Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mom's birthday present

I've been trying and trying to post something to the blog for a couple weeks now. I get started on this wonderful epic post, get interrupted and never get around to finishing. So, forget all that. Short post. Then maybe in a few days another short post. It's not like I have nothing to say. I've got tons to say, so much that I can't seem to organize it all into a post. So I'm gonna save all those other ideas for later and just tell you about my mom's month-of-May present.

Mom's birthday is in early May. Then there's mother's day shortly after. And a few weeks later is my parents' wedding anniversary. So I spend a lot of time in May thinking about mom. Truth is, I think about Mom all the time, but usually it's "when's the last time I called Mom?" or "I wonder if Mom heard about this?" or "I need to get that recipe from Mom." In May I'm a bit more sentimental and I spend a lot of time thinking about how lucky I am to have such a great Mom. I think about what a hard time I gave her when I was a teenager and I'm thankful that she seems to have forgiven me. I think about how much I enjoy spending time with her now that I'm an adult and I think about what a warm loving and wonderful person she is. Then I think again about how lucky I am that she's my Mom. And then I wonder if my brother realizes how lucky he is...

This year, way back near the end of February I thought about the fact that May was just two short months away and I decided I wanted to do something special for mom. So I spent March and April knitting this lap blanket for her:

I had lots of fun picking out 20 different stitch patterns and learning how to knit them all. I improved my mattress stitch skills tremendously while stitching them all together. And I recalled my meager crochet skills adding the little border. My favorite square is the green one near the middle with the leaves on a vine.

I forgot to tell Mom the best feature of this blanket: It's made out of a superwash/acrylic blend so she can just toss it in the washer and dryer and it'll come out just fine.

I hope she likes it. It's not terribly big but it's stitched full of love!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A neglected blog, some socks, and other random bits

I appear to be guilty of blog neglect. I have been ever so gently, and probably unintentionally, reminded of this by a wonderful friend that I think of often and communicate with far too rarely. She tells me that she is one of my six readers. (The "six" thing, that's just a guess. It's probably only four.)

So, what the heck have I been up to for the last month?

We've had an offer on the extra house so Buster and I have been busy negotiating that and crossing our fingers that nothing goes wrong. It's all very good news and we're through the most nail-biting bits, but I'll refrain from too much excitement until the deal is closed.

There are little buds on the trees here and an occasional small pile of un-melted snow on the roadside. Yes, it is springtime in Michigan and I've started riding my bicycle outside from time to time. It's still a little on the chilly side and the roads close into town (used for shorter spring rides) are full of nasty potholes and cars that have forgotten, over the long Michigan winter, how to comfortably dodge bicycles. So long as it's over 50 degrees and dry, outdoor riding is still better than in, but the really fun cycling is yet to come.

On the knitting front, I've been working on various little things.

I finished this pair of socks for myself:

Yes, I'm aware that there's only one sock in that picture. There is a second sock, I promise.

I also made a thin little beanie cap for myself for wearing under my bicycle helmet. I don't have a picture of the finished product. It is finished but, as yet, untested.

And I finished my first pair of soldier socks a while back.

These Jolly Green Socks are on their way to Afghanistan (or maybe Iraq, I'm not quite sure) for some lucky soldier with male size 9-10 feet. If I hear from the soldier that gets these I'll be sure to share.

After these socks passed inspection I ordered more yarn to start on more soldier socks. This time Kim (the Socks for Soldiers Sarge) was out of olive drab Regia stretch sock yarn so she sent me camouflage Regia sock yarn instead. It's surprisingly pretty. I have to keep reminding myself that this yarn is not my own and that, having bought it at a discount through SFS, I'm not allowed to use it for personal projects (I might have to find some of this stuff through a retail source -- it's pretty!!).

It actually reminds me of the variegated yarn I used for the hat in my previous post. I'm not entirely sure this sort of camo works in the dessert. It's a bit too lush with all the greens and blues I'd think. But apparently this will pass muster for regulation socks and since they'll be inside combat boots and under pant legs I suppose it doesn't really matter.

I've got about 3 pair worth of camo yarn here and I'm told we mostly need to be making male size 9-10 socks since most of the deployed soldier feet fit that category. So those legs are the beginnings of another size 9-10 pair. I think I'll make the next pair for a female soldier. A woman might be more likely to appreciate the pretty colors in this camo patterned yarn.

I'm currently searching for another knitting project. I might make myself a cardigan (though I've promised myself I'd do that AFTER I lost a certian amount of weight and I'm not to that goal yet so I probably should wait), or I might make a second attempt at a lace project, or maybe...

(Don't think about Pink Elephants!)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

my new hat

It's a new hat! Just in time for spring when, really, there is no need for hats. So why in the world did I knit myself a hat just as spring was approaching?

It was the yarn... I couldn't resist the beautiful silk/merino blend Manos yarn. It's so soft and the colors are so pretty.
No, no, it was the colorwork. I was just itching to practice some stranded colorwork. There's a very pretty vine pattern there. It's tough to see because the contrast yarn has so many pretty colors.
No, no, I just wanted to try my hand at a fancy tubular cast-on (totally tubular, dude!) even though this pattern didn't call for it and it's really supposed to go with a ribbed edge, not a garter stitch edge.

Or maybe I just wanted Jayavarman Bhudda to have a hat that fits his serene expression. The poor guy has been hatless since we brought him home from Cambodia.

Friday, February 27, 2009

How to Knit Wacky Ankle socks

I finished my wacky ankle socks and I just know you couldn't wait to see them.

All bright and cheerful with their carnival colors and mismatched ankles!

Actually, this was a bit of an experiment. I've been seeking a good sock pattern to use for cycling socks and I think this one will do quite nicely.

If you don't really care about how to knit socks, the rest will likely bore you to tears. Personally, I find sock construction, in it's zillions of variations, quite fascinating. I also do math for fun. I'm weird.

To make my toes up socks I start with a provisional cast-on over the cable of my second circular needle like in this video (the provisional cast on I use is the second of the four she demonstrates):

Then I knit a short row toe similar to the toe in Wendy's generic toe up sock pattern. Both the cast on and the short row toe take some practice. There's a short row toe tutorial on Knitty using a crochet provisional cast on. I don't like the crochet chain cast on, but I found the rest of the tutorial useful.

For the record, I like my socks to be 60 stitches around (on size 1's) so I cast on 30 stitches (plus the 30 on the second needle which hangs out of the way, or sometimes frustratingly in the way, while you make the toe). I knit back one complete row, turn and start my short rows by purling 29, wrap the 30th stitch and turn, knit back to the second to last stitch, wrap the last stitch and turn, etc until there are 14 unwrapped stitches in the middle and 8 wrapped stitches on either end.

Wendy's instructions, both in her pattern and on Knitty start the short rows with a knit row. I found that when I started with a purl row, I ended up picking up the last wrapped stitch on a knit row and could continue strait away in the round. Doing it Wendy's way had me finishing with a purl row, then having to knit back to start the round and for me that left too big of a gap when I moved to the second needle to work in the round and I ended up with little holes on either side of the toe. Perhaps I'm not following Wendy's instructions quit correctly. Not sure. Anyhow, I get holes Wendy's way. You might not.

Once the toes are both finished I arrange them on two circs and start knitting in the round. I did a 2x2 rib on the top of these sock and stockinette stitch on the bottom.

My ginormous feet are 10 inches long (really, I might be the only girl on the planet that dreads shoe shopping) so I start me heel work at 7 inches using the heel from Wendy's toe up socks with a difference. Instead of working gussets on the sides of the heel, this pattern puts the increases under the heel. It ends up looking like a little wedge under your foot. I was a bit skeptical about putting anything other than stockinette stitch under my foot until I tried this. The increases are quite flat and you will not be able to feel them.

Side view:

bottom view:

Then I work back and forth on the heel needle turning the heels with short rows and continuing with the heel flaps as described in the pattern. Once you've figured out the short rows for the toes, the short row heel turn is a piece of cake. I work up the heel flap sucking up stitches on either side as I go. Once all the stitches are worked in and I'm down to just the flap, I still have a few more stitches on the heel needle than the instep needles so I start working in the round again and swallow up those extra stitches as I go.

For these socks I knit 1 1/2 inches of 2x2 rib for the ankle, adding in the mismatched yarn as needed, then bound off in pattern with a number 3 needle.

And there you have it, toes up ankle socks suitable for cycling!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

my mismatched socks (oops!)

My new ankle socks started out like this. Two little short-row toes and two little half skeins of very bright yarn. The other half of those two skeins went to knit these bright and cheery little ankle socks last June for my marvelous friend Mary (who now has two blogs). Before I started knitting my own pair of bright and cheerful socks I weighed one of the two half skeins to be sure it really was at least half a skein. The skein I weighed was 25g (exactly half of the original 50g). Good! Of course I had forgotten 3 things. One: I knit Mary's socks on size 2 needles and I'm knitting my socks on size 1 needles. Guess which one uses more yarn. Two: after knitting several pair of socks I've discovered that a bit of ribbing on the instep keeps the feet from getting baggy so I knew I wanted to do that, too. Ribbing tends to use more yarn than stockinette stitch. And finally, three: When I started Mary's socks I discarded a lengthy chunk of yarn from one of the skeins so the patterns in the self patterning yarn would match up. These two half skeins were not the same size. Oblivious to all of these potential pitfalls, I cast on for my bright and cheery ankle socks toes first.

I'm kinda regretting that toes-first choice I made. You see, if I'd started at the ankles, at least the parts of my socks that show above my shoes would match.

One of my little half skeins was smaller than the other and, not surprisingly, I ran out. These are quirky socks to begin with so all is not lost. I simply grabbed the leftover yarn from these socks, joined it in, and kept on knitting. Maybe no one will notice... some of the colors are similar. There's light blue checks and dark blue and a mustardy yellow in both. So what if they're different shades. Who looks that closely at someone else's socks anyhow?

Aw heck, I don't know who I'm trying to fool. If I wear these mismatched socks out of the house everyone is going to know I'm the crazy sock knitting lady. Oh well, that was bound to happen eventually.


A more thrust, less drag update: 2 more pounds this week for a total of 13 pounds lost. I've got 52 pounds to go. Pass the salad...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Buster got a new hat (also, How to double knit)

I finished knitting Buster's new hat yesterday. It's maroon because he likes that color and dark-gray because that matches his coat. It is NOT scarlet and gray. It is maroon and dark-gray. I would NOT give my husband a scarlet and gray hat any more than I would give him an green and white hat. That would be mean. [If you have no clue what I'm talking about, think college football and repeat after me: "Go Blue!". Ok, that's better.]

I used this pattern by Allison Hansel. sorta...

I made the hat bigger around than the pattern calls for (Buster has a big noggin), and several inches taller than the pattern (Buster likes tall hats), and I used a slightly different knitting method. So... is it still the same pattern? I don't know. Allison can have the credit. I did start out with her pattern.

The hat is "double knit" which means that it's two layers knit simultaneously. If you look closely at the picture above you can see that both the outside of the hat and the folded up brim (the inside of the hat) look like stockinette stitch. That's because they both ARE stockinette stitch. It's two layers with the purl sides together. The hat is reversible. Buster can have a maroon hat with dark-gray stripes or a dark-gray hat with maroon stripes (but he cannot have a scarlet and gray hat -- that's not welcome in this house).

There are a few ways to accomplish this double knitting thing. You could, I suppose, knit one big long tube then fold it in on itself and cinch the ends up, but that would be cheating. And it would look bad. Or you could just knit two stockinette stitch hats and sew them together. That might look a little better but it's still cheating.

If you're really knitting both layers at the same time you end up with the stitches from each layer staggered on your needles. So if the first stitch is from the maroon layer, the next is from the dark-gray layer, then maroon, and so on around.

Alison Hansel's original pattern describes a method where, once you've got the whole thing started, you carry only the maroon yarn for a full round knitting the maroon stitches and slipping each dark-gray stitch with the yarn in front, then drop the maroon and carry the dark-gray yarn, purling into the dark gray stitches and slipping the maroon stitches with the yarn in the back. So, for every row you need to go around the hat twice, handling each stitch twice and constantly moving the yarn back and forth. This seems terribly inefficient to me. And somehow it still feels like cheating.

To double knit in the traditional manner, you carry both yarns at the same time knitting the maroon yarn into the maroon knit stitches and purling the dark-gray yarn into the dark gray purl stitches (until you want to change color). You still have to swing the yarns to the other side of the needles between each stitch, but at least you're making a new stitch each time and not slipping every other stitch to save it for later.

The real catch here, and the reason so many people prefer the knit-slip method, is that holding the two strands at the same time can be awkward and you have to be careful not to cross them. Ideally you want the two layers to be attached only at the edges and the color changes. Every time you accidentally cross the strands you attach the two layers together and the contrasting color may show through especially if one or both colors are particularly bright.

You'll find a great little video showing this method of double knitting here, about two thirds of the way down the page. In the video she knits continental (holding the yarn with her left hand), tensions both yarns over her pinky, and holds the colors over different fingers. I work very similarly but hold both yarns over my index finger and tension them with different fingers to keep them from twisting in my hand. Like I said, either way is a bit awkward and you just have to find what works best for you.

Double knitting is not just for super warm reversible ski caps. You can also make double layer pot holders or cushy baby blankets. And you can even do fancy parlor tricks like knitting two socks at the same time on DPNs (double pointed needles), one inside the other. I don't think I've got enough patience for doing socks this way, but I might do a few colorful pot holders and another hat or two.

Next up, some toes-up socks in frighteningly bright colors and a color-work hat for me out of some very beautiful yarn I just bought from jimmy beans wool. I might try a tubular cast-on for that hat. Should be fun!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Actions Speak Louder Than Bumper Stickers

Lately I've been feeling a great fondness for my country and a great appreciation for our military. I've been a bit nervous about the escalating animosity toward the War on Terror and I fear (God forbid!) that this animosity might be directed toward the men and women involved in that action. Frankly, I fear that some of the same folks that rudely and childishly boo'ed George W. Bush as he stepped down on January 20th may also feel inclined to boo returning soldiers. I'm horrified by the possibility. I feel a great need to show my support for the men and women in the US Military. A bumper sticker just isn't enough (and I don't really like bumper stickers anyhow).

Also, I really like knitting socks.

So I signed on with a group called Socks for Soldiers, Inc. It's a group of knitters run by a woman named Kim Opperman. We knit regulation socks and caps, along with a few "leisure" socks and caps, for the men and women in the US Military. If you've never experienced the joy of a pair of well made hand knit socks you may think we're nuts. Just trust me, they're wonderful! Besides, socks are just plain fun to knit.

I purchased a Socks for Soldiers kit when I signed on with the group so I'd have everything I'd need to make soldier socks (well, almost everything):

I had to supplement the kit with a few additional knitting needles (you need three different sizes to follow the pattern), but everything else was there. There's olive drab Regia Stretch yarn, red white and blue beaded stitch markers, a tape measure, darning needles, an official Socks for Soldiers sock band, a copy of the pattern (not pictured), KnitPicks Harmony needles, and a vintage medic's personal effects bag.

I'm really pleased with the supplies. I've never worked with the Regia Stretch yarn before. It's really great stuff! Apparently it holds up to military laundry (machine wash hot, tumble dry hot) and military combat (24+ hours between a soldier's hard working feet and a pair of combat boots). Nice, eh? I think I'm gonna get me some of this stuff in some non-military color and knit myself some bike socks!

When I first started knitting socks I was warned away from stretchy yarns -- very difficult to work with, I was told. But this stuff is pretty easy to deal with. I think the stretch in this yarn comes from the way it's spun rather than any material (elastic) added to the yarn. Maybe that's the difference, or maybe stretchy yarns simply aren't as difficult as I was told.

Regia Stretch isn't as stretchy as elastic yarns but it's certainly stretchy enough. Laid flat, these 2x2 rib sock legs measure about 2.5 inches across, but they'll stretch over a 2 liter pop bottle.

This is one of the tests we're supposed to do as we knit to make sure that our socks will fit over the most buff of military legs.

I'm also liking the Knit Picks Harmony needles. I've been using Addi Turbo Lace needles for a vast majority of my knitting because, frankly, they're the best. But they're a little expensive, running around $15 for a single circular needle (I use two matching circs to make socks). The Knit Picks Harmony needles run a bit less than half that price. They're nice and sharp like the Addis and the highly polished wood needles grip and release the stitches nearly as well as the brass coated Addis. While the Addis warm up almost immediately when you pick them up, the Knit Picks are wood and thus never feel cold (this is very nice in the winter when my fingers tend to get chilly). The only possible complaint I have is that these size zero Knit Picks feel rather flexible. I'm sure I'll get used to that.

I'm about half way through my first pair of soldier socks. No one in my family is in the military. And, with the exception of a friend from college that I've since lost touch with, none of my friends are in the military. I feel really good about this project. I'm so happy to have this opportunity to connect in a small way with a few of the folks that have taken on the job of defending my country, my freedom, and my way of life. I'm very pleased to be able to thank them and show my appreciation with something more than words.

If you want to join Socks for Soldiers check out this informational site or the main Yahoo Socks for Soldiers group site. If you don't knit (you don't know what you're missing) but you want to help out, Socks for Soldiers, Inc. takes donations toward shipping costs and other goodies that go in the care packages with the socks.

Off I go to knit some socks!