Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No flange, not safe

(Trust me, you'll be just as happy that this post has no photos.)

I've come to regard the crochet hook not just as a fiber arts tool, but as one of life's most basic gadgets. It's not in the same league as the lever, the wheel, and the inclined plane, but it's just the thing for retrieving small objects from or through tight places. I've fished a ring out of a sink drain and finagled a broken key end out of a lock.

Last night, in a motel in southern Iowa, I had to have my spouse use a tiny steel crochet hook to remove a cylindrical foam earplug I had jammed too far into my ear. If you can top that for unusual crochet hook applications, please leave a comment and tell me about it!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Too soon

A month ago I was planning to find a new home for this WIP. I was convinced that there was no way I would ever finish the beaded border. It's Susan Pandorf's Evenstar pattern, which calls for 56 repeats of a 20-row knitted-on border chart, and each repeat uses 50 beads. I worked on it for several miserable days in February 2011 (admittedly, I was recovering from a very bad case of bronchitis, which didn't help). I repeatedly dropped beads, dropped stitches, and shredded the yarn, accomplished a little more than 3 repeats, and stuffed the whole thing in a bag in The Closet of Despair™.

Five days ago, I liberated it. It was so beautiful that I thought I'd give it one more try before giving it away. As of this morning, I've completed 30 repeats, more than half the border.

So, what happened?!

In short, I've got better tools and more experience.

I knit the entire body of the shawl on Addi Turbos-- not the Lace Addis, either, but the regular ones, with their fairly short, rounded tips. Now I've got Red Lace ChiaoGoos (which I'm not sure even existed in February 2011). Not only do they make working the decreases easier (how did I ever slog through all those twisted double decreases in the body without them?), but those pointy points really make transferring the stitch back to the needle from the crochet hook simple.

The crochet hook I was using before was too small for the job, so tiny that that the silk thread didn't really fit in the notch, hence the shredding. The one I'm using now is twice as big (1.0 mm instead of .50 mm), yet still fits through nearly every one of the size 8 beads.

Even having the beads on a "bead mat" (in my case, a clean dinner napkin) instead of in a bowl or a tin keeps them from rolling around while loading the crochet hook. And since I've had more beading practice since then, I can pick up several at a time instead of having to load each bead on the hook individually.

I often tell my students that there's not really any such thing as a project that's too hard, but sometimes a project is too soon. Maybe I should try listening to myself occasionally.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fall tree-peeping, knitter-style

I only live about an hour and a half's drive from Bloomington, Indiana. It's an easy day trip. It's a wonderful "real" college town (as opposed to an ordinary town which happens to have a college in it), with great shopping, dining, entertainment, and an attractive campus. If I could live anywhere in Indiana, it'd be Bloomington.

The problem with day tripping, though, is that at the end of the day, you have to drive home, so somebody has to forgo the wine at dinner. There's nowhere to grab an afternoon nap, and you always get tired before you've done all the things you want to do. So this year for my spouse's fall break, we booked a couple of nights in a hotel right off the town square. (Don't worry, this isn't going to turn into a Diary of my Vacation post.)

As we approached the hotel, I was supposed to be navigating, but I got distracted by the fabulous lace-covered tree at right. In fact, the downtown Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District (BEAD) was full of tree sweaters! A little Googling turned up the reason: it's a fundraising project for domestic violence victims. You can see all the trees and read about the Knitting to Heal project here.

Another of my favorite trees was, unsurprisingly, sponsored by a local yarn store, Yarns Unlimited. I wish I had a 360-degree draggable panorama to show you all the charming knitted and crocheted sea creatures!

Oh, and here's the obligatory photo of my yarny souvenir shopping from Yarns Unlimited and In A Yarn Basket (all sock yarn, except for the shawl pin. Let's pretend to be surprised). I've recently learned from Twitter that souvenir yarn doesn't count as stash. ;)

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Intermediate gratification

My mom phoned me the other day for advice about her current project. It was a supposedly flat-topped hat, worked from the top down; she was dubious about it because it wasn't lying flat. So I recommended she block the WIP to see if that would make it lie flat, before investing any more time in it.

I actually block WIPs all the time. This has become easier since I bought some very long cables for my laminated wood interchangeables; I can just replace the needle tips with the plastic endcaps, and the cables function as flexible blocking wires. (Compared to knitting, blocking crochet in progress is so easy it feels like cheating: just replace the hook with a plastic coilless pin-style marker.)

Here are a few of the reasons I'm frequently pinning something out just before bed:

  • If I've found a mistake in lace several rows down (or, as happened to me earlier this week, a hundred! rows down), and it's the sort that can be fixed by dropping a stitch column or two, I know the repair will be a lot easier if I block it first to set the shapes of the stitches.

  • For a shawl, or some other garment where gauge isn't critical, I probably didn't swatch. So, I just want to see how the fabric is going to look after blocking, to make sure I like it. Again, this is particularly true with lace, which always looks a well-used dishrag before blocking; sometimes I just want a little reassurance that it'll be fine in the end. Compare the two pictures at right of the same project: the first was taken before blocking, and the second was taken afterwards. (The pattern, by the way, is Corrina Ferguson's Yeats.)

  • If I'm using a sleeve or some other small part of a garment as my gauge swatch, I need to block it as soon it's big enough to measure. (I may actually have finally outgrown the folly of measuring gauge without blocking!)

  • With a really challenging project, I might want to block gently before binding off, to reveal any mistakes I've missed while they're still accessible from above. I really don't ever want to repeat the occasion where I discovered a mis-crossed cable on the back of a sweater-- after I'd bound off the neck, joined the shoulders, and picked up stitches for the hood.

    And sometimes, I have more than one project going at a time. (I know, you're shocked!) Usually one of them is The Thing I Am Currently in Love With, and another is The Thing I Need to Get Done. Sometimes the only way I can force myself to stop working on the first is by blocking it in the morning. That way, I only have to be virtuous for the thirty seconds it takes to shove the object of enchantment into the sink; then for the rest of the day, I'll have to work on the object of drudgery until my beloved dries.

    (Or, uh, cast on something else entirely...)
  • Tuesday, September 25, 2012

    To have and to hold

    So, the thing about knitting lots of shawls is, you end up with lots of shawls. Sure, you can give some away. But if you (like me) tend to make shawls requiring occasional handwashing and fidgety blocking, it's a little like giving someone a pet: it comes with an implied obligation, so you don't want to impose a handknitted shawl on just anyone.

    (Yes, Mom, I made a shawl with your name on it. You don't have to call me and hint.)

    Here's my favorite way to store all those fabulous shawls. It's part of the elfa brand modular closet system sold by The Container Store. This piece is actually marketed as a pants rack, but I have a lot more shawls than pants. There are little clear rubber rings on each metal bar that help keep the shawls from sliding off.

    And look! The rack slides out, so it's easy to hang and retrieve shawls neatly from the top, without disturbing their neighbors.

    As you can see, this rack is full. And what you can't see is that there are more shawls folded on the shelf above the rack. It's definitely time to order a second rack. Pants are overrated, anyhow.

    Tuesday, September 04, 2012

    A literature survey

    Let me remind you that I am an expert on graduate school, having dropped out of two of them...

    In many academic fields, when one is starting to investigate a research topic, the literature survey is an essential stage. It involves hunting down journal papers related to the topic, reading or skimming them for important results, and studying any potentially-useful techniques the author has developed. A researcher who doesn't do this thoroughly risks the frustration of having a paper rejected because her results were already published by someone else, or because a known technique would make her results trivial. Basically, you have to become really familiar with what's been done before in order to confidently contribute something valuable and original.

    For the last several weeks, I've been doing something similar with knitted shawls.

    I got it in my head that I'd like to design some knitted shawls and shawlettes, but I've made (read: finished) surprisingly few of them, notably Haruni, Traveling Woman, and Sunbird. I'd already done a good job of filling my Ravelry favorites with interesting candidates, but I hadn't studied how they were constructed, or how the stitch patterns interacted.

    Late last week, I finished Melissa Lemmons' Fountain of Diamonds. (I'm not going to branch off into a pattern review, but I will say that I knit this pattern exactly as written, right down to the placement of stitch markers.)

    The three-triangular-panel construction gives better front converage than the common triangle or semi-circular shapes, yet doesn't overpower a short person like a long triangle can.

    I also tried a beading method I hadn't previously used, at least not with success (there's an Evenstar shawl shoved in a bag in my nightstand, with only the beaded edging unworked). Be warned: the Clover steel crochet hooks with the comfy handles are sized much differently than the Susan Bates hooks. The Clover size 13/14 I had on hand was .50 mm, compared to the .75 mm Bates size 14. Beading went a lot better once I got the correct-size hook for my size 8 beads.

    Beads are notoriously hard to photograph, and I like subtle combinations of beads with yarn, but you can probably make them out along the upper edges of the diamonds. They sparkle when the shawl moves, and they make those otherwise-interminable purl rows more interesting to work. The center of the flower at the bottom of the diamond, by the way, is created with a 3-to-7 increase. That wasn't a new technique to me, but it's a favorite (I used something similar in the flowers on my Betony socks).

    I also worked my first-ever nupps (pronounced "noop!s"; the exclamation point is optional). They're the little knobs outlining this leaf motif. If you're unfamiliar with these, they're made by working (k1, yo) a lot of times into the same stitch and ending with a final k1; then all strands are purled together on the following row. For the love of all that's holey, do not attempt these without needles with sharp, long tips!

    So if anybody asks, it's not recreational knitting, it's a literature survey.

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012


    I just have one quick little thing to show you today:

    That's right, it's now a Skewbaru.

    Tuesday, August 14, 2012

    Stitches go in, stitches come out

    So you would think, in four and a half hours as a passenger on the road to Madison, that I ought to be able to get a lot of knitting done, right?

    Well, yes and no.

    I started the second sock of a pair as soon as we left town, because second socks (usually) require no decisions. But I forgot to bring my design notes, so I had to figure stuff out by looking at Sock One. The first time I cast on, after 6-8 rounds I realized I'd started with the wrong number of stitches. On the second try, I got a little farther before noticing my gauge didn't look right. Sure enough, it was looser than Sock One. So I double-checked my needles and I had brought the wrong size needles: 2.5mm instead of 2.25mm.

    Luckily, I only had to fidget about 45 minutes before we got to Champaign, IL, where we got off the highway for gas, restrooms, and an emergency yarn store stop. I was sorry I couldn't spare more time to browse at Needleworks, but I did get a pair of 2.25mm circulars. Unfortunately, the only metal ones they had in stock in that size were Susan Bates Quicksilvers. I don't mind them for larger-gauge projects (in fact I rather like the finish), but for socks, they were a misery. They have nice sharp points (excellent for lace and twisted stitches), but look closely at the cable join; that little smooshed place is wider than the rest of the needle, so tightly-knit sock stitches do not want to slide over it. After a while I got frustrated and took a nap.

    By the time we switched drivers in Rockford, IL, all I had finished was this tiny little toe-start, about an inch tall. I got another inch or so knitted after snapping this photo on the comfy couch in Lakeside Fibers. Mercifully, I was able to replace the offending needles with Chiaogoo Red Lace needles at The Sow's Ear, and finished the toe at Late Night Knitting. These are my new favorite sock needles. I'm a long-time fan of Addi Lace Turbos, too, but I have acidic skin and wear the "slick" off the finish pretty quickly. I'm hoping the stainless steel Chiaogoos will tolerate me better.

    Unfortunately I slept late the next morning and didn't manage to get the instep pattern established before my afternoon coffee-and-knitting date at EVP Coffee, with my friend Jamie McCanless, Madison resident, cool dude, and tech editor to the stars. Jamie's too interesting company for me to set up the instep without my notes while we talked, so I knit a lot of stitches, but only in a "they're all wrong, but it's okay, I'm a process knitter" sort of way. (Guess I should have taken a photo of those completely random traveling twisted stitches before I ripped them out, huh?)

    And two weeks later, I'm ready to turn the heel. Um, yay?

    Tuesday, August 07, 2012

    Driving and drawing

    I've done a lot more traveling this year than I typically do. I'm not going to recite my entire 2012 itinerary at you, but I did just get back from four days in Madison, Wisconsin, which is my favorite Midwestern city. It's pretty, pedestrian-friendly, and environmentally conscious (at least, compared to where I live), and there's a great abundance of good food and drink. You can't walk a hundred yards in downtown Madison without the opportunity to buy beer, cheese, or beer-battered cheese.

    The reason for this trip was that my spouse was giving two talks at MathFest 2012 and I went along. As a recovering mathematician, I often get to see old friends at math conferences. For example, we had lunch with D. Jacob "Jake" Wildstrom, crocheter, combinatorist, and coauthor of Making Mathematics with Needlework. Jake was kind enough to share an order with me of the finest cheese curds in Wisconsin, to save me from eating them all myself.

    One particularly great thing about Madison is that they have figured out that coffee and yarn should be together. I spent an hour knitting on a very comfortable couch in the Lakeside Street Coffeehouse, which shares a building with Lakeside Fibers. I would have stayed longer, but a heavy lunch was making me drowsy (remember those cheese curds?). I also went to Late Night Knitting at The Sow's Ear in nearby Verona, WI, which may be the Knit Night to end all Knit Nights. I talked to a lot of great, interesting people at both shops and, of course, did a little souvenir shopping.

    One of my spouse's talks was about graph theory and blackwork embroidery, and I helped out by drawing some of the diagrams for his slides. Here are the slides for the whole talk; the illustrations with a fabric background are mine.

    Now that I'm home, I've got some knitting technical illustrations to draw ASAP. I'll show you a sample of my illustration style and answer a frequent question about Skew at the same time. The original wording for the lifted increases is confusing. So here's a hopefully-clearer restatement, with a picture.

    LLinc: use the left needle to pick up the aqua strand in the direction of the arrow; knit in the back of this strand.
    RLinc: use the right needle to pick up the purple strand in the direction of the arrow; transfer it to the left needle and knit it (in the front).

    If you're having trouble remembering whether to knit in the front or the back, the key idea is that they are intended to be untwisted. (Of course, if you want them to be twisted, by all means. It's your knitting.)

    By the way, MathFest is scheduled to be in Portland in 2014. I'm desperately hoping it will coincide again with Sock Summit, like it did in 2009.

    Tuesday, July 31, 2012

    Revisions and invasions

    After my guests left town, I buckled down and finally finished the sample sock pair for the new self-published edition of Willow Tea Room. They're knit in Simply Socks Yarn Company SSY Solids in Lavender. As a result of switching to a thinner yarn, the pattern has been re-gauged, re-sized, and (of course!) re-edited; the new edition has three sock circumferences to choose from, and instructions for altering the foot length.

    By the way, this is an absolutely terrific yarn. It's got three plies (and you know how I love a round yarn!), comes in an extensive color selection, and is put up in 50 g hanks so you can buy only what you need. And in spite of the name, they're not entirely solid-colored; there's just the tiniest bit of variation to add interest.

    You only get this lame laid-flat photo for the moment because I need to find a model. For whatever reason, most of my local friends either have really small or really large feet. The socks fit me, actually, but there is not enough Photoshoppery in the world to make my legs presentable right now, what with the blackberry scratches, the insect bites, and the accompanying ankle swelling.

    See, we live on a seven-acre plot, six acres of which is wooded. And I've declared war on some invasive species that have moved into it. Just for example, we have large canopies of Japanese honeysuckle vines on top of thirty-plus years of thorny old blackberry canes. For the last few months, I've been hacking down Bad Plants and piling them up to burn. Earlier this year, I had a glorious time setting fire to a giant stickery pile of brush in my driveway.

    However, there's been a temporary ban on open burning here for weeks due to extremely dry conditions. (In case you didn't know, the lower midwestern United States is having a serious drought.) So now there are numerous piles like this one, waiting for rain.

    By the way, I'm a disturbingly good firebug; this gray spot is all that's left of a pile twice the size of the one above, and I didn't use any accelerants except the match.

    Oddly enough, the Honeysuckle Wars have turned out to be related to knitting. The large-motion, non-repetitive upper body exercise has been really good for preventing the return of my knitting-related shoulder pain. (Disclaimer: this is my personal experience only and should not be taken as medical advice. Consult a doctor before reading this blog.) And the fresh air, the improvement of the view out the windows from my workspace, and the satisfaction of doing something good for the ecology have all been great for my mental health.

    Today, though, I'm taking the day off from playing Junior Forester to get ready for a short vacation, which will include meeting up with some Awesome Knitting People. I'll be taking along the stockinette sock project for social knitting. It's coming along much better this time around, although I may yet rip back and try a sockitecture experiment. (The yarn is Schoppel Wolle Wunderkleckse; isn't it pretty?)

    And no, of course it isn't the only project I'm packing. Don't be silly. Time to wind some yarn.

    Tuesday, July 24, 2012

    Wining + winding = whining

    This is going to have to be brief because my in-laws have been in town until this morning, and I'm leaving for a trip this afternoon (for which I haven't finished the laundry yet). Let me be clear that a visit from my in-laws is a good thing (and I'm not just saying that because my father-in-law has been known to read my blog on occasion!).

    My mother-in-law, in fact, is a knitter. She's not a rabid one, but she works on interesting projects and likes to learn new things, and she has wonderful taste. She's been fascinated by my knitting socks on two circs, and this time I handed her one in progress to knit on for herself, which she did with great success. Turns out we even have similar gauges!

    Meanwhile, a large pile of Wollmeise grab bags arrived while they were here. She'd never seen Wollmeise before, and was really impressed with the saturated colors. I got two skeins of Birkenrinde, which she particularly admired, so I sent her home with one as a gift.

    I took having company as a justified opportunity to knit a stockinette sock. I was going to show it to you because the yarn was knitting up in a particularly interesting way, but it'll have to wait. I had to rip it back from the beginning of the heel flap to the end of the toe last night, because I failed to count before beginning the straight section of the foot. Likewise, we went to hang some new curtains in the process of fluffing our house before company arrived, and I discovered I had only ordered half as many as I should have. (I do know what order the natural numbers come in, I swear!)

    Also, here's the result of winding yarn after your dinner party of five consumes two bottles of wine. I didn't have the heart (or the lighting) to take a photo of the loops wrapped around the gears before I admitted defeat and got out the scissors.

    On a (mostly) positive note, early last week, I did finish the shawl I was crocheting at the car dealership. And yes, there's a pattern in progress, although the stitch diagrams are giving me fits.

    Monday, July 16, 2012

    So about that ballwinder

    I caved. I got tired of having to impose on my LYS to wind giant balls (like the Wollmeise Lace-Garn I mentioned in my last post, which comes in 1740 yd / 300 g hanks). And I'm a real big fan of using The Right Tool for the Job. So I ordered the Nancy's Knit Knacks heavy duty ball winder.

    It took me a while to figure out where to put it (no, I didn't clamp it to the back seat armrest in my Subaru). It has much nicer clamps than my old Royal, so I wasn't worried about marring the surface of a good table; but most of the tables in the house have either a very shallow lip extending over a vertical panel, or a routed edge. And of course there has to be somewhere nearby to mount a swift. The kitchen island countertop worked great, but my family assured me that I couldn't leave it set up there.

    I finally settled on a little bookshelf in my living room. Here's the whole yarn-winding setup, ready to go. The swift has to be taken down between uses because it's clamped to the table where we usually eat. That's my laptop in the background; this is also the table where I usually do any extended computer usage this time of year, since it has great light and a nice view.

    The ballwinder is every bit as good a tool as I had hoped. Better, in fact, since it's much more versatile in terms of, mounting position than I realized. It came fully assembled except for the handle and even included the necessary nut driver in case I ever have to open the case to adjust or lubricate the inner works. It's well-designed for its function and well-crafted with a nice finish, so I'm happy to have it sitting out in my living room. The photo above is pretty much the last non-word on its usefulness.

    Unfortunately, my swift doesn't work nearly as well. The screw that holds the clamp below the umbrella to the vertical post is wooden, including the screw threads, and some of the threads broke off. So it doesn't hold very well, and the umbrella has a nasty tendency to collapse mid-winding if I encounter a resistant spot. And of course, once a skein falls off the first time, it tends to have a lot of resistant spots.

    Today I got fed up and consulted my household engineer. A woodworking clamp under the umbrella is pretty clunky, and orange, but very effective. And next time I go to the hardware store, I'll see if I can find a smaller, round clamp (perhaps in the plumbing department?) that will do the job.

    By the way, speaking of using the right tool for the job: if you need to give your long-haired cat a lion cut, don't use your husband's beard trimmer. Just sayin.'

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    If I could just replace that cupholder with a ballwinder...

    I had this idea in my head: "Mondays! I shall blog on Mondays, nothing ever happens on Monday." So of course yesterday I got to drop everything and drive to the far side of Indianapolis (about two hours away). But I came home with this:
    I've been shopping since February to replace the old beater my husband totaled by driving it over a curb and down a hill into a tree ("But at least not into the creek, honey!"). He was actually still driving it, but the air conditioning went out on it last week, so the project became just a leetle more urgent.

    Since I didn't drive on the way over, and the dealership insisted on making me wait while they washed my new used car (in spite of it being already cleaner than any car I'd driven in at least ten years), I also came home with this:

    I got several rather long rows added to this shawl, which I'm crocheting from The Verdant Gryphon's Mithril. It's one of my very favorite laceweight yarns for crochet. In fact, here are some closeup shots of three I love. It's hot outside, so you get indoor shots, but they're in natural light, albeit from the skylight over my stovetop, with a cutting board for a backdrop.

    Here's the Mithril; it's the only one of the three that hasn't been blocked, since I'm still working on the project, so cut it some slack.

    This is Wollmeise Lace-Garn. It's a little heavier than Mithril. It's challenging to get your hands on this stuff, but it's worth the trouble. I've gotten most of mine from other Ravelers' destashes, actually, although once in a great while The Loopy Ewe gets some (it usually sells out within about twenty minutes), or sometimes I'm still awake at 2 a.m. here for the German website updates.

    The lightest of the three is Lana Grossa Merino Lace. Lana Grossa isn't all that common in U.S. yarn stores, but not impossible to find either. I bought mine at a LYS in Indianapolis. And right now, with the exchange rate, it's possible to order it from Europe for about the same cost, even including shipping, as buying it at home. (That reminds me, I wanted to order some green...)

    So what's so great about these yarns? The thing they all have in common is that they all have three or more plies, which makes them "round." With fingering weight yarns, there are a lot of round choices, but lace yarns are frequently two-ply. Sometimes the structure of two-ply yarn obscures the structure of the crochet stitch. This can be a good thing with very simple stitch patterns, but if I'm going to the trouble of designing complex new edgings (which I am), I jolly well want every detail to show up.

    Monday, July 02, 2012


    I know I haven't blogged in a long time, but as you can now see at the top of the page, I do tweet regularly, and have been for over a year. Apparently I have an attention span of about 140 characters. So if you don't yet follow me on Twitter, please do!

    Meanwhile, I've spent the last year or so concentratedly acquiring useful skills for self-publishing. I've been fortunate to work with some of the very best publishers in the business, but what can I say, I'm a control freak. And I've discovered I really enjoy typography, graphic design, and layout.

    I've attended two of Cat Bordhi's Visionary Authors retreats now, and yup, I've got a book project in the works. But since I plan to do my own book design and layout, I've been learning Adobe InDesign by developing a new single-pattern template. (You can see some of the design elements in my refreshed blog template, as well.) So here's what you can expect in the short term:

  • I'll be releasing a second edition of Oblique using the new template. Hopefully, if testing goes well, it will include a new, larger size. For those of you who've already bought this pattern through Ravelry, you'll get the update free. Having recently made a couple more pairs of these myself, I can happily report that the new template is also quite usable on an iPhone, for your paper-free mobile knitting.

  • I've got a new crocheted shawl pattern ready to publish except for the photography. Here's a teaser photo of Cremona (a.k.a. "Epic Flounce").

    I injured my shoulder from repetitive strain pretty badly late last fall, and couldn't knit for several months, but I could crochet. So you can expect quite a few more crocheted shawl patterns in the coming months. And after an ergonomic consultation with Carson Demers and weeks of physical therapy, I'm happy to report I also have two new sock patterns prototyped.

    Oh, and by the way, I discovered I haven't been receiving your comment notifications in a long time. My ISP got bought out by another ISP, and they changed my email address, and the comment notifications have been going to the former, now defunct address. So I promise I haven't been ignoring you.

    But right now, there is something very important I must go look at on the internet.