Monday, January 28, 2008

Helmetliner is now a Balaclava

I was knitting with Ruthie when she pulled out some camo yarn and proceeded to cast on. Intrigued I asked what she was knitting and was told it was for a Helmetliner for our troops overseas.  I have trouble with waging war, the Armed Forces and their ideas but not with the soldiers who are stationed over there so thought this was a good idea as, usually, inbetweeen projects for me or someone else, I try to do a charity piece.  
I got the pattern for helmetliner and proceeded to find some heathered Cascade 220 color#9408 --  a beautiful rich reddish brown that had me, a non brown person, enjoying. I was pleased to be doing this and found my gauge correct so started the liner.  I wrote before, In Just One of Those Days about the rigidity of the instructions and the fact that it was not the designer but the Armed Forces who have made them so strict.  The design is very clever and easy to do.
I got all the way to 4 inches into the cap where the decreases start when I read this, "Be sure to check your gauge.  Even being off 1/2 stitch per inch will make the helmetliner useless, as it will NOT fit properly."
OK so I should have read the entire pattern beforehand.  OK OK.  I did check my gauge before starting and usually that is enough.  But to be told to check it again well into a project had me feeling a bit odd. This was not a fancy big item.  It's a one skein item.   I thought about it for a few minutes and realized that if I dared check my gauge and found it off I would need to frog the entire thing and start again.  How many hours had I already spent on this? That was not the point but I was paralyzed.  I could not knit another stitch.  Here I was, almost done and stuck.  I have nothing against frogging and have done my fair share of it periodically but with this piece it just felt wrong.
After sitting for a while I realized I felt threatened by the instructions.  I knit for relaxation, for meditation, for feeling good, for some challenges and for learning but I do not knit well under threats.  Well, I don't do well at most things under threats.  Certainly at Holiday time I knit under pressure but that is different as I make the rules.  Hmmmnnn, so I don't like someone else making rules for me on a project that I was thinking might feel nice on some soldier's head;  might be a softer substitute for some itchy wool thing he/she was issued.  Add to this my annoyance at the fact that the Army thinks all heads are the same size and I was getting disturbed. 
I carried the bag around but just could not get myself to knit even one more stitch.  I told anyone who would listen about this pattern and the Army's rigidity. Finally Jim asked if he could have the thing?  "Isn't it really a balaclava? I could wear it working outside."  Give the man a gold star for coming up with THE SOLUTION.  I tried it on him and sure enough the neck part fit fine.  Now I could knit on it again.  It didn't take long and the whole piece was enjoyably finished.  See, just loosen up the atmosphere and all is well.
Beautiful rich reddish brown.  I might have to dye something that color and play with it.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Carol and Susan's Wonderful Adventure

I wrote this with my friend Carol shortly after Rhinebeck last October.  That seems ages ago and certainly feels far from when I decided to start a blog (Maybe it was a seed that grew? It certainly was fun to write).   I hope you agree that we have a fine sense of humor.

Carol and Susan's Wonderful Adventure

On Sunday 10/21/07 before dawn, Carol and Susan drove for about 40 minutes from West Danby to Watkins Glen, and boarded a small bus sponsored by Finger Lakes Fibers Yarn Shop for a day trip to Rhinebeck’s New York State Sheep and Wool Festival. How delightful it was to get on the bus and see people knitting already at 6 a.m.! But a bus with no rest room…how could 24 knitters survive? Fortunately we stopped at Dunkin Donuts in Liberty, and literally took over the entire building and the single rest room.

Susan was especially looking forward to seeing and hearing the Yarn Harlot, who was speaking at 1 p.m. That meant getting on line no later than noon. Carol was more interested in seeing the entire festival, and not missing a single vendor. At 10:30 we were concerned because the bus took a turn near Ellenville and headed in the wrong direction for several miles before Mary Jeanne realized it and got us turned around towards Rhinebeck. But we’re running late. Oh, no! How could we fit in the entire festival and the Yarn Harlot, too?

We finally arrived at 11:30, and immediately headed to the rest room, which was quite an adventure in itself. A Whoopie Goldberg look-alike rest room attendant greeted us and everyone else like long lost friends. She recited bathroom rap with great joy and a big smile on her face. Needless to say, she received lots of tips.

That done, we high-tailed it to the book-signing tent, where the crowds were not as dense as we expected. There we found the authors of Mason-Dixon Knitting, Felted Jewelry, The Complete Yarn guide and others…but could not see the Yarn Harlot. We kept walking further and further into the tent, and lo and behold, there she was. There was only one person ahead of us, and no one behind us! Our lateness to the festival worked in our favor; we had a private audience with the Yarn Harlot for about ten minutes. She signed our books and checked out Susan’s fabulous sock yarn gift.
Don't you think this is her color?
Stephanie proudly wore her Kauni cardigan, showed us the beautiful buttonholes, and shared her source of buttonhole expertise, Sweaters from Camp, by Meg Swanson. So now we could go see the rest of the festival, because we had seen THE YARN HARLOT, and touched THE FAMOUS KAUNI CARDIGAN, and saw THE FABULOUS BUTTONHOLES, and no longer felt the need to get in line for her talk. Stephanie recommended a vendor in the next building, Spirit Trail, where we headed to see the Jacob roving.

In Building A we found Skaska, Goldings, Pollywogs, Spirit Trail and many other wonderful fiber vendors, but no Grafton Fibers, as they are now wholesale. We saw Grafton’s new made-in-Vermont multicolored wooden needles at Seaport Yarn, but found them to be tiny, short, and very expensive at $30 for a set of 5 inch DPNs. We were delighted to discover Fenwick Alpacas from New Jersey, not your average alpaca vendor. Fenwick’s owner designs garments and has them made in Peru to her specifications, with her own alpaca fiber, rather than importing the usual mass-produced offerings. She is a talented designer, and in fact sold 16 of her Pacific Jackets in an hour. Carol had to order one, because her size was already gone by noon. Susan bought a gorgeous Two Tone alpaca/silk sweater. Were Carol 20 years younger and 5 inches taller, she would have bought a very attractive long fitted sweater.

By then it was after 1 p.m. and we were famished. And the food…anything you could think of – pasta, sausage, tacos, Chinese, wonderful desserts, fast food, good coffee, ice cream…amazing. We ate at picnic tables under huge umbrellas, which we needed because it was at least 80 degrees and sunny. We were now fortified, rested, and ready to take on the entire festival’s vendors, all 275 of them. 
We decided to start with festival souvenirs, a Blue Faced Leceister sweatshirt for Susan and a denim shirt for Carol. All proceeds from the souvenirs went to the scholarship fund. What scholarship fund, we can’t remember, but they definitely went there!
The search for forest green yarn had begun. Susan wanted some hand-dyed worsted weight yarn for a Wallaby sweater for her grandson. Yes, we know Susan could dye it herself, but she wanted to BUY some. We must have walked miles, down one aisle, across the alley, down another aisle, around a tent, into more tents, and back into barns with tiny stalls. We saw fellow guild member, Lisa Merion, whose booth was nearly sold out. We spoke with and rested at the booth of Jackie Jones from Down in the Country. She imports Gotland roving top from England, which is the same wool used for the cloaks in Lord of the Rings.

We searched high and low, pulling skeins of yarn out into the sunlight to check for the proper shade of forest green. We searched for so long that we almost forgot to buy fiber, but there was no forest green worsted weight yarn to be found, as forest green is not “in” this year. Susan was so focused that it kept her from adding to her stash, except for the Gotland, which she couldn’t resist, especially after hearing the Lord of the Rings story. Carol now hates forest green, so she bought some beautiful silver Wensleydale cross locks.
At that point, we were ready to refuel at the apple dessert stand with some pie and apple crisp. Suddenly we had an idea. Let’s go have our photo taken with the Yarn Harlot for the guild newsletter! Problem…no camera…but we did have a cellphone. But we only had 17 minutes before the bus would leave. We visited with Whoopie Goldberg of the rest room, and then, with just 13 minutes left, headed to the book signing tent. There we found Stephanie all alone at the back of the tent, knitting on a sock. She was delighted to pose with us for a photo, and told us that she only had 5 more minutes of work before she could head out for a beer. We were like two little kids, so excited about the photo with the Yarn Harlot, and we ran back to the bus to tell everyone.

PS.  I eventually did dye the yarn for Tucker's Sweater. -- Blue Spruce angora/merino fingering/sport yarn knit with 2 strands.  Tucker loves it.  He is modeling the sweater along with last year's dark green hat. Um, and, yes I did modify it to make an open lapel collar instead of the hood.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dogi, part 1 update

sigh, nothing like starting a new project and then finding out one does not have enough yarn.  OR in this case, enough fiber.  sigh....      I have spun about 4 ounces of the darker fiber, completed the blue singles and almost got to the first buttonhole pattern row plus had plied up enough of the bright salmony with the blue to do that first stripe row when I realized I might not have enough of the main salmony color.  That stopped me cold. I stared at the knitting for awhile but felt just the same; then did the math and got 35 ounces minimum for the whole vest. 11 of the bright salmony, 16 of the darker fiber and 8 of the blues.  Yes, that adds up but not in the correct proportions.   The rest of the bright salmony is barely 6 ounces.  Probably enough to do the other underarm side but not much more. sigh.....
BTW-notice those beautiful needles?

I don't like the darker color enough to exchange it for the main color.  sigh.  What to do?   What to do?  Have some coffee, think, do some rinsing, feed the fuzzies and think.   No matter how creative I get there would not be enough of the salmony fiber and I just do not want to start again with a whole 'nother fiber and colorway.  sigh.   more coffee, more chores, a bagel.
  OK-- what if I dye up some angora/merino/silk?  I am already dyeing 4 batches today so another one would fill out my 5 pots.  Sounds viable but then what color dyes do I use and just how much of each?  Fortunately, before I ran myself into a circle, Jim came in and agreed to be my consultant.  I gave him the numbers, my preferences and the color charts.  It took  him only a few minutes to come up with a good solution.
He suggested dyeing a pound of the angora/merino/silk as a matching semi solid and letting it be the base for the rest of the vest.  I have enough of the salmony to do the other underarm so will ply the blue merino/silk with the new semi solid, the darker fiber with the new semi solid, and the semi solid with itself.  The stripes will be darker/semi plus blue/semi, with the buttonhole striped row and the edging being semi/semi. This means tossing the yards of salmony/blue that I plied last night but that is minor in the overall picture.

We played with the color cards 
and made some good decisions resulting in:
I now feel much better about this project, although it is resulting in being behind in the spinning.  I'm looking forward to getting the new fiber rinsed and drying.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Dogi, part 1

On a quick potty break from my booth at the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival last September, I happened upon Maggie Alexander's booth, and while I did not have much time to linger then, I made a mental note to stop by again when a had a few more minutes to look and fondle.  The next day I looked, I fondled and I purchased 2 pounds of a blue-faced leicester/merino/angora blend.  One in the salmony color below and another in a darker tealish color. I am a sucker for angora and a sucker for BFL.  So if they are together I am impressed that I stopped at 2 pounds. 

 When I started spinning the fiber I noticed that the pound was 12 ounces.  I knew it must have been a mistake so contacted Maggie, who was very apologetic. She actually sent me a whole 'nother pound to play with!  The new pound is a little darker than the original but softer and looks like it has more angora in it.  I am a happy spinner with that.  I started spinning the original salmony 'small pound',  intending it for a sleeveless sweater and only got as far as 5 ounces plied together.  That was in early November.  Holiday Knitting took hold around Thanks giving so very little spinning got done until a week or so ago. 

By then I had found Knit Kimono. I try to keep my buying of knitting books to ones that have at least 2 patterns in them I'd like to knit.  This one has 3 or more, plus it is beautifully designed and illustrated as well as having a short interesting history of Japanese kimono fashion.  A delightful read and a pleasure to page through.  As soon as I saw it I immediately decided to change from the sleeveless vest (well I hadn't knit one stitch on it yet) to the Dogi vest on page 29.  Do you do that too?  I find I am very susceptible to being enthused by a new pattern and then, if I have not started it very soon, can be swayed to an even newer one when I see it.

As I read the pattern I realized I probably did not have enough of either ball to do the whole thing so I have decided to make stripes.
I just couldn't wait to get it all the yarn spun up.  I wanted to start this vest right away.  This is the first time I have spun a bit, started a project and plan to continue spinning as I knit.  I am looking forward to it. In the past I have spun and spun and spun and then decided to make something (or not), but this is the opposite.  I am curious to see which I prefer, or maybe it will be both.

I have even made a swatch. Pat pat.  Well, it was necessary as this book shows garments that fit skinny models and I am far from a skinny anything. Using the needles suggested, my swatch is 4 sts/in while the pattern calls for 4.5.  Also I am getting 5 rows to the inch while the pattern is expecting 6.  This is actually good.  I have done some math and think this will make a longer vest, as I wanted, and a wider one (hopefully not too wide).

Here's the beginning of the vest. It's knit side to side and starts with 2 provisional cast on's. See my innovation already at work?   I used the 9 inch cables from my Denise kit. They are working extremely well. I did notice though that the first row after the cast on was a bit tight in terms of moving around but after that it goes quite smoothly.
The cable cast on used to attach the two provisional pieces takes forever but does produce a nice edge.  It also gave me time to notice all the neat bits of color in this yarn - blue of course, plus some gold, orchid and red.

Next I will do a combination of the darker ball plied with some merino/tussah in blues that go oh so well with the bits of blue in the roving for the button pattern ribs. However this is as far as I have gotten on that part.  Only another half ounce to spin here.

 So I have some spinning to do but I have not gotten to the first stripe in the knitting yet.  There should be plenty of time.  I'm am so looking forward to spinning the fiber ball with the extra angora in it that that alone should keep me going.    
Well.... I do have that helmet liner to finish, I suppose. I did tink it back and it was no problema to get it going again.  Must have been mercury retrograde or something.  
The new fiber is calling.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Just one of those days

One of those da da da days....... I can't remember the words although the music is clear enough in my head.

I woke up later than usual but did not think much of it. Played with the fuzzies and generally took my time getting the morning chores done. Then I went online to get my mail and the speed demon must have taken over. I had a lot of mail, good mail, interesting mail, orders and communications and messages. I like emailing with people all over the country and beyond. It is one of the perks I enjoy most about this business.

Then I got an email from Deidre (thank you) telling me that after trying to unsuccessfully order Chocolate batts she was not returned to my website. Sounded like two problems-- the add to cart button and the return to my website director. One I knew I could fix quickly. I went onto paypal and made another add to cart button for the batts. OK! so far so good. Then I wrote my sister asking her to test out my shopping cart.

So you want to know why I couldn't do that myself? I have tried but I am not allowed to send myself money through paypal. Myveryownsister has become my tester and consultant in these matters. She wrote back saying, "uh oh". She was not redirected to my thank you page as promised but was instead sent to an error page. They are so annoying.

OK so I went back into paypal and checked my settings. Looked good and correct to me. sigh..... Next was to contact a techie at Paypal. This I knew could take a while and sure enough it took way over an hour. He was very nice, patient and good at explaining things. He checked several items, had me change one setting, checked again, asked more questions, put me on hold, did something else, put me on hold, came back with a question, put me on hold and then asked me to buy something from my website. I told him I couldn't do that but he explained that I could with a credit card that was not listed with them. Do you have any idea just how long that took? I am so spoiled with Paypal.

We went through the whole thing from adding the item to the shopping cart through the credit card stuff. Then we both saw that we were not redirected back to my website but got an error page. Only this time it said. Error--no such page found. thanks.html ooooooh I said. My thank you page is named thankyou.html and I know my paypal setting is to that as well. He then had me look at the code for one of my add to cart buttons. Sure enough the html said to go to thanks.html. Oh my gosh. oh my gosh. I have 49 pages on my website. Most of them have way more than one add to cart button. oh my gosh.

OK -- time for either a stiff drink or a lie down. No, it was only 1pm. I realized I had not eaten any food yet today. So I made myself get off the internet, put the cell on charge, and go have a cuppa tea and a bagel. I tried to breathe and be calm. I managed for about 20 minutes, then found myself right back on the computer but with an idea. A possibly good idea.

What if I changed the URL of the thankyou.html to thanks.html? Well, that would only work if the majority of the add to cart buttons were directed to thanks.html. So I checked a few key pages and saw that they were. Now we were were getting somewhere. I merely had to change settings in paypal and then check each and every add to cart button on my website. However this was really less work than I thought before lunch, as I needed to reput only the pages that had thankyou.html in them. I checked every page, every single page. I could not believe I was doing that. Today was 20 cent listing day on eBay. I was supposed to be listing and then doing shipping. I was supposed to be restocking fiber. I was supposed to be dyeing up orders. Oh well....... This was apriori and needed doing now.

OK-- breathe. While I was checking and rechecking I realized that very few customers have been redirected in the last however many months (Could it be years?). That was so sad but now corrected, I hoped. When I had it all done, I asked my sister to check again.
She emailed back with success!!!! YES! Hurray and halelujah! And tonight was Knitting Night. I could look forward to excellent down time.

Wednesday nights are for knitting. A few friends have sacred knitting night from 6 - 9 at Wegmans. We meet, eat, knit and exchange news and views and help each other with any knitting snafus. I felt a bit better that both Ruth and Carol had difficult days and proceeded to knit on the Helmet Liner. I am so impressed with the rigidity of the instructions. They did not start out rigid but evidently the army refused some liners and said they must be just exactly so. Just so translates into only one head size of strict proportions and colors. Someone asked me if the army takes in soldiers by measuring heads? May be so. I don't know but do wonder what people with smaller or larger heads do. Does their helmet wobble around or sit on the top of their heads? Do they squish their brains into them?

Anyway I completed the 6 inches of 2 x 2 neck ribbing and started the head part. That is a bit tricky but doable and actually is interesting in design. That's the part where the face sticks out. It is all circular knitting which suited me just fine tonight as I needed some repetitive simple knitting to help me relax. I am using magic loop which I find a bit tricky to start with but then it works so fine. I changed to number 8 needles, as instructed, letting the number 6's dangle as instructed, but found I was accidentally picking up the wrong needle. Ruth suggested I take off the sixes and replace then with end caps. Too clever.

Onward to the casting on of 59 more stitches, joining and knitting 4 inches and then decreasing for the back of the head. Simple right? I kept having trouble with the magic loop and just could not figure out why. It would not work smoothly as it usually does. Ruth took the knitting, moved the stitches around and showed me this.

Can you see it? You know the "join without twisting" instructions?

I bid you fond good night. Maybe tomorrow I will see my way to tinking back. Not now, not today.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Provisional No More or A Knitting Epiphany

I woke up with a complete idea. Well almost complete, as I could see it forming and played with the idea a bit until I was thoroughly energized by it.  This does not happen to me very often and, as it was a knitting idea, I was even more excited.  However, as much as I wanted to grab needles and test it out, I needed to feed the hungry fuzzies -- Basel, Sparkles and SmokeyBlue.  Once they were satisfied and the kitchen a bit picked up I made myself a cup of Wu Yi Oolong and settled down to see if this idea would really work.

First I did some research into several of my knitting books just to check if I was reinventing a wheel or needle or something.  I could find no instructions even close to my vision so felt more excited.  OK!   Since I was working on January's Sock Hop sock I cast on using the #3's needles sitting right there and some of the Cranberry angora/merino yarn.  My first attempt was moderately successful but the stitches were too tight so I sipped tea, thought, watched the birds in the feeder and finally got another idea that might do the trick.  It did!  No longer will I need to search out the method for Provisional cast on. No longer will I need to find those stitches later and tug and tease them out of the waste yarn. YES!  A real Knitting Epiphany! "Outta sight," I said while doing a little happy dance. "Now here is a method that makes logical sense, is easy to do, remember and use."  See if you agree.

Cable Provisional Cast On

  1. Using two circular needles of the same size (or if you don't have 2, then one of the correct size and one close to it in size).  Holding the 2 needles together, cast on the needed stitches. 
  2. Slide the second needle so the stitches are now resting on its cable and the needle you will be knitting with.    (The needle with the ribbon is the second one. The one that stores the stitches until later.) At this point, if you have interchangeable needles you can take off the points and add the end caps.  If you are using regular circs then just let the second needle dangle.  
  3. Now continue knitting as the pattern instructs.
READY? This is the part that tickles me so much.
    4.    When the pattern calls for picking up the provisional stitches they will be right there, ready and waiting for you, nicely lined up on their cable. 

Notice the little ridge on the left (black arrows show these) which will actually transfer itself to be under the newly formed stitches. For socks this may be just fine as commercial socks all have a ridge line by the toes. However for a vest or something else this ridge line is definitely not acceptable. So do the following:
Take the next stitch off (orange arrow) and pick up the stitch where the white arrow is. See, it is really under and to the left of the last stitch you knit. Once that is done, the old stitch seems to just disappear, really, and there is the wanted, seamless addition happening. Look at this picture as it may be clearer to you. The black curved line I drew shows where the picked up stitch goes after the original one has been let go.

Is this cool or what?


Saturday, January 5, 2008

A passion for circular needles

I learned as a child on straight needles but as an adult when I took knitting back up again I discovered circulars and have rarely looked back.  

    I relate to Elizabeth Zimmerman in that I would much rather knit than purl. My purl stitches are tighter than my knits which throws the gauge off.  Unlike EZ, I do not absolutely avoid purling but I do tend to minimize it.  Right now on January's High Bush Cranberry sock I see the need for some purling as a background so am happy that it is an option but in general, hey, knit knit knit is my thing.

     Once I knew I liked circular knitting I began to notice the needles. A friend loaned me her ancient set of Boye interchangeable circs and I enjoyed them very much.  I like the flexibility of interchangeables.  However I found myself buying bamboo circs and using them instead as I also discovered I much prefer wooden needles to metal.  I am not a fast knitter so the Addi turbos are way too slick for me.  Way too slick --  and my stitches tend to slide right off them too.  How to feel totally inept.  sigh    I like the wooden circular needles but the cords on most of them are stiff, needing immersion in hot water to soften and bend properly.  hmmmnnnn   

   Then I discovered Denise Needles and was one seriously happy camper for several years.  As my knitting skills increased I found the cables on the Denise's to be a bit thick for using the #5 and 6 needles but otherwise they are so versatile that I carried them everywhere for a time. Relatives would buy me some of the fancier wooden needles but I kept coming back to the Denise's until I took up lace knitting.

   Anyone who has done lace knows the needles need to be very sharp to get all those k3tog's done properly.  hmmmmnnn and then I discovered Brypsuns.  Now those  are seriously lovely well pointed guys.  And the plastic gets warm in your hands so they do not tire as quickly.  One of the drawbacks I found was that these needles are not interchangeable and so I would need to buy an awful lot of them to meet my needs.  I actually did not do that. I made do with my Denise's and filled in with the Bryspuns until my passion, no obsession, with socks took over and then neither the Denise nor the Bryspuns fit the bill as they are not made in sizes small enough to suit.

    One day a Knit Picks catalog arrived and in there was the answer to my fondest dreams.   Wooden interchangeable needles with flexible cords and also circs that come small enough to knit socks.  On top of that they are in colors.  HEAVEN on earth I say.  I marked up a catalog and handed it to Jim, my DH, suggesting that he use that catalog for my upcoming birthday and Holiday presents.  The darling man took me literally and now I have at least one, and often two, of every item I marked and then some.  These are the greatest needles I have ever used. The points stay pointy, the colors change, the cables flex and change plus there are those wonderful end caps that the Denise's have, for using the cable as a holding cord for stitches.     Whomever figured this out should get a medal.