Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lace Advent Calendar 2010, Day 4

I just finished Day 4 of unikatissima's Lace Advent Calendar, using KnitPicks Bare Peruvian Highland Wool (fingering weight) and 3.75 mm (US size 5) needles. Here's what it looks like so far. The motif for day 4 reminds me of a row of candle-flames, with the glowing aura around each one. Click on the image to get an even closer view. :-)

The yarn feels incredibly soft and squishy (squooshy??). I made sure to give the scarf enough width (66 stitches = 4 x 16 + 2) so that it could eventually be folded and/or rolled in half the long way for a double layer of cuddly warmth. As you can see, the various lace patterns have been carefully selected and arranged so that each one flows seamlessly into the next, but to ensure that the finished product will be long enough to match the width, I am sneaking in a few extra rows here and there, wherever it is possible to add pattern repeats without disrupting that crucial flow. So I did 6 extra rows on day 1, and 4 on day 2, but none on day 3 (where I would have had to add 8 rows, which seemed like a bit much) or day 4 (which is a transitional pattern that did not want to be repeated). I also did a provisional cast-on, so that a beaded edging of some kind can be applied at the end. I like the idea of keeping my options open, depending on how it all turns out.

It will be fun to watch the pattern evolve over the coming days, between now and Christmas Eve. I really like the idea of using increments of lace knitting to mark the Advent season. Veni, veni Emmanuel...

2.5 out of 3 and counting...

Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, I had three knitting goals: (i) to finish the Frejya sweater, tail and all, (ii) to bring Eriskay up to the armholes, and (iii) to get past the heavily beaded bottom segment (= 7.5 pattern repeats in all, ~30 more rows) of Elm Row's second half. Then, I thought, it would be OK to start something new for a chance. And despite the inevitable delays and distractions, I am happy to report that I managed to complete 2.5 of the three during the break. :-)

Frejya is, not surprisingly, the one partial hold-out. I find it very hard to work on the painstaking embellishments when I am tired, which is, alas, almost always the case in these waning days of the fall term, especially right after I get home from work (i.e. during my prime knitting hours). So my progress remains maddeningly slow, but I am encouraged by the extent to which incremental steps continue to be taken. I have finished the face of the cat and one paw (two to go!) and acquired the googly eyes for the goldfish. Anita (The Fiber Artist) and I made an informal pact at our last Odd Tuesday gathering (Nov. 23rd) to complete a sweater each before the next meeting (Dec. 7th), since we both have projects very near to completion that require just one final push to get them "D-U-N done." I intend to wrap up the last few bits of embroidery *today* and then, God willing, to deal with the tail tomorrow (and the next day??), so that I really can wear the sweater to the next Odd Tuesday. Suffice to say that having this perennial project off my "To Do" list would be cause for GREAT rejoicing. As an added reminder that the darn thing is still pending, I am holding off on further photos at least until the embroidery is complete.

Although Frejya went slowly, I got excited about Eriskay and was able to complete not only the diamond pattern in the lower part (which was my original goal) but also the 18-row horizontal band that ends right at the armholes and marks the transition to the ornate yoke. I am following the instructions for the medium size, but added a repeat of the diamond pattern as per the large, once having reassured myself that the amount of yarn on 2 cones of Frangipani would suffice, so that the sweater will have plenty of length below the armholes. I want it to be ample, more like a man's sweater, since that's my preferred modus operandi in the depths of winter. I inherited several sweaters from dear old dad, and wear them often, grateful for the extra coverage. Click on the image above for a closer look at one of the lovely armhole gussets, although I should warn you that the dark plum color (code name "Damson") does not lend itself terribly well to low-light photography. I am waiting for a sunny day to see about getting some better pictures.

With Elm Row, my ambitions were fairly limited as well, but again I managed to exceed my goal by a wide(ish) margin. Happily, once I got going, it did not take long to make my way past the heavily beaded section, and then the work sped up enough for me to do several more pattern repeats. In fact, I surged ahead with it this past week and am now just *6* pattern repeats from the end. Happy dance!! Since the scarf/stole is destined to become a Christmas present, I am reluctant to post pictures of the finished piece until after the holiday, but I have to say that the combination of the graceful design by Anne Hanson, the sunny green-and-brown colorway ("Deep Forest") from The Unique Sheep (also shown here), and the sparkling metallic gold-lined crystal beads from Earthfaire, has proven to be a winner and I think blocking will really open up the lace into something truly special. Anne has also recently come out with this complementary pattern (and yes, I do mean that with an "e," as in "complementary angles"), which I am hoping the remainder of the skein will allow me to make in addition, as the perfect little flourish for the gift.

So where does that leave us in relation to new projects?? Well... I went ahead and joined this Advent KAL, on the grounds that it's not a big time commitment (12-32 rows per day) and will be over in just 3 1/2 weeks. Keeping up with the daily increments will get a lot easier too when classes end next Friday (December 10th). Because it is such a short-term thing, I'm not counting it as a "real" WIP either, but especially with Elm Row suddenly and unexpectedly so close to completion, I'm incredibly reluctant to start anything else until that and Frejya are finally done once and for all, leaving me with *5* of the original dozen, plus the KAL. Then, and only then, will I feel at liberty to cast on for something from my queue. *Almost* there...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Resolution (take that how you will)

I love my walk to work in the morning, because it always gives me a chance to mull things over, like impromptu lesson plans, household To Do lists, or knitting projects past, present, and future.

Today I decided on the best way to handle the growing tension between the need to wrap up WIP's and the urge to start new projects. This coming week, with the Thanksgiving holiday, will be a break from classes and should give me a chance to get some real knitting done. So... If I can manage to complete three simple tasks — (i) finish Frejya finally, tail and all, (ii) get past the heavily beaded section of Elm Row Part II (~35 more rows), and (iii) reach the armholes of Eriskay (all of which are eminently doable and within my grasp) — I will give myself permission to launch one new smaller project, like a pair of mittens or a piece of jewelry. I have a great big pile of such things in my queue, all lined up and ready to go, so now I will have both an incentive to make progress on the longstanding larger items *and* an opportunity to indulge in the easy gratification of colorful and/or shiny things that can be completed in just a day or two.

And if I play my cards right, the total project count won't ever have to go above *7*, which is where it stands right now. I think I can live with that. Happy dance!! :-)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Operating Difficulties

Here at The Faculty Meeting Knitter we have been experiencing operating difficulties lately on a number of fronts.

The trusty old Sony digital camera conked out several weeks ago, for one thing, after nearly eight years of loyal service. I was totally flummoxed by the sudden inability to take pictures. But before choosing a replacement device, I consulted with a friend of mine, a librarian at my college who freelances as a photographer and could therefore speak knowledgeably about all the latest advances in technology. The consumer market has certainly changed a lot! I told her what we wanted (something solid and reliable, and not too expensive, that could run on rechargeable AA batteries, to be used mainly for point-and-shoot but with manual override available), and she came up with several options within our price range. There was a Fuji at the "high-end of the low-end" that won over both me and my husband almost immediately, so we ordered it posthaste, and it arrived with fanfares a few days ago. It offers a dazzling range of features for what felt like an astonishingly low price, but although it is intuitively designed and very easy to use, at least on full-auto, it's going to take a while for me to get fully comfortable with it. This post, alas, will perforce be predominantly text-based.

Here's one nice shot that my husband took, however, showing me with les chatonnes de la peste (female "plague kittens"). That's Goblin in brown & white on the left and Ghost in beige & white on the right. They are growing by leaps and bounds, while steadily overcoming the scourge of ringworm in their bathroom quarantine, affectionately known as "The Haunted Loo" because of their names and the odd thumps and plaintive voices heard from within. Last Monday they went to the vet for a round of vaccinations and weighed in at a respectable 3 lbs. 10 oz. for little Goblin and a whopping 4 lbs. 3.5 oz. for her larger sister. If indeed they are litter-mates, as we surmise, then they are probably the runt and the largest of the lot. I think this picture really brings out the family resemblance between them, especially in the shape of their faces and the patterning around their eyes.

We are determined to raise them as affectionate "people kitties" rather than cooped up, neurotic, anti-social beasts, and so each of us has been spending several hours in the bathroom with them every day. They are *full* of bouncy energy most of the time (and are obviously both avid climbers), but they can also fall very fast asleep, as befits their species and tender age. So we play silly games and give them plenty of quality cuddle-time too. The space is not surprisingly rather cramped, and one is constrained to sit on the floor with minimal cushioning. Fortunately, though, there is wi-fi, so although books and papers (and alas, also knitting) are strictly verboten in the quarantine zone, we rarely go in there without a laptop. Keyboards, screens, and casings can easily be wiped down with 1/10 bleach solution on returning to the outside world, after all. :-)

My husband generally takes the babies their breakfast and spends the morning with them, while I head off to campus, and then I serve them dinner and sit with them in the evening. To prevent contagion, we always change clothes before going in or out of their room, and we bathe ourselves thoroughly with soap and shampoo containing tea tree oil after prolonged contact with them. We also anoint ourselves liberally with this amazing salve throughout the day. So we have managed thus far to ward off rampant skin lesions, and what is more, our six other cats still show no signs of contamination. I don't know how we could manage the worst-case scenario, if the fungus ever got lose into the general population of our household. But so far, so good. Meanwhile the kittens are thriving, and have finally grown big enough to start taking the oral med itraconazole that will eventually clear up the ringworm. In fact it's already had a noticeable effect: in just a few short weeks their bald spots have basically disappeared. They will still need another month or two before the quarantine can be lifted, because our vet wants to play it safe and make them pass two tests in a row, two weeks apart. At that point a new world of "fun" will emerge as we try to soothe and/or cajole the other cats into accepting the newcomers into the clan — but that's another adventure.

As I mentioned, time spent with the kittens has forced me to do less knitting than I would like, since I cannot bring fiber into the quarantine zone without bleaching it afterward, but I still try to squeeze in at least a few rows each day for sanity's sake, if nothing else. My progress has been irritatingly slow, with nothing 100% completed since Stornoway over a month ago. There are, alas, still *7* active projects on my Ravelry profile, and although I would very much like to finish one or two lingering items before launching anything new, mental pressure from the queue is becoming a noticeable distraction. I have are SOOOOO many yummy things all lined up and ready to go. For the time being I am still doggedly working away at what I've got, rather than giving into temptation, but we'll see how long it lasts. Then again, I really could not bear a return to the days of a double-digit project count. Perhaps the best approach is to paraphrase Dory's sage advice and just keep knitting, just keep knitting...

In that spirit, here's a quick rundown of the present State of the Kingdom, with a promise of more to come in the not-too-distant future.

The Frejya sweater is 90-95% complete. Despite my confident projection in the aftermath of Stornoway, I did not manage to have it finished by Hallowe'en. Nor is it quite done yet, even now, with Thanksgiving fast approaching. As always, it is the embellishments rather than the actual knitting that are causing the delay. I did the sleeves top-down using a short-row technique that was quite new to me. It took a bit of fiddling (and yes, tinking) to get the proportions right, but the process still went very fast, and I love the end results. I promise to do a more detailed write-up at some point. I also redid the turtleneck collar to make it more roomy, because repeatedly pulling the sweater on and off over my head while trying on the sleeves convinced me that I should. And then I did some embroidery, outlining the two goldfish on the back in shiny metallic copper thread, and on the front the face, eyes, and nose of the cat in appropriate silky shades of orange, brown, black, and white. I still have to do something about whiskers (but what exactly??), add claw-lines to the two front paws, possibly 0utline the entire body of the cat (although I'm not sure about that and may end up leaving just the face highlighted, depending on how it looks), and add the tail. That's all it needs. It sounds so simple and straightforward when you put it that way...

In fact, the tail itself is already knitted and would be ready to attach, were it not for the need to add the @#$^%!! eyelash yarn to make the cat a Maine Coon. At one point I had imagined knitting with multiple strands of the eyelash yarn, pulling the dangling bits to the RS as I went, but the 2-tone intarsia pattern was complicated enough by itself, without all that extra tangled mess to contend with. So I did the knitting first, and will have to use a darning needle and some version of duplicate stitch again, as I did with the body. After the first few attempts proved unsatisfactory, though, I realized that this was going to be a fussy and time-consuming project and laid it aside to consider my options. To be honest, I have not so much as looked at it for a couple of weeks. But I really will get moving on it again very soon, because I cannot stand to have it looming over me any longer. On Tuesday I will get to see my friend Anita (a.k.a. The Fiber Artist). She has a big supply of googly eyes in various sizes and has offered to give me two of the smaller ones for the goldfish at least, if not a pair of the larger ones for the cat as well, so that will be a nice incentive to finish the embroidery. And maybe this same gathering of the Odd Tuesday fiber folk can even induce me to solve The Dreaded Tail Problem at last. Hope springs eternal...

I knew when I first finished Stornoway that I would be facing a bit of an uphill battle to reduce the number of WIP's further, because apart from Frejya (which was about 2/3 done at the time) and one of my Christmas 2010 lace projects, Elm Row (which remains at ~60%), everything else that I had going was still very much in the early stages (~5-25% complete). But I did *NOT* expect Stornoway itself to keep coming back for more. The dilemma is that my husband has longish arms and likes the sleeves of his sweaters, when stretched, to come all the way down to the the base of his thumbs. As noted in the original post, the pattern as written yielded sleeves that were plainly too short, even after blocking. So I went back and immediately doubled the length of the ribbing at the cuffs, thinking that the ability to adjust them slightly would be enough to fix the problem. Yet when he wore the sweater out-and-about for the first time, with a turtleneck underneath, as opposed to trying it on briefly over a T-shirt, it became abundantly clear to both of us that I would have to lengthen the sleeves even further. Sigh.

Thank goodness for top-down construction!! Adjusting the length of the sleeves would have been extremely troublesome — not to say heart-wrenching — otherwise, but I simply undid the bind-off at the cuffs for the 2nd time, ripped out the ribbing and the transitional decrease row between the sleeve pattern and the cuff, and added 3 1/2" to the bottom part of the sleeve that is worked even, below the decreases. It took maybe 3 hours per sleeve, which I stretched out over 4-5 days. The patterns of Stornoway repeat every 6, 8, and 20 rows, and thus do not all converge very often. The original design had been carefully orchestrated so that the math would come out evenly, and I was loathe to attempt any adjustments for fear of disrupting the Order of Things. Fortunately, however, the 20-row pattern had completely disappeared into the sleeve shaping up above, leaving only the 6-row and 8-row patterns in this lower portion. Those two multiples were *much* easier to coordinate. When I reached the desired length (after 41 additional rows), I did the decrease row as written, and then switched to the smaller needles for an amount of ribbing on this 3rd go-round that was less than I had done the 2nd time but more than the 1st, just enough to fold over for a neat 2". He has tried on the new sleeves and pronounced them worthy at last. It would appear that 3's the charm. Rather than blocking the whole thing over again, I soaked just the ends of the sleeves and allowed them to dangle freely while drying. I promise to get the dear man to pose for some celebratory pictures very soon.

As noted above, Elm Row is my other project nearest to completion, but it has been stuck at ~60% for quite a while, waiting for me to find the time when I can sit still and work on it in a concentrated way again. With my limited knitting time since the arrival of the kittens, I have not managed to do any beading whatsoever. Truth be told, this particular project has *never* lent itself very well to being my main focus, because for whatever reason I cannot seem to work on it except in scattered short bursts. I have started the second half, though, and it will get easier once I finish the first 8 pattern repeats, which are heavily beaded, and begin the main portion, where there are fewer beads and the knitting can speed up a bit. With only two more weeks left of actual classes this semester, maybe some decent blocks of time will finally open up soon. At any rate, there is no reason why I can't have the whole thing done in time for Christmas, as planned, as long as I fix it as a priority and continue to whittle away at it gradually.

By far the biggest surprise in recent weeks, while so many other things have been languishing for lack of attention, is the stunning progress that I have made with Eriskay all of a sudden. I picked it up after finishing off Stornoway for the 3rd time, as something relaxing and relatively straightforward to knit when tired. For November is a *very* tired month in academia... And without ever doing more than a few rows at a time (especially with 320 stitches around on 2.25 mm needles), I have nevertheless managed to bring it within an inch or so of the point where the underarm gussets will begin. That is an amazing feeling, and I look forward to posting pictures very soon to mark the accomplishment.

So... Barring some catastrophe unforeseen, Frejya, Stornoway, Elm Row, and Eriskay will *ALL* be subjected to the new camera in the coming days. Maybe I will even be able to check off one or two more finished objects before the next wave of new projects hits. Good things are certainly on the way, whatever happens, and meanwhile this post should suffice to keep the blog alive while we iron out our operating difficulties. Please stand by.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"No socks until tenure!!"

It sounds coockoo, right? But I'm not kidding. "No socks until tenure!" has been a mantra of mine for *years*, ever since the whole sock explosion began and knitters everywhere started spending their hard-earned savings on fingering-weight wool/nylon blends and obsessively carrying their sock projects around with them. At first it was just dpn's, but soon the alternate techniques came along and the Great Debates arose: magic loop vs. 2-circs, toe-up vs. top-down, heel flaps vs. short-rows vs. afterthought heels, etc. People took sides on these questions, and you couldn't visit a yarn store or knitting website, or open a knitting magazine, without bumping into another disquisition on why such-and-such was the most revolutionary and life-changing invention/discovery since the yarn swift. And don't get me started about all the hand-painted sock-yarns that suddenly flooded the market...

For a long time, though, I was only dimly aware of these momentous developments, because I had inured myself to the entire world of sock-knitting. I had heard just enough about the allure of sock projects that I instinctively shied away from them ("Beware the sock...") and vowed that I would continue to steer clear until I was granted tenure, and with it a measure of freedom and autonomy to accommodate passionate hobbies in my life, if I chose. Until quite recently (see below), I didn't buy sock yarn, read sock books, download sock patterns, or even fave sock designs on Ravelry (although oddly enough other people's knitted projects were in a different category from the work of sock designers). Mind you, I had nothing against sock-knitting per se. Quite a few of my best friends are avid sock-knitters, and I agree on principle with this fellow blogger's recent apologia for hand-knit socks. Yet nevertheless I came to view sock-knitting as Something That Happened to Other People, for the time being at least.

The problem was that my attentions, as a junior faculty member, were already spoken for. I needed to get my career stabilized before taking on either the financial burden or the massive time commitment that I knew sock-knitting would entail, because it would never stop at the first pair, or the second, or the third. One thing was bound to lead to many more, and I simply couldn't afford outside interests. To make matters worse, my first professorial "gig" was in a dysfunctional department. All my activities were closely scrutinized, and knitting too much, especially in public, would have been frowned upon as an indicator of insufficient dedication to my research. I was hired by a state university primarily for my skills as a teacher, and given responsibility for large lecture classes with 100's of students, but then judged strictly on the basis of my scholarly productivity. Juggling all the conflicting expectations and demands became a professional nightmare. I did what I could, but under those conditions, not getting tenure did not come as a shock in the end, or even as a disappointment. Honestly, the predominant feeling that I had was *relief* at being set free from an unpleasant work environment, especially since the job search eventually brought me to a small liberal arts college where I am MUCH more at home and have been both happier and, oddly enough, more productive as well. So no hard feelings remain, just gratitude at having arrived in a better place. It is remarkably easier to get along in life when you *belong* where you *are*...

But as more and more years went by without my getting tenure, I established an identity for myself as Someone Who Does Not Knit Socks. I had been chanting the mantra for so long that it simply became a fact of life, something taken for granted, like gravity, or tax increases, or the onset of presbyopia. My husband had heard tell of "Beware the sock" too, had seen the credit card statements from my other knitting exploits, and could do the math. So every time the subject of hand-knitted socks would come up, or sock yarn, or sock patterns, etc., he would roll his eyes and thank his lucky stars that I had not yet succumbed.

Staying away from socks per se did not prevent me from knitting. Lace emerged instead as the perfect alternative for my lifestyle, since each purchase of gossamer yarn, though by no means cheap, would yield hours, weeks, months, even years of contented handiwork. It was a process knitter's dream: once or twice a year I could spend a bit of money on gossamer yarn, and then settle down again for the long haul, putting in as much time on the project, or as little, as I happened to have available from day to day and week to week. After switching jobs, I found that I could actually knit during faculty meetings, or between classes, or after dinner, or whenever I needed a break. The eventual result was the Wedding Ring (see photo at left) and Princess shawls. Not too shabby, hein?

In 2006, after a year at the new post, the decision-date for tenure was set for several more years down the road. I did not object or try to accelerate the pace, because I was happy to concentrate on enjoying my work and let the rest take care of itself. All in due time, eh? And no socks for MRPP until 201o-2011.

Which is this academic year.


Suddenly the familiar landscape is changing. It was one thing to keep saying, "No socks until tenure!" when that basically meant "for the foreseeable future." But now that I am actually *up* for tenure this year — have indeed filed all the necessary paperwork and am only waiting for the Powers That Be to reach a decision — the possibility of knitting socks has started to loom larger and larger in my imagination. In many ways, sock-knitting has become the symbol for me of what tangible difference, if any, finally getting tenure will make in my life. I certainly don't want to jinx anything by speaking too soon, but the omens for tenure this time around are truly very encouraging. It's a totally different world. I feel extremely confident that the process is going to end with a verdict in my favor. So as far as sock knitting goes, we are no longer talking about a remote possibility. It could actually happen sometime in the next few months.

Incidentally, it can be an interesting challenge to decide precisely *when* tenure happens. This is more than just a semantic question. The specific procedures and protocols differ from one place to another, but there are typically several stages to the process. On our campus it goes something like this...

First the candidate prepares and submits a dossier and colleagues write letters (that was back in August), then an elected body known as the Faculty Evaluation Committee reads through all the materials (this is going on now) and eventually drafts a letter to the Dean with a recommendation, yes or no. That will happen most likely sometime before Thanksgiving. The candidate gets to read the letter before it is sent, and can make comments or suggestions for the record that are also sent along to the Dean. Next there is a meeting with the Dean (sometime in December?), who in turn makes his/her own recommendation to the President, who eventually presents a slate of candidates for tenure to the Board of Trustees at the February meeting. Only then, with a vote from the Trustees, does the tenure decision become official and final, although in practice that vote is almost always a rubber stamp. Deans and Presidents have been known to go against the recommendations from earlier stages in the process, but generally speaking, if the system is working right, the committee's recommendation should prove to be decisive.

So when do you celebrate? If you throw a party when the letter is initially drafted, the whole deal could still go sour at a later stage, which would be a devastating blow. But if you insist on having everything signed, sealed, and delivered, you have to wait until after the February meeting of the Board of Trustees, by which point the results are old news. It's a real dilemma.

Since I intend to mark the arrival of tenure with the knitting of socks, I have decided to celebrate in stages, by taking baby steps in that direction as each successive stage of the process is auspiciously concluded. My birthday comes in August, and this year it happened to fall right after I submitted my tenure dossier, including the grueling self-evaluation, which came out to a bit more than 12 pages single-spaced (I chose to be deliberately anti-superstitious about the page-count). My mother sent me a generous birthday check, and so I spent a chunk of the money on sock-related materials to mark the completion of the dossier.

First of all, KnitPicks was having the magnificent 40%-off sale on books. At the recommendation of a friend who is a veteran sock-knitter, I ordered Sensational Knitted Socks by Charlene Schurch (AMAZING tutorials and tables to calculate stitch-repeats for feet in all shapes and sizes), along with its sequel More Sensational Knitted Socks. These books are the perfect place to start in learning about basic sock construction and how patterns of color and/or texture are worked into the various parts of a sock. And then, once having taken the plunge, I lost no time in acquiring the two irresistible sock-knitting books by Janel Laidman: The Eclectic Sole and The Enchanted Sole. The latter in particular is about as eye-catching a pattern collection as I have ever encountered, so I knew it would be at the top of my list when a portal opened for me into the magical realm of sock-knitting.

I bought a few experimental skeins of KnitPicks sock yarn too, in order to have some on hand. My purchases included two colorways of Imagination (hand-painted merino/alpaca/nylon, right), two colors of Risata (solid-toned cotton/wool/elastic, lower left), and one skein of Stroll Tonal (merino/nylon, upper left).

And I arranged for a "sock yarn petting-zoo" with my friends from a knitting group that gets together at the Barnes & Noble in Louisville twice a month or so. The experienced sock-knitters in the crew (i.e. everybody except me) went stash-diving and brought in sample skeins as well as finished socks in a whole variety of different yarns and fiber combinations, and then we spread them out on the table and discussed them one by one, drawing lots of comparisons and contrasts. It was so much fun!! I loved getting to see and touch and learn all about the different yarns from people in-the-know. I took notes. It was a fabulous hands-on experience, and by the end I felt a lot more confident about shopping for myself over the internet. I have a great big wish-list of sock-yarns now, as well as a growing queue of amazing patterns that I can see are in my future.

My not-too-distant future. WOW. Tenure means *socks*. Stay tuned for more...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Frejya at the Crossroads

Some projects just seem to drag on and on for no good reason. My Frejya sweater is one such. I've been working on it — or more to the point NOT working on it — for several years now. Whenever I have actually managed to devote some time to it, the progress has come quickly, but then weeks or even months go by between sessions. It keeps happening. First I stalled over weaving in all the loose ends left behind by the intarsia on the front. That took forever! Then it was the embroidery and embellishment on the front, and some more loose ends on the back. Blah blah blah.

But today, knowing that with Stornoway finished I really have no excuse anymore, I finally put my foot down and made myself get through what needed to be done on the front. Or so I thought...

I was using eyelash yarn with duplicate stitch to give the cat "long hair". It is supposed to be a Maine Coon, after all. My plan was to add orange hairs to the body of the cat and ivory ones to the pale segments at the underside and extremities (chest, abdomen, paws). The *face* posed a real problem, though, because I soon realized that the dangling bits got in the way of the intarsia design and gave the whole thing a muddled appearance. So I had stopped short with the body basically done, while a debate raged internally (literally for months) over what to do next.

Last week I finally filled in the lower part of the abdomen with the ivory, but then on Friday and Saturday, when I tried to do the same with the upper chest, the result looked more like an old man's beard than a fluffy cat's neck ruff. *Ick*. So I took the embellishment away from the chest area. BIG improvement. And today, looking at the whole thing with the cold eye of reason, I came to the same conclusion about the paws, face, abdomen, and entire lower edge. After all that time spend trying to *add* stuff to the sweater in order to get it finished, in other words, today I took a whole bunch of stuff AWAY again. Go figure...

Here is what the "new & improved" front looks like (click for a larger view). Believe it or not, there is actually LESS embellishment on it now than there was a year ago. But at least you can see the adorable pussycat underneath it all, and the effect is more authentically Maine Coon-ish than before too, since the long hair is confined to the places where it would appear on a real cat. I could grumble all day and all night about why in the world it took me so @#$^!! long to decide that less is more, but the observation would be moot. Clearly I needed time, and a string of failed experiments, to reach this point. I will probably still use embroidery floss to outline the face and pick out certain details of the features (eyes, nose, ears, whiskers, claws, etc.). Or not, I suppose, depending on how it looks. But that final experiment means another trip to the craft store, and meanwhile I am done with the eyelash yarn. Huzzah!

Moreover, I am also done with the intarsia on the back of the sweater: a whimsical goldfish bowl motif for which I used some interesting textures (ribbon yarn held double for the fish scales, and a wonderful nubbly green yarn for the aquatic plant) in addition to the blue of the water (a different color of the same Wool of the Andes that is providing the black background) and the silver gray that represents the glass of the fishbowl (a bit of wool/rayon blend from my stash). As of this evening, the ends are all woven in too.

Which means that aside from the little bits of embellishment remaining to be added, which will have to wait for a shopping trip to purchase appropriate colors of embroidery floss (i.e. orange, rust, white, black, and ivory), and the cat's fluffy tail, which is a separate little knitting project all on its own, to be set aside for some afternoon/evening in the not-too-distant future, whenever I feel like it, it is now OFFICIALLY a matter of plain black stockinette knitting to finish the upper portion of the back and then the sleeves.

So we've really turned a crucial corner here. I feel totally confident now that this baby is going to be done done D-U-N DONE by Hallowe'en!!! :-)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Holy fisherman's sweaters, Batman..."

Brace yourselves, people. Not only am I channeling the silliest superhero sidekick of all time (as evidenced by the headline on this post). I actually feel like leaping for joy and doing a happy dance. For Stornoway (i.e. His part of The Great His & Hers Guernsey adventure, which began on July 11, 2009) is now 100% complete. I finished the second sleeve on October 3rd after about 3 1/2 weeks of pleasant and uneventful knitting, and immediately set the sweater to soak while I put together the brand new and quite literally shiny woolly board that I bought from Camilla Valley Farm with some of my birthday money (thanks, Mom!!).

This lovely piece of fiber-functional woodwork came completely disassembled, and although I found the assembly instructions very clear and easy to follow, it still took a while to figure out what went where and get all the hardware properly situated. When the moment arrived to place the sweater onto the frame, however, I was not even remotely prepared for how easy it would be to stretch it out. My experience with blocking lace — and having to apply torque on edging points with pins & blocking wires — had led me to expect something similar here, especially given the density and tight gauge of the fabric. In fact, the sweater basically stretched itself. I'm not kidding... All I had to do was drape it neatly along the upper crossbar, and gravity took care of the rest, ably assisted by the weight of the water that the wool had soaked up during its washing. Of course much of that liquid ran right to the bottom and started dripping all over the place, so I laid a towel across the base of the frame to catch the run-off. But the fabric required no additional persuasion and instead opened up naturally and effortlessly to its intended measurements. Truly remarkable.

Here are some photos of the sweater during blocking, including a couple of closeups taken after a day or two, as the fabric began to dry and the details of the textured patterning became more visible. As always, click on any of these images to get a closer look.

My husband has longish arms. I had already added about 1/4" to the ribbing at the cuffs of the sweater in an attempt to allow for this, although when he tried it on before blocking, the whole thing obviously needed so much stretching in all directions that it was hard to tell whether it really fit him or not. But after it had dried and I removed it from the frame, he tried it on again, and we verified that the sleeves were still a tad short, not a huge amount, but enough to warrant some attention. This was where the traditional guernsey design, with its sleeves knit downwards from the shoulders, showed its true genius, because there was nothing simpler than ripping out the bind-off, placing the 64 ribbing stitches back onto dpn's, and adding several extra inches to each cuff. I basically doubled the length of the ribbing (from 26 rows = 2 3/4=” to 50 rows = 5 1/4”), so that now he can fold them over and adjust their length however he likes. I certainly had plenty of yarn to make this modification to the pattern. In fact, the entire 3rd cone of the Frangipani 5-ply in the Cedar colorway remains untouched in my stash, along with the tail end of the 2nd one.

One effect of using a woolly board is that the ribbing gets stretched out, especially at the cuffs. One can easily re-soak the sweater's "extremities" after removal from the frame and allow them to dry unencumbered so that they will bounce back to their normal elasticity. I had been planning to do just that. But with the cuff extensions it was not necessary. I simply left the new portions unblocked, and when folded over, they hold everything nicely in place from the outside. I also made sure to bind off with a needle one size larger than I had used to knit the ribbing, so that the bottom edge would sit right.

Here are a couple of pictures of the end result, which do a good job of capturing the elusive gray-green too. As it turns out, DH & I both happen to think that the sweater looks better (i.e. more stylish and finished somehow) with folded cuffs than it did with plain ones. As I wrote on my Ravelry project page, mischief managed. :-)

I could not be more pleased with the way this project has turned out, or with the fact that completing it has officially lowered my WIP-count from 8 to *7*. WOOHOO!! Now to finish Frejya and Elm Row (perhaps by Hallowe'en??). That would allow me to reach my elusive goal of getting that number down to *5*. Muhahaha....

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Stornoway: almost home!!

I really don't know in all honesty quite *what* possessed me, in the summer of 2009, to launch *three* small-gauge sweater projects by the same renowned British designer with a penchant for brilliant yet meticulous details, but there it was. Before I fully realized what I had gotten myself into, I had Stornoway, Eriskay, and Peggy Tudor all going at once. A wise and perceptive friend of mine says she chalked it up at the time to the symptoms of "post-Princess withdrawal," and that explanation makes as much sense as any other. But with a trio of St*rmores on the needles, NO WONDER it's taking me so long to whittle away at my list of WIP's!!

Progress does come, though, bit by bit, if you work at it steadily enough. I couldn't quite bring myself to sit with a heavy pile of wool in my lap during July and most of August, but in the last couple of months I have managed to put in quite a bit of time on the sleeves of my husband's Stornoway, since of the three it was the closest to completion, with a real shot at being done in time for the upcoming winter.

And now — happily, happily, HAPPILY — it's almost there. The first sleeve was all done as of September 11th, and I have only 10 more patterned rounds left on the second one before the ribbing of the cuff. Sometime in the next few days, in other words, I am actually going to *finish* the project!! And then I can put my shiny new woolly board to good use and rejoice in the countdown from 8 WIP's to *7*. Not quite yet, but very soon...

Meanwhile, as proof of my bona fides (as Anna Russell used to say in the midst of her classic analysis of Wagner's Ring, "I'm not making this up, you know..."), here are some pictures of the first sleeve and its lovely gusset at various stages of completion. As always, click on any of these images to take a closer look.

This project has been a joy from start to finish, and can't wait to show it off, as the Great Guernsey Adventure continues.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Frosted Leaf Necklace

In early August, my in-laws sent me a birthday check: $43. I will leave it to my clever readers to guess the reason for that peculiar amount. At any rate, I wanted to use it to buy something pretty but couldn't decide between yarn and jewelry. A familiar dilemma... Then I remembered the beaded jewelry kits from Earthfaire, which had intrigued me for a long time, although I had never quite gotten the nerve to take the plunge. This seemed like the perfect excuse, especially when I discovered the Frosted Leaf Necklace, the focal point of which is a genuine oak leaf, coated in sterling silver. I could not resist, since the house in CT where I grew up was nestled in the woods and surrounded by oak trees, with a state park on two sides of the property.

In addition to the leaf enhancer, the twig-shaped cross-bar that it hangs from, and a magnetic clasp, the kit consists of silver thread and 5 different types of beads: Matte Vitral Crystal daggers (basically pale green/tan, with a gentle metallic cast to them), 4 mm and 6 mm Twilight-Sapphire Fire Polish Crystals (pale purple with a fascinating smoky quartz overtone), Silver-Lined Crystal megatamas (pure and clear, like ice), and Silver-Lined Crystal AB 8/0 (like little soap bubbles, with a rainbow sparkle). The beads are threaded in advance in a particular sequence and then knitted into a self-twisting rope using 2.0 mm (US size 0) needles. There are enough materials for a 32" necklace (i.e. a 16" strand on either side), but Ellen says right on the website that she thinks "shorter looks better," and given my own smallish stature, I knew I would end up with lots of leftovers. So I went ahead and purchased an additional silver leaf-clasp to make a matching bracelet, and some sterling earring findings as well. So far, however, I have just the necklace done. Here are some pictures. As always, click on any of these photos to take a closer look.

WIP count on Ravelry = *8* and holding. This was a very quick project and extremely enjoyable. I spent a contended hour stringing the beads and another ~90 minutes knitting the strands and attaching the findings. My necklace was 12.5" top-to-bottom at first, and then after wearing it a bit, I shortened it even further (to 11"), so that the leaf would hang at the right spot on my breastbone. It makes a VERY striking statement. Such fun to wear!! I look forward to fashioning the additional pieces and pursuing other beaded jewelry projects in the future. :-)

Friday, October 1, 2010

I'm BAAAAAAACK... with the end-of-summer wrap-up!!

*TWO* MONTHS??! Wow. I knew it had been quite a while since my last blog post, and that in the interim I had completed my tenure dossier, a new school year had started, and a whole lot of other momentous things had happened around our household, including a flea tsunami that engulfed our 100% indoor cat and rabbit population (go figure...), and the arrival of two little rescue kittens (4-5 weeks old), who turned out to have ringworm, a fungal infection that is terribly contagious to cats and rabbits, and to humans as well. So in the last two weeks, just as the flea situation was finally getting under control, we have had to implement a vigorous new regimen of quarantine procedures to protect ourselves and our other pets while the ringworm decontamination runs its course. There are now "plague kittens" by the names of Ghost and Goblin holed up in what used to be my bathroom.

In other words, I have had a lot on my mind lately. Along the way I have been knitting a fair bit, although not as continually as I did in June and July. I have also been keeping track of my progress on Ravelry, and even posting the occasional picture on my project pages. I received a generous birthday check from my mother in early August, which led to the purchase of many yummy and long-coveted things, including yarn and pattern books and even a woolly board, about which there will be more to say eventually. But in all honesty I did not realize how long I had managed to let the blog lie fallow while all of this was happening. It nagged at me, though. I kept telling myself to do something about it and not quite getting around to it, and time just kept going by...

Apropos of which, I learned something interesting a day or two ago. Apparently Mark Twain did not say, "The rumors of my demise have been exceedingly exaggerated," as I have so often heard it quoted in various contexts. What he really wrote (and you can click here for an image of the actual handwritten page) was this: "James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration."

Fascinating tidbit, yes? And having set the record straight, let's see what we can do to breathe some life into this blog of mine. Ever since the completion of the wedding gift in late July, my energies have been concentrated on continuing to wrap up as many WIP's as possible, and delightfully, we can now check three more items off my long list of unfinished projects.

I. The "Other" Niebling

The first thing that I did, knitting-wise, when we got home from the wedding at the end of July was to go back and finish up the other Niebling square. This was originally meant as practice for the wedding gift, in white no. 10 crochet cotton as opposed to the silvery gossamer silk, but I had to abandon it partway through, because there were only 3 weeks left until the wedding day and I needed all of that time to finish the "echt object" in good order. I had gotten through the first chart (rows 1-90), though, so all the cotton square needed was the 42 edging rows, which took only a few days. I had known all along that it was going to be a substantial piece, just from the heft of it on the needles and the fact that it used up two full balls (= 800 yards!!) of the thread. But nonetheless I was amazed to see it block out to a full 36" square. Here are some photos of the finished object, which brought my total # of WIP's on Ravelry down to *10* once more, where it had been before the onset of the two Niebling projects. As always, click on any of these images to take a closer look.

I would like to display this piece of lace in my home someday, if I can just find a way to put it under glass and away from those mischievous kitty claws!! ;-)

II. Candlelight Kimono

At one point I had been hoping to wear my scaled-down rendition of this sweater to some part of the wedding festivities, in order to show off my handiwork that was nearly two decades in the making, but the intricacies of the Niebling project — which clearly took priority — soon put paid to that idea. On our return home, I had the back all done and the lace section of the two fronts as well, which meant that I still had to finish the fronts and knit the sleeves (including Japanese short-rows, which were a new technique for me), then block all the pieces stretched out flat, and carefully sew the whole thing together. The pattern called for the back neckband to be knitted as a strip and sewn in place, but instead I used a technique similar to the one by which a perpendicular edging is grafted onto the live stitches of a lace shawl.

It took several weeks and some painstaking work to complete the project, but I was absolutely THRILLED with the end results. I felt especially proud of the sewing job that I did, because the seams turned out nearly perfectly, giving the sweater just enough structure to show off the magnificent drape of the silk fabric. All the loose ends also had to be invisibly tacked down by hand on the wrong side of the fabric. The photo gallery includes a picture of the sweater when worn, which was shot from below (because I stood up while my husband with the camera was sitting down) and thus emphasizes my natural curves to an unusual degree. But I think the glowing smile on my face pretty much says it all. For of course I now had only *9* WIP's left on Ravelry. Getting that vital number into the single digits felt really, really good. As always, click on any of these images for a closer view.

III. Fiddlehead Mittens

Adrian Bizilia's Fiddlehead Mittens are ENORMOUSLY popular, with 1068 projects currently listed on Ravelry. It's not hard to understand why either, because they make for a relatively quick and easy knit. The clever stranded design incorporates traditional elements and yet has a snazzy contemporary feel, and the pattern leaves lots of room for creativity in the selection and arrangement of colors. The luxurious lining is just icing on the cake (or perhaps more aptly filling in the jellyroll, given its position on the inside rather than the outside), adding a sybaritic extra layer to the stranded fabric that is already pretty cushy by itself.

I made the outside of my first mitten way back in March, but then it got too hot to think about snuggly warm things anymore, or so I told myself. I certainly would not have any use for them until the depths of winter anyway, so I waited until the mood was right to finish the job. Oddly enough, despite the heat, the moment arrived in late August, right before school started, when I had a brief window of opportunity to blitz through the remaining steps in quick succession — 2nd mitten body, 2nd thumb, 1st lining, 2nd lining — and check off another completed project from my list, bringing the total # of WIP's on Ravelry down to an eminently manageable *8* (where the tally stands to this day). The mittens fit me perfectly, cozy and comfy on my small hands and not too much like giant oven mitts, since I went down a needle-size from the pattern specs to make sure that the gauge would be just right. The jewel-toned yarn on the outside is Swedish wool from my stash, purchased long ago (Borgs V√§vgarner S.N.2 garn), and the lining is buttery soft alpaca from KnitPicks (Andean Treasure).

Here is the third and final photo gallery for this post, showing my Fiddleheads in all their matching glory. As always, click on any of these images to take a closer look.

As this last photo shows, if you look closely, each mitten laid flat is nearly an inch thick!! I am SERIOUSLY looking forward to the sovereign protection that these mittens will provide for my hands on those frozen winter walks to and from campus. Bring it on, Boreas...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Faith, Hope, and Love: A Wedding Gift To Remember

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
— I Corinthians 13:13 (English Standard Version).

It was a close thing, but by averaging ~5% of the project per day over ~20 days, I managed to finish the rectangular lace piece in gossamer silk for my sister-in-law and her new husband and to have it blocked and dried in time for our trip to the wedding. What a relief!

As mentioned in this previous blog post, the pattern came from the book Knitted Lace Designs of Herbert Niebling, as shown on p. 87 (charts on pp. 88-91). Although the design in question might or might not itself be a genuine Niebling, it is certainly a splendid example of German Kunststriken ("Art Knitting") from the second half of the 20th century. The yarn was Gossamer Silk from Heirloom Knitting. Since my sister-in-law with her undeniably "WASP-ish" ethnic heritage was marrying a man from Brazil, it was in keeping with the international flavor of the wedding that I chose that scrumptious silk fiber which is cultivated in Japan, spun in Italy, and sold from the UK. Michael at HK was kind enough to answer my questions about the provenance.

We arranged for the newlyweds to open the gift at the brunch hosted by the bride's parents on the day after the wedding, mostly so that I would get to see their long-anticipated reactions. I have developed the habit of typing up a cheat-sheet to go along with each knitted lace item that I give as a gift. This is partly to inform the recipient of the lifetime guarantee that should it need washing (or, God forbid, repair) it need only be sent back to me, since I have all the required blocking tools. But it also allows me to share various informative background details about the yarn, the colorway, the designer, the pattern, etc. My sister-in-law read the description out loud to the assembled friends and family, and she choked up a bit when she got to this part:

The pattern does not have an official name, but I chose the title from 1 Corinthians 13 (see above), because if you examine the motifs, you will see crosses (for Faith), leaves and flowers (for Hope), and heart shapes (for Love). The construction of the piece is also laden with wedding imagery, in that it starts as two separate squares, each knitted outward from the center until they reach a sufficient size. Then they are seamlessly grafted together and the elaborate edging is worked all the way around the outside of the resulting rectangle. So two pieces that began each with a life of its own become one and in the process create something new and beautiful together, just as the two of you are doing this weekend as you start your married life.
The finished dimensions of the piece were a generous 25" x 40". It started out, as indicated, with two separate but identical squares, which were then grafted together. Given my previous adventures with grafting lace, I was thrilled with the near-invisibility of this attempt, aided by the fact that the pattern at that point was nothing but stitch, yarn-over, stitch, yarn-over, etc. Near the start of the edging pattern, having noticed that the stitch count did not change over the course of the 42-row chart, I switched from 1.75 mm (US size 00) needles to the next size up (2.0 mm = US size 0) to help the fabric open up when blocked. In addition, the blocking process was GREATLY facilitated by the chain-stitch loops conveniently running all the way around the outer edge as a result of the laborious and time-consuming crochet bind-off (for which I used a 1.65 mm crochet hook).

Knowing that I was about to give the piece away and that it would be moving to Brazil with the newlyweds, I took lots of pictures while I still had it in my custody. Here is a gallery of my favorites. Feel free to click on any of these images, as always, to get a closer look. I should add that I did not have time to weave in all the loose ends until we reached Baltimore, where I managed to snatch a few productive hours sitting in our hotel room between family gatherings. So the occasional stray thread appears in these photos, taken before we left home.

One final note... This last photo was taken by another sister-in-law at the post-wedding brunch. It shows the newlyweds veiled behind the piece as they held it up for everyone to see while I pointed out and explained some of the motifs of the lace pattern to them. So yes, that's me on the right in the black sundress that didn't always zip up so easily. ;-)