Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Miracle Cure

Like many knitters I’m a big fan of the Yarn Harlot. I too read the article about the Valley Yarns English Tweed that, with a leap of faith and a whole lotta washing, turned into the most wonderous of yarns. A soft tweedy glorious yarn that, upon washing, would bloom into a thing of beauty that all would envy.

I got an advertisement from WEBS at the end of the year that eventually linked me to a coned Highlands Tweed yarn – and I jumped on it, thinking that this was the very same yarn that had
Stephanie swooning. I’ve since lost the receipt, so I can’t be sure that this was the same yarn, but in any event, it was a whopping $7.00/lb so with a what-the-hell attitude I ordered two pounds of Silver Tweed. This set me back a grand total of $23.00, including shipping.

I have to say, the yarn is really very pretty, appearance wise. As I expected, it had a fair amount of spinning oil so I dutifully washed it. Twice. And for good measure, gave it a nice Eucalan bath. It did indeed bloom in a quite amazing way - this is a "before" (on the left) and an "after" on the right. You'll have to forgive the photo - I had a hard time with the flash and the closeup thing all coming together.

Then I made a swatch.

In my mind this was destined to become a Central Park Hoodie in a lovely goes-with-anything grey tweed. In reality this was a pretty rough yarn. I did the bra test, the back-of-the-neck test, the I’m wearing a tee-shirt test… and I hated it. So scratchy that my hates-wool-itch skin found it unwearable.

I took the swatch to my Tuesday evening SnB - and everyone remarked about how nice it looked but when it came to touching it… well… not so much. Diane tried to console me by saying it’d make great felted bags. All two pounds of it. (sigh)... I resigned myself to storing this yarn into the same novelty-yarn box purgatory where it would eventually be given away.

However – today while cruising Ravelry I spotted a posting about how to soften

Kauni yarn. Another Raveler commented on the overall scratchiness of Kauni in general – and wanted to know if there was any way to soften it up. One or two others piped up with the dollop of hair conditioner trick which I was thinking of trying with my scratchy tweed. Then another person added a post about hair conditioner being a very bad idea and instead suggested using vinegar to soften the yarn, and this caught my eye. She wasn’t clear on the terminology about how the vinegar actually worked, but what I got from it was that the vinegar somehow made the scales of the individual wool fibers flatten down somehow – and those very scales were what made the wool scratchy. Again, with a what-the-hell attitude I put my swatch in a bowl of water and added a generous glub of vinegar. To my utter astonishment it has been transformed. Yeah, it smells like a salad and I’d still want a tee-shirt, but I could wear this stuff – wow, what a difference. Now I know why Manos and Malabrigo reek of vinegar. I love Ravelry.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Swatches. Socks. Trucks.

I’ve been swatching for a lace sample for the shop. My hope/plan is that it will be simple enough for a newish lace knitter to handle without wanting to weep in frustration and challenging enough that I won't nod off with boredom while making it.

I flipped through every Barbara Walker, Vogue Stitchonary, you-name-it book and finally settled on two different laces, both from the recently published Harmony Guide: Lace and Eyelets. My requirements were that there be eight or less rows of pattern, that there should be no “work” on the wrong side, and nothing more complicated than an SSK. Any pattern that had a P2tog or K3togtbl was out! Both are pretty - and both break at least one of my "rules", but I still think they’re do-able by a beginner.

The first was “Snowdrop Lace”.
This is done in Zephyr Silk/Wool on US size #4 needles. It was my second swatch, so I was playing around with adding beads to it. The beads didn’t photograph well at all – they’re actually an iridescent rainbow on black.
This lace however has a “slip-1, k2tog, psso” – and I’m not sure if that makes it fail my little list of requirements or not. I really liked this lace – for myself – but am not so sure about it being a beginner lace. Altogether there are eight rows total with only the front four rows having actual lacework. And two of those rows are identical, so it boils down to just three “different” rows. I had it memorized by the second repeat.

And if you turn it upside down it you can rename it “tulip lace”!

This was my first swatch, done on US size 5 needles. It is pretty, but it blocked out a bit too loose to really show the Zephyr off well.

The second was “Lacy Zigzag”.
Also done in the same Zephyr – super easy pattern, but this one is twelve rows long. However – there are only two rows of lacework with each row repeated three times. The back is all purling. Super easy, I think. This was the one I expected to like the least, but of the three swatches this proved to be my favorite “beginner lace” which surprised me quite a bit.
I presented the swatches to the shop manager and was surprised again - her pick was the first one. Evidently several coworkers were there and they all chose #1 – the snowdrop lace.

My fabulous(ahem!) plan is to write a multi-tiered set of instructions for a lace stole. The first will be super easy with just the lace. The second will have additional instructions for a provisional cast on to allow the stole to be knit from the center out so that the lace will match on each end (I’m Libra – it has to match!). Lastly, the third version will have beads added to the last couple of repeats and maybe the edges.

In between lace swatches and a couple of killer migraines I continued to work on my socks.

I didn’t see it until I edited the photos – but I love how a couple of the stripes of color aligned themselves over the two socks. I’m beginning to do the short-row heels, and since I have trouble seeing where I am in the whole short row/both socks,same circular process I’ve started using markers to try and keep my place.

We got a new truck – a Very Good Deal, but still a lot of $$. We signed for it exactly one month to the day after the Jeep was wreaked. This picture isn’t the actual truck – just a stunt double. It looks just like this, only it’s parked in the driveway being rained on. It’s a Toyota Tacoma double-cab that had been a dealer rental/loaner – less than 4000 miles on it and near perfect body and interior. It actually seems like there is more leg room in the back than the original Jeep had. Nicely discounted, but still… lots of money. My daughter is over the moon happy about it. It pays to keep good records, because the insurance company paid out more than we’d hoped on the Jeep, but we we’re still pretty sad to let it go. Funny how attached you can become to things. That Jeep took us on a lot of great adventures and I’ll miss it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

so AWOL...

Yes, it has been a while (waving back to Bets!) It has be a freakin' busy time. I love/loath the holiday season. Too much to do and never enough time. I also tend to slip into a bit of a depressed funk that hits me every winter which leaves me worn thin and weeping at the least thing. The entire month of November I took exactly one and a half days off. I actually tried to quit my LYS job – but things were in a state of flux and my guilt level was so high I couldn’t in good conscience just walk away. As it turned out we have a new manager there – a woman who I hold very dear – and I’m going to do my damndest to at least put in one or two days a month. That sounds so very simple on the surface but there are so many things pulling me in different directions. Work mostly, but family stuff too. It would be nice to have a clean house once and a while!

I did however, knit my very first ever pair of socks.

I’m insanely proud of these even though I know there are totally brilliant sock knitters out there cranking out fabulous socks on a daily basis. That were I to participate in the Sock Wars I’d be killed immediately. But still:
Toe up, short row heels in Crystal Palace Bunny Hop. So toasty warm, and my perpetually cold feet love them. And I actually like the barber-polling that it did.

So much has happened. I went to Albuquerque for a technical conference in November and took a day to drive out to Santa Fe. Driving out there I was pretty underwhelmed, but once into Santa Fe proper I understood the attraction. It is a spectacular place and I could have spent days just wandering through the galleries and shops. I was going to put some really nice pictures [here] and [here] but I cannot seem to find the card that contains them…

Unfortunately I have a bit of a problem with altitude sickness and despite drinking quarts of water and snacking on ibuprofen by mid-afternoon I was feeling pretty ragged, so I left way too soon. The conference was great and I learned a lot, but it is always a bit weird and intimidating to be one of a very small handful of women in the group – I literally could count the other female attendees on one hand. I was actually brave enough this time to bring along my knitting, deliberately sitting in the back and trying to keep my needles quiet.

I worked on my Mr. Greenjeans and I did get a few odd looks. One of the guys I contract with asked me if I ever actually wore anything I knit – and I just happened to be wearing my “Leaf Cardigan” so I felt downright smug at that particular moment. Hah!

December flew by and was fairly quiet except for this unfortunate event:

My daughter was at her friend’s house studying for finals, so luckly she wasn't in the car. The other driver swerved to avoid a deer that ran out in front of her – thus totaling her car and ours, as well as damaging the car parked behind Rachel. Mind you, the Jeep is roughly 4500 pounds and Rachel had parked it with the wheels in the gutter. The rear end of the Jeep was push over nearly four feet (almost touching the fence) and back roughly three feet. Her friend’s mother called me and caught me as I was going out the door to try and finish Christmas shopping. I stood by and watched – for hours – as the other driver was extricated from her car and sent off in an ambulance, and the cars were carefully pried apart and towed away. It rained. I was wearing a light sweater and totally inappropriate shoes and my toes were completely numb by the time I got back home. Foolishly(!!!) I didn’t get the other driver’s insurance information (kind of awkward, what with the whole taking her away in an ambulance thing) and I guess I assumed that the police report would be available in a day or two. I was so very, very, wrong. Ten. Days. Later. Even with the report in hand we still needed to wait for some official database thingy before AAA could process the claim. Today – twenty six days later – we’re told that the Jeep is considered “totaled”. Not a huge surprise, but damn. This is our main towing vehicle. We have a boat parked in the driveway that isn’t going anywhere now, and it is pretty unlikely that any check we receive will take into account the low mileage, extra lift kit, winch setup, really cool wheels, brand new tires, blah, blah, blah, that will make finding a replacement vehicle possible without spending a lot more money. Did I mention the part about the likely layoffs at my husband’s workplace…? Thanks to the US Congress for cutting the physics research budget by 200+ million. Not the best time for us to be going into debt for a car. Rachel will be in college in another year and a half too - we were going to be looking for a decent used car next year, so I'm smelling compromise in the air.

I continued to (try to) stay sane by knitting and finally finished my Mystery Stole – the thing is just too big to get into one single picture:

You can’t see the tiny Swarovski crystals that are knit in, but they’re there and add just the right bit of sparkle. Very tedious to do, but worth it.

It is so very pretty - kudos to the designer (Melanie Gibbons) for a beautiful design.

I also finished my sister in law Cherrise’s Luna Moth, knit from Malabrigo lace weight. I can’t seem to get it mailed off because it keeps nagging at me that it is too small. The Malabrigo doesn’t block out anywhere nearly as big as the Kid Silk or Super Kydd versions, even with the same needle size and repeat count. I keep wanting to pull out the bind off and add another repeat – I have enough yarn to do it, but don’t seem to have the willpower...

I finished off Mr. Greenjeans too, after lots of frogging and fiddling to get it right.
This was totally worth the extra work. It fits! And it is so nice and warm. We don’t get a lot of wool sweaters in California stores because it really isn’t that cold; most of my store bought sweaters are cotton/acrylic blends, so the Lorna’s Laces worsted wool is a welcome addition.

On the needles now is my second pair of socks, made from Regia Galaxy which patterns in a way that I find enchanting. Two socks, two circs!

It doesn’t show here yet, but hopefully will look more like this:

I’ve also been trying - in vain - to find a lace pattern using Zephyr Wool-Silk laceweight that would be appropriate for a first time lace project for our LYS and that is proving to be much more difficult than I’d thought, so nothing to show for it yet but a provisional cast on and a heap of crumpled yarn that has been through several different (and unsatisfactory) trial runs.


See what happens when I don't post often enough? So many goodies. Yesterday I visited another LYS to the south - Purlescence (a wonderful place!) and found this - I'm in total lust:

This is Grace, from Fiddlesticks Knitting.

And a small stroke of luck occured when Elann had a bag sale of their Highland Silk - perfect for Grace. I was a bit bummed that I didn't get one of the colors I truly adored, but the blue that I did get will probably be nice on its own and if not then this'd be a great time to try my hand at over-dying. Extra happiness was had when I found that I'd hit my Elann bonus, so two bags are on the way for a mere pittance.

And I saw this on Ravelry - then spotted yesterday - this lovely is Corsica which will be made with a considerable addition to its length, given my belly area’s lack of charm.