Monday, August 30, 2010

Knitting (not for me), part 1

Part 1 -- Red Socks (two pair of them)

I'm working my way through several projects that are not "for" me. I'm still enjoying the knitting, but it's a bit like homework for school. I have assignments. Each assignment must produce a set result. Like homework, there are some choices I can make and some that have been made for me. Two of these projects are socks. I consider them mostly "mine". I chose the pattern and the yarn. I didn't pick the color and I can't keep them. Good thing, since the first pair won't fit, no way.

As I finished these socks, I found I had made choices that ended in a bit of a dilemma.

The assignment was to knit a pair of socks for a pair of small young feet. Ms. Young Feet chose the color red. I chose to use the Circle Socks pattern, since it is both youthful and fun. I chose to use the leftover Maxime sock yarn from my pair of striped socks, along with a ball of red that I used in a fair-isle sock that I have now abandoned. If I hadn't used some of the red in that sock, or if I had just ripped it out and salvaged the red yarn, I probably would have had enough. I certainly thought there would be enough, since the leg of the sock uses a lot of other yarn and the foot of the sock is fairly small. As it was, I had to let the second sock cannibalize the toe of the first, just for a few rounds.

Now they're gold-toe socks. These socks have gotten a lot of attention at my knitting group. Too bad their good looks are so hard to photograph. I blame the color.

Unfortunately, I'll have this problem again in my next assignment. I've been asked for another pair of red socks. I knitted a pair of socks for a dear old friend a couple of years ago. I wasn't sure if he was wearing them. They weren't very good socks, in my opinion. Since I didn't know if he would actually wear them, I picked a less-than-luxury sock yarn, one that didn't cost too much and one that I knew would stand up to machine washing.

K insisted I pick a dull color, preferably black. That was the impossible task, finding black sock yarn in a shop that is stocked with bright, multi-colored sock yarn. I settled for burgundy. K warned me they were too bright. The socks fit just fine, but they weren't standard black man-socks. I was pretty sure they wouldn't be worn much.

Then last year I learned that my friend had been enjoying wearing his burgundy socks during the Christmas holidays. He said he thought he'd like a pair of red socks to wear this Christmas. A short time later, I managed to snag a hank of the wonderful Martha sock yarn from Posh Yarns. The colorway is Keep the Home Fires Burning. I've decided to make up for my shorting my friend on the quality of his first socks by using this yarn for his second pair. I'll enjoy telling him I ordered it from a dyer in England. To really make them special, I've chosen a pattern perfect for him, Sweetheart Socks, from the Holiday 2007 Interweave Knits.

I first blogged about this project over six months ago when I received the yarn. Now that I've started the socks, I can comment on the pattern as well as the yarn. I'm very happy with the yarn, the pattern, and the combination of the two. The pattern is not easy, but it is worth a bit of effort. Actually, after the first three repeats, the cables are becoming more intuitive for me. I'm especially pleased with the prettiness of the cables on the back of the sock. The pattern doesn't include a photo of the back but here's one of the back of my sock. Er, I mean, not-my sock.

There are two more projects in the "not for me" category. The one that I will wear is done. In this case, I chose the yarn, I chose the pattern, I just didn't originally envision the pairing when I bought the yarn. Since I knit a stole rather than a sweater, I'll hold off blogging about it until I get it blocked.

The last project is about to make me tear my hair out. (Interesting reaction considering it's meant to cover hair.) I'm shopping for yarn and swatching stitch patterns for a wedding veil. This project may prove to be the most challenging of the four. Knitting to someone else's specifications is not as easy as setting my own.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Summer sweaters? ditch the knit

Scrolling through my old blog photos provided strong evidence for my decision on summer sweaters.

They were quick fun to knit, look kinda cute, but seldom get off the shelf. When the weather is hot, out come the t-shirts. Even in the rather cool conditions that bless the Rocky Mountain summer, hand-knit sweaters are too heavy to be comfortable. The fact that there's no air conditioning in most of the buildings complicates the problem.

There's a lot of places in town I prefer to avoid on a summer afternoon--shops of all types, for example, especially clothes shops. There's nothing like trying on clothes in the unventilated dressing room of a hot shop to discourage expenditures. If I were presented with the stack of summer sweaters I have knit over the past six years and given the opportunity to try them on in such a dressing room, I wouldn't buy any of them.

That's a pretty strong decision. The hours I've spent on them might not make sense without considering that when I started knitting, I lived in a very hot climate. Naturally, almost all the sweaters I knit during that time were short-sleeved or sleeveless. I used yarn that was designed to be cool and comfortable, composed of cotton, bamboo, and rayon. It seemed like a good use of my knitting time.

The problem was the weight of the yarn. Thicker yarn means a quicker knit. What's available for hand-knit sweaters is mostly dk-weight and heavier. A thicker version of a t-shirt seemed like a comfortable option for summer wear. This has not proved to be true.

Of course, there are other reasons that I am not wearing these sweaters. After all, we have 9 months of cool/cold weather here. There's always the spring or fall. There are other problems with these sweaters, such as fit and form. Some are sleeveless. For vanity's sake, I've given up wearing sleeveless tops, except on the hottest days. Some are too short. A couple are too big.

That's 17 summer sweater rejects, including 8 not-so-cute ones which aren't pictured in the collage. Some of these were so un-cute that they have been frogged. That points to another culprit -- poor yarn choice. Yes, my early knitting is full of bad yarn, bad yarn and patttern pairings, and bad construction.

There was certainly a learning curve. The first 4 sweaters I made in 2005 are all ripped out now. There's one sweater from 2006 that I still wear. The others, six of them, are history. The next year, 07, offers up three sweaters still in rotation. I'm not too crazy about them, but I still pull them out now and then. The rest, 8 of them, are rejects, mostly because of poor yarn choices. Coming to 08, there's a flip-flop. Of six sweaters, I wear four. The two rejects are still favorites, but require more cumbersome undergarments to look their best. Most days, I prefer comfy to cumbersome. The same for 09, two-thirds of the sweaters are good, adding six to those I wear. Obviously, both my knitting skills and project choices are improving.

Overall now, I'm wearing about half of what I knit, with most of those being more recently-knit sweaters. Most convincingly,though, I'm only wearing one, just one, of the 18 summer sweaters I have knit. A 95% failure rate. Among the spring, fall and winter sweaters altogether, my failure rate is about 25%. That's a big difference which defines the problems I have with summer sweaters.

This year I've completed 4 sweaters, all wool, three for winter wear and one for slightly warmer days only because it has short sleeves. I don't really plan to knit another sweater this year. If I do, it will be a longer-sleeved fall sweater.

I'll start 2011 with a new plan, repurposing my summer yarn by knitting cotton sweaters with long sleeves for winter wear and using the silk and laceweight wool for shawls.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

2 busy 2 knit

To encompass all my reasons for not knitting as much in late July and early August, I'd have to add "2 hot" to the title of this post.

But still, I've finished a small shawl and that pair of socks from the heavyweight yarn--Toasty Toes. There's a photo of the first one in my last post. Take my word for it, the second one looks just like the first. They went so quickly that I'm thinking of starting another pair from that pattern, something I never do. I have yarn leftover from the shawl, as well as a long yarn to go with it. To save those who are bored with too much yarn talk, I've included several links to encourage wandering.

It all started with a hank of Jitterbug that I bought a year or so ago to try that rather popular sock yarn. I started a pair of socks, but they came out too big. After looking in Ravelry at other socks knitted with Jitterbug, I concluded that it is heavier than the sock yarn I normally use. Since it is heavier, the 110 gram hank I bought only had 320 yards in it. Rather than worry that there wouldn't be enough to finish a pair of socks, I started a shawl. Since the pattern I selected is named "198 Yards of Heaven", I was confident that I'd have enough yardage--at first.

The pattern is intended for worsted weight yarn, not fingering weight Jitterbug, even if it is heavy fingering weight. I was using size 5 needles, not the size 8 or 9 intended. Nonetheless, I saw several other "198 Yards" projects using Jitterbug on Ravelry, as well as a few using other lighter-than-worsted weight yarns. I'd just knit more repeats to be sure my shawl would be large enough. Ah, but knitting more repeats takes more yarn. I began to worry that 110 grams of Jitterbug would not be enough.

Looking at the success I had mixing different yarns and colors in another shawl and another project or two, I thought I'd buy another hank of yarn to use for the border. I first bought a hank of Unisono, not realizing until I'd gotten it home that it is a self-striping yarn. I didn't want stripes in the border. Oh well, another hank for the stash, I decided, later talking myself into doing the right thing and buying another hank of Jitterbug.

Once again, when I brought the yarn home and looked at it more closely, I found something I hadn't seen in the store. The new hanks of Jitterbug are larger, 150 grams and a full 400 yards long. There's plenty there for a pair of socks. At least there was, until I used a good portion of the hank for the border of this shawl.

Never mind, I like the border in the lighter colorway of Jitterbug. I like that I used an i-cord border along the top of the shawl. I like the size of the shawl. I really like that I have a hank of Unisono for socks and probably enough Jitterbug for a pair of socks, especially since I didn't use all of the dark blue in the shawl.

With that, I'll conclude this long, rambling story about knitting. It's mildly interesting to me, so I assume it will be to the knitters who read this blog. I'm not sure it would sustain interest in a conversation, though.

I've never heard knitters have a long conversation about knitting. I wish I had. I've tried to catch one, tried to initiate one, tried to sustain one. Is knitting really that boring?

I walked into a yarn shop in a small town the other day. There was a large group of women sitting around a table, knitting and talking. The shop owner told me that it was the guild meeting. I couldn't help hearing their conversations as I walked around the small shop, looking at the yarn and other items. Not once did they mention knitting. Not even spinning, or any type of fiber craft.

Even when shown a knitted item, the response was brief, then the conversation moved back to remodeling, children, men, weather, the usual stuff. I've visited with every knitting group I could in the past few years, gone to a guild fashion show, set up meetings with other knit bloggers or Ravelry users, but I've never found anyone who actually talks about their knitting, or other people's knitting, for any real length of time. I imagine that it would be great fun to find someone who would talk about knitting at length, but I'm not sure. Until I find someone else who has the same level of interest in knitting as I do, blogging about knitting and reading knitting blogs will have to suffice.

Now that the little shawl is finished, I've started a big one. I found the pattern in Clara Parkes' Book of Wool, but have since found it free on line. The free pattern is a big plus, since I can print out the charts in a larger format. I'm using some silk yarn I originally bought to knit a sweater, Mulberry, from Louisa Harding's line of yarns. The pattern is by Sivia Harding. Coincidence, or relations? I'm not sure, but either way, the yarn and pattern is a pair. The yarn is the perfect color for a wedding I'll be in later this year (not mine, no). My suggestion of a sweater was vetoed as being too casual, so I'm hoping a beaded stole will be dressier. If not, the silk yarn should frog well. I have two other stashes of yarn for stoles if this one won't do. Between the stoles and socks, sweaters have been abandoned for a while. I'll get back to them eventually, but I've had a realization about hand-knitted sweaters. I don't wear the summer ones. Summer sweater projects are halted. The yarn will have to be re-purposed for spring and fall sweaters.

I'll explain my problems with summer sweaters in my next post.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Coupon Reject, Yarn Magnet

Sigh. I have tried to cash in on the flood of coupons that hits my mailbox (the real one on the side of my house by the front door, not the virtual one) every day. They promise me Sale! Instant Money! On actually trying out the promo codes and the certificate instructions, I fail.

Not only do they not apply to my purchase, which is sadly short of the minimum amount by only a smidgen, the actual product is no longer available. Never mind. I found what I needed the old-fashioned way, at the store.

The upside of my failed attempt at internet shopping is that while on line, I checked the exchange rate and found it was once again favorable. I mean the Euro/dollar exchange rate. More Euros/dollars means cheaper European yarn. I immediately headed over to Shoppel-Wolle, filled my cart, and tried to check out.

Foiled again. Shoppel-Wolle doesn't ship to the U.S. Even a personal plea didn't help. Mr. Shoppel politely informed me that he would ship me his yarn for a shipping charge about the equivalent of my yarn budget. Darn. Ravelry to the rescue. ships to the U.S. and has Shoppel-Wolle. On Sale! There wasn't much color selection, but I chanced it and bought three balls of what was there. I really only wanted two, but there was a minimum purchase required. After all, I was getting the yarn on sale. With the favorable exchange rate, it cost me about $6 a skein, not counting the (reasonable) shipping charge.

Even though they didn't have the colorway I wanted, at least I could test the yarn. Someday I may get my hands on the elusive colorway I crave. In the meantime, the third skein, the one I didn't want, turned out to be the perfect one for the wildest sock I've ever knit.

If you haven't seen Think Outside the Sox yet, you are in for a treat. This is my current favorite sock book, the one with the sock above on the cover. (Well, not exactly that sock, just a couple of pair from the same pattern.) I don't know that I will knit very many socks from it, but I am wearing it out just looking at the wildly imaginative patterns. I bought it for the entrelac sock pattern, because it includes an entrelac heel. I wanted to see if it took a different approach from Eunny's entrelac pattern.

At this point, I don't know whether it does or not. I was going to compare the two patterns, but I got distracted by the hexagons. This pattern, combined with the orange/green/blue yarn, was a fun knit, but I'm over it now. The first sock will have to wait a while for its mate. Those little hexagons got tedious after a while. Anyway, my sock needles are now otherwise occupied.

At the same time that I bought Think Outside the Sox, I also bought Knitted Socks East and West. (I blame the summer knitting books sales.) Again, I bought the book for a particular pattern, Tsunami. I was inspired by this pattern to design a pair of socks with a big cable on each side. As I might have suspected, having been driven by a boundless curiousity about knitting patterns for the past few years, I wasn't satisfied with just knitting a knock-off. I still wanted the original. I have the pattern now and can knit a Tsunami. Once again, I became distracted.

Instead, I knit a Kaiso, a very fast knit. I started it to practice Judy's Magic Cast On, not because the Kaiso pattern is knit toe-up, but because it was the right gauge for the yarn I had handy. Once I got the cast on done correctly, I knitted a few rounds, increasing to make a toe. I've never enjoyed knitting toe-up socks before because I haven't found a comfortable way to knit a toe from the toe tips up. Judy's cast on is magic. It makes a seamless toe. Since I'm using a brightly patterned yarn, I didn't worry about the visibility of my increases and simply kfb'd them. Boom, while having a cup of coffee, I knit a toe. I thought I'd use this pattern, but was afraid the gauge would be off or that the yarn would pool. Knitting the toe helped answer both questions. Then I found my gauge is large enough to allow me to skip one of the repeats in the foot. Whoopee, a sock in a few hours. It's a relief, because I bought this yarn (Toasty Toes) on sale sans label. It might be one of the short hanks, only about 250 yards long. With this pattern, on size 3 needles, I won't have any problem getting a pair from that yardage.

Unless I get distracted again, perhaps by another yarn bargain. I love yarn bargains.

I have a bucket list. You know, the list that is supposed, according to the popular movie lore, to be accomplished before you "kick the bucket". Pending death, for those who are unfamilar with the idiom. (Not sure who that would be, now that idioms are made universal via the internet.)

My bucket list is a list of yarn I must knit before I die. I'm sad to say that most of them are sock yarns, but it does seem to be socks that allow me to indulge my color and fiber fantasies. Sweaters are, really, better in one color, unless they are fair isle, which is simply many yarns of one color worked together.

My list:

Zara (I bought enough of this yarn to knit two sweaters, but haven't knit it yet.)
Posh sock yarn (bought, scheduled to be knitted by Christmas)
Knitabulous sock yarn (no purchase yet, the Australian dollar remains too strong)
Shoppel Wolle Intarsia 1800 (Now that I've tried the yarn, I'm more determined to acquire this colorway.)
Wollemeise (Thought about it, but besides being damned hard to purchase, I'm afraid it might be too thick for my sock yarn preferences)

I hear the dollar will improve in August, and will be watching those exchange rates and looking for more yarn bargains.

I hope others are tempted to join me. What's on your Yarn Bucket List?