Monday, August 15, 2011

Sic transit gloria mundi.

[[ Dear Reader: I'm afraid everything around here is still smothered in ketchup. Please be patient, as we continue to dig our way out from under the backlog, and be sure to check the Table of Contents (left) to catch any ephemeral posts that you may have missed in all the hullabaloo. ]]

The next item on my "ketchup list" is the American Beauty shawl by BadCat Designs, which I managed to finish just in time to wear it to church on Easter Sunday. We had fun doing an outdoor photo-shoot in the April sunshine (see left).

But two days ago, when I brought out the shawl because I was getting ready to write about it, I had a nasty shock: the drawer where it was kept had been invaded by carpet beetles!! Thankfully, other hand-knit items in the vicinity seem to have been spared, and (before anyone asks) the Princess Shawl and WRS were both tucked away safely elsewhere, but American Beauty was badly damaged, perhaps even beyond repair. The little buggers seem to have a definite taste for fine merino, because they zeroed in on that one piece and basically left the others alone. So far as I know, the little wrist-warmers mentioned in this post from over year ago were the only other casualty.

As typically happens where insect larvae have feasted on a piece of wool, parts of the fabric simply fell apart in my hands (see right). It was hideously upsetting, of course, but I resisted the impulse to throw the whole thing away in despair. The shawl in its present form is probably too far gone, but I may be able to salvage the gorgeous fuchsia yarn for eventual reuse. I won't know for sure until I examine it more closely with dispassionate eyes. For now it's in a plastic bag in our spare freezer, along with the entire contents of the drawer where the infestation occurred. If cold does not actually kill the bugs, it should at least make them go dormant. Meanwhile I've ordered some pesticide strips that are designed for enclosed spaces, so the next step will be to seal all the infected items in a big plastic bin and let the chemical (DDVP) go to work. None of the other dresser drawers showed signs of insect activity, but as a precaution I sent EVERYTHING that I could through the laundry. Oh my, but *that* exercise is not for the faint of heart...

At any rate, because of what has happened, and in deference to the inevitable period of mourning, I am not going to dwell on the completion of this project anymore. That would feel distinctly morbid somehow (although Matthew 6:19 comes to mind, of course). But though the loss is undeniably a bitter one, in the last 48 hours my outlook has already shifted toward the positive, because I can see a shiny silver lining.

As much as I love the Rose Whisper with its wide range of color, done just by varying the saturation of a single dye, the dramatic shading turned out to be too intense and overpowering for the delicate lace of this particular design. At first there were just little flecks of the darker color, which I really liked. But then wider bands and blotches started to appear. It all blends together visually, but the larger rose motifs at the shoulders are mostly drowned out in the noise and confusion, which made me very sad, because they are truly magnificent (see left).

So at some point I think I would like to try knitting American Beauty again, but this time with more of a solid color. I have already done some preliminary yarn hunting over the Internet. For you know what they say: when the going gets tough, the tough GO SHOPPING!! Best therapy in the world, methinks, and it's free for now, as long as I don't actually buy anything. :-)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Eomer Shield Tam

I was fortunate enough to participate in my first ever test-knit this spring: the Eomer Shield Tam by designer KYMaggie. It was a terrific experience!! Using several shades of KnitPicks Palette from my stash (mostly leftovers or unused colors from the Bunny Mittens), I got to indulge my love for Celtic scrollwork, not to mention The Lord of the Rings, and to put all my academic proofreading skills to good use in service of the fiber arts, especially to ensure that the line-by-line written instructions accurately mirrored the complex chart.

The design was based on an unused concept drawing for Eomer's shield from the LOTR movies. It is knitted seamlessly in-the-round, starting with a band of corrugated ribbing for the brim, followed by a colorwork panel running underneath the crown, and then the crown itself, worked inward toward the center.

I had great fun with this project, and enjoyed learning new techniques for combining stranded colorwork with cables. The colors kept weaving over and under each other, to create an intricate embossed texture reminiscent of fine metallurgy. There was marvelous attention to detail throughout. The one element that I found slightly tricky was the motif similar to a fleur-de-lis that appears at the four cardinal points where the brim meets the crown, but it came out beautifully by carefully following the detailed instructions. Past that point, it was incredibly smooth sailing to the end. For some reason the magic of blocking a tam on a dinner plate never seems to grow old for me. I love how this piece turned out, and it fits great.

Gingerbread House Knee Socks

For my 2nd pair of post-tenure socks (begun in mid-March), I turned to KnitPicks Imagination, a cushy blend of 50% Merino Wool / 25% Superfine Alpaca / 25% Nylon, in the colorway called "Gingerbread House," which setssix different cheerful "gumdrop" colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple) against a background of warm ginger-brown. I really love this yarn for socks!! Which is good, because I have several more colors stashed away... It knits up into a wonderful fabric, soft and warm and snuggly against the skin. I wanted to see how far I could go on two skeins (= 438 yards) to fit my smallish (US size 61/2, European size 37) feet. So I used the Lace and Cable pattern from Wendy Johnson's Socks from the Toe Up, with one skein for each sock, and basically kept knitting until I ran out of yarn.

What I got, to my amazement and delight, was a splendid pair of honest-to-goodness KNEESOCKS. Once againI worked the two socks in tandem by switching off between two sets of dpn's: first both toes, then feet, then heels, then legs, then cuffs. To shape the calves, I measured the circumference of my lower leg at 2" intervals and calculated first increases and then decreases based on my gauge. And to help the socks stay up, I switched to smaller needles for 1" of ribbing at the top, and finished off with Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off (JSSBO). They fit me perfectly and don't fall down with general use, although a brisk walk can cause them to sag a bit, but that happens with commercial wool knee socks too. I had less than a foot of yarn left over on either side. The colors pooled a bit here and there, but I don't mind the effect. In fact, I rather like it. As always, click on any one of these photos to view an enlargement.

Oh my, but to my mind these are genuinely *happy* socks, so bright and colorful and toasty warm, and they go beautifully with the tawny brown leather clogs that I wear pretty much constantly through 3 seasons of the year, in all but the most inclement weather.

Oak Grove mitts

I grew up in a house surrounded by woods and adjacent to this CT state park. Many of the biggest trees there are mighty oaks, and so I have developed a fondness for oak leaves and acorns as decorative motifs, because they remind me of home.

That's what attracted me to Anna Dalvi's Oak Grove Mitts pattern, which features a beautifully embossed oak leaf, framed by a pointed arch, on the back of each hand. For this special project I treated myself to a single skein of Sanguine Gryphon Bugga! (70% superwash merino / 20% cashmere / 10% nylon) in a colorway called Arachne, which is basically an autumnal mix of deep red, russet, and brown. It was a quick knit on 2.5 mm (US size 1+) dpn's. At the tight gauge, and for my little hands, I used up only ~125 yards. These mitts fit snugly at the wrists, without impeding the movement of my fingers, which makes them ideally suited for riding in the car or sitting in a chilly house and knitting, reading, typing at the computer, or whatever. And the best part is that I still have enough Bugga! left over for a pair of socks. :-)

Friday, August 12, 2011

"You're not seriously going to wear that in public, are you?!"

Some needlework projects are never-ending, not through any fault of their own, but due mostly to what Gilbert Murray famously called"the failure of nerve" (Five Stages of Greek Religion, c. 1925). I have repeatedly categorized my loving homage to Frejya, our female Maine Coon (a.k.a Big Orange Fluffy Thing or B.O.F.T., see left) as one such. The whole thing took four long years from start to finish. But during that interval I spent most of my time ostentatiously (though guiltily) NOT working on it. Progress came, when it did, in fits & starts, with long empty gaps in between, while I agonized over what to do next. All the actual knitting on this sweater went extremely fast. What worried me was the embroidery, having never attempted to embellish my knitting with decorative stitching before.

Since the pattern did not call for embroidery beyond some simple lines for whiskers and toes, by far the hardest part was figuring out how much, or indeed how little, I should add to the intarsia, which already incorporated texture as well as color, by contrast with the coal black Peruvian highlands wool used in the body of the sweater: brushed Suri alpaca (akin to mohair) in orange, brown, and ivory for the cat, cushy cotton chenille in turquoise for the blanket (or pillow?) that she is curled up on, and on the back ribbon yarn in bright orange for the goldfish scales, and a nubbly chunky wool in dark green for the aquatic plant.

My initial concepts for embellishing the sweater were full of creative inspiration but proved too grandiose, not to say fiddly, and in the end I scaled back quite a bit on the eyelash yarn simulating Frejya's long hair, gave only the barest of outlines to eyes, face, paws, and (on the back) goldfish, and did not attempt to apply whiskers, or (for that matter) fins. I decided to let the cat's whimsical features show through as much as possible. After much deliberation, I chose to omit the dangling tail as well, despite having knitted the intarsia base for it, on the grounds that (a) I could not easily weave in enough eyelash yarn to represent the magnificent plume of a Maine Coon adequately (the breed is described as "the tail with a cat on the end," after all, and see above left), and (b) a tapered appendage hanging down from the side-seam of a garment would present far too great a temptation to our real-life feisty felines, who might attack without warning and damage the sweater (to say nothing of injury to the hapless wearer!!). So my woolen Frejya remains tailless, and contentedly so, at least for now. I reserve the right to change my mind at some point in the future. But in the interest of verisimilitude I should point out that the real Frejya does like to curl up with her tail hidden away underneath her (see above right).

In terms of the actual sweater construction, I kept the turtleneck from the original pattern but converted the raglan sleeves to a set-in style, with straight armholes and a gentle short-row shoulder cap. With its generous outlines and soft fabric, it hangs on me more like a drop-shoulder sweater than anything terribly close-fitted, but the shaping works, and I am delighted with how the garment looks and feels. For all its personality and pizzazz — and yes, that's how I happen to view it, although one friend really did blurt out the question that appears in the heading to this blog post, which simply made me laugh in response — this is also a WARM winter woolly that will serve me well when thermostats are kept low to conserve fuel.

Eventually I will probably sew in a polyester lining, so as to protect the back of the intarsia from abrasion and my dark cotton turtlenecks from stray multi-colored fibers. I have even purchased the black fabric for this, but I have not gotten around to actually doing it yet, in part because I think I want to wear the sweater once or twice as is, before doing anything else to it. Totally typical, hein? Nonetheless, I have been calling this a finished object on Ravelry since March 6th, when I laid down my embroidery scissors and weaved in the last few loose ends, and so I present this photo gallery to mark its completion.

What you see here are wide views of the front and back, followed by close-ups of the neckline, the sleeve shaping, the cat, and the fishbowl. As always, click on any one of these images to view an enlargement.
I just love the goldfish with their *googly* eyes, which I acquired courtesy of the ever-thoughtful Anita, who has a great big bag of them on hand because she often knits sweaters for her grandchildren. :-)

Smothered in Ketchup

Despite this salubrious health warning (and let's face it: pretty much anything is bad for you if consumed in excess), the grim reality is that we here at The Faculty Meeting Knitter are playing ketchup catch-up in a MAJOR way these days. I personally prefer to take the Great American Condiment only in small quantities, but with several months worth of knitting projects off the needles yet still waiting to be blogged, the only way out of this mess is through it. And so we press forward, one photo gallery at a time... Efforts are now underway and gaining momentum, with retrospective posts appearing at a rapid rate and items gradually being crossed off the summer's hefty "To Do" list. So if you have not visited the site in a while, perhaps lulled into apathy by the long intervals of silence over the winter/spring, you may want to check out the menu at the side of the screen, to see what you have missed lately. Thank you for your continued patience as this mayhem runs its course.

Bunny mittens!!

These were a huge hit with people on campus and my friends on Facebook, so I'm excited to be bringing them to the blog audience at last...

Before I get down to the subject of knitting, I want you to meet two special somebodies who are very important to me. They are a bonded pair of house rabbits, known formally as Cinnamon the Mocha Bunny (right) and Olorin the Little Gray Bunny (left). She is a mini-lop, while he is a Netherland Dwarf mix. They have lived with us for quite a few years now, long enough for many legends and stories to spring up about them. For instance, the phrase "Cinnamon the Mocha Bunny" is fun to say in a wide variety of circumstances, or even at random, and can be sung as the lyrics to ANY tune imaginable (trust me, my husband and I have amply demonstrated this!). And Olorin happens to be Gandalf's name in the language of Westernesse, for those of a Tolkienian bent...

I could go on and on about the charming personalities and funny antics of my beloved furry creatures. But for purposes of this blog post, the salient point is that they are different colors. So when I found a pattern for Bunny Mittens from House on a Hill Knits, I knew in an instant that I had to knit them as a tribute to Cinnamon and Olorin. And so I did, using 6 different shades of KnitPicks Pallete yarn (black, white, bison, marble heather, lipstick, and teal), and adding features that appealed to me from two other patterns: the Latvian braid and hem from Deep in the Forest mittens by Tuulia Salmela (a pattern waiting eagerly in my queue for just the right moment to arrive) and the side outline and lining from Fiddlehead mittens by Adrian Bizilia (which I had already made and enjoy wearing quite often). As with my Fiddleheads, I used KnitPicks Andean Treasure (100% baby alpaca) for the lining, which feels deliciously yummy and soft next to the skin. The following photo gallery tells pretty much the whole story of how they were made, step by step. I am proud of my colorwork on this project, and feel particularly smug about the fact that I paused to weave in all the hellish ends neatly before picking up stitches for the lining, even though my hard work and attention to detail will never show. But that's what pictures are for, to commemorate events and accomplishments hat would otherwise go unnoticed. As always, click on any one of these images to view an enlargement.

Between the double layer of Peruvian highlands wool from the stranded colorwork and the thick, cushy alpaca lining, these mittens are phenomenally warm and essentially windproof — just the ticket, in other words, for my chilly walks to & from work in the dead of winter. And even apart from keeping my hands from freezing off, they make me ridiculously HAPPY just to look at, because it's like having lots of little Cinnamons and Olorins along on my adventures. I am particularly fond of the gray bunny on each thumb.