Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Knitting: The New Arts and Crafts?

We've all heard the book titles and the catch phrases: Zen and the Art of Knitting, "knitting, the new yoga," the new meditation, the stress reliever...

This Thursday I'm giving a speech at my local Toastmasters club, my project involves visual aids... and I need your help. A bit of background first:

They don't have an overhead projector, so using images becomes difficult. I thought about talking about topics from my general exam reading: the history of bibles in the US, images revealing the cult of domesticity in the 19th century, Warner Sallman's famous "Head of Christ" and other images of Jesus. But really, they don't want to hear me give an oral rehearsal of a general exam answer. They want to be entertained. And the main thing I think of these days when I think of entertainment and visual aids is (of course!) knitting.

Knitting as a speech topic raises another knotty problem: people know what a sweater is. A scarf. A sock. If they had to think about their store-bought ones for long, I'm sure they could come up with a guess or two about how it's put together. A few of them might even find the history of knitting to be interesting, but I rather doubt that they'd really want to know that much about different types of heels, shawl construction around the world, or traditional fair isle motifs. After all, I'm the only one who pulls out knitting during meetings, and usually I'm something of a curiosity ("what's that? It's pretty.").

So how on earth am I to do a speech (in 5-7 minutes) about knitting that wasn't totally facile or boring? Last night, as I was telling Coffeeboy about the Arts and Crafts movement and how it makes me think of knitting, he suggested doing my speech on knitting as the new Arts and Crafts.

Now all you knitters are saying, what's that? Why should I care? Well, the Arts and Crafts movement was a late 19th century movement that started in Britain with elite men who wanted to escape the sense of alienation and malaise brought on by industrialized society. Buying tables and chairs at stores rather than making them themselves made these corporate leaders of an increasingly capitalist world uneasy. So they went back to the land, or at least to the workbench, so to speak, creating beautiful tables, chairs, chests, and other works of art. Think of the popularity today of artisanal bread or farmer's markets, and I think you get a flavor of what these Arts and Crafts leaders were getting at.

Every time I read about Arts and Crafts, I feel a weird chill down my spine when I think of the knitting in my backpack. Why do I knit? Like these 19th century folk, I remain tied to the capitalist order: I still buy my clothes at major stores (and I have no desire to, say, live off the land on a farm, shearing my own sheep to eventually make clothes), but man, it feels good to dance around with a new pair of homemade socks!

Here's where you come in: does any of this resonate with you as knitters? Do you think an audience of non-knitters would find it interesting I'm always interested in how the past sheds light on the present, on where the world we live in came from, so *I* think it's interesting, but I'm a geeky grad student (we gave our Halloween pumpkin glasses. Seriously.) Does my brief description of the Arts and Crafts movement make sense to folks not currently in school studying the cultural and religious history of America? What other contemporary examples can you think of that involve a similar impulse? For visual aids, I'm planning to use both handouts of Arts and Crafts images, as well as a few carefully chosen knitted items on my own body, just for kicks. Nothing risque, of course, though I might go with a hat, scarf, and socks. I think a sweater might be too warm! Thanks for any and all comments you may have!

The Striping Sleeve?
For those of you following the saga of the striping sleeve, I frogged it. Not because of the dye lot changes, though; the friendly knitters at Woolbears and those who hadn't seen this blog said they didn't notice anything when I asked for comments about possible problems. So I decided to plunge ahead and pretend it was supposed to be like that. When I was a few inches from done, I tried on the sleeve and it was just too tight. I suspect I cast on an incorrect number of stitches at the armpit because something looked off. My gauge might have been a little tight, too. So, back to the drawing board with that one!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dyelot dilemma

Dangnabit! As I believed I mentioned, I'm working on my Eris sleeve off two different dye-lots. And I can tell. There are stripes. I need honest knitterly opinions about whether they are noticeable, annoying to you, not likely to be noted by non-knitters, etc. The yarn is *just* tweedy and heathery enough where I think it *might* be okay, but on the other hand, it just might not.

I started knitting with the two dye-lots every other row right where the sleeve comes out of the shoulder join, at the end of the raglan seam. So, about 4" above where the needles currently are on the sleeve.

Eris dyelot 1 Eris dyelot 3
Eris dyelot 2 Eris dyelot 4

You can really see it, for example, in that first one on the upper left, if you click on it to go to the larger image in Flickr. Or on the one on the top right, just check out how different the balls of yarn are. Sheesh.

Well, I'm not going to do any frogging right now, but I will be taking this to SnB tomorrow night for some real-light opinions (though really, they are all relatively accurate color-wise). In the mean time, should I just learn to live with this? Is it not that noticeable? How do I go about getting another dye-lot when I bout the yarn over a year ago? What have you done in a similar situation?

I might hit the sack, or at least put this away, before it takes on any more larger-than-life, eschatological, end-of-the world proportions. Check your dye-lots, y'all.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Socks for Autumn

Not only have I had a cold in Socktober, but when this October hasn't been inappropriately up in the 70s, temperatures have dipped down into the lower 50s - a cold month - perfect for hand-knit socks!

Cherry Tree Hill Feather and Fan socks
I finally finished some socks for Socktoberfest!

Pattern: Feather and Fan socks from Socks Socks Socks
Yarn: Cherry Tree Hill Supersock in "Cabin Fever"
Needles: size 1 and 0s on the pattern; size 0 on the bottom of the foot and on the toes (bizarre, I know)
Time: October 8 - October 24, 2006
Thoughts: I really enjoyed making these socks. The pattern is super easy; you only have to pay attention 1/4 of the time, for row 1 of the 4-row repeat. I actually just borrowed this row 1 from the book; I didn't follow the pattern otherwise and just made socks with an ordinary heel flap and wedge toe. I ended up using a combination of needle sizes because size 1 seemed a bit too loose (and resulted in more pooling) and size 0s were too tight, but didn't pool as much. A combination seems to have worked well.

Cherry Tree Hill Feather and Fan socks

I really like the Cherry Tree Hill yarn; it's soft, very very squooshy, and the colors are just gorgeous. You can't tell well in the photos, but the darker colored areas are actually deep shades of navy blue, green, and purple. They seem to come out in sunlight and fluorescent light; under ordinary indoor light it looks black. (I haven't worn the socks yet, except for the photos). The colors here, as my friend S. says, are brighter than my usual, except for that whole fall leaves thing, which I adore. I've heard that CTH bleeds a fair bit when first washed, so I think that I'm going to give these a little bath and a "lying flat to dry" before wearing them for real. I can't wait, though!

Thanks for all the well-wishes about the cold. I think it's gone, which is fine by me! May it be the last for a while. I hope all of you get through fall without succumbing!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cold in Socktober

I think this is the longest I've gone without blogging yet, and it's not even (quite) a week. Suffice it to say that last week, Coffeeboy and I traded having varying degrees of a cold back and forth between each other. Bleh. Depending on who felt better, we took turns making each other dinner or tea. Neither of us really felt like much of normal until Sunday, when I (I can't speak for him) felt a little less loopy-headed and a bit more able to think straight, although the cough and the sniffles were still there. I slept in a rather long time for several days and basically didn't do much except knit a sock and its mate, and read quite a few books for my upcoming exam.

I had a bunch of adventures, though, none of which probably aided recovering from the cold. SnB met in a different location (Barnes and Noble instead of Panera - woot!); I took the train into the big city (New York) for a high school event and then had a late dinner with a high school friend (this was probably a mistake, as I was out rather late). I finished a sock and started the second one on the train, though, which a great way to pass through the "countryside" of northeastern New Jersey. Finally, Coffeeboy and I went to a games night on Saturday that was a lot of fun. None of the adventures, obviously, involved Rhinebeck, but that's OK, since I spent part of Saturday napping off the cold. Next year, though, I hope to be able to go!

The cold is mostly better, now. I've got exams kicking me in the rear. I'm planning to take the first exam by November 10th, which will give me a week or so off before the big annual meeting of people in my field. I know I can be ready by the 10th; it just seems to be looming awfully close for the amount of reading I still have left!

Between now and then I imagine I'll get some sock knitting done, and that I'll make some slow progress on the sleeves for Eris. I'm working with two dye lots for the sleeves (oops!) and the two balls of yarn, plus DPNs and decreases make for awkward knitting compared to the ease of socks.

Nevertheless, in a day or two I promise there will be pictures! And a new sock FO!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

On the possible value of stash

Around the knit blog world, there's a lot of talk - and a lot of anxiety, it seems - about stash. Do I reveal my stash to my fellow knitters? Show them how much of a backlog of yarn I have, how many planned, unstarted, unfinished projects? How many storage bins of varying shapes and finishes I've bought? Or how few?

Why are we so anxious about stash? Have we simply internalized the complaints of our families about cash going for yarn that's never used? Is there nothing redeemable about stash?

I showed you some stash last week, and I'm going to show you some more stash right now.

Granola stash
Granola-making stash, that is.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we made our weekly granola Sunday night. We started doing this during this past Passover, using matzah farfel (matzah bits the size of large breadcrumbs) instead of oats. Believe you me, served with some yogurt, this was a highly preferable breakfast to matzah with something spread on it.

After Passover, we'd enjoyed making granola so much that we continued, using oats instead, and Alton Brown's recipe from Good Eats. We don't follow the recipe to the letter, but it provides a tasty starting point. Now we find ourselves buying huge quantities of things we'd only needed sporadically before: a giant jug of canola oil, a rather large jug of honey (because really, that little squeezable bear isn't going to make it past a recipe or two), and larger quantities of maple syrup. Not to mention the several pound bags of nuts and of raisins from our local Sam's Club, as well as frequent trips to Whole Foods to get the oats themselves in bulk at 69 cents per pound.

We've long since realized that we do this because it tastes good, not because it's super economical. Which probably doesn't make much sense, right? It's just breakfast food. Who needs fresh granola all the time? I mean, once in a while is nice... but when you want to make granola...

Weekly granola

... you need some stash around. Or else you doesn't get a yummy breakfast. And really, who wouldn't prefer homemade granola to stale store-bought stuff anyway?

Who wouldn't prefer a pair of perfect fitting, gorgeous handknit socks over some old floppy ones from Target (or wherever)? Or a scarf that matches one's hair and eyes and was made by a close friend? For that you need a yarn stash.

And unfortunately, I don't think I'll be making the trip to Rhinebeck to enhance the stash and meet all you bloggers in real life. It's been great getting to know you online, and it would be fun to meet more fellow bloggers in person, but I just don't think Rhinebeck is a good idea this year. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm not experiencing last-minute temptations to throw caution to the wind and head up for a day of fiber fun! If I do decide to go, I'll definitely say something here, but for now, I think I'm going to simply have to wish everyone a wonderful time!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Autumn weekend

We had our first real cold snap and frost this past Friday and Saturday nights, with day time temperatures in the low 50s. Coffeeboy also had a cold, so Saturday found me making potato-leek soup* and lighting a fire for general coziness. After watching some TV with the 'boy, I settled in by the warmth of the fire to catch up with the long-neglected Eris.

Eris by firelight Closeup of Eris

Over the course of Saturday and Sunday evenings, I completed the final corner edging on the sweater, and all I have left are the sleeves.

On a trip to the library to pick up some books for my exams, I took a small detour past a local park to sample the fall foliage and enjoy the crisp air that's finally here. Every year, it seems, I feel a new need to photograph the fall, to capture the meeting of glowing orange, stark brown, and shining blue, or the convergence of fading green, crumpled yellow, and even tan.

Autumn tree against the sky Fence with fall leaves

- - -
*Soup isn't all that we cooked this weekend. For example, the basil got a bit frostbitten, so we picked the remaineder of it, and a corresponding amount of parsley, and made pesto. We made granola, which we do every week for our breakfasts. (I have a post about that in the makings, something about stashing). And then we made some ginger-molasses ice cream to share when friends come over tonight to watch Battlestar Galactica. Let me tell you, the kitchen has never seen so many dishes of varying sorts moving through it at so many different times (except for when we had 13 people over for Passover, that is)! All this cooking was above and beyond, you know, cooking dinner, breakfast or lunch.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Socktoberfest: Sock stash!

In the next set of questions for Soctoberfest, Lolly asks:

Do you have certain patterns planned for some of the yarns? Do you buy yarn and then choose a pattern?

I don't buy sock yarn with a pattern in mind... because I have a project in mind: socks. As I think about it, this is dangerous. Other yarn I buy with a pattern in mind: a specific sweater, a scarf for someone, a particular felted item, a lace project. I think this approach helps keep consumption down. But sock yarn, this gets tricky! A project is always in mind: socks! So buying sock yarn doesn't require a special idea, just a concept that's relatively general but specific enough to spur on the purchase of yarn.

Having seen some others' pictures, I don't think my sock yarn stash is that enormous. However, it's grown exponentially in the past few weeks, mostly through the generous gifts of fellow bloggers, or in the case of the newest acquisitions, through parental kindness during a recent visit. I'm still missing some Lorna's Laces, though. There are several colorways I like a lot, and my LYS has one skein of all of them. Argh! If it weren't for that, I could use the rest of the gift certificate from the parental visit to add some yummy LL to the stash, but that will have to await a greater quantity of skein pairs at the store.

Sock yarn stash, 10/11
It's a pretty small stash, but growing, especially since I only started stashing sock yarn this past summer!

Does a certain sock yarn you have in your stash take you back to a certain event? (where you were when you bought/received it? What was going on in your life at the time!)

I could say something about the history of every one of these yarns. Sometimes there's more to say, and sometimes less. One was supposed to be part of the Charlotte's web shawl. One I bought to use for fringe, before I started making socks, and now I have too little yarn for even anklets. Another I received in my SnB's yarn exchange. One I received as a prize. There's the one I passed by but went back for because I was struck by the colors. Several are the proto-socks of gifts. I could go on, but I think you get the picture! All of them are nice to look at, laid out on a pretty dresser, not to mention that they're nice to touch, and to image what socks they might one day become!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It's not October 10th

Well, yes, it *is* technically the 10th of October. Yes. I'll admit that. But it doesn't *feel* like October 10th.

Let me explain. Back when I was young, angst-ridden junior high student, I kept a journal. None of this public digital blog stuff, but a private, lined-paper diary stored in the unlocked confines of my top-left desk drawer. I seem to recall that somewhere in around my 12th or 13th year, I wrote an entry about October 10th, and what a perfect expression of fall the day was. Crisp, cool, sunny but somehow foreboding. Lots of wind blowing the cracked, colored leaves everywhere. Yes, even in Northern California, we got a bit of fall.

Recently, I've started a mental observance of October 10th day, on which I usually take note of just how wonderfully autumnal the world has become. I think, though, that I might have conflated a teenager's anxiety with my later experiences of wistful New England falls after I went to college, because I don't remember performing this mental observance until the past couple of years.

Nevertheless, today is decidedly a conundrum. The leaves are beautiful, on the trees and on the ground. Colorful, crunchy. But there's no blustery, crisp wind requiring a scarf and wool socks! No ominous feelings of Halloween being only a few weeks away! It's in the high 70s, for crying out loud! It's really not October 10th... I hate you, global warming. Go away now. (Oh, wait, there are... certain hindrances... to that. Bah. Bah humbug.)

And for all I know, I could have the whole thing wrong. Maybe it's not the 10th at all that makes me stop and think. Maybe it's the 20th.

Regardless, what I do know is that I've cast on for yet another fall sock...

CTH feather and fan sock
Like trees in the strong morning sunlight

And that I have a gift sock (for someone who, so far as I know, doesn't read this blog) that's been languishing on the needles.

Snowy Opal sock
Snow falls in winter sky

I'm very touched by all the kind, flattering shawl comments! Thank you so much! You've all been great moral support as I've worked through the very long rows. Finally, in about 2-3 weeks, I will most likely be done with reading for exam #2. Then I just have to take the exam. ;-)

Up next: sock stash?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The shawl is DONE!

The shawl is done! And it's freaking awesome! I'm so, so pleased! Yes, it took a heck of a lot of work, but the transformation that occurs in blocking is simply amazing.

Pacific Northwest Shawl 1

Pattern: Pacific Northwest Shawl, by Fiber Trends (link here)
Yarn: KnitPicks Shadow in Lost Lake, 2 skeins and a few yards of a third skein
Needles: size 6 Bryspun circulars
Time: mid-June through October 5, 2006

Pacific Northwest Shawl 2

Thoughts: I'm done! I love, love, love how it turned out. As soon as I removed it from the blocking pins and held it up in front the mirror, I couldn't help but think, Wow. It was so worth all the effort, the long, long hours of knitting the final rows.

I love the Knitpicks Shadow yarn. It's soft, heathery, and quite reasonably priced. Did I mention it's soft? And that when we took these pictures outside on a chilly morning, the shawl kept me really warm despite the lace? I'm definitely going to use this yarn again for lace shawls/stoles/scarves.

I do wish I'd picked a better background for the photos, and that the day had been sunnier. Yet the shawl made a speedy trip to the post office and is in the mail, winging its way to California to catch up with Jen on her trip out West before she heads back to Panama. Where hopefully a wool shawl will come in handy and remind her of her other home in Washington state. Here, this picture should show off the pattern better.

Pacific Northwest Shawl 3
Sea gulls, trees, sand dollars, watery waves, little fish, and shells
Happy Birthday, Jen!

Before putting it in the mail, of course, I had to check for coziness and warmth...

Pacific Northwest Shawl 4
Yeah, I'd say it's pretty cozy!

What, you didn't think I'd send it off without at least a little bit of flouncing it around in a joyful finished object bliss of yay happy shawl wearing, did you? *Grin*

Early fall in New Jersey

This past Wednesday, when shawl recipient Jenny was here, we took a little drive to the pretty parts of New Jersey! Yes, such places do exist!

Autumn hills in NJ
Pretty, isn't it!

I live right on the border between ugly (Trenton and suburbia) and pretty (northwestern NJ), but the friendly folks at the Foliage Network said we needed to go further north to move from "low color" to "moderate color." High and peak color haven't yet made their appearance in this "garden state," but a couple hour's drive north to High Point State Park provided us with a little more beauty. It's not quite peak yet, though the cold front of the last two days will help speed things along.

High Point State Park
High Point State Park

If anyone knows why they saw fit to build an obelisk on top of the state's highest point - besides to make sure it wouldn't be topped by any other possibly higher point - let me know!

High Point obelisk
Yours truly on the left, Jenny on the right

Finished shawl pictures in my next post!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Socktoberfest: sock history

Lolly, Ms. Socktoberfest herself, has asked us to write about our past experiences making socks...

When did you start making socks? Did you teach yourself or were you taught by a friend or relative? or in a class? I first started knitting socks this past holiday season (so, late December 2005). My first socks were a pair of basic ribbed socks in Cascade 220 in Christmas colors - perfect for socks finished December 24th! And I was so proud of those little green toes sticking out of the red feet! I used this Knitty tutorial and off I went!

What was your first pair? How have they "held up" over time? Those same socks work very well as "house socks" now that the weather is cooling down again. My first "real" pair (ie, w/ "real" sock yarn) were for Coffeeboy out of Meilenwiet Mega Boots Stretch; and then, for myself, out of Lorna's Laces. Both seem to be holding up great!

What would you have done differently? Nothing, I'm happy with what I did! (Except the fiddly hole by the ankle, but I (mostly) don't do that anymore.)

What yarns have you particularly enjoyed? I really like my Lorna's Laces socks. I also enjoy working with Trekking and Regia. I have some Fleece Artist socks that are also very nice, but a little fragile. I have some Cherry Tree Hill and some Mountain Colors Bearfoot that I'm looking forward to trying out!

Do you like to crochet your socks? or knit them on DPNs, 2 circulars, or using the Magic Loop method? No crochet here (except for borders). I'm just learning the magic loop, but otherwise prefer DPNs.

Which kind of heel do you prefer? (flap? or short-row?) I think I find the short row less bothersome to knit without the pesky heel flap, which always slows me down, but I think the heel flap fits better.

How many pairs have you made? 7 pairs and counting!

Shawl progress...
3 shells remaining! It will be done in the next day or two! And now that it's mostly off the needles, I see how gi-normous it is!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The limits of obsession

This weekend, Greta Jane at Ivory Needles told me I was more obsessed by knitting than she, as she would never have the patience to just sit and knit for hours on end till a thing is done. I discovered that in some cases, I don't either.

Apparently, there are limits to my knitting-and-yarn obsession. Shocker!

This limit is interesting to know about, as I hadn't thought it possible, especially given how gung-ho sock happy I've been the last few weeks. I even was getting to the point where I was enjoying the very, very long rows in the Pacific Northwest Shawl, long rows that for the last couple of weeks have been all I have worked on.

But then came the shells that broke the camel's back. I have 3/4 of them finished. Yes, they'll be pretty. But why must I check blogs at the end of every row? Or insist on actually looking at the TV screen while watching Star Trek with Coffeeboy as I knitted shells? Shouldn't I have spent the weekend in some sort of well-lit knitter's hermitage, a state of trance and frenzied activity at the same time, madly knitting like the weekend warrior I needed to be?

Apparently not. I would have gone nuts. Instead, there was school and a dinner with a visiting scholar whom Coffeeboy networked with. And a departmental pot-luck to cook for. And a houseguest to clean up for. Life got in the way. Knitting became frustrating.

I knit for much of Saturday afternoon and pretty much all day Sunday, plus a few hours early yesterday afternoon and a couple while Coffeeboy's football team (the Green Bay Packers) had a miserable time of it on Monday Night.

I think now I know why people complain about how much time flopping large pieces of knitting back and forth takes. (Too bad said rows involve slipping stitches, YOs, k2togs, and purls, or else I'd have checked out knitting backwards by now!) And I now know even more about keeping a shawl's length of stitches on the needle as a stitch holder, and at the end of every row on the short DPN, moving the stitches to the end of the long circular, taking one off, knitting it together with the last stitch on the DPN, flopping the knitting around, over and over.

Jenny is here. She says she loves the unfinished object. I keep trying to demonstrate how much better it will look when blocked ("If I just tug here, and here, see how the stitches stand out so much more? That's what it will look like!") I will probably be sending it to her after she's off to her next destination, a wedding in CA after a stopover in WA. Today we're off to the Philly Art Museum for some sightseeing... maybe I will read a page or knit a stitch somewhere in here. And in a few days, when this shawl is done, I wonder if my obsession will need a rest?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Happy Socktober!

Socktoberfest 2006

Happy Socktober, everyone!

October is one of my favorite months, whose flavor is well-captured by the Socktoberfest button I'm using. The leaves turn magical colors, the wind blows, and there's a feeling of things moving and changing as the world turns.

I have a mug from Walden Pond with a quote by Thoreau about this season:
"October is the month for painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October is its sunset sky; November the later twilight."
I have 1/4 of the necessary shawl-edge shells done as of yesterday. Needless to say, there will be no exuberant sock casting-on today, at all. Not even of a fall-colored sock in a feather-and-fan type of pattern, echoing the golden rolling hills and stone walls of the Berkshires in Massachusetts. That will have to wait. Phooey!

That said, my plans for Socktoberfest involve knitting the fall sock just mentioned, finishing the gift sock that's on the needles, and then starting another gift sock and/or working perhaps on my long-postponed blue Trekking Jaywalker. I really meant this to be my next sock after the shawl is done, but I really can't bring myself to start the somewhat icy blue sock when the world is turning red and gold. So the Jaywalker will have to wait.

I think I need to go work on shells now.