Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Knew It Was True, but I Just Had to Taste It Myself

Sometimes, materials surprise you. Imagine Carl Wilhelm Scheele, discovering a bunch of elements which became part of the periodic table, noting each element's characteristics, secrets, unique qualities, and (to his detriment) taste. Surprises from each and every one. When he tasted his last element (which eventually killed him), he probably said, "Well, how 'bout that."

I've been working on Hannah Fettig's Featherweight Cardigan, and, although it has been a long, laborious knit, it has been a delight, and a discovery of the true qualities of fabric and yarn.

The Featherweight is made with laceweight yarn with a gauge of 24 stitches over 4 inches. I managed to get gauge with size 7 needles, so I cast on and on I went.

First of all, when I started the project, the fabric I was knitting was too open, like the mesh that makes a plastic pot scrubber. Not great for a cardigan, and just, well... too weird for me. So, I went back to size 6 needles and did the math to convert the pattern to my new gauge.

I was scared as I knit the first few inches. The fabric was just so... light. And I could still see through it, but not too much. It was absolutely, positively different from any other garment I'd ever made from yarn. Wow... weird. I was positive this thing would stretch out of shape right away, get all slouchy and sloppy, which I hate. I like clean lines. I need to see where things start and where things end, especially when it comes to what I'm wearing.

Clara Parkes wrote a whole chapter in The Knitter's Book of Yarn about two-ply yarns (which includes most laceweight yarns), and how the resulting yarn is oval in shape, giving a firmness, and the ability to hold structure really well. This is really important in lace knitting - you want the open patterns to stay open, but retain a lofty drape. That is sound sense, said I.

And you know, she is absolutely right. It still applies in this project. The laceweight is giving a structure to this featherlight masterpiece, obliterating any thought of this thing being delicate and fragile.

A similar discovery occurred last week, when I got my first order of Elann's Sonata delivered. I immediately fell in love with the Burgandy Rose. I ordered it with one of Annie Modesitt's patterns in mind: An Affair to Remember from Romantic Hand Knits: 26 Flirtatious Designs to Flatter Your Figure. I wasn't sure if it would work, though...

I'd read a few reviews about Sonata, and was a little concerned when a few people said that it was rough, and rope-like, difficult to knit. I'd also seen lots and lots of gorgeous things made with it. I figured I'd keep an open mind - heck, it's such a good price, anything I make out of it will be worth it.

The pattern calls for worsted weight yarn held double, to create a bulkier yarn. Sonata is DK weight, and I knew I'd be doing more math to work with it. Undeterred, I swatched...

Oh my.

I LOVE the structure of the resulting fabric. Since it is cotton, it will have a bit more weight, but I think that the cabling that marks each panel will help to hold it up, and the lacework at the bottom will relieve some of the pull. Yeah, it's stiffer than merino, harder than mercerized cotton. But it'll work. It'll do what I need it to do. I can feel it.

But I wouldn't have known if I hadn't tasted, er, tried it myself.

So, I guess what I am saying is, if you end up with materials that you're not sure will work for you, at least learn what it can do, because it's useful for something.

There's a saying about that... something about lemonade...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Online Store That Changed My Mind

In a previous post, I wrote about why I don't buy yarn online. Well... make way for the convert!

I've been watching an online store called for some time now. I joined the Ravelry group to see what people had to say about it, looked at lots of products made from their yarns, and just... watched the shop to see what the prices were doing. I've read and re-read their shipping policies and how they calculate their prices. They're a Canadian company, and are also quite popular for American customers. That, in and of itself, was interesting to me.

Last week, a thread on the Ravelry group said:

Lara bag sale tomorrow?

Then, my inner-sale-wench was awakened.

Let's just be clear here: I am a self-professed cheapskate. If it ain't on sale, I ain't havin' it. The ironic thing is... I love shopping. I look longingly at the shops and markets when I'm on vacation. I wanna see what kinda stuff is in there. There is a sense of victory that rings through me when I buy something good... and cheap.

I have tried for the Elann bag sales once before, but the other sale-wenches were much faster than me. I totally missed out. Not this time, said I.

The Lara bag sale was only a one-day sale, starting at 9:00am PST. I logged into my account (created a few months ago, but never used) at 8:50am PST.

And I waited.

I searched for "Lara." No bag sale posted yet.

So, I waited.



The advert disappeared from their "Sneak Peeks" section. Hmm, something was happening.




And there it was. I put two bags of Marine and two bags of Cream into my shopping cart. I typed in my credit card details with shaking hands. Clicked, clicked, clicked...

It took me a moment, but my eyes re-focused enough to realize I was looking at the "Sale complete" page. I did it! I got my yarn!

So, that was Friday. Then... Monday came around.

And I ordered two more bags in another bag sale.

Wow. I feel like a hunter that bagged her first deer.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Strawberry Challenge

I was not feeling well yesterday. I woke up feeling fine, but as the day progressed, I felt worse and worse. During the "feeling worse" stage, I went out with hubby to pick up a few groceries and spied strawberries on sale at the local supermarket. Two pound punnets. Hmmm.

When I buy strawberries, I smell them. If they smell good, I buy them. Probably not the most scientific way to select fruit, but it usually works out alright.

Hubby was immediately skeptical. He maintains that supermarket strawberries are never worth the money. I will admit (this time) that he is right, but I was so hungry for that rich, red colour that I couldn't resist. So, I bought two punnets (or rather, he bought them, since he was paying for things yesterday).

I went home, and immediately felt ill. This happens to me sometimes on the weekends - I hit the relaxation button and all hell breaks loose in my head. I get a headache, which turns into a monster, and then I can't eat or sleep or let anyone touch me until it's over. This one was a doozy. I couple of trips to the bathroom to worship the toilet and a Gravol later, and I was still feeling awful. I went to bed and stayed there until this morning.

When I came downstairs to the kitchen, I saw them. Four pounds of strawberries that my husband would not eat, and that I wasn't even sure I wanted anymore, given the adventures my stomach went through yesterday. I was feeling ok, though. Maybe it was time to prove that these berries were edible.

So, I went to work. Two eggs, a cup of sugar, a cup a flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, a dash a salt, a cup of flour, a quarter cup of milk, two tablespoons of butter and a teaspoon of vanilla later, and I had a sponge cake.

I cut up 2 and a half pounds of strawberries, threw half into a bowl and the other half into a saucepan, added two tablespoons of sugar to both, and a little water to the saucepan. Covered the bowl with clingfilm and set the saucepan to simmer. Five minutes later, I had strawberry sauce, suitable for pouring over ice cream or cake.

I went swimming. *swimming interlude music here*

I came home, took the sponge cake out of the pan, covered it in some vanilla pudding and the strawberries.

Hubby thinks it's amazing. I think so, too. I've been too sleepy to try it yet, but I'm hoping I'm well enough to eat it. If not, I may have to hide it from the local furball. I'm sure he'd be all too willing to try some for himself!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Divisions of Me: Why I Do What I Do

Every so often, I wonder how much of myself I should reveal on this blog. I mean, what is the purpose of this thing, anyway? To share my crafty side, to share my explorations in the world of the handmade. Sometimes, though, I just want to share a message, or at least some ideas that I think people might want to take on and think about, too.

Today, my friend Dawg shared this video about a fellow Canadian going to Indonesia to meet his grandmother for the first time since he was two. It hit me like a punch in the stomach. And it made me cry.

I feel somewhat divided in my identity a lot of the time. My parents emigrated to Canada before I was born. I grew up in Canada, with all the privileges that life in Canada provides, and with the middle-class standard of living enjoyed by many Canadians.

And there's the part of me that is from the Philippines, the part that understands that having a flush toilet was something that my family there only got a few years ago, and that knows that daily life could be very, very different for me.

I have never taken my life here in Canada for granted, even when I lived elsewhere. I didn't pay for my schooling, was lucky enough to get through my university debt-free, never went hungry, never had to experience natural disasters like typhoons, monsoons, earthquakes... I've traveled lots, met lots of people, loved lots of people.

Today, I look at myself, and I wonder: would my grandparents know me? Would they understand this person who grew up in such a different time and place? Would they be proud of me?

I think perhaps that's why I am so attached to making things for myself. Today, I hand-minced some shrimp to add to some ground pork, hand-chopped water chestnuts, hand-ground ginger and garlic. Later, I will hand-wrap wontons out of it. Tomorrow, I will hand-make my dinner as well, after I eat my lunch of hand-made bread. Next time I visit my parents in Winnipeg, I will go fishing using the fishing rod my grandfather used, then watch my mother gut it and clean it herself.

This is the way my grandparents would have done it.

And maybe they would actually be proud of me because I do it, too.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Things that look better on the table

Making garments for yourself requires a bit of give and take, and a realization of what your body-type is... and accepting it. Sometimes, you make mistakes and end up making things that look great, but only on the table that you're photographing it on.

Example: My Cherie Amour (insert Stevie Wonder background here):

I made this using James C. Brett Marble Chunky that I fell in love with in a store in Edmonton when I was there on a work trip. Fantastic colours, truly different. I promptly bought two of the enormous balls and brought them home. I eventually settled on making Cherie Amour (I even special-ordered another ball to make sure I had enough) and set to work on it.

Well, here's the problem: it's not only Marble Chunky, but it makes ME look chunky.

In Big Girl Knits by Amy R. Singer and Jillian Moreno, one of the first cardinal rules of knitting for a bodacious body is "Thou shalt not knit with chunky yarn." Why add inches when you don't need inches?

Funny thing is: I knew this rule before I started this sweater. I thought, "Well, it's awfully cute in the pictures. I'm sure it'll be cute on me. I'll just modify it here and there..."

Well, Misses Singer and Moreno, I was blind, but now I see.

I still wear this sweater from time to time, usually on the weekends when nobody sees me. I've added a lace-up to the front so that the neckline doesn't gape, and it's better, but it ain't Vogue.

Nowadays, I make liberal use of Ravelry to see what patterns look like on different shapes. You can check out a pattern and see what people have done with it, and if there were any problems with the pattern, or if someone has made a clever modification. It's a godsend... one that I really should have scrutinized a bit longer before making this.

Ah well... at least I can hum a l'il bit of Stevie today.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

It's not "just a scarf"

I've been working on a scarf for the past few weeks. But it's not "just a scarf."

It's a scarf that I started a little while back using the Malabrigo Silky Merino I bought last year. Lovely colours - I've been loving these skeins of yarn for such a long time. I thought long and hard about what to make with them. I finally settled on making a scarf.

So, I've been working on it, here and there, at work and at home. And I suppose that, if I'm going to knit in public, I'm going to invite comments. But I have to rant a little here.

It's not "just a scarf."

It's a scarf knit in plaited basketweave. That is not an easy stitch. If I were knitting "just a scarf" i.e. in stockinette stitch or garter stitch, I'd have whipped it off in a week, maybe even two days. Plaited basketweave goes like this:

Row 1 (RS): k2, *insert needle in back loop of second st on left needle, k and leave on needle. Then knit the first st, then slip both sts from needle together; rep from *, end k1.
Row 2: p2, * skip next st and purl the second st, then purl the skipped st, then sl both sts from needle together; rep from *, end p1.

That ain't no stockinette stitch. I had to watch a video to figure that one out.

It's a scarf made with silk AND merino - made from a miracle worm and a a regal sheep. Soft, spun in single ply, beautiful stitch definition, drape and sheen. I chose that stitch to show it all off - a shimmering, cloud-light, yet drapey scarf. It wasn't cheap - it was an investment of money to produce something truly beautiful. And mine. And it's perfect.

It's not "just a scarf."

It's my scarf. Beautiful, made for me, for me to admire on cold, sunny days, for me to revel in its luxuriant softness around my neck, to contrast against my hair, to soothe my wind-chapped skin. Made from evenings of dreaming of the stitches that would work, of the way the colour may or may not pool.

That's what it means to knit or crochet. It's not just following a pattern and cranking out a piece. It's the thought and the hours of patiently moving needles and hooks in and out of loops of yarn to make something new. Something that exists because you exist. If I lived before the Industrial Revolution, I'd feel the same way - I'd choose yarns that I could afford to make things for me and the people I loved, and I'd put my whole bloody heart and soul into it.

It's never "just a scarf/hat/sweater/pair of mittens." That's me you're talking about.

Come on, Muggles. Get with it, already.