Monday, March 31, 2008

HOW Many Needles ???

Although usually conservative, even stingy, about purchasing knitting paraphernalia, I finally caved and bought an Ashland Sky case for my DPN collection, which is far larger than I had realized. It began so simply three years ago with a single set of 2.75mm bamboo DPN's and a skein of sock yarn to keep me entertained on the plane trip to Mexico. In the ensuing years I have needed to acquire smaller sizes for finer sock yarns. And then I needed larger sizes for sweater sleeves and cuffs. And then, of course, I had to have multiple sets of the same size so that multiple projects could be on the needles at the same time (since morning-tea knitting is different from travel knitting, which is different from TV knitting, which is different from I-need-a-challenge knitting, and so on).

I filled up the case, which has 14 pockets, many of them wide enough to hold two sets of needles. Looks tremendously organized, does it not?

There are 19 sets in the case, three that don't fit because they are 10" long, and two that are busy with current projects – a grand total of 24 sets. That's a heck of a lot of needles! And it's only DPN's in sizes between 2.0mm and 3.75mm. No bigger sizes, no straights, and no circs.

The case folds up quite nicely to one-third of its open width and tucks easily into a small drawer, a corner of a shelf, wherever. It's really dandy; I'm glad I bought it. Now perhaps I'll be less likely to acquire yet another set of needles because I can't lay hands on the correct size.

The collection of circs is heading in the same direction. I'm afraid to look too closely, but I know I have multiples of the same needle size with different cable lengths. And a variety of sizes. The sensible thing to do, clearly, is to buy a complete set of interchangeables. Knitpicks Harmony is looking like the brand of choice. I have 2.75mm and 3.25mm in their fixed circs and like them a lot – lovely sharp points and just enough drag. I believe that will be my treat for April.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Very Different Vest

The current vest on the needles is nothing at all like the Clock Vest, although it, too, is a Cheryl Oberle design. When finished it should look like something like the picture below.

The attraction of this sakiori pattern – aside from the fact that it just looks nifty and different because of the side panels that connect up the front and back without actually filling in the entire side – is that it uses two strands of fingering weight yarn. To me that spells leftover sock yarn. And I have a whole lot of that. In addition, due to some mental confusion about my sock knitting goals and some incredibly poor service from a yarn retailer who generally performs quite well and thus shall not be named, I had on hand 6-8 50-gram skeins of tweedy/marled sock yarn in subdued hues of light, medium, and dark grey/brown. Some of it is Scheepje's Invicta Extra in an unknown colorway, and the rest is Paton's Kroy in Glencheck from sundry dyelots (did I mention the truly dreadful customer service?).

These are just a few of the leftovers I have been using to create the random striping. Some bits had already been completely used up by the time I got around to taking this picture. It has been tremendous fun to contemplate the various colors and decide which ones to use where and for how long. And then there was the question of which ones to strand together. Usually I mixed a bright color with one of the grey/brown tweedies, but sometimes I combined two of the color squibs. The goal is to have the vest look delightfully colorful in a random and varied sort of way. My fear is that it will look hokey and stupid.

These are the two backs. They are knit separately to follow the sakiori tradition, according to "Folk Vests," and then sewn together. Since they are long and narrow (only 40 stitches) and knit in plain stockinette, they curl like crazy, and it took some steaming to persuade them to lie flat enough to be photographed. I'm going to wait until all the knitting is done before I attempt the sewing part. There isn't a great deal(the backs and the side pieces), but it seems a lot to me. I've been knitting in the round for a looooong time, and have completely forgotten how to sew things together.

Since this is the only non-sock project at the moment it is moving along rapidly. The left front was about two-thirds done when I took this pic; now it is completely finished and I am working on the right front. Two little side pieces, some seed stitch edging, and then (ulp!) the sewing, and that's it. Quite soon I will know whether the completed vest is lovely or dorky. Seriously have my fingers crossed (when not using them to knit) for lovely.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Listen To The Yarn

Usually when I am about to embark on a new sock project I pull out the yarn or yarns of interest and set them right beside me while I page through pattern books. That way the yarn can check out the patterns too and let me know if it has any strong positive or negative reactions. (Yes, I hear yarn talking.) Past disasters have led me to adopt this procedure.

This time I forgot. Enthused over twisted stitches from my success with the Clock Vest, I determined that the next pair of socks would involve a twisted stitch motif. And, since I had been wanting to knit the Chinatown Apple Smooshy that had been languishing in the stash for ages, of course, that would be the yarn. Decision made.

What did I forget? Yup, forgot to ask the yarn how it felt about this whole idea. Here's what happened.

First, impressed with my own cleverness, I selected a motif from "Knitting in the Old Way," a book about sweaters. Uh-huh, sweaters. This "ribbonfold" pattern would probably look great on #8 needles. On 2.25mm needles it looked ridiculous. There are all sorts of intricacies within that pitiful little slanty thing, but you can't see them, because it's too small. Realizing this, I gave up and frogged. But I neglected to notice something else. Nor was I interested in anything the yarn had to say. I simply charged ahead, selected another pattern, and cast on.

The second attempt was the Snicket Socks, an extremely cool pattern. I thought the pattern would "pop" better on #2 needles, so cast on the number of stitches for a "small." Should have worked. Right?

Nope. Even with only 54 stitches, the sock was too big. And I finally realized – the pattern was fighting the yarn. I don't know if all Smooshy colors are like this, but Chinatown Apple has slight variations in hue, just like a real apple – different shades of red. The color changes got lost in the delightfully dramatic Snicket pattern. It just did not work. Sadly, I frogged again, apologized to the yarn, and left it resting quietly on the shelf next to the pattern books. When it has had time to recover, we'll try again.

But I still wanted to knit the Snicket Socks. So, I opened the file drawer where the sock yarn lives, and – wiser from my recent sad experiences – asked for a volunteer. Only one yarn was interested in trying.

The skein of "bare" Knitpicks Essential Tweed thought it might look quite nice as Snickets. It insisted, however, on #1 needles. Even then, I wasn't listening. The yarn claimed that it was not any thinner than the Smooshy, merely less tightly plied. I didn't believe it, cast on 60 stitches, and had to rip out (after only 10 rounds, though) and restart with 54 stitches. But we are now underway, looking good, fitting good. And I have learned my lesson. Must. Listen. To. The. Yarn.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Flag Karma

There are good flags and there are bad flags. And, of course, it's all relative to one's particular situation.

Here are some good flags. In my opinion. These Tibetan prayer flags brighten my tiny gray-walled patio, help to conceal the equally gray plumbing pipes that run down the back of the front house, and share good thoughts and wishes with every passing breeze. I think they're lovely; my neighbors think I'm weird. "The Heart Sutra? Huh?"

These flags – not so good. Oh, sure, they look delightful against a beautiful blue sky. The problem is what they mean. And that is – gale warning. One flag is a small craft advisory; the boats to the mainland will continue to run, but you will probably have quite the fun ride. Once that second flag goes up, a few more boats may depart, but soon that will end. If you're on the island, that is where you will stay. And if you're caught on the mainland, it's time to hunt down a hotel. No going home tonight.

These red flags appear to have psychic powers. They always know when I am heading for the mainland. If I put on an overtown outfit ( "good" jeans, a nice tee, and the newer clogs) and head for the door – oops! – up goes one flag. Should I persevere, by the time I get to the dock there will be two flags.

I had planned to visit the new Liscat yarn store in Long Beach on Saturday; it has been commented on quite favorably in Ravelry discussion threads, and intriguing pictures have been posted as well. But the flags found out. So instead I had a delightful, wind-blown walk along the harbor and admired the crashing waves. I still intend to visit Liscat, but I'm trying not to think about it too much. (Shhhhh. They're listening.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Clock Vest is Finished!

The Clock Vest is finally finished. It seemed as though I had been working on it forever, but Ravelry shows a start date of early December -- only three months. Must have been the learning curve that made it feel so slow.

Anyway here it is. First we have a three-quarter view that shows one side and front panel.

And the glorious back.

And the front.

I only made one change to the pattern, and that was the button band. I swatched the suggested approach, which is the same as the bottom band, and did not like the result at all. After considerable dithering, I tried simply changing the stitch pattern every two rows, instead of every four rows. For some reason, this resulted in a much denser, tighter fabric. I made it slightly narrower too – eight rows instead of eleven.

Selecting buttons was easy. The square "Metiscus" buttons didn't work at all. The round "Bronze Shield" buttons were really attractive, and if there had been no other choice, I would have been happy to use them. But the "rough ball" buttons from The Button Drawer were the clear winners. They looked tons better in person than they had in the vendor's picture.

And the neighborhood kitty who drops by for a visit whenever I happen to be eating tuna gave it her seal of approval – both white and black hairs were shed upon the vest.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Spring Has Sprung

Whilst I was recovering from the flu, Spring arrived on the island.

This hill covered with clover in bloom is the first sign. (The red bits in the middle are wild geranium.) In the East, to my best remembrance, it's crocus and forsythia that mark the approaching end of Winter. Here it's clover.

Then I encountered this lovely blue-purple-white creature along the back road into town. (After huffing my way up a hill that had apparently grown steeper during my illness.)

And across the road, in the shadow of the hill, so low to the ground that I almost missed them, were these tiny lavender star flowers.

A little further along, where the road curves so that the sun shines onto the hillside, I found these little yellow guys.

And all the way along, whenever there was cactus clinging to the steepest and driest parts of the hill, these purple blossoms waved in the wind on their tall, thin stems. They're not part of the cactus; just seem to prefer the same environment.

Yet more yellow flowers. These are part of a bush that mostly prefers the higher bits of the hillside. But this one had condescended to grow close enough to the road to allow me to get a picture.

I didn't recognize any of the flowers I saw (other than the clover and geranium), but this has GOT to be some sort of daisy. Don't you think?

That's the end of the nature walk. I hope this will give a boost to all who are still surrounded by cold white snow and ice.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Button Shopping on the Web

Since I was unable to look for buttons for the Clock Vest in person, I went shopping on the Internet. First I checked Ravelry for queries about buttons (Turns out Ravelry has an entire group devoted to buttons -- Button Addicts. I should have know; Ravelry has a group for absolutely everything, including some topics I'd be embarrassed to mention.). This effort turned up four sites that specialize in buttons. I also tried Googling "buttons," but with less success. The word alone generally results in a ton of sites that relate to the sort of 100-X-100-pixel picture people put on their blogs, websites,etc. – yeah, that sort of button. It was necessary to add "sewing" or "fashion" to get anything remotely related to those round things we use to fasten up sweaters.

The four webshops I tried are:

As Cute As A Button
The Button Drawer
The Button Shoppe
MJ Trim

After many hours of perusing these four sites for buttons, a clear winner emerged. The trophy goes to The Button Drawer. Why? Because: 1) they had a far greater variety of the small (1/2"-5/8") size I was seeking; 2) they had a search engine; 3) they had the lowest prices; 4) also the lowest shipping cost (only $3.00); and, since I do not live in Colorado, no sales tax. I found five buttons that I liked and narrowed it down to two that I actually ordered.

This square one is called "Metiscus." (I've no idea what that little figure is intended to represent; if anyone has a clue, please do let me know.)

And this round one is a plain metal ball.

As Cute As A Button did have some marvelous buttons, but they were also marvelously expensive. A typical small button cost somewhere between $1.50 and $2.50, as compared to about $0.50 to $0.75 at Button Drawer. And their shipping is $5.00, and California residents have to pay tax. But I did fall in love with one style, and had to have it. This one is called "Bronze Shield."

The other two sites were not useful at all. The Button Shoppe is difficult to navigate, expensive, and does not have on-line ordering. MJ Trim is equally expensive and their styles are rather elaborate. Nice if you're looking for something fancy, but I wasn't.

I hope that one of the three sets of buttons I ordered will work out, once each has been introduced to the vest. It's all finished except for the buttonbands, which will take no time at all.