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.

Spanish Armada

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.

Spanish Armada

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.

Perfectly sound analysis

January 25, 2011 § 6 Comments

I was in a bit of a knitting frenzy last night, because the end was nigh… and lo and behold, at 1 am I put away my sewing needle, cut off the last thread, and held in my hands my magnificent, gorgeous, amazing Watson sweater.

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I don’t feel any need to mince my words, since I’m ridiculously proud of the thing and will continue to be so in the future.

I didn’t really use the pattern that’s up on Ravelry – the lovely authors of that one are amazing in their own right and I referred to the pattern when it came to the shoulder short rows and the neck, but ultimately, we came up with our charts at the same time. Mine is more faithful to and more independent from the original at once: my chevrons are reverse stockinette like in the original, but I mirrored my cables so they wouldn’t all go in the same direction. Also, my yarn only bears a passing resemblance to the one used in the original in that they’re both yarns and they’re both undyed (but in different shades and of varying fuzziness).

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All in all, now I have a complete Watson outfit and a complete Sherlock outfit (well, except for the scarf), and what’s more, I totally rock. Because I created it from a picture, and it fits me perfectly, and I’m wearing it right now with a checkered shirt and jeans, while Saskia is getting ready in her room in her aubergine shirt with a black waistcoat and blazer.

I think we’ll raise the surveillance level to three. – Of whom? – Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.

Whispering sounds of silence

January 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

(Warning: this post might not make a lot of sense if you haven’t read or at least watched Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.)

I realize this blog might not be the ideal platform for this – maybe, just maybe, I should start another blog for my reading, since I plan on doing that a lot this year. But for now, you’ll have to choose between reading all of this or simply ignoring it (I’m putting most of it behind a jump just in case). I need to share this.

Because today, I was sitting in a Starbucks and I suddenly got what Dorian Gray was all about.

In my effort to read at least one book a week (which isn’t too much of a problem, I’m realizing, since I read slightly more than a page a minute), I’ve been devouring Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, which is meta on so many levels (and some besides), and it got me thinking about Dorian Gray. Which is just as well, I suppose, since I’ll be needing to think about him quite a bit this year.

The thing about Dorian Gray is that how good it is largely depends on the way you read it. If you read it for the language and aphorisms and witticisms, you’d hardly be disappointed, but I always found the characters rather one-dimensional. Merely a vehicle for all the wit, so to speak – also, the story, while based on a terrific idea, is kind of thin on the details, and seems more like a canvas than the picture. Not much happens in Dorian Gray.

But then, I’m realizing, this is Oscar Wilde we’re talking about. If his characters seem flat, they’re probably so intentionally. Maybe I haven’t been looking deep enough, or in the right places. The whole book is about outward appearance in contrast to the inner workings of humans, so…

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Can music save your mortal soul?

September 7, 2010 § 2 Comments

I’ve considered a dozen different captions with witty references to Supernatural, or a certain series of high school/college movies, or Don McLean, but really…

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… whatever I say, it can’t even come close to this freaking amazing, perfect, brilliant apple pie I made today.

Glamour shots

July 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

Excuse the double posting, but I really wanted these to have their own post.

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It is so pretty, I swear. And so light too, with gorgeous drape and the perfect size, and the color, and… just everything. It even goes with the dress I want to wear it with.

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I can’t be the only one who picks clothes according to what will go best with the accessories, can I?

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Max Raabe tomorrow. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

I’m excited.

Verás cosas que jamás soñaste ver

July 6, 2010 § 2 Comments

Most of the time, I don’t mind having the tram as my main mode of transportation. It’s cheap, it’s energy efficient, and I get out in the open air, plus it’s hassle-free and isn’t usually affected by traffic jams in the city.

Sometimes, I hate depending on the tram. Those days are usually in winter, when the system goes to jack due to snow, and you have to wait in the freezing cold for half an hour, and then slip in the sludge that’s accumulated on the tram floors. It’s also bad during rush hour in summer, where you’re squashed against sweating bodies in the already sweltering cart, and you get the general feeling of what it must be like to be on a cattle transport.

But once in a while, a day will come along where I love, love, love taking the tram. Like today, when the only space available was in front of an old lady, and we had a lovely conversation about sock heel construction.

And then, a couple of minutes after she’d gotten off, I saw Him.

He was dark-haired and mocha-skinned, about three years old, and spoke something that sounded very much like Spanish with his mother in his high kid-voice.

He was wearing a hot pink dress, and he was carrying a dolly in a matching outfit. And his mother sat next to where he was bouncing up and down in the middle aisle, beaming with pride.

I haven’t stopped smiling since.

Sometimes, I love, love, love taking the tram.

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