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Archive for June, 2010

Travels and Setbacks

My family and I have spent the past two days on the road traveling from Massachusetts to South Carolina for a two-week vacation to visit family and friends. Normally when we travel I serve as navigator while my wife drives. She prefers to be at the wheel mostly due to issues with carsickness, and I like this arrangement because it affords me hours of knitting time. However, my wife has been having knee problems of late, particularly in her left knee (the “clutch” knee for our stick shift) so I did a lot more driving and a lot less knitting this time.

On the way down we stayed in a hotel in rural Pennsylvania for the night. This was a little surreal because the view consisted of an interstate highway, restaurants, big box stores, and…a corn field. Right up to within 10 feet of the building. I also got some funny looks from people as I sat knitting in Applebee’s and in the hotel lobby the next morning. In suburban Massachusetts it’s strange for a man to knit. In rural Pennsylvania it’s something akin to crop circles…utterly bizarre and alien.

"Please, sir, I want yarn."

So we’re currently in South Carolina visiting with my in-laws and having a delightful time. I woke up before the rest of the family (as I almost always do) and under the keen, longing eye of the cat I picked up my knitting. I’m not used to knitting with a cat around, but I have learned quickly to zip the knitting bag whenever not working. The cat plays with everything and the look in her eyes as she watched me was intelligent and calculating. “How can I get my claws on some of that yarn?” it said.

And then as I was nervously knitting with one eye on the cat, a startlingly horrific realization struck me square on the jaw: I had dropped a stitch. Seven rows back. On the most complicated project I’ve ever tried. I knew something had been wonky a while back but had proceeded anyway. Bad choice. I just got finished ripping out and putting the knitting back on the needles…a kind of scary thing to do. I do not know what will come of it all, but I have learned an important lesson: if you think something might have gone slightly wonky, investigate sooner rather than later.

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I am progressing nicely on the obnoxiously complex gauntlets that my daughter requested. By progressing nicely I mean that I’ve completed 4cm, or roughly 1 and 5/8 inches. I think we should all be using metric. It just makes more sense. It’s all in tens. You just add zeros to go from kilometers to meters to centimeters. The miles to feet to inches conversion is considerably more complicated and silly in my opinion, and I can’t help but wonder if J.K. Rowling was poking a little fun at the American measurement system when she devised her system of wizard currency (29 Knuts make up one Sickle, and there are 17 Sickles in a Galleon).

So anyway, back to the knitting. I started this project on double-pointed size 1 needles, one of the reasons that progress seems so slow. I am a magic loop guy, but only have a size 2 magic-loopable needle, so I just went with what I had in size 1. After much frustration and needles sticking out everywhere looking like some form of Medieval torture device I decided I had to streamline. I had to simplify. So I went to my local yarn store, Butterfly Yarns (great little store!), and bought a 40″ Addi Turbo size 1 circular. For $13.50 (about 1 Galleon, 5 Sickles, and 22 Knuts in wizard currency) I had simplified this project significantly.

But it still could use some streamlining. Some rows of the pattern have as many as 8 cables per pattern repeat, due to the complicated combo of cables and traveling stitches, and I was getting tired of the cable needle. I had to learn how to cable without one. On the internet I found great directions, courtesy of Knitty, and off I went. It’s a little scary because these directions do involve having a stitch off of your needle¬†and just dangling there in the breeze ¬†for a very brief time. I will admit that I’ve had to pull out the old crochet hook more than once to rescue a dropped stitch due to this technique, but it’s getting easier, and overall my knitting speed has increased.

All of this has allowed me to reduce the number of needles I’m using on this project from 6 + a crochet hook to 2 (really one since they’re connected by a cable) + a crochet hook. Significantly easier to deal with.

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Dad

First off, let’s get past the obligatory “Happy Father’s Day.” You’ve all heard it so many times today, but I would feel totally unAmerican if I didn’t say it too. There you go.

Father’s Day means a little something different for me than for many of you. With the divorce rate being what it is, there are probably a growing number who, like me, didn’t have a father as an integral part of their childhood. Dad was the guy who I saw for 6 weeks (more or less) every summer throughout a few years of my childhood, but never felt much of a connection with. He lived several states away and for that reason we saw him in an annual lump sum visit rather than dealing with the wrangling of weekends that I so often see with my students (is it a Dad weekend or a Mom weekend?).

Don’t get me wrong, I am very thankful for my dad. I am thankful that I am on this planet and I owe some of that to him. But I am also thankful that his illusion of machismo was NOT around, that he wasn’t available to teach me how a “real man” should act and what this supposed “real man” should do. Because of his lack of influence, I learned how to cry, to be bored with sports, and to explore my creative side. While most “real boys” were injuring themselves playing football I was drawing pictures, singing, and learning the guitar. I remember one Christmas I made cross-stitch ornaments for all of my teachers. How many “real boys” do that?

Now I realize that not all men raise their boys to be macho men, but a lot do. I have two daughters, so they will have an easier time fitting in with their peers than any boys I would’ve raised; I just don’t know how to raise proper boys (the kind that don’t get labeled as girly-boys). I try to be the best dad I can and celebrate the uniqueness inherent in each of my daughters, and I hope I am succeeding to some extent.

So I am thankful to my dad for not showing me the way. For not being around. Under his influence, I don’t think I’d have been the well-adjusted, nicely-rounded artsy-fartsy musician and knitter that I am today.

And thank you, mom, for taking on his job as well as always having yarn around the house and letting me watch you work.

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Photo courtesy of Wonder Mike

Anyone who has ever read this blog knows that I am a BIG fan of the designs of Cookie A. Recently she’s been a recurring theme in my posts due to the gauntlets I’ve started making for my daughter based on one of her patterns. This is the third of her patterns I’ve knit and as I’ve been working on this project, I’ve found the process eerily familiar and am noticing a pattern to her patterns, or at least to how I deal with knitting them. I hope that breaking down the psychological processes will assist and empower other knitters in their quest for the guts to give Cookie a try.

1. Awe and Fear – When first viewing a photo of a Cookie A pattern one is amazed by the intricacy, in awe of her for how totally “outside the box” her designs are. You want to own a pair of these socks, to see the heads turning, and hear the admiration of your friends. “Wow! Those are AWESOME socks!” and “YOU really knit THAT??!!” echo in your head.

But then you think “How the hell am I ever going to do this?” The picture is intimidating, but the pattern is the stuff of nightmares. You, the mere mortal who thought knitting was just a bunch of knits and purls, are terrified by the complexity of a grid that looks like a close-up of the Death Star and such instructions as “kfbfbf” and “Cable 1P L 1K tbl.” There’s no way you’re going to survive this battle.

2. Cursing and Gnashing of Teeth – This is the stage I have written most about in my blog, mainly because the blog is a good venting mechanism…a sort of therapy. Stage 2 confirms all of your worst fears about the pattern and has you dropping stitches, miscounting, splitting the thread with your extra-

Photo courtesy of pickaknit

pointy size 1s, and eventually starting over (possibly more than once), cutting off the mutilated yarn from the first try or two. You wonder how such sadism can exist in such a noble craft.

But you must be strong and patient…perseverance is the key to a Cookie A pattern.

3. The Groove – After a couple of tries with each of the 15 different stitches in the pattern, you eventually do find your groove. It’s not easy to get there, and many people, much like hikers on the famous Appalachian Trail, give up early on after deciding this is just not for them. But for those who make it past the 4th or 5th row, there are rewards. You can finally “read” the knitting, make sense of the pattern, and even occasionally knit without the book in front of you. This is a beautiful place to be.

Which, of course, leads us to the final stage…

4. Addiction – Once you’ve found your groove, you feel like you can take on anything. But moreover, the pattern begins to be fun. You start thinking about weird cables in your sleep; you may even wake up early just to pick up the knitting needles. The truth of the matter is that as complicated as her patterns are, they are fun and interesting to knit. There are little goals and fun places in each cycle of the pattern that keep you coming back. I have not had to deal with “Second Sock Syndrome” on her patterns, though there’s a little bit of a letdown after you finish that second one. What now?

I would like to thank this incredible sock goddess for her innovative designs. I learn many new skills every time I knit one, as well as gaining strength of character and the unparalleled feeling of facing adversity and knocking it on its ass. I hope I one day get to meet this incredible lady, though I had better plan such a meeting well: depending on which stage I’m in at the time I may want to shake her hand or squeeze the life out of it.

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On June 16th 2009, I posted the first of many blog posts (this is my 64th). Over the course of this one short year 2,344 people (and counting) have visited my blog…an average of almost 200 per month. I am humbled and grateful for all of those who read me.

I know that many of the people who read are friends and family. I love you all and thank you for following my yarn-related ramblings. Many are not, though, and to me that is just amazing. When I look at my ClustrMap and see over 50 hits from Canada and over 30 from Germany, as well as hits all over the U.S., I am astounded. Somebody who doesn’t know me actually reads this crazy stuff I write about! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

In the school where I teach there has been a focus this year on producing work for an audience greater than one, much of it focused on Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc. In this 21st Century global society it is so easy to connect with people all over the world. The melding of traditional crafts like knitting with modern computer technology is wonderful and I am excited about the future of such partnerships.

Thanks for year one. If you have any comments, suggestions, or topics you’d like my perspective on, feel free to let me know. I’m always looking for new things to blog about.

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As a blogger on WordPress, I am privy to certain information regarding my blog. I can easily see how many people visit each day, which entries they clicked on, what links they clicked on within my blog, and even what searches were used that led them to my little blog. It’s kinda’ cool to be able to track this stuff.

As much as I love to see that 40 people have visited my blog today, that number is dampened to some extent by some of the search terms that led folks to it. Some searches have obviously been related to this blog, but a startling number of search terms have involved sticking needles into men’s tender parts. OUCH! DOUBLE-OUCH!!

I understand and respect that everybody’s gotta fly their own freak flag (Lord knows mine’s flyin’ high), and some people are into things that to me seem just plain weird and painful. If you wanna do that kind of stuff, then go for it; but this blog is about KNITTING. Just a simple play on words from a guy who loves soft, fuzzy balls of yarn and the wondrous things you can do with them using knitting needles.

Like sweaters.

And socks.

Scarves and baby blankets, too.

So you may move on now. If you ever decide that you want to learn how to knit, though, please feel free to visit my humble little blog again and leave a comment to let me know you need help. I’d be glad to point you in the right direction.

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It Slices and Dices!

Back in April (thx, Ravelry for reminding me) I started a pair of socks of my own design. A simple purled spiral on a stockinette background. I was using the Plymouth “Happy Choices” yarn on size 1 needles and I made it as far as the heel flap. At this point I decided that there wasn’t a chance in Hell that I had enough yarn on this half of the panel (for this yarn comes in pre-knitted panels) to finish the first sock.

I put it aside for a while to work on the baby blanket. This sock has now become my more brainless knitting project to go along with the #$%^*&@ Cookie A-inspired gauntlets I wrote about yesterday. At least under most circumstances I would have found it a brainless project, but true to form I decided to learn a new technique for this one: knitting two socks at once on one long-ass cable needle.

This past Christmas my mother-in-law, who knows me well, gave me a sock-knitting book, Melissa Morgan-Oakes’ “2-at-a-time Socks”.

The technique looked sound, but the book read like a late-night infomercial: “Revealed Inside: the SECRET to knitting two at once on one circular needle. WORKS FOR ANY SOCK PATTERN!” Do I get a free set of steak knives, too? I think Ronco published this book.

So I figured that after 6 months of not doing anything with this book I ought to try it, and I was right. The technique was sound. Basically it was a modified and squinched magic loop technique. You work from two balls of yarn or two ends of the same ball, and just knit them both magic loop style, but on the same needle.

Now there were a couple of things wrong with using this technique for this project. First off, the yarn was just not good for this. Using a yarn that had come to me already knit into a flat scarf-like panel meant using a yarn that resembled those old twirvy telephone cords. If the yarn had been straight it may have worked better, but being a crinkly yarn it kept tangling on itself and driving me to distraction. It got to a point where I couldn’t tell which yarn was going onto which sock.

The other issue is just that I like a little more room on my needles than mine were giving me. I was using a 40″ (I think) size 2 1/2 cable needle, but it still wasn’t long enough to be comfortable knitting two socks on it. I felt the need for at least another foot. Do they even make 52″ cable needles? Dunno.

So last night at my favorite Karaoke bar, where I was celebrating WWKIP day in my own special way, I ripped out the 5 or 6 rows I had done on one of the socks, leaving me with one sock on the magic loop. This sped up the knitting process for me considerably and now, about 2 1/2 inches into the project, I am a much happier knitter.

So Mum, I thank you for the book. It has good patterns and a neat new technique. I just couldn’t use it on this project.

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