Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Knitting the Knitter's Almanac - August

I'm long overdue for an update on my Knitter's Almanac project.  August's title is called Christmas Fiddle-Faddle, and the chapter details the construction of ornaments which one could use on a tree: an angel, a star, an evergreen tree and a net for holding fruit.

Star front
First up is a star.  I knit mine in some leftover yellow roving I had in my stash.  It was a pretty straightforward design knit in the round with regular decreases which make the points.

Star back
Front of tree
Next up  was the evergreen tree.  This was a bit more complicated.  It still used the technique of regular decreases to make points, but then when it was the right width, short rows were worked on half the stitches at a time to fill out the center.  Then it was folded in half and woven.  The last time short rows were used in the book (in the Maltese Fisherman's Hat), I forgot to do them properly, so they left a weird gap where the work was turned each time.  This time I remembered to wrap the stitches so the work is more seamless.  I again used left over yarn in green and white to make my snow covered tree. 

Back of tree
The next ornament was a net for holding a piece of fruit.  Very few people still put actual fruit on their trees these days, but these nets are for that purpose.  Personally, I don't think knitting was the right medium for making a net.  Crochet netting is far easier and looks better.  This pattern was not only difficult to follow but also difficult to execute.  Though the fact that I made it from leftover gold metallic thread probably did not make it easier.  Basically the net is knit by adding and then dropping stitches.  And since it's done on double pointed needles, there's a lot to keep track of at once.  But after several attempts, I managed to make something resembling a net.
Knit net holding a lime

The final project was an angel ornament.  Again, I used left over yarn to make this.  A small cone is basically knit into the top of which I stuffed a ball and then tied off.  A small cord is knit and threaded through for arms.  The whole think is pretty basic and I thought it would make a good dolly for my yarn loving cat.  She plays with it, but it hasn't diminished her love for all the rest of my yarn. . .
August was a pretty easy set of projects.  I was done them all in three days.  The shaping techniques were interesting, and I'm sure I'll be exploring them in the future, but there was not a whole lot new here. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Q1 Report

I resolved earlier this year to blog about my progress with my public resolutions.  So, a brief note and self grading on where I stand with those resolutions.

1.) Exercise - C.  While I'm certainly exercising more than before, I'm not up to my resolved 4 times a week, let alone my ultimate goal of 6.  Some of that has been due to illness, but mostly it has been laziness, procrastination and lack of motivation on my part.  So I'm renewing my resolve - 4-6 exercise sessions a week.  I do plan to broaden my definition of exercise however, to not just include dedicated routine workouts, but also to include things like yard work or hiking in the woods.

2.) Diet - B+.  I tracked my carb intake for about two weeks after making my resolution.  My results showed that my carb intake was usually well below the budget I allotted, even with soda and crackers.  I have cut back a bit on those two - fewer days with soda, and swapping celery for the crackers sometimes.  I'm not giving myself an A simply because I stopped tracking, but I'm dropping this goal going forward since it seems to be a non-issue at the moment.

3.) Knitter's Almanac - A.  I've finished the projects for July and August, plus a side project, and am well into September's project.  Since I have two months to complete each month's project, I think I'm on course to achieve this goal, though I do note that both the October and December projects are sweaters, so I'm not 100% sure.

4.) Transparency - A-.  You're reading this post, so I'm 1/4 of the way toward completing this goal. I do note that it's a week late, hence the slight reduction in grade.  Part of me wants to add a more frequent blogging clause to this resolution, but past experience shows that I'm not very good at keeping up with that, so for now I'm going to keep it as is.

So there you have it, an update on my self improvement progress so far.  I'd like to replace #2 with something else, but although I have some ideas for areas that can be improved, I haven't thought through action plans for those things, so for now I'm leaving it at three public resolutions, with perhaps an addition in the next quarter.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Crawling for Yarn

I've been taking a brief break from knitting through the Knitter's Almanac to work on a different project that I want to finish in time for the third annual Garden State Yarn Crawl, which will be the weekend of April 20 this year.  I've participated in the yarn crawl the last two years and enjoyed it immensely.  A yarn crawl, in case you're wondering, is pretty much what it sounds like: Crafters travel from yarn store to yarn store (around 15 total) to participate in events, enter raffles, and learn about the stores in their area.  During the first yarn crawl, I learned of a unique store near me that combined yarn and pottery, and shortly after I started taking pottery lessons there.  Sadly, the owner sold the store, and the new owners dropped the pottery portion of the store, so no more pottery lessons for me.  On the second crawl, I was introduced to a brand new store very close to me, that I liked much better than the other nearby store I knew of.  It is now my official "lys", or local yarn store.  This year, there are a number of new and different stores on the crawl and I'm looking forward to exploring them.  Although, confession time: I order most of my yarn on line from Knit Picks, since I'm on a budget and their yarn is usually much cheaper than yarn from a retail store.  I'm not getting the gorgeous colors and amazing yarns that I might at a brick and mortar store, but I spend less, so it's worth the sacrifice to me.

On the first crawl, I was unprepared for visiting so many yarn stores.  I was in the middle of several projects for which I already had yarn and needles, and I had not given much thought to future projects and the yarn I might need for them.  I felt a little guilty visiting so many beautiful yarn stores and not purchasing anything.  So, the second year, I made a plan.  I had seen a pattern for a poncho knit in a variety of novelty yarns, and had been contemplating making something similar.  I decided to purchase a single skein of novelty yarn at each store on the crawl and use them to knit a "yarn crawl poncho". 

Yarn Crawl Poncho
The poncho was a pretty simple project, that took me only a few weeks, despite the size.  I didn't like the original pattern that inspired the project, so I just created my own pattern using techniques I've picked up along the way, some from the Knitter's Almanac project.  I'm somewhat unsure how to credit this creation.  On the one hand it was very clearly inspired by an existing published pattern.  On the other, the construction, yarn selection, and design of this particular poncho are my own.  Even when following a pattern, most knitters make changes to the pattern as written, substituting yarn, perhaps adjusting needle size to meet the gauge, or altering the gauge to fit better.  At what point do these changes become a unique pattern separate from the original?

I'm still trying to think what I might do this year.  I definitely feel like I want to support the participating stores, but I certainly don't want to do another poncho.  I'm pleased with the way this one turned out, but I had forgotten how annoying ponchos were for doing anything in.  I'm all set with yarn for the rest of the Knitter's Almanac projects, so I would be buying yarn for a project or projects that probably won't be knit for at least a year.  I had thought maybe of enhancing my needle selection, but needle prices vary pretty greatly from store to store and I'd feel like I was over paying if I bought one set at one store for $4 and another at another store for $10.  Any suggestions?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Knitting the Knitter's Almanac - July

July's project is a circular lace shawl, which Ms. Zimmermann bills as a great travel project.  She's right too: knit on circular needles from the inside out, the shawl makes a pouch as you knit it that is great for holding the yarn and pattern when you take it places.  I purchased some lace-weight wool yarn in a sand color for the shawl. 

Pi Shawl
Although she calls it just a circular shawl, the pattern is widely known as the Pi Shawl because it loosely uses geometry in its increase pattern.  Basically the pattern has you double your stitches, then knit a number of rows to equal 1/6 (or 1/2π) of the number of stitches.  It roughly uses the formula for the circumference of a circle related to its radius.  It's not perfect: pi obviously doesn't equal 3, the height of a stitch is not exactly the width of a stitch, and it means that the earlier rows after an increase are not proportionate; but happily with knitting, once it's washed and blocked these imperfections disappear.  The simple increase pattern and large sections of equal rows allow a lot of room for variation and personalization.  Any lace pattern can be inserted into each of the sections, and Ms. Zimmermann encourages experimentation. She does give her own simple patterns to insert, however, and I mostly followed the instructions she gave, except for the border. 

Lace Border
For the border, Ms. Zimmermann expands upon a technique we learned in February for knitting a sideways border.  This time, instead of simple garter stitch, she suggests using a lace pattern, but still followed the same technique of joining the border to the main piece by casting on directly from the last row, and knitting one stitch from the main piece together with the last stitch of every other row of the border pattern.  Instead of the loop edging that Ms. Zimmermann gives in the book, I found a lace edging pattern that I thought complemented the lace patterns in the rest of the shawl and used that.

This project was a favorite with my cat Columbine, and not particularly in a good way.  She very stereotypically loves to play with yarn, and frequently steals my projects and takes them to her lair under the couch.  While I certainly don't encourage this behavior, usually her playing with a project doesn't harm the work too much.  But as I soon learned, in the case of fine lace yarn, sharp kitty teeth, even only for a second, can be disastrous.  I was about halfway done the project when I noticed four growing holes in the earlier part of the shawl.  Not seeing how I could repair the damage, I sadly unraveled the whole project and started over, this time carefully guarding my project, by making sure to seal it in a bag before walking away from it. 

First bag, lots of teeth marks
Second bag, fewer teeth marks,
but enough to damage my work
Unfortunately, having had a taste for lace yarn, Columbine was determined to get to my project, and the sealed bag was just an added challenge.  She put tons of tiny teeth holes in the bag, eventually causing the bag to get some larger holes.  So I added a second sealable bag, enshrining my work twice every time I put it aside.  And yet, just as I was about two thirds of the way done, I noticed two holes that were not part of the lace pattern.  This time, I caught it before they were too big, and the placement of the holes was luckily not over a lacy area, so I was able to (inexpertly) fix it instead of starting over.  After that, I purchased a plastic box to keep my work in when I'm not working on it.  A box, I might add, my cat is desperately trying to figure out how to open.
Inexpert mending

Aside from the lessons learned about keeping my projects away from my cats, there was not a whole lot to take away from this chapter.  I've knit lace patterns before, so that was not new to me.  I can see the applications for the pi formula of increases, but as I indicated above, it's not perfect, and I'll probably explore other techniques before returning to this one.  The sideways border we already did, and though the lace application is new, I had already made the leap to that as a possibility.  But I do have a lovely new shawl in a neutral color to add to my wardrobe, so despite the lack of new techniques, I'd call this month's project a success.

Center of shawl
Outer edge

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Knitting the Knitter's Almanac - June

June's project from the Knitter's Almanac is hats.  When my sister first learned to knit, all she knitted were hats.  I can't blame her; hats are the perfect knitting project.  They are practical, good for oneself or as gifts, they are neither too small nor too ambitious a project, they don't use up a lot of yarn, and they can employ a number of different techniques, giving one endless possibilities. 

Unlike the mitten chapter, the text of the chapter simply outlines the methods for the three hats whose patterns are detailed at the end of the chapter.  Thus it was quite clear what I needed to do to consider this chapter complete: knit three hats.

Ganomy Hat
The first of the three hats I knit was the Ganomy Hat.  The idea behind this pattern was to use the same miter pattern used in last month's mittens (regular increases and decreases) to make ear flaps.  The end result looks a lot like a Gnome's hat.  When I first saw the pattern name, I was pronouncing it as I read it, with equal length syllables and the stress on the first syllable.  As I was describing the hat to my husband however, I realized, the correct pronunciation is really G-nomy, pronouncing the "G" sound as a sort of separate but quick syllable before the rest of the word, the same way I pronounce gnome, actually.  Yet another example of the way Ms. Zimmermann and I think alike.  I followed this pattern exactly as written using leftover yarn from January's Aran Sweater and from April's Afghan to make the hat.

Maltese Fisherman's Hat
The second of the hats I knit was the Maltese Fisherman's Hat.  This is another ear flapped hat that she recreated from a hat someone brought back from vacation.  The gauge she gives for the hat of 5½ stitches to 2" was impossible for me to achieve with the yarn and needles I had on hand, so I had to adjust the pattern so I was making an adult sized hat instead of a child sized one.  I decided the easiest adjustment to make would be to knit it at a gauge of 5½ stitches to 1", basically doubling the necessary stitches indicated.  This hat's ear flaps are knit first by knitting back and forth instead of in the round, and then more stitches are cast on for the front of the hat and then joined and continued in the round.  The ear flaps are somewhat asymmetrical as a result of the shaping instructions, but they do cover the ears properly.  For this hat I used up some more yarn I had on hand left over from various projects, trying to keep them to matching or complementary hues.  I did not "make the tassel of [my] dreams" as directed, however. 

Three-Cornered Hat
The third and final hat I knit was the Three-Cornered Hat, basically a variation on a tam-o'-shanter.  This one again called for an impossible gauge, so I did the same thing as for the Maltese Fisherman's Hat and doubled the pattern to make an adult sized hat.  This hat again uses increases and decreases for shaping, but instead of four equal points like the Mitered Mittens and the Ganomy Hat, it has three, making a tri-cornered hat.  The hat is increased off the head, and then sharply decreased to give it the flat look of a tam.  I again used up yarn I had on hand for this project.

This experiment in hats didn't really offer a lot by way of new techniques.  I did have to work with adjusting a pattern to meet my gauge, but that is something I've done before.  The shaping techniques were all ones I've already used on projects from this book, though it did show the various ways those techniques could be put to use.  The biggest takeaway for me was how easy and enjoyable hats are, and how useful as a means of using up those last bits of yarn from other projects.  You'll notice I didn't buy yarn for the last two months of projects.  I could easily see the usefulness of knitting a bunch of mittens and hats for gifts every year from the leftover yarn accumulated from other projects. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


I'm not usually one for making New Year's Resolutions. I am very aware of the arbitrariness of the way we delineate time, so I don't put a lot of stock in "significant" dates. Additionally, I think resolutions aren't really what are important to making life changes. To me a resolution is a statement of a goal, such as "to lose weight". A resolution is only the beginning of making a change to your life. It's a nice summary, but you can't just will yourself to lose weight. You have to follow that up with a detailed action plan, such as going to the gym three times a week and/or modifying your diet in a specific way.

Personally, I practice a philosophy of constant self improvement, and to do that I use the "today is the first day of the rest of your life" approach. In other words, I make constant action plans and put them into effect immediately, rather than waiting for a significant date or time to begin.

I actually put the items I'm currently considering my "New Year's Resolutions" into action in December. I went to the doctor at the beginning of the month, and found out that my health was not as good as it could be. Since I had pretty much gone off my exercise routine, and was slowly slipping in my diet, it wasn't really a surprise, but it was enough of a shock to scare me back into an exercise and diet plan.

So, my resolutions for 2013:
  1. Regular exercise. Let's say 4 days a week minimum with the real goal being 6 days a week. My usual favorites are running, Pilates and belly dance.
  2. Better diet. Because of my personal health issues I keep a low carb/low glycemic index diet. As I mentioned, I've been slipping a bit, enjoying things like crackers and cheese and soda at lunch. My current plan is to try to keep my carb intake to under 150 each day.
  3. Finish the Knitter's Almanac project. I'm working on July at the moment, and am optimistic that the second half of the book can be completed by the end of 2013.
  4. Transparency. I'm of the opinion that no one needs to know the details of my every workout or every meal, but I also know that openly committing to goals and telling others about them and your progress is a good way to achieve them. One very good suggestion I saw a few years ago suggested treating the resolution process the way businesses treat their business goals: resolutions could be made and reviewed for success at the beginning of each quarter. While I don't think we should run our lives like a business, I do like the idea of reviewing how things are going from time to time, and committing to a quarterly update to honestly assess my progress seems reasonable.
There are other changes I'm considering starting this week, and I'm sure there will be new things coming up throughout the year, but I'd like these four things to be the ones I hold myself accountable for at the end of the year.

Happy New Year; may this year be the best year yet.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Knitting the Knitter's Almanac - May

At this point, it is clear that I will not be finishing the projects in the Knitter's Almanac in a single year, but I'm happy to say that I have at least made it though half of the year, and will continue this project into 2013 to its completion.  I clearly do not knit as much as Elizabeth Zimmermann, but since I do have other things to occupy my time (some more worthy than others) I'm not too upset with only making it halfway.

May's project is mittens.  It seems a little odd to be knitting mittens in the spring, but Ms. Zimmermann notes that this way you are not rushed to finish them as you might be at the end of the year.  Since I was not knitting mine for anyone in particular, I wasn't rushed, even though I started them in November.  It was somewhat unclear how many mittens I should knit to consider this chapter complete.  The text discusses various techniques and talks about knitting three mittens for children, since they are so easy to lose, but there are only two patterns at the end of the chapter, so in the end I knit these patterns, incorporating the techniques discussed into both.

Norwegian Mittens
Close up of cuff
Close up of color work snowflakes
The first pair of mittens I knit were the Norwegian Mittens.  The back has a snow flake pattern in two colors, and the palm has a simple checked pattern.  I decided to use my hand spun, hand dyed yarn for these.  The mittens have a very long cuff, meant to go over the coat sleeve, and they look huge when off your hands, but they fit quite nicely once on.  I knit these pretty much as written, though I modified the color work slightly.  The thumb of these comes off the palm, and it uses what Ms. Zimmermann calls the "Thumb Trick", basically scrap wool is knit in to the area where you wish the thumb to be, then the rest of the mitten is knit, and when finished, the scrap yarn is removed, stitches are picked up and the thumb is knit.  It creates a seamless join for the thumb.  I've used this technique before for sleeves as well.  Since I was working with a limited supply of irreplaceable yarn, I had to be careful how much of each color I used on the first mitten to be sure I would have enough for the second.  I ended up using most of the green and undyed yarn, but with plenty of the red left over.

The second pair of mittens I knit were the Mitered Mittens.  The idea behind the Mitered Mittens was to increase and decrease evenly around to create a zig-zag or chevron pattern in the knitting.  It looks good knit in a single color, but when additional colors are added, the shaping really shows up.  I decided to continue using the red dyed homespun, and used undyed yarn, first my own hand spun, and then yarn I had left over from January's project, as the contrasting color.  For these mittens, I decided to use two of EZ's suggested techniques for mittens. 

Idiot Cord Border
The first was what she calls the "Idiot Cord Border".  Stockinette stitching, the most common form of knitted work, has a tendency to curl in on itself both vertically and horizontally.  To counteract this, an edge must be worked in a different type of stitch.  In the first pair of mittens, I used a ribbed stitch, as suggested in the pattern.  Many of the previous knit projects have used garter stitch as the edging.  The Idiot Cord Border is another technique that can be used to counteract the curling.  Idiot Cord, or I-cord, is basically a thin knit tube.  The border technique is to make the cord with as many rows as you would cast on stitches, then pick up a stitch per row and start knitting. 

Mitered Mittens
The second technique I incorporated into these mittens was to put the thumb out from the side rather than the palm.  EZ suggests doing this so that the mittens can all be knit the same way, instead of mirrored, as I needed to do for the Norwegian Mittens.  As she points out, once you wear the mittens, they mold to your hand and become right handed and left handed mittens, even if you don't knit them that way.  This is why she can knit them in sets of three as noted above.  Personally, I'm not in love with the aesthetic result of joining the thumb from the side on the mitered mitten, since the thumb comes out of one of points in the shaping pattern, but I'm not sure it would have looked better elsewhere either, and I did want to incorporate as many of the suggested techniques in the two pairs of mittens as possible. 

Mittens were pretty quick and easy projects, and great for using up yarn on hand instead of buying (and running out of) more.  In fact, my only complaint with mittens was that I had to knit two of them. Having to do the same project twice in a row is somewhat tedious to someone like me who is constantly looking for something new and different to do. Fortunately, the small size makes it somewhat easier to bear, though I may have to learn how to knit two at once, a technique employed by many sock knitters, if I decide to knit more mittens. 

As a final note, this is the first Almanac chapter for which I did not run out of yarn, so hopefully I'm starting a new trend in yarn usage.