Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spring Reading

The library has been very good to me lately. Just look at this pile of books, begging for hours of reading! And while my time has been divided between gardening, knitting and writing I have managed 20 minutes here and there to browse and dream. I am also one of those people that can't go to sleep without 30 minutes of reading beforehand so that is usually when I crack one of these open. Not in the photo is Wally Lamb's recent book - and that's because I've been reading it every spare moment I get.

With gardening I am trying to channel my energy into urban homesteading, edible landscaping and preserving. The vegetable garden is mostly in, the perennial beds are bursting with blooms and plans are in the works for a poulet chalet (ala The Backyard Homestead, which was a gift from my MIL). The herb garden is lovely, our fruits are flowering, and our CSA share will start arriving soon.

This is the second full summer in our house and we are slowly getting things to a place that we like. This spring we established a raised bed for the vegetable/kitchen garden, created a compost pile for yard waste (the one for food waste is too small for both) and installed a rain barrel. But, we have a huge overgrown bush-like thing growing in our front yard. It completely covers one half the house, so I'm not sure what we'll put in its place. It also hides a severely cracked window well, so we need something that will provide a screen for that, but I want something with more character than the nameless-overgrown-green mess that is currently there. Maybe arbor vitae? Boxwood? Containers with vegetables? This is the puzzle for this summer.

As for knitting, I can only take so much row after row after row of grey yarn (even though it is for my husband). So I've branched out and started two more projects. The fist is a pair of socks from Knitted Socks East and West, recommended to me by Melissa. The second is a colorful stash-busting baby surprise jacket. This one is will be made from worsted weight yarns, a combination or different colors to use odd balls I have hanging around. The pattern for the bsj is so easy to knit and lends itself really well to mixing and matching all sorts of different yarns. I wasn't expecting to knit another one of these again so soon, but it sure is fun.

I also recently accepted a part-time research position on campus that will help ease the final stages of my dissertation research and writing. My days will be more structured this summer, but hopefully that will also mean lots and lots of progress towards my degree.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

FO: EZ's baby surprise jacket

I finished my first baby surprise jacket. It lived up to all the hype. It was a great knit - perfect for travelling, easy to accomplish with a bit of help, and the finishing details were easy to complete. It took less than one skein of sock yarn. My only concern is that this jacket seems to run a bit narrow. All my kids were about as round as they were tall during the months when I expect a jacket this size to fit a babe, but oh well. I think this makes a delightful shower or newborn gift. I also wonder about making the arms longer...would that make the body wider? I might try to experiment with this technique the next time I knit it up. I could also try to thicker worsted weight yarn to get a bigger garment.

Not sure which baby or baby-to-be this is destined for, either. Those buttons haven't been attached, I only placed them for the photo. Maybe bright green or purple buttons would look good?

This is my second EZ knit for this year (first one here). Maybe I will try her mitered mittens next? There's a pair here and lots of pairs here to whet your EZ appetite.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sweater for my husband

Early on in my knitting I made a mistake, one that is common to many newbie knitters. I tried to knit an adult sweater as my second project. Ever.

During my first project, the requisite first-knitting-project-ever-scarf, I figured out the knit stitch, the purl stitch and achieved a reasonably even gauge. So I thought I was ready to move on to something bigger, and better. I had a faux confidence that outmatched my true abilities.

With my boyfriend in tow, I went to The Yarn Co. on Manhattan's upper west side, and in one afternoon spent more money on yarn and a pattern book than I had on food for the entire month. We went home, a few days later he flew back to Wisconsin and I was left in my apartment in NYC with a bag full of yarn (which, aside from my laptop, was the most expensive thing in my apartment), a pattern, and my needles. I dutifully cast on and tried to knit up the sweater.

The pattern was perfect for a beginner but in hindsight I didn't have the skills to finish that sweater. I didn't know anything about yarn and it's many personalities. I didn't know what blocking was, how to seam a garment, why shaping was important, how to bind off stitches, nor did I understand the supreme importance of achieving gauge. Those skills came piecemeal over the following years. And once our wedding plans were underway, and my move back to WI began, the un-finished sweater and yarn were packed up and put away. It went with us to our housing co-op, it went with us to Paris, it was with us during various home renovations. It hid in a plastic bag in a box in our bedroom closet as our family grew from two people to five.

Every now and again my husband would let a sarcastic comment slip. Usually something about my amazing knitting, but where was his sweater? Yes, he told me, the one I started in 2003. Yes, he assured me, the one that was sitting in a bag in a box in a closet. Yes, the one he was certain wouldn't fit him anymore, even if I did manage to finish it. And I started to feel really bad about it. That feeling prompted me to alternate: between pretending the project didn't exist anymore, and really wanting to drag it out and just finish it.

When I started my stash challenge I re-discovered the really nice yarn I bought oh-so-long-ago, the yarn that was destined to be his sweater. For not knowing anything about knitting at the time I picked out super nice sweater yarn! And I couldn't bring myself to re-use the skeins for a different project (every time I looked at it I saw him staring back at me) and so I decided to just start again. I decided to knit a new sweater for my husband.

I toured ravelry for a time and happened upon designs by Jared Flood, of
Brooklyn Tweed. They are incredible - one of the best designers of knitwear, especially mens' knitwear, around these days. So I unfurled one skein, wound it up into a ball, and cast on for cobblestone. My husband really likes the pattern, and there are a handful of other sweaters knit up in this particular yarn so I have an idea of what the end product will look like. It will suit him and his personality quite well.

I'm about 8 inches up from the waist and the project is moving along. I know I will run into difficulty when I hit the sleeves, but it won't be insurmountable. I now know things about gauge, shaping, binding off, casting on, and knitting in the round. That's not to say I always get them right, but I have the skills and the confidence to move on with a sweater in a way I didn't before. I know that I can finish this sweater.

I wish that I could speak of this sweater as a metaphor for larger lessons in life - but none are coming to mind at the moment. I know that I've always been the kind of person to bite of more that I can chew. But I muddle through and usually wind up with something to show for my efforts. And maybe this sweater is showing me that while I still tend to reach beyond, I am catching up with myself. Through life with my husband, our children and graduate school, I've learned patience; I've become a more patient person than I thought I could ever be. I've learned that there is time to accomplish dreams, but there are skills to be mastered along the way. And I've learned that if I slow down, just a little, I will enjoy the scenery more, and our destination is much the sweeter for having taken our time getting there.

This piece will be for him; for my husband. It has been a long wait my dear, I know. But I think you'll find it was worth the wait.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

FO's: Barter Marketplace and Silent Auction

Two quick projects are finished - what a sense of accomplishment! I get a great feeling from finishing larger projects, but quick, little things make you feel like a rockin' knitter.

The first is a cute, cute, cute blue earflap hat that went to Mary Frances (of This is Marzipan) as part of the Barter Marketplace. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - this is a great idea and if you are interested in participating get in touch with Melissa. Not only is it really fun for me to knit for others, but the exchanges among all of us have been very touching. Both of the women I've exchanged with live hundreds of miles from me, yet we each found a way to use the internet (and US postal service) to bridge our distance, share with one another and support each other in our craft.

This hat is knit in cotton and is machine wash and dryable (pattern found here). I also added a few extra rows on the back side of the hat to provide a bit of extra coverage along the neck.

The second is another milo vest (first one here) I knit up for our girls' preschool silent auction. The event is this Friday and I'm happy to report that the vest already has one bidder (and it's not even my husband). So exciting! This is the same machine washable wool/cotton blend yarn I used in a previous project. I added the cable detail for this one and like the way it dresses it up. I also really like the way this garment takes shape - it's knit from the top down and the arms magically appear with a few bound off stitches.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Breaking the rules

"We're on vacation. It's a souvenir."
"I've been soooo good so far."
"All profits go to llama rescue efforts."
"I'm supporting small-scale, local businesses."

These were at least four of my thoughts when I was standing in front of the cash register.

In January I set a goal for myself: no new yarn purchases for 12 months. I should have seen my own downfall on the horizon after trading and selling for new yarns in March.

Rationalize it any-number-of-ways-to-Sunday, I fell off the wagon and bought myself some yarn.

We were out west on vacation last month and made a quick stop at a Flagstaff yarn store that carried locally-raised, hand-spun llama and llama/wool blend yarns from Azimuth Ranch. I picked up one skein (I didn't completely lose my senses) of this amazing local llama down/wool blend. Not sure what this yarn is destined to be, but I've added it to the stash and will enjoy looking at it for awhile.

In admitting my transgression I am reminded of this quote, "There is much to be said for failure. It is much more interesting than success."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

FO: baby/toddler cardigan

I can finally post about this little beauty! I knit it up in February, but since it was a gift for an expectant friend I couldn't reveal it until after the baby shower. The lovely (free!) pattern is Boheme, by Allegra Wermuth. You can find it on her blog, fiddlesticknitting.

I love this garment because it is so versatile. It will go from dress length, to tunic to sweater over the span of a few years. I knit it up with a washable, 100% merino wool, which will hopefully provide for years of carefree wearing.

It seems that with many of my projects I learn something new - and this one was no exception. I went to one of my LYS to pick out some special buttons and while I was there the saleswoman gave me some great advice for sewing in buttons. She suggested sewing a cheap-o plastic button on the backside of the garment, to anchor the facing buttons. You can see a photo of what I did below. I placed the nice button where I wanted it, sewed through it, through my fabric, and then through the plastic button. After going back the other direction I repeated this process until I felt the buttons were secure. Hopefully they won't fall off now. This is a brilliant technique that I plan to use again, especially for infant and toddler knitting. And with my growing stash of buttons there's no shortage of cheap plastic ones around here (smile).