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.

A Tale of Two Mittens

July 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

With only two weeks to go until I have to hand in my Bachelor’s thesis, I’ve been experiencing a serious case of startitis. And a bit of finish-it-up-itis, which is nice.

In the course of this, I recently finished a pair of Gryffindor mittens, nothing fancy: I did some corrugated ribbing for the wrist, took the chart from the House Bag pattern, and continued the checkerboard pattern on the palm. They’re awesome and I can’t wait to wear them, but I also learned a couple of things from them, and when my roomie and a good friend of mine both asked for a pair of House Mittens, I figured this might be a good opportunity to document my designing process, on the off-chance that others might be able to learn from my mistakes.

So, I present you with the first installment of:

A Tale of Two Mittens

Part One: Gathering wool. And books, and some more ideas, and general information.

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And when the feeling’s right

June 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

It’s that time of the year again.

The sun shines brightly in the clear blue sky, I spend my time having extensive breakfast in cafés and lounging in the sun down by the canal instead of doing homework, Leipzig is overrun by black masses of the Goth persuasion, and I feel an acute case of startitis coming my way.

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Last night I cast on Rock Island last night, I started swatching for my sweater project ‘Phony King of England’ this morning around 7.30, and after an entirely perfect afternoon at Annelie’s, which we spent eating, knitting, talking and cooing over the baby, I’m caving to peer pressure.

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After struggling (for some unfathomable reason) with the technically easy lace for Rock Island and being bored to death by an entirely unexciting sock that I don’t want to finish lest I have to cast on its twin, and after a day of watching my friends zoom happily through the stockinette portion of Gingko… I give up. You hear that, the two of you?  Besides, you’ll need my ~expertise  once our KAL gets to the lace part. Possibly.

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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The oceans and pangea – see ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya

June 3, 2011 § 11 Comments

I haven’t written about the 4th Leipziger Wollefest at all, and it’s almost been a week since that particular event of the year. Truth to be told I’m still slightly overwhelmed – I haven’t even gotten around to unpacking and stashing my purchases yet, although that might also be attributed to a distinct lack of space.

I spent an awesome Saturday in the truly packed garden behind the Strickcafé. It was kind of insane – when we got there at 11am, the line to get in went all the way to the street. So many people. Even more yarn.

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Oh, and what yarn! I think apart from Wollmeise, all the major players on the German handdyer scene were there, and honestly, even the Wollmeise couldn’t have improved the yarn selection available. (Also, let’s face it: as breathtaking as her colors are, she isn’t exactly adventurous with her fiber selection. So, yeah.) (I don’t mean to snub her, really, but having Wollmeise available to me on a regular basis has sort of taken the edge off the hysteric fangirling.)

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I swear, the Dibadu stand was crowded all day. I have no idea how I managed to get this photo, but it had probably something to do with it being fairly late.

I was especially delighted to see the gals from DyeForYarn/DyeForWool, whom I’d discovered a couple of days before on Etsy, and one of which, as it turns out, wrote the pattern for the stole I’ve been planning for one of the yarns I bought in Berlin. Go check them out; they’re two separate stores, but they work together and they’re absolutely equally amazing. Both the yarns and the women. One of them was wearing a gorgeous blue shawl, and Saskia and I spent a good half hour debating which pattern it was. It was a good thing the Wollefest is one of those rare places where you can just go up to someone and ask about their clothes, and people are delighted instead of confused or freaked out. It also turns out that Saskia was entirely correct in her ‘Aeolian shawl with narrow edging’ analysis. I’d say that the student has surpassed the master, but I’m too petty for that. Also I’m still the better knitter. Neener-neener.

Anyway, my haul this year, overall a slight departure from my usual color scheme (i.e. no green this time):

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from top to bottom: dibadu BFL roving; DyeForYarn fingering-weight BFL; some dreamy orange alpaca/merino/silk lace yarn (from Kreativmitwolle) that was my first and most impulsive purchase of the day; blue/maroon/rust-colored merino lace yarn from DyeForYarn (again, I left a lot of money there); a gorgeous merino lace yarn from dibadu; four and a half cakes of Jamieson and Smith; and the breathtaking purchase of the day: a 70% cashmere/ 30% silk lace yarn from DyeForWool that I’ve been fondling to a point where I find myself creepy. It’s gorgeous, and smooshy, and most of all DISCONTINUED, which is the most magical quality a yarn can have. (They still have a single skein in a chocolatey brown in their shop. Act fast if you want it!)

What I like about the DfY/DfW crowd is that they give their yarns awesome names: they had an ‘Ex-Peacock’ that was named for the Dead Parrot Sketch (I asked); the merino lace is called Trauriger Harlekin (sad harlequin) and there’s a Death of a Harlequin colorway too; the cashmere’s called ‘fading lichen on a graveyard’ (I had to pull it out to verify. Excuse me while I go fondle my yarn. Again. Did I mention it’s discontinued?) and the BFL’s name is ‘Shadowstorm at dusk.’

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(in the background: Saskia’s Malabrigo shawl. It’s really soft. How I know? Well, let’s just say she does this thing where she comes up to you and very subtly announces ‘oh wow, this shawl I’m knitting is really, really soft TOUCH IT.’)

That one, by the way, was one of the two skeins Saskia and I wound to balls right there and then, chilling out next to the spinning wheels while Annelie was producing some wacky art yarn or other. People seemed to be confused by the fact that we were winding manually instead of using one of the winder/swift combos that were set up all over the place, but I like winding by hand. Although in retrospect it might have been advisable to wind at least some of my yarn with some mechanical support instead of insisting on winding three skeins of very, very thin lace yarn by hand. I kind of went on a lace rage there. Saskia also went crazy, albeit not quite as crazy as I did.

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But still fairly crazy. Wollum is never far away, no, he isn’t, my precioussssss…

Speaking of crazy. They had this awesome friendship spinning wheel there which I kind of want? Except let’s not kid ourselves, what would I ever do with it. Except brag about it to everyone I know, and some people I don’t, and land myself in a mental institution two months later. So, uh… maybe next year.

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It’s this ingenious contraption where one person treadles, but three people can spin at the same time. I don’t know how that would work out in reality – my passing acquaintance with a wheel has shown that regular stopping and seeing what the hell you’re doing is of utmost importance at least for a beginner – but apparently there are also wedding wheels, where the spinners sit next to each other, and that’s just too adorable for words.

But yes. I got to show off my Armada…

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… Annelie got to show off her mad spinning skillz and baby belly due to an evidently miscalculated due date…

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… and it turns out that as opposed to the Wollefest two years ago, where I had to cajole and threaten Saskia into going there to bring me more money, and she was bored out of her mind, this year she got to show off some lace knitting of her own and also do wacky yarn stuff with me.

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It turns out that if you don’t have any knitting friends, a little yarny bribery goes a long way in creating some brand new ones. In your own home! With items commonly found around the house! Go try it today.

Ooh, baby it’s cold outside

May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I knit a hat and a pair of socks.

It isn’t every day you get to say that, and this absolutely instant gratification is one of the reasons I’ve been bitten by the baby bug big time. Apart from alliterations, this induces major squee from all sides and even more frantic work that’s resulted in two jacket-hat-bootees outfits that are both as heartbreakingly cute as they are quickly knit. Also, being able to squeeze a whole matching set out of one ball of yarn? Is pretty fantastic, not to mention frugal.

However, before I start showing off my super-cute baby knits at length, I’d like to say a word about casting off. (Not a tutorial though; there are people who do that far better than I ever could, e.g. TECHknitting.)

Now, I’m a relatively loose knitter, which is why it always comes as a surprise to me that I’m a fairly tight binder-offer. This surprise is usually coupled with a tedious undoing of the cast-off edge, which is why I switched to the ssk-bind-off as a standard bind-off, i.e. [k2, * insert left needle into stitches on the right needle, perform the ‘k’ part of ssk, k1, repeat from *], and I’ve never had to worry about a too-tight cast-off ever since. But last night, I came across something I didn’t think I’d ever see in my life.

A cast-off that was too loose.

I was making Saartje’s Booties, which, by the way, are the manifestation of cute – except that the first one didn’t come out quite as cute as the ones in the pictures. Which was a shame, really, because we’re after all talking about bootees that are supposed to look like this:

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Anyway, in a rare moment of maturity I decided not to blame the pattern, but instead wondered whether it was maybe my fault. And also, because these things take two hours at most to whip up, I decided that I could always make three. And it turns out that what I got was this:

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That’s the first bootee on the bottom and the second one on the top. They’re identical except for the cast-off method. It doesn’t look like that big a difference, doesn’t it? Those couple of millimeters the cast-off was looser (and looser is better, right? Right?!) should barely be visible.

Well, let me show you the two of them side-by-side.

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So, what do we learn from this, I wonder? Well, first, trust your instincts. If it looks too loose, it probably is too loose. Second, sometimes the simplest approach is the right one. And third, for  future reference: If a pattern goes to the length to specify a cast-on or cast-off, by god, listen.

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Anyway, so this is what the rest of the outfit looks like:

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That’s the BSJ I made back in March, then a Heartbreakingly Cute Pilot Cap from Knitting Outside The Lines (to keep in lines with the origami theme, albeit not with the garter stitch), and to finish it off, Saartje’s Booties (sans buttons). It’s all very plain, cute in its simplicity and clean lines (or so I like to think), and in a rather dreamy Scottish wool/linen blend I got in Berlin. I still have what feels like 25 g or so left, which is always nice.

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And that’s the other one! I’m not usually one to mix crafts – mostly because I hate crochet with a fiery passion that hasn’t abated much with work on this set, but it was totally worth it. This set’s even tri-craftual, with a bit of (very basic) embroidery thrown in just for kicks.

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Or tetra-craftual, if you count making Dorset buttons. Which, by the way, are super-fun, dirt-cheap, easy to make, always a perfect match for your yarn, and very well explained in this tutorial.

I might have mentioned the Heart Hat that gave me so much trouble – mostly because I’m a dolt who can’t read patterns – but it turned out rather well in the end, and I’m quite enchanted by it. It’s hopelessly anachronistic in its bonnet-style, but at least I didn’t make the one with the hilariously padded ruffle. (Now that I think about it, I might have to make that one though. I already pity the kids I might have someday.)

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And, of course, the wee shoesies. Those are rather ingenious, if I may say so myself – they’re mostly regular socks, except they’re knit flat (because I hate garter stitch in the round) and near- invisibly seamed up along the side.

So, yeah. It’s all slightly ridiculous and probably much too warm for the coming summer months, and by the time the weather will be appropriate, the kid will have almost certainly grown out of them. But I’ve had the pleasure of making them, and oh, what a pleasure it’s been.

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Now excuse me, I have some booties I’d like to cast on like a madwoman.

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…

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