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.

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Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms – Oh damn!

March 24, 2011 § 4 Comments

I’ve been taking full advantage of the beautiful spring weather. It’s been a balmy 15°C with lots of sun and barely a cloud in the sky, so yesterday while I had the Armada pinned out on my bed I went to the park with Saskia, to soak up sun and eat delicious Middle Eastern snacks while wearing a skirt, a t-shirt and ballerinas. After we had enough of the park we had coffee in front of our favorite café just around the corner from our house, and I didn’t even mind going back home because this is what greeted me when I stepped into my room.

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Turned out it blocked out to slightly bigger than 1.20m, but I could pin the slack down on the side of the mattress. Thank god for the aluminum rods! Using them on all four sides would’ve been too fiddly (not to mention the injuries I probably would’ve suffered from tripping over the two protruding bits) but two sides was perfect.

What I love about lace, apart from the general and obvious gorgeousness, is how small it folds. Even hairsprayed into oblivion (I’m paranoid when it comes to blocking and like to fixate with a bit – or half a can – of hairspray before pulling out the pins), it was still barely bigger than my Moleskine calender.

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And then today, I grabbed Saskia by the hair and dragged her down to the canal and forced her at gunpoint to model the shawl for me. I might have been more of an asking-nicely thing than brutal blackmail, but, y’know. Anything for a dramatic hyperbole.

Anyway, she did a beautiful job, and oh my, I’m so in love with this yarny monstrosity. It’s like the Big Green Monster v.2. I don’t even know how to wear it. But it’s amazing.

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So this is it. Spanish Armada by MMario with an edging by Utlinde (I’d love to link to the PDF, but I got it from her personally and it’s neither in her nor in Mmario’s patterns). This shawl measures approximately 127 cm by 127 cm (about 4’2″ by 4’2″) and was knit in 81 days with an entire skein of Filatura di Crosa Centolavaggi (100% merino, 1400m/100g, color 151), mostly on 3mm bamboo needles. I say mostly because for the last quarter of the edging, I gradually switched down to a 2.25mm DPN and one 3mm tip of the circ because yarn was getting scarce and I was getting scared.

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In the end, I was more than glad I went down a couple of sizes because I finished with nothing at all left over and a half-corner that consists of about half the short rows normally required. ‘Tight squeeze’ doesn’t even come close. I spent about a week frantically weighing and re-weighing the little ball of yarn that got even smaller at an alarming rate, and the adrenaline rush when I just barely made it had me woozy for at least half an hour.

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I cast on with Fleegle’s Cast-On For Circular Shawls, which is insanely difficult if you do it wrong and a revelation once you hold the yarn the way you’re supposed to.

[UPDATE: I saw that people have been searching my blog for a good way to cast on for this, and I’d like to add that while Fleegle’s Cast-On is awesome and I’ve used it many times to great success, TECHknitting has a disappearing loop cast-on that works the same way, only you can cast on an even number of stitches, eliminating the need to sneak an increase in somewhere.]

Modifications: I added one ‘leaf’ repeat to the Print o’ the Wave. I wish the chart had lined up so I could’ve changed some of the k2tog to ssk to get nicely defined lines like in the edging, but spilled milk and all that. I think I added about a repeat and a half to the English Mesh just for the heck of it, and skipped the very last chart in favor of the sideways edging. It was originally for a triangular shawl, so I stared with the middle row of the corner chart after the provisional cast-on. After the first corner was unsatisfyingly loose in the middle, I started to wrap & turn and do a [pick up wrap, k2tog] row instead of the charted middle row for the other corners and they came out much, much better. I had to fudge away a couple of stitches here and there and I’m pretty sure the amount of scallops is different on each side, but there’s enough of them for me not to be too bothered by that. The entire edging took 35g, but with two or three grams more there would’ve been a lot less stress and a much smaller number of shortcuts.

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Now that it’s all nice and blocked, the ratio between the Print o’ the Wave and the English Mesh doesn’t seem as off as it did pre-blocking, for which I am intensely grateful. At times, the only thing that kept me from ripping back half the edging, the Mesh and the extra repeat of the Print o’ the Wave was the fact that I was on an already tight schedule, and it turns out it works just fine like this.

I think this has been my most challenging project to date. This was partly due to the pattern being difficult to grasp intuitively, so that I had to work each row with intense concentration and even more intense counting. But although I’d knit lightweight lace before, I’d never worked with yarn that fine before: my usual lace yarns run somewhere around 600m/100g, and even Misti Alpaca Lace is only 800m/100g, which is still 600m less than the Centolavaggi. The thing that had worried me most, the >800-stitch-long rows towards the end, ended up being the least of my concerns. I’m not a patient person by nature, but with lace I can scrounge up a surprising amount of the stuff. Also Centolavaggi is a thoroughly enjoyable yarn to work with, I’m intensely glad I have another skein (apple green this time) in my stash. I guess since lace shawls are relatively impractical by nature (compared to, say, socks), I turn into somewhat of a process knitter when working on them, whereas with socks I have the biggest trouble psyching myself up for the heel because it takes so long.

Now, after all this serious!knitter stuff, for the most famous reindeer of all:

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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.

We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet

January 2, 2011 § 10 Comments

A happy, if rather belated New Year to all of you!

I began 2011 with friends, a list of cocktails I’d always wanted to try, and when my hangover was finally over, a Doctor Who marathon and the first three charts of Spanish Armada in the gorgeous burgundy Centolavaggi Saskia gave me for Christmas.

2010 was a pretty good year, all in all. Despite starting on a sad note, it went on to become a year with a long summer, adventures, alcohol, music, near-death experiences in the gushing rain, academic and culinary accomplishments, drastic haircuts, and lots and lots of knitting.

18 kilometers of knitting, in fact, or probably some more with frogging and re-knitting, and a sock or two that might have slipped through the net.

Despite my undiminished enthusiasm, I’ve decided to cut back a little on knitting time. Not because I knit to much (even though I do), but because I’ve resolved to join a choir, read 52 books in the next 52 weeks, and dick around with sewing a bit.

I’m doing fairly well on the reading front – the first Narnia book’s almost done, and I’m halfway through TH White’s ‘The Once and Future King’ (I’m cheating a bit with that one; I’d already read the first 100 or so pages. Then again, I got it for Christmas 2009, so it’s about time I finished it). I’m terrible at reading one book at a time, so as long as I finish 4-5 books a month, I won’t worry about keeping them in line. Why the 52 in 52? I need to read more. This may seem weird from somebody who spends the majority of the day in front of a computer, but as nice as fanfic and the internet is – I need some more literature in my life! So Narnia, and TH White, and my Amazon package containing 5 Jasper Fforde novels should be arriving any day.

As for the sewing thing, I’ll see how far I’ll take that – but at the moment, I’m fairly obsessed with recreating some garments from the new Narnia movie, so I hope I’ll finish at least the waistcoat before losing all my patience and crawling back to my cobweb lace knitting for some relaxation.

So. I’ve finished the first sleeve of Thermal, I have five rows left on Henry, and I’m knitting a cobweb lace shawl for the next Max Raabe concert at the end of March. Saskia got tickets for Christmas.

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