Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An Unexpected Treasure

I promised you a cool vintage knitting gadget last week and here it is. I was visiting my mother's aunt, one of the people who guided my early knitting adventures. She suddenly produced this and asked me if I knew what it was. Of course I did! Apparently, my mother's high school/college classmate (who also happened to be present) had found it in her late sister's posessions and had given it to my great-aunt because she knew my great-aunt knits.

It is a yarn holder. See the hole in the top? The yarn comes out of that hole. You can wear the loop around your wrist and wander around knitting as you go. There is a delicate flower and leaf pattern embossed into the top.

It is easier to see its purpose from this photo.

The top unscrews to reveal the cavity where you put the yarn. I think the hole in the bottom is so one can stick the needles into the yarn ball when not knitting.

It is difficult to see but the notches around the edges of the bottom hole are graduated. Each is marked with a UK needle size. So you always have a needle gauge with you when you carry this cute little yarn holder. The entire thing is made of Bakelite so I think it is pretty indestructable.

The size is not very big. I couldn't get my 100 gm ball of Opal sock yarn into it.

My great-aunt asked me if I wanted it. She had tried to use it but it only works for center-pull balls and she didn't know how to wind one. If you try to use it with a non-center-pull ball, the yarn gets stuck as there isn't enough clearance for the ball to rotate in the holder. Not being one to refuse cool things, I promptly said 'yes' and am now the proud owner of this yarn holder.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Armenian Knitting

A treat was waiting for me when I got home. Some of you may remember Elsa Schiaparelli's famous bow sweater. I didn't remember that I had seen it decades ago till I saw the photo of it.
Joyce Williams and Meg Swansen of Schoolhouse Press were contacted as part of an exhibit of her work a few years ago. They were intrigued by the technique which was called Armenian Knitting even though no real evidence exists of it originating in Armenia. The current working hypothesis is that Elsa had a knitter from Armenia who executed her designs using this technique. Like stranded knitting, it is worked with two colors all the time. It is not intarsia, which is what one first considers when seeing these designs. Instead, the design is worked by stranding, working each st in the appropriate color. The novel part of the technique is in the large single color sections. The unused color is carried throughout the fabric, woven in periodically with the working color, so that it peeks out and gives a tweedy effect to the right side.

Schoolhouse Press has published a new book on the subject. The front and back covers feature a child's vest with a flower on it by Meg and Joyce's stunning Lily jacket.

This is the back of the jacket.

All the designs are done in J&S Shetland jumper-weight. As with anything from Meg and Joyce, the book also includes innovative garment shaping and use of techniques.
The front of the jacket continues the Lily design. The inside shows the unused color that is 'trapped' . You can see the color changes that form the lily stem and flower.

Joyce is also the designer behind the Olive Branch sweater (front above and back below).
Joyce's whimsical vision extends to this Knit-Purl sweater. The front features a magnified image of a knit fabric, the back has the same image of a purl fabric. Great for knitting teachers!

Additionally, she combines the two into a garter stitch underarm section (seen at left). All you ever need to know about the structure of a knitted fabric is on this sweater.

The remaining designs are Meg's. There are two butterfly sweaters. The Monarch one (below) is what caught my attention. I love the asymmetry and the colors. Black and red is my favorite color combination.
Meg couldn't resist adding the date of knitting on the sleeve. As she said, it is very hard not to create a design with the contrast color when you are carrying it along.

All the designs are charted. The charts are large, but easy to read, creating the details that make these designs so engaging.

I also fell in love with the Cossack vest. This is a photo of the vest that I took at Camp this year. Last, but not least, there are patterns for three hats, two of which you can see in the photo above.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Home! (with some podcast reviews)

I'm home, I'm home. I don't have to travel anywhere for a while! I am so thrilled that I'm almost speechless - NOT!

Yesterday was a massive podcast session. I was unable to sleep so I woke up at 3 am and knitted and read till it was time to get ready for the flight back. Then I listened almost all the way home. One thing that jumped out at me yesterday was the interaction among the regular podcasters. There are references to each other 's content and the people sprinkled throughout the podcasts and it only starts to make sense after you listen to a number of them.

knitTherapy: A knitter in Michigan discusses her knitting, books, yarn and her life. I don't have anything negative to say about this podcast because it is exactly what a knitting podcast should be. However, I didn't enjoy it. I think this is just a matter of personal preference - just like some of us like some yarns and don't like others and our tastes are not the same.

Knitting Psychos: A podcast from a recent Californian. Again, this is also about her life, yarn, books, etc. But somehow, I found this more interesting. I can't explain this except to say that it is my personal preference and that I am not discriminating against knitTherapy in any way.

I also viewed video podcasts for the first time. Previously, I had been skipping over these as I came across them at times when I couldn't view them. Yesterday, however, I was knitting the body of a sock so didn't need to look at my knitting, the light and the place were conducive to viewing and thus, I viewed/listened to two video podcasts. I think these are absolutely fabulous for knitting, especially for techniques.

Another comment that I've meant to make in previous blog posts and forgotten is that podcasts can be large and take a long time to download. I have a pretty good wireless connection most of the time - backed by broadband. But I was surprised at times with how long it took for the podcasts to download. I am subscribed to a large number, which contributes to the problem but just in terms of size, some of the podcasts are quite large. The video ones all are but some of the audio ones are large also. Just something to watch out for if you are trying to download and update your player in a hurry.

Knitting Step-by-Step: This podcast is like a visual pattern with tips and techniques. I viewed the tail end of the Mitten series and the beginning of the sock series (the current project). It is very easy to listen to. The lighting and the contrast with the background can be better in some scenes . I found that the nail polish on the hands of the instructor reflected the light and the resultant glare was a bit distracting. But this was only on some demonstrations.

Lets Knit2gether: This is also an instructional podcast but a bit different. I viewed the episode on Stitch N' Pitch and it was very entertaining and interesting. Not a lot of knitting instruction, of course and more like a news show. The second episode was on lace and reading lace charts. A bit more advanced than the Knitting Step-by-Step podcast but just as useful and educational. I liked the variety.

Lime and Violet: More on this one in my next post as I became brain dead through their second episode and quit listening. I listened to the first one on my last flight of the day. It was very, very long (approximately 90 mins) but quite interesting. Lime and Violet is one of the popular podcasts and one mentioned in other ones I had listened to. Lime and Violet interview Scout of Scout's Swag - a popular indie dyer. If all the podcasts are over an hour long, I probably won't listen to them as part of a regular rotation.

A comment on the length of podcasts: I really enjoyed the Knitters Uncensored podcast but the length is just not something I can commit to. So that is a matter of personal preference and is not a criticism of the podcast itself. That is why I say the same thing about Lime and Violet.

My total FO tally for the last 2 trips was 2.75 pairs of socks in 2 weeks and 3 days. I finished 2 pairs and only have the leg and cuff to finish on the second sock of the third pair. For a change, I actually took the correct amount of yarn. I threw in the third 100 gm sock yarn ball as insurance and unlike previous trips, I needed the insurance. Usually I take way more yarn than I need.

Pictures to come. In the next week, you will be flooded with pictures. I feel the blog is very visually boring as I've been just text oriented for so many weeks.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Podcast Reviews go on

More flights, more podcasts. Actually, I also listened to some while on vacation. Podcasts are wonderful when you have some time to relax and knit. Even better than books because you don't get caught up in them for hours. Case in point: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - I had been holding off reading this because it is a large book and I know myself. I took it on vacation since I'd have time to read it. Here's how I did it -
Day 1: Read 40 pages
Day 2: Read rest of book till some time in the wee hours of the morning
This is my usual pattern when I find books I enjoy. I can't put them down. I generally only read books on weekends for this reason. Podcasts don't have this problem. They end much quicker.

Gwendolyn's Gifts: This is a podcast by a woman who has an Etsy shop. She discusses various topics like setting up a craft space and what is on her needles. I liked them because they are short but I also found that the podcasts didn't hold my interest very long. There needs to be some breaks and transitions between the segments.

Irie Knits
: This one hasn't been updated in a while. I thought it was entertaining, and again short and sweet. But the topic didn't hold my interest too long.

It's a Purl, Man: This one is by a knitting guy and he interviews a friend of his. The back and forth of the different voices makes for interesting listening. He is knitting a chuppah for his wedding and his sense of humor is infectious.

Knit Picks: This is also one of the biggies and obviously is associated with the online vendor. Kelley Petkun owns Knit Picks with her husband Bob. The podcast is intimate sounding, full of tips and techniques. She has a book review segment which is really nice and also discusses what is on her needles, the Knitter's Almanac project (knit all the items in sequence over the course of the year) and day-to-day events in her week. What I found off-putting was her intonation. She speaks slowly and clearly (so far so good) but she pauses at and thereby accents the wrong words in a sentence. It is hard to follow the sentence when there are pauses between the adjective/adverb and noun/verb. It sounds condescending and as if she is talking to a small child. It is also heavily scripted - which I think accounts for the intonation. I listened to four podcasts trying to give her a second chance. The only one where this didn't occur was in her interview with Vicki Square (Episode 23), where she is much more natural and the sentences flow more freely. I want to like this one but I'm not sure I can unless the intonation changes. I may email her and suggest this but I'm not sure how it will be received. I also would like a few more segues and transitions. There is only one - the introduction to the book reviews.

Knit Science: This is also a very technique-focused podcast. The author researches a particular topic and discusses it. A clear contrast to the Knit Picks podcast. I found the podcast easy to listen to. The two episodes ended with a story read by her son. I liked that. This one is going to stay on my rotation.

Knitters Uncensored: This one is lively as there are three people talking. One of the challenges of podcasting is to avoid sounding monotonous and this one succeeds because the three people are having fun. It is labeled 'Explicit' and contains some off-color jokes and innuendo. I enjoyed it. My only beef with it is that it is long. Each episode is approximately 90 mins. I also got the feeling that I was coming in in the middle of a conversation that I didn't fully understand. Of course, I only listened to the latest episodes so this is a correct statement. But it is more likely to happen, than not, that people will start listening with the current episode and then move on to listen to older ones if they like the podcast. So I wish there was a bit more background. All in all, I liked this one. I have to listen to the last episode again as the plane was noisy and I was dozing off due to jet lag. I decided to switch to 'A Night at the Opera' part-way through. That is one of my favorite albums of all time.

I have not yet even listened to half the podcasts I've subscribed to. My trips are almost at an end and it is going to be interesting to see how much I listen when I'm back home in my cozy recliner with my knitting. Will I choose podcasts or music?

To be continued...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Clothing feet

I just got back home for a bit before I head out again for my last trip (for now). Yeah!

It is so nice to sleep in my own bed again. That is what I miss most when I travel. My bed. The correct level of firmness, pillow height and the scent of the sheets - all make for a very comforting sleep experience.

I knit 2 pairs of socks on the last trip. I cast on for the first one of the first pair in the airport on the way out and finished the second sock of the second pair at the airport on the way back. I started another pair on the flight. After this one, I am taking a hiatus from knitting socks for myself. I have too many pairs.

Instead, I am going to focus on using up the leftover sock yarn. In the past, I've made children's socks for Children in Common. However, I can only make little socks and I thought I could do hats instead. I think I could get a hat for an older child out of the leftovers and the self-striping sock yarn is quite colorful.

I searched for patterns and didn't find too many. So I'll have to create my own and see how big a hat I can make while leaving a little bit for darning socks later. Other thoughts I had were for a mitered baby blanket or fingerless mitts but neither is as useful as socks or a hat.

On another topic: I am looking for a functional, yet dressy bag. I bought a really nice one at Kohl's only a few months ago and it already has starting giving way. I carry a lot of electronics but little else - a PDA, cell phone and ipod are the most weighty. This causes bags to fall apart soon. I also need something with an adjustable length strap so I can wear it across the body for travel or just sling it on a shoulder for local trips. Any recommendations?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Those Pesky Feet

Human feet are very unique and unfortunately don’t always conform to their owner’s sock knitting preferences. This often makes knitters wonder if there is something wrong with the knitting itself. Relax! It is not your knitting, it is the feet themselves that are at fault.

To illustrate the problem, I present – my feet.

I have fairly small feet, rather average in most respects. But I have very high arches. The top of my foot doesn’t slope gradually up to the instep. There is a slight slope and then, at the arch, it suddenly rises up in a hurry. There is a huge distance from the ankle to the back of the heel. All of this makes the standard heel flap/gusset heel fit rather well. So far so good if I am knitting the sock cuff down.

However, I don’t like knitting heel flap/gusset heels toe up . I tried the standard short row heel and it stretched out over that odd high instep. I tried knitting it over 60% of the sts and that didn’t help because, while it adds to the depth of the heel, it reduces the width of the instep. Additionally, I was getting holes in the bottom of the sock at the heel because the fabric was stretched tight there. This made the fabric thin and prone to wear.

Finally, I developed a gusseted, short-row heel that I really love. I like knitting it, it is mindless, and it fits me and it comfortable and durable. It isn’t something I invented. It is something I cobbled together. I am going to explain this in general terms as well as using my own numbers as an example. In my case, I use 68 sts for the circumference of the sock.

Beginning: When the length of the nascent sock comes to the point where the instep starts to slope up above the arch, I start increasing. I add 2 sts on every other round, on each side of the sole. My beginning of round (BOR) is at the left side of the sock, where the sole meets the top of the foot. The first half of the sts after the BOR (34 sts) are the top of the foot and the second half (34 sts) are the sole. I increase as follows:

Rnd 1: K1, M1, knit across the instep sts, k1, M1, knit to end of rnd
Rnd 2: K

I continue this increasing until I have 1” worth of sts on each side of the sole. My gauge is about 8-9 sts per inch for sock yarn. So I add 8 sts on each side for a total of 16. Once I am done with this increasing, including the subsequent plain round, I am ready to begin the heel.

At this point, I have 50% of the circumference sts (34 sts) + the 16 sts I added set aside for the heel. I work the short row heel on these sts, leaving the instep sts in reserve. Now we will be working back and forth on the heel sts (34+16=50) only.

Middle: I work the short row heel with an eye of partridge st pattern on it. This makes the heel very thick and comfortable and also helps with wear. You can use any short row heel variation you like. I have used wraps, the Japanese short row method, the yarnover method, and others in the past. My current favorite is one described in the Sock Wizard V3 program as the Ultimate Short Row Heel. I am not giving details on how to work it because I don’t know if this is a commonly used technique elsewhere and is not really pertinent to this discussion. Whatever wrapping and turning method or no-wrap technique you like can be used.

Row 1: K across the heel sts (e.g. K 50)
Row 2: Sl 1, p to end (e.g. Sl 1, p49)
Row 3: *Sl 1, k1, repeat from * to next to last st to be worked, k1, turn
Row 4: Sl 1, p to last st, turn

Repeat rows 3 and 4, working 1 st less on each row i.e. turning 1 st before the end of the previous row until you have 25% of your circumference sts left being worked. The rest are on hold. In my case, I work the heel down to 18 sts with 16 sts on hold on each side of the heel.

Now start the increasingly lengthening rows, continuing the sl 1, k1 on the RS.

Row 1: *Sl 1, k1, rep from* to wrap or end of the penultimate row (2 rows earlier), pick up wrap or whatever you like to do, turn.
Row 2: Sl 1, p to wrap or end of penultimate row (2 rows earlier), pick up wrap or whatever, turn.

Repeat these two rows till all the on-hold sts are now being worked. Work across the instep sts and start working in the round again. Keep the EOP pattern on the heel sts going. This makes a nice cushion for the Achilles tendon.

Ending: Continue the back of the heel sts in eye of partridge, decreasing 2 sts every other round till we are back at the original circumference number.

Rnd 1: K across instep sts; k1, k2tog, *sl 1, k1 to 3 sts before BOR, ssk, k1
Rnd 2: K

Repeat these two rnds until you have decreased away all the sts you added on the foot. In my case, I repeat these rnds 8 times.

Now continue as always with the leg and cuff.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Yet More Podcast Reviews

I warned you! I told you I had content queued up! I told you I was listening and knitting and I had lots of podcasts to listen to.

Cast On: This is one of the biggies. Brenda Dayne is a regular and her podcast is like a knitting news show. Apparently, she had been doing a series of essays over the summer and my sample episodes were the tail end. I found them interesting although I’m not sure I would listen to them again. She has the more traditional podcast format of talking interspersed with music, as do others that will follow in the entries to come. She also has snippets from other podcast regulars, a form of non-commercial advertisement. She finishes up with ‘beads’ which are like badges in Girl and Boy Scouts. You get them for different things. The noise level was high when I was listening to this one and the short little clips about the beads didn’t always register. I’ll be listening to more of Brenda’s podcasts so will provide an update if I am incorrect.

Changeling’s Knit and Spin: This is from Down Under. I loved it. It is quirky and entertaining. Changeling discusses a gift quest she undertook for her mother. It was successful but I liked it because her family and philosophy come through and make you feel as if you know her. She then does ‘Characters from the Yarn Store’ which was fun. She has a wry sense of humor which I enjoyed. She describes her Thrifty Knitter Challenge – what can you find for your fiber enjoyment for a $1 or less? Her voice is calming and very pleasant to listen to. She ends with announcements for new podcasts, one of which is the first one I reviewed – A Very Palpable Knit.

Fiber Cult: This is a frequently updated blog by 6 women. We are listening in on their knit and chat session. They discuss their current projects, yarn they've come across, yarn diets, knitting disasters, dyeing fiber, and other fiber-related topics. Very warm and entertaining but not something I'd listen to on a regular basis. When I say this, it is not because I didn't enjoy the episodes I listened to or that others might not. It is just that I'm not looking for that particular type of podcast. I find my mind wanders a lot when the topic isn't something I'm interested in and the end result is that I come back minutes later and find them discussing something I want to listen to and I have to go back and find the beginning of the topic. So it isn't as smooth from a knitting perspective as I'd like it to be. I want a podcast that is mostly things I'd want to listen to and that keeps me focused.

Now, for a taste of things to come, I am knitting away on socks. I finished the Blue Frog Rainforest ones and am now knitting Schmetterling (Butterfly). I am loving this after the Frog ones. The Frog has lovely colors but they are long stretches of each one which make for boring knitting. The Butterfly colors change frequently and I like that. But that is just an aside. I uploaded pictures of my Owl socks and my next blog post is going to be about the heel that I make for myself. It is a modified short row heel that I love and that fits my high-arched foot really well.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Even more Podcast Reviews

I should interject in here that I haven’t come across a fiber podcast I didn’t like yet. What you are getting are my personal opinions and thoughts on each one as well as a summary of the episodes I sampled. My objective is to help you find the podcasts you like based on what you want from them: Entertainment? Knitting tips and techniques? The feeling of being part of a knit and chat session? Broader thoughts on designing or the creative process or reviews and news? I’m hoping that you can sort through my reviews and summaries and more quickly find the ones that meet your needs.

CraftLit: This is a very different podcast. You get to listen to books while you knit. I listened to chapters from Tristan and Isolde. I’d never read that so I found it enjoyable. Frankenstein is next. The chapters are interspersed with commentary, music and personal thoughts. CraftLit is going into my regular rotation. It is also one of the regular podcasts that has been going on for a long time. I have to start with the beginning of Tristan and Isolde rather than the middle!

The Creative Mom Podcast: I listened to a couple of episodes of this one as I was intrigued but not completely sold. It is more about the creative process than knitting. She is an artist and talks about her medium, suggests books to read on the creative process, and has an Artist Trading Card Exchange as well as a yahoogroup. The podcast features announcements of the segments by her kids, which I liked. There is a theme to each one. I also liked the suggestions of books to read for kids. I am not sure I am going to continue to listen to this one, not because it isn’t a good podcast (which it is) but because it isn’t really what I’m looking for in a podcast.

Friday, October 12, 2007

More Podcast reviews

I’ve been listening to scads of podcasts and taking notes. I was listening to all I could find on iTunes but I suddenly realized that some of them had not been updated in months. Since there is not much point in posting reviews of old podcasts, I have deleted them and won’t be listening to any that haven’t had an update in 6 months. Those that have already been heard will get a blurb.

I also want to state that my personal preference is for 30 min podcasts. I can sit down and knit for 30 mins w/o interruption frequently. I found the longer ones tend to get listened to in bits because an hour w/o interruption is more of a luxury, and if I switch to something else along the way without marking the spot, it takes time to find the right place again. I listen to fitness podcasts while working out and that interrupts the flow of the knitting ones.

At the Yarn Shop: This is one that hasn’t been updated although it was interesting. The podcast was long, explaining a hiatus and the challenges of running a yarn store. Kathy Oliver owns Holly spring Homespun and discusses the stresses and rewards of owning a yarn store. She interviews her ‘right hand man’, then reviews yarns and provides a pattern of the month for fingerless mitts. iTunes only downloaded this one from March 2007 so I have to see if she has done more that aren’t on iTunes. From the website above, it appears that she has not.

Bean Knits and Spins: This one is set in Brooklyn, NY and if you don’t like the occasional expletive, don’t listen to this. It is rated ‘Explicit’. The language is not any worse than you would hear on the street on a normal day and I didn’t mind it. But some of you may not like to hear such words. Bean, who blogs at BeanKnit talks about her sock knitting, her yarn dyeing with Wilton dyes, and knitting shawls. Podcasts like this are some of my favorites as I like to hear what people are knitting, what they learned along the way and it makes me feel as if we are all in a knit and chat session together.

Another similar one is BritKnitCast, which is currently on hiatus. I really enjoyed this one though it was long. Carrie Ann Dennison talks about a Woolfest in her area. It was a rainy and windy day and she and her friends were camping. We hear interviews with vendors – one of whom talks about natural dyeing. She discusses her purchases, talks to a representative of the UK Knit Crochet Guild who is recruiting new members. The UK Guild is a non-profit, unlike the The Knitting Guild of America. It preserves historical objects and is looking for museum space. They have 10,000 items in their collection and Richard Rutt is the president. We also hear a chat with her friends (over a roaring campfire, I hope) with details of their purchases at the Woolfest. She finishes with a list of upcoming events and then says that she’ll be back next year with another series of podcasts. I will be waiting. I loved this because the experience was very similar to my visits to the NY Sheep and Wool Festival at Rhinebeck, NY (that I will be missing next weekend) but a half a world away. It made me feel very connected to the larger knitting universe to hear how similar these experiences are. And I love listening to different accents.