Treacherous Noro

In some ways, I am living the dream. I work in my LYS, surrounded by luscious fibres in every colour of the rainbow. I am given free reign to devise patterns, match ideas with fibres and colours, display things so they look awesome, and knit until my fingers fall off. It’s the kind of thing knitters dream of, and I am still bowled over by how lucky I am.

There are drawbacks, however. The proximity of bales of Noro is a real issue.

Kureyon

I have a Noro problem. There are so many reasons to dislike Noro. It costs a fortune. It’s single-ply. It’s kind of scratchy. It often has bits of straw or whatever in it. (One of my favourite comments about the Silk Garden range was, “I’d like it if it had a little more of the silk and a little less of the garden.”) It sometimes goes thick and thin which makes tensioning awkward and drives beginners round the bend. And there’s always one colour in every colourway that just looks awful. Some knitters cut and join the yarn just to avoid that one colour.

I know all these things, and yet the siren song of Noro pulls me in every single time. I have made an entire Klaralund (Rav link), two scarves, a hat (which I can’t wear because it’s Kureyon and it’s too scratchy), matching fingerless gloves (which have been replaced by softer ones), and a beret (which got stolen, boo). I have a beautiful Noro entrelac scarf that was given to me last summer, and I have wool set aside for yet another Noro scarf and a Baby Surprise Jacket (Rav link).

This is all despite the fact that every time I knit with the stuff I note the drawbacks. The way that the wool in the ball doesn’t give much of a clue as to what the whole colourway looks like. The one or two colours in every ball that I hate. The ridiculous cost. Every time I think “This one will be my last. I am done with Noro.” Then I head in to work and stare at this all day:

More Kureyon

Is it any wonder my resolve wears down?

The artifice in art

I’ve been in choirs for most of my life, and the director I’ve spent the most time with was (luckily for me) probably the best. When directing a choir full of exhausted scientists towards the end of a term, she would point out that in order to make the songs we didn’t like sound good we would have to pretend to love them. Disliking a song tends to make a choir sound dull, so we needed to pretend to be into the music even for pieces we didn’t like or couldn’t relate to.

She used U2 as an example. “It’s been how many years?” she asked us. “Do you really think Bono still hasn’t found what he’s looking for?” The same point came up over and over, but that was always my favourite example. The idea was that art usually involves some faking. Some bending of the truth to make a point. I don’t consider myself an artist, but I do think about art in the course of what I do these days.

I’m slogging away on the blue tank top, and it looks like I’ll finish on time barring disaster like repetitive strain or a really nasty gauge surprise. I’ve thought a lot about clothes as I knit: how they fit, how they’re put together, what lines I should accentuate and which I should play down, and how best to achieve that with knitted fabric. Then comes figuring out how to make that happen through the craft: can I incorporate something clever to make the knitting easier or more interesting or elegant? After that comes the math. There is nothing fake about math. It is necessary to bring the fake beauty of the art into reality as a flattering garment, and oddly enough I find myself engrossed every time I attack the math parts of a knitted piece.

That’s the craft, not the art. And that’s where I am now, calculating armhole depth and hoping my calculations are good ones. If this works, this top (and others like it?) might become a wardrobe staple. And that would be awesome.

Just another Manos Monday

I have two yarn cakes of Manos Silk Blend sitting on my desk. I remain amazed that I own them, and that they are so beautiful.

Manos Silky, yum

They will be a Captiva when they grow up.

Instant gratification

Hats are great.

Red Hat

I knitted this as a command performance for a friend, who wanted a red hat. It took me a while to deal with the fact that she wanted a basic beanie rather than a floppy hat or a wild hat or some otherwise interesting hat, but once I came to terms with the idea I managed to finish this pretty quickly.

I teach knitting to “beginners,” and we always start with a scarf. Scarves are traditional starting projects, and although this opinion hasn’t stopped me, I think it’s a really bad idea. A scarf is a huge piece of fabric. It uses a lot of yarn, requires a lot of stitches, and can be incredibly boring. This is great if you’ve decided to take up knitting as a Zen kind of meditation exercise, but about half the people who come to me wanting to learn have very specific desires for finished knitted objects. I still teach scarves because a basic scarf is the simplest item to construct, and the most likely to be used. (Yes, a dishcloth is easier to make. But fewer knitters have knock-down, drag-out fights about the utility of knitted dishcloths.) But a hat is almost as easy, and goes a lot faster. I teach them as second projects, to introduce knitting in the round.

Yes, I could direct students to make a hat flat, then seam it. This went really, crazily wrong once and I still bear the scars. So it’s scarves first, then hats. Luckily it’s possible to get a respectable scarf out of three balls of chunky wool, which doesn’t take long to knit up. Then we can get on to the hats, which is where beginners can really shine. A hat knitted in the round is easy, introduces basic decreases, offers a chance to learn basic pattern reading, and can be done in a couple nights. Perfect.

Polygamous knitting

The black lace shrug is proceeding quite nicely, thank you. Despite my madness induced break, I’ve been steadily working, a few stitches here and there when I can fit them in, and have made excellent progress. One arm is done, blocked, and I’ve even tried it on to make sure it fits. It does. The second arm is past the elbow. Happily, I am a standard issue human and have only the two regulation arms, which means I don’t have far to go.

I am also working on a sock.

Sock in progress

Sometimes things just aren’t right for lace knitting. I knit while I teach, but the experience is better for everyone if I knit something I don’t have to look at or concentrate on. Same with gaming. Sometimes I break those rules, but every time I do I am reminded in one way or another that it’s a bad idea and I should stick to my sock projects when multitasking.

These socks are part of my Black Socks 2010 Collection. A year ago (so Zappo’s has reminded me) I bought a pair of shoes unlike anything I have ever worn. I’m not a shoe person. I own three pair: dress shoes, gym shoes, and everyday shoes. This is my everyday pair, and they’ve done an excellent job so far. The catch was that I’d been wearing boots for a long, long time and therefore unconcerned with the colour of my socks. Since all my socks are my handknits, most of them are riotously coloured. These shoes reveal my socks, which matters to me when I’m pretending to be a normal person. So I needed black socks. I ordered a tonne of black sock yarn from The Loopy Ewe the week before I moved here and spent the summer making black socks.

All those socks are too much alike, and a pain in the neck to sort in the laundry. So this summer I’m going to make plain black socks with a stripe around the toe made of some leftover coloured yarn. The socks appear black when I wear them in the Real World, but they’re easy to match.

It also gives me something simple to work on when I have other things to pay attention to. They are toe-up, so I can’t tune out during the heel, but I hope to have a standard toe-up heel-flap heel memorized by the end of this adventure.

Boundless optimism

When I started reading knitting blogs, I immediately took to the Yarn Harlot. I liked her writing, I enjoyed her stories, and I appreciated the kinds of things she knitted. Her stories were funny, even if I didn’t relate to the specifics.

A few years down the line, here I am, trying to execute a hairbrained idea of an outfit for this wedding in a couple weeks. This is not something I would have done when I started knitting, but it looks like I’ve learned more from the Yarn Harlot than how to correct a miscrossed cable. I was agonizing over what to wear. I don’t have a lot of “dressy” clothes, my dress sense is stuck in early college, and I hate shopping. (These may all be related things, and you can decide for yourself which are causes and which are effects.) I wondered idly whether I’d be able to wear a dress that might be in storage with my in-laws and might fit by the time of the wedding, but was concerned about whether it was realistic to hope for either of those things.

Then the sale bin got filled at the shop and I ended up with 12 hanks of Mirasol Tupa:

Tower of Tupa

I’d been thinking about making this crazy simple shell since I saw it in the latest Debbie Bliss Magazine. I wanted to use the Mulberry Silk we’d gotten in stock around the same time, but didn’t pounce on it for a variety of reasons. (Costs, probability of rowing out, time required.) Then I acquired the knitting machines, and knew it was possible for me to churn out the pieces pretty quickly. When the Tupa appeared in the sale bin, I pounced. It’s a silk wool blend, but I think it’ll make a nice top. So I swatched.

Swatching is good for you

This was done on the machine, a Brother 890. The DK weight yarn is a little big for this standard gauge machine, but using every other needle worked out okay. Using the machine to churn out miles of I-cord or stockinette seems like cheating, which is odd when I consider that I don’t feel spinning with a wheel rather than on a drop spindle is cheating. Since starting with the machine, I’ve thought a lot more about garment construction and design rather than individual stitches, which is different from my usual knitting adventures.

Hand knitting is about persistence, to my mind. There is a lot of craft to learn, sure, but the real obstacle may simply be boredom and frustration at how long it takes to make anything. Even a chunky hat takes the guts of an evening, and that’s not doing anything special with the pattern. A jumper can take weeks, even if nothing goes wrong. Machine knitting is a different beast. While most of my time on a knitted jumper is spent forming stitches, most of my time on the machine involves struggling with shaping, worrying about weights, and raging at the ribber. It is criminally easy to create rectangles of fabric, which shines a glaring light on my inadequacies as a designer and any mistakes I make (or corners I cut) with finishing.

In any case, I’ve committed myself to create this tank top on the machine. I will not be hand knitting it, even though if I started now I could probably finish it in a week. All my hand knitting time is currently devoted to the shrug I will wear over this not-yet-created top.

I must be crazy.

Deadline knitting

The other piece of awesomeness in my Loopy Ewe sock club package was a set of custom TLE red “Oh Snap!” pouches from Namaste. I didn’t photograph them along with the yarn because by the time I headed out to take pictures I had already stuffed the bags with projects:

Oh Snap! bags

They may not look like much, but as I’ve learned over years of making and using and cursing different bags for knitting, the see-through nature of these bags is key. They are sturdy and light, they lie pretty flat, they hold a lot more than you might think, and they slide easily into whatever bag you want to carry your stuff in that day. These two projects can now sit on my desk, and I can grab the one I want without having to look into several bags to see if they contain the project I’m looking for.

Yes, I should be able to remember which of my many (non-identical) bags contains the black lace shrug. It doesn’t always work out that way…

Black lace, you say? Why yes, I have started one of the least bloggable projects ever:

Lace in progress

Yes, lovely. Not only does lace look like vomit as it comes off the needles, any black knitted object is impossible to photograph. No matter how pretty the stitch markers may be:

Chainmaille stitch markers!

Chainmaille stitch markers! (silver)

Those are from Red Panda, and I really like them. They do make noise when I knit, since I’m using the very clinky Addis to knit this, it’s not that much more noise. I love that even though the rings aren’t continuous (usually a deal-breaker for me), they are so expertly cut and joined that they don’t snag on the yarn. Which is saying something, as this is very snaggy yarn. I had to change needles twice due to joins that snagged ever so slightly — even with needles that I’ve used before without any trouble.

I blocked out a little of the lace in the hope that it showed things more clearly:

Black lace, stretched out

Still not impressed? I’m not either. I’m kinda hoping it looks better when it’s actually on a person, otherwise I’m going to be very disappointed when this gets done. The pattern is I Do from Knitty, something I started a long long time ago and abandoned. I’d like to wear it to a friend’s wedding in early June, which gives me not very much time to finish this. I’m a very different knitter now than I was when I tried to do this the first time, and it’s been weird to revisit the pattern with five more years of knitting experience under my belt.

In any case, if things progress as they have been, I should be done in time to decide whether the finished object is ready for prime time.

A sample of things to come

One of my responsibilities at TiK is to knit samples for the shop. It’s useful for us to be able to point at a piece of knitted (or crocheted) stuff for each yarn we have, since people sometimes have trouble looking at a ball or hank of yarn and imagining what it will look and feel like when it’s knitted up. (In the case of some yarns, the packaging makes it impossible to accurately imagine what it’ll be like.) After a mad flurry of knitting for the Knitting and Stitching Show last year I was set to the task of designing what became the Lava Flow Cowl, and that took a while. I was mostly left alone after that, but spring and summer yarns are coming in and need samples made. (The Saroyan snuck in there, a quick and pleasurable knit.)

We received the Misty book last week, and I was impressed with the classic shapes and light yarns. Even though I’m on deck to knit a garment in laceweight (yikes!), I volunteered to make the Starr hat. I’m using Debbie Bliss Cotton DK, as the yarn called for in the pattern is also a DK cotton (that we don’t stock). I’d prefer a charted pattern, but like most patterns I didn’t mind so much once I settled into it and got the gist of how the stitch pattern flows.

Starr closeup

Still quiet

With the shadow of the Sackboys removed, I have moved on to other handknitting challenges and obligations. The Big Commission still looms (haha) overhead, but after meditating on the recent issues with it over the past few days I have more ideas for how to deal with it and get it done and get on with forgetting about it.

Last night I headed out to see Amanda Palmer (AFP) and assorted hangers-on. It was meant to be part of the Evelyn Evelyn tour, but the massive travel snarl created by the volcano ash prevented most of the actual show from showing up. The result? A completely random opening act Bitter Ruin, who blew me away. I would have bought a CD if there were any left. This was followed by a sort of shadow of the actual Evelyn Evelyn stage show, with AFP describing what would be happening and Jason Webley (the other Evelyn) joining via webcast. They had pretty successfully figured out how to sing together in spite of the 2-second lag, so it was possible to get some idea of what the music would have been like had they been in the same room and wearing the same dress. (Not identical dresses, the two of them in the same dress.)

AFP’s solo set at the end went well, and the debut of “Fuck the Ashcloud,” AFP’s and Neil’s impromptu songwriting collaboration lamenting the impending cancellation of their planned week together went about as well as anyone could have expected.

I got lucky, I think. The show took place at the Academy, where I’d seen JoCo in the basement venue. I’d never been in the upstairs, which is a slightly bigger, two-tiered deal. I wasn’t in the front of the queue, so all the space by the stage was taken by the time I got in and I headed upstairs to the bar. There were couches set up, and no indication that I wasn’t allowed to sit on them…so I ended up slouching in a comfy couch on a balcony for the entire show. The area is often reserved for people with VIP tickets, but this time it was open to anyone of drinking age. Awesome. I had a lovely evening.

I also finished a pair of socks. What better project to take to a show about a pair of conjoined twin singer/songwriters than a sock?

Socks

Weekly knitting roundup

After what seems like months of obligatory knitting, I have turned the corner and started enjoying wool again. I finished the Sackboys:

Sackboy twins

Their older brother has already been handed off. I did the stitching in different colours for each one; that plus the usual inconsistencies in handmade goods ensure each toy is unique. It bothered me at first (the shape of the black-stitched Sackboy’s head irked me for a while) but I now find it charming. They are cute on their own, but they are positively adorable next to each other. It’s for the best that I don’t have all three of them to take pictures of, as it may create a cuteness singularity.

I started another pair of plain socks. I can’t remember why, but I had a good reason at the time: I remembered! It was for the pub quiz in Dalkey, which I attended with a skein of knitters and thought I’d need simple knitting for.

Regia sock in progress

These haven’t progressed much since this picture was taken because I’ve been busy with my reward for finishing the Sackboys:

March Mosaic Socks, in progress

I like these socks. I like the wool. I like the colours. I even like that it’s a simple pattern but requires a little attention to ensure I stay on track. That sort of thing is new for me — I tend to swing wildly towards the outer reaches of the complexity spectrum. It has to be either so easy I can knit with my eyes closed or ridiculously involved. Historically, striving for balance has been a good thing for me, and I think these socks are a good step (haha) in the right direction.

These socks provide yet another reminder that I really like the toe-up heel flap sock construction. The only thing it has going against it is that I haven’t memorized it, so I won’t use it as my default plain sock pattern. (I have strict rules for plain socks, created over years of sock wearing/knitting. The wool must contain nylon, and the sock pattern must be in my head.)

Luckily, the Fiesta Baby Boom does contain nylon. Only time will tell how well it stands up to the wear and tear I visit upon my socks.

Fiesta Baby Boom, in a yarn cake