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.


  1. What are the stories of the cats?

    I'm so glad we did not have to go through the quarantine process you are enduring. We had no other wildlife our cats could contaminate, so their ringworm was much easier to deal with.

    Our cats' story is here -

    I also, am looking forward to knitting time during the upcoming school breaks.

  2. Goblin and Ghost are two little stray kittens that we rescued in September, only to discover that they are afflicted with ringworm and in need of both treatment and quarantine. Our neighborhood is full of feral cats, and the little old lady down the street has a bad habit of feeding them without actually taking them in. There were actually *5* kittens who showed up on our property at about the same time, presumably from the same litter (since they all looked alike). One disappeared and is still MIA, we found a home for two more with a colleague of mine, and we are fostering the remaining two and bonding with them more and more every day... What our other cats will think when the quarantine is lifted is a story for another day. They are 3 purebred Maine Coons and 3 foundlings that we have adopted over the years. They clearly already know what's behind Door #2, as it were, and are NOT very pleased. But we will introduce them to the kittens gradually and supervise the interaction until we are sure that they will not try to kill each other!! Fun times...