, so he can wear a pair instead of gazing admiringly at a single sock.

The next fantasy didn't happen during my vacation, but it shows what a slow learner I am.

Fantasy #3:  "snow day" means a lovely day sipping tea and knitting while watching lazy flakes fall outside the window.  Reality:  March 23rd - 17.8" of snow = 3.5 hours with a chain saw and a snow blower followed by a nap because we were too exhausted to stay awake after clearing both driveways.  Amazingly, the snow plows had already been by when we went out to clear.  During the day (after the photos) we got an additional 4 inches of snow but no additional branches fell.  We lost 1 very large branch (8-9" diameter), 1 medium branch (4" diameter that was totally hidden in the snow till I hit it with the snow blower), and 2 smaller diameter branches.  Fortunately, when Bob got home from work during the storm he put the car in the garage so the branches didn't hit it on the way down.

Happy Birthday, Mom.  Hope you had snow on your birthday list, cause that's what you got!


This is my favorite picture of the storm, a 9 inch cap of snow sticking straight out from a Christmas light.  It gives a great idea of how wet and heavy the snow was.  Amazing defiance of gravity.

Happy spring!