Sunday, January 20, 2008

desperate times

The plummeting temperature of our apartment has us wondering if we shouldn't abandon our current projects and instead put all our efforts into knitting some gd INSULATION.

Not to dramatize the situation here, but I've literally had to take breaks from typing between these tiny paragraphs to warm up my hands. I guess if I can't actually knit insulation for the apartment, I could do the next best thing and knit some insulation for my mittens.

Or I could abandon absolutely everything and follow the example of one Raveler who posted today about knitting herself a coffin. I bet it would be warm in a knitted coffin.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tricot Treat!

That's right, I'm treating you to the very most obvious pun on French knitting vocabulary! Because you know me -- I only deal in superlatives, and lately only the guiltiest superlatives: the longest lunch, the earliest bedtime, the bare minimum and, of course, the last minute.
But there is always time to spare for a bit of knitting, especially if it's the easiest possible knitting, like the tube scarf I'm working on in some yarn I bought at La Droguerie, an amazing yarn store I visited in Paris. That's right, the scarf is literally just a tube. See?
I cast on 70 stitches, joined without twisting, and just took off knitting. I'm a little over halfway finished, having just started on my second of 2 skeins. I'm thrilled with the results and a lot less concerned than I expected to be about the simplicity of the "design." I tried various ribbings but was disgusted by my tension problems. I CANNOT get the first purl stitch of the column to look nice! Luckily it turns out that the yarn requires very little from me in order to look beautiful. It's actually two yarns held together (one a 100% bamboo and one a laceweight mohair), an idea I ripped off from a sample scarf hanging on the wall at the store. The friendly clerk helped me coordinate the colors and wound the two strands together in skeins for me, and I was so pleased by my success in conducting this transaction in French that I hardly noticed the price (27 euros, yikes! If only it were dollars!).

Like I said, the store itself is wonderful. It's in the neighborhood of Les Halles and the Saint Eustache cathedral, and it's pretty big for a French store of its kind, or at least seemed so to me. One side is devoted to yarn and patterns, with all the available colors in each yarn hanging unwound from hooks on the wall. Deeper in is a display counter of buttons, most simple and sophisticated but some very silly. On the other side of the store, they sell beads stored in jars like penny candy and embroidery supplies. When I was there, it was crowded and just past twilight, so I did not take any photos. However, a few days later, I was shopping at Printemps and paid a visit to the Phildar boutique on the top floor of the store, and I can show you that, if from a bit of a distance. I wish American department stores gave as much space to craft supplies.
Finally, I made one other yarn purchase back in Dayton that was just as exciting to me as the ones I made in France: my first skein of handspun yarn, made my the mother of one of my oldest friends. Her website is here. She showed me her spinning wheel, her fiber stash in the attic, and her imposing yarn storage room, barricaded with impenetrable walls of rubbermaid containers. From one such container, I chose a lovely blue and orange wool, which Joe says smells nice and wooly. After a bit of experimenting, I chose the Opera scarf pattern, which blessedly consists of just a single row to memorize. I'm in a race against spring with all this scarf knitting. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Catch Up, Catch All

You know how once you fall out of touch with someone, part of what keeps you from making contact again is the guilt you feel over the initial neglect? Along with the pressure of reporting on months' worth of living in a single and inevitably newsy letter? I guess these are my lame but honest excuses for having abandoned blogging this fall and holiday season...But today, fooling around with Picasa, I found a solution that has once again hoisted me back in the blogging saddle. So I offer you, first, a compilation work-in-progress photo of all the gift knitting I did for this year's birthday and holiday season:

Then, of course, there are the corresponding FOtos (hey, it's my neologism and I'm sticking to it):
Needless to say, each of these gifts has a story and a reason for being just what it is, but I think this time the stories will just have to remain unwritten. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree that the most "special" of all my knitting projects turned out to be Uncle Louie's Orange Hat, which as expected inspired much good cheer and not a few jokes of questionable taste at this year's Christmas party. That photo deserves a blowing up:
If I have half as much fun in 2008 as Uncle Louie is having in this picture, it will be a good year.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Knit One, Kill Two

Our favorite Lois Lane gifted us some lovely sock yarn for Christmas: one skein of Trekking Pro Natura in colorway 1601 and two balls of Zitron Lifestyle in colorway 1876. She also passed along some of the knitting mysteries by Maggie Sefton, which I love without ever having read a page for the spectacular puns in the titles. Needled to Death, people? A Deadly Yarn? Does it get any better than this? No, it does not, Reader. You of all people should know.

I'm sure, however, that your mind has never left the yarn, and I can't say I'm surprised. I was faced with a terrible choice, Reader: which yarn should I choose for the simple sock project that would take my mind off the sweater debacle? If I were a stronger person, I'd have waited until Lilyriver came back from France and let her decide what she wanted, but I, I am sorry to say, am not so good, nor so patient, and I've been eyeing the Zitron Lifestyle for awhile. It did not disappoint. It's a 100% superwash merino sock yarn, and I'm guessing the base yarn is Louet Gems, because it feels just like Koigu. It's just flat-out a pleasure to knit with such a well-spun, elastic yarn. I cast on 64 on 2.5mm dpns, did 5.5" of cuff in 3x1 ribbing and a 2.75" gusset. As you can see, I've finished one sock since Tuesday, and I'm about halfway through the foot on sock #2--I've never knit socks this fast before. Admittedly, this is partly because I've been glued to my Heroes season 1 boxed set, but a lovely, non-splitty yarn really helps. (I broke out the DPNs for the first time in awhile, and I think that for me, DPNs are faster than 2 circs. 2 circs have many other advantages, but I don't think DPNs can be beat in terms of speed.)

The drawbacks: the yardage for the Lifestyle is scant. Not quite Colinette Jitterbug scant, but two balls (100g) total only about 340 yards instead of the more standard 400ish. I had to rip back my first sock and start the toe decreases earlier so I'd be able to make them long enough to accommodate size 10 feet. I finished with maybe 2-3 yards left. Most people would find the yardage just fine, probably, but I like to make the leg part of my socks pretty long. The yarn is thicker than, say, Trekking (100g of Trekking Pro Natura has about 460 yards), and the ball band says you could get away with needles sized 2-4 (US) instead of the usual 0-2 (US), which helps make up for the comparatively little yardage. But that brings me to drawback deux, which is the durability factor. I've mentioned here, I think, that one of my Koigu socks got a hole on the bottom after less than a half dozen wearings and washings. I also knit those on 2.5mm (that's a 1.5 US for non-knitters). (I patched up the hole with some regular wool in the hopes that it would felt, and so far it seems to be working fine.) I tend to be hard on socks, so I'll be watching these to see if the Koigu/Louet Gems hole was a fluke or if I just need to stick with sock yarn that has some nylon in it.

If you want some of this, I'd recommend Astrid's Dutch Obsessions; while she's shipping, naturally, from the Netherlands, she charges $6 a ball instead of $10, and she has all the solid colors of this yarn, which are numerous and not widely distributed in the States.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Sweater autopsy

My First Sweater (TM) has turned out to be my Waterloo (a joke that never gets old, right? Right? Hello? Is this thing on?), Reader. I chose the Wicked sweater from Zephyr Style, a top down raglan (I think?) with a boat neck and some cabled details, and I used heathered burgundy Cascade 220. I will admit that I had my doubts about the Cascade 220: it didn't seem all that special to me, but it's cheap and known to be durable. As I used it, I came to appreciate its softness and springiness--I don't think you can go wrong with it. I do still think the donegal tweed version looks stupid. Sorry, Cascade.

This pattern is known to run large, so when my gauge was 20 stitches/4 inches rather than 18 on size 7s, I decided to just go with it. Reader, I can picture you muttering to yourself: Aha! Foreshadowing! This turned out, however, to not be the problem. Neither was it a problem when I realized about halfway through the collar that I'd forgotten to do the twist stitch and decided I didn't care. The problem is that the sweater is terribly unflattering. I've had this confirmed by Lilyriver, who tactfully noted that she thought it was too big. That might be one issue, despite the theoretical 2" of negative ease I thought I'd built in. Issue #2: worried that the sweater would be too small, I didn't do the waist shaping. I have a men's sweater that doesn't have shaping, so I didn't think the waist shaping would make much of a difference here. It may have, but it wouldn't have helped issue #3, which is that worsted-weight yarn and size 7 needles makes for a somewhat bulky knitted fabric. As acknowledging that it's possible that I might only be able to wear fine-gauge sweaters would cause me no small distress, I've decided that the real problem is issue #4: what was supposed to be a boat neck came out like a crew neck. I thought this might happen from some pictures I saw on Ravelry. Since patterns are resized according to a formula and not by reknitting the garment in each projected size, I think the neck doesn't doesn't quite work on the larger sizes. I think a v-neck would have helped the sweater look less bulky and would have given it a little more style.

For now, I'm not going to reknit it. (I actually still have a sleeve and a half left to go.) I'm tired of the yarn and I'm not sure I could fix it enough to make it wearable outside the house. I may eventually go back and experiment with waist shaping.

Happy new year, Reader!