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: