Monday, 26 September 2011

Learning to Crochet

Since last I posted my knitting progress has been, um, this side of non-existent. I managed to cut my middle finger in a small cooking incident of the "I can't believe I was so stupid" variety on Thursday. These are the times I'm really glad that 1. I'm not a bleeder and 2. I've never nicked an artery (I'm pretty sure that would nudge the "average blood loss per incident" numbers a bit to the left). I didn't feel it required stitches, being more of a flaying than severing injury and between pressure and immobilizing the knuckle, it sealed itself. Today is my first day without a plaster/band-aid and flexibility doesn't appear to be impaired. I keep wiggling it to make sure I don't develop tight scar tissue. It's visibly swollen but doesn't hurt* unless I poke it. "So don't poke it!" I hear you yell. That's all well and good except, if it wasn't a part of my digit that I use, I probably wouldn't have cut it. It turns out, I use the front side of that finger to stabilize a lot of things, not the least of which is my left knitting needle.

I made it about 8hrs (not counting when I was asleep) before I couldn't stand the sitting idly and picked up my (beautiful beautiful beautiful) current sock project and tried knitting without using the injured digit. It went...awkwardly. I probably would've pushed through, as slow and encumbered as it was, except every couple of stitches my vigilance would slacken, my middle finger would try to participate, and it'd end stabbing pain and Sailor-itis of the Language. Not my best 20 minutes. Knitting wasn't any better than sitting idly and swimming and baking were right out, so I decided to Learn to Crochet.

Now, I understand the basic theory of crochet (1.create a loop, 2. use hook to pull yarn through loop creating a new loop, 3. repeat step 2) and Once Upon a Time, say 20 years ago, I was taught to make granny squares and got a fair way into a blanket though until it became increasingly obvious** that crocheting an afghan in a 40C/100F degree summer wasn't the best idea ever. By the time I picked it up again I was a little shaky on the details and I hated the colours and acrylic-ness of the yarn I was using so it went back into the closet.

Part of my reluctance to learn crochet is my association with acrylic yarn and bad 70s styling. Every time I see a granny-square waistcoat/vest I want to recycle my alumin(i)um needles. I think crochet is brilliant for making stuffed toys and afghans but otherwise has few redeeming features. One of those redeeming features, however, is that I can do it without using my poorly finger. I picked a pattern and every time it used a term I didn't recognize (which was pretty much everything after "chain" and "single crochet") I looked it up online and kept at it till I had something resembling the pictures.

I started with a lacy cowl using rainbow yarn but it was too small so I frogged it and made a different cowl with the rainbow yarn. It's finished other than weaving in ends and adding buttons but it's (ahem) too small so I doubt I'll ever bother. Yesterday I made a third cowl, based on the first two, and it fits but is rolling so I'll probably frog it as well. While none of my projects have been perfect, I'm confident that I've got the basics down and want to turn my attention to small toys.

* though the nerve sensations if I touch it gently are really bizarre and disconcerting

** get it? The blanket was increasing in size and becoming increasingly warm and....never mind.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

FOs: Monkey Socks and Mitts

Monkey - Cookie A
Opal by by Zwerger Garn

I just realized that I have the yarn I used for my socks and the yarn I used for my husband's Swing Socks (HSS) mixed up in Ravelry. Oops. I blame the German labels, German being a language I don't read, and my uncertainty about what to enter as the brand vs name, coupled with my inability to take decent pictures which is why I added the pictures some time after stashing the yarn. When I started the projects, I selected the yarn based on the pictures and they're all mixed up. Bugger.

Anyhoo, these were knit with the Opal yarn which I love. The yarn for my husband's socks was a bit scratchy (though it softened amazingly when washed) and this yarn was much nicer to touch. I also like the stripes which worked out about each row. You can't see it in the lace section, but the heels, sole, and toes have really cute stripes. I think the pattern section would be wavy stripes if it weren't for all the purling. If I knit these again - I don't see myself doing so as there are so many sock patterns out there still to try, but I'm not opposed to the idea - I think I'll just knit the whole thing and skip the purling entirely.

They knit up quickly and easily once I had gauge* - I started off a little large on my 2.5mm circs and couldn't locate my 2.25mm ones (though I remembered where they were later that day) so I sized down to 2.0mm and they were a little small so it was the 2.5mm after all. I knit them together down through the instep and then one at a time for the toes so that, if it turned out to be the wrong length, I'd only have to rip back one sock. They use the same short-row heels as the HSS, but a different toe bind-off in the form of the Kitchner stitch which I'd used for the Corazon Mittens I made for my first winter in Inverness. I had to look it up again and accidentally purled a few stitches on one of the socks, but otherwise it went smoothly.

The socks only took 70g of the skein. The thing I don't like about top-down socks is the worry that I'll run out of yarn, so I didn't feel comfortable making the cuffs longer than specified. My preferences run to knee socks and I anticipate becoming one of those knitters who converts every pattern to be knit from the toe-up and continuing until I run out of yarn. As it is, I had 30g left so I divided it into two 15g hanks and knit myself a pair of matching mitts. To keep from having to rip out two mitts every time I tweaked something, I cast on one mitt and got it the right size (48 stitches, 2.5mm needles) and when I was sure it would fit, cast on the other, knit it up to the same point, and then finished them two-at-a-time. I used an afterthought thumb and knit them from the fingers up and they reach about 2" past my wrist - a good length.

* I use the term loosely here to mean "an appropriate size to fit comfortably" as opposed to the traditional "size to match original pattern"

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Comforts of Home

Some friends* recently started a podcast Geek Girl Crafts, covering an overlap of interest between geeky crafters and crafty geeks (not necessarily to be confused with cunning geeks), and as denizens of the SF Bay Area they talk about local events that may be of interest to geeks or crafters. The previous podcast included references to gaming conventions, renfaires, and the Dickens' Fair and triggered a bout of homesickness.

My first winter (this upcoming will be my third), I got acutely homesickness about once ever two months: I would be walking along and all of a sudden I would be hit with a wave of loneliness and homesickness and want nothing more than to curl up in bed with a hot water bottle and cry. It was a lot like PMT/PMS only without the cramps. The next day I'd feel fine again. This last year has involved homesickness, but usually passing pangs rather than day-long bouts - and I consider myself to be very lucky that occasional days of homesickness has been the worst of it. I know people who were or are chronically homesick. That day, after listening to the podcast, was just a mild funk that lingered for a few days, mostly unnoticed. That's more my life now: every so often there'll be a slight fugue, a day or three when I'm a bit blue around the edges, usually because Something is Happening back home and I feel left out. I only really noticed this last time because, walking to the grocery store, I saw a tiny oak tree, too young to be called even a sapling, and it's leaves were turning orange and red and I thought, "aww, just like poison oak!" and then had to laugh ruefully at myself because, really, who gets nostalgic for toxic flora?

The easiest comfort for homesickness is food, as importing people can be tricky and they tend not to want to sit in your cupboard for weeks or months on end. My friend T, a fellow USian living in the UK, asks people to bring her Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (blue box). I brought a box for her when I came to visit the UK, back when she was a friend of a friend and not someone I'd ever met. When I had a chance to request things I figured, "why not?" and asked for blue boxes of my own. They really do taste like my childhood which is particularly strange given that my mother cooked from scratch, mostly using things grown in our garden, and Kraft Mac'n'Cheese had almost no place in my childhood. But it tasted like childhood, and soup mugs, and standing in my mother's post-earthquake kitchen. Even my husband, who had never had mac'n'cheese from a box, liked it.

I'm down to one box, which like my one bottle of root beer is now For Emergency Purposes Only, so in the name of Science I purchased a box of Kraft Cheesey Pasta (red box) and made it for lunch.

I'd like us all to take a moment and think of the blue box, the one that tastes like home and idyllic moments of childhood. Now think about the red box with the different name but very similar ingredient list and "nutrition information". Obviously it won't be the same. We know this because, if it was the same T wouldn't need to ask people to bring her blue boxes. But we're hoping, despite the colour shift, that it'll be Good Enough. Oh, Gentle Reader, that is not the case! I think they were going for "tastes like Extra Mature Cheddar cheese" but somehow they missed cheese. It was awful in the way that only "children's food" you haven't grown up eating can be. I eventually dumped enough real cheese and salsa over it to make it palatable but I can't imagine how desperately optimistic I'd have to feel to purchase another box. Cry for me, when you see the boxes, blue or red, and remember tale of woe.

* a friend, a passing acquaintance and a woman I don't believe I've met

Friday, 9 September 2011

FO: Husband Swing Socks

Sunday Swing Socks - Kristel Nyberg
Fortissima Colori, Socka Colori - 100g/420m - 75% superwash wool, 25% polyamide

I first cast these on back in June and knit up the first one fairly handily - and then ran into Trouble. Try though I might and I did try* I just couldn't get the second sock to match the first sock and we're talking a difference of gauge that would not "just block out".

So I started over. This is a learning experience, right? This second iteration knit up quickly and I finished them on August 30th and even let my husband wear them for an hour that evening and again later that week when we went to visit Aged Parent (his father). Aged Parent was fairly indifferent to the socks but when he noticed the beads on my Swallowtail Shawl he declared that I must have the patience of Job. Chris, OTOH, is completely enamoured of his socks and has even started a twitter account for them. Ah, geek love.

Look at the pretty ripples (and the white glow of my English husband's skin)! Oliver tried to photobomb these pictures as well, but eventually wandered off to harass his sister instead. The yarn was a little itchy as I knit with it, but post washing is as soft as a cotton cloud. I was terrified when I took them out of the wash (30C, gentle cycle, hung over the radiator to dry) that they'd stretched beyond fitting but as you can see, they're perfect.

* I decided I wasn't ready for the AutoPilot Socks yet as, without any socks under my belt, frogging and reknitting to get it right was going to break my heart. Also, while I love the yarn I hate the colour. Not a winning combination.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Knittery and Cookery

I don't have much to say about knitting at the moment mostly because, while I've been knitting and have even finished things, I haven't had a chance to take pictures of them and thus I'm not posting about it. Part of the problem is figuring out how to stage things. Now that I've discovered the un-occupied cat tree makes a wonderful drape for shawls (and that staging knitting leads to my cats saying, "no, that's fine, we were done napping here anyway. You go ahead." I really do have the best cats) I can take shawl pictures all day long, but socks need a little more help. My husband is the definition of GGG*, to coop a phrase, so I'm sure he'll agree to model knitwear in exchange for, you know, knitwear.

So yes, I have been knitting (finished the Husband Swing Socks and a "helmet" style hat for Chris, spent two nights trying to work out my own double-knit mitten patterns to coordinate with the hat before giving up because this yarn is not agreeable to frogging and reknitting and therefore less than ideal from a design PoV, and I've turned the heels and am decreasing the gusset on the Monkeys for me. Knitting things, things that can actually be used and have a function, a purpose, is simply amazing.

I've also been cooking. I mentioned that I picked up a cookery magazine for my husband and that he made a Mysterious List of Recipes to Try which he's dribbled out to me day by day so I could go to the grocery store and purchase ingredients. On Monday I made a Sausage Bake with onions, butternut squash, garlic, and carrots which was quite nommy and then on Tuesday we boiled some pasta, and mixed it with the leftover sausage bake, some créme fraiche, a chilli, and some parsley and OMG was that delicious. Wednesday was a Roast Chicken (again with onions and garlic) and a scrummy gravy which tonight becomes chicken pot pies with broccoli. Chris and I had a small fight about who gets to make dinner** and I played the "but dinner takes an hour to prep and an hour to bake and if we wait for you to make it, we won't eat till 8 or 9o'clock" which I played yesterday when he wanted to go with me to buy the ingredients and then make dinner. Because I'm a good and magnanimous wife I suggested that he make the pudding (apple tarts made with the leftover puff pastry from the pies) which I had originally planned on making as a surprise. I try to be GGG too. Speaking of dinner, I should go do that now.

* Good, Giving, Game

** Seriously, we both want to do it. Chris also likes it when we cook together but I want to Do All The Things which isn't exactly in the spirit of cooperation. If neither of us feels like making dinner we either defrost something (if we notice the ennui early in the day) or order take-away (if we give up around dinner time).

Monday, 5 September 2011

Magazine Equality

Yesterday, Sunday, my husband and I walked into town to pick up some things we were out of (milk, laundry tabs). I suggested we pick up some things with which to make dinner which earned me a completely blank look from Chris. The previous night's potato and cheese roll served with roasted chicken had been sliced and toasted to be served for breakfast with bacon and apparently that had satisfied the cooking and eating part of his brain such that he was caught off guard by the suggestion that we might need to cook and eat ever again, let alone that evening. We decided to pull out the last lock'n'lock of beef stew from a couple of weeks ago and save recipe-hunting for another time.

Sundays in the UK, certainly in Inverness, are a bit quieter than their counterparts in metropolitan centres in the US, the bay area in particular. The big chains are still open, but keep shorter hours, but a lot if not most of the little shops are closed. Relevant to my interests, the Victorian Market where the three craft stores are located, is closed and the little health food shop I like to poke around in is as well. The only purpose to walking into town, as opposed to the new Tesco which is 0.1miles closer in the other direction, is to stop at Costa Coffee and have a flat white (him) and hot chocolate with vanilla syrup (me). Alas, Chris had just had his second or third cup of the day when we left the house and wasn't yet ready for a Costa visit and there's no point in buying milk and ice cream* and then sitting in a coffee shop while it melts. In a stroke of genius inspiration, I asked if we could duck into WH Smith and look at their magazines.

I love a good magazine. I loath everything the men's and women's interest magazines stand for ("look at this product which will magically solve all the problems with your life and your appearance that you didn't know you had!") but almost every other magazine is brilliant to flip through - even the trashy celeb mags: seeing how a dozen different magazines compete to give the same story a different cover layout and headline spin (seeing all those covers was as close as I ever got to following "pop culture"). When I worked in a bookstore I loved thumbing through magazines and seeing what there was to see. And now that knitting is my main obsession, I need knitting magazines. I got a digital subscription for Interweave Knits (and Piecework is calling my name) but I figure there must be a UK knitting magazine worth getting, whether digitally or in full glossy glory. I flipped through my binders of patterns culled from my stripped** magazine collection to see which magazines published my favourite patterns and...nothing. I found a few UK magazines online, but couldn't tell A) how often they were each published or B) if there was enough inside of interest to be worth buying one. Thus the need to visit a newstand.

I decided on a copy of Knitting Magazine for me and, as a distraction, Delicious (a cookery magazine) for my husband. He was dubious but I know how much he loves thumbing through recipes and Delicious was one I recognized as a Really Really Really Good Cookery Magazine so I purchased it anyway. He loves it. He stayed up past midnight, pouring over the recipes and picking out 10 (ten!) recipes to make this week. That's just the mains - he's decided I should pick out the puddings. He's being very mysterious about it: I'm not allowed to know which recipes he's picked out and he'll be placing our grocery delivery order when I'm not looking so it'll be a big surprise. I am allowed to know what we're having for dinner tonight as I need to purchase a butternut squash, red onions, and carrots so we can actually make it. There was a bit of a kerfluffle about sausage, when he asked me to get some out of the garage-freezer and then said but not those sausages, well maybe these sausages, pick ones that are "meaty" and I made an executive decision that he needs to select the right sausages as I don't understand the criteria.

In other news, I like my magazine if only because it is full of yarns readily available in the UK and the "upcoming events" includes something in Inverness! Another bonus - they have a couple of projects pictured as knit up in alternate colours in the suggested yarn. I may knit a sweater yet.

* I spent the morning catching up with Pioneer Woman Cooks and decided that our two lonely bananas needed to be turned into Bananas Foster which in turn needed to be poured over ice cream. Thus, "double cream" and "ice cream" were added to the list.

** you know how the first page in a mass market (little) paperback says "if you purchased this book without its cover it was reported as destroyed and neither the author nor the publisher made any money off of it"? That's 'cause books that don't sell get returned to the publisher but MM and magazines aren't worth shipping around so you just return the front cover and destroy (or take home) the rest. This was one of the best parts of working in a bookstore until they started a company-wide recycling program and magazines had to be returned whole to be stripped and processed elsewhere.

Friday, 2 September 2011

FO: Beaded Swallowtail Shawl

Swallowtail Shawl - Evelyn A Clark
2-ply lambswool "Sea spray" from Judith Glue
E Beads - 4mm purple from the Craft Factory
4.5mm needles for the CO; 3.5mm for the body; 0.75mm crochet hook to strand the beads
Blocked: 62"x32"

I followed the pattern as written with a few modifications: beads instead of nupps, attached with a crochet hook while knitting; 19 repeats of the blossom lace chart; I was running out of yarn and left off the border lace chart.

I really enjoyed knitting this, as I did her Flower Basket Shawl before. I find the way she charts her lace to be a little odd: I get that it's the simplest way to write out the chart but, for me, it's not charted in a way that visually imparts the lace. Looking at the chart, I don't see how the finished lace will look. Her lace repeats are so elegantly simple that I can knit each row based on how the previous row looked, pausing periodically to count the blossoms up the center, but I have to get a couple repeats in to see how the chart relates to the lace.

Is this a criticism? No. Rather it is a statement of preference based on how charts work for me, and the way I see charts. As another preference, with lace that is "RS: work pattern, WR: k2, p across, k2", I am frustrated if the purl rows are shown in the chart. It breaks the pattern up in a way that makes it more difficult for me to read. For other people, I'm sure it's very helpful. Other people may find that my ideal, having the chart written out with a few repeats show and a red box around the basic repeat, would be needlessly confusing. So no, it's not a criticism, just an observation on my experience reading this particular chart to knit this particular chart.

I also tend to dislike instructions for increasing the size by using a yarn and needles that give a different gauge. Yes, obviously I can do that, but what I really want to know is the multiples needed to get from one chart to the next smoothly. An advantage of knitting a popular shawl like this one (over 9000 projects on Ravelry!) is that for most simple modifications like the ones I've done, someone has already worked out the details. I got the "19 repeats" figure from the hive-mind, without having to work it out myself - a particular bonus as, as I mentioned, the chart isn't visually ideal for me.

A bonus picture of Oliver who, when I spread the unblocked shawl on the duvet, ran over, jumped up on the bed, and lay down right where you see him.