Saturday, February 26, 2011

My Struggles with an Elven Grandmother

I've been working all week on my Haruni shawl, by Emily Ross, and have been thoroughly enjoying it. Haruni means grandmother in Quenya, Tolkien's elven language. It's a project that I've decided to work on at home, simply because lace knitting is never that impressive in-progress, and I didn't feel like coming up for explanations for, "What is that you're working on?" It's just too complicated to explain, sometimes.

It's an extremely well-written pattern, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves knitting lace, and even to those who want to try it for the first time. It is written with a note about the general construction of the shawl, and with overviews about what is going to be accomplished in each section. Usually when you start a pattern, you just have to through caution to the wind and dive in with some faith that the bewildering amount of instructions will yield something that looks like the finished project. I would advise any first-time lace knitters to read through the pattern all the way through before starting off, and to ask lots of questions about anything that seems unclear. It is far too pretty of a project to give up on halfway through.

What I really liked about the instructions is that, in the overview for the first chart, it reads:
Please note that due to the rapid rate of increase in Chart B, it will consume roughly half your entire yardage.
Oh yeah, I love that. That tells me that I have the power to know for sure that I will not run out of yarn.

I think so, anyway.

This in mind, I pulled out the digital scale that I purchased from my friend, Dawg, during his moving sale. Yeah, I could use it for baking and cooking and stuff...

But it's really for my yarn habit.

So, last Monday, I took the ball of Punta Merisock that I was going to use for this project, and weighed it before I started. It weighed 99 grams. Ok, good. That means that, by the time I finish four repeats of the first chart, I should have roughly 50 grams, and I will not, repeat, will NOT run out of yarn. I was even going to knit it with needles smaller than the suggested size, because I couldn't find a set in town that was exactly the suggested size of 3.5mm. It was all good. I had plenty of checks and balances in places.

After the first two and a half repeats, I weighed the yarn remaining in the ball and the scale read 64 grams. After the third repeat, I weighed it again, and the sale read 58 grams. Hmm.

I could just stop the first chart now and move on to the second chart and be sure I won't run out, the logical part of my brain said.

But... if I do that, the shawl will be much smaller, said the whiney part of brain. Surely you want it to be at least as big as the picture shows.

The logical part began to work on the problem. Ok, so it took about 6 grams of yarn to do half a repeat. Since each repeat takes slightly more yarn, you will probably need at least 14 grams of yarn to finish the last repeat. That leaves 44 grams of yarn.

Whiney brain said, Oh man... that's not going to be enough. That's less than half of the total weight. It'll never work.... Woe, woe is me...

I put down the needles and logged in to Ravelry. I scanned countless projects, read lots and lots of notes from others who made the shawl, looked through the KAL (Knit-a-long) forum posts for this project. All of the yardage requirements were all over the place. I thought of ways to work around it, maybe work a few rows of garter stitch or stockinette or mesh lace to make up for the loss in length. How was I going to know it was going to be ok?

Finally, before I went to bed last night, I picked up the pattern again and read through the notes. It said:
After four repeats you will have 12 stems on each half of your shawl.
The first section of the shawl is made of leaf-like patterns, with "stems" down the centre of each. I counted the stems on each side of my shawl. There were 12 on each side.

I had already finished four repeats. Not three. Four. I didn't need to worry myself through another whole repeat. I'm an idiot.

Ok, well maybe not an idiot. I just hate running out of yarn, especially in lace knitting, where ripping back to start again is like scooping your eyeballs out with a rusty spoon.

So anyway, I got up this morning and started working on the second chart, extremely confident that I will finish this thing without running out of yarn. Except...

Whiney brain: Man, now you're going to have too much yarn...

Ah well.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Heavy Rabbit Scarf

As of this morning, my cabled angora scarf is complete! I actually finished another project tonight, but I'm saving that for another post, since it's a gift, and I don't want to talk about it until it reaches its owner.

But anyway, yeah... I finished this scarf, after a few trials and tribulations. If you read this post, you'd know that I broke a needle before I got halfway through the project.

By three quarters of the project, the other half of the needle broke. What a croc.

So I gave up on that needle and went to my old Boye needles, and I finally got it done.

The finished dimensions are 50 inches by 12 inches.

A couple of things I'd hoped for:

1) I hoped that if I washed it, it would wash away some of the fuzz. Not really.
2) I hoped that the cables would be more apparent, but after washing, again, not really.
3) I hoped that after blocking, the ends wouldn't be so splayed out, but nah.

I did manage to work an i-cord bind-off on one end, though. I thought I would go back to the starting end to work an i-cord, and I probably could have pulled it off, but quite frankly, I couldn't be bothered. Instead, I grabbed a crochet hook and worked slip stitches along that end, and it kind of mimics that rounded edge that and i-cord does.

By the way, did you know that i-cord stands for "idiot cord?" Apparently, it's supposed to be so easy, an idiot can do it. I guess that means I'm an idiot, because I find it difficult, but the i-cord bind off is easier, at least.

I must say, though, that this scarf is gloriously soft! It is a discontinued yarn, simply named Angora, from Elsebeth Lavold. You'd never know there was wool in this thing (20 percent, to be exact). It is curiously heavy, however. That begs the question: are angora rabbits weighed down by their fur? The content ratio is 60 percent angora, 20 percent wool and 20 percent nylon. I don't imagine that the nylon is giving this scarf its heft. Maybe that's why you only ever see pictures of angora rabbits just sitting there: maybe they're too tired to move around. Or maybe they are excessively strong, and can take out a tree with a kick.

Or maybe I'm in a silly mood.

I'm glad that I managed to finish this scarf before the end of winter. It's been reeeally cold here recently, and it'll be nice to snuggle into the scarf on the cold days. It does still shed, but I'm not that worried about that. I experienced the same thing with my alpaca entrelac scarf, and I don't think it's shedding at all anymore now that I've worn it so much, especially over my face in the freezing temperatures of recent days. If there were little hairs still flying off the thing, I'd be coughing out hairballs every day!

Hairballs aside, I'm very, very excited to be able to move on to other projects. It's one of the downfalls of only working on one thing at a time: it's very easy to get bored with your current project. I picked up my spindle this afternoon and managed to spin for about an hour or so while watching some of the M*A*S*H marathon. It felt great to be spinning again, like I'd been welcomed home. And I'm also ready to start knitting Haruni. I read the notes for it last night, and I love knowing that Haruni means "grandmother" in Tolkien's elven language.

I wonder what a Tolkien super angora rabbit would be like...?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Musings About Stuff and Things

It's an icy day here today. Hubby and I took Rascal out for a walk this morning, and we didn't talk much. I needed to concentrate on not breaking my neck while we crept along, keeping our eyes open to any surface that might afford us enough friction to stay upright. Rascal trotted along happily, oblivious to the immense danger his people were in. Oh, to be a fluffy dictator like him...

On the way back, we found a patch of rougher ground, and I started talking about the things that were floating around in my head earlier. "I was just thinking about this hobby that my friend's husband has. He likes to find old clocks and record players and take them apart. I was there once, and it was a lot of fun. There are a lot of little pieces in there that spin like tops when you spin them on a table."

"Yeah," hubby said. "Those old analog clocks are really amazing contraptions on the inside. Nobody wants them now. It makes more sense to have a digital clock. They're cheaper and simpler. But the old clocks were amazing technology back then. Ships could sail across oceans and still have accurate time to calculate their longitude."

"They're still amazing technology," I said. "Just mechanical technology."

And yes, they are still amazing, if not especially useful nor cheap. But still... valuable.

I've been thinking a lot (as usual) about the physical world of things made by hand, and things that work through physical mechanics... things that move because of all the little bits and pieces inside of them, gears and levers and belts... and wondering about all of this knowledge that is out there that seems to be talked about less and less. How did anyone ever figure out how to build an ice jigger? How did anyone figure out how to make popcorn? How did we figure out that you could eat lychee, or brazil nuts? How did someone learn that you can dovetail wood and make a strong joint for a cupboard? Why did someone decide it would be a good idea to make a quilt?

We figured it out because we needed to know. And because we needed to know, we shared the information.

We don't really need all that information now. Most people in the modern world don't need to know how to string a fishing net, or weave a basket, or descale a fish. It's all done for us, then neatly packaged, sometimes into a fully cooked meal, and we don't even need to know how to warm it up - we just read the instructions and we have dinner. We don't even need to write our own stories. We can be entertained by so much that is not of our own making.

I don't really need to sew my own clothes or knit my own scarves, shawls, socks or sweaters. I could easily drive down to Walmart and buy a set of clothing at a quarter of the price and have it all in a tiny fraction of the time it would take for me to even design something to wear.

But I knit my own clothes and cook my own meals. And I do know how to gut and descale a fish, and bake my own bread, and how to make a meal with whatever is in my cupboard and fridge. And I know I'm not alone.

Writing in Interweave Knits, Bethany Lyttle says, "Knitters represent one of the largest blogging interest groups of all time." Yet, nobody talks about it. It's not important. It doesn't raise our economy, nor does it raise the value of my house. You don't see many people knitting in public - most are too embarrassed. Why?

Why isn't it important to preserve the knowledge that is buried in our minds and in our muscles? I remember watching an episode of Ray Mears' Survival, and he said, "I carry my fire not in my matches or in a lighter. I carry it in my muscles." Frankly, I think that's a guy I want to have around. And I want to have knowledge that will keep me alive when the going gets tough. If I get marooned on a desert island with a bunch of people, I want to be the person that doesn't get eaten.

This is not to say that I am against technology; for heaven's sake, I'm blogging on my computer right now. I just like to have a distinction as to how much I can do for myself and what needs to be done for me. Technology can augment, rather than replace.

It is very unlikely I will ever be stranded on a desert island, trying not to be cannibalized. But maybe sometime in the future, someone will need to know how to clothe themselves or light a fire or skin a fish. And they might not know how because nobody ever told them. Nothing in this world is concrete - anything can happen. But we can talk to each other, share what we can do, and value this knowledge as the treasure that it is. And this is not to say this isn't happening, and that technology is not helping this to happen. I heard about a man who survived being trapped in a building after an earthquake because he found an app on his iPhone that told him how to survive such a circumstance.

I just don't want people to be embarrassed by their skills anymore. I want them to feel valued because of what they know how to do.

I don't want to hear people say anymore, "Oh, I made it myself, and yeah, it's not a professional finish, but I made it anyway." I want people to be proud of their skills. Yes, you did write that play yourself, and it's damn good. People should pay to see it. Yes, you did make those cookies, and yeah, it's from a mix, but they taste good. Thank you for using your energy to make them and to share them with me. Yes, you are knitting in public, and it's not a common sight, but I am fascinated by your skill and by how you are making something out of string. Yes, you did fight in the Second World War, and you are old and bent now, but your medals tell us about feelings and fears that nobody had ever known before. You are all not little quaint antiquities that we should take pictures of while on holiday. You are important because you know important things.

Maybe I have such strong convictions about this because I am a "just-in-case" kind of person. I want all the bases covered, most of the time. But why not? Why should people know these things just in case?

Yeah... why not?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Maybe Challenges Are For Chumps

So, I get these ideas in my head: Wouldn't it be great if I made this extremely complicated glove/scarf/sweater/skirt/cake/pie/pastry? I would look/taste great, and it would extremely gratifying, wouldn't it?

I set off, planning, daydreaming, drawing pictures, thumbing through magazines and surfing through pages and pages of ideas, then I cast on. It'll be great, I say.

I've been working steadily along on my cabled scarf, resolving to work at least a full repeat a day, checking my work carefully, ripping out if I need to fix things without hesitation or dithering. I've been making good progress... slow, but good.

I sat down on Saturday night to watch a movie with my knitting in hand, chart to the right of me, hubby to my left. It was going to be a good night.

Well, it was, until I broke my knitting needle.

I've never broken a needle before. It wasn't the needle itself that broke, but the cord connecting the needles together to make a circular needle. And the cord broke clean off the end, leaving a stub inside the connector that I couldn't remove. It's in there. And there's no way to get it out without damaging the connector.

I tried gluing the cord back together, but it just wouldn't stick, and even if it did, I'm not sure I would get a nice smooth surface for the knitting to slide along on. It's done. Finished.

I tried contacting Knitpro, the manufacturers of the needle, telling them how disappointed I was, asking if this had happened before. The reply was that I had to return it to the store I bought it from and I would get a replacement. There are two problems with that:
  1. I bought this needle in England while I was on holiday last October.
  2. I'm not sure I want a replacement of this needle.
So, I muttered and mused... and eventually came up with a solution. I picked up a straight needle that is one size smaller than I'm currently using and used it for the knitting the wrong side of the scarf. That worked for a little while, but I noticed that , even though I usually purl looser than I knit, the fact that this scarf is a mixture of all sorts of stitches means that using a smaller-sized needles messes a bit with the gauge of the fabric. I also noticed that my hands were getting tired using two different types of needles: one metal, one wooden. After that, I picked up the other needle I purchased at the same time I bought the one the broke - same type, but also smaller. I still have to be careful of the tension and the gauge, but my hands are aching much less. Problem solved... for now.

It was still kind of upsetting, though. I went to bed that night, thinking about all the time I'd put into this project, wondering if I'd wasted my time. It didn't help that the movie I was watching was Inception, and it messed with my head a bit. I woke up the next morning and wondered if I'd dreamed it all... if I was in fact still dreaming... if I'd know the difference...

Then, I sat on my cable needle and was immediately reminded that this is real life.

So, lessons learned:
  1. No buying pretty needles on holiday that you can't get at home. If they break, you're stuck.
  2. It's not a good idea to try to knit so many complicated cables on a circular needle of this construction.
  3. No watching movies that mess with your head at the same time as working on a complicated project. You may not have a cable needle around to jolt you back into reality.
In truth, the original pattern where I found these cables was from a beautiful afghan called Burridge Lake Aran Afghan. It's knit in panels, and it's got at least ten different cables in it. Ten! Now that's a challenge! It's not one I'm up for... maybe not ever after this project.

But maybe I'll feel differently when I'm finished...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Given a Piece of Spring

Another busy week... It's frustrating to only find the energy to write a blog post on the weekends, but I'm hoping that I can get into my stride again and find inspiration more often during the week!

Last night, after walking the Rascal, I checked my Twitter feed and found this:
Sarah Wilson:
@ @ @ @ @ @ You won a Spring Pattern Collection from Knitcircus!
The first thing I thought was: Woohoo! That's the first time I've ever won anything from a net giveaway!

The second thing in my head was: Woohoo! I've got something to blog about!

I follow Sarah Wilson aka TheSexyKnitter on her blog, as well as on Twitter. I've done so ever since I admired her Stargazer pattern (which I plan to knit sometime this spring, I think). And, as she says on her blog, her stuff is not about knitted bikinis and which knitter is hotter, but about making flattering, fun things and turning the "granny" perception of knitting on its head.

Anyway, she's making videos for Knitcircus.com, a new online knitting magazine, and from the first time I heard mention of it, it looks like it's going to be a good one - nice layout, and beautiful patterns. When I heard Sarah was giving away subscriptions and patterns from it, I jumped in and entered any way I can. I know the odds of winning these things are low, but I figure, you only have to do small things to get a chance. Who wouldn't want a chance at anything?

So, when I got my free patterns in my email last night, it was like someone sent me a bouquet of fresh spring flowers... a whiff of something fresh and new. Ahh... lacy shawls, warm winds, being outside... it was nice to daydream about them while the frozen rain fell outside my window. Not long now...

Being given these patterns reminds me of a story I read often as a little girl about some toys who lived in the nursery of a little boy who had a flashlight (It was called a torch in the story. It was book from England.) The toys decide to have a fancy dress ball one night, and they borrow the flashlight so that they can have some light to dance in. The flashlight batteries give out, and the toys are distraught. Luckily, there is a fairy at the ball who goes outside, cuts a piece of the moonlight, and pours it into the flashlight. After that, the boy has a flashlight that never, ever dies out.

I feel like a fairy has given me a piece of spring that could last forever. Or, at least to see me through until the snow melts.

In the meantime, I've been working away on my cabled scarf. I've only been working on it at home, because the cables are so complicated that I can't really carry on a conversation while working on it. This was confirmed last night when I took it with me to meet friends for coffee and knitting. After I got home, I realized I'd screwed up the last four rows... more ripping for me! If you ever want to be humbled, knit something with five sets of cables, and then rip it all out. (I'd recommend not yearning for the humble feeling, but if you do...) The yarn is incredibly soft, and while it still sheds enough to cover my shirt in little fuzzy hairs after one sitting, I think that it will be a favourite of mine, once I get it washed and blocked.

I've also become increasingly more obsessed with shawls, and more specifically, shawlettes. I never really thought I'd want to knit a shawl (they always seemed so grandmotherly to me). In fact, I think I might have sworn I would never do it, but I'm eating those words now. With the gorgeous array of colourful yarns out there, the shawlette seems like the perfect way to show them off. At coffee last night, one of my friends remarked how she much prefers to knit things to wear, and I am much the same. Why not show it off? Why not drape it around your neck and head and prance around like a nymph? (I'm not much of a nymph... maybe more like a goblin, but dance I do.) This week, I found great joy in searching for new patterns to try out, like wandering around a flower garden with a vase to fill.

Here are a couple that I really want to make:

Damask by Kitman Figueora (pattern for sale at the Kitman's Etsy shop):

Craftilyhip's Demiluna Shawl (free download on Ravelry):

There are lots more, and goodness knows I like to buy the yarn that works for these kinds of projects, mostly sock yarn. That reminds me: I think I swore I'd never knit socks either, but you never know, I guess.

So, now that I have all these patterns to look through and daydream about, I suppose I ought to go and finish off my scarf so that I can dive into some springtime knitting. Maybe I'm tempting fate; after all, the groundhog apparently has told us there's lots more winter to come. But heck, I've been given a piece of spring. That rodent ain't gonna take it away from me!