Quick thoughts

“Knitting is really good for your mental health — despite the moments when you think that it’s the opposite. It’s a great way to practice being successful, tackle problems without fearing terrible consequences, and watch yourself getting things done. Seeing these things on a small scale, like with knitting, can help you see them in the rest of your life.”

— Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka the Yarn Harlot

I like how she uses the phrase practice being successful. Because I am clearly out of practice.


Malabrigo Monday

Today is a bank holiday in Ireland, which means I’m not in work. Despite all this leisure time, this is just a quickie post since I’m hard at work doing last minute flat cleaning for my impending visitors.

Every time the shop gets a shipment of Malabrigo I find a new colour that I simply must have for my own. The last delivery included a colourway I’d witnessed in lace and worsted but not in sock, Stonechat:

Malabrigo Sock in Stonechat

Dye lots can vary significantly with Malabrigo, to the point where you might think you’re looking at two different colourways when comparing skeins from different shipments. Sometimes there will be more yellow or less green in the mix. I’ve noticed this variation with Stonechat even between the lace and the worsted.

The second skein I got was a new colourway for me, Persia:

Malabrigo Sock in Persia

It’s a nice calm blue with brown and gold accents. This would make a nice little cardigan, once I get around to it. I think I’ll use one of my Malabrigo sock skeins for a cardigan, but it’s not yet clear which one it’ll be.

PS: The wedding was awesome. I didn’t wear the blue top, even though it came out fine after a little alteration. The shrug looked fantastic, and I also got to wear a crocheted choker I’d had lying around for years but never found an outfit it looked good with.

PPS: Many of the Ravelry links I include in my posts can be viewed by people who aren’t logged in to Ravelry. If the URL starts with “ravel.me,” that means it’s a project I’ve flagged for sharing outside of Ravelry. Most pattern links don’t have that option, so I usually add a warning like (Rav link) for something that you shouldn’t bother clicking on if you’re not a Raveler.

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.


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.

A sudden malaise

I have two pieces of deadline knitting and a stack of commissions making me jumpy and preventing me from having fun at social occasions. So what did I spend my evening last night making? A tea cosy.

Tea Cosy

Not because I need a tea cosy, mind you. My largest teapot (a 4-cup that valiantly fills the role of a much larger pot) has a cosy already. My smallest teapot is just a one-cup deal, and a cosy would be a little ridiculous. It’s not the ridiculosity that stops me, I think, but the fact that it’s one of those pots that sits on top of a little matching teacup and I wouldn’t want to get fuzz in the cup. My middle-sized teapot, the one I bought in a fit of self pity last summer, is too cute for a cosy.

This cosy doesn’t even fit any of those teapots. It’s built for a 6-cup teapot, which means it probably would have fit the white teapot I left behind in the US. (I do not mourn it; don’t get the wrong idea. It was a means to an end, and not worth shipping over.) So I brought it to the shop and got the shop teapot to model it. It doesn’t fit the shop pot quite right either, but it’s still really cute.

I think the thing that got to me was the stitch pattern, a simple mistake rib. The execution disappointed me a little, so I might rewrite it with fewer shenanigans and make it available through the shop. It’s the tea cosy everyone wants, a good, thick, comfortable looking cosy with no bells or whistles. It goes on, it keeps the tea warm, and it looks like it might be good for a hug on a bleak, dark winter’s day.

Why did this come over me the night of the warmest day of the year in Dublin? The world may never know. But the world may get another tea cosy pattern out of it.

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.