27 September 2006

The Yarn Market

I mentioned in yesterday's post that Laura had also posted about the new look in the latest Lion Brand catalog, and there's a lively discussion going on in the comments over there about what this means and how much people like it or are suspicious of it. Laura emailed me about a comment which was actually made by a different Kate, as it happens (there seem to be a lot of us Kates in the knit blogger universe, as one of the other Kates once commented on my blog - something about people named Kate being strongly attracted to knitting??). Anyway, I actually agree much more with Laura and some of her other commenters, Theresa and Stephanie, that what we've seen in the new catalog is, though more aesthetically pleasing, really just a mask for yarn that is still essentially not too good, or at any rate overpriced for what it is.

I do agree with many that LB yarns have their uses. We have a good outlet here for LB here in NYC, at a little old-fashioned store called P&S Fabrics, south of Canal, so I have occasionally bought some LB stuff there, especially when I was first learning my way around yarn shopping, c. 2001. At P&S, they really specialize in Red Heart and Bernat, so the LB almost counts as high-end there. I go there pretty frequently for Patons Classic Wool for felting, and for cheap notions, but I've also purchased some LB wool-ease and microfiber in my time. And every time I've been dissatisfied - the microfiber was splitty and pilly, and the wool-ease felt too much like acrylic, especially over time, and ultimately convinced me that that was one thing I couldn't compromise on. I went back there recently to get kitchen cotton for Mason-Dixon projects, and considered the LB cotton...until I calculated the cost per weight of yarn and realized that it was much more expensive than Peaches and Cream for exacly the same product.

So, while it sort of gratifies me, as I said yesterday, to see that someone over there at Lion Brand actually woke up and realized that the stuff they were showing before didn't appeal to much of anyone who wasn't running a blog devoted to fug, on the whole I think the recent change we see in the catalog may have been wrought for sinister purposes. That is, I wonder whether they aren't hiking up their aesthetic as a way of hiking up the prices on what will still be the same old yarn. I think there is a place for cheap yarn (a big, gawping void to fill, in fact, between Red Heart and the sumptuous but pricey natural-fiber yarns), and I've always been appreciative of LB for fearlessly leaping in to cater to that market, and like I said, their yarn has its uses. But that's only if it stays cheap, and frankly, even before the catalog makeover it wasn't as cheap as it should be. When I can get sumptuous, natural-fiber yarns from KnitPicks for less, what's the point of Wool-Ease? I'd be only too delighted if LB took their cue from KnitPicks' success and start moving toward that same business model. But instead it looks - just looks, so far - like they might instead be moving toward higher glam, higher prices, same old crap, and hoping knitters will take a good long while to catch on. After all, thousands of people are still learning to knit everyday, and some of them never find the online knitting community. LB is heavily stocked at places like Wal-Mart, where there's no KnitPicks to compete with.

Coincidentally, just yesterday I browsed over to check out this controversy involving Tilli Tomas and price fixing, that Brenda Dayne mentioned on the last Cast-On. It sounds to me like LB is aspiring to do what Tilli Tomas and the other "luxury" yarn companies have been doing for a long time - trying to convince knitters - probably mostly the novices who should not be deliberately imposed upon in this way! - that just because a yarn is expensive, they're getting a "luxurious" experience out of knitting it. Never mind the relative qualities of the actual yarn! In fact, it looks from what I read on Sarah's blog like Tilli Tomas is pretty well convinced that their own yarn isn't worth what they want to charge for it.

Because of my grad student budget, I've always had to buy discounted or sale yarn, or get it in Russia where they import it directly from Peru, usually, or Spain or Germany, and sell it at what must be a very small markup (and what constitutes probably the maximum anyone would pay there, as salaries are so low), but the thing is - I've learned from experience that my yarns can do anything the super-expensive, lavishly-advertised yarns can do. The only yarns I really covet that I can't afford to find through KnitPicks, elann.com, School Products cones, at in-store sales or in Russia are hand-dyed and/or handspun, and I think most of those are worth every penny charged for them when they're made by hand by an experienced artisan who puts way more time into them than they can ever be properly compensated for. I've been to "String," the "luxury yarn" store on the Upper East Side, and while there were a few cashmeres at over $100 a skein that felt almost as soft as my Peruvian baby alpaca yarn from Moscow ($1.67), most of their stock looked...just like Lion Brand. Lots of eyelash and sequins and beads. And sure, the flashy bits might have been made of glass sometimes, and were undoubtedly attached to natural fibers instead of acrylic, but I personally found that, though they looked pretty on the skein, I didn't want to knit with them. Almost everything that wasn't just a ball of pure silk or cashmere (both of which can be tricky to knit with and are often better in a blend) was clearly meant as a scarf project - i.e., aiming straight for the novice knitter who maybe hasn't been in other yarn stores and doesn't know what to expect in terms of quality or prices. They're obviously catering to a certain crowd of very wealthy, mostly NYC/LA women who have latched on to the Hollywood side of the knitting trend and don't yet know enough about what makes a good knitting yarn, or what's a fair price, to see that they're being swindled. Some of these women will probably learn better and, hopefully, learn to spend their abundant cash on truly worthwhile artisan yarns, but many will probably just get over the knitting fad all too soon without ever realizing that they've essentially been cheated out of the best parts of the craft - making something beautiful of out truly high-quality materials.

As for the rest of us who only occasionally indulge in a yarn that means luxury to us, how many of us have been burned, either realizing later that another, less expensive yarn would have been as good, or paid a lot for a yarn that turned out to have yecchy qualities when knitted or washed? I suppose it's only natural in what is, on this scale at least, something of an emerging market. As consumers, we're learning how to buy yarn, and many manufacturers and distributors are testing the limits of our credibility. We are avid consumers, obsessed with our craft. Many, probably most of the individual small-scale yarn sellers (and some of the biggies, too!) are devoted, passionate crafters themselves who want only to connect knitters with the best materials and techniques. But there are also a lot of business people out there reading about "the new yoga" and hoping to cash in quick before we all catch on.

So...I want to catch on. I want to figure out how we, as knitters, can protect ourselves and our craft and develop our buying power into a strategy that will ensure a steady stream of high-quality yarn at reasonable prices for years and decades to come. Can we do this? Of course - knitters can do anything!

But what, specifically, can individual knitters do now? The discussion on Sarah's site is already working out some solutions. Brenda Dayne is clearly working on issues relating to these (and also to publishing and distributing patterns and techniques, a whole 'nother can of worms), and is devoting the next series of her wonderful podcast to problems of copyright and exploring creative commons laws. We can also all try to be more critical consumers and thinkers. I for one want to use my little yarn-buying budget to support the yarn sellers who operate in a way I really believe in (I think elann, KnitPicks and Webs are great, and am delighted to have learned now about Sarah's Yarns). In the same way that Brenda decided to accept sponsorship for her podcast only from companies that she wholeheartedly believes in as providing good quality at a good price in an ethical manner, we can all do the same every time we choose where to purchase a product. Of course, making good purchasing decisions depends on information, but this is where the internet in general and knit bloggers in particular really come in to save the day. There's never before been such an easy, fast, and adaptable way for any community to keep itself informed! In many ways, we all do this already, by recommending certain yarns or companies, and passing on warnings. Sarah is helping to make us all aware of the price-fixing issue, and I hope that information can be disseminated quickly all over the knit blogger community. But if the knitters who get hit hardest are those who have just stepped into a yarn store for the first time, and probably aren't yet plugged into the online knitting community and may never be - how do we let them know? I'm not sure there's a way, but the online knitting community is so huge and so avid that we might just be powerful enough as a lobby in our own right to have a real impact on the market for the better.

I suggested on Sarah's site that one small way to start would be a button, containing a constantly updated list of price-fixing yarn companies that bloggers could post on their sites as an indication of their intent to boycott these companies. The button could link back to the discussion on Sarah's blog or anywhere else to explain the situation. I see it as working kind of like the lists of companies kept by the Better Business Bureau - those that comply with basic good business practices (and the law) will be taken off the list, but those that get consistent complaints from consumers will stay on, to inform and warn other consumers. Companies will obviously have a strong incentive to stay off any such list, and that will, in effect, force them to comply with good business practices. Maybe we could also develop a gold-star list of great companies providing wonderful services - or maybe an annual awards extravanganza?? I've volunteered to make a plain anti-price-fixing button linking to Sarah's site (as those who know my blog know, it's not hard to make a plain button), but I don't know how to do anything more complicated. If you do, and you'd like to get involved - go to Sarah's site and let her know (she's offering free yarn!!) And, of course, either idea would require someone to put in some time to stay on top of the lists of companies. I can't do this and still finish my dissertation before my money runs out, but I'm sure someone out there can and will do it!

And the best thing we can all do, of course, is to first write to any companies we have problems with and give them the opportunity to adjust their practices and marketing to best please their customers, before we take any other measures. Most of them, I would assume, would be only too pleased to do so if they really see a strong response. Sarah lists the address for Tilli Tomas feedback on her site, and of course you can look up the Tilli Tomas site itself.

This post is not, I should mention, intended as a condemnation of Lion Brand yarns or the Lion Brand company. I haven't been a particularly great fan of their yarn since I've found better alternatives elsewhere, but I do think they offer a service to the knitting community and I have no knowledge of anything wrong with their business practices at all. Rather, the marketing change they've made in their recent catalog simply got me thinking, and made me wonder about what might, or might not, be behind it, and any possible connection to the price-fixing practices - and generally unpleasant marketing strategies - of the companies named in the discussion at Sarah's site. Same goes for what I said about String - I only conveyed my impression of my one brief visit there, and what this made me think about. I do not intend to imply anything beyond the heavily qualified and subjective statements actually made here in black and white.

I'd love to hear comments about any of these issues, and most of all suggestions as to how we as knitters and yarn buyers can best influence the yarn market in everyone's best interests.

26 September 2006


Item 1:

The Fair Isle really is progressing.

Just very, very slowly. I started the sleeves one motif higher than the pattern calls for, because I didn't get to finish the green one on the body, and I like it. So there. It shouldn't make any difference, as you just work down the chart backwards on the sleeves until you get to the measurement you want in any case. I'm liking green a lot lately for some reason, which may have something to do with this and this.

And yes, the steeks are still holding. (Click to make it bigger...they're even...almost...pretty.)

And yes, I do (very carefully) check that they're still holding every time I pull the sweater out, just in case. This practice may continue until the steeks are finally tacked down and the sweater is finished. It may even continue beyond that time.

Item 2:

I'm also playing around with the red and blue Peace Fleece yarns to make a third pair of striped moccasin socks:

This is the first one, and unlike before, I'm not making them both simulaneously. I did a provisional cast on for this one, and as you can see, those stitches are still waiting on their waste string, waiting to be picked up for the leg once I've done the other foot and know how much yarn I've got left.

I love the way the "racing stripes" look with the striped foot top, not to mention stripes that only go halfway around. This is a great design to play with - I'd love to see some marvellously clever person like Cookie turn up on Knitty someday with some delightful variation on the moccasin sock using a texture or color pattern.

Me, I've been playing with the toe shaping. I've long been trying to figure out how to shape a sock toe so that it's much more sloped on the little-toe side, and almost straight on the big-toe side, without screwing up the rest of the shaping on the sock and still looking okay.

I want this because (it's time to admit it), I too have weird feet. Unlike Hubbster, they're narrow, but very long. Especially the toes:

So, if you look closely at the sock-toe picture above, I tinkered with the EZ toe (which has 14 decreases split evenly with 7 on each side), so that I had 3 decreases on the left, big-toe side and 11 decreases on the right, little-toe side. This works very well, I think, and fits wonderfully. Not quite as pretty as the balanced EZ toe, but what are you gonna do when you have weird feet?? Because I had to decrease so much so fast on one side, I put the right-side decreases on the second and third stitch of each row, and placed the matching decreases on the wrong side two stitches further in, so they wouldn't all be on top of each other and poof out. I decreased by k2tog on the right side and SSK on the left (reversing the EZ instructions), which looked better. Here's the left side, with the three decreases on the last three right side rows:

Now I just have to remember to do it the opposite way on the second foot, or I'll end up with two right-footed socks!

Item 3:

Haikus rock. But I'm not very good at them. Those of you who read my "Ode" will not be surprised.

Item 4:

Did you know that when the Yarn Harlot links to you, you get almost a thousand hits in one day? And almost 800 the next?

Item 5:

In the following pictures posted by said Harlot on her site, it looks suspiciously as though I was leaning over to get myself into both photos of the audience:

But, I'd like you to know, in the second shot I was merely leaning over to get into my bag, so as to pull out my camera and get this shot of the Harlot taking a picture of us:

Um. Okay, was that an even weirder thing to do than leaning over to get into both pictures would have been?

If that's weird, how weird is it to get a really big kick out of not only going to an event, but then reading upteen different versions of the same event from the points of view of nearly everyone there? Warning: this may be really weird, but it's clear that I'm not the only one who likes it!

Item 6:

As Laura has posted, something happened to Lion Brand in its most recent catalog. Dude. Where'd the fug go? Part of me is rather gratified to know that at least someone over there recognized that Things Were Not Good, but on the other hand, now Lion Brand looks like everywhere else, costs almost as much, but is still based on crappy materials. Pottery Barn, indeed! Oh well - we still have Berroco.

Item 7:

The chapter? Stop asking about the @#$^@%$^&@ chapter! Actually, I've been in headache-land for a few days, which has made real work almost impossible, but been good easy-knitting time. Hence all the socks. I am getting the materials together, though, slowly but surely, and have sort of half-written a piece of crap disguising itself as an intro. At this stage, I think that means things are going well.

Item 8:

Unable to do more complicated things, I did finally wash all the Peace Fleece FOs that have been gathering, plus a few other socks because - yes, folks, it's true! - it's gotten cold enough in our apartment to be wearing the extra-warm handknit socks.*

And I realized that the moccasin socks should really be laid out to dry, and later folded, differently than regular socks, to retain their proper shape better:

On second thought, wouldn't it be better to fold all socks this way? Hmm.

Item 9:

Hubbster was catching up on the blog the other day, and would like it to be known to all and sundry that he will henceforth no longer be referred to here as "Hubbster," but instead as "My Highly Respected, Powerful, and Masculine Spouse (MHRPMS)" This seems like a mouthful to me, so I may stick to 'Hubbster', on the very reasonable grounds that he is unlikely to notice either way.

Item 10:

Having said that, my slowly drying handknits were suddenly overcome by an invasion force sent out by MHRPMS's rival hobby, the model tank army:

I think we can find a compromise here, and it's called....

A hand-knit tank cozy.

* This apartment, #4 since I've been living in New York with Hubbster, has a very cold floor, hence my sudden fever for turning out thick socks on an almost daily basis. However, it's really a very comfortable place in winter, being only just cold enough to require handknits.

Cf. apartments #1-2, where there was no heat whatsoever, where my flannel-covered goosefeather duvet from Norway wasn't warm enough, where the elevator (in apt.#2) was inscribed thusly:

...and where my fingers were generally too numb for knitting between December and February.

What happened to apartment #3, you ask? Twenty-two square feet of mold, that's what. And you don't even want to think about the rent charged for these places. Bet you're no longer wondering why I complain about living in NYC despite the garment district, and school products, and all the knit-bloggers and celebrity visits and so on....

24 September 2006

FO: Moccasin Socks

Hubbster's moccasin socks were done a couple of days ago (yes, right after starting them - these things are quick):

...and the first sock of my pair is done, and the second one will be also in about an hour (I would have waited to post until I had both, but the computer is free now and I thought I'd better seize the opportunity!):

As it turns out, I think you could make a whole pair out of only one skein of the worsted-weight Peace Fleece, though I was using bits of several leftover skeins, so I can't be exact. But I think I've now got enough for a third pair out of lots of red and blue stripes!

Okay, details:

-I love everything about these socks. The fit is great, the look is great, the re-footability (as Aija memorably put it) is great, and most of all they're really fun and fast to knit! Obviously, at this weight they're very thick, but perfect for hiking socks (and for walking around our apartment, which has very cold concrete under the wooden flooring). I plan to make the next pair in very thin alpaca, so I'll let you know how it works at a completely different gauge.

-For the blue pair, Hubbster's socks, I had to add some short rows to the sole to cover his extra-wide feet. This looks very funny when the socks are folded (shown here in comparison to an earlier pair made according to the PGR method in sock-weight Peace Fleece):

I was afraid the incredibly weird shape of the sole would bunch up and be irritating on the bottom of the foot, but with feet as wide as Hubbster's, it's no problem:

They stretch out so much that they're perfectly flat and smooth.

-Other than the short rows on the sole, I followed the numbers exactly from EZ's recipe in Knitting Around, but using bigger needles to size them up for Hubbster, and adding a little extra length to the top of the foot, because my toe shaping took up only 2" instead of the 2.5" allowed for by EZ. I added a strand of Wooly Nylon for reinforcement, starting at the toe.

-The only other change I made on this first pair was to pick up stitches along the side of the sole from the back, with yarn in front, so that the selvedge stitches stick up on the right side. I had initially started the sole with the foot too short, until I realized I was missing that half inch in the toe and ripped back to put it in. Before I ripped back, I was concerned that the line caused by picking up those stitches would be irritating if it was right next to the foot, so when I picked them up the second time, I put those stitches on the outside. I decided I like the look of the ridge this forms on each side of the foot:

Kinda like a racing stripe, don't you think? OK, maybe it's just me....

-On the next pair, I did three other things differently. First, I centered the 6 sts that you put on a holder for the top of the ankle according to the ribbing pattern, rather than centering them around the beginning of the round. There's no reason not to do this, and I wish I'd thought to do it the first time, too.

-Secondly, when you decrease along the top side of the ankle from 38 sts to 22, I made the extra stitches on either side of the 22 in stockinette, while keeping the rib going on the 22 that would continue on to make up the top of the foot. I plan to make my next pair of moccasin socks, in a thinner gauge, with some kind of cable pattern, so I wanted to experiment with how to adapt the stitch pattern to the ankle shaping. I'm not entirely sure I like the results, though. I should have either made the stockinette sections two stitches wider on each side, or not bothered at all:

-Thirdly, I tried to minimize the pointiness at each end of the seam on the bottom of the sole (and therefore minimize potentially uncomfortable bulk under the feet). EZ has you put about 4-5 sts on a thread at each end, and pull them tight. I just decreased twice on each end in the last row of knitting, then pulled only 3 sts together at each end before seaming. This does seem to make them slightly less pointy, and once they're stretched across the bottom of the foot they are indeed perfectly flat and comfortable:

But, judging by Hubbster's pair, I probably didn't need to bother with that modification at all.

So, they're adorable (if I do say so myself), and really, really comfy. The Peace Fleece is already soft and cozy, and I know from experience that it blooms gloriously with washing (without changing size), which is why it's one of my favorite yarns (the other reason it's a favorite is the marvelous impressionist-painting quality of the colors). As Leah pointed out, Peace Fleece is the best.

As you can tell, I've been ignoring the Fair Isle for a few days, but it's calling to me now...Zimmermania will continue, if more slowly, with the third, leftover-striped pair of Peace Fleece moccasin socks, then another pair in a different yarn and gauge. And after that? I might just have to try a quick tomten jacket...the stuff showing up on the KAL is just bee-yoo-tiful... And calculations continue for SKB and Sizzle. We're going to New Hampshire for a long Columbus Day weekend, and I'm counting on having lots of knitting time there...

20 September 2006

FO: Mismatched Socks

The socks are done!

They fit, Hubbster loves them, whatever. Having now done the short-rows three times, correctly, without reference to the Gibson-Roberts book, I feel I've more or less mastered the technique and am ready to move on to a new one, as per my Sock Technique Exploration Project (STEP). Note for those who are into the details: I like the Gibson-Roberts slipped-stitch turns very much, though as I've pointed out mine end up a little loose on one side (the one that turns from purl side to knit side), but not so loose that there are holes. No holes anywhere, and there's a lot to be said for that. I also do like the fit of the heel, because I always do it on 2-4 more sts than half, so that the line of turns goes up a little deeper and gives a little more room. This way, the sock doesn't lay quite flat when it's not on the foot, but who cares?? That said, though, I want to try the flap heel (which I've only done on fuzzy feet before) because I like the idea of having an extra-cushy heel from doing rib or garter stitch on the flap. So, STEP 3 (har, har) will be trying out the Widdershins method of toe-up socks with flap heels (since I'm always working with stash yarn of limited quantities, I try always to go for toe-up).

But what happened, you ask, to STEP 2? Step 2 is what I'm going to do now. Let me explain: I want to make two pairs of Widdershins, one plain for Hubbster and one cabled for myself, out of the yarn I won in Cookie's contest. That's not here yet, plus, a totally unrelated event intervened, and the result is that before I get to Widdershins I'm going to try another sock technique I've been thinking about for ages: Elizabeth Zimmermann's moccasin socks. (from Knitting Around, and the Almanac, and maybe elsewhere too) I love the idea of being able to easily re-sole the whole sock when the time comes (keep in mind that Annemor Sundbø found sock legs over 100 years old in her ragpile - those things last, why waste them??), and I love following EZ "patterns," so there we go. The event that intervened to make me decide to try the moccasin socks before Widdershins is... [...ta dum dum DUM...]

The Elizabeth Zimmermann Knit-a-Long:

YA-HOO, people!!! I hope it continues forever, as I would love to always have an EZ item on my needles, and I'm totally loving, already, seeing other people's FOs. I think this could lead to a huge revival of EZ's patterns, since they look spectacular in new yarns and colorways.

I've made a few EZ things already, as you know if you've seen the archives of this blog, and I've posted all EZ-related FOs to the KAL Flickr page. And, after binding off Hubbster's mismatched socks last night, I cast on this morning for the moccasin socks, in the dark-blue-with-flecks PeaceFleece I had leftover from Budyonovka (I think it's "Siberian Midnight").

As you can see, I'm making them two at a time on a magic loop. It goes super-fast, with 44 sts on US7 needles (this gives me a gauge of 4.5 rather than 5, but that's what I want to fit Hubbster's monstrously wide feet). I'll make the second pair on US6, which gives me 5 sts/in, and fits my feet perfectly. I'm doing Hubbster's first even though he just got the last pair because I have two full skeins of his yarn, and I want to see how much the socks take up of that. I have a little over one skein of the red Peace Fleece I used for the tam ("Samantha/Katya Pink") that I want to use for my moccasin socks, and I'm hoping that'll be enough for the legs and tops of the feet, and then I'll dig up an alternative yarn for the soles. If necessary, I can add stripes to the legs to make the red go further.

Once I've got the pattern down, I'm going to try making them from the bottom-up. Reading through the instructions, I don't see why it should be too hard, but ask me again later, after I've tried it...

So...yeah...I haven't worked on the Fair Isle or the mohair lace tank in 24 hours, but don't think they're forgotten! I think I needed a little break to digest the steek business, but I'll be back to it soon.

And then...I've already decided on my next sweater project: the increasingly super-famous Simple Knitted Bodice by Stephanie Japel, in the pink microfiber I ripped from what was going to be Rosebud. I like this idea because (a) I have enough and (b) the SKB is a similar shape to Rosebud (low v-neck, fitted below the bust, flared at hip and sleeve bottoms), but without the problems that made the microfiber so inappropriate (ribbing, badly fudged extra shaping) and top-down, so if it's not working, I can start over much sooner! I would love to knit an SKB exactly like Laura's, but since I've got good stash yarn that I love (though in a different way), I'm going to use that. I also have some luscious dark-red microfiber, but not as much, so I think eventually I'll use it for Sizzle. But since I've already joined the SKB KAL and, as you can probably tell, am very excited about the project, I better really get moving to finish that Fair Isle soon, huh?

(Chapter, what chapter? by the way...many thanks to Susan - you're right, I could be using a typewriter. [shudder]. )

19 September 2006

Steek Virginity Lost

I did the deed.

Just once. I cut the first sleeve steek, and have picked up my stitches and begun to knit down. Phew. There were some dicey moments, but right now everything looks good.

I followed Eunny's tutorial to the letter for the crochet-reinforced steek, although since my pattern had already had me knit an even number of steek stitches (10), I deviated slightly in leaving two whole, and two half stitches (one on each side of the whole ones) in the middle of my steek. I have to say, I felt rather safer this way in any case.

I prepared early by going out and purchasing a pair of designated steek scissors. They're small, very sharp, and more than a little scary. I got them at Pearl River Mart where, coincidentally, you can also get sets of 4 super-long DPNs like people used back in the old days before circular needles, in a variety of metric sizes. Anyway.

This is what the crochet lines look like. It was remarkably easy, actually -- and this from someone who hates crochet and really did need Eunny's detailed instructions to remember how to do even single crochet.

Then I cut. I confess, after the first snip, when the little cut yarn ends jumped up and fell apart, my hands started to shake and my heart raced a bit. I paused, I breathed, I called to Hubbster for support -- "Help! I cut it!" "What?!" "No, I meant to, but it's scary!" "You'll be okay!" "But it's cut, my knitting is cut!" "I thought that was the point." "It is the point, but it's scary!" "Breathe!" -- and then I kept cutting.

(click for bigger version)

I think it's fine. There was no trouble. I still can't quite believe it happened, though. What you see above is the inside, cut edge of the steek. Eunny says to trim this, but I don't dare, and don't think I need to, as it folds under neatly all by itself anyway.

(click for bigger version)

This is the steek from the outside. See out the line of single crochet makes a nice, neat, firm edge and the cut ends fold under?

(click for bigger version)

This is me picking up stitches. Not sure if I did it "right," but I like the results.

I knit four rows into the pattern, enough to do one decrease and to get a feel for managing the floats over the two "corners" formed by the Magic Loop (it is a little harder to maintain the right tension on the sleeves, as Cookie pointed out, but so far so good).

Then I switched to the sock for a little R&R. I got to the point I (thought I) was at by the end of my Day of Knitting Adventure on Saturday, and will probably finish it today or tomorrow.

By the way, the hardest thing about making this sweater might have been managing all the different colors, since the color-coded chart doesn't exactly match the actual colors of the yarn (actually, not even close to exact, but close enough not to confuse you when you're only reading row by row). However, whether by brilliant planning or coincidence, KnitPicks does not wind this yarn in a center-pull ball, thus allowing clever folks like myself to fold the label with the color name facing out and tuck it securely into the center of the ball, so I always know what it is:

Me so clever, clever, yes?

Meanwhile, I'm back to work, on the next chapter. I hate Microsoft Word. Hate hate hate hate it.


Love you all, will show you some mismatched socks soon.

18 September 2006


My Icarus shawl had quite a thrilling day yesterday. She met (and was occasionally fondled by) many, many cool knitters, two of whom are also famous and among my personal heroes.

She met the Harlot, and the Harlot's Icarus:

She and the sock also met, and actually got to spend three hours hanging out with, the fabulous Amy Singer:

...who is knitting a gorgeous wrap of out sea silk, as many of us know. But unlike many, I got to SMELL the sea silk!! It really truly does have just the slightest scent of the seaside about it. I met several other super-cool knitters there as well, whose names and blogs are going to show up soon on Amy's blog, so I'll add the links here after I copy them from her, since I was too dumb to write them down. The Point is a really cool place too; I'd never been before, but I'm definitely going back. I'd go back just for the lime-green floors and the quiche, never mind the yarn and the nice people! Oh, but what about Amy, you ask? What's she like, the founder and editor of knitty.com and general doyenne of the online knitting community? She's awesome, just as you'd expect, and we all just had a lovely time stitchin' and chatting (there wasn't much to bitch about, in that we were all having such a great time). Veronique was there and showed off a sweater that just might be turning up soon in a knitty near you, and I for one am already plotting which stash yarn to use for it.... And we all made fun of poor Hubbster's super-wide feet, as I was knitting the second sock of the mis-matched pair. More on that in a bit.

Later, in Brooklyn, the knitters gathered to see the Harlot. Poor Stephanie was given some very bad advice (cab from Canal to Park Slope in 40 minutes?? I don't think so!) and so she came racing in about a half hour after the official start time for her talk, but since the audience members all handily had their knitting with them, the extra wait really wasn't a problem. I met some really cool people while we waiting (again, the links will follow soon), including Jen and Andrew -

Andrew was with us earlier in the day at The Point, and by this time had made very noticeable progress on his Leo! And Jen is wearing the gorgeous shawl from A Gathering of Lace that's also on my to-do list (the pink one around her shoulders; in her hands in yellow is a lace scarf).

This is my fellow migraine-sufferer, Spinning Spider Jenny, who was spinning the most gorgeous teeny tiny yarn on the most gorgeous teeny tiny spindle...awe-inspiring!

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is Nishanna. Look closely at Nishanna's t-shirt. Brilliant, super-cool Nishanna has put her Knitter's Geek Code on a t-shirt! Never mind how incredibly amazing it is to meet a stranger and see something you made up on their t-shirt, but how awesome of an idea is that?! I'm totally going to put mine on a t-shirt, too. What I most love about it is that it's all about knitting, yet looks so math-geeky that instead of muggles getting that, "oh, a knitter, how silly, old-fashioned, and kind of dumb," impression, they get this completely contradictory math-knitting-math-knitting signal. I love that.

Oh, and Nishanna's knitting a gorgeous Icarus of her own. I met a couple of other Icaruses, too, over the course of the day - one in incredibly gossamer thin yarn in a seafoamy colorway that looked like a little puff of air...

Okay, um, so then...The Harlot Arrived. What can I say, she rocks. Her talk was hysterically funny, and for someone who claims to be so nervous when she speaks, she came across as completely at ease and so totally in control of her audience, in the best possible sense. And she has the most adorable, catchy, irrestible grin. It just makes you want to giggle madly and knit. Of course, we were all already doing that, but everytime she grinned, you did it even more. I got all three books signed, and even cooler - though not as cool as the picture of the Icaruses - I got to touch her (in)famous Dale of Norway Olympic sweater. It is a stunning piece of workmanship, and as Stephanie pointed out, she has now scientifically proven that such a sweater can be knit in sixteen days. Though perhaps not without tears.

Here's Stephanie just after taking the famous sock-and-audience picture:

I don't care what her teenage daughters say - she's way cool in my book.

And I'm not going to say a word about the thing involving the cell phone, and Seattle, that she told us not to tell anyone about.

So I was working on that second sock through this whole day of celebrity stalking, right? Well, it turns out, I was having such an awesome time at The Point with Amy and her gang, that I accidently knit at least 8 rows too far before turning the heel. And, of course, I was way too excited to notice this, but just kept going, and then about halfway through the Harlot's talk I looked down at the sock and realized I had been knitting away in such an excited frenzy that it had already gone way beyond where I was supposed to have started the ribbing. So, on the train on the way home from Brooklyn I tinked back a few rows and started ribbing. When I arrived home I tried it on Hubbster and found out about the little problem of also having started the heel too late:

Oops! What is that thing growing out of the heel? - no, really, my husband's feet aren't that weird!

Accurate knitting and stalking just don't mix, my friends.

I have to also admit that by the time I got home from all this excitment I was totally exhausted. Just the business of getting my knitting together, the address of the yarn shop and the book store, the Icarus, wearing something that would go with the Icarus yet still be comfortable, etc, a bag to hold all this and the books to be signed (Damn! Totally forgot to get Amy to sign her book; I'm an idiot)...then hours of meeting awesome new people and chatting like a magpie and knitting like the wind, on a total yarn high the whole time...when I woke up this morning I felt like I had a hangover, even though I hadn't had anything to drink but tea and water. How, how does Stephanie do this day after day, in city after city, keeping in mind that she's also the one who gives the talk and signs all the books and has something riotously funny to say no matter what is going on??????

Anyhow, so when I woke up this morning I had a bit of a headache which threatened to turn migrainous, so I ended up not getting to the Knit-Out in Union Square until 2:30. By this time it very much appeared that the fun was over.

Stephanie and Amy had moved on, I didn't see anyone I "know" (I think), and the booths, sadly, were as dull as they were last year. I think it's probably good for people who have always wanted to learn to knit or crochet but haven't yet (there are lessons) or who are new to NYC (you can get cards from some of the main yarn stores), but otherwise I'm honestly not sure what the point is. The booths just have fliers and, sometimes, a very few samples, but there's nothing to buy. There's much less to see and touch there than at a slightly-below average yarn store anywhere. It'd be a great place to find and meet up with other knit-bloggers, but I think I was a bit late for that. In any case, it was very hot and sunny and I'd forgotten my sunglasses, so in my headache-prone state I decided it was better to just go home and rest up. Any of you out there who are in NYC - let's just all arrange to go to a stitch and bitch on the same night somewhere, eh?

But lest you think my weekend ended anti-climactically, I must tell you that this afternoon, after frogging half the @#$% sock, I finished the last few rows on the body of the Palette Sampler sweater, bound off, and crocheted the steeks. I haven't cut them yet - that I plan to do in daylight, when I'm well-rested and have NOT just drunk a glass of wine! - but the crocheting went really well, thanks to the fantastic step-by-step tutorial by Eunny. Pictures of the crochet, and the cutting, in my next post!!

Also, thanks for all your awesome comments!! And go see Susan's blog - she's the Susan who read my essay on Cast-On, and she's really awesome and did such a fantastic job!! And Sophie - so good to hear from you! It feels like we're old friends, doesn't it? "Oh, remember the days when we were first starting Icarus..." :-) And Cookie! - we were all raving about you at The Point, and how completely in awe we all are of your designs, and of course the 'leg pictures'! Everyone who's commented - you guys always make my day! And hello, too, to all the new people who, according to my hit counter, are coming here from Cast-On, and Cookie's site, and Eve's Yarnival! Please come in, make yourselves comfortable, and leave a comment!

EDITED: to fix names I screwed up, to add links, and to say: Ravi, it's high time you got your blog going, girl! Let us know where to find it when you do. Go see Ravi in Amy's post about our day at The Point, and just a little bit of the many cool things she was knitting. We watched her learn to knit Continental in less than 30 seconds, right before our eyes!

15 September 2006

Look Mom, I'm famous!

I'm on Cast-On! Brenda Dayne accepted my submission for a "Today's Sweater" essay, and it's in the latest episode! Go download it! I didn't read it myself; I really would have liked to, but I have no microphone, and I live in a very noisy NYC apartment, so it just couldn't happen. But I'm delighted to have had it read by the wonderful Susan's mellifluous voice and so excited to have played my small part in the wonder that is Cast-On!

I love the idea of knitting podcasts in general, and they arrived just when I was running out of other things to knit to (I've never been very good at doing only one thing at a time, and really cannot knit alone in a quiet room). But Cast-On is my favorite of all the lovely knitting podcasts out there. It seems to just be the perfect balance of knitting content, random musing, talk and music, humor and seriousness, and all in just the right light tone. And I could listen to Brenda's voice forever. (Though, to my disappointment, I have yet to hear the dogs snore. It must be all the ambient noise in my apartment.)

Anyway. Here's a couple pictures of the sweater I talked about in the essay, which I took while I was visiting Mom in Michigan this summer.

You can also go to the archives of this blog to see my first few posts, in which I described my first knitting projects, including the first sweater, the second sweater, and the very first gauge-disaster sweater, all of which were mentioned in the essay.

In other news: it's going to be a fabulous knitting-related weekend here in New York City. I'm going to be at The Point to see Amy Singer from knitty.com on Saturday between 12 and 3, and then I'm off to Brooklyn to see the Yarn Harlot and get my books signed, and on Sunday I will probably make it to the Knit-Out in Union Square, and almost definitely to Knitty City between 6 and 8pm. If any of you also plan to be in any of these places - look for me, I'll be wearing my cherry-red Icarus shawl - and say hi!

14 September 2006

Fair Isle again

So...you all have been saying really nice things about my Fair Isle knitting in the comments, and while I've really been enjoying that, I think it's time I made a confession.

First, as you can see, it isn't all that perfectly flat when you see it closeup. It will, however, be perfect once it's blocked.

But the real point is that this sweater hardly counts as Fair Isle. It looks all impressive because of all the colors, but in fact it's the Easiest Thing in World to Knit, masking itself as Fair Isle. Why do you think I chose it, other than to have lots of strangers praise me as a genius for making something that really wasn't hard at all? :-)

The truth about this pattern (as I'm sure those of you have have achieved much greater feats have long since realized) is this:

1. There are never more than two colors in any one row. So there's absolutely no difference in difficulty between making this 28-color sweater, and making a 2-color sweater. Rather, the tremendous added color interest in this one makes the miles of stockinette fly by much faster than they might if it were only 2 colors.

2. You never have to carry the yarn more than 4 sts, and usually only one or two. Remember how EZ warned that it just wasn't worth bothering with Fair Isle if the strands were more then 5 sts long? I have done that, dutifully twisting the strands whenever they were longer than 5 sts, and EZ is right, it's a pain in the a--, it's slow, and it still usually shows on the right side, no matter how carefully you do it. Not that I avoid long strands altogether (obviously), but I never really enjoy it. However, FI with strands under 5 sts, like in this sweater, is another story altogether. As long as you're not really tensed up or a very tight knitter, and especially if you hold the knitting with the wrong side out so that the strands naturally have a bit more room, and you get into the habit of not letting the new sts on the right needle stay bunched up, where you might not notice tight stranding, then your tension is just going to be even, and the Fair Isle will look great. It only becomes a kind of unnatural process that requires your attention and a lot of fiddling if you're carrying yarn for, really, at least 7 sts. The trouble is, your tension might be a bit off when you first try it, just like it was in the first thing you ever knitted - that's just because you haven't fallen into a rhythm yet, though, not because there's anything inherently more difficult about Fair Isle. I find that I work best if I've got a movie or podcast on, so my mind is not really on my tension. My fingers will naturally notice if something really goes wrong, and anything short of that is going to come out in the blocking. Remember - stitches hang more and more evenly with time and wear. All those historical sweaters you've seen in books that are so perfect they look like they were knit by machine? Time made them that way, not the knitter!

3. This pattern is also insanely easy to read. Here (from off the top of the my head and illustrated later as an afterthought) is every single pattern motif required by this sweater:




And for the one "complicated" motif that most resembles true Fair Isle:


and its double:


The whole panel is done with only these two patterns, but with different colors and a different starting point in each row.

Now how hard is that to remember? The more difficult task would be to avoid getting bored out of your mind, but luckily the huge number of colors mostly takes care of that.

Fair Isle often looks much scarier than it is because I think people who haven't done it yet look at the whole chart at once and think "AAAUGHHKK!!" when really you never need to think about more than one row at a time, and each row is almost always in only two colors, with very short, memorable repeats. That's way easier than most cables or lace. No funky stitches, and shaping is usually as a minimum. No extra needles, no remembering "twist left, or twist right...does that mean cable needle in front, or in back? FI patterns also usually build on each other in organic, predictable ways, too, so that if you get off the pattern, it's usually only a few stitches before you go, "hey, something is totally wrong here and it stands out in brilliant technicolor!" No mistake is hard to fix if you only made it a few stitches ago!

The only kind of Fair Isle that I find fussy and difficult -- besides really long stranding -- is patterns that are not organized around small repeats. Most especially, I hate doing lettering in Fair Isle, like when I put my husband's name and the date into the hem of his "Viking" sweater - with letters, there's no way not to be just glued to the chart for most of the knitting, as it's usually hard to see the shape of the letter emerging (so you can predict where the colors need to be on the next row) until you're almost done anyway. Mistakes really show, too. Similarly, the immensely complex colorwork patterns in the Norsk Strikkedesign book mostly look very difficult to me, because there are many there that are either very large or involve one motif interrupting another and all kinds of craziness that makes the pattern less predictable, and therefore less readable.

If you want to start some gorgeous modern-Norwegian colorwork, I would recommend first going to the trio of books by Tone Takle and Lise Kolstad (Sweaters, More Sweaters, and Small Sweaters). They're a little less daunting than Norsk Strikkedesign, though still breathtakingly beautiful with an especially fantastic use of color (unlike the older, more tradition Norwegian patterns), and they also have a great section in the second book, More Sweaters, on how to build patterns of your own with xeroxes and mirrors. I haven't yet actually done this, but it helped me to understand how these kinds of patterns grow and change - often, like the most complex panel in this sweater I'm working on now - with just one or two actual patterns that are repeated on top of one another with different starting points, to create seemingly complicated shapes. Even if you don't like the sweaters shown there or don't want to tackle the rather innovative shaping in addition to the colorwork, those books are crammed with delightful motifs that you could easily plop into any EZ-style seamless sweater.

In short, to complete my confession, there's only one "difficult" thing about the KnitPicks Palette Sampler sweater (besides the steeks which I'm trying not to get worked up about - and judging by how the stitches didn't move one iota when I accidently pull a needle halfway out of the whole thing, I really do think the steeks will be fine) - it is knit at a very fine gauge, so the rows are r e a l l y long. The second-to-smallest size that I'm knitting had 330 sts around the body, and now I've added another 20 for the two armhole steeks. That gets a little tedious, especially during the two rows of plain knitting in one color that come between each color band. But I'm literally less than two inches from finishing the body now, and I expect the sleeves should go really fast. At least the first one!

Finally, here's a closeup of all the patterns I've done so far - look close and see how easy to the point of boredom it really is! (also, you can see how actually uneven my stitches look right now, though I'll show you again, later, how unbelievably perfect they will look after blocking. Just like lace, the blocking process in FI is like magic.