Monday, June 29, 2009

How About A Little Labeling, Straw Man?

I don't always have a lot of spare time to just surf the web. I have a set number of places I usually go, things I do, and then I'm off to play with Bobby, cook, knit, sew, pick up (okay, not often, but sometimes), run errands, or any of the other myriad things that life involves. But, since I've been procrastinating on this whole packing thing, I suddenly found myself with several free hours after Bobby was soundly asleep for the last two nights. Because of my necessarily (and only relative to others) limited number of favorite places, if I have more time, but nowhere I necessarily want to or think of going I usually start ferreting around the site lists on blogs I visit. It's sort of like a really specific search for "Things You Might Actually Like and Find Interesting," because often my friends and I have similar interests (imagine that!).

So, two nights ago I was doing just that. Through a series of links I ended up at White Washed Feminists. I had never heard of this label before. I poked around a bit and found some very interesting reading. Then, I followed another link to True Womanhood, and found even more interesting reading. I was also introduced to a whole new jargon and group of labels. I'm pretty familiar with most of the cultural study jargon, but I'm not as aware of the currents and trends in the larger Christian community.

(On a side note: I just learned yesterday about something called the "Emergent Church." When Bob was explaining the sermon to me (I was in the nursery with a very clingy Bobby) I had to get him to back track to this term. I thought he was referring to the "emerging" church or the beginning of the church age in Acts, that's the term I'm used to hearing and the passage we were on, but it wasn't meshing with the rest of what he was saying. Luckily we got it straightened out! Back to my bigger point.)

One common thread through both of these sites was a denouncement of groups and individuals for certain ideas they espoused. While I tend to agree with the philosophies of both of these sites I also have a very strong aversion to only getting one side of the story.

I believe naming is very powerful and when you put a label on something and categorize it as "wrong" it can become very easy to vilify it, take things said in its defense or explanation, out of context, and assume that you have it all figured out. Labels are convenient, neat little ways to group things and makes sense of the world. Unfortunately, they often become a way of undermining the other side(s) of the dialogue. And I can think of little else that annoys me as much as an individual or group of people not being allowed to express who they are for themselves, to voice their positions, and to create their own labels.

But, this is the age of the web, and blogs abound, so these people and groups are out there saying their piece as well. I wended my web-y way to two sites kept by individuals they oppose: Lydia Sherman and Stacy McDonald. I poked around on these sites and tried to look specifically for their responses to their opposition. Which may have been a bit of a set-up. After all, we're more likely to use labels and misrepresent those we are disagreeing with when we're directly discussing them, and I found even more labels. Of course these were aimed at those first groups I found.

I'm not sure where exactly I stand on all of the issues the different groups bring up. I do know, though, that I stand with those first two sites, though I think the others offer some interesting viewpoints.

Overall it was an educational couple of nights. I love reading about ideas and theory. I loved my literary, critical, and rhetorical theory classes. Ideas are fun, and thinking is fun. Hard sometimes, but fun. Language, labels, and the ways we use them are outright amazing. Even as children we learn the power of calling things by certain names, and we become very attached to those labels and names. It's fascinating and I'm going to keep reading and poking around these sites and others when I get the chance. Hopefully I'll learn even more.

Downside, this is making me regret getting rid of some of those theory books ahead of the move. I think, and hope, it's more of a recovering pack rat reaction though.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Something Came Over Me

For the past few days, for a reason I don't know or understand, I've been thinking a lot about the stocking I started for my mom for Christmas last year. In my zeal to have it ready for the actual day I stayed up really late and had it almost done. But, just not quite, so it sat as it was the day of Christmas for 6 months. Then last night I picked it up again. For some reason, I keep thinking about finishing it, and well, for me, it's like cleaning: if you're in the mood, do it, because that mood is rare and may not come back any useful time soon.

So, I went downstairs and dug around until I found the ruffle and the other needle I needed. I also discovered where all of my stitch markers had disappeared to: they were marking the 9 lace pattern repeats. Then I started looking for the pattern.

I had thought that I put the pattern with the stocking, but while that box contained several other projects that had been left by the wayside it held no pattern for this one. Then I went through the file drawer that ostensibly holds patterns, but that brought forth disturbingly little in the way of any patterns. Then I looked on the floor around that area, nothing under the other clutter. Then I tried the other side of the room where moving had created yet another pile. Still nothing. I started getting a little bit of a panicky feeling. I tried the drawers I keep most of my crafting stash in, nothing. The floor under those drawers, nada. The bags and boxes on top of those drawers, zilch. The storage closet in the room, void of any patterns at all.

Then I looked in what I thought was a very unlikely place, indeed: the bookshelf that holds all my pattern books and magazines. Seeing as how this pattern was in a magazine it would be the logical place for it, but seeing as how it's me, it wouldn't be in its place. I didn't actually look among the knitting magazines, but on top of the books and then the shelves underneath those on top of the sewing books. Still nowhere to be found. Then, oddly enough I found it: nestled safely between my other knitting magazines. At some point I must have put it where it belonged. Weird.

I headed upstairs and after spending 10 minutes or so figuring out where I was in the pattern (really must lean to use sticky notes for situations like this) I started off. It went pretty well for the next row, then I had to do some math. It's sort of a pet peeve of mine when the pattern tells you to, "decrease 3 sts evenly over the next row." If you have a set number of stitches and no size options, then just tell me how many to knit and then what kind of a decrease would be best. I understand when there are different sizes at play and the pattern is trying to be concise and not fill up 8 pages, but in this case, come on. So, I did the math, started knitting and at my first decrease point realized I had done the math wrong. After refiguring and finishing that row, I was able to purl back again, easy enough.

Then I had to knit 2 together across the whole row to get it down to the same size as the top of the stocking I'll be attaching it too. I thought I should, just to be safe, count the number of stitches again. I counted along and had another panicky moment when I passed the requisite 232 stitches and was up at 280. That's a lot of extra stitches. That's a whole extra lace repeat plus a little. That was a sickeningly plausible scenario given my panicked state of mind while I was knitting the thing on Christmas Eve. That's a whole ruffle having to be taken out and redone.

I recounted. I had counted wrong. I was fine. A little sweaty, now, but in the end, fine.

I finished that row, purled back and now I'm trying to figure out where along the top of the stocking it would be best to join the ruffle. Then I'm on to the cuff. I read through the final directions last night and realized that I probably wouldn't have finished eve had I stayed up all night last December. There was just too much left, and then the finishing steps are kind of long on top of that.

And, it wouldn't have looked as nice. I couldn't Kitchener stitch then.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Happily Ever After

For pretty much all of my knitting life I have lived in fear of one thing: grafting, also known by that menacing name, kitchener stitch. The only time I didn't fear this thing was during the first few months I was knitting and I didn't know it existed. Then I read about it while trying to finish something. I don't even remember what anymore, but it was bad. Really bad.

It looked like I had given the yarn needle to my yet to exist except as a little thought of egg in my ovaries son, and said, "Go for it! It's cool. It's not like I spent any real time on it and don't really care how it turns out. Just make sure you don't drop any of those stitches. Have fun! What? Oh, yeah. You use the pointy end."

Here's the worst part. I didn't even know it was wrong. I remember looking at it at the time and thinking, "Huh, well that's sort of weird. Why do people get all excited about this? It looks kind of crappy there at the end of the knitting. You'd think it would look nicer." But, the book I was using said that pictures were not useful in describing kitchener stitch. That instead you should just read and follow the directions. I figured they must know, and I'm pretty good at reading in general, so figured I must have been doing it right.

Then I saw the toe of some socks a friend of mine finished. They were beautiful. You couldn't even tell where she'd stopped knitting. I asked her how she had finished the toe.

She casually destroyed my world boy tossing out, "Oh, I just kitchener stitched it."

There was this sort of quietly dominating roar in my ears as I realized that my kitchener stitch had nothing in common with hers except that we used yarn on a needle.

For a while I tried to quietly fix the problem. I would secretly look it up in the back of pattern and technique books. I learned other ways to finish edges that, if not as pretty, were finished. Then I would come up with ridiculous reasons I had chosen to bind off that way. I questioned other knitters about it in very unobtrusive ways so they wouldn't know about my shortcoming. "Oh, that scarf looks really interesting. If you were to choose a different bind off, say maybe, I don't know a kitchener stitch perhaps, how would you go about doing that?" or "Cool hat! You decreased down to two stitches and then tied to pom-pom to those ends? How clever! Had you thought of kitchener stitching those two stitches?"

Needless to say, it didn't work out so well. I resorted to avoiding any pattern that called for it like the plague.

I did manage to eventually ferret out two pieces of advice when I mentioned that my stitches always seemed "uneven": 1) do it really loose and tighten it up later and 2) always stay on top of the needles. So, with renewed vigor I tried that out on the underarms of Bobby's sweater. It did not work at all. All of the stitches were either twisted, looked like purls instead of knits, or were surround by random strands of yarn, or some combination of those three. It was very disappointing.

I kept hearing that it was really easy if you just read and followed the directions. I began to doubt my ability to read. Maybe it was a conspiracy. I redoubled my avoidance efforts, but started to be more public about my shortcoming. All in jokes of course. It was too painful to be serious about. Maybe someone would come up with a solution, maybe not, but until then I was getting better at avoiding it.

I got into knitting socks. I love them, but there's the messy problem of the toes needing to be kitchener stitched. I just drew the tail through the remaining stitches and was mollified, if not exactly, satisfied. Then I thought I had found the answer to knitting socks, but not having to kitchener stitch the toes: toe-up socks!

Excellent! I signed up and started with gusto. I managed the short-row toe and heel pattern and then got to the end of the cuff where, the directions said, a sewn bind-off was the best way to ensure a cuff that would stretch enough while you pulled the sock over your foot. I started reading the directions and was interested when it told me how to set up the stitches on two needles. Then I was only a little uneasy when it said to grab a yarn needle and cut your thread.

Then I read the directions and had a horrible sinking feeling as I read those words that had become the bane of my knitting education's existence. They were the same directions as kitchener stitch. Like a bad movie that realization dawned on me right as someone in the class made the same observation out loud, but really slow. I looked at my friend with misery and asked if I could watch her.

With sympathy she said I could and when she got to the cuff she asked if I was ready. I don't know what I thought would happen. But I expected to learn that I actually didn't know what "as if to knit" or "as if to purl" meant, but that the language of knitting had been flipped while I wasn't looking. Or that new lines in the directions would magically appear making everything suddenly transparent and easy.

None of those happened. Instead she pulled the yarn through the front stitch as if to purl and I stopped her.

"How do you go back to the back needle?"

She just took it around the right side of the needle and went into that stitch as if to knit.

"But how do you get back to the front needle? Do you go on top of the needle? It's getting all messy over there."

Her reply, "No, I just keep working from the right, going around to the back and the front on the side and it all lays flat as the stitches come off the needle."

It was that moment of epiphany I was waiting for. I had been trying all these ways of keeping the yarn straight by going over the needle, to the side, but nothing consistent. Now I just worked from the right and it was wonderfully stressless. I finished the top of the cuff and got the thumbs up from the teacher.

Then I went home and gave it the true test: what would it look like at the end of a sock?

It was beautiful, and the kitchener stitch and I rode off into the sunset of last night when I managed all 64 of the bottom of this sock. I think our love is only going to grow.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Little Progress

So, after my little pity party yesterday I made a few decisions.

1. I really need to be organized if I am going to take full advantage of the time I do have to craft. If I spend 20 of my 45 minutes just looking for all the tools and materials I needs because I don't have them put in their special places then it's not a wonder that I feel like I'm wasting time. Because, after all, I am wasting time!

2. I will be more relaxed if I feel like I'm being productive. This is kind of like exercise, or doing your homework, or cleaning house: until it gets done it's just hanging over your head stressing you out. All of the activities we participate in to try to "entertain" ourselves or to distract ourselves from the things we need to do in life are clouded and muddied if we haven't "taken care of business" as my dad says. So, while crafting is actually one of those things that is usually classified as a hobby that distracts from the everyday necessities of living, this is how I'm applying the principle to my life right now: I'm going to knit when I get the chance and oh well if it doesn't look or seem like I'm relaxing.

3. I need to limit the number of projects I let myself work on at one time. Before my mom does the happy dance let me make a few things clear on this point. This does not mean one knitting project at a time, one sewing project. No, this means one lace project, one sock, one big mindless project, and one color work project for knitting and for sewing I went through and organized the projects I have going in time order of importance. (The things that are "past due" I just continued to ignore).

4. It just ain't gonna happen, so get over it. With everything else going on this summer it's a wonder I get any crafting done at all anyway. So, I'm going to be happy about the things I do get done, no matter what they are. Last night, as a case in point we went through and managed to remove one full bookshelf's worth of books from our possession. (Actually they're still in our house, but two boxes are for the used book store, one is for Bob's school, one for mine, and one for a coworker of his and then to the bookstore. But the point is, there is an empty bookshelf and that means only one bookshelf full of books to pack from that room.) We still have 4 bookshelves to go through, but the point is something is getting done.

In some ways, there's been a little progress.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Working on Projects, sort of

I have several projects going right now: a pair of socks for Bobby, a fair isle practice hat, a lace-patterned scarf, a whisper cardigan, a simple tote bag, several skirts, a fabric train set, a lap quilt, a table runner, a wall quilt, and some curtains (though those are relatively far in the future, I can tell). The trouble is none of them is really cast-on or started.

You see, I've been thinking and thinking and thinking about all sorts of projects but gotten very little done. If I could turn all of the mental energy I've spent on these projects into actual sections of them finished, then I would be practically done with lots of things so far this summer! But, for some reason all this "free time" I get during the summer has translated to very little crafting time.

Instead we're sleeping a little later, taking turns watching Bobby and napping, having a leisurely breakfast, running a few errands, having lunch, going for a walk, getting Bobby a couple of naps (hopefully) each day, eating dinner, and then blogging or talking about packing or playing card games because we can't with little hands around. I see a dozen places where I could insert some crafting time, or cobble together little bits here and there to carve out some productive knitting. But the overall slow pace of the summer makes me feel like I'm not relaxing if I try to take advantage of all that time. The result is I'm getting a whole lot of thinking done, but not a lot of doing done.

It's easier to think about knitting while I'm playing somersaults with Bobby than it is to try to knit while he plays by himself. It doesn't help that for some reason me picking up my needles is apparently a cue for him to come wailing to me needing to be picked up, or read a book to, or looked at. Sometimes that's enough. But other times, even if he toddles away of his own accord, looking for all the world as though he is happily going to play with his ball or books or toes, if I pick up my needles again then he whips around needing something else. I'm beginning to think moms are not the only ones with eyes in the back of their heads, and apparently Bobby doesn't believe I even have them there.

Sewing involves too much set up right now (Plus I would have to clean off my table, and really, who wants to do that?) and he gets pretty tempted by the pedal. Though it is cute to see him bob and dance around to the rhythm of the machine. But in general with all of the extra pieces that go with it sewing is an after bedtime activity only.

So, I'm doing a whole lot of thinking, but not a lot of doing. I'm hoping that when I get around to more of the doing, I'll be able to really get a lot of great stuff done because of how much thought I've put into it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Who knew?

Over the past few days I have experienced several pleasant surprises. Working backwards, this evening we took a drive before Bobby's bedtime and decided to stop for ice cream. He is an ice cream hound and will sit in his car seat frantically signing,"please" and calling our names until we give him some. Then he sort of licks at it, but still isn't entirely certain how to eat it. The cone, on the other hand, he'll crunch right into.

Following up on an idea a friend gave me, I suggested that we try to order just an empty cone. And, they gave us the cone free. I was pleasantly surprised and Bobby was downright ecstatic that he got to hold the cone himself and eat as much at a time as he wanted! At one point he was buzzing his lips, and Bob and I think he may have been pretending to shave his feet with the end of his cone. Wonderful, silly boy!

Moving on, er, back, earlier this morning I went to my Saturday Sampler class. For some reason, I can't seem to get the time stuck in my head and yet was pretty sure it started at 10 in the morning. Not sure why, but I did. Then I made a call to double-check and was told, nope, it starts at 9:00.

I called at 8:57.

Yeah.

So. I flew out the door, leaving my breakfasting husband and son to their own devices. I ran in to the store (literally ran down the hall and in the door) and tried to not look too desperate (if you're late it's $10 and I really didn't want to pay that). According to their clock it was 9:10. I went to the sign in table and no one was sitting there. I took that as a very bad sign. An employee came up and asked if she could help. I told her I needed to sign in and asked if it was too late. She asked if I was in the 8:30 or 9:30 class.

With a sigh of relief I told her it was the 9:30 class, got signed in nice and early and had time to do some knitting. I chose to knit so as not to tempt myself with all of the other wonderful things I could have been buying. Such as the sewing patterns from this company Oliver + S . I did pick up this card though to remember them for when I have more disposable income and less house-buying-stress! Too cute (and free) to pass up. At the end of the class they always have some sort of sale or special and this month it was buttons. At first my resistance to spending money made me think that I really didn't need any buttons. But as I was walking past I saw a wooden toggle and thought of the sweater I plan on knitting Bobby. It uses toggles and why not save a good bit of money and buy them now instead of when you need them, but they're full price? Right? And, I had enough cash, so I didn't have to show evidence of my purchase to my husband. (I always say this, but inevitably show him everything anyway.) So, another pleasant surprise!

Onto yet another surprise, yesterday, Bob and I made an impulsive trip to a local used book store and, as is my habit, I perused their crafting section. The knitting, sewing, and quilting books are conveniently lining both side of a single aisle. I was reading the title of every single knitting book and lo and behold I came upon this: Can you make out the author's name? If not here it is: Anna Zilboorg! (Remember this?)

I was pretty excited and then even more so when they were selling it for less than $15. And, because we have credit I didn't actually have to pay for it at all. How amazing is that!?!

And, last, but certainly not least in the way of surprises. I've been swatching for a continuous scarf I want to knit out of the angora/wool Bob bought me. I've been looking through a few stitch dictionaries and trying out things and that's the part that, really, is surprising. I look through those dictionaries, at the swatches showing the stitch patterns, and think, "who would spend time doing that?" They're not knitting anything useful. It's wasted time. I know logically, that it's not, but I sometimes find it hard to imagine all of that time spent on something you know is really just a test run.

So, anyway, I can't believe I'm enjoying swatching this. Though I did learn real fast to use a different yarn than what my final scarf will be knit out of. It was getting a little "fluffier" after I ripped it out a second time.

So here's what I have so far.

I'm thinking of a floral sort of motif, but because it will be folded down around itself don't want to make it too detailed or hard to see. We'll see. I'm also thinking about width. How wide do you make a scarf, typically? 8 inches or so? That would give me about 36-40 stitches to play with. And, the little baby cables (they're kind of hard to see in the picture), are they going to pull in too much?

I've never gotten so much enjoyment out of asking and trying to figure out questions like this. And that, in some ways, surprises me. I know that I'm not knitting the scarf "for reals," as my students say, but it's still fun.

Who knew?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Copycat

A friend of mine mentioned doing a post each week that was only pictures. I like the idea for several reasons, not the least of which is that then I would be obligated to actually post at least once a week. And because it's at the end of the week I can catch up on the things I missed along the way. So here is my first "Photo* Friday" post (the English teacher in me just couldn't do "foto")!






*the author of this blog makes no claim whatsoever to any sort of photography skills

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Random Little Adventures

Adventure #1
Summer usually means construction up here, and lots of it everywhere. So it was not a surprise that we ran into some while heading home yesterday. We were taking a back route away from a toy store and were diverted down an unfamiliar road. Unexpectedly, Bob exclaimed, "Olive?!" and got really excited (would you have expected that?). Now, he doesn't like to eat olives, so I knew he wasn't going to hop out of the moving car to snag a roadside treat, but I had my nose in knitting a swatch so missed the street sign he was referring to.

He looked at me with that adorable little boy anticipation kind of look and asked, "Haven't you ever wondered where that road went?"

Seeing as how I am rarely down on those particular streets, I had to answer honestly and say, "I've never even heard of it."

He followed up with a hurried explanation of what road he thought it might be and asked if I had ever seen a road and wondered where it went. "You know, wonder who gets to drive on it and why."

"No, not really." Which isn't true, but I've never had a curiosity so strong that I stopped the car, turned it around, and drove back for the sole purpose of going down that mysterious avenue. Which is what we did.

Funny part is, as we started back that way a railroad crossing lowered and I thought his spontaneous little jaunt was doomed, but that fear was eased when a single engine whizzed by. We went down that street and he exclaimed in victory as it turned out to connect to another street he had always wondered about. It was fun, and that sense of wonder and adventure is one of the many reasons I love my husband.

Adventure #2
I am doing the Seams Like Home Saturday Sampler quilt and this month's was a bit of a challenge for me. It's lovely. I love windmill blocks, I love the colors and fabrics, I love making half-square triangles using the quick-piecing-two-seams-on-a-square-cut-down-the-middle method. I do not love sewing together separate triangles. I must be really rough on bias edges because whenever I cut two triangles and then try to sew them together they always get really, really wonky. If I sew a diagonal seam on a square and then cut it into two triangles, they are (generally) pretty great!

So I planned to do this month's block using that square method. I did some heavy math that involved counting 1/8 inch bits and finally had what square sizes I thought I needed.

Then I realized that the way the fabric pieces I had been provided were cut I wasn't going to be able to use squares for all of it. Luckily, I have good friends and one of them helped me out and I was able to get started.

I still ended up sewing together triangles, which I ranted about to Bob for a while (he's a very good listener). Luckily I was able to locate some pins and so it didn't turn out too bad, and I learned that if I absolutely have to sew together triangles, using pins helps. Don't look too close. Some of the seams are a bit off, but overall I'm happy with it. The only thing I would change if I made one of these again would be to buy enough fabric to cut squares.

Adventure #3
I started a swatch for a scarf I want to knit out of the angora/wool blend Bob brought back for me from Scotland. The yarn is so soft and the needles comfortable that it's been a pleasure to just knit the swatch! (That may be why I wasn't paying attention to the streets as we were driving.) I'm knitting it on my first pair of Lantern Moon needles. I love them, and I said "first" pair on purpose. They just feel really, really nice. I decided no matter the gauge, I was going to knit the scarf with these.

So, I'm working on charting out a lace pattern. I'm thinking of using a provisional cast-on so that I can then join the two ends and make a big, loopy scarf with no ends to deal with. And, I can use every last bit of this yarn int he scarf! I figure it will make a nice project when I need a break from practicing my stranded knitting! (Speaking of, I have big plans for a little pair of socks for Bobby that I'll share as soon as I have anything to show for them.)

Adventure #4
I may have mentioned this already: we're in the process of buying our first home.

And, rumor has it that buying a house means you actually move into this new house. So we're trying to start packing now. (I heard another nasty rumor that packing and moving takes a lot longer than anyone ever expects.) Notice I said "try." Bob and I have a tendency to do other things (dishes, laundry, reading, card games, anything to avoid packing, pretty much) once Bobby has gone to bed, and packing with him around, isn't all that easy. I'm not entirely sure why.

So in the next few days our goal is to get through these two bookshelves. We're going to purge out ones we don't need anymore, box up the ones that should be at our respective schools, and pack the remainder.

I'm hoping for not too much packing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Practice Hat

As I mentioned before, I am going to Sock Summit in August and feeling a bit inadequate for the classes I will be able to take there. So, I asked my ever-wise knitting teacher and she suggested I try knitting this hat from Charlene Schurch's book Hats On! It is a Turkish stitch pattern that uses a different kind of cuff than we're usually used to seeing.

In most hats here in the States we use a ribbed cuff. It's elasticity helps it stretch over the big parts of our noggins, but the keeps the bottom snug against our heads to we're not in as much danger of losing our carefully crafted head gear or heat from our bodies! I've always done ribbing at the bottoms of my hats, as that's all I've ever known, and it has worked well, but boy is it monotonous! Especially with watch cap style hats that have enough ribbing for you to fold up the ribbing. When the pattern says, "Continue in k1, p1 until piece measures 5" from the bottom" I cringe inwardly and know that I will be doing most of that knitting in the car.

The bottom of this hat though taught me a few cool things. First, I learned how to do a 2-color cast-on. It makes so much sense that I wish it had occurred to me before reading about it. And, it looks really cool.

Second, I learned to read directions and follow them. The second line of the pattern begins and ends like this: "Move yarn to the front, ... ... The working yarn will become very twisted after working this round; it will be untwisted as you work round 3." That part about the yarn getting very twisted, she wasn't joking (don't know why she would anyway). And, it's really good she put that bit in there, otherwise I would have spent a bunch of time untwisting it on this round and then untwisting it again, but in the opposite direction for the next round. As it was, even with the disclaimer, my yarn got downright tangled at one point. (I saw a comic once that showed various servants holding single balls of yarn for a queen as she knit an intarsia pattern, helping her keep them all straight instead of a big tangled mess. The thought has occurred to me that this could be a money-making chore for my children. But I don't think I could pay them hourly. Maybe we could turn it into a game... ...)

But, I digress, back to that second row: I read, I brought the strand of color I using to the front, I purled, and then, like a genius, I took it to the back again, then brought the other color to the front, purled, took it back again, and carried on this way through the entire round. So I was purling every stitch like I had been told to, but not carrying the yarn in the front.

At the end I looked at it. "Hmmm..." I thought, "I'm not sure how this is going to work, but I guess it'll make sense after I'm done." Then I got to the next row and started carrying the yarn in the front (not quite sure why I changed at this point) and about 5 stitches into the row it occurred to me that the carried yarn was part of the design. Then it hit me that I was going to have to take out the entire, crazy twisted round I had just finished.

So, after completing 3 twisty rounds and a little bit. I was able to move onto the patterned portion. That went pretty smoothly as long as I maintained my ability to count up to 5 in different patterns. It didn't always work out, but mostly... and I only had to take out a few rows when I reached the end and realized I wasn't where I should have been and had to count backwards to find out that I had only gotten one repeat of the pattern right. Not frustrating in the least, of course...

Then I got the crown. I love the crown on this hat. I think it's clever and pretty. But, the instructions confused me a bit (sound familiar?). The key for the decrease symbol in the chart said, " sl1, k2tog, pass slipped stitch over in CC." So, I read it, understood it, but couldn't do it. The stitches I was dealing with weren't in the contrast color. At least, not the right ones. And, if I just did what it said anyway, I wouldn't be on pattern for the rest of the repeat. So after thinking, and thinking, and listening to the other people at Knit Night talk about other things I finally tried moving my end-of-round marker. And, luckily enough, it worked! Not sure how that one occurred to me. The knitting muses must have been with me! I felt smart and that night finished the hat at home!

I'm pretty happy with how it turned out except for one part. Okay, two, actually. One, I missed a color mistake (well only one that I've found so far anyway). Two, I cast-on for a size small. I cast-on for the small because I didn't think I'd have enough left over yarn for a full-sized adult hat. I had even started thinking of little girls I could pass this on to while I was knitting it. Yep, well, luckily I did have enough yarn. And now I have a pretty good-sized adult hat.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Cost of Crafting Labor

We're looking at buying our first home and through that and a variety of previous experiences I've learned that labor is generally not cheap. In some parts of the world, and at certain points in time it is relatively inexpensive, but as a general rule it's the biggest cost in getting things done.

But there is a difference in understanding and experiencing a phenomenon firsthand. Enter, the monkey.

I have a sister (2 actually, but this only concerns one of them) who learned to knit this past school year. I like to think that seeing the beautiful things I was able to knit her, combined with the pervasive presence of knitting in our early formative years lead her to this enlightened decision to learn to knit. She learned really fast and decided to knit a monkey for the baby of a friend of hers.

I thought it was a great idea because I think you should have a context for things you are learning. It's easier to understand the difference between k2tog and ssk when you see their uses (and misuses) firsthand. But I spotted a little problem right away. The whole thing was knit flat and that was going to mean a good bit of finishing at the end. I don't like finishing, and I was pretty sure that that much would turn her off to knitting forcefully and permanently. So, like the teacher I am, I thought, "Hey! I can teach her how to knit in the round. She'll learn that and not have to do as much finishing. Great, two birds with one stone. How smart I am!"

So we went out looking for yarn and she found some great variegated blue/green superwash and a coordinating green to make a crazy-awesome monkey. She also bought her first set of double-pointed needles and worked away on the pattern. She finished knitting all of the pieces in just a few weeks and with surprisingly few mishaps along the way. I was impressed, she was impressed with herself, and talked of a whole little monkey family.

But then the parts just sat there. She talked about it. We talked about it.

We had a conversation about 3 weeks ago and she made this comment: "I don't really like finishing, so I think I'll knit an afghan next." That was, of course, hilarious.

Then a week ago, almost six months after she finished the pieces, the moment of truth came. My husband and I had asked her to watch Bobby for two days while we went to a continuing education class. She agreed, but asked that I finish the monkey for her in payment for one of those days. In my eagerness to save some money (remember the new house thing?), I said, "yes."

She left the bag of monkey parts at my house the first day. It hung benignly from one of our coat hooks. It was disguised as a bag from the university bookstore. It was really a time bomb.

Instead of looking in the bag and just finishing the monkey and getting it done with, I knit a hat in an effort to gear up for sock summit. After I finally broke down and pulled out the monkey parts, I realized how big a mistake I had made. So big, that I resurrected a scarf project I hadn't knit on in over a year just to assure myself I knew what I was doing with some small part of my life.

Here was the mistake: I had traded 8 hours of watching my son, who I like and really is, let's face it, sometimes ridiculously easy to take care of, for this
There are, count them, 21 separate parts: the front and back of 4 paws, 4 legs/arms, 1 body, 1 head, 1 tail, 1 muzzle, 1 eye-piece, and the front and back of 2 ears. That adds up to, oh, let's see... 21 seams! (Note here, that the only reason it's not 28 seams is because she had knit the tail, arms, legs, body, and head in the round.) I'm not even going to think about the number of ends I need to weave in.

It took me the better part of 2 hours to get 2 paws put together and joined to their arms. That's 2 seams an hour. At that rate it's going to take me 10 1/2 hours to finish this monkey. And, that little green blob on his belly, I'm not sure where that even goes.

I love my sister, this is going to be very good practice for my own finishing skills, and I don't want Bobby to get sick, but Bobby better throw up on her or something the next time she watches him.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Excitin' Stuff!

The last time I blogged was a Friday. The next day Bob and I (and Bobby, he's independent, but not that independent) went looking at houses. The weather here has been beautiful: clear and hot with a light wind to keep you from totally baking. But that morning it was cool and overcast. It made me feel better that we weren't wasting some of our precious few sunny days on looking at houses. We've been looking for about 18 months now. There have been lulls, because you reach points where you've literally seen everything in your price range and so you can't go looking every weekend, or you're so frustrated with the whole process you just can't work up the pluck to keep looking. But we've been watching the market and even tried for a few houses. But through a variety of circumstances never ended up with anything that was everything we wanted and at a price was affordable, or even reasonable in our opinion.

Last Saturday morning we went out looking at 6 different places. We decided that we were going to buy a house this summer. We decided that even if neither of use had that "this is it" feeling, if we could make it work for 5-7 years then we would buy the house. We saw two that were pretty good. One that was ridiculous (and that might explain why it has been on the market for so long). One that was really cute, but needed a lot of work. One that was great inside, but the fence was falling down around the dandelion yard, and there was a ghost dog howling the entire time we were looking at it.

Then we went to look at the last house and both had that feeling when we walked in. I was skeptical going in, but it has everything we need. And, barring any extreme changes (one person mentioned triplets, that would be a whole new kind of crazy, but of course, now I'm worried) we could live there the until all the kids move out. And then it would be too big and we'd probably move on.

On the way home we talked about it, the clouds broke and the day became another sunny beauty, and we called our realtor. We had afternoon plans, but we arranged to meet him that evening. The afternoon Bob and I both got sunburns because we were outside enjoying the day. Then my mom watched Bobby while we talked about and signed the offer. I hate the waiting so I was on pins and needles from about half way through that hour-long meeting until we heard.

We went to dinner, went to get ice cream, and then got the call. The realtor greeted Bob with, "Congratulations! You're in debt!" They accepted the,offer as it was and now we're working our way through the rest of the process. The home inspection is tomorrow and that has me the most nervous. The closest we came to buying a house before was undone by the variety of things found in the inspection. We just couldn't do a new roof, windows, porch, and all appliances. Too bad. I'm not overly worried about this house, though. It looks to my untrained eye like it has been taken care of really well. But, we'll see what the professional says!

Bob and I are trying to not get too excited, but we're also pretty sure this is the place that's going to work out. We've been doing a bit of packing and sorting just to prepare and then if nothing comes of it, at least we'll be more organized where we are.

But, if all goes well, we'll have our own home before the end of July!

And if all goes really well, the interest rates will go back down at least a smidge before then.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Three Steps Forward

While Bobby has been amazing me with his new experiences, I have been amazing myself with my productivity! I've been sewing and knitting a good bit and though I've had a few setbacks I'm still pretty happy with my progress!

I started that new Whisper Cardigan. I love the yarn. It has reminded me of how much I love knitting with alpaca. The way it practically caresses your fingers as it slides through your hands is intoxicating. I was so eager to start and once it was cast on so enticed by it that I only gave the pattern a cursory glance. I've knit it before, I'm relatively aware of what's going on with it, I told myself. And I finished almost an entire arm in a matter of days!But after getting this much done I realized it was a bit tighter around the upper arm than my other one, and wasn't I going to need to bind off about 16 of those stitches before moving to the back? Well yes I was, the pattern told me. And that's why I should have cast on 16 more stitches than I had. Oh well. Live and learn. It just means more knitting time with that alpaca, and I value our quality time together.

Unfortunately it also means I probably won't have it done by the time I go to Sock Summit. Not because I don't have time. If I focused, I could get it done, but because I have other things I need to be knitting instead. For example, some socks for Bobby to wear to the sock hop, some socks for me, maybe, and some color work of some sort. I'm feeling a bit of pressure about one of the classes I'll be taking and so I'm trying to prepare myself.

You may think that's sort of silly. After all, you're taking the class to learn, right? Normally I would totally agree with you, but there are two things that make this a different situation as I see it. Before I explain those things, let me tell you a little story from my past. I think it will help to make my point.

I signed up for my very first knitting class in the fall of 2006. I had learned to knit the summer before that and a friend of mine who also knits suggested we sign up for a class called "Magnificent Mittens." Now, in winter in Alaska who couldn't use a pair of good mittens? So, I said, "Sure!" I signed up and then looked at the description for the class.

You needed to be a Beginner II level knitter for the class. Alright, I know the word beginner is in there, but I had only been knitting for 4 months or so at this point and was freaked out that I'd show up and not know one end of the needle from the other. (Which is actually quite reasonable given that they were double-pointed needles, but you see my point.)

Then I also found out that the woman teaching the class was the mom of one of my husband's friend. I had met the guy, he was cool, he and my husband got along great, and Bob said his mom was really nice, too. So, then I knew I couldn't make an idiot of myself and then try to remain anonymous. The pressure was on.

So, I went out with the book for the class, Anna Zillboorg's Magnificent Mittens, and bought the yarn and needles I thought I needed. Then I proceeded to work my way through the sample mitten that she starts the book with. This way, I figured, I would know that I could at least get through the class and have the skills necessary to make a pair of mittens from the book. Great! I finished a mitten and knew that while it wasn't pretty it meant that I could actually do what I needed to for the class. In the class I learned how to keep the knitting from being tighter in the stranded section. Notice how the black and green portion is skinnier than the rest of the mitten? And I learned a lot more about gauge. Any of you who were wondering, no it's not supposed to be extra large.Also, because I had already knitted the practice mitten that everyone else learned to knit in the class I learned how to cast-on for a mitten with a striped band! Unfortunately that gauge lesson hadn't quite hit home yet...
So, that's the kind of person I am. I like to take full advantage of opportunities to learn. I also think that learning builds on itself, so the more you know, the more you can learn. Sort of like the light-bulb in the dark example, the more you know, the more you don't know. And, I really like knowing things.

With all that background let me tell you about the class I'm nervous about. First I'm going to be sitting next to a woman I know and admire: she taught that knitting class that I took and every class I've taken since. She's amazing and I really don't want to embarrass her. I can handle humiliating myself (well, I've gotten to where I cry later, instead of bursting into tears at the moment anyway... ...) but don't ever want to do that to someone else, even by association! And, there are a lot of good knitters who because of the demons in the servers didn't get in. I want to make the most of this opportunity since they can't.

Second, the class is going to be taught by the woman that wrote the book for that first class: Anna Zillboorg. I can't explain how amazing and wonderful this opportunity is; I really don't want to blow it because I don't know enough.

So, I'm going to be doing a lot of sock and color work knitting for the next two months. I'm also going to be trying to convince Bob to let me buy two of Zillboorg's other books that are about socks, full of great patterns, out of print, and thus crazy expensive.

I've already been doing a little bit of sock knitting, though this pair will be on the back burner for a while as well. I started the Angee socks out of Cookie A's new book Sock Innovation.
I'm done with the knitting and now just need to graft the bottom together. My most recent knitting class was about knitting socks from the toe up (which these aren't) and I really like the short-row technique I learned, so I've been using it whenever I can. And, since I can now Kitchener stitch without it looking like gobbledy-goop I can graft stitches competently, too! (See, would you want to admit to Anna Zillboorg, much less the woman who you've taken several knitting classes from that you can't Kitchener stitch? I didn't think so!) So the bottoms of these will be done soon and I can use this wonderful pair of needles to work on a different pair of socks!

Those socks though are knit from a yarn that I love more and more. The colors are beautiful and there are places where it looks like an old growth forest with rich browns and tans, and other places that look like a tropical island with sand and deep-blue water and places where the greens are vibrant like spring turning to summer. All in one skein of yarn! I don't remember the name of the colorway, but it is dyed by my friend at Northern Lights Fiber Co and it is amazing and I'm going to need more as soon as I have some sock yarn money available.

The one problem with that is that I just spent a god bit on this sock yarn:
It's ShiBui sock yarn, superwash merino. It's soft, has beautiful stitch definition, and the order finally came in and I had been waiting for a chance to buy some and went a little crazy on it. Justification: only one pair of socks is intended for me. The other 4 are for Bob. Then I was thinking that the leftovers could be a really cool stripey pair for Bobby! I'm making sure to not go back until I can withstand the yarn's loving looks. There are still lots of wonderful colors I didn't pick up.

Other than obsessing over socks and sock yarn, I've also been sewing and finished all of the blocks for my Twinkle quilt!There are a few blocks that are a little wonky that'll need to be taken apart and redone, but then I can look at the layout and be ready to actually finish a quilt top!

See? Amazing amounts of progress!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Few Firsts

I completely neglected to take pictures, but Bobby has had a few firsts in the past couple of days. It's amazing to me the number of experiences he has that are new.

Working backwards, this evening he went out for a stroll in the rain. It was light enough near our house so we strapped him in, put on our rain jackets, and tried out the new rain cover we have for his stroller. He liked running his hands over it from the inside and contorting it so he could see out the sides. That had the unfortunate side-effect of letting some rain get to him, but it was so light, I don't think he noticed. We let him out at the park strip and he ran around picking up rocks and pointing at others. Then he pushed his stroller around for a long while. He loves doing "grown up" things and pushing things: his stroller lets him do both!

Before the walk we had dinner and after he polished off about 1/2 cup of pasta (a new record amount) he asked for some of the chicken nuggets we were eating. I felt like I finally had a real toddler watching him as he chowed down on the nuggets. I also was happy that he's finally willing to diversify his eating portfolio a bit; before his diet consisted of pretty much 6 flavors of yo-baby yogurt and goldfish. So, the pasta and meat of any kind is quite remarkable!

Earlier today he showed that he knows exactly how to go down the stairs without being prompted. He sits down, turns around, and slides backwards on his belly. He's known how for a while, but had to be reminded or positioned first. Now he gets ready a good 3 or 4 feet before the actual stairs. Then it's hilarious watching him work his way backwards, all the while checking behind him wondering why he hasn't reached the stairs yet! He's also a champ at going up, but he's been doing that for a while now.

Yesterday, he learned to comb and brush his hair and now whenever he finds a brush or comb he rubs it on his head. He's not always getting the teeth or bristles on his hair, but some part of it is making contact. This morning that included Bob's toothbrush that luckily was still in the packaging.

On Tuesday he went to his first park. We walked with another friend and after she demonstrated the slide for him he seemed more interested. I think it was part of the whole grown up behavior thing. But he was more interested in the little baby in the stroller (which he didn't get to push) and the rocks. In case there was any doubt, he is certainly a real boy. He stood picking up rocks and dropping the back to the ground, listening to the clink of them hitting each other, and pouring them between his hands and mine for a good 5 minutes. I think that's when I got my sunburn. He also grabbed a handful to put on the slide; see, a real boy for sure.

The day after I found a stow away rock in his shirt pocket.

Even before then, he had his first mosquito bite, which finally started to look better so my fears about malaria, yellow fever, and the west nile virus are a little calmer now. A little. He's been growing, learning, and changing so much in the past few weeks and it's been truly amazing to watch.

It also made me think that each of these new experiences is teaching him about himself, other people, and the world. I wonder how much of it he takes in or how aware he is that he is seeing something new to him. Then I wondered how often we are paying close enough attention to know that often we, also, are seeing and experiencing things that are new to us, even if it's just in the details.