Monday, July 31, 2006

Socks from Saturday

It appears I was just kidding about lack of time for blogging: I have an FO. It's just a simple pair of socks with Regia yarn, but it's helped me through a number of books these last couple of weeks. I finished the foot Friday afternoon in the library (reading James Axtell's Invasion Within) and the toe that night, giving myself a break with the second-to-last DVD of Sex and the City.

Pattern: ye olde basic toe-down sock (60 sts, 8 st/inch, etc)
Yarn: Regia
Needles: size 1 bamboo
Yarn left over: 29g / 100g
Thoughts: This is my first time working with Regia. I have to say that the yarn feels a little itchy on my feet. I'm assuming it'll soften up in the wash, though, so more on that later. I'm very pleased that I managed to line the stripes up, although I think I'd be equally pleased with uneven stripes. I'm not quite satisfied with the pattern. I think that for future heel-flap socks I might need to use fewer stitches for the heel flap, or something. The heel feels loose right around where it turns and I'm not really sure why. I'm guessing it's just my small foot size: I wear a size 5 shoe.

Which brings me to two sock questions I've had:

1) Why are the toes on socks symmetrical? I'm fascinated that my big toe fits (for the right foot) in the left-most part of where I've grafted the toe together; that the decreases on each side of the toe are the same length, meaning that the distance from where the toe starts to where the big to ends is roughly equal to the long curve across the 4 other smaller toes. (Make sense?)

2) Am I the only one that stalls out at the heel? I'm knitting happily along on the leg and suddenly I have to break pattern and do something different. It usually takes me a ridiculous amount of time to do that darn heel. Maybe its time I tried a toe-up sock and I wouldn't be tripped up?

What's next in the world of socks? Socks for Coffeeboy using some Trekking yarn (color #100). They will be plain stockinette with some ribbing on top, the better to knit and read with. (They're not part of Trek Along With Me, because I started this blog business too late to join. Aww, phooey.) [I had a picture here but after about 10 *frustrating* attempts to get Blogger to upload the photo, I've decided to post without.]

Saturday, I took significant time away from the books to clean up for my mom's brief visit yesterday through today. We did a lot of work in the garden, in the 90-something degree heat, but it really, really needed it. More on that later, as I do have pictures!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Uncharted territory

No, not the uncharted territory of some kind of free-form lace creation with cables, but the uncharted territory of .... the imminent approach of my PhD exams! *insert scary music here*

My first exam date has been set, not necessarily in stone, but in, well, mud I guess. It's three weeks from this past Wednesday, or August 16th. Wish me luck! From here till then it's reading 3 books a day for about the next week and a few days, and then significant amounts of review, outlining, and a bit of writing practice exams. I definitely feel like I've gone into a sort of countdown mode. Right now, I'm feeling pretty good, all things considered. It probably helps that I had a helpful meeting with my advisor yesterday to go over possible questions for the exam, etc.

I'm not sure how much knitting or blogging I'll be able to do, unfortunately. Enough to check in, I suspect, but not enough for much forward progress or exciting photos. I do hope to have a couple of FO's to show, a pair of socks and then Soleil, but I've still got a few days left on those.

I leave you with a mental image: a cloud of iridescent peacock feathers, a gift from a woman in my SnB group who owns peacocks. One of those feathers dangling above the faces of my cats, their ears far forward with curiosity...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Post by numbers

1) Yesterday was frustrating on the reading front, so it was a surprise and a delight to learn that I'd been the 300th commenter on Rose's blog, meaning I get a prize! Yay! The last time I won something random like that was first grade, and I won this little handheld football game with lights and beeps. You can guess how often I played it.

2.) Last night my body felt quite out-of-whack... I must have been sitting in a very strange position for one of those books. So, I pulled out my long-neglected yoga mat and popped in a video (yes, VHS) of a very fit woman on Maui doing yoga on the golf course. It's pretty easy to follow and for the most part uses poses I've learned in classes, so I can forgive the Maui-fitness-envy.

2a) My cats, on the other hand, were somewhere between fascinated and terrified. First, the yoga mat and its bag provided intriguing new toys for possible scratching or pouncing. It was rather interesting; there I was trying to relax, and every so often I had to yell at the cats not to scratch the mat. Right. Second, they were positively frightened by the yoga. Juniper's eyes were wide and huge as she watched her kitty-mom contort into positions that really, she probably had no idea I could get my body into. (And we're talking basic stuff: downward dog, a wobbly tree pose, triangle pose). She stared at me as if I'd suddenly been replaced by a Martian... and went back to pouncing on the mat.

3) I just met with my secondary advisor about exams. It went well, all things considered, although I think that she thinks I know more than I do. I gave her some preliminary questions that I'd be interesting in answering, and she kept suggesting slight tweaks on the questions which left me flustered that I'd prepare for the question to go one way and it would actually be vastly different.

4) I called my yoga mat a "knitting mat" accidentally. And I dreamt about spinning on a very pretty wooden wheel last night, and that it was nice and peaceful - and that I even knew how to do it. Odd, as I've never spun before. Maybe when I finish the exams I'll take a class.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The forest for the trees

I've reached the trees on the Pacific Northwest Shawl. Needless to say, when I announced this at my knitting group last Wednesday, one of the women asked, "you can't see the forest for the trees?" And ever since then, when I work on the trees, I think of that phrase, and of how I've never quite been sure what it means. My guess is that you get so lost in the details (of the trees, of lace, of life, of love, each minute something new) that you miss the bigger picture (the forest, the slowly growing finished object). Thinking about it, stitch after stitch, has inspired a few thoughts on this admittedly bizarre phrase.

What I don't understand about the phrase is that the forest is the trees, and the trees are the forest. No forest, no trees. I think of that picture, a cathedral-like stand of Aspens high in the Rockies of Colorado, where Coffeeboy and I went hiking last summer with his parents.

The trees make the forest, and the forest makes the trees; neither is complete without the other. God - or the devil - is in the details, as they say.

Lace is kind of like that, too. You work along, one little stitch after another, and slowly the bigger pattern emerges; you see the way things flow together or how the seagulls give way to stands of pine trees, just starting to show on the needle there. But sometimes you get so caught up in each row, counting to make sure every stitch is in place, that you do lose sight of what it will one day become.

I'm supposed to be reading about Quaker women preachers in colonial America right now, but I just can't stop thinking about the trees. It's a wildly extendable metaphor, of course. I'm reading books so fast these days, two books per day, that when I finish, the last thing I'm doing is pausing to collect my thoughts and find the bigger picture of the historiography. Yet I need to start doing that this week. My advisors are going out of town and I need to give them questions and talk through answers and arguments this week. I need to leave the trees behind for a while so I can see the forest.

Friday, July 21, 2006

My wrist looks "normal"!

My cyst is nearly gone! Sometime last summer, I developed a ganglion cyst on my right wrist, sometime after spending a plane ride from Colorado to New Jersey working on Charlotte's Web. Cramped awkward seats = cramped awkward wrist motions = weird little bump on the wrist. I had the cyst drained in late January, between semesters when I felt I could take a break from intense typing and, sadly, from knitting for a few days. But like the cat, it came right back.

I just noticed today that the funky bump is almost invisible unless I flex my wrist forward. Not gone entirely, but pretty much not there. My wrists have been pain-free for over a week, which has been quite nice. Maybe the intensive had motions of typing/knitting/holding books has actually strengthened and done some good for my wrists!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Win some, lose some

Since my last update, I've been reading... and taking notes... and knitting... at the same time! This has resulted in amazing progress on both a sock and Soleil - excellent! What wasn't so excellent was spending Friday night unknitting seagulls: my second-to-last seagull rows on the shawl looked odd, and I wanted to fix them, but (I know, lesson learned) didn't have a life line, so I unknit about 10 rows of shawl. Ugh. Haven't picked it up since.

On the other hand, the recent heat wave (up into the upper 90s) has convinced me to shorten a linen skirt. It's really nice to wear in the summer, but also rather frumpy (looking at the photo... ugh! Wow, does it look frumpy!). I'd been thinking about shortening it to knee-length and decided that last night was the night to do it. It took me maybe an hour and a half to go from this...

... to this, with plenty of careful measuring and safety-pinning and trying-on.

As Coffeeboy could tell you, I'm not always a friend of measuring: when planning a garden, I go for the messy, eyeballed look over the carefully calculated look. But with knitwear, I definitely measure carefully, and I probably measure even more carefully when sewing, because it's important to get that new hemline right. I think it looks so much better, don't you!

What didn't go so well last night was steek a summer cami that I knit a couple summers back. I hardly ever wear it because it's too big around, and when I lean over, flops in a singularly unattractive manner (unless one is keen on looking down my shirt, that is). Thus, I decided to steek it up the sides and cut, thereby making it smaller around. All went well until I steeked a straight line up the sides - and into the armholes. Oops! Suddenly the armhole was pretty much too small for my arm. I forgot to do that calculation right! I tried to rip out some of the steeking, but I think I ripped some of the knitting. Now, I think it might be the end of my Summer Tweed tank, unless I can fix the armholes. But that's for another day, as Juniper could warn you.

You'll have to ask her if she's on the attack, meowing, or yawning; at the time she was stalking a ceiling-bound ladybug which fell to its doom in the light fixture.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The eBay saga concludes

I had success with the knitting bag! I bid on the item over the weekend, and the seller was very good about shipping it to me in a very timely fashion. The only thing that's slightly displeasing is the strong scent of perfume wafting first from the Priority Mail package, and still from the bag itself. I don't know if the previous owner - who never used the bag, or at least put the tag back on and it looks new - intentionally perfumed the bag, thinking that a nice touch, or whether her house just smells of the stuff, but it was a strong aroma. Not quite a bad aroma, but not really my style, either.

Since I've written so much here on that topic, I might as well show you my new purchase, right?

I took the bag with me to my local knitting group tonight. This was my third time there; they are a very nice group of young women who meet at the local Panera. It's been really nice to be part of an SnB group again, like I was in Chapel Hill. Sharing a knitting obsession online is great, but in person is also a wonderful way to feed the obsession and be social at the same time. For instance, at various times, seven people had several Lady Eleanors going, two socks in Cascade Fixation, one Clapotis, one Soleil (me), one toe-up sock, one new-ish Knitty sock pattern whose name I can't remember currently, a baby sweater or two, another summer tank. So many possibilities, so little time!

It's also a nice way to relax when one's brain is really quite tired of studying. I've only been studying hard-core for a couple of weeks, and today Coffeeboy and I left the library early-ish and promptly took a nap upon arrival home. I figure I either need to build up my stamina, or, more likely, accept that there will be nights when I just can't study, days when I won't quite get through the necessary 2 books, and that yet I will, one day, be ready for the first exam.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The right tools for the right job

They always say "the right tools for the right job," isn't that, well, right? For example, it's much easier to type this sentence (one that has many, many letter E's in it) with an E key than without! I present to you my brand new-to-me keyboard, complete with E key and a gratifying lack of cat hair. So much better than that old nubby stump of an E key.

On the subject of the right tools, I recall that a few months back, Rose switched to using different needles for her Adamas shawl, also made with Knitpicks Shadow. I've been using my very ordinary, everyday bamboo needles, the ones I use for pretty much everything, for the Pacific Northwest shawl, and they weren't really doing the job. K2togs were a terror, let's just say. They were too blunt, which just made everything else not quite right: too grippy, or too slippery, or just plain wrong. On Friday (I think it was) my new needles arrived, inspired by Rose's post - Bryspuns! They are pointy! I see what they mean about concave (or is it convex; I can never keep the two straight) needles! They are so much better for knitting lace and lace-weight yarn! The PNW shawl is now zipping along; I have two more repeats to go on the seagulls and then it's on to the trees. My journey into knitted ASCII art continues.

(Oh, and in answer to an older question about the pattern, yes, it's very easy to follow! So much easier to follow than Charlotte's Web; it's really a shame that such a popular design (CW) had to be so confusing, especially one recommended for new lace knitters. PNW is complicated because the patterns don't repeat from row to row; you can only memorize sections, not the whole shawl. And yet, PNW is amazingly easy to follow along. I highly recommend it.)

My hands have been hurting a little bit on and off from so much typing for exam prep and knitting, but not as bad as a few weeks ago, so it's okay for now. I wear the brace more than I'd like to have to do, though, but it's worth it to be able to type and then to knit. The right tools, they say. The right tools. Now if only I can shape my brain into the right tool, too.

Friday, July 07, 2006

A day in pictures

I've been posting a lot of text lately, while collecting a bunch of pictures. Thus I thought I'd offer you some images instead of words on what I (and, well, the cats) have been up to. (Apologies in advance if it takes a while to load).

For example, the cats are their usual selves, attacking balls of yarn that are placed too near to where they can jump or reach or squirm. These used to be nice and fresh and even, I swear!

At other times, however, they are curious beasties, checking out my progress on Soleil:

And lounging on the couch.

Or lounging on my desk while I'm diligently studying for my exams,

...getting their hairy tails all over my keyboard.

What this photo doesn't show you is that my E key is missing. Yup. The cats struck again, back in the fall. I haven't had an E key since, and my G key is coming loose. I've ordered a replacement keyboard (also eBay) but it hasn't come yet. It'll be nice to have an E-key again.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Pockets are powerful

Rose asked what kind of knitting bag I'm in the market for. Well, I'm actually a bit embarrassed to admit it (though maybe I needn't be?). A while ago, while trolling around on random knitting-related websites, I saw someone mention that their Vera Bradley Villager bag made the perfect knitting bag. Curious what that meant, I googled it, and was presented with those uber-trendy quilted bags that have seemed so ubiquitous on trendy college campuses (at least among the undergrads) over the past few years.

These bags all smack of their brand name, with their particular style of fabric and diamond quilting. I ruled them right out as way too trendy. I don't avoid brands (even if I'm sort of morally opposed to them), but I do dislike obvious indications of brands, particularly with clothes or accessories. I don't care if it's on the inside tag or on, say, a snap or button closure, but if it says the name boldly across the front, I won't even try it on.

However, where I don't like visible brand names, I do like pockets. In fact, I love pockets. The more, the better! As a kid, I used to count the pockets in backpacks or purses while my mom did her shopping. My favorite ski parka (brand utterly unknown or forgotten) had seven pockets, including the perfect little wrist pocket on the left sleeve to put my chapstick in.

eBay revealed that the "Villager" style of these bags have 3 pockets on the outside, and 6 (count them!) on the inside! Talk about powerful pockets! Could they even overcome my dislike of obviousness? Not only that, but a retired fabric pattern has my name. Is named for my name, however you say it, and in colors I really like! Certainly it was fate... with the exception of the lost auction, of course, and that I feel sort of like a sell-out.

So, if any of you have any idea how to maximize my love of pockets without giving into a trend I'd previously eschewed, I'd love to hear it. (Or, if you want to tell me that I'm not a horrible person for changing my mind, that's good too!)

Back to studying for exams. I'll have knitting photos soon, I promise! (If the cats don't take half the stitches off the needles again, that is!)

PS: I wish blogger allowed one to respond to comments! All I can do is post responses to comments in linear form, which doesn't work well for actual communication, unless it results in a whole second post!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A bout with eBay

I have a confession to make. I've signed up for eBay. Yup. And not so I can randomly enter the world people pushing their once-loved items on to new owners, in a never-ending cycle. No, I'm on the hunt for a knitting bag, and actually a fairly specific item. I just bid on one, and was outbid, so to calm down from the final minutes of tension and excitement, thought I'd come here.

Now, I own a sewing machine. My first project was a knitting bag. I only had white yarn, so the entire thing - though it is made of two shades of blue fabric - is sewn with uneven seams of white yarn. Not bad for a beginner, I thought. I've used it faithfully for over two years. This past January, I decided that I'd try to make myself one, with quilted blocks and patterns on the inside and everything! It was going to be in very "me" colors: jewel tones, both brigher and more mellow.

I sucessfully pieced together the fronts of the bag (with the exception of cutting off the tips of my triangles due to mismeasurement), but was then hit with a quandary. If I want to sew pockets on the inside, do I sew the pockets onto the inside liner first? But then I can't easily quilt the pieces together after the liner's been attached to the front and the interfacing. But I couldn't really add the pockets onto the inside after doing the quilting, at least, not with the machine, and not without messing up the quilting. Which comes first, the pockets or the liner? The chicken or the egg?

After thinking about it for a while, I decided my sewing skills are really best used for hemming pants, not creating complicated bags for my first quilting project, and that I'd best go online to find something roomy, pretty, with nice fabric and lots of pockets.

Hence, eBay! And I've been outbid! By $1! On a bid I placed in the last minute of bidding! It even told me I was one bid away from being outbid, would I like to raise, and I said no! There are unseen sharks in these waters! Coffeeboy (who's home from his adventures out West) tells me I did everything right, and to be patient. He's right. There's a similar item coming up in a day or two. Maybe I'll get that one, maybe not. Maybe it will be something else. When it does happen, it'll be e-bout time.