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Archive for August, 2007

Pinball widow

There are big goings-on these days at The Barony. The final wave of furniture is arriving, requiring assembly (you think I can knit, you should see me build furniture!) and arrangement. As of 10:45 last night, the living room has a couch, a chair, two ottomans and two end tables. After nine months, we finally have the right stuff – the room is officially functional and enjoyable.

My favorite part: the extra-soft leather couch (yes, I’m still a vegetarian, and yes, I see how that’s a bit hypocritical) and the perfect end-table-and-lamp combination – I can already tell it’s about to become a new favorite knitting spot. A strong runner-up for favorite living room moment: watching The Baron surveying his domain from the comfort of his brand new armchair. (By the way, all the couches at the house came from The Sofa Company – we couldn’t be happier with them – if you need affordable custom couches in the LA area, go talk to Peter.) Bottom line – we’re both just really excited to finally be able to sit together and enjoy the beautiful living room.

The warm-and-fuzzy togetherness was short-lived, however, because last night another long-awaited piece of furniture arrived. Yup. The pinball machine. It came yesterday afternoon and by the time I made it home from work The Baron was in a pinball-coma, eyes glazed over in delight, fingers twitchy and eager, hovering over the bumper-buttons (The Baron tells me that the correct term is flipper-buttons . . . oh, the shame, the shame of not knowing the proper pinball terminology!).  When firmly shaken and questioned he did admit that, if it came down to a choice, he’d pick me over the pinball machine. That didn’t stop him from declaring that he’s excited for a quiet labor-day weekend at home, “just the three of us,” and staying up until the early hours of this morning tinkering and customizing his new toy.

The upside to becoming a pinball widow: more knitting time! I’m really enjoying the Warm Up America! squares – my “students” are coming along very well and I’m having fun playing with different patterns. Miss V actually worked about 8 rows last night, but what I’m really proud of is that when she made a few mistakes she was able to rip back several rows and get the whole thing back on the needles successfully – all by herself.

I’m still in recovery after finishing Frost Flowers & Leaves. I’m working up to Peacock Feathers, but I’m not sure who I’ll be making it for. A dilemma! Maybe I’ll end up doing something else in the meantime . . . those cones of Zephyr aren’t going anywhere. In the meantime, I’m sticking to the straightforward, comfort-food kind of knitting: Clapotis came to work with me today and might get some love if I get any down-time.

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Last night after a long day at work a few of the gals from the office (sadly, we had no luck recruiting some of the guys) headed over to a nearby outdoor café where I tried for the first time ever to teach knitting.  A good time was had by all, but I did realize how drastically under-prepared I am to teach knitting.  First of all, I had three very willing and eager students.  My friend B did some knitting once before and once I cast on and knit a row for her, she was off and running with a 7×9 inch garter stitch square.  Wanting a challenge, Miss V, who’d never knit before, decided to tackle a square with alternating strips of garter (knit every row) and stockinette (alternate between knit and purl rows) stitch.  In spite of her claims that she’s something of a savant at physical tasks like sports (and knitting, clearly!), I was quite impressed with her progress, both learning the techniques and figuring out how to fix her mistakes.  By the end of the evening, she’d gotten through her first two “stripes” and was starting again on the garter stitch.

And then there was T.  She started out strong, but pretty soon it was clear she was having a bit of trouble.  B and Miss V were both working with KnitPicks Swish superwash – a simple yarn, easy to work with, and with only a mild inclination to splittiness.  T, on the other hand, chose some Lion Brand Wool-Ease in a heathery color.  I know I’ve said before that I’m the world’s biggest yarn snob – just the touch of acrylic gives me the heebies – but this poor girl’s struggle with the ridiculous and borderline-unusable frizziness of the yarn was enough to swear me off Lion Brand permanently.

It was something of a struggle to get these knitters going and keep them on track.  There must be some (Oh my goodness . . . in the wake of Little Miss Law’s plea for proofreading today I caught this . . . yeah, knitting is “contagious,” but not like that) mnemonic pneumonic (something along the lines of loop, swoop and pull – I’m sure there are many) for the basic knit and pearl stitches.  I found myself clumsily grabbing and twisting people’s hands quite a bit, and there were a few really silly moments when I was just shouting encouragement like a crazy soccer mom.  Once we got going though, the knitters seemed to get the hang of things except for the occasional and fevered “help me!” pleas.  I vacillated between simply fixing the knitting myself and trying to encourage self-help.  There were certainly some crazy mistakes.  T even managed to get the yarn completely wrapped around her piece of knitting about half-way through a row.  I didn’t have the heart to explain that she’d discovered a technique it took me a week to figure out as part of the Frost Flowers & Leaves edging.  B is an extremely careful knitter and, the most experienced of the bunch, seemed to have the easiest time making her way across the rows.  My little star, Miss V, figured out how to slip her stitches to the other needle, making her way to mistakes and frequently fixing them. 

The four of us, then three, then finally just two sat out in the open courtyard enjoying our meal, our knitting and some fun girl talk.  Yarny goodness bringing people together . . . just the way it should be!

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Butterflies

Highlights of the weekend:

The Pavilion of Wings at the Natural History Museum – the exhibit closes after Labor Day so if you’re in the LA area hurry up and check it out. The Baron and I roamed through what felt like a large screened-in porch, except full of flowers and butterflies, and had lots of fun taking pictures. The overabundance of small children running around trying to “catch” the poor battered butterflies wasn’t too trying. With bellies full of dim sum and the unusually overcast, humid summer weather, we both felt a bit sluggish and didn’t stay more than a half-hour, but it was time well-spent. Stay tuned for photos, which I’ll post when I get some more Flickr space!

I cast on for my second Clapotis, using the Lorna’s Laces Lion and Lamb in Tahoe – it’s a beautiful, rich blue-purple. A highlight of the project was getting The Baron to admit that winding the yarn was a little bit fun. I set the ball winder up on a TV tray right next to the couch so that he could recline, stretched out, while turning the crank. There was a throw-down moment over dinner where I demanded his help and he looked at me like I’d suggested he take an ice-cold bath while eating brussel sprouts. He did relent and seemed to actually enjoy winding the yarn, agreeing that in the future he’d help out as long as we used the same couch-adjacent setup.* We ended up with one excellent and one slightly wonky ball of yarn – ultimately a huge success. I cast on right away, and although somewhere along the line I screwed up the straight row pattern a bit, I modified the directions and now I’m working the body of the piece. I only have two skeins to work with – the yarn costs a small fortune – so my Clapotis is going to end up being a slender scarf. And with fall and winter (such as they are in LA) just around the corner, I’m hoping it will be done soon so I can wear it in a few weeks/months when it starts to get chilly.

Yes, you read that right – I’m making the scarf for myself. I feel a bit guilty about it, but as The Baron pointed out, I deserve the happy feeling I get from wearing things I made myself (like the socks from last week – which I’m still feeling giddy about).

In other knitting news, Monkey socks are coming along, but slowly. I’m using size 2 needles with Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock yarn and getting the gauge that Cookie A. suggests, but I’m concerned that the fabric doesn’t look substantial enough, too lacy, as though toes will show through the toes and the nubbly reverse-stockinette bumps are going to be too uncomfortable on the bottoms of feet. But as I try to remember, I can always rip back!

Tonight I’m rallying a few co-workers for the Warm Up America! Blanket – I’ll be teaching them to knit and hopefully making some progress on my own blanket squares as well. So far I’ve done two, I have one on the needles, and I’m getting ready to cast on for a square with a yarn-over heart motif, a la the Knitty scarf.

Other big news: I finished The Corrections while starting Clapotis – it’s an extraordinary novel – the closest thing to the “Great American Novel” I’ve ever come across – and I have lots of thoughts to share. For now: read it. You won’t be sorry.

And finally, Adorable has arrived in LA! Yay for sisters!

*The Baron authorized this account of things, but would like me to clarify that he originally thought I was going to give him the boring “hold the yarn” job instead of the fun “turn the crank” job.

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Today is turning out to be a really great day.  First and foremost, the response to yesterday’s Frost Flowers & Leaves round-up post has been overwhelming and positive – I hope that my experience working the shawl will prove helpful to future knitters – I was glad for a chance to give back and participate in the online knitting community. Plus, today I am going to actually give the thing to Glamorous, so that is pretty exciting. Here’s hoping she’ll love it as much as I loved making it for her.

Some other reasons today rocks:

  • It’s Friday. Enough said.
  • I’m wearing (for the first time ever outside the house) the socks that I made for myself. Every step I take in these socks is a happy step. I just feel good knowing that I did something so small but so indulgent for myself. I’m also reminded of all the good things that happened while I knit the socks: my trip to Tahoe, Adorable’s graduation, the discovery of audiobooks. It’s a great feeling – a little accomplishment that goes a long way toward inner peace.
  • Speaking of Adorable, tonight Glamorous is going to meet her at home and they’re driving to LA together – soon we’ll be three sisters all in the same place.
  • Last night I had a visit from my college friend, Mrs. N. It was the first time I’d seen her since our early-summer Tahoe trip and the first time she’d been to The Baron’s house. We lit the tikis and sat by the pool chatting the evening away. Such a nice treat for a weeknight!
  • On Saturday morning The Baron’s leather chair arrives – we’ve been waiting for it since May but I’m feeling confident that it will be well worth the wait. It’s arriving between 6 and 9 am (boo!) but hopefully I can sneak downstairs when the delivery arrives and get the chair set up for him so he can settle in and make himself comfy right away.
  • On Sunday morning The Baron is taking me to Dim Sum (yummy!) and to see butterflies (pretty!) and then I’ll have the rest of the day to knit. The perfect Sunday.

And finally, ‘cause I just can’t help myself . . .

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Finally, the Frost Flowers & Leaves Shawl for Glamorous is finished!

VITAL STATISTICS:

Pattern: Frost Flowers & Leaves, by Eugen Beugler for A Gathering Of Lace
Made for: Glamorous, my younger sister
Yarn: JaggerSpun Zephyr Wool-Silk Yarn, 2/18 Lace Weight (50% Chinese Tussah silk, 50% fine grade Merino wool), Charcoal Colorway
Yardage: My “one-pound” cone originally weighed 17.2 oz and now weighs 11.2 oz. Some quick algebra gives me a rough estimate of 1641 yards used in the shawl and 3399 yards remaining on the cone. For visual comparison’s sake, here’s a photo of a brand-new “one pound” cone in violet (soon to be used for the Peacock Feathers shawl).

Yarn Source: Sarah’s Yarns
Needles: US size 4 KnitPicks Options needles, 32 inch cord for the body of the shawl, with Bates double pointed needles for the edging
Gauge/Final Size: I forgot to measure — but I’ll update shortly! More than a yard on each side . . .
Modifications:

  • Switched out needles (pattern suggested US 6) and yarn (pattern suggested Jamieson & Smith Laceweight Shetland)
  • Based on many comments about the unruly size of the project, and based on the repetitive exhaustion of the multiple repeats of chart two, I decided to omit two repeats, and worked five instead of the suggested seven repeats.

RESOURCES:

  • Be sure to look up pattern errata before beginning. I have the fourth printing, the 2005 edition of A Gathering of Lace and there were a few errors in the chart. You can find errata here.
  • Do yourself a favor and join the the wonderful, trailblazing knitters on the Yahoo! Groups Frost Flowers & Leaves board – many challenges and solutions, from yarn choice to technique help, can be found there.
  • A Gathering of Lace has a technique section in the back – hunt through the whole book and you’ll find a few hidden resources. Several knitters complained that techniques needed to execute the pattern were explained in greater detail elsewhere in the book, so be sure and dig through (specific examples below).

SMOOTHING OUT THE TANGLES:

Set-up and cast-on:

  • I did Emily Ocker’s circular cast-on. There are instructions for the cast-on in A Gathering of Lace on page 163. I used a very helpful tutorial at Spelling Tuesday.
  • I found the yarn to be rather slippery, and because it’s lace there are lots of yarn-overs – both problematic on double pointed needles. I worked the first chart using the magic loop method rather than trying to use dpns, where YOs can get lost and stitches can easily slide off the needle’s ends.
  • I used lots of stitch markers in different colors. For starters, I suggest marking off each of the four quadrants of the chart (three quadrant markers and one special marker to indicate the beginning/end of an entire round), and then marking off each mini-section. For example, in chart two I placed colored stitch markers at each pattern repeat and then used white markers to mark off the leaves.
  • I am a big believer in lifelines, and this piece proved no different. Lifelines were especially helpful for beginning and ending each chart repeat, and I ripped back to the lifeline several times.
  • I screwed up pretty badly early on, so I decided to cast-off and use what I’d knit as a “swatch” – it actually worked out well. If this happens to you, don’t give up – having a beautiful swatch to cuddle and love and show off was a great motivator and helped give me a feel for what the finished product would be like.

The “trick” rounds: move marker left one stitch:

There is a recurring (and confusing!) direction in this pattern: “move marker left 1 stitch before beginning round.” I made sure I had a lifeline in before attempting these “trick” rows. The first few times, I found it pretty confusing to know how to handle the direction, but here’s how it should work: Knit the entire round, all 4 repeats, then remove your beginning-of-round stitch marker, knit one more stitch, and replace the marker. You only knit that ONE extra stitch, and it happens once per ROUND, not once ever section/quarter. Once you’ve moved over, begin knitting the row as you normally would. When it gets confusing, you’ll be glad you had that lifeline in place!

A frequent complaint from other knitters about the “move left one” rows was how hard it was to “read” the stitches already on the needles. Although it’s confusing to work the “move left one” rows, there are a few things to look out for in “reading” your knitting:

  • The knit-through-the-back-loop stitches should line up. If you are working a ktbl one stitch over from the ktbl in the rows below, you’ve got a problem.
  • In chart two, the “frost flowers” each emerge from a yarn over, and the “columns” are centered over the frost flowers below, so you know you are doing well if the YO in the second column lines up with the ssk-k2tog at the tip of the frost flower.

  • Similarly, on the “leaves” that make an X through the shawl, the tips of each leaf taper from five stitches wide to three to one stitch, but it’s always an odd number. Therefore, you can check your work by making sure the leaves are centered — if you find that the second (center) stitch of the three-wide round doesn’t fall over the third (center) stitch of the five-wide round, you know you have trouble.

Chart three:

  • The first round of chart three is extra-tricky, because there are several times when two slip-slip-knits occur right next to each other (ie, two in a row, one right after the other). These happen when a ssk replaces a regular old k1 in order to reduce the number of stitches so that the repeat can be made up solely of columns instead of frost flowers separated by columns. I marked the extra ssk’s with highlighter and counted that first round carefully to insure each ssk fell in the correct spot.

Edging:

Once the shawl itself is done, the joy of the edging begins. The edging is a drag because you have to knit 28 12-stitch rows for every 18 stitches that get bound off – about 18 stitches of edging, in pattern, for every one stitch bound-off from the shawl body.

My instinct was to start the edging right at the end of the shawl body, but I read somewhere that it was a good idea to start in the middle of a shawl edge. I ended up breaking the yarn and weaving in the end, then starting the edging about halfway down one side of the shawl. I think doing it this way makes any mistakes made in finishing the edging harder to detect.

I wish I could find the blog on which I found UPDATE: Check out this great post from Knit the Knits, which has photos of the edging technique – basically you take your dpns and some waste yarn and work an entire chart repeat, then use that “sample” repeat as a base for starting to attach the edging to the live stitches that make up the body of the shawl. I cast on 12 stitches (working a few rows of garter stitch to get me started) and I was happy to have the practice – after slaving away for months on the body of the shawl, I was nervous about the learning curve on the edging.

Here’s the key: to make the edging seamless, you have to graft the first row of edging to the last row. Yes. Terrifying. But, if you knit the last row (row 28) of the sample edging repeat in a contrasting waste yarn (I used yellow crochet cotton for the bulk of that first repeat and blue crochet cotton for the final row), the contrasting yarn provides you with a guide for doing the grafting. It’s not easy (I’m fairly sure I botched it mildly) but at least with that final contrasting-color row, you have a fighting chance. When you’ve knit the contrasting-color row, repeat the chart, starting with row one, but this time use the real yarn and begin attaching the edging to the lace. You’ll end up with a little “sample” tag hanging off the edge. There are almost-totally-hidden instructions for this technique in A Gathering of Lace on pages 160-161, intended for the A Rose is a Rose shawl, but workable for Frost Flowers & Leaves as well.

One last tip about the grafting: It took me about an hour, and halfway through I got up to do something else. Near-fatal mistake. At all costs, try to do the grafting in one sitting!

Now to the actual edging pattern: the edging is basically a column, like those that fall in between the frost flowers in chart two, except the column is worked horizontally instead of vertically. I didn’t understand the twisting stitch at first, but I was able to work it out. Here’s how I did it:

  • Knit the first three stitches (YO, k2tog, p1) so that there are three stitches on the right needle and nine on the left needle.
  • On the left needle, count off four stitches (from right to left) and stick your needle between the fourth and fifth stitch. Not under any stitches, not through anything, just between the two stitches.
  • Grab onto the working yarn, and pull a loop through (I used a crochet hook the first few times until I got the hang of the process).
  • Slip this loop onto the tip of the left needle – you’ll essentially be covering those first four stitches on the needle with two strands of yarn.
  • Then, following the directions, you’ll knit the just-picked-up loop together with the first stitch on the left needle.

What you’ve just done is “wrap” four stitches together. Working the last three stitches can be tricky, but work your needle in there and continue in pattern, knitting one stitch, working a YO and then a SSK. If you have trouble, try making the wrapping loop very loose to help you see what’s going on. Again, I was glad I tried this the first few times with waste yarn. A final note: if you just can’t figure it out, skip the wrapping. I saw a few knitters out there who decided they either didn’t like working the technique or didn’t like how it looked and simply omitted it.

Blocking:

Here’s what the shawl looked like right off the needles:

Blocking the huge thing was a bit of a challenge. I didn’t end up getting it completely square, and I may end up re-blocking after Glamorous has a chance to try it out. I followed the basic blocking suggestions that are found all over the internet. First I washed and rinsed the shawl in lukewarm water.

Then I took the sopping-wet shawl and spread it out on the queen-sized mattress in The Baron’s spare bedroom. I used blocking wires (two per side) and ran them through the yarn-overs at the outer edge of the shawl. I might’ve run the wires along the hem of the shawl where the edging began, but I wanted a flatter, lacier look to the edging. I expected the wires to be firmer, but they were actually pretty bendy. I ended up sticking four pins around the edge of each wire and then wrapping waste yarn around the pins to hold each wire in place. Then I pinned along the edge of each wire to keep the wires straight.

The final product, drying:

My sister actually modeling the shawl — I am so excited to see it being used!

Finally, a round-up of FF&L blog highlights from other knitters:

  • Designer Eugene Bugeler shows off his FF&L here.
  • Eunny Jang shares the details of her “Fire Flowers & Leaves” shawl here.
  • Clickety-Clack Ewe has some great tips and suggestions from her FF&L on her blog.
  • The FF&L Yahoo! Group can be found here. There are some great photos of the shawl in progress and FO’s in the group’s photo folder.
  • You can also see more beautiful finished FF&L photos here, here and here (scroll down a bit on that last one).
  • UPDATE: The FF&L shawl converted (beautifully!) to a cardigan by Jeri here.

Edited to add: Here is a photo of my sister actually wearing her shawl . . . squeeee!

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Yesterday my friend Little Miss Law talked about what’s on her nightstand: The Man of My Dreams, the latest book by Curtis Sittenfeld. LML talked me into reading Sittenfeld’s first novel, Prep, a few months ago. It’s a thinking-girl’s chick-lit novel about an awkward girl who feels like a misfit at an elite boarding school. I am, currently, completely awash in listening to The Corrections as I knit (it’s so insanely wonderful that I don’t think I can even talk about it until I’ve finished) but I read the cloth-and-paper version of Prep at the beginning of the summer, devouring it almost in a single sitting.

I read the book months ago, but it is still haunting me, and that’s always a sure sign of a great book and of trouble. It made me horribly uncomfortable because it felt so shamefully familiar, peeling back ancient scar tissue and poking at the still-sore places underneath. Most of my boarding-school girlfriends read the book too. Although there is some variation among those of us who “liked” the novel and those who didn’t, we all agree that it was fairly affecting and somewhat difficult to read. The hardest part for me about the book was the sad stubbornness of the main character, Lee. She’s so afraid of herself, so rigid about not wanting to stand out, and it reminded me too dearly of my own flaws.

I have a brittle lack of confidence that I cling to, almost as a security blanket. I’m terrified of being disappointed and as a result I’m fairly risk-averse and I steel myself against the let-down feeling by trying to never want, hope for or expect anything. Even waiting for news about my super-stressful, super-scary work project, I knew in my gut that it would be ok, but I was too scared to believe it. I kept telling myself what my contingency plan would be, in case of failure. The Baron and I had a little bit of trouble yesterday because even though I know what his feelings are for me, I have a hard time really believing and trusting – I keep making my secret preparations for that moment that I’ll be disappointed. Even worse, I keep my expectations at a bare minimum – without expectation there can be no disappointment. It’s a hard way to live, and I credit Sittenfeld’s incredible writing for bringing this painful side of myself out of the darkness where it huddles, feeding on me.

Tomorrow: Back to knitting with the long-awaited Frost Flowers & Leaves round-up post, complete with photos.

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It’s been a very big few days.

Saturday night, 11:18 pm, I completed the Frost Flowers and Leaves shawl. Edging grafted (badly), ends woven in, shawl completely off the needles, date with boyfriend cancelled to achieve these ends (though I don’t think he minded, he was happily ensconced in his cave, watching a movie while I stitched away in the other room).

Sunday night, 10:07 pm, the completed Frost Flowers and Leaves shawl was fully stretched out on the blocking wires and left to dry.

This sucker is DONE! All that’s left now is presenting it to Glamorous — just in time for the hottest month of the year. Oh well, soon the weather will be getting chilly. I had a good time knitting the shawl, and of course the most important thing is that she knows she’s loved!

Monday afternoon, 2:19 pm, extremely positive “official” news about the big work project that had me so crazy last month.

Yup, I am exhausted but happy at the moment.

I also managed to squeeze in a baby shower and a visit to the beach with a friend from out of town and her adorable two-year-old daughter. The extra-cool added bonus of this trip (in addition to hanging out with a wonderful old friend and an absurdly cute toddler) was seeing my very first (and only) sweater in action!

Photos of the sweater (and of course the shawl!) will be forthcoming – sadly I was too overwhelmed this morning to remember to grab my full-of-photos camera on the way out the door this morning.

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