Sunday, March 29, 2009

Patterns that Lie

I haven't finished anything this week. After sewing up Peep-Bo, I moved on to "Jet," one of the patterns in 25 Bags to Knit, which I picked up at the Brattle Bookshop a couple of weekends ago for a mere $7.50. (There are actually only about 5 different patterns in the book, with 5 color variations for each, but it has great pictures and lots of color ideas.) I went to the stash for yarn to use and realized that this was a perfect opportunity to play with some of the Moonlight Mohair I picked up at OSJL a couple of months ago. I also picked up some Red Heart Designer Sport, since the pattern calls for a combination of mohair and DK.

Having learned the lesson of the Snuggie Monster, I swatched. Then I swatched again. Third time was the charm--I finally settled on 2 strands of the DK and one strand of the MM and made the 4 inches across 14 sts/19 rows. Hooray! Swatching to Success! Then I read the pattern again, and said "WTF?" The final size of the bag was listed as 7" x 7-1/2". The gauge indicated by the pattern is the aforementioned 14 sts/19 rows = 4". The pattern instructs one to cast on 50 sts. FIFTY. For each side. Even given a seam allowance, that would seem to indicate that the bag would be at least a foot across. NOT 7". However, like the obedient beginner I am, I followed instructions. I knit the entire first side. And it was, indeed, a foot across. I don't want a bag that's a foot across. I want a bag that's 7" across. I therefore chanted my new mantra and frogged the whole thing. Then I started again by casting on 30 sts. I now have the front of the bag finished, and it's coming in at a respectable 8" or so, which will give me the size bag I so earnestly desire.

I have a major beef now. There was obviously something wrong with the pattern. This happened on Peep-Bo, too, but when I looked online, I found corrections on the author's website (thank you Claire Crompton!). For 25 Bags to Knit, I dug everywhere I could to find a list of corrections and found nothing. The author apparently had a website at one time, but it was defunct. Neither publisher (the title pubbed in the U.S. and U.K.) had corrections available on their websites and I didn't want to wade through the process of emailing them and waiting for some editorial intern to look up from the slush pile in order to tell me that they don't keep corrections lists and I'd have to check the author's (nonexistent) website.

What are we beginners supposed to do when even the simplest patterns lie? How are we supposed to learn trust and affection for the patterns we work from when they seem to be universally untrustworthy? The only good thing I can see emerging from this pattern (hah) is that I'm learning what kind of knitter I am--a smartypants one. I've realized that I can read a pattern and see that it makes no sense, and then I can go back and fix it. I can figure it out. And I really like the figuring-out part, even if it means I frog everything I've done in the last week. The other thing I've figured out is that I really like the fabric the pattern in this particular project makes. It's straightforward--R1 is knit across, and R2 is k1, p1 across--but the result is a really dense, sturdy-feeling fabric that I would like to use again. Maybe on a cushion cover or something? I think, perhaps, that the best way to make sure I don't have to depend on patterns that lie or lists of corrections that may or may not exist online is to invent my own. Every project I do teaches me a little bit more about what I'm doing and how knitting works, and every bit I learn leads me closer to being able to invent my own projects. Knitting is a perfect balance between the indulgence of pathologically compulsive repetitive behaviors and the exertion of creative energy and problem-solving skills. It is the ideal expressive medium for the lazy, artistic, crisis-oriented neurotic. It is, in fact, the perfect pasttime.

P.S.: Speaking of pasttimes, K won Red Sox tickets at Abby's Boston Marathon fundraiser last night. Boston v. Seattle. Guess who's going with her! My dilemma with any Boston v. Seattle game is who to root for, but it becomes immaterial after the second $8 Bud Light. And there is seriously nothing more life-affirming than eating baseball food in Fenway Park, the oldest pro baseball stadium in the country. It's a shame it'll turn 100 the same year the world is supposed to end. But since the apocalypse isn't due till December, we should all still be able to go the party.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Winter Ensemble and a Sheep

I took a trip to Michael's on Friday and didn't purchase any yarn though I did buy two pairs of straight needles (Boye aluminums, sizes 13 and 15) to further round out the needle stash. There's a clearance sale at Stitch House that I haven't visited yet. I didn't go for a ride this weekend because there's something going on with the gear shift on my bike, which needs a tune-up anyway, but I didn't take it into the shop. No, I've stayed in, finished reading Hyperion by Dan Simmons, watched a couple episodes of Alias on DVD (in spite of my appreciation for JJ Abrams, it's just not doing it for me), drunk 3 cups of ginger tea, and finished Peep-Bo, the loop stitch sheep that saved me from brain death during the weeks of stockinette stitch required on the Snuggie Monster. Peep-Bo is both a matter of pride and some disappointment. In spite of following the pattern she didn't come out exactly like the one in the book, and she has some bald spots where the seams for the underbelly and main body meet. The only thing I can figure out is that instead of binding off after a k1 tbl row, I should have bound off after the loop stitch row. Still, Peep-Bo is awful cute. I'm feeling done with sheep though, so that alpaca will just have to wait quietly for a new inspiration.

This means I can also finally share the Winter Ensemble, as modelled by Nigel. Note the hat, the mittens, and the scarf. All of which were made by me! All 3 were done from patterns I found online. The hat came out bigger than anticipated because I went a size up on the needles--I'm a pretty tight knitter, though I'm learning to loosen up a little bit, and I was worried about the gauge, which I didn't bother to check. Still, it's a comfy hat and warm. The scarf is my first bit of pattern knitting, and it came out really well. IMHO, it looks better than the one shown online as an example. The mittens involved 2 sizes of needle and thumb gussets. I can't tell you the thrill of pride I felt in my thumb gussets when I realized that they actually worked. I wish I could put thumb gussets on everything. (In case you're wondering, that's Sloth and Pollocks the Small Bear on the bookshelf behind Nigel.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Weekends Rule

This was one of those rare weekends we get sometimes in New England. Spring isn't quite here but it's definitely not winter, either. It was in the mid-fifties and sunny and clear; the brisk breezes were still; and there was nothing to do but get out and enjoy it. So of course it was also the weekend I finished my first sweater project and had to stay inside to make it up.

The sweater is based on the Skully pattern in Stitch & Bitch, but without the skulls or the slubby Rowan. No, I thought that any bulky-weight yarn would do, so I found Lion Brand Color Waves in Blue Lagoon at OSJL for $2/skein and figured I'd make myself a nice, easy, boxy sweater just for fun. Here's what I learned:

1) I learned to shape armholes.
2) I learned to pick up stitches around the armholes and neck.
3) I learned to make sleeves and a collar by knitting off my picked-up stitches.
4) It's practically impossible to check gauge on fuzzy yarn. DO IT ANYWAY.
5) If you decide to knit something based on the Skully pattern in Stitch & Bitch using Lion Brand Color Waves in Blue Lagoon that you bought at OSJL for $2/skein be prepared for the fact that what you are about to knit is a cross between Cookie Monster and a Snuggie, and it will in fact fit about 3 of you.
Awesome, huh?

But Beth, you ask, why O why didn't you realize that it would fit three of you once you'd finished the front? Why not rip it out and start again? What would possess you to waste so much time on something you will never ever ever wear where people can see you (and by people I also mean your parakeet Agnes)?

There are any number of answers to this, including the fact that I am obsessively completist, but here are the ones I used at the time:
• Maybe it's supposed to be that big
• Maybe once it's made up it will be smaller
• Maybe my hips are bigger than I thought
• I hate this stupid yarn and the sooner I'm done the better it only cost $2/skein anyway and it's all just practice besides I've got to learn sometime and oh my God it's going to make me look like Cookie Monster well maybe I can make a hat to go with it with googly eyes and have a Halloween costume for next year.

All of which leads me to the most important lesson, the one S&B tried to teach me, the one I've read about on every other knitting blog out there, and perhaps I kept knitting the Snuggie Monster in order to teach it to myself.

Be not afraid to rip.


I did not spend the entire weekend alternately amusing and abusing myself for the Snuggie Monster sweater. I also pumped up the tires on my bike (aka The Hoss) and took her out for her first spin of the spring.

I went down to Wompatuck State Park for my ride. It's a great park--miles of paved and unpaved trails and roads perfect for toodling around in. Some of them still had snow on them, which I rode through! I rode my bike on snow!

As I said at the beginning of this blog, it was a gorgeous weekend and today was a gorgeous day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The LYS Inferiority Complex, or, Notes From a Cheap-Ass Knitting Kn00b

Okay, so I lied about the Winter Ensemble being in the next post. The hat is still in my car and I still can't be bothered to go get it. But I stopped by Ocean State Job Lot on my way home from work and bought some more discontinued Lion Brand Moonlight Mohair for $2/skein. I am consumed by guilt that I am not shopping at my LYS, but the fact is that I am newbie enough to be scared of the LYS ladies. Not to mention the fact that I am convinced that there's no point in spending $15/skein on something that
a) I'm going to ruin
b) I'm going give up on, or
c) will make me stop knitting forever.
So instead, I keep buying yarn that will make me feel less guilty about ruining/giving up on/stopping knitting. I don't think the last will happen; this is undoubtedly a very real obsession. I just don't know if it will last. But I LOVE shopping for yarn. It's always been the most enticing section of the craft megastores (quel horreur) that have dotted my suburban landscape, even back when I took a (quel beaucoup d'horreur) toll painting class.

My Boston-area LYS experiences so far include:
Woolcott & Co in Harvard Square: Intimidatingly full of people knitting gorgeous sweaters in 100% cashmere at $50 skein, but pleasant enough when I spent $8 on a pair of Clover 10-1/2 bamboo needles.
Windsor Button in Downtown Crossing: Overwhelming. Couldn't spend a dime. I was too scared that I'd spend $22 on a skein of Noro and not know what to do with it. Ran for my life and ended up spending $14 on used knitting books at the Brattle Bookshop (and $3 on a lovely little Maxwell Parrish exhibit book that had a bunch of period photos of his model). Then I went to the Boston Public Library and spent and hour and a half gazing at Debbie Bliss teddy bear patterns and hoping I could learn to shape and decrease well enough to make an Edwardian Bear With Swimsuit.
Stitch House in Dorchester: This is the LYS that most wracks my guilt complex. Not only is it directly across the street from an apartment that I once lived happily in for 5 years, it is the closest to my current living situation. It offers many classes, including random hours of help, and monthly "Sock Club," "Sweater Club," "Felting Club," etc. meetings. (First rule of Sock Club: Don't talk about Sock Club.) I am a greenhorn! I know nothing! I don't deserve to gaze upon its yards of fibery deliciousness with my ignorant and cheap-ass eyes. It's back to liquidation outlets and craft megastores stores for me. (Shame! Shame!) I did however spend $40 on 4 hanks of Blue Sky Alpaca in #512 (the lovely dark wine color) and #517 (the ecru-ish color) and a pair of Clover #3's.
Obviously, I invested in natural fibers because I wanted to use them to knit a toy sheep from a pattern I found in a knitting book I got at Christmas Tree Shoppes for $4.99. Of course, at the time I wasn't thinking about the fact that alpacas are not sheep. Clearly this knitting thing requires more thought than I've been giving it. (Greenhorn! Kn00bs!) The LYS lady very kindly took my money, put me on the mailing list, and left me to help the 20-something Ugg-wearing hipster at the cool kids' table cast on. (Dude, I figured out casting on SIX MONTHS ago!) The problem now is that I'm on the mailing list. So I can see all the events I don't feel knowledgeable enough to attend (art felting? I just looked up felting on Google 3 weeks ago!), and all the sales I don't know enough to feel really excited about (except for the Red Heart acrylic that's going for 62¢/skein).

Here's the thing: the Blue Sky Alpaca is now Sacred. It nestles in its high-end brown paper gift bag with handles next to my re-used Stop&Shop grocery bags full of Red Heart Soft Yarn ("Wine"--no dye lot, 2 for $5 at A.C. Moore, of which the yet-to-be-revealed Winter Ensemble is knitted); Red Heart Designer Sport ("Brick"--also no dye lot, $1.25/skein at Michael's--no idea what I'm going to do with this, I have 12 skeins and it's not my color); Lion Brand Moonlight Mohair in 2 colors ($2/skein, OSJL); Lion Brand Romance in Lavender ($5/pound at OSJL); 1 skein of Paton's sock yarn (I don't even know if I WANT to knit socks--Michael's clearance sale, $2.49); etc. etc. etc., ad infinitum, ad astra, ad humiliatium. The Blue Sky Alpaca is Untouchable by my mere mortal hands. I went so far as to buy some more Red Heart Soft Yarn to knit the sheep in so I could make sure I was actually capable of making it before attempting it with the alpaca. And now I've got the whole Using-Alpaca-to-Knit-a Sheep complex, so who knows if it will ever actually happen? The alpaca could stay at the back of the stash for years till I gain the courage to actually use it.

All I know is that the last time I thought this much about something, I ended up living with him for 2 years before he dumped me. Really, the Alpaca Complex should be easy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Where was I?

So: The first knitting post. I thought I'd share my two second efforts. (The first, an attempt at a garter stitch messenger bag without a pattern, is somewhere in the back of my friend K's car. She drunkenly complimented it and I drunkenly gave it to her. Friends are awesome.) These scarves were moments of extraordinary pride at the times they were finished; now (six or so months later) I see them as steps on a one-way path to knowledge.

This was an attempt at a horizontal rib using Red Heart acrylic yarn in "Painted Desert," which can be found at Wal-Mart, where I bought my "Teach Yourself to Knit" kit, for $2.49. It also includes a scratchy gray yarn left over from 10 years ago when a roommate tried to teach me crochet. (She later disappeared into a New Mexico rehab center and was never heard from again, unless you count her mother, who came to pack up her stuff and try to cover up the prescription drug addiction.) Knit 2 rows across, purl 2 rows across. If you look closely you can see where I screwed up because I didn't yet know how to tell when to knit and when to purl just by looking at the way the stitch sat on the needle. There's nothing to be done, but it looks great with my brown coat and from a distance it looks fine unless you're a knitter.
What I learned:
1) How to read the stitches on the needle.
2) A well-hung fringe convinces people that what you made is AWESOME.

This is my first proper stockinette stitch experiment. I was unaware of the curling effect of stockinette at the time and had a vision of a scarf that was perfectly flat and commercially-knit looking. I did it in Lion Suede Ecru, Denim, and Eggplant, which I got at Christmas Tree Shoppes in Pembroke, MA for $1.50/skein.
This one taught me:
1) Stockinette curls at the edges
2) Joining yarn makes you feel like you know what you're doing
3) Weaving in ends SUCKS.

I think that this one is salvageable. I love that it's long and skinny. What I think I'll do is pick up some stiches at the ends, put a little decrease in, stitch up the seam, and add tassels or pompoms to the ends, and it'll look like I did it on purpose.

Next time: The Winter Ensemble. I'm not including it this time because the hat is in my car and I can't be bothered to go out and get it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Inaugural Post, courtesy of Edna St. Vincent Millay

I, being born a woman and distressed
By all the needs and notions of my kind,
Am urged by your propinquity to find
Your person fair, and feel a certain zest
To bear your body's weight upon my breast;
So subtly is the fume of life designed,
To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind,
And leave me once again undone, possessed.
Think not for this, however, the poor treason
Of my stout blood against my staggering brain,
I shall remember you with love, or season
My scorn with pity,—let me make it plain:
I find this frenzy insufficient reason
For conversation when we meet again.