Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Joys of Jacob, or, How I Narrowly Escaped Having an Octopus on my Head

Above the marge of night a star still shines,
And on the frosty hills the sombre pines
Harbor an eerie wind that crooneth low
Over the glimmering wastes of virgin snow.
- from A Winter Dawn by Lucy Maud Montgomery
It's the end of November, and Old Man Winter has come and sat his big rump down on us here on the prairie. He's settling in... shifting in his seat so that he can stay comfortable until the warmth of spring sends him packing.

It's no big shocker. I'm a November baby - born in a blizzard, and used to bundling up against the bite of the windchill. I feel happy all snuggled up on the couch, surrounded by my balls of wool, slippers on my feet, with no worries of having to go out to face mosquitoes and do yard work. Instead, a doggie tries to rest his head on my elbow as a churn out a project, huffing when he can't get a good nap going...

The moment I brought my Jacob ram yarn home, I new what it would become: a pair of warm mittens, cabled, with just the right amount of coarseness, and with enough lanolin to make them somewhat water-resistant.

Two weeks ago, I cast on for my first mitten. I used the free pattern download from Ravelry called Eugenia's Mittens, with its unique mixture of cables. The snow had not yet fallen here, but I could feel the chill in the air, and it made me yearn for my new mittens. I sailed through the first one without any problems. Then, the snow fell, the thermometer plummeted, and I was all at once desperate to get them finished. I mean, how terrible it would be if I didn't get them finished before it got warm? Luckily, I did get them done last Monday, and I've been wearing them ever since.

I was so happy with them that I immediately decided I wanted a matching hat. Since I'd only used one ball to make the mittens, I was fairly sure I'd get a hat out of the other one, but my running-out-of-yarn fears still haunt me. The mittens hadn't even finished drying yet from washing and blocking when I cast on for a simple hat based on the Button Tab Hat from i like lemons.

I figured the hat would work up quickly. Seed stitch on the brim, plain stockinette up to the top, with simple decreases as it approached the end. I was working with needles one size larger than indicated. I cast on the required stitches, worked up the brim, tried it on, and decided it would be too big. That's strange, I thought. I've got a big head. It should be too small, if anything.

I ripped out the work and started again with fewer stitches. After two days, I'd worked up to the part where the decreases would start. I took out the needles, put the unfinished hat on my head, and walked into the bathroom to take a look.

It looked ok. But then, it happened. It started to creep up my head, like an octopus setting off for a feed. It pulled my hair upwards with it, until the hat sat atop my head like a crown with a fountain of hair threatening to spill over the edges. It was too small.

I sighed, took it off my head, and went back to the drawing board. Ten extra stitches and two days later, I had my hat:

There are a couple of things I loved about working with this yarn. One was the knowledge that one single person I met while on vacation in England at the craft fair at Cartmel had clipped, washed, carded and spun this yarn herself. When I finished my mittens, I washed them in some mild shampoo and conditioner and went to put a glug of vinegar into the rinse water to set the colour... when I realized that, since this is the natural colour of the fleece, it wasn't going to bleed. Ever. How cool is that?

Something I really didn't expect (but had heard of before) was the effect this wool would have on my new bamboo needles. The needles were cheap ones I'd bought on sale at Walmart, deeply ridged on the sides like bamboo skewers. After knitting the first mitten, I noticed that the oils from the wool had started to smooth them out. By the time I finished the second, they were practically aerodynamic.

Of course, this being a fairly raw wool, it has its drawbacks. It's itchy. Wool is itchy. Some of us (me included) don't particularly mind, because it's only really uncomfortable if you're too warm to begin with. However, I really didn't relish the thought of having this yarn rubbing against my forehead after my hat was finished. This in mind, I had the (unusual) foresight to use a provisional cast-on at the base of the hat, so that I could knit a band of cotton at the bottom that would flip up under the seed stitch band and save me from having a red forehead for the rest of the winter.

I did it in green, because I wanted to be able to easily distinguish between the band and the hat. I really like it, even though no one will see it. It's kinda like the sexy underwear under the sweatpants idea. Kinda.

Anyway, the photos of the hat were taken pre-washing and blocking, because, as every other knit-blogger has been experiencing, natural daylight for taking photos is rare these days. I'd just whipped the hat off the needles and sewn in the band before taking them. After that, I gave the hat a wash, and it's sitting on the table drying. That cotton band is taking the longest to dry, but it'll get there.

It could be worse. It was almost an octopus, after all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Mike Holmes Knitting Method

Ok, so maybe Mr. Holmes would rather not be associated with a blog post about knitting, but hey... he ain't here!

For those who don't know Mike Holmes (and I'm so sorry you don't) he's a fellow on tv who goes around homes and fixes problems created by certain less... salubrious... handymen that have left homeowners bereft and broke. His motto? Make it Right. He endorses tools that are good quality and reasonably priced with his "Holmes Approved" sticker. He even created a foundation that works to raise the profile of skilled trades and of good skilled tradesmen and women.

So what has this got to do with anything?

I've been spending a lot of time this week going back to old projects that I haven't been wearing to investigate why. Most of them are things that I made when I was first learning to knit, items that are full of mistakes and weirdness. They're still things I like, though, things that I spent weeks, or even months, working on. And it was about time to make them right.

Firstly, it was my Featherweight Cardigan that I made last summer. I wasn't especially happy with it, mostly because it wouldn't sit closed on me. It kept rolling open and fluttering off my shoulders. I thought I'd "fixed" it by sewing it shut across my bust and adding a few buttons, but I was constantly pulling it and fiddling with it to sit right, so it stretched and billowed.

I took the buttons off and opened it up again on Thursday, then washed it, laid it flat to dry for a day, then steamed it all over to make the edges sit flat. It's back to its original state, but I still want something to hold it flat over my front... like a shawl pin.

I hopped onto Etsy and found something that I think will work, and will work double-duty for all the shawls I've been making. It's a design by Nicholas and Felice called The Celtic Infinity Pin.

I'm hoping I don't hurt myself with it, but it looks reasonably blunt (this from a girl who once got a knitting needle jabbed into her thigh). I think it'll do the trick.

While I was washing the Featherweight, I pulled out another cardigan based on indigirl's Rosedale Cardigan, make with Patons Decor. It was made early in the knitting career when I really didn't understand variegated yarns, and thought that this yarn would give me the big banded stripes that the original pattern did. Well, it didn't, but it was still a pretty good cardigan. The only problem was that it also didn't sit right. It was stiff and the edges rolled.

I pulled it out of my basket and decided that I better do something with it, rather than letting it take up space in the closet. I've become much more bold with my blocking techniques and thought it was time to kill this yarn...

No blood involved, don't worry! "Killing" yarn usually refers to steaming acrylic yarns to make it relax and to add drape to the fabric. Patons Decor is a wool/acrylic blend. Wool also steams and relaxes nicely, so I wasn't afraid of ruining the yarn. I washed the cardigan, spun it in my washing machine, let it dry for a day, and then spent the next two days steaming it - first the left side, then the right, making sure the edges sat flat and the collar folded nicely.

It's perfect.

I may go ahead and put a zipper in it, but it sits so nicely that I might not bother. I also tacked the corners of the collar down, because it's just so short that it won't stay flat forever. I am very happy with it, especially with the way it now hangs. I wore it this morning under my coat to walk the doggy in the snow. It's so warm that I overheated!

Lastly, I pulled out my very first project.

I know - why didn't I just make a dishcloth? Why a huge cardigan?

Because I don't do things by halves, that's why.

There are plenty of things wrong with this thing. Firstly, it pills like crazy, because it's made from Bernat Satin and that's what that yarn does. You can't really tell unless you look closely at it. Secondly, the knit stitches are completely wrong. They're all knit through the back loop, which creates a twisted stitch that causes the fabric to bias to one side. That's what happens when you teach yourself to knit - you end up making big mistakes with no one to correct you. And well, someone did eventually tell me what I was doing, but by that time, I'd finished the body and was knitting the second sleeve. Ah well...

Anyway, the major repair I made to it was to add more buttons and buttonholes to it. That required some drastic measures that included a pair of scissors, some sewing, and a lot of swearing. I won't describe it - it was an ugly sight - but I managed to get it done in an hour and wore it out last night to a cafe where I met with another knitting friend. She was suitably impressed, which is a good thing, because I probably would've pouted if she wasn't!

This whole "make it right" attitude has been following me a lot in my work recently. I have no fear of ripping things out and starting over again anymore. Yeah, I may have lost time and effort in doing so, but in the end, if I don't do it, I'll end up with a useless finished object, and that seems more wasteful than starting over again. There has been so much in my life recently over which I have had no control. Why not take control of my knitting?

So, with this in mind, after a long and difficult couple of weeks of other things going on in my life, my Multnomah has been frogged completely. I was almost finished, but I was hating it. It just wasn't the pattern for this yarn. It was a painless and freeing process, and I felt really good after I re-balled the yarn.

So, thanks, Mr. Holmes. You've helped me out a lot this week.

And you didn't even have to lift a hammer!

Monday, November 15, 2010

This is My Brain on Knitting

We made an impromptu jaunt into the city last week to make a few purchases and to lunch with a friend. Hubby wanted to buy a new (and much-researched) cell phone, and I wanted to buy a pair of running shoes.

I am quite mindful of the purchases I make, but more than that, I am mindful of the people who usually end up waiting patiently for me (or not) while I dither and calculate. After being married to my husband for seven years and being together for eleven, I've come to develop the Guerilla Shopping Method. This involves:

- careful planning in advance
- pre-contact with shops to check existing inventory
- studying of maps to find shops that carry the things I need in the same general area
- research of other places in the vicinity to keep the hubby busy for at least a few minutes

So, coupons, flyers, maps and doggie in hand, we jumped into the car and made our journey.

The first couple of stops went according to plan. I got a pair of jeans and some socks. I dove into the mall next, perused the store I planned for perusal, got distracted by a chocolate shop (sigh) and then headed straight over to the cell phone kiosk where I found my hubby completing his one purchase for the day. Before he was handed his purchases, I ran into the store behind the kiosk and managed to secure not one, but two pairs of running shoes (yay bogo!). He came in after me and said he'd go out and let Rascal out of the car for a short walk while he waited. I finished my purchase, walked 100 yards the wrong way, turned around, got distracted by a Body Shop, and managed to find him all within 20 minutes.

Not bad, I thought.

We then headed further into the city to meet our friend for lunch. Across the retail park was a Michaels. Oh, I thought. I could get that ball of white cotton I've been needing to finish a project.

"I'm just going in to get a ball of cotton," I said, after we finished our lunch.

"Right," said hubby. He had a resigned look on his face.

I set off in Guerilla-mode. One ball of cotton, one ball of cotton, one ball of cotton...

Who knew there'd be so many yellow sale signs in the yarn department?

I picked up a huge skein of Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool. This is where the brain went haywire.

, I thought. I could buy four of these and make that wrap I've been wanting to make...

But look, I thought. The Patons Classic Wool is on sale. I could buy five of those and make that wrap for less money...

No, I thought. You're supposed to be getting the one ball of cotton. It's even on sale. Just get one.

No, I thought again. Get two. You always run out. Get two.

Okay, two, I thought. But I may as well just get the wool. It's such a good price. Five balls should do it.

Alright, fine, get five. But you'll need a basket.

Well, if you're going to get a basket, you may as well get six. Since you always run out.

Alright, six. Okay, now get out.

But now I have to go to the bathroom...

Thirty minutes later, I returned sheepishly to the car with a bag of yarn.

Luckily, my hubby was happily playing with his new phone. I don't think he even noticed the time that had passed. We may be on to something here...

This weekend, I wrestled with the numbers for the November Ruffle Wrap that I want to use this yarn for. I've been wanting to make it for a long time now. For some reason, my brain thought I needed worsted weight yarn, at least 1000 metres. Well, no. I needed DK yarn, about 600 metres. But wait, I have about 1300 metres, and I'm supposed to double the yarn anyway... but wait, I need another couple of inches of length...

Meanwhile, I sent a friend a long-winded message about yarn requirements for a skirt she wants to make (An Affair to Remember)... and got that totally turned around in my brain.

Knitting makes me crazy. It distracts me from simple tasks and efficient shopping trips, and pulls me from jobs around the house that need to get done.

It also gives my brain the workout that it craves. I like math. I don't love it, but I like the problem-solving, and the way the numbers follow a pattern and fall together to make something someone can wear. It makes my brain happy.

This is my brain.

This is my brain on knitting.

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Story of Leoncio - A Remembrance Day Tale

Tomorrow is November 11, Remembrance Day in Canada and in other Commonwealth countries. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we will take a minute to remember those who have fallen during war, and contemplate the sacrifices those men and women made for the citizens of their countries.

It is a time when I remember a story.

In the 1940s, in the Philippines, a man named Leoncio Adriano joined the army to fight against the Japanese in the Second World War. He was married to a woman named Angelica Clemente, and he thought he would be making a contribution to the country and be paid a wage to look after his young family.

In 1942, during the Battle of Bataan, he was captured by the Japanese as a prisoner of war. He, along with an estimated 75,000 men, were forced to march 97 kilometres (about 60 miles) into the mountains of Tarlac, where they then languished in the prisoner of war camp.

It was a march meant to humiliate, to break men down into the very flesh and blood of which they were made. Those that fell in dehydration and exhaustion were shot, decapitated, or driven over with trucks. It is said that these men were sometimes forced to march for days with no food and with only a few sips of water. These men were subjected to such unmentionable atrocities that the Bataan Death March was declared a war crime years later.

Leoncio held out as long as he could. During one of the many days that blurred together, the prisoners entered a small village. The people of the village watched in horror as the walking corpses moved through. Leoncio, dehydrated, exhausted and demoralized, fell. He knew he would be killed soon. He probably welcomed the thought.

Nearby, a woman saw him fall. She knew that he would be killed. In a moment, she made a decision. She took a blanket that was laying nearby and covered Leoncio's body, disguising him as one of the sacks sitting outside the house.

The prisoners moved on. The trucks left. The shouts of the captors faded away. Leoncio remained covered by the blanket.

In the following weeks, he was nursed back to health. Somehow, he made his way back to Caingin, Malolos, where his wife, Angelica, and his baby daughter, Teresita, welcomed him home. He did his best to forget his ordeal. He never quite managed it.

In 1949, Angelica gave birth to a daughter, Elisa.

In 1974, Elisa married a man named Cesar. They moved to Canada to start a new life in a new country, to make a life for a future family.

In 1975, Elisa gave birth to a son, Ronald James.

In 1977, Elisa gave birth to a daughter, Adriene Marie.

That's me.

On Remembrance Day, I don't just remember those who fell in war. I remember the anonymous woman whose single moment of compassion secured my very existence. From great suffering came a pouring out of love for fellow humankind, and a knowledge of what was good and right and important. Without her, I wouldn't have entered the world, and would have never known the man who walked in that march, who later built me a rocking chair when I was a little girl, who sang me songs, brought me chocolate, and who loved me so much that he was moved to tears when we met again when I was a young woman. After he died, I smelled the scent of jasmine flowers for days. In the Philippines, jasmine is known as the scent of someone who loves you.

On Remembrance Day, please do honour those who sacrificed their lives for their country, but please do also remember the power of kindness, understanding, and compassion. It doesn't just save lives.

It makes life possible.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Multnomah Mystery - or maybe not

So, the hours got moved back, I got an extra hour of sleep (allegedly) and started a new project this weekend. I wanted to use the two skeins of sock yarn that have been languishing in my basket for a few months. They are JL Yarn from Salvia that I got cheap from someone destashing some of their yarn on Etsy.

I have a terrible weakness for variegated yarns. They look so beautiful all wound up in their skeins, tempting me with their rich colours and fascinating colour pairings. And yet... they are really difficult to work with, especially when you don't like how the colours play out in the fabric.

The main method I use for breaking up the cacophony of colours is to try to choose a stitch pattern that changes direction as you knit or crochet. Often, this involves lace patterns or dropping stitches or knitting chevrons... whatever the case, the idea is to make the eye move around so that you're not just looking at the colours all splodged together. Rather, you are forced to make sense of the structure at the same time.

This time, after looking through many pages of projects to try on Ravelry, I decided to knit the extremely popular Multnomah shawlette pattern. It is knit in garter stitch which increases outwards from the shoulders to create a triangular shape, and is then finished off in feather and fan lace at the bottom edge. I was intrigued by the way such a simple stitch as garter stitch seems to add a depth and texture to the yarn. Again, the increases cause the stitches to radiate outwards towards the shoulders, forcing the eye to move to follow the line of the garment. Fascinating.

So, I cast on the required amount of stitches and worked all of the increases until I reached the stitch count where you're supposed to start the lace section.

But it's so small.

I've looked through other people's projects and found that it's supposed to grow when you block it, but I don't think that's the case here. I haven't even used up all the yarn in the first skein, and each skein has roughly 200 metres. I'm even using needles a size larger than stated in the pattern because I just didn't have ones in the right size. So... what's going on?

I'd love to say that there is something mysterious and weird going on here, but I know exactly what the problem is. I didn't swatch. Alright? I just didn't do it.

For those who don't know what swatching is, it's where you knit up a square roughly 5 inches by 5 inches in the stitch that you'll be using most in the pattern, and then measure how many stitches per inch you are achieving. If you have more stitches per inch than the pattern requires, you try again at a larger-sized needle - less, and you try with a smaller one. It means that you make garments that fit and that you don't waste hours and hours of your time on something you'll never wear.

So yeah, I swatch... usually. I do it when I want to make a sweater that I know will fit around my bust, or a skirt that I don't want to cling to my belly. I do it basically for everything that I plan on wearing.

Except for shawls.

My reasoning was that, well... this thing is going to sit on my shoulders and nothing else. It'll fit, right?

Well, not if it turns out to be a handkerchief.

So... lesson learned. But I'm not ripping this out - I'm way too far gone for that. I'm just going to knit in garter stitch until I get a size that is comparable to the picture before I start the lace section. It's a darn good thing it's in garter stitch though. I don't think I'd take it so well if I had to figure out all sorts of math to make a lace pattern work. I think I just need to end up with a multiple of 18, and the designer has already listed the multiples on her project page in Ravelry.

I guess things never seem to work out as you mapped it out in your head, but apparently that makes you more adaptable and less prone to... well, extinction, according to Darwin. But that's a whole other subject...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Exorcism of the Camera

This week, I welcomed back my camera from the witchdoctors at Canon. They fixed the problem, free of charge. I must thank my hubby for actually taking the time to research the problem, because if I was left to my own devices, I would have started doing the research to by a new camera instead - after all, it is six years old. I thought it was just digital old age setting in.

Anyway, my hubby Google'd the words "canon camera pink" and found the following advisory from Canon:
It has been confirmed that the connecting parts of the internal wiring of the CCD used in affected products may become disconnected, especially if the affected products are stored or used in high-temperature and high-humidity environments. If this occurs, the signal is not output from the CCD normally in Shooting Mode, which may cause a distorted image or the absence of an image. This malfunction can be confirmed on the LCD monitor screen during shooting. The same malfunction also appears on the recorded image.

Effective immediately, and regardless of warranty status, Canon will repair, free of charge, the products listed above exhibiting the above-mentioned malfunction if Canon determines that the malfunction is caused by the CCD image sensor. Canon will also cover the cost of shipping and handling in connection with this repair.
So, a couple of weeks ago, we sent it off and crossed our fingers. We figured that, if it was found to have a problem separate from the one mentioned above, we'd just lose out on the cost of shipping the camera to them and start looking for a new one. Thankfully, the malfunction was found, they performed the exorcism, and back it came, safe and sound.

It was not a minute too soon, because I managed to clear out a couple of projects that have been sitting around unfinished. Behold, the Green Gable hoodie:

It was a bit of a struggle getting the zipper in. Ok, it wasn't a struggle... it was a battle of epic proportions between me and a bit of haberdashery, peppered with many four-letter words. After much pouting and stomping around the house, I sat down and reasoned it out and ended up with a reasonable approximation of a hoodie with a zipper. It ain't pro, but it'll do.

After I got the zipper in, I looked at the four and a half leftover skeins of wool and decided I may as well put in a couple of pockets. I used Elizabeth Zimmermann's Afterthought Pocket method from A Knitter's Almanac, where you mark where you want the centre of the poket opening to be, snip the yarn at that point, and unravel to the left and right. You pick up the stitches and knit a tube in the round, bind off both sides together in a three-needle bind off, and bim bam boom, you have a pocket! Works for mitten thumbs, too.

I also finished off my Gail shawlette, which is freshly blocked and ready to wear:

I never imagined how much I'd like those pointy little edges until I started pinning them down to block them. And I'm also really happy with the way the pattern shows off this variegated yarn, for which I have a particular weakness.

I still have one unfinished project sitting around, but it'll keep until I manage to find more yarn for it. Until then, I've started on Multnomah, a free pattern from It's another attempt to try to show off another variegated yarn I bought in weakness. It looks pretty good so far, but I'm only a couple of inches in and I've already ripped out a couple of inches of another pattern I tried to use it for. Fingers crossed that it passes.

Oh, and remember the Jacob ram yarn I mentioned in my previous post? Here's the yarn I wanted to show you:

Warm, cabled mittens, here I come!

Ah, I feel like I've got my eyeballs back. Thank you, Canon!