December 13, 2008

I aten't dead!

I've been too busy to count to ten, let alone update my knitting blog. Sorry, my loves. I think the pressure will ease up after Xmas. In any case, I haven't forgotten my password, and I sure as hell haven't stopped knitting. :)

July 27, 2008

Knitting FAQ: Ergonomics and Posture

Knitting FAQ index

"How should I hold my knitting? What about posture?"

Like any activity where you use your hands for long periods of time, knitting can give you repetitive stress injuries if you do it wrong. It's important that you not let that happen. Here are some tips to help you avoid it:

Try lighter or shorter needles. The heavier your needles, the more work your hands have to do with every stitch. Longer needles apply more leverage to your hands; once again, your hands have to work harder to make that stitch. If you're using long metal needles, switching to wood or plastic needles a few inches shorter might make all the difference.

Support the weight of the fabric in your lap. The more fabric you've knitted, the heavier it is. If it's long enough to reach your lap when you're sitting down, take that extra second to arrange it so it's supported whenever you turn the work. The more weight you can take off your hands, the longer you can knit.

Put both feet flat on the ground. I confess, I don't always do this myself; I like to put my feet up. But even so, I pause to put my feet flat from time to time to check that I'm not off balance. You want to make sure you're not listing to one side or the other. Leaning puts a strain on your whole body; you can end up with a sore back, sore neck, and sore hands.

Sit up straight. Just like leaning to the side, curling forward puts a strain on your body. If you can't see your work without bending over it, go where the light is better, or get your glasses prescription updated. Hunching like a cobbler elf means you'll eventually look like one.

Keep warm. Cold weather makes you feel like knitting, it's true. But do the actual knitting somewhere warm. Cold joints are already under stress; putting them under further stress will make them sore.

Let both hands share the work. If you find that one hand gets sore faster than the other, take a good look at your knitting style. There are several different methods for holding the working yarn and moving the stitches, and while they're fairly balanced in their ideal forms, it's possible to pick up habits that leave one hand doing all the work; you might want to consider switching to a different method.

Keep your arms relaxed. You don't want your elbows out and flapping. Not only does it look goofy, it wastes energy and makes you tired. The strain on your upper arms travels all the way to your hands, and the next thing you know you're too sore to knit.

Look at experienced knitters. It's easy enough to find pictures of people knitting; have a look at their hands and arms. Everyone's a little different in the details, but the general posture is the same.

Most importantly: if it hurts, stop! Tendonitis and carpal tunnel are no joke! If you don't take the time to let your hands and wrists heal, you can do permanent damage. Better to lay off the knitting for a day or two now than to end up unable to knit ever again.

To discuss this question and answer, please comment on this post. To ask other questions, please comment on the FAQ index post. Hope it's helpful, and have fun knitting!

Knitting FAQ: Stitch Markers

Knitting FAQ index

"What are stitch markers and how do you use them?"

Stitch markers are a way to mark a point in your work for future reference. There are lots of things you can use for this. In a pinch, you can even use a piece of contrasting yarn, but markers made for the purpose are pretty cheap and a lot easier to use, so you may as well go ahead and get some.

There are two basic types of stitch markers -- open and closed. Open stitch markers have an opening, so you can hook them through a stitch to mark a point in your knitted fabric, or around your needle without moving the stitches that are on the needle. There are plastic loops, and coilless safety pins:

Then there are the closed type, which are simply a ring. These go around your needle, not around a stitch in the fabric. If you were to put them around a stitch, then once you knit past them, they'd be a permanent decoration. Which is pretty creative if you do it on purpose, I guess, but not much use as a marker. So the closed type is useful for marking a point in your knitting that recurs with each row. You can get cheap plastic ones, or fancy beaded metal ones:

There's one difference between the plastic circles and the beaded markers other than the fact that one is prettier (and more expensive) than the other: the bead hangs on one side of your fabric. This means that you can use the bead to keep track of which side is the right side on a reversible fabric like garter stitch, for instance. It also means that you have to keep an eye on which side your working yarn is on when you scoop the marker from one needle to the other, or you can end up tangling it around the bead.

Closed stitch markers can only be placed on your needle when there are no stitches in the way. That means that to use one, you need to knit to the place where you want it, slide it onto the needle, and then keep going. When you reach that point in the next row, you scoop the marker from one needle to the other, just like slipping a stitch.

Open markers are commonly used for things like marking the beginning of an increase or decrease, the turning point in a short row, or anything else that's hard to spot at a glance and which you'll want to find later. They mark a stationary point in your fabric. Of course, you can also use them like you'd use closed markers, by hooking them on your needle.

Closed markers are used to mark things like pattern repeats, the point where an increase or decrease happens on each row, the beginning of the row in a circular piece, or anything else that happens repeatedly as your knitting continues. Patterns will often instruct you where to place markers, and describe these repeating elements in terms of the markers. For instance, in my hat template, I tell you to place a marker at the center of each needle, and decrease right after it. You could do that hat well enough just by counting the stitches instead of using a marker, but the marker's just that little bit easier -- and when you're making a lace tablecloth with thirty repeats of a pattern that looks like ramen until you block it, stitch markers make the difference between ending up with a gorgeous heirloom, and ending up wearing a huggy coat in a padded room.

Since I make and sell beaded stitch markers, I'm sort of biased in their favor, so take my preference for them with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, I do think they're the nicest. The metal rings with a slight extra weight slide cleanly from one needle to the other, the dangling bead lets you keep track of the right side of the fabric (as long as you don't let it flip over when you set your knitting down for a second), and they're just plain nice to look at. Experiment with different kinds and find out what you like best.

To discuss this question and answer, please comment on this post. To ask other questions, please comment on the FAQ index post. Hope it's helpful, and have fun knitting!

July 20, 2008

Knitting FAQ: Beginner Materials

Knitting FAQ index

"What materials are recommended for a beginner to get?"

The simple, albeit somewhat flippant answer, is that all you need are sticks and string. If you're stranded on a desert island, you can knit with grass and twigs. As long as you have something to make loops out of and something to make them on, you can start knitting. That said, some materials are easier for a beginner to work with than others.

Obviously there will be differences of opinion from one person to another about what it's best to start with. This is my own advice:

- Material: I recommend wood or bamboo. It's lightweight and not too slippery. Some prefer plastic needles for beginners because they're cheaper, which allows you to try out more sizes with less initial expense. Metal needles are your worst bet; they're heavier, which is hard on hands that haven't built up their knitting muscles yet, and the stitches are prone to slipping off.
- Type: Straight, single-point needles, not too long. Eleven inches is a good length. That's short enough to be portable, but long enough to make a nice wide scarf or a knit-flat hat. These will serve you well in beginner projects, and remain useful even when you're comfortable with other types.
- Size: Somewhere between 7 (4.5 mm) and 10 (6.0 mm). That's large enough that you can easily see and manipulate your stitches, but not so big that you end up with weird elongated knitting that doesn't look like the pictures on instruction sites.

- Fiber: Start out with something that has a bit of stretch to it. Wool is a very good bet; if wool is no good for you, test whatever fiber you choose by stretching out a length of it and see if it has some give. Non-stretchy fibers like cotton can be hard to work with and make your hands sore. On the other hand, a very stretchy yarn, like elastic-core sock yarn, is frustrating when you don't have a feel for your stitches yet. Avoid mohair; it sticks to itself, and gets threadbare fast if you unravel and reknit it.
- Weight: Worsted, also known as Aran -- around 12 wpi (wraps per inch) -- is a comfortable weight to work with on needles in the 7-10 range. It's a useful weight for scarves, hats, mittens, etc.
- Type: Choose a smooth, structurally solid yarn for your first few projects. Trust me on this. No novelty yarns; no fluff, fuzz, sparkles, dangles, loops, or lumps. You need to know what your stitches look like as you're learning, and that's just about impossible if your stitches look like a feather boa. Also, you'll probably be ripping back and starting over a few times, doing experiments and then unraveling them; a smooth yarn stands up to this treatment much better than a fuzzy or uneven one.
- Color: Yes, this matters. It's much easier to see what you're doing on light colors. I found this out the hard way. I was quite the goth when I was learning to knit, and my first few projects were all dark red, dark purple, or black; I got some spectacular headaches from this. No matter how deep your gloom, you can surely make a case for cobweb gray.
- Price: Do not get cheapo crap just because you're a beginner. I can't emphasize this enough. Pay the extra couple bucks and get something that looks and feels wonderful. Remember, this yarn will be in your hands and in front of your eyes for hours at a time. If you don't like to look at it or touch it, learning will be a chore instead of a pleasure.

Other items:
- Something to cut with: You don't need special knitting scissors, just normal ones. In a pinch I've used nail clippers, my pocketknife, or my teeth. You won't be doing a whole lot of cutting and it doesn't need to be fancy.
- Something to measure with: Again, nothing special, just something that will measure inches. (Patterns which give gauge in only one or the other invariably give it in inches; the rest give both inches and centimeters.) Since you'll be using this mostly for measuring gauge at first, one of those little plastic school rulers would be fine. Clear plastic quilting templates with a grid marked on them are especially useful and quite portable.
- Large-eye needles: Yarn needles or tapestry needles with a blunt point and an eye big enough to get your yarn through. You'll use this for weaving in the ends of the yarn. The blunt point is so you don't split your stitches.
- Crochet hook: Useful for a lot of things, like picking up dropped stitches, adding edgings, making provisional cast-ons, and weaving in your ends when you inevitably lose your yarn needle.
- Attitude: Easy does it. Everybody sucks at first. Everybody was a beginner once. Give yourself time to make mistakes and do experiments. Even when it doesn't feel like it, you're getting a little better with every stitch, I promise. :)


To discuss this question and answer, please comment on this post. To ask other questions, please comment on the FAQ index post. Hope it's helpful, and have fun knitting!

Knitting FAQ Index

This is the index post for the Knitting FAQ. I'll be adding links to the answers as I post them. If you have any questions you'd like to see answered, please comment on this post! Don't be shy, ain't no such thing as a stupid question.


Getting Started
Q: What materials are recommended for a beginner to get?
A: Beginner Materials

Q: How should I hold my knitting? What about posture?
A: Ergonomics and Posture

Tools and Materials
Q: What are stitch markers and how do you use them?
A: Stitch Markers

July 19, 2008

Knitting FAQ

After a bit of Googling, I've discovered everything that claims to be a FAQ on the topic of knitting is either very specific ("What gauge is most traditional for Fair Isle?") or is actually a sprawling instructional site rather than a list of Q&A's. Now, I've been known to ask some pretty specific questions myself (I just stumped the 'Tips & Techniques' group on Ravelry for like a week by asking how you do plaited basket stitch in the round), and I love those instructional sites as if they are delicious candy (just look at my sidebar links), but I feel there's a need for a sort of quick-reference to basic, general questions. Questions like, "My scarf is fifteen feet long; how do I stop?"

I'm going to need your help for this. I know there aren't a lot of people reading right now, but I also know y'all are smart and curious folks, and you have friends. You see where I'm going with this. Would you darlings be so kind as to ask me questions, and see if other people you know have questions? Anything you've always wondered about? Problems you've come up against?

Especially useful:
- Questions so basic you feel silly for asking them.
- Questions to which you've found multiple conflicting answers.
- Meta-questions; that is, not about the actual knitting or its materials, but about how to find out things, why information is given in a certain format, etc.
- Goofy, funny questions.

Peripherally related questions on other topics, like spinning, crochet, felting, or weaving, are also worth asking, though my answer might well be "Durr, I dunno!"

I'm still working on how best to format this for accessibility, so if there's a particular format you like to see FAQ's presented in, I'd love to know.


July 14, 2008

Simple hat in plain English, with long notes

I remember how tricky it was, when I first started knitting, to find patterns that explained what I was supposed to do instead of presenting me with a wall of abbreviations and numbers. Even though I'm much better at reading patterns now, I still lose my place when I blink, and for simple projects I wish people would just say things like 'decrease 8 stitches on every other row' rather than 'row 30: k [x], *ssk, k[x]*; row 32; k[x-1], *ssk, k[x-1]*' and so forth. Bleargh. If you can tell me the basic principle in a single breath, then do so, rather than making me count my stitches.

So in the expectation that I'm not the only one who likes to be told how a thing works (rather than having to figure it out from blindly painting by numbers), I'm going to post the basic templates I use to knit some common items, and explain every dang thing as plainly as possible. If there's a question I didn't answer, no matter how basic, please ask it!

Basic Hat Template

This is a beginner-level knit, but if you use it as a jumping-off point for fancier stuff, the sky's the limit. I'll mention some of my favorite embellishments afterwards. If you're not used to using double-pointed needles, this would be a good project to try them out on.

Here's the abbreviated version, the notes I work from myself:

Using worsted weight handspun on #5 dpn’s:
co 80 st on 4 needles (20 ea), join
2x2 rib 8 rows
k 30 rows (total incl. rib 5.5 in)
pm at center of each needle
dec row: ssk at beginning of each needle, after each marker
k 2 rows
dec row
k 1 row
dec row
k 1 row
dec until 8 st remain, break yarn, sew tail through and draw tight.

And now here's the verbose version, where I explain EVERYTHING!

-- About 50g/1.75oz of worsted-weight wool. Most skeins are at least that much, so one skein should do it. Worsted-weight is about 12wpi (wraps per inch); if you're not sure, you can test it by wrapping a length of it around a ruler. Hats are pretty forgiving, so you've got some wiggle room here.
-- A set of five double-pointed needles. I generally use size 5 (3.75 mm) needles, but again, you have wiggle room. You can go up or down sizes to get gauge, or just use your favorites and wing it. The hat will fit somebody. (You can also use a circular needle if you prefer them; I hate them for anything smaller than a sweater, but that's just me.)
-- Four stitch markers. You can get cheap plastic ones at your local yarn store, but I prefer the dangly kind with glass beads and whatnot. Not only are they more fun to look at, they're just a tad heavier and the rings are metal, so they're easier to move from one needle to another; just scoop them up and they slide into place, tick!
-- A tapestry needle or yarn needle for sewing in the ends of the yarn when you're done.

-- Some kind of cast-on. I like the long-tail cast-on, but any kind will do really.
-- Knit and purl stitches.
-- Some kind of decrease. Use ssk if you want it to look like the picture.
Excellent instructions and handy videos of all these things can be found here:

-- A hat like this usually takes me three or four hours. Even if you're learning as you go, you should be able to do one in a weekend.

How to make the hat:

-- Knit a gauge swatch. I get 4 stitches per inch (which is 16 per 10 cm) with worsted on 5's. Knit a little square, measure an inch's worth of stitches in the middle of it, and see what you get. If you're noticeably off, you'll probably want to try bigger or smaller needles. Or you could adjust the number of stitches; as long as it's a multiple of 8, you'll have no problem with the decreases.
-- Cast on 80 stitches on 4 needles. That's 20 per needle. It's tricky to get 80 stitches on one dpn, so there are a couple things you could do. What I usually do is cast on 21 stitches, slip the most recent stitch onto the next needle and cast on 20 on that needle, etc. This means you've got a dangling chain of needles hanging out of your hand, but if that doesn't bother you, it's pretty simple. Just gotta remember not to end up with one extra stitch on the last needle, since you're not slipping it anywhere. Another option is to cast onto a straight or circular needle, then slip the stitches onto your dpn's.
-- Join, being careful not to twist. Patterns always say this. The day you scoff at 'being careful not to twist' is the day you'll twist it and not notice for an hour; do not tempt the knitting gods.
-- Work knit-2 purl-2 ribbing for 8 rows. Knit two stitches, then purl two stitches; keep doing this. If the number you cast on is divisible by 4, it'll line up right. The number of rows you do it for is fungible. You probably want at least 4 to keep it from curling; other than that, it's totally up to you.
-- Knit until the hat is about 5.5 inches long. That's 14 cm, and the measurement includes the ribbing. Most hat recipes say 6 inches, but I find that a frustrating length; long enough to meet my eyebrows and make me look like an ape, not quite long enough to turn up the brim. You can, of course, alter it if you want your hat taller.
-- Place a marker at the middle of each needle. Since there are 20 stitches on each needle, there'll be 10 on either side of the marker.
-- Decrease at the beginning of each needle and after each marker for one round. That's a total of 8 decreases; you should now have 9 stitches on either side of each marker, 18 per needle total.
-- Knit 2 normal rounds. No decreases, just knit.
-- Do another decrease round. Just like you did before; beginning of each needle, and after each marker.
-- Normal round.
-- Decrease round.
-- Normal round.
-- Decrease every round until 8 stitches are left. You can even go as far as 4 stitches left, but that's just one stitch per needle; your needles are going to want to slide out, especially if they're metal.
-- Break yarn, leaving about 6 inches. Or cut it. The only reason patterns say 'break' instead of 'cut' is because a clean-cut end is harder to splice. You don't need to splice this.
-- Thread tail through remaining stitches and draw tight. I find it easiest to use the yarn needle as if it's another knitting needle, and just slip the stitches onto it from the dpn's, then pull the tail through once the dpn's are out of the way. They're kind of a hedgehog at this point, so it's easy to get tangled otherwise.
-- Sew in ends. Poke your needle through a stitch near the ring you just drew tight, rather than through the center; the yarn will hold better that way. Then just sew the yarn through the backs of a few stitches on the inside. Cut the excess, leaving at least a cm to keep it from pulling loose. Then thread the tail from where you started onto the needle and sew that inside the same way.
-- Show everyone your fab new hat. I still do this, no matter how many I've made. :D

There are lots of ways you can make this hat your own. I personally like to knit it plain and let the yarn speak for itself; I'm proud of my handspun and like to showcase it. But I've sometimes added stranded colorwork patterns, embroidery, beads, little fleece flowers, etc. Most knitting stitches will work just fine, too; ribs, cables, moss stitch, various pattern stitches. Even fairly dense lace stitches will work, although if you go to a thinner yarn you'll get an awfully floppy hat.

Have fun! And again, any questions at all, just ask. I want these instructions to be plain as day even if you're a total beginner.

July 9, 2008

More loot-whoring, but this time for a good cause

Get handspun, handknit goodies dirt cheap, and help me help a friend at the same time! Details here!

July 8, 2008

Shameless Loot-Whoring

I generally try not to post just to say 'I PUT THING IN STORE, YOU GO BUY!' Cuz it's rude, yeah, but that probably wouldn't stop me if it wasn't also boring. So I don't do it. BUT...

Well, I'm just so amused by myself today.

Yep, I made buttons. They are all fiber-geek related. Here's the master sheet (click for make bigger):

Thassawl. Now back to my busy schedule of -- no, actually, I think I'll go snuggle Seebs. I have had enough busy today. :D

July 3, 2008

Geekings and Sparklesnot

Warcraft Geekery meets Fiber Art

I have a massively nerdy plan. See, I'm a big gamer geek. Me and my boy are pretty much Gabe and Tycho with hippie hair and sexors. And my biggest game addiction is World of Warcraft. (Wanna see my tailor? So close to max skill! So close!) So when I thought of a way to combine that with my other addiction -- fiber -- I did a little dance of nerdish joy. No, I'm not going to knit a guild tabard.

I'm going to spin Imbued Netherweave.

Now, I know the 'weave' in that implies that it would be a woven fabric. But let me have my fun. I'm going to dye a variegated deep purple, card it with clear angelina, and -- and what? Does it need something else? Beads? Little felted voidwalkers? Hell, I dunno. It's just an idea so far. I try to avoid spinning sparklesnot into my yarns because the result is usually fugly and useless, but this is conceptual, man.

Hm, I might actually weave fabric from it. Sew a bag. Guess I could knit a bag. I dunno, would you be bothered if something was called an Imbued Netherweave Bag and it was actually knitted? I just know my pet autistic supergenius is going to have a problem with it.

My Kind Of People

There's a new craft store in town. I walked over there today and had a look. They didn't have much of anything I wanted to buy except knitting needles, but I still love them lots. See, they're my kind of people.

I mentioned in a previous entry how the local yarn store, Digs, is also a lots-of-other-things store. What I didn't mention was the attitude. Digs gives off a certain vibe. It's a stylish, clever, self-satisfied, hipster kind of vibe. I once went in there to buy some fabric (to make little pouches for my dpn's so I'd never again have to squint at every single #4 I own in the hope that one of them is secretly a #3, a project I have still not managed to complete) and couldn't find a single thing I was willing to pay money for. Every damn bolt of fabric in the place was hipster retro flowers and 70's wallpaper patterns in robin's egg and brown or chartreuse and pink, I fucking swear. The yarn they have is wonderful, all crazy textures and colors and sparkles and concepts -- but only about one-tenth of it could conceivably be used for anything other than an accessory scarf. Basically, the Malabrigo and the Brown Sheep Superwash are of use to me; everything else is for teenage girls with peg looms. Oh, and you have to walk through aisles of $40 scented candles to get to the yarn. So yeah... not feeling real comfy there.

No, I'm a craftsman, not a hipster. I'm a worker. I do things because they want doing, not because they make my friends squeal. I don't need hot pink mohair/angora at $21 per ounce. I need a wall of wool/nylon self-striping sock yarn.

The new store does not have this. Yet. What they have is every product Red Heart makes. Which means all they have is acrylic. I don't use acrylic. Even the stuff that feels nice doesn't wear well and isn't warm, and I've seen pictures of what it does to you if it melts to your skin -- you wanna cozy up by the fireplace in an acrylic sweater? Hello skin grafts! So... no, they don't have what I want a craft store to have, in terms of products. BUT. Big but. Wait, lemme get you a bigger one.

BUT. What they do have is the right attitude. When I asked if they planned to get in some natural fiber yarns, the lady behind the counter, whom I believe is the owner, got out a notebook and asked if I had any other suggestions. She wrote them down. She told me lots of people were asking for 100% wool and for sock yarns. When I told her what kind of stuff I like to work with, she took notes. She was really pleased that I liked the Takumi bamboo dpn's, and asked what sizes I'd like to see in stock. When I told her their selection of quilting fabrics is wonderful, she glowed.

If she wasn't the owner, she was at least a partner. She was a dumpy, cheery, Mom-ish woman in a sweatshirt and jeans, with no-time-for-curlers hair. Not a sleek shopgirl with a plastic smile. The shelving was all cheap and functional, the lighting was bright, there was no attempt to create a 'mood'. But everyone who was shopping there -- and there were quite a few -- looked relaxed and satisfied. The prices were pretty damn good too.

It's clearly a shop for people who want materials for exercising their own skill and creativity, a workmanlike shop, a shop for getting things done. Not an ironic hipster sparklesnot shop full of things for show and giggles. Once the new place gets their sock yarns in, I'll be doing all my shopping there.


And while I'm being catty, I have to tell you about the Fugly.

People who are old enough to remember the last 'crafting renaissance' in the 70's know what I mean. If you're too young, ask your mum; she'll make amazing faces as she recalls it. The macramé owls with wooden bead claws clutching a piece of driftwood. The avocado green and mustard acrylic zig-zag afghans. The fringed purses, the appliqué dishtowels, the VESTS. Oh god the vests. Quilted ones, knitted ones, macramé ones, wobblishly hand-woven ones, all made of unshaped rectangles in dreadful poopy-diaper 'earth tones'. I love the colors of the earth, let me point out; nothing soothes my soul quite like seeing 'espresso' and 'parchment' paired in clean stripes, or a mottling of forest greens leavened by granite gray. But these earth tones looked like nothing found in nature. They looked like things found in the bottom of the crisper drawer upon returning from a two-week vacation.

So as crafting resurges again, I've been fighting not to cringe. I lived through hand-sewn backpacks with yellow rickrack and iron-on ladybugs. I do not want my art, about which I really care, to be compared with the kind of therapy-for-shut-ins yarn-poop that defined the 70's for me. I've been trying not to jump at shadows, trying not to defensively insist that the flame-colored laceweight merino I'm spinning is very high quality lovely stuff suitable for heirloom knitting, and is not orange dammit.

On occasion I've wondered if the 'art yarn' contingent might be where the fugly is. Certainly it's possible to attach some really stupid shit to your lumpy yarn and call it art yarn. If you talk a good line, you can get $50 a skein for forty yards of grab-bag-fiber rope and half a dozen doll heads. It is to describe this nonsense that Luka coined the term 'sparklesnot', in fact, and I've found the word very useful. But some art yarn is awfully nice; I wouldn't work with it myself, but I can see the appeal. And the same goes for free-form knitting; while I myself would neither make nor wear a hat that looks like the 'after' picture from a piñata party, there's a certain DIY, fuck-you appeal to the stuff.

And then, just when I was starting to relax... I found the fugly. Have you heard of the 'butterfly loom'?

It's a way of making sloppy-looking squares with loopy fringe all around the edges. You can make many awkward and stupid things by attaching these objects together. Like purses that look like tangled yarn globs, or scarves that look like tangled yarn globs, or ponchos that look like you dove headfirst through a landfill and kept whatever stuck.

This shit is absolutely equivalent to the worst fug of the 70's. It, like that fug of bygone days, is a ton of fun if you're teaching kindergarten, and absolutely unacceptable in the decorating scheme or wardrobe of an adult. It, like fug of yore, has been 'raised to an art form' by people who want kudos for genuine craft without bothering to develop any genuine skill. It is the real deal.

I find it a huge relief. If this is the extent of our fug, I think we'll be all right. No one outside the art-therapy room will even pretend to take it seriously, and meanwhile, real craftsmen and craftswomen are producing things like this: Susanna Hanssen's Bohus knitting page.

Yeah, I guess there's hope for crafting in the 21st century. Just do me a favor and don't put avocado next to burnt orange EVEN FOR FUNNY. My heart can't take it.

June 17, 2008

Stash; process; tubes.

Wow, it's been a while since I posted. Didja miss me? I've been Action Guy instead of Words Guy for a while. Which sounds much cooler than it is; most of that action has been of the knit-one-purl-one and ply-from-both-ends-of-the-ball variety. I haven't done anything blogworthy, just a lot of the same stuff I always do. I haven't even dyed anything technically interesting. Cool-looking and fun to spin, yes, but by the tried and true method of putting the wool in a pot with some dye and making it hot for a while. I did a couple things where after that I put the wet wool in a baking dish and sprinkled more colors on it, then made it hot some more. Then I rinsed it, let it dry, and made it be yarn. This involved moving my foot up and down for a long time. See? ACTION!

At long last, though, I have words. Mainly because I've been reading Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's books. Damn she's a funny writer. If you don't know the Yarn Harlot, you must read her blog immediately.


According to the Yarn Harlot, the 'low-stasher' is a rare bird. From what I've seen in knitblogs and Ravelry and whatnot, she's right. Knitters like to buy far more yarn than they can use. I've seen pictures of stashes that have more wool than my favorite yarn shop. And it's not a small yarn shop, either. (It's not hard to have more yarn than my local yarn shop, Digs, which is also a fabric, soap, clothing, book, card, candle, and randomgirlyshit store. This upsets me more than it should. I just want the yarn.) Apparently, it just ain't normal to buy only yarn you have a use for.

Well, I'm not used to being normal. It would weird me out if I were normal. Me, I leave the yarn store without yarn more often than not. Yeah, you heard me. I walk out with no yarn. More than half the time.

Why? Well, I got to thinking about why, and this is what I came up with:

1: I spin. I spin quite well. I like my handspun better than almost all commercial yarn. So I often find myself picking up something lovely, thinking, "This would be just perfect if it was 100% merino instead of merino/mohair, if that brown was a little deeper and it had green instead of blue, and it looks splitty, it could stand to be spun just a teensy bit tighter..." -- and I rush home to dye and spin the yarn in my head. I imagine the almost-perfect yarn waving forlornly at me as I leave, then going to post Evanescence lyrics on its Myspace.

2: I'm picky. This kinda goes hand in hand with #1, but I was picky even before I learned to spin. I touch everything in the store, just like the people with the huge stashes, but I guess I don't like what I'm feeling as much as they do. It's not really a matter of scratchy versus soft, because sometimes I'm in the mood for a little texture and will deliberately pick something that's not too soft. But the texture, the color, the weight, everything has to be just right or I don't even pick it up.

3: And thirdly, probably the most important contributor to my small-stashy-ness, I'm a night owl. My 'OMFG gotta cast on rightnow!' urges tend to occur at about one in the morning. If you know of a yarn store that's open at one in the morning, by all means let me know. Now, I know some people stockpile yarn against these occasions, and I do occasionally buy something because it's just the kind of thing I most often use -- I do have some stash. But then when the urge occurs, I use one of those things I stockpiled. So it gets used up. So the stash stays small. Voila.

I'm not by any means saying that other people ought to be the way I am. In a way I kind of envy the people with huge stashes. But when I envy them, I don't think about having all that yarn, I think about using all that yarn. When I have an idea that I could use some of my stash yarn for, that adds extra joy to the project. It's like... processing the yarn through, turning it from potential to actual, is what gives me joy.

Yeah. It's like that. A big stash just looks to me like... backlog.

So that's why my stash all fits in one bookshelf, and is likely to continue to do so. Granted, there are yarn deposits all over the house, wherever I happen to have been working on a project -- a small pile on the dining room table, a layer on the top shelf of my Etsy-business area, and quite a thick stratum of mostly-finished projects on my desk -- but if I gathered it all together, it would just about fill the empty bottom shelf of the bookshelf my stash lives in.

Uh-huh, my stash area has an empty shelf. Has done for at least a year now. I'm a freak. A FREAK I TELL YOU! I'm super freaky. Yow! *James Brown dance*


I think my stash minimalism is closely tied to my knitting style. You may have heard that there are two types of knitters, 'process' knitters and 'product' knitters. Process knitters are about the knitting, and project knitters are about the having-knitted. Of course every knitter's a mix of these. If you like knitted objects but don't like knitting, you'll just buy something someone else knitted. If you like knitting but don't like having knitted objects, you'll... um. What would you do? Make one scarf six miles long? Knit bizarre art emplacements that trail off in knotted strings and found objects, and sell them to museums for millions? (Note to self: find out if it's been done.) Anyway, it's like the Kinsey scale for knitting.

Me, I'm pretty far over on the 'process' side of the scale. I don't even like patterns, because that's too much thinking and not enough knitting. I'll happily make ginormous garter-stitch afghans, which most knitters consider the equivalent of rolling a rock up a hill over and over for eternity. Hell, maybe I'd enjoy rolling a rock up a hill. I like sweeping. And digging holes. I once had a job taking tags off tiny decorative objects and putting different tags on them; I was happy as a clam doing nothing but picking tags and sticking tags all day. I find repetitive activity soothing, I guess.

Where this ties into stash is in the method I use for deciding what to knit. I don't generally think something like, "I want to make a cropped, cabled cardigan out of blue-green wool-silk tweed." My thought process is more like, "I want to make a flat thing with small needles." Sometimes it's just, "Makes mor loopz now!" I know I don't look like a lolcat, but occasionally I'm just... not complex.

So I get this urge, at one in the morning, to make a flat thing with small needles. I go to the cylindrical pottery thingummy that I keep my needles in, and see some needles that look about the right amount of small, and I take them. Sometimes I look at them and discover that they are, say, size 4 needles. Sometimes I don't even look. They feel about right, that's what counts. And I have an idea of what kind of yarn feels right on this size of needles, so I grab all the yarn that feels right-needle-ish.

So I'm holding these needles -- usually scratching my head with them -- and looking at this pile of yarn. My stash is, as I mentioned, small, so there's maybe half a dozen yarns there at most. I might pick them up one at a time, or poke them, or wind a strand around my finger. Now I'm thinking about the flat thing. I feel like flat. What things are flat? Scarves, afghans, parts of sweaters. No, parts of sweaters aren't flat enough; they're meant to join up, so you have to think about them as round. Scarves and afghans. Do I have enough for an afghan? Nope. Looks like I'm making a scarf. Images of possible scarves flit through my head as I look at the yarns. As soon as I see a picture I like, I grab the yarn that inspired it and put the rest back.

Then I sit down and cast on, and gleefully make mor loopz all night. It keeps my hands happy while I watch videos or read. (Yes, you can read while you knit! They make little book-holder-upper doodads, you can get them at most big bookstores.) When my project is done, I give a little sigh of sadness. No mor loopz. All goen. Sigh.


Ooh, I want to knit a round thing on big needles! *rush to stash* *grab size 9 dpn's* *ponder several colors of Lamb's Pride Worsted for five minutes* *cast on hat*


Which brings us to my favorite thing to knit. I reckon most folks, if you ask them what's their favorite thing to knit, will describe a finished item. Sweaters. Mittens. Baby blankets. But I, well, I am superfreaky, as we have already determined. My favorite thing to knit is tubes.

Tubes are, of course, very useful in knitting finished items. Socks, hats, sleeves -- really, the human body can only be properly fitted by making tubes. But the freaky thing is, it's the tube part I like. Having to put a heel or a toe on it kinda... dilutes the joy. Oh, I do it, of course. I put thumb holes in wrist warmers, heels on socks, round tops on hats (with the keen spirally decrease, I do like how that looks). But if I had my druthers -- if I could think of a use for it -- I'd just knit a humongous tube, and I wouldn't cast off until it was so long it was a pain to turn around.

Having realized this, I think I'm going to knit a series of arm and leg warmers for my Etsy shop.
Hm, and maybe neck warmers. The kind that are just a soft, stretchy cowl with no shaping. Just round and round and round. Mmmm, tubes.

Scuse me, I have to go plunder my stash.

May 6, 2008

A new measurement system

I mentioned some posts back that a 'gob' is as much fiber as you'd want to spin at a sitting. Well, we've got a new one. According to Seebs, "An 'oodle' is enough yarn to make two socks and have enough left over that you kinda think you could make something with it but you can't." Very useful measurement, that.

I plan to query him soon on what a 'scad' might be.

He also had this bit of wisdom: "Yarn leftovers are a good thing. Two socks are much more useful than 1.9 socks." I don't think anyone would dispute that, but it won't stop me from collecting bowls full of grape-sized yarn balls in the expectation that someday, when I wake up one morning miraculously sane, healthy, and replete with free time, I will make the most amazing fair isle hat in the universe.

Edit: I asked him. He said, "A scad is enough to make one sock and one scarf. This is why you always hear of 'scads', plural." My love is a wise man.


I just posted the other Monster yarn (that green and purple one I dyed in the tutorial) on Etsy, and I noticed something very odd about the image I uploaded. It looked... pastel. Bland and apologetic. It looked like a shy candy-colored yarn instead of the in-your-face Weird Science it really is.

Could I be imagining it? Perhaps the picture I took was not as good as I thought it was? Just to be sure, I downloaded the image from the listing and put it side by side with my own version. Sure enough, Etsy had washed out the image.

Unfortunately, I can't show you any evidence, because Blogger apparently uses the same compression or whatever. When I upload both the brighter picture and the washed out picture here, they end up identical.

ARGH! I need to go bang my head against something. What are these sites doing to my images that turns intense grape-juice fuschia into candy pink? I took such a good picture, too! I would have a word with Etsy about it, but I don't actually know what's happening, so it's kinda hard to talk about.

Feh. Time to think about something happier until my blood pressure goes down a bit. Unfortunately, my world has been full of little frustrations lately. I've been working on a custom yarn for someone, and I just couldn't get the color right. I used up all my brown dye trying to get bronze, but the closest I could get was copper. Fortunately the commissioner said copper is okay, so I went and spun it up. It came up short in the yardage department. Since no two dye jobs are alike, I couldn't just dye enough to cover the shortage; I had to start over. Two days to dye and let it dry, and about a day for each of the three skeins, plus a day or two for them to dry after blocking, puts me a week behind schedule. Still within deadline, but that's time I could've been using for many other things.

And it's my own dang fault, so I can't really bitch about it. Fuck a duck.

It sure is some pretty fiber, though:

Uploading it wrecked the colors, as usual. It's not pumpkin colored. It's deep copper. Man, when words are more accurate than pictures to convey a color, something's just wrong.

Grumble grumble grumble. Grumble. Grr.

April 27, 2008

Happy birthday Mom!

She loved the socks, and wants armwarmers to match. How cool is that? *dance*

Also, my brother and I spent a few hours playing with the lathe, working on making a drop spindle, and that was a ton of fun. It was a bit of a surprise to realize I'd never used the lathe before. The house I grew up in has more shop equipment in it than the shop class room in either of the high schools I went to -- more than both combined, I think. I was comfortable with drill press, table saw, bandsaw, etcetera before I hit puberty. Shop class wasn't a learning experience for me, it was just an excuse to use power tools in the middle of the school day. But somehow I never managed to get trained in on the lathe. So I finally got to fill in that gap in my knowlege, and I'd have a new spindle to show for it if we hadn't run out of time. But I had to run out to get Rah at the airport, so I had to ditch the job before we were quite finished.

My bro was still working on it when I left, though, and knowing him, next time I go out there he'll have five different kinds of whorl made, he'll have invented a new type of shaft, and he'll have his mill programmed to cut intricate pearl inlays -- and he'll tell me he's not half done, because he'll still be experimenting with what kind of finish to use. That's the kind of family we are. :D

Mom wants her arm warmers made without thumbs or thumb holes. She says she just wants scrunchable sleeves. Anybody want to weigh in on what they prefer for arm/hand warmy things? Mitts with fingers and thumbs, thumb but no fingers, thumb hole flush with the rest, no hole at all? This isn't to say I'll immediately rush off and knit whatever gets the majority vote or anything, but I'm curious.

April 26, 2008


Just the other day it was almost 80 out; today it's snowing. Ah, Minnesota weather, how I love thee. Well, that just makes it a perfect day to stay in and play with string.

I'm almost done with the Mom socks:

Seebs says the line of eyelets looks like a mistake. I'm tempted to agree, but it's too late to change my mind. Her birthday's tomorrow. Can I finish it today, or will I 'give' it to her still on the needles? We shall see! But it doesn't take me long to knit five inches of sock. I'm optimistic. Perhaps unrealistically so.

Instead of working on the sock yesterday, I spun that wacky roving I dyed in my last post. Here's the roving when it was dry:

And here it is spun up nice and fine:

The colors are blued-out and dulled-down in that pic. No sunlight makes for weak photos. You'll just have to trust me that those intense plummy purples came through nice and clear. I'm not sure the color repeats are all long enough to withstand Navajo plying; I think I'll probably get a fair bit of marling. But some clear patches too, I reckon. We shall see. Not today, though, because socks.

Finally, here's a teaser for my Sooper Sekrit Project:

Is that a mitered square? Why yes it is! Is that my own special dye job? Why yes it is! Am I making a huge project out of sport-weight yarn? I never claimed to be sane. It has to be singles for the softness, see? And I can do garter stitch while watching videos, so it's almost like it won't take any time at all, and... look, flying monkeys!

Incidentally, did you know you can't make a mitered square in stockinette? It ends up sort of kite-shaped. Fortunately I knit a test square out of some scratchy, crunchy Dale of Norway and Noro that was lying around.

I can probably find a use for that tendency to go kite-shaped at some point. It probably would've been acceptably squarish if I'd started doing the decreases more frequently about halfway through, but who wants to dick with that when there's a time crunch? No, I can't tell you why there's a time crunch. It's a Sekrit, remember?

Mitered squares are, by the way, SO easy. So easy they're more of a technique than a pattern. Here's what you do:

  1. Cast on an even number of stitches, marking the middle.
  2. Do garter stitch (knit every row, no purling).
  3. Every other row, decrease on either side of the marker (one before and one after).
When you run out of stitches, you're done. It will be obvious you're done, because you're out of stitches. You see the appeal, right? There is no way I can screw this up.

Ohshit. Knock on wood, quick! I think I jinxed myself.

In other news, OMIGOD WOOLZ!!!

My order from Sheep Shed Studio came in. That's 5 pounds of white wool and a 10 pound grab bag. It is SO CHEAP, I kept waiting for the catch. But nope, no catch, they sent my order fast and in good shape, it's nice stuff, and they included a cute little gob of cinnamon-colored wool as a thank-you. It matches my hair, and is causing me to think faggy thoughts about accessorizing.

I never accessorize, nor care what matches my hair or 'brings out' my eyes (doesn't that sound kind of surgical?) or what are 'my' colors -- much to my mother's dismay, because she seems to think it a great injustice that a green-eyed redhead could possibly hate kelly green -- but that wool is causing me to care. I'm actually tempted to postpone my other projects so I can spin it up and superquick knit myself a neck warmer, get some use out of it before this crappy weather is over.

It'd make Mom's birthday present late, but she'd understand, right?

Me: "You can't have your present yet, but look, I made myself a neck warmer that totally matches my hair!"
Mom: *sniffle* "My little girl -- boy -- thing -- has finally realized that he -- she -- he -- has an appearance other people can respond to. Thank you, God!"

... Naaaw. The urge is already fading. Reckon I'll finish those socks. :D

April 22, 2008

White spots dye tutorial

See, I haven't forgotten. I just put it off for a few days due to gorgeous weather. I did yardwork, built a compost bin, barbecued twice, and did a spot of very important video-watching and some crucial slacking. But now I'm back, and I'm going to show you how to dye wool so that it has both deeply saturated color areas and white areas.

Now, this isn't the only way to do it. The more usual way is to spread your dampened wool out on cling wrap and squirt or paint the dye onto it. You definitely have a lot more control over where your color goes, doing it that way. But it often ends up streaky or pale, and it tends to run or bleed into your pale areas a fair bit, so you get wide transitional margins. The method I'm about to show you is one I came up with to avoid that. It doesn't give you as intense and sharp a color divide as surface-dyeing (which I'll show you another time) but the effect is still pretty neat.

So! We begin! Here are the things you'll need:

You need fiber, of course; here I'm using 100g (about 3.5 oz) of a really sweet merino top I got from Paradise Fibers. (Go there. Love them. They are wonderful.) This technique will work with pretty much anything as long as it's longer than it is wide and you have the appropriate dye. Dish detergent acts as a wetting agent, helping the dye penetrate the fiber. Some people buy stuff called 'synthropol' for the purpose; I've never used it, so I can't venture an opinion. Vinegar is the acid you need for acid dyes; citric acid works as well, and probably smells nicer, but it doesn't come in gallon jugs. The dye you see there is Wilton's icing dye; it comes in a little tub, in gel form, and I dilute it in mason jars to make a dye stock that's easy to measure. The spouty thing there has measure marks on it, but that's not important. A teapot would work too, or you could use a turkey baster, or just pour out of a pan or something and take your chances. Finally, you need a baking pan just a bit too small for your amount of fiber. If it's big enough for your fiber to spread out in, this method won't work!

You will also need some way to warm up the pan. I'm using an electric griddle set to 'warm'. You could use a radiator, a hot plate, really anything that will hot up your fiber without boiling or frying it. You could just set it in a window, or outside on a warm day, if you didn't mind this process being a matter of days rather than hours.

Now, allow me to show you why your pan needs to be a little on the small side:

You begin by laying out your fiber so that it has sticky-uppy bits. Little loops or nubbins that poke up above the rest. You want to have to cram it a bit; that will keep the loops sticking up. You don't want them to have room to flop. Nor make them too tall, for that way also lies flopping.

As you'll find out at the end of the tutorial, I didn't cram it quite close enough together to withstand the fancy thing I tried. Too many loops gave it too much slack. This will work just fine for leaving white areas, though. I just tried to get cute, like I always do.

Put a drop of dish detergent in your spouty thing. I overdid it here because I was taking the picture. Really, one single drop is enough. Also a splash of vinegar.

Again, it doesn't take much. Just a dollop. Fill your spouty with water

and add your dye.

Now, I'm going to pause here to explain something which, if you're new to dyeing, might bite you on the ass. Some dyes are made up of multiple pigments, and these pigments bind at different rates, which means they travel different distances within whatever you're dyeing. When that process becomes visible, the dye is said to 'break'. Wilton's 'violet' is especially prone to doing this. If you allow it to travel at different rates through a fiber, you'll get purple, sure -- but you'll also get fuschia, cobalt, and turquoise.

I happen to think that looks awesome, so I'm inducing it to break on purpose. If you use this process with this kind of dye, it will break like whoa. Be warned.

Back to the doing-stuff. You will pour about half your dye in amongst your fiber.

I like to dribble a little on top of some of the low-lying roving, because it makes cool pink streaks with this particular dye. You could hold the fiber aside and pour right on the baking pan, though, if you don't want that happening.

Behold, I am No Wrist Guy, the Guy What Has No Wrists. But seriously, I'm just showing you how the dye is down in the bottom of the pan. The fiber likes to float on top, so you don't want to fill it too full at this stage. The fiber that is on the bottom will get dyed nice and dark. Remember, you're only pouring in half.

Cover the pan with cling wrap and put it on your warmer.

Let it warm up a bit. How long this takes is so variable, I couldn't begin to tell you what to set your timer for. In this pan, with this dye, on this warmer, I give this stage fifteen minutes. Less heat, more water, it'll take longer. Anyway, what you're doing here is giving the heavier dye molecules a chance to bond to that fiber, while water begins to carry the lighter ones up the wool by capillary action.

When you've let the dye bond a bit, take the half measure of dye that remains in your spouty and top it up with water. Lift up a corner of the cling wrap and pour half of this more dilute dye in there.

... Or the whole thing, if you want to be done. Or you could add another color, or... this is a place where your creativity's the only limit. For instance, I did one where I started with a deep purply red, then did a dose of pure red, and then a dose of orange, and got a really neat fiery gradient.

The important thing here is that you gradually keep raising the water level, and that each color you add is lighter than the last. Whether that's because you keep diluting it -- which is what I did here, because I wanted the purple to break -- or you mix up fresh colors, or just add water to carry the remainder of the dye higher, it'll work fine as long as you go lighter with each step. (Just one note -- reds bond fast, blues bond slow. So if you started with a red, there might not be enough dye left to make a noticeable color in the later stages if all you do is add water.)

However you decide to do it, you keep adding more liquid every so often, letting each dose bond with the wool for a bit before adding the next dose, until the level's as high as you want it, keeping in mind that it will creep up the wool just a bit. Not as much as you might think, even if steam makes it wet, but a little. (If you'd started with wet wool, it'd creep a lot more, and in fact I did do that once to see how it worked. There wasn't much undyed left, but there was a little, and the gradient was neat.)

Then you leave it for long enough to fully set the dye. Hands off. Interlude with dawg:

Okay, what's our pan o' fluff look like?

Here you can see that the purple has broken. The camera turned it bluer than it really is; what I've actually got there is deep violet shading up into an almost greenish cyan, with areas of bright pink where I dribbled the dye and let it run off.

And if I'd stopped here, I might think this process was foolproof. Fortunately, this fool decided to continue to dick with it. I say fortunately, because it allows me to show you how you can fuck it up, so you can avoid it. Or do it on purpose if you like the result. I'm actually kinda happy with what happened, but it wasn't what I meant to do.

See, I wanted to add yellow dye

to the white areas. Note the pink-and-blue splotch on the paper towel; that's the purple, split into its constituent parts. The yellow doesn't split. That's a good test, actually. If you put a drop of dye on a paper towel and it spreads into multiple colors, it's likely to break.

I squirted yellow on the puffs that had remained white (doesn't it look like some bizarre egg dish?) and returned it to the warmer...

... where I forgot about it for an hour. It does not take an hour for yellow to set. It sets very quickly. That's why my 'Orchid' worked. The one I posted the other day? Yeah, this here was Orchid for probably fifteen or twenty minutes before it did this:

What. The. Fuck.

It's kinda cool, actually. I mean, it looks like some heinous refrigerator mold experiment, doesn't it? What happened here was that the sticky-uppy puffs collapsed under the weight of the yellow dye, the yellow mixed with the cyan element of the purple dye that was still unbonded in the water, and turned green. Almost everything that was blue turned green. It is no longer Orchid.

I can see a few possible reasons why it did that. First, I made more puffs this time than last, which left less fiber packed flat in the bottom to support the puffs. This made them prone to collapse when they got wet. Second, I put more yellow on them than before; that made them heavier, and so, again, prone to collapse. Third, I left the pan on the warmer too long -- it was kinda simmering when I came back to it. The heat and steam probably made the wool limper and wetter; ploosh! So I reckon I can avoid this next time around.

I'm open to serendipity, though. Green could be good. I took it off the warmer and let it cool down to room temperature, gently rinsed it in lukewarm water, and spread it out to dry:

You know, that doesn't look half bad. It's certainly worth spinning up. If it turns out to be a mistake, I'll just use it to make socks for me. I don't mind wearing my mistakes if they're soft and fuzzy merino mistakes.

I'll take more pics when it's dry, we'll see what it looks like then. Unless she gets to it...

April 19, 2008

Dude! Dude! Dude, dude, check this out!

I had a crazy crazy idea.

Which is not unusual. I'm always having crazy ideas. And I rush off in all directions, abandoning my current projects, until my crazy idea has run its course. Generally the end result is a fair bit different than what I'd visualized, but I learn a few things, and often get something nice out of it. Not what I was aiming for, but usable anyway.

Not this time, baby. This time it worked EXACTLY like I imagined it. It's PERFECT. I am doing dances and dances of joy. Look at this merino I dyed:

The camera washes out the colors. I took a couple close-ups, with flash and without, in the hope of giving you an idea what the colors are like:

But it's really more intense than that. Deep violet, fuschia, cyan, and gold. I'm beaming from ear to ear.

I'm gonna do another one tomorrow. I'll try to take pics so I can show you the process. In the meantime, have some kitties:

April 15, 2008


Having had a houseguest for the past few days, I haven't got much done in the way of knitting or spinning, and what I did get done, I either can't talk about (note to self: find out who in my family reads my blog -- had to forbid my mum after blabbing here about her socks, and she got a gleam in her eye...) or didn't take pictures of.

Or don't care about, I guess; I'm using up some old stash making a little rug for the dog to lie on so the upholstery on my beloved mission armchair doesn't get bleached any further from cleaning up his emanations. It's something I'm just throwing together in a hurry, and I wish I'd had the idea a couple months ago so it could've been on that chair during the Time of Mud. He's a good dog, but he doesn't wipe his feet. Anyway, it's just a whole lotta garter stitch, so progress shots would not enlighten anyone.

But that brings me to something I've been wanting to say to someone for a while. Now that I have a fiber blog, I can say it to the whole internet! And I think it's something that needs saying. Without further ado:

In Defense of Noob Knitting

Consider, if you will, the garter stitch scarf. The quintessential First Project. You learn three things doing it: how to cast on, how to make the knit stitch, and how to cast off. And maybe not even that; maybe someone casts on for you, and knits a few rows so you don't have to struggle to get the needle into those tight cast-on stitches. And maybe when it's long enough (or you run out of yarn) you bring it back to that person and he/she casts it off for you. So then you've only learned one thing: the knit stitch. Supposedly.

Supposedly? Well, yeah. Because you've actually learned a lot more than that. You've learned how to hold the yarn, how to hold the needles, what they feel like in your hands. Where you like to sit while you're knitting, how much light you need. Whether you like to chat or listen to music or watch TV while you knit. How long it takes, and how much you can speed up when your hands get used to it. You build up muscles in your hands and arms -- don't laugh, you do! Knitting uses different muscle sets from other hand-doings, and you get sore until you've developed those. Depending on developments, you might learn what a dropped stitch looks like, and maybe what to do about it. You might spot the wily and elusive accidental yarnover -- probably ten rows after you make it -- and find out whether you're the kind of knitter who rips back, or the kind who just knits two together to get rid of the extra stitch, or the kind who just leaves it. You might notice that your knitting starts out tight and then loosens up, then maybe gets tight again as you worry about it, then loose again as you forget to worry and just gogogo.

In short, you learned an amazing amount from that first project, and I bet you didn't give yourself credit for hardly any of it, did you? That's a lot to assimilate. One scarf is probably not nearly enough to really get it. You might need to knit another one; maybe learn to purl and do it in stockinette. Which curls unwearably, so then you've got to learn ribbing. Seed stitch. Fringe. Changing colors. Using different yarns, different needles. See how much you can learn from the humble scarf? Why do we refer to this as the 'scarf stage', as if we expect the new knitter to pupate or something? Scarves aren't a 'stage', they're a full-credit course in knitting skills!

Now, conventional wisdom tells you, after you 'graduate' from the 'scarf stage', you're supposed to go on to something trickier. And then something harder after that, and harder after that. And until you're churning out acres of lace and Fair Isle by the mile, some people will always treat you like a beginner.

I'm here to say pbpbptht to that!

There is nothing wrong with simple knitting. Nothing. In fact, I encourage anyone who enjoys knitting to work on things -- well, things they enjoy. Not things that reduce them to tears. I promise you, you'll still be learning a lot.

Let us imagine, for a moment, that you really love scarves. That's all you want to knit. So you knit a zillion of them. You knit them in different yarns, you knit stripes, you knit big and small and in-between. Cotton, wool, silk, acrylic. Sock yarn and ultra-bulky. Four-bucks-a-pound yarn from Wal-Mart and exquisite one-of-a-kind handspun. You knit them on wood needles, metal needles, plastic needles, circulars and straights. You knit a dozen scarves the same size and seam them into an afghan. You knit scarves for everyone you know, matching their styles, picking sizes and weights and colors and textures that will flatter them. You spend years knitting nothing but scarves.

You know what? After all that, you probably know more about the art and craft of knitting than I do.

Me, I'm the kinda guy who's hungry for challenges. Every skill I don't have is like a birthday present I'm not allowed to open yet. I can't help shaking it and smelling it and picking at the wrapping. While I'm learning lace stitches, I'm pausing every couple days to open my 'Knitter's Bible' to the entrelac page and drool on it. I also have a reasonable yarn budget and a high frustration tolerance, so I can afford to be that guy. But not everyone is, and that's cool.

Maybe you have a high-stress life and you knit to relax. You don't feel like spoiling your relax-time by trying to do something challenging. That's cool, it's your yarn, and you're the one holding the pointy sticks. Take it easy, have fun, enjoy it.

Maybe patterns drive you nuts, and reading them gives you a headache. You don't feel like attempting something that requires you to knit with a printout, a pencil, and a pad of graph paper beside you.

Maybe you have kids or busy roomies or a chatty spouse or a spaz of a dog who won't let you concentrate. I don't have kids, but on the rest of it, I'm right there with ya, and I won't attempt anything new in the middle of the day while everyone's running around. I only learn new stuff when everyone's settled in for the night; if you don't get that quiet time, nobody can blame you for giving the 16-row lace charts a miss.

Maybe you're a Zen master, and knitting the same stitch over and over is your way of being in the eternal empty Now. Well... if you're a Zen master, you're probably not the least bit bothered by other people's opinions, or much of anything really, so that's all right. :D

What I'm trying to say here is: challenge yourself as much as you want to be challenged, and you will still be learning even when you're not stressed out. If you like to pick a sweater out of a book and then learn all the techniques you'll need to know to knit it, good on yer. But if you like to master each step before moving on to the next, that's every bit as good. You will be the absolute boss of those steps, while the sprinters of the knitting world still stumble over some of the basics.

And when some self-congratulator at the yarn store raises an eyebrow at your 20th scarf while she's proudly dragging around a lace cardigan (which she's cried buckets of private tears over and ripped back nine times), just give her a humble smile and say, "I'm working on understanding the soul of Merino right now. I think I'm close to grasping its nature; here, touch." She will pet your scarf, try not to look impressed, and then go buy herself three skeins of the same yarn you're using. Betcha anything.

April 10, 2008

On a day like today...

It is a yucky, cold and rainy day. Just look at this.

What you can't see in the picture is how the rain is half slush, or how it's pouring down in buckets. Sideways. The wind is banging the porch door, the sleet is clattering on the windows, it's blarg. I was going to go to the bead store today and look for some gray pearl beads for Rah's shawl, maybe pick up some locally handmade lamp-glass beads and experiment with hemp cord jewelry (Check out this dude, he's brilliant, and I can buy his stuff just by strolling a few blocks!) but I am NOT going out in this crap.

Yeah, I know, I knit all this snuzzly warm merino stuff, and then I shy away from a little sleet. I'm a delicate fucking flower. Shaddap.

Besides, nobody is on form today. Even the notorious Team Rocket has declared naptime:

Pardon the blur. I didn't want to disturb them with the flash. They spend most of their time smacking each other senseless and bouncing off the walls, so I figure they've got like, three months of sleep to catch up on. I was tempted to go back to bed myself, but instead I brewed up a pot of the elixir of life

and put on some soothing music

and got started on my mom's socks. Socks are always relaxing. Well, they are once you know how to do them. My first sock was kind of a nail-biter, but trust me, you get comfy with it quick. In retrospect, I'm surprised it took me so long to dive into the Wide World of Footwear. It's that whole heel-turning thing that turned me off. All the resources I found said flap heels are easier, so I tried and tried, but they never made any sense to me. Picking up stitches, decreasing, blarg! But whenever I did short rows, I got holes, and lost count halfway and went backwards and eurgh. Then I found this sock worksheet at Knitty and my life was changed forever. Wrapping the turns makes all the difference; it prevents those big nasty holes, and it means I can freaking FIND my turns when I want to know where I am. I don't double-wrap them, though. I might try that if I'm knitting with dental floss on toothpicks, but on the soft squishy yarn I like, the small holes kinda fill themselves in, and double-wraps are too clunky.

So yeah, I'm a toe-up, short-row-heel zealot. I see flap heels and I think, "Oh honey. You're trying, and I respect that, but you're just not fabulous." I think this even when I see the Yarn Harlot's amazing sock skills. She's a goddess, but... flaps! And decrease toes! They are robot toes! Short rows are the One True Way!

Ahem. Scuse me. I get a little... excited sometimes. I'm all right now.

So. Mom's socks. This is where I get to use that Moss stuff I spun a while back. It is 100% merino. It's not superwash. My mom won't mind hand-washing her socks. She's the kind of lady who wears wool tweed slacks with a silk blouse just to lounge on the couch and read mystery novels. How she produced a delinquent like me, no one really knows.

Anyway, delinquent though I am, I do swatch. I always swatch. This is not so much because I'm emotional about gauge -- I don't count quarter-stitches, for instance, not even for a big sweater -- but because knitting is a really tactile, organic thing for me, and I need to know how the yarn feels. I need to feel it running between my fingers, feel how the needles interact with it, how the fabric feels and drapes, before I know how I want to knit with it.

I started with #2 (2.75mm) needles and did a few rows:

Sorry about the blurry. You probably can't see what I'm talking about, but the stitches are kinda crammed together. It would certainly suffice, and you do generally want a denser fabric for socks; if I were using hard-wearing wool and making winter boot socks, I'd go with this. But I want these socks to feel like utter luxury. A cloud of refinement. Socks you can best appreciate with a cup of tea, a plate of madelines, and a new mystery novel. So I switch to size 3 (3.25mm) needles.

That loosened things up a lot. Can you see how the yarn looks thicker in the new section? With a soft wool yarn, particularly handspun, it pays to give the stitches a little elbow room. The fibers will puff just a tiny bit, giving you a softer, warmer, more drapey fabric.

Also, conveniently, it gave me a gauge of precisely 6 stitches to the inch, which makes my math easy. You know what else makes the math easy? Discovering that if you type an equation into Google (such as the 6*9.5*.9 that will give me the number of stitches around my dear mum's foot), it will give you the answer as your search result. Handy!

And that's about the limit of my coherence for today. The internet is just chock full of sock tutorials, but I can ramble about my own habits later if you like. For now, I'm going to get myself another cup of Liquid Coherence and knit round and round in circles for a while. Aaaah, rainy days.

April 9, 2008


See that right there? You might have to biggerfy it to spot the telltale sign that Jesse Fucked Up. See the yarn coming off the bobbin? See how the purple abruptly gives way to red? Yeah; my armsock is too short.

But do I admit defeat? Sell it at a discount? Try to come up with a cute name for it and pretend I meant to do that? Frog it and make a headband? No! I am Napoleon!

I wind the remaining yarn (originally destined for the other of the pair) onto a handy marker so the purple end is out:

... and then attach it to the work in progress and keep knitting.

Result? An extra-long armsock which, while not the thing I originally meant to do, is quite long enough to keep your wrists warm. Well, wrist, singular.

Fortunately, I have more of that dye lot. The other half, in fact, of the strip I dyed as one piece, which I then split, then split one of the halves to get the yarn above. Confused yet? Unfortunately I'm thinking I split it unevenly, since that half was clearly underweight. So down to my cozy spinning corner I go:

You'll note that it is also the guitar corner, despite the lack of amps. Don't ask me. It also has gobs of fluff drying over the radiator:

Those are technical terms, you know. 'Gobs', I mean, and 'fluff'. A gob is about 50 grams or 2 ounces give or take, as much as you'd want to spin at a sitting. 'Fluff' is any fiber you'd voluntarily rub on your face. Merino is definitely fluff.

Anyway, when I put the rest of the rainbow on the scale, it weighs in at 21g. Apparently the whole thing was underweight. Hopefully the same amount underweight, so I end up with roughly matching armsocks. I split the fiber in half lengthwise (tried to take pics of the process, but the dog got curious and distracted me so none of them came out) to make two narrow strips, each of which has the full rainbow:

Then I spun them. Starting from a red end, I spun one of the strips all the way to its purple end, joined the purple end of the other strip, and kept going until allgone rainbow.

I'd show you a pic of the bobbin waiting to be knit up, but it looks exactly like the other one, so you may as well just scroll down a couple entries if you want to refresh your memory.

That was day before yesterday that I did that, by the way. I meant to blog it yesterday, but then yesterday snuck up and was suddenly lame at me. It was stealth suck. I woke up feeling okay, and discovered good news -- someone bought three of my yarns. Yay! I went straight off to mail them out. Once I got back, though, I started getting achey, and everyone was mopey and confused and loud, and then my back hurt like whoa, and it was gray and cold and almost-gonna-rain-but-never-quite-ish, which I hate. I just kinda gave up on the whole concept of Tuesday. I dicked around with Seebs's sweater a bit --

-- and then spent the rest of the day spinning laceweight on a slow bobbin.

Luka and the Captain kept me entertained.

The yarn came out nice, though. Lookit!

I understand now why so many people love spinning laceweight. It's just so restful. And it takes a loooong time, so you don't get that feeling of 'oh crap I'm going through my precious merino like it's fountain soda!' The problem, though... I don't knit lace. Never saw a need for it. You'd have to tuck a $20 in my waistband before I'd consent to wear a shawl. But it's been bothering me a bit, because it's a skill I don't have (it bugs me that those exist), and besides, it seems a bit mercenary to spin it just to sell it. If I had more knitting friends I'd make giftie, but all my friends are more like, "Is this yarn? Why is there yarn here?"

I was rambling disjointedly on that topic while spinning that laceweight up there, and Rah cautiously allowed as how she'd wear a lace shawl. You know, if there happened to be one going spare. If, for instance, I made one for practice and didn't want to keep it. And if it were, maybe, made out of precisely the sweet Antique Rose colored merino I was spinning at that very moment.

You know, just if it kinda happened that way.

So that stuff's spoken for. I'm working on another skein of the same weight and texture, though, which I dyed in a colorway I'm calling 'Painted Desert', and I reckon that one'll end up in the shop looking for a home. Now I need to learn how to knit lace.


This is gonna be interesting. :D

Oh, I didn't say anything about today, did I? That's because today sucked worse than yesterday. I didn't get pictures of anything. I feel like I got slung in a sack and beat with sticks. The only good things about today was spinning a few dozen yards of that Painted Desert stuff, and tater tots. There were tater tots. Those were good. I need a drink. Excuse me.