Its fleece was white as snow

August 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

People, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is: I’ve had the second part of the Mitten saga mostly done and in draft form for about a month, and with handing in my Bachelor’s thesis, the urge to procrastinate and write 1700 words on mitten cuffs has sort of evaporated. I’ll try and get to it sometime soon, I promise.

The good news is: not only did I get the Gryffindor mittens as far as I wanted to in time for Adam, but it was a very good thing I didn’t entirely finish them: I had to rip back the tips and add almost 2 cm to each hand to make them fit. I can’t even imagine the pain of unpicking the woven-in ends and splicing new yarn to the whole shebang.

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It’s really hard to find a flattering pose for both gloves and the recipient’s face. I managed to fail on both counts.

The best news is: within two hours of arriving in Leipzig in the middle of the night (i.e. 6.42 am) last Friday, Adam had learned the knit stitch, and over the next days proceeded to knit like a madman, first on a little green garter stitch practice swatch, then on a project that made not only me go ‘holy shit, now that’s one hell of a first project!’: Susie’s Reading Mitts. Even with substituting the picot edge for a more manly straight edge, those mitts have it all: working in the round on DPNs, knit, purl, increase, decrease, yarn over, counting rows, fixing mistakes, casting on and binding off, sewing a hem down on the wrong side… and probably a couple of other things.

When knitters will have taken over the world, I’ll have done my part. Nobody spends more than a couple of hours here without at least trying a couple of knit stitches, but to say that he took to it like a fish to water is sort of an understatement.

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I remain suitably impressed, as I wistfully glance in the vague direction of my abomination of a holey, green cotton garter stitch first-time scarf…

But yeah. Apart from showing him around the city (and boy, did I go all-out on that. I think the walking tour around the city center took a good three hours), I tried imparting as much knitting wisdom as I could: from how to use stitch markers to the brilliance that is the Yarn Harlot, from medieval knitting guilds to the boyfriend sweater curse, from how to wind yarn cocoons to washing your woolens, from the story behind the Spanish Armada shawl to how to spend more time on Ravelry looking at patterns instead of actually getting any knitting done. Although come to think of it, he didn’t need all that much instruction for that last bit…

I also took him for an afternoon at Annelie’s, where I quickly plied my yarn and then proceeded to coo over the baby and tell her the story of Bilbo and the thirteen dwarves, switching between English and German every time I was distracted or needed for some light interpreting, because I could never remember which language I’d started off with. My sanity didn’t take too well to the constant language mix – it’s a good thing I’m not becoming an interpreter after all. But spinning always makes the confusion a bit better. (Also, shininess.)

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Anyway. I had a wonderful time, and I hope he did as well. There’s a slightly upsetting lack of photos, since he doesn’t have a camera and I seem to have very localized dementia when it comes to gadgets, but I made sure to get at least a couple of us, over the roofs of Leipzig.

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And let me just say: I’ve never had quite as much alcohol in as short a time period as the last week. Holy moly.

Hope that you can keep it, my dirty little secret

June 9, 2011 § 7 Comments

(A short note before we start: if there’s anyone here who just wants to read the pattern notes or snag the chart, scroll down and click ‘read the rest of this entry’)

Blog, I have a confession to make: there’s a secret I’ve kept from you. Well, I’ve dropped the odd reference to a super secret project here and there, but fact is: the downside of knowing that people actually read your blog is that people actually read your blog, and if you want to keep a secret it’d be counterproductive, to say the least, to put it in your blog.

The thing is, I’m usually a terrible secret keeper. I guess I’d rank only marginally lower on the Most Inept Secret Keepers than Peter Pettigrew, because I love hinting and making other people anticipate whatever it is I’m planning that they can never know about. But this time, I kept my trap shut all the way; I’m seriously proud of myself. Neither I, nor Saskia with whom I collaborated on this, lost a syllable of what was going on. And it was really, really hard, because as the astute among you might have noticed, I’m slightly obsessed with knitting, and yarn, and when I love a project all I want to do is to post photos every other row to document my progress. I usually rein myself in just in time to spare you that painstakingly boring ordeal, but if you can’t tell anyone, the temptation becomes almost unbearable. But I persevered!

And now, you may wonder, what was this secret project?

It was a baby blanket. And it’s one of the most gorgeous things I have ever knit. Which is only fair, considering it’s going to the most adorable baby I have ever seen.

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I started knitting on April 21, but the plan to make a baby blanket is a bit older, and developed somewhere around the time we came back from Berlin. I’d found this gorgeous two-color geometric border in a Greek mosaic in a museum, and I kind of wanted to make this double-knit blanket with the border chart I’d created from the photos. This project, ultimately, fell through for two reasons: a) making the blanket in the 6-ply sock yarn I’d planned to use would’ve cost me well over €60, and b) I realized the baby was due the end of May, and the last thing it was going to need was a double-knit wool blanket.

So I put my blanket plans on the back burner and started on BSJs and hats and bootees like a madwoman, and it was all well until after our road trip to the Hamburger Wollfabrik, when Saskia purchased a cone of gorgeous, cream-colored cashmere/merino/silk yarn. And two weeks later, when she was on vacations with her parents, I found the perfect pattern: Quilt (Square Counterpane with Leaves) (or here for non-Ravelry folks), a gorgeous Victorian lace blanket knit in fingering-weight yarn, made in separate squares and sewn together, with a border that was picked up around the edge. This meant short rows and portability (at least for the middle section), and also that Saskia and I would be able to knit at the same time.

So I, and I’m not particularly proud to admit this, snuck over into Saskia’s room, grabbed the cone, slithered back into my room humming the ‘Mission Impossible’ theme, and cast on the first square. And finished that in about a day, then, without breaking the yarn and with every intention of ripping the thing back if she didn’t want to go along with it, I wrote Saskia an email with a photo attached and an explanation of what the hell I was doing with her yarn, and spent about a day agonizing about having to wait for her reply.

Fortunately, she loved it, and contributed not only the yarn and ribbon, but also a couple of squares and a row or two of the border. And even better for her, there’s enough yarn left over for her to make the shawl she’d planned for the yarn as well.

I was a bit anxious that we wouldn’t get done in time – what if the child came before the due date? – but my worries proved to be unfounded, to say the least: instead of two weeks too early, little Anna was overdue by more than a week.

And today, we got to meet her, coo over her, and finally give a still slightly groggy and sore but glowing-with-pride-and-happiness Annelie two bags filled to the brims with two jackets, three hats, a large blanket-pal rabbit with a truly enormous red bow tie (that one’s Saskia’s), several pairs of bootees, a bundle of mini-skeins of back-up yarn in case of accidents, and last but definitely not least, the blanket.

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(approx. 300 g of Hamburger Wollfabrik 50% cashmere, 35% wool, 15% silk 3-ply yarn, on 3 mm needles. Final measurements, approx. 1.20 m x 1.20 m. One square weighs about 22 g.)

I’d originally intended it to be something to wrap the baby in, or a pram cover, but somehow it turned out to be this huge, enormous thing that comfortably covers mother and child from shoulder to toes while nursing, which is, you know. Not the worst use for a blanket.

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Although I have a feeling I’ll regret my offer to wash and block it much sooner this way. Ah, the miracle of life.

Now, I have extensive notes on the miracles you can achieve with some yarn and an array of 3 mm needles, but I’ll put it behind a cut to spare those who aren’t prepared for 700 words of tips and annotations. That’s the kind of benevolent dictator I am.

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I feel the Earth move under my feet

May 16, 2011 § 2 Comments

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Do you know like we were saying, about the earth revolving? It’s like when you’re a kid, the first time they tell you that the world is turning and you just can’t quite believe it ’cause everything looks like it’s standing still. I can feel it – the turn of the earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour. The entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty seven thousand miles an hour. And I can feel it. We’re falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world. And, if we let go… That’s who I am.

These days I barely realize how fast time flies by, until another week has gone by and I’m going square dancing and barbecuing and doing yarny stuff over at Annelie’s and taking guided tours around my neighborhood and having business lunch with my friends and climbing up church towers and saving our little grill from the sudden downpour. My Ravelry project page certainly reflects that – I just updated it with a shawl I finished on April 4th, but other than that I just have a ton of half-finished projects flying around. I did finish the socks I started when I needed something to knit for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I back in, uh, November, and I’m almost done with a precious little baby set in red and yellow – it’s funny how Elizabeth Zimmerman’s patterns totally work if you actually follow them.

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Also, this week Annelie and I finally got around to dyeing some yarn, with easter egg dyes, Kool-Aid and onion skins. There was a whole rainbow of little skeins of wool that she’d inherited from her great-grandmother, and then five big skeins that we met up to untangle and wind into balls just yesterday.

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(from top to bottom: kool-aid, easter egg dye, onion skins first skein, onion skins second skein. yes, I am aware of the fact that these are only four skeins; Annelie had already started winding one)

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I love winding yarn into balls, or in my case flat yarn cakes that don’t roll around quite so absurdly. It’s a very social thing, absolute teamwork, with one holding the skein and the other one winding the ball, and while you’re connected to thousands of years of history, you have tons and tons of time on your hands to just talk. And with five 130 g skeins of fingering-weight yarn, that’s quite a lot of time. Good times. We split the onion skeins fraternally (or sororically) and are planning on a glove KAL; the blue-and-green skein is mine and mine alone, yes yes my precioussss, and Annelie promptly cast on another Baby Surprise Jacket with the Kool-Aid skein.

I cannot stress how heartbreakingly gorgeous the first onion yarn is. The second, paler one is still quite pretty, but the first one… It’s like spun gold. Which quite frankly I hadn’t expected from onions. Of all things, really.

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And so, life goes on and on. Down from the road where it began. (speaking of which, today is the first day of Sherlock shooting in Cardiff. I can’t wait for the second season!) There are two weeks left until the Wollefest, two months minus one day until I have to hand in my Bachelor’s thesis. And before I’ll know it, summer will be over and done with, and the leaves will turn to gold, and nothing gold can stay. I feel the earth move under my feet…

Jitterbug

April 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

“My father was a beekeeper before me, his father was a beekeeper before him; I wanna walk in their footsteps.” And their footsteps were like this: [running wildly from imaginary bees] “I’m covered in bees!” (Eddie Izzard)

Like all knitters, I’m fairly concerned about moths. And when I say fairly concerned, I mean absolutely hysterical if a moth just shows so much as the tips of its wings, regardless of whether it’s an actual wool-eating moth or just a butterfly that prefers to stay on the nocturnal side of things.

But apart from moths, I don’t have any particular beef with the generously-legged part of the world population, as long as they’re reasonably small, don’t try and suck my blood, and don’t flutter hysterically into my face. (Or are behind plate glass.) I have my windows open 24/7 as soon as the weather allows, so it’s only natural that between April and September, a fair share of small insects gets confused by my lamps and decides to pop by for a visit.

As far as insects go, my favorites are the stripey ones. Wasps just look really cool in their sleek, patterned body-armor. Bumblebees are fuzzy and adorable, and look ridiculous when their hind legs are so thickly covered in pollen they can barely lift off. And bees are also fuzzy, with the added bonus of making honey.

So when a bee flew into my room the other day, hung around under my desk for a bit and buzzed off again, I didn’t pay it much attention. And when it (or another bee with a very strong family resemblance) came back a couple of times, I still wasn’t worried. I was annoyed, yes, at some point where a bee headbutted me in the knee at 5.30 in the morning until I was very much awake (at 5.30. ngh.), but, y’know. What was a bee gonna do under my desk? Climb in through the back of my stash and build a hive? Absurd, right? Hah, hah, haaa…

My diabolical laughter suddenly rang hollow in my own ears. I opened the lowest drawer of the three, the one most accessible from the back, since the backing doesn’t go all the way to the bottom. I saw… nothing. Poked around a bit. Still nothing. Lifted up a bag of alpaca roving. Wondered whether alpaca roving was generally supposed to buzz, until a fairly enraged bee popped up and flounced indignantly out of the window, calling my mother names while doing so (I imagine).

Under the alpaca roving, there was a second skein of the yellow yarn I made the Swallowtail Stole out of, and nestled carefully among the eggyolk-yellow extrafine merino, I found this:

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I feel a bit conflicted, to be honest. I mean, obviously I can’t have a beehive in my room. But on the other hand, I’m destroying the work of what as far as I could tell was a single, lonely bee, slavering away for days and days, having found the perfect, cozy, dark spot with a narrow entrance and lots of space inside, and now trying to build a new future.

Still, I did the only sensible thing.

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HYSTERIC AMOUNTS OF TAPE.

Man, I could’ve shown you the cool stuff I ordered from Ravelry, or how I’m getting back in the lace groove, or the tons and tons of yarn I bought on our road trip to the Hamburger Wollfabrik. And what am I blogging about? Fuckin’ bees, man.

But hey, at least it wasn’t a moth.

What’s come over me? Whoo! Here it comes again!

March 22, 2011 § 11 Comments

Warning: this post contains a thorough bitching-out of a pattern. on the plus side, shawl pictures!

The trouble with resolving to wait with blogging until something has happened is that knitting is such a slow type of magic that sometimes it takes forever for something blogworthy to happen. Especially with lace, the progress feels huge but it would have been perfectly tedious to constantly update you with pictures like this one:

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No, really guys! I totally just finished another repeat of the badly-charted Print o’ the Wave!

But the miracle has happened: today is not only the second day of spring, but also the day I finished my Spanish Armada Shawl (aka Fear and Surprise, Surprise and Fear). It was the first thing cast on in 2011, it’s given me tons and tons of grief over the course of the last three months, and after a week and a half of hair-raising, paranoid border knitting that drove me to the brink of insanity, it’s DONE.

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I’ll be blocking it tomorrow, and preliminary, cursory pinning experiments suggest that it’s just barely small enough to be blocked on my 1.20 m (4′) wide bed. I can’t wait! But at the same time I’m extremely glad I have my aluminum rods for blocking, because bending over for an hour to individually pin down all those scallops (on four sides no less) isn’t exactly my idea of a fun day, if you catch my drift.

I’ll hopefully be posting beauty shots of the blocked shawl tomorrow or the day after, so let me voice my nagging here and now:

The finished shawl is gorgeous. Truly stunning, a joy to look at and touch and fawn over. It is, however, not remotely as fun to knit. In fact I’d rather pull my own teeth out than knit this, or any other pattern by MMario again. This is not because the different patterns that make up this shawl (Spanish Tile, Print o’ The Wave, English Mesh Lace) are particularly challenging, although the Spanish Tile is certainly a smidge tricky at times, mostly because it patterns on each row.

The problem with this shawl isn’t construction errors, or tons of misprints in the pattern. It’s the terrible, terrible charts. If you can even call them that. I realize I’m being harsh, and I’m sure the author has put a lot of effort into this design. I know charts can be tricky, especially if the beginning of a repeat shifts, like with Print o’ the Wave.

But here’s the thing: to me, as a knitter, the main purpose and the biggest advantage of charts is that they show what the knitting is supposed to look like. How everything lines up. How it all fits together to make a congruent whole. To enable me to spot knitting errors at a glance and to spare me the frantic re-counting and wondering if what I’m doing is right or if I have to tink back the entire 800-stitch row.

And these “charts” don’t. Or rather, the last two of them do, and the one I did was a simple 6-stitch two-row mesh lace, and, yeah,  I could’ve done that from written directions. The rest is just basically the written instructions rendered in symbols, including brackets to indicate things like (k2tog, yo, k1) 3x – although the author substitutes k2tog with N in the written directions for apparently no reason at all, and yo with O. (At least that one got a laugh out of me, because there’s tons of KOK in the pattern and I let myself be immature enough to grin at that.) Also, rows that are knit plain aren’t shown, except when they are, and if you’re anything like me and pay much more attention to the actual rows than the row numbers, that means tinking back a perfectly executed lace row because there’s supposed to be another two plain rounds in there somewhere.

My point being, the charts manage to completely miss the entire point of charts, which is probably an achievement in and of itself.

The Spanish Tile being tricky to chart I can understand, because the stitch count fluctuates hugely between rows and it would probably ridiculously complicated to get that into a coherent chart. But the botched Print o’ the Wave chart? Really? Seriously? Chart-making isn’t that hard. Especially for a pattern that’s been done about thirty zillion times since the dawn of time, where you could go and look at somebody else’s chart to see how they did it. As, by the way, evidenced in the exponentially better edging chart by Utlinde, where it suddenly all makes sense and is easy to commit to memory.

I’d love to rate this in Ravelry, but I honestly have no idea which criteria to use. Is the result gorgeous? You bet it is. Even if I threw off the ratio a bit by making the Print o’ the Wave longer, which wedges a relatively narrow piece of English lace between that and the edging, but I can deal with it and it’s my own fault anyway. But the charts are catastrophically bad, to a point where I’d rate it somewhere in the ‘pretty difficult’ range but then again the patterns themselves aren’t difficult per se, but just, y’know, badly charted.

So that’s that. Spanish Armada, baby.

***
In related news, I turned 22 recently and among other things got amazing handmade gifts from Annelie. She sewed me a fleece-lined green cowl that I’m sad to probably have to put away until fall – the weather has been absolutely stunning – but the best thing ever is the knitting bag she made me. I’ve been using it for Armada, but I’ll certainly get a lot of wear out of it.

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It’s such a clever design: one short handle you can twist, and a long one to stick through the loop. Snag-free due to a pronounced absence of zippers and buttons, reversible (the inside is plain green to match the cowl!), and just the right size for a shawl or scarf project, or maybe half a sweater depending on the yarn.

I’ll be casting on an orange scarf for choir once I’m finished blogging, so that’ll go nicely with the green. This bag shares the title of best birthday present ever with the pie dish I got from Saskia. Looks like I’m up for the Housewife Awards again this year.

There’s been a run of crazy dreams

January 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

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I don’t know why I don’t post as many pictures of the church next to my house anymore. I used to be such a whore for it and the pictures are always quite stunning. Especially this morning, when it started getting light, and I saw the beautiful misty crispness of the day.

I don’t know why I’m awake – I’ve been up since 6 for no reason at all. All the more stunning since by all rights I should be hung over like crazy. My new favorite cocktail is Agent Jack: 1.5cl cointreau, 2 cl lemon juice, 5 cl whiskey, 18 cl cola. We call it Captain Jack around here.

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News on the knitting front: zero. I’ve been wrestling with the Spanish armada but haven’t gotten anywhere due to the abysmal charts; I’ve done a couple of rows on the second sleeve for Thermal but haven’t gotten anywhere due to my pronounced disinterest.

But I’ve been reading.

It gives me such joy these days. To sit down with a good book is such a simple, overwhelming pleasure, tactile as well as intellectual. Sometimes, I feel like the internet removes us from our senses too much. It’s all the same smooth, sterile, ultimately uninteresting keys. No touch, no smell, no taste. Not that I’m not grateful for the internet, but it’s like apples and oranges.

I’ve been buying books like a madwoman. Dover Thrift Editions and used books on Amazon make it hard not to. Some are totally in my comfort zone – the Lucifer Box series by Mark Gatiss, several Oscar Wilde books are among them, one of them no other than De Profundis, which is beautiful in its bitterness. With some, I’ve surprised myself, like ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, or Stephen Hawking’s ‘A briefer history of time’, which is turning out to be the most enjoyable and funny read as well as an educational one. I feel like there’s a whole world just opening up to me. Like the last two years were in this tiny bubble, and suddenly I’m bursting free and expanding.

I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed books.

The Hawking, by the way, is a byproduct of my recent obsession with Benedict Cumberbatch. He played Stephen Hawking in the heart-wrenching BBC movie ‘Hawking’, and there was so much joy in this movie. So much excitement at the wonder of the universe. So much life and joy in such overwhelming sadness. And it makes me feel so humble and small: Stephen Hawking knows where the universe comes from. Last week, I didn’t even know where Stephen Hawking is from.

Funny how you get the most fantastic impulses from the weirdest places. But then, I tackled Goethe’s ‘Faust’ (one of the key dramas in German literature) because the drummer of my favorite band at the time did a stripped-down-to-the-basics audio adaption of it. Another unexpected result of the Cumberbatchitis is that I found a fantastic recipe for Indian/ Parsi scrambled eggs.

So here I am. Reading the possibly longest letter in modern history and eating fantastic eggs. And later going over to Annelie’s to spin.

Have I mentioned how much I love my life?

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Oh, thou who changest not

January 23, 2011 § 2 Comments

I know I haven’t blogged in a while. Mea culpa, mea culpa. But while I’m sure y’all would be much more interested in the Watson Sweater (mostly done, I’m only missing about half a sleeve) or the Spanish Armada (on first row of the print o’ the wave), I’m gonna have to delay talking about those until I have decent pics. And instead come back to the Bootees.

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As you could probably tell from my last post, I mostly made them for fun: because they’re small, and cute, and I’d always wanted to make bootees of some kind.

Pregnancy is such an abstract concept for me; I’ve never been around pregnant women enough to pay close attention to the whole shebang, and it’s just… you know. She’s pregnant. Whatevs. It’s such a bizarre idea that there might be a human growing inside another one, you know.

And this afternoon, Annelie popped over and we spent a very pleasant day knitting and talking and drinking tea, and somehow, something changed. Maybe it was the way she just kind of casually referred to her baby kicking and liking the music (it was Doctor Who, how could she not?). Maybe it was how we were talking about keeping a journal (kind of hard not to, with the half-shelf of journals staring you right in the face from my bed), and how she was keeping a pregnancy journal for her kid and how she’d written about the bootees.

And I realized, holy cow, there’s a tiny person whom I gave these bootees to.

And that tiny person is going to grow, until someday, in twenty years, when she’s graduated high school and is almost as old as I am now, she can hold those wee bootees in her hand, and marvel at how tiny she must have been to fit into these… and I’ll be the one who knit these, her first, bootees.

And no matter how old she’ll ever be, I’ll always be the one who knit her first bootees.*

What a crazy place this world can be.

* I know I’m wildly overestimating my own importance in the life of others here, but wow, in my head this is huge.

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