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Archive for April, 2010

Sometimes you read a label for information, and you get information you weren’t quite expecting. I’m not thinking here of the expensive organic conditioner in my bathroom that proudly reassures me that along with parabens, it ‘contains no grapefruit seed extract’. I like to think of myself as a reasonably aware consumer, but this was a new one to me. I have got it straight that parabens are a no-no (just don’t ask me why, exactly), but given a zero-sum equation between grapefruit seed extract and beta glucan (which it boasts that it does contain), I wouldn’t have been able to guess which was meant to be the elixir of life, and which the scary poison from which to run screaming. So, you live and learn. Or not (delete as applicable).

No, I’m thinking about the hobby horse I just bought for a five-year-old’s birthday present. A perfectly nice-looking traditional toy, or so I thought, until I read the label. I’ll admit it: this one has me even more thoroughly foxed. I’m perplexed, and here’s why –

Explanations on a postcard, please.

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This may not look like much, but these 18 grams of emergency yarn saved my Kosher-bacon-equivalent, and my shawl from utter disaster. Imagine, if you will, embarking on a project of – for you – daring complexity. Challenges abound, both obvious and hidden. Reward, if it comes at all, is likely to be relative, and rather modest. In my case, the challenge was lace, and the ostensible reward was to be warm shoulders and a fine glow of achievement.

Well, not so much, it turned out. Firstly, it has to be said, I learned a couple of less-than-palatable things about myself. Namely (but in no particular order), I bore more easily than I like to think; I am willing to accept desperately low standards of finishing and also, I can’t count to ten. Or four, actually. Possibly even to two, but my ability to count is so compromised, and my counting-confidence so damaged that I’m no longer sure how many I can’t count to. I am trying to get reconciled to being one of those (along with millennia of hunter-gatherers) who apparently count, one; two; many. I have news: this is not good for lace knitting.

So, I worked my way through interminable – well, a fair few – in fact, frankly many – rows of the Echo Flower shawl pattern. It has repeats ten stitches, and eight rows long. After about ten repeats of this I got very bored indeed. It turns out that while I can do endless stockinette without minding, once I have to pay attention (in my case, a sort of tongue-between-the-teeth level of attention), my boredom threshold is embarrassingly low. It’s close to vanishingly small, in fact, but I am also tenacious, and it turns out that I’m marginally more tenacious than I was bored.

I was proud of managing the two-into-nine and three-into-nine stitches without fuss, and rightly so, I still think. I was, and am, less proud of the fact that any indication that I had added a stitch, or dropped one, or done the wrong kind of decrease, or lost or gained a yarnover was dealt with by resolutely fudging. I tinked back from time to time, but as often as not, I’m ashamed to say, I made do and mended. And this, in spite of the keen awareness that if a lace pattern doesn’t line up, you might as well not bother knitting it. Hell, as long as I got more or less to the end of the row with approximately the right number of stitches, I was willing to let it go. What’s an SSK or a S2K2P2SSO (or whatever) between friends?

OK: I admit it: I was wrong. What’s an SSK or a S2K2P2SSO (or whatever) between friends? The difference between lace and a dog’s dinner. But what of it?

I digress. Let us just say that eventually I was rid of the blasted blossom repeats and then I made what may have been my fatal error. I switched to the border charts for the Laminaria shawl. In theory, this should have worked just fine, because the blossom repeats are common to both shawls, and the Laminaria pattern clearly indicates what percentage of the yardage is taken up by the border. I weighed, I measured, I cogitated, and I steamed ahead.

Alright, not steamed exactly, but still. I thought I was going to be fine, and then one day, I realised I was decidedly not fine. In fact, somehow, it seemed that about 20g of yarn had evaporated (who knew yarn could evaporate?). Somehow I was nine rows from the end, and rapidly running out of yarn. How in the name of all that is holy did that happen? I still don’t know. I went on Ravelry and bleated in distress. I begged and pleaded, and wrung my hands, and a kind soul generously offered to supply me with the necessary extra yards of the precious (irreplaceable, unmatchable) yarn I was using.

Post haste, it came. Cue the Seventh Cavalry. Bugles! Everything! Here it is. All 78.3 yards of it. Saved! Saved, in the nick of time.

Well, nearly.

Because it turned out that the Shawl that Refused to Die wasn’t finished with me yet. I can report without exaggeration or embellishment that I had very carefully weighed the the last row before I ran out (eight rows from the end), and calculated I was using two grams per row. I calculated (one, two, many – I really thought I was within my comfort zone here) what I would need to finish. And the dispatcher of cavalry sent more than I asked for (I think 18g of a 100g skein of yarn is a pretty generous donation, myself), and I got to two rows from the end and saw, most clearly that I wasn’t going to make it after all. My shawl was Scott of the Antarctic, struggling back towards basecamp, and expiring twelve miles from safety. I was that close. I tinked (again); I bound off a row before the end (really, it’s a dog’s dinner: why did I even think this mattered?) and …

I can barely bring myself to admit it, I ran out again. Yes, the third time, I ran out of yarn twenty stitches from the end. At this point I capitulated, and went to find the best match I had on hand. A very non-identical undyed BFL in about the right weight and approximately (I think two, but now I’ve lost my confidence) similar number of plies.

And I soaked it, and blocked it, and the miracle of lace happened. Yes, by any real lace knitter’s standards, it’s still crap. But it went from this:

to this:

And that’s enough of a miracle to ensure I’m willing to go through all this again. But this time, I really will try to make sure I have enough yarn to finish the job.

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That’s not-my-cat, sleeping on the sofa, looking as if he were at home.
I call that cat a wonder, now. The placing of a feeding bowl,
Worked cunningly a year, and there he lies.

His people did not pass the test of pet-worthiness, in the end, and so, while I haven’t stolen Oscar, I have been less concerned about the proprieties of subverting his affections. I used to feel bad about feeding him, and refrained from doing so except on very rare occasions, as a very special treat, when I had something suitable that I would otherwise be throwing away. Then, I met his people and while I’m not going to indulge in a tempting ‘they-deserve-to-be-hanged’ rant, and I’m not going to tell the whole sorry tale, I do now feel able to admit that shortly after meeting them I lost my moral squeamishness with regard to them, and happily moved on to a somewhat Machiavellian strategy of enticing him with little treats on fairly rare occasions, but just often enough to keep him interested.  This is known in psychology as a [positive reinforcement] variable ratio schedule, and it’s the most lethally addictive pattern of behavior reinforcement known to Man. Or beast. It’s what keeps gamblers at the slot machines, and Oscar at my door. The fact that my fridge released delights only infrequently only makes the whole thing more devious.

Of course, as Oscar appears only intermittently, and sometimes makes himself scarce for considerable periods (which may or may not coincide with episodes of building work here), it is possible that he is also doling out his presence to me on a similarly variable ratio schedule, and I have to admit that he may have outsmarted me. After all, I did buy actual official cat treats a couple of weeks back, and yesterday, I think I finally showed my soft underbelly: he got a second dish, so that he can have a wee dram of milk with his overpriced gourmet cat snacks.

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I like to think I have mine straight:

tea kettle, pasta pot, dye pot, dye pot

Perhaps it would be better if I didn’t mention that the food is in the small pot in front, and the giant next to the kettle is the single most expensive pan in the kitchen (even shading out the awesome le Creuset monster I recently screwed up my courage to buying).

Oh, and then, there’s the coffee-making equipment on the other side of the kitchen. Because coffee is important too.

In fact, when we recently redid the kitchen, one of the major challenges was to rehouse the coffee pot family from the back of the stove. I’m pleased to say they seem to have adapted happily enough to the internal windowsill looking into the glass/utility room.

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Every now and then, I get some proof that real honest-to-goodness actual people read this blog, at least from time to time. This information always delights me, although on one occasion it also rather disconcerted me. Sometimes, a gentle reader will pop up and ask a question. So, thank you for asking, and here are a couple of answers.

Firstly, as spotted by some of you, the sweater I accidentally striped, was indeed the thoroughly excellent  ‘Owls‘, a pattern that is charming, well-written, and most importantly, simple. Additionally, it is written for big wool, and should knit up delightfully fast. I actually substituted Malabrigo worsted, which forced me to go up from the smallest to almost the largest size to mitigate the gauge difference. While a nice wool, which I had been itching to try, in a color I adore, and that I had on hand, I was a little upset to end up knitting 25% more stitches than I might have. No matter, the result – even striped – is pleasing to me, and the deep green is ideally suited to my coloring.

The owls themselves are as cute as a button, but despite that, I decided against adding actual buttons for their eyes, as per the pattern. It seemed like, while making them more clearly owls, it might just be de trop. Perhaps I’ll find the perfect buttons, and change my mind, but in the meantime, that’s 40 buttons I don’t have to sew on, which might be another thing that swayed my judgement in the direction of less-is-more.

To answer a couple of questions that haven’t come up, but might, potentially: yes, everything you may have heard about Mal worsted is true. It stretches like nobody’s business (think, carrying quintuplets); it pills like nobody’s business (think, ransacked pharmacy) and the dyelots match as consistently as if they’d been put together by a blind person. And yet, like so many other knitters, I love it madly. And no, I don’t have the answer to ‘why’ exactly.

Now, moving swiftly along to the other – and not unrelated – question. One of those gentle readers who has, like myself, been bothered by a sweater of accidental stripes, asks how you actually go about alternating skeins. Dear reader, this is what my wise friend told me, when I asked her the same question:

Alternating yarns is just a matter of knitting two rows with one then two rows with the other, it doesn’t create any extra bulk and isn’t unsightly at all. I just make sure to bring the new working yarn in front of the old one every time. Also, the selvedge that I’m using makes it even cleaner looking than what I have tried before. Here’s the selvedge trick: knit the first stitch of every row, slip the last stitch purlwise with the yarn in front. Every row. It makes a beautiful, orderly, smooth selvedge, and completely hides the yarn being switched every two rows. (Printed, shamelessly, without permission.)

And my friend knows what she’s doing. On the left you may contemplate the result of her alternating skeins. What do you see? Nothing. Quite. Now, if you really want to be inspired, here is a closer look at the selvedge she refers to. What do you see? Quite simply perfection.

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This is a short message about wool.

I love wool. I really do, and that’s evident from the fact that I’ve been playing with quite a lot of it recently (more than usual). Some has been sold to the nice lady at the local knitting shop, some has been traded for, er, more-but-different wool with some people I know on Ravelry. Some – quite a lot – came in this week from a supplier, and some – just a little – has made it into a tiny Easter Uprising of Wool of my Etsy shop today.

There’s even a very little of a new cashmere blend sock yarn, which is squishy beyond my wildest dreams, and is currently inspiring dreamy colorways like ‘A Cloud in Trousers’

And yes, there is still a lot of wool lying around my house. And now that I’m enjoying the new, even more unwieldy and unreliable pleasure that is fiber, I’m about to put in another large order for that. Because you can do some really seriously cool things with fiber. And if you can then sell it to people who actually know how to spin, well, you may just have helped bring a thing of beauty into the world. And who can say better than that on a fine spring day?

Nice stuff, huh?

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