Friday, February 26, 2010

Regrets... I've had a few...

I hate having regrets. Sometimes, they flood through my head... all those times I said things I shouldn't have, or didn't say what should have been said. Or bought something I didn't need, stayed up too late, got up too early, played a little too long, waited a little too long, or didn't wait long enough. Yep, we all have them.

Around the new year, something dawned on me (I'm not one for resolutions - it just so happened that the lightbulb came on around then). I realized that there are certain things that I never regret. I never regret getting up early to go for a swim or workout in the basement. I never regret passing over the chips and chocolate. I never regret getting a good night's sleep. And you know what? I think I'd like to spend more time not regretting things.

It's been that sort of attitude that has helped me to drop my Christmas binge fat. Holy schmoley, that was a struggle. I got back into the exercise routine in January, and I struggled. I couldn't believe how hard that was. Talk about regrets - I hope I never put myself in that position again. So, when we went to LA last month, I made a promise to myself to make sure I got some decent exercise every day, even if we were going to be out and about all day. I figured that I could always take a nap later if I got tired, but darn it, I was not going to struggle after the vacation. No way, smokey.

So, I'm really not sure if I'm going to regret lengthening my Twisted V Pullover, but I do know that, in the end, if it doesn't work out, it's not the end of the world. I have learned that I need at least a 16-inch length from the armpit to bottom hem, and not to rush it, because I WILL regret it later. It's been an interesting conversation in my head during this whole process:

"Hmm, that looks terrible. Oh well... maybe it'll look better after I wash it."

"Well, maybe not. It looks like I made a mistake with that stitch. I guess I'll have to pick the stitches out and start over."

"Start over?! But it's taken all week to get here."

"There's no point in doing this if you're just going to hate the way it looks in the end. Besides, what's the rush? There's no time limit on this."

And so on.

As much as it kills me to pick out all those stitches I made this week, it's a good zen practice. Sometimes, you just gotta rake the gravel in the zen garden until it's perfect... just because. And in the end, your mind is all the better for it.

Another example: the Charlie Brown Sweater I made for my friend's husband. I made a MAJOR mistake in the first week... I made the back about four inches too wide on each side. Eight freakin' inches too big on each side. My fault - I didn't measure until I made it past the complicated intarsia section. I whimpered. I sniffled. I tried a billion different scenarios in my head to make it work. And in the end, I knew that if I didn't start over and do it right, I'd regret it for a LONG time.

And it was worth it, because both my friend and her husband loved it. I am ever so glad and proud.

See? No regrets. Totally worth it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Somebody snap me out of this...

I decided on Saturday night, after months of complaining about it, that I would try to lengthen my Twisted V Neck Pullover.

My options were:

1) Get over it.
2) Work bust darts in somehow to stop the front from riding up.
3) Add some length to the bottom somehow.

Well, I decided to go with option 3, but that came with its own complications. I couldn't just pick up stitches and knit downwards because that would ruin the clean line of the hem.

Then I thought, "I could just cut the stitches open at the bottom, put the stitches on a circular need and knit downwards, sort of like a provisional cast-on."

Well, that wouldn't work either, because the bottom half of the sweater is knit in twisted rib, which does not look the same if you knit it upside-down.

Then I sat and looked at it, and looked at it, and looked at it, then decided, "If I knit a band the same size as the bottom, then I could cut the hem open, then graft the band onto the bottom. That's possible, right?"

Well, it's possible. But it's reeeeeeeeeeeally difficult.

Last night, I made it to the point where I was ready to attempt to graft the band onto the bottom hem (of which I already cut the threads and unraveled them to reveal some live stitches). I managed to get about 4 inches into the grafting when I finally got the hang of it, but because it took me that long to get good at it, the previous 3 inches look awful. I figured that there's no point in me doing this if it's not going to look good, so I picked out all the stitches and have it sitting at home, ready for me to tackle when I get home today (because there was no way this thing was getting transported to work with me for my lunch hour-knit).

I don't know how I get myself into these things... Why can't I just finish my scarf and get on with life?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Trouble with Ambition

I've always been adept at working with my hands. From the time I was very little, I've always built things, made things, played with knots, strings, bits of wood, staples, glue, paperclips... I made little people out of styrofoam cups and muffin casings. I've experimented with making houses out of ladyfingers. My short stint at Michaels was non-profitable because of the money I poured into my craft experiments.

It's not that I'm an expert on all things handmade. It's just that I like shiny things. Really. I do. And colourful things. And cleverly-made things. And I like to know how things are made. It's like knowing a secret code or a magic trick. It makes me squeal. Well, sometimes. But it sure does make me smile.

My newest infatuation is spinning. I want to learn to spin my own yarn, maybe eventually from fleece from local sheep or even alpaca. I want to feel the twist of the yarn between my fingers and watch the fleece stretch and wind into this miracle of fibre.

Here's my problem: What if I can't do it?

I have this fear that I've built up all these hazy dreams of prancing through green meadows with little lambs gamboling aside me, baaing and jumping, greeting the goats and the rabbits that I will also be spinning the coats of later in the day... only to find out that I'm just not good at spinning.

I know, I know... we all start somewhere. My hope is that, if I practice and try and try, I'll be able to make yarn to my liking. Maybe a double-knit weight yarn. Perfect and lofty and light.

Another problem is that I fear that spinning is not a cheap hobby, particularly for a beginner. I mean, if you want to learn to knit or crochet, you have to actually spend time knitting and crocheting. I've spent hours, nay, days, months, years perfecting how to hold my hooks and needles. And well, with spinning, you have to spin to get better. And you can't just spin anything -you have to have the roving, nice carded fleece to practice on.

It is for this reason that the spindle which I purchased a couple of months ago hasn't been touched since my initial attempt a while back. I feel like I should use up my stash, while in the meantime, spend some time researching and learning, touching the roving that I currently have in my possession. I should really understand what I'm getting myself into. Let's face it - lots of us don't have all this free cash lying around. I'm trying to sock away a bunch of money, just in case these dark financial days get darker.

In my travels on the web, I came across a book called Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont. I am very interested in spindles, partly because I like the idea of using an ancient tool that has been used in many parts of the world to create textiles. So far, I've had a history lesson and physics lesson about spindles, which I've really enjoyed. I'm now onto the meat and potatoes of the book now: how to actually spin. Now, I've already looked up lots of videos and tutorials on the web, but I like that all this information is neatly packaged together in this book, particularly the "troubleshooting" sections that help me to understand why my yarn hasn't turned out the way I expected it to, and what I might be able to do about it. It's comforting to have that nearby when I actually get started. It's helped to get rid of this unreasonable fear of failure and get me excited about it again.

But first... the stash. Always the stash to work on... And maybe, when I get a bit of cash saved up, I'll get myself a bunch of roving and commit to learning this new craft.

I think I'll call myself spiderwoman.

Monday, February 15, 2010

On the Dawn of a New Project

It is one of my cardinal rules that I never start another project until I've finished the current on I'm working on. It's my way of keeping track of needles, of yarn and of where I am in each project, and it motivates me to keep going on something so that it gets done in good time. This is a good thing most of the time, but it means that each time I start something new, I experience this period of giddiness, and relative confusion. What should I work on now? Out of the millions of plans floating around my head, which one will I follow now?

Oh bountiful stash, what treasures wilt thou bestow on me this day?

It's funny, because during my last project (which I can't talk about until I give it to the person it was meant for), I had all these plans to work on the Featherweight Cardigan. I'd wound the first skein, and was making plans for a lace design on the back of it. Yesterday, I sat down next to my yarn basket, and well... I started exploring.

A couple of hours later, I was lost in yarn utopia. What do to with all these lovely balls of yarn?

I've had a new beacon to guide me these days to help me with all these lovely decisions. It's a book called The Knitter's Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes.

For those of you who haven't read it yet, this is a great book to help you understand more about yarn, and more than that, why it does all those weird things that you observe during projects. Why the heck, for example, does a cotton blanket knitted in stockinette and bordered in garter stitch end up being wider on one end than another? How come some yarns pill and some don't? What is the best project for those huge cakes of Estonian two-ply fingering weight wool?

Here's an example. Case 1: behold the skeins of Malabrigo Silky Merino in Loro Banquerro (I love the name of this colourway - makes me think of a guy in a sombrero making fun of the local gringo. "Hey, Paco. Look at that loro banquerro. Snicker snicker.)

These skeins have been sitting in my basket for almost a year, languishing in their gorgeous colours. What project could I make to give justice to such unique colour-blending?

A month ago, when I first got The Knitter's Book of Wool, I opened it up and started reading from the beginning, then started browsing through the book in general. And here's what I learned:

Silky Merino is a single-ply yarn. Because it's made up of one ply I should stay away from a project that only uses stockinette, to prevent the fabric from slanting or biasing. Because it has silk in it, it's going to have lovely drape and sheen, with unexpected warmth, I should choose a project that doesn't have too many open stitch patterns, so that it can hold its twist. The wool is going to help to keep it elastic and lofty. And because that wool comes from merino sheep, the scales on each fibre are so numerous that it will be soft and lovely against the skin.

Ok, so now what?

Well, I decided to make a long scarf like this:

This is the plaited basket weave stitch. Close stitch, lovely texture, and a great way to show off a variegated yarn. It's not the quickest stitch to perform, but I don't have it done anytime soon. I'm enjoying it so much that I'm not sure I want it to end!

Well, that's a lie. I've got a cardigan, two shrugs and a sweater all planned. Anyone got a time machine?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

So, where the heck have I been anyway?

It's been a loooooooooooong stretch this time between posts. Sometimes, these periods of silence are just because I can't think of anything to say, and I'm a great believer in keeping my mouth shut if there's not much worth listening to coming out of it. This time, however, I've been busy, busy, busy working on a marathon of a project, but I'm on the home stretch now, so I figured I'd stretch the ol' brain out here for a while!

We got back from a wonderful few days' vacation in Los Angeles a few days ago... sigh. In short, we left this:

And came home to this:

But, such is winter in the Great White North.

We have perfect weather in L.A. - not too hot, not too chilly, even in the evenings. We explored markets, hiked through mountains, enjoyed the breeze on the beach, did a wee bit of shopping... that's my idea of the perfect holiday! No where to be, but plenty of time to be there. I reckon that four days is a pretty good length of time to be away, too. I tend to get a little bored staying in one place for too long.

One thing that was a bit of a bust was my plan to shop for yarn in L.A. I didn't buy a single strand of it there. I was disappointed, mostly in myself, since I really didn't have any idea what I'd find there. It's not that the shops that I found weren't any good - in fact, they were amazing places, but it's just that I didn't really have the budget or the time to buy up a bunch of yarn that I hadn't planned on. Goodness knows that I have quite the stash taking over my living room right now, and I just didn't want to come home with something for which I didn't have a project in mind. And, on top of that, a lot of the yarn brands I saw there I can get readily here in Canada, or were just things that were out of my price range. I guess I'm not that disappointed - better to have my finances intact right now, since I've had a bunch of expenses to take care of.

Something I always strive to do when on vacation is to try to experience unique while I'm there. It's usually nothing that earth-shattering. This time, I wanted to try to see L.A. from a different point of view. When I told people that we were going to L.A., they kept asking me, "Why?" I guess most people envision L.A. as a huge urban metropolis of smog and haze. I suppose they're right - since that's what we always see on tv, but there's usually so much more to a place.

For example, we had a great day hiking through Malibu Creek State Park, formally home to Bob Hope and the Reagan Ranch. It was warm, sunny, and perfectly green - so much outside of what people would expect of L.A. I'm so glad we spent time there.

Just think of all the little nooks and crannies of places that nobody ever explores because of preconceptions! I'll be honest and say that I had no idea that this place was even anywhere in the city - my husband found it while surfing the internet in the hotel. It's a good thing he never wants to just go shopping, otherwise, I'd never see the great outdoors!

In the meantime, I have been working my little fingers off on a sweater for a friend of mine that is already late! The thing about working quickly on something, as many of you probably already know, is that it always takes ten times longer to get anything done! Case in point: this morning I got up to finish the placket of one side of this sweater. I figured it would take me an hour to get it started and knit in the buttonholes. I was STILL working on them by this afternoon, after screwing it up three times. Work faster, rip back faster, it seems. Still, although it's been a bit of a long haul, I'm looking forward to him seeing it! And I'm quite proud of how it's all turning out, especially since I just did a sewn hem - pretty snazzy-looking!

Speaking of which, I'd better get back to work!