Just to let you know, I may not be posting much for the next week. Tomorrow I leave town for Stitches West. Friday, I’ll be spending the day roaming the market with my mom. Over Saturday and Sunday I’m taking three classes:Increases and Decreases (326), Chart Reading and Writing (544), and Hole-Istic Lace (529). I chose these three because I want to continue developing and writing patterns and each focuses on a skill that will help me further that goal. I wish I could have taken the actual pattern writing class, but that one was full by the time I enrolled. Increases and decreases have been a particular concern of mine: I want to make sure that the increases and decreases in my patterns really compliment the design and aren’t just default choices. I love knitting from charts and have downloaded a charting program, but haven’t begun to use it yet and figured a class on the subject might get me going. And the lace class? Well, I’m assuming it will give me more practice with increases and decreases and, well, it’s lace—need I say more?

I’ll get home Sunday night, then begin a week of conferences with all of my students to review the written portfolios they’re preparing. I have a definite hermit streak in me, and all that human contact will leave me pretty fried at the end of each day, but I am counting on the reviving powers of knitting to see me through.

The semi-Norwegian hat is two-thirds finished. Once it’s done, I plan to knit a second hat from the same pattern and yarn (or part of a hat, if I don’t have enought yarn left) reversing the main and contrast colors so that the background is variegated and the design is in solid orange. I want to be able to compare the two and think about the relative merits of variegated yarns as MCs and CCs before I start working on additional designs. I’ll post pictures of these as soon as I can once I’m done with them.

Fat Tuesday

Warning: The first part of this entry is non-knitting related, but I decided to post, both for my own motivation and because I know others are in the same situation. If you’re a knitting purist, just click on down to the final two paragraphs—no offense will be taken.

Today is Fat Tuesday, the indulge-in-all-your-vices-now-because-Lent-starts-tomorrow day. As an agnostic, I don’t always “do” Lent, but this year I’ve decided to. Whether or not there is a God, trying to rein in my self-indulgent side for a specific period of time seems like a winning proposition.

I am part of the “epidemic” of Type 2 Diabetes in the U.S. Given this, I’m doing OK: I’m overweight, but I have good numbers (A1C, the various cholesterols, metabolic functions). Still, even if my numbers don’t show it yet, I’m simply not eating the way I should. The basic formula for a diabetic is that every two grams of carbohydrate should be eaten with at least one gram of protein. When the balance tips too far to the carbohydrate side one’s blood sugar rises. And repeated rising blood sugar results in all kinds of nasty consequences: loss of vision, loss of kidney function, heart disease, loss of circulation resulting in possible loss of feet and legs.

Now, here’s where it gets tricky. For the most part, I do not feel my blood sugar rise (though I can get nauseous or sleepy if I really, really overdo it). Eating things I shouldn’t has no perceptible consequences in the short run. My rational mind knows what I should/shouldn’t be eating to protect my long-term health, but my impulse-driven mind sees something yummy, wants it, and overrules the rational mind. And with no short-term consequences, I find it all too easy to lie to myself about the long-term consequences (remember that old joke about Cleopatra not being the only queen of de-nile?).

So for Lent I am choosing to give up desserts and dessert-like items. That will mean no stopping for a Danish on the way to work when I’m in a rush, no letting myself throw a candy bar into the cart when I’m buying groceries, no playing the this-is-a-special-occasion-so-it’s-ok-to-break-the-rules-just-once game (which gets played once and once and once and—before I know it—becomes a lifestyle). Melissa, bless her, is joining me in this, even though she’s not diabetic.

I don’t imagine I’ll write a lot about this here in the blog, but I reserve the right to do so if it helps me stay honest with myself. And to everyone else out there who’s with me in the Type 2 Diabetes boat—feel free to chime in with your own successes, complaints, frustrations. I’ll know exactly how you’re feeling. I’ll start by sharing the best kayla itsines reviews below, these have help me a lot recently and would recommend it to everyone.

And now, back to knitting…

I’m halfway throught my semi-Norwegian hat and will post pictures soon. I’m getting some interesting results using a variegated yarn for my contrast color: in one quadrant it’s knitting up more or less in stripes; in two quadrants it’s resulting in major pooling; in the final quadrant I have a mix of stripes and pools. Because I come to knitting from counted-thread embroidery, the pooling doesn’t trouble me. Most samplars knit in over-dyed floss result in some pooling, which just adds to the “uniquely handcrafted” look. But I am surprised by the variation. If I’d guessed beforehand, I would have projected that the hat would be all-pooled or all-striped, yet each quadrant is merrily going its own way. I am thinking about using this variation to my advantage in furture projects, by pairing variegated contrast yarn with deliberately primitive, folk-art motifs. (If you want to see the kind of style I’m thinking of, check out some of the counted-thread charts available at Wyndham Needleworks, particularly Carriage House Samplings and Blackbird Designs.)

P.S. Here on the Plain Ole Knitting Journal is a photo of my Santa Cruz Hat knit up in Noro Silk Garden. And here it is again on TNT Knits in a lovely blue merino. And here it is on Dim Sum Knitting. And a silk/wool version by Xao T. Whee! My Pattern is getting actual use by actual knitters!

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Now with Pictures!

Since it’s the weekend and Melissa is here to play photographer and uploader, I have new pictures to post. (I will be doing my own photography one of these days, but as an old dog I want to wait and learn this new trick once the academic year is over.)

Here’s the Horse Shoe Cable Hat I knit up in a child’s size using the pattern by Lydia of Dropped a Stitch. My friend Boaz, who was having a squirmy kind of morning, is doing the modeling. We played the “put-the-hat-on, whip-the-hat-off” game, which resulted in much laughter and many blurry photos. (You may notice that the blurrier the photo, the bigger his grin—there’s some sort of correlation going on there.)

Complete blur:
Boaz in a hurry!

Partial blur:
Boaz is still in a hurry!

Minor blur:
Boaz sporting the horseshoe cable hat
We were indoors when we took these pictures, and I think he found a hat inside the house unnecessary. One of these days when we head outdoors to play, we’ll have to try to get a completely clear shot.

I knit the hat in Rio de la Plata’s Twist, color TS-96. I’m looking forward to knitting it up again in an adult size with bigger needles and a heavier guage yarn.

After two evenings of playing with Hello Yarn‘s Generic Norwegian Hat chart, I’ve now started a semi-Norwegian hat of my own design. I’m working with Knit Picks yarn, as I often do for my “one-offs” when I haven’t finalized a pattern, as the price is unbeatable. I’m using Gloss in Pumpkin as the main color and Memories in Redwood Forest for the contrast. My design is fairly simple: a pair of overlapping oak leaves with a cross-hatched background pattern. Originally, I’d thought I’d include some acorns as well, but, interestingly enough, they were much more difficult to chart than the oak leaves. They have a simpler shape, and the simplicity actually makes them harder to render effectively.

I’ve realized that charted multi-colored knitting will allow me to draw on all my years of doing folk-art style counted-thread embroidery. Up till now, I’ve been thinking of knitting as being about shape and texture, but intarsia opens knitting up to being about image as well. (And text—check out this sweater and also this one, both by Lisa Anne Auerbach.)

As I’ve mentioned, I earn my living teaching writing at UC Santa Cruz. When I walk to my office, I see this. (That’s my office door in the background, just to the left of the redwood trees.)
Where I work

If I make a 180-degree turn while walking to my office, I often see something like this.
A deer on campus
Even with 200 or so pages of essay-reading most weekends, basically, it’s paradise.

I’ve kept a “mammal list” of my workplace sightings. Particularly in the summers, when the number of students decreases, one can encounter all sorts of creatures:

Ground Squirrels (These are ubiquitous.)
Deer (These are an everyday sighting, and I often see mothers with fawns—singles or twins—in the spring and summer.)
Skunks (I was once in a line of half a dozen cars that came to a complete stop while a group of five or six skunks held a caucus in the middle of the road, running in cicles and chattering like mad at one another.)
Bob Cat (From a distance I thought it might be a lost housecat, so I parked my car and went to investigate. When I got to within twenty feet of it, it stood up, at which point I realized this was no house cat. It shot me an “I-could-take-you-out-if-I-wanted-to” look and slowly ambled off into the brush.)

Doodle Fun

Yesterday, I discovered the Generic Norwegian Hat and Generic Norwegian Mittens charts at Hello Yarn. Printed out the hat chart, took it home, started playing with the colored pencils. Realized this charting is trickier than it might first seem. I have lots of ideas, but then when I remember that I’ll have to knit this hat in the round and that I don’t want to be stopping and starting yarns all the time and weaving ends in for fifteen years after then project has been knit… well, things get complicated.

Basically, every row needs to use both colors, and colors should change at least every seven stitches or so. I started by charting a cat. Whoops! Too many yellow body stitches in one horizontal stretch. So I made my cat a tabby with stripes to break up the body color. The tail presented another problem, as it rises above the head and is only one stitch wide and surrounded by overly-long stretches of my main color. I haven’t solved that one yet.

Maybe, I thought, I should start with a background pattern of some sort, simple checks or diamonds. Then I could superimpose my primary design on top of that. But by then I had scribbled over the one chart I’d printed out, so I had to wait and stare at the thing in frustration.

Today, I have printed out half a dozen charts to play with myself and a few more for Melissa as well. I’m imagining a blue-on-blue hat with a convoluted, William Morris-esque octopus (did William Morris ever do octopi?) and a waves-spitting-foam sort of decorative band.

I want to go through all my books of Morris’s designs and just think about the mix of detail and simplicity he could conjure up and what my own version of that simple intricacy might be like.

Given that these will be trial runs, once I start knitting I’m thinking of using ribbing at the base of the hats instead of doing a provisional cast on and knitting in lining afterward. I can get fussy like that once I’ve come up with a truly satisfactory design.

Works in Progress

In the last few days, I’ve done the following knitting.

1. Knit up a Horse Shoe Cable Hat in Rio de la Plata Twist color TS-96 (a turquoise, maroon, brown, and tan marl), using the free pattern from Dropped a Stitch. (Photo this weekend.) The pattern is very clearly written and fun to work, with effective, subtle decreases.

2. Begun work on a folk art scarf I dreamed up a while back before I knew how to do intarsia. The problem is that the motifs are very scattered and I’m knitting in the round, so I’m getting long, nasty stretches of contrast-color yarn on the inside of the piece, which means I will be doing lots of weaving in ends later. Once I finish the bit I’m on, I’m going to try converting to flat knitting to see if this makes the back of the intarsia neater. I’m using Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool in Warm Red and Sunflower—a lovely, crunchy yarn with rich, deep color.

3. Knit around and around and around on version 2.0 of my felted bag. I’m on the solid color part now, so it doesn’t offer much excitement, especially since I’ve increased to 200 stitches from the 120 I used on version 1.0. Originally, I’d planned to do the final version of this bag in Malabrigo, but given that a) the Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride I’m using now is knitting up well, b) it’s significantly cheaper than the Malabrigo ($4.25 a skein on sale from Discontinued Brand Name Yarns) and c) I’m felting the final project, I’ve decided just to stick with the Lamb’s Pride and to list Malabrigo as an alternate yarn on the pattern. I’m using Plum as the main color, Turquoise for the contrast.

4. Felted the i-cord for felted bag version 1.0. I did this in the sink with hot water because I didn’t want to wait to do a whole load of laundry. I’m always amazed by that “it’s not felted… it’s not felted… it’s felted!” moment.

5. Played some more with cotton/modal kids’ knits—thinking about sun hats at the moment. I’d been frustrated because all the standard measurement charts for hats included curcumference, but not height, and I don’t have any kids at home to use as my test models. But I posted my question on the Forum Pages at Knitter’s Review, and Fran posted an answer within fifteen minutes.

The pattern cards for the hat featured in “Five Yarns, Five Hats” arrived Monday (whee!). I’ll be taking them to Stitches West and will post the pattern once I’m back—so you can expect that in another two weeks or so. Melissa did an amazing job on the layout.

Let’s Have a Party!

No, not immediately… but soon. I’ve been coming up with ideas for informal knitting get-togethers among friends that might help us reduce stash and generate new ideas.

1. The do-it-yourself yarn tasting. I’ve been to two yarn tastings now at Article Pract and enjoyed them both. They plan to do one every month, and I’m hoping to get to most of them. But why settle for one a month—especially one a month all the way up in Oakland, a 1.5 hour drive for me—when I could have more?

I’m imagining an individualized, “what-the-hell-was-I-thinking?” yarn tasting. Each participant could bring six (or more or less, depending on the number of attendees) ten-yard “tastes” of a particularly perplexing yarn from her stash (one of those yarns that makes you suspect you must actually be a completely depraved, substance-abusing fiend because no woman in her right mind would have purchased that yarn sober). We could play with them together, knit swatches, unravel them, knit more swatches, until we found a stitch that really worked for that yarn. Then we could browse pattern books together and think about project possibilities. A couple of hours, a little tea, some cookies or fruit, and each participant could leave with one of her great stash mysteries solved.

2. Tail-end trading. I know I’m not the only one: I’ve got three bags now of left-over yarn bits, one stored with the yarn proper, the other two crammed into kitchen cupboards because I ran out of room in the yarn storage area. I can’t throw them out, but I’m not in any rush to use them because they’re not new. They have already posed their questions for me, and I have explored and answered those questions to the best of my ability. They bore me. But they are yarn and therefore must be preserved. And to someone else, they would be new yarn. Very small bits of new yarn—but new.

Oh, the possibilities. We could each bring a dozen or so, dump them into a big bag, then draw them out blindfolded. We could put them all in the middle and take turns picking. We could play take-away bingo with yarn-ends as the prizes. Someone else’s boring yarn might be just the exciting thing I need to add a decorative to row to the edges/cuffs/whatever of a current project.

We could spend an afternoon together knitting up these ends into pot-luck scarves. Scarves knit lengthwise, changing yarns with every row and leaving long tails for fringe are gorgeous. And if you knit on big needles, you can get away with using a number of different yarn weights. Or maybe a pot-luck hat with yarn changes every round or two.

Party, party, party. I don’t know when I’ll have the time to really set one up, but I’m having lots of fun already.

Bulky Tam Pattern (and Bad Kittens)

Here is the bulky tam pattern I designed, based on Kathryn Connelly’s beret pattern in One-Skein Wonders. She’s generously allowed me to publish this version of the pattern. There’s now (or will be at any moment) a One-Skein Wonders web site. The link is here. Though I haven’t had luck getting there yet, I expect it will be working soon (and I’m looking forward to seeing all the patterns it offers). Kathryn works at Hilltop Yarn, which has both a web site and a blog.

Three wonderful tams!
Bulky Tams in Chache by Moda Dea

Bulky Tam
Yarn: Moda Dea Cachet or similar bulky weight yarn, approx. 110 yards
Needles: 16″ US 10.5 circular and double points

Note: This pattern produces a small woman’s size hat. If you would like a larger or floppier/more dramatic hat, simply add 1 or more additional decrease/increase sets and knit the body to 4.5″ inches before beginning decreases.

Kf&b: Knit into stitch twice, first from the front, then from the back
K2tog: Knit two stitches together

Cast on on 72 stitches, place marker, and close circle to work in the round.

Work three rounds of K2, P1 rib.

Work increases as follows:
Round 1 (and all odd rounds): K
Round 2: *Knit 7, Kf&b*
Round 4: *Knit 8, Kf&b*
Round 6: *Knit 9, Kf&b*
Round 8: *Knit 10, Kf&b*

Continue knitting around until piece measures 4″.

Work Decreases as follows, switching to double points when needed:
Round 1: *K10, K2tog*
Round 2: K
Round 3:*K9, K2tog*
Round 4: K
Round 5: *K8, K2tog*
Round 6: K
Round 7: *K7, K2tog*
Round 8: K
Round 9: *K6, K2tog*
Round 10: K
Round 11: *K5, K2tog*
Round 12: K
Round 13: *K4, K2tog*
Round 14: *K3, K2tog*
Round 15: *K2, K2tog*
Round 16: *K1, K2tog*
Round 17: K2tog around

Trim working end of yarn to 6″ or so, run it through the remaining stitches on needles and remove needles. Weave in ends.

On a completely different note, Sparky and Woody, the kittens, had an unfortunate breakthrough in the middle of the night. They are both quite interested in Bea, the adult cat who shares their home and who finds them both inconvenient at best and more often loathsome. Bea had worked out a sort of a truce with Woody, but was having a more difficult time with Sparky who’d become enamoured of her and followed her about chirping and rolling and waving his paws.

Well, last night the boys realized they could approach her as a pair, rather than individually. Horrors! We had any number of rounds of Bea backed into various corners or under different chairs, growling louldly while Sparky and Woody approached her from opposite sides. They played the innocents: “We’re not touching her. We’re just sitting here… and here. Why shouldn’t we be able to sit?”

At one point I put them out into the rain—which is not as cruel as it seems, as they have their own entrance and could just run around the corner and back in again—but this did nothing to cool their furry little jets. This morning when Melissa and I headed off to breakfast Bea was hiding under a nightstand and the boys were watching her from up on the bed. I’m afraid the boys won’t tire of this game for quite some while.

Yarn on the Stoop

When I got home from work yesterday, I had a bag of yarn from Discontinued Name Brand Yarn waiting for me on the stoop. Inside? The eighteen skeins of discontinued colors of Lamb’s Pride Worsted that I’d ordered—and more! I don’t know if they always include extras in their mailings or if this was a first-time buyer deal, but my bag also included a skein of a very glitzy black yarn (perfect for knitting a small evening clutch or maybe a case for some opera glasses), sample cards for two South West Trading Company yarns, three different patterns (including a cute t-shirt style knit top from Cherry Tree Hill), and a pair of 10″ US 1 needles. Wow!

Let me tell you—I would order from these folks again, with or without the bonus items. Their prices are great and their shipping is fast.

And do you have any idea how huge a bag with 18 skeins of Lamb’s Pride is? When I saw that package on the stoop I knew what had to be inside. (For those of you who are interested, I ordered six skeins each of Plum, Mahogany, and Turquoise. They had Medieval Red a while back, and I’m kicking myself for not ordering any of that.)

So until I find some Malabrigo in stock once again that suits my color sense, I will keep playing with felted bag patterns using the Lamb’s Pride.

I also got email last night from Kathryn Connelly, of Hilltop Yarn Shop, who designed the beret pattern in One-Skein Wonders that I used as the basis for my bulky-weight pattern. She’s graciously given permission for me to post my reworking of her pattern, so I’ll get that up in the next two days, along with some photos. (Apparently a One-Skein Wonders web site is in the works—more about that as it develops.)

Felting Malabrigo

I’ve successfully felted version 1.0 of my Malabrigo bag. The first time round, I just washed it on warm for fear of turning it into something suitable only for Polly Pocket, which resulted in virtually no skrinkage at all. The second time around, I washed it on hot and got a nice, thick fabric, with about 15% shrinkage. (The thing to remember here is that since the bag shrank 15% in every direction, that results in about a 30% loss of volume overall.)

I’d worked the top part of the bag in 2 x 2 K, P check to see if that affected the texture of the finished project. The answer: “no.” Or, “maybe, but only if you’re a complete loon and run it through your fingers doing everything you possibly can to convince yourself that one section does have a bit of a boucle feel to it.”

Using the shower curtain rings to get openings for the drawstring worked nicely. Now I just have to knit another half-mile or so of I-cord so I’ll actually have a drawstring to run through the holes.

I am already planning version 2.0, which will begin with 200 stitches cast on, instead of 120. Unfortunately, while I love Malabrigo, I don’t especially like many of the colors it comes in, and they don’t necessarily go together in ways that please me. Yesterday I went to the LYS that carries Malabrigo and stared and stared at the yarn, but couldn’t find three colors (or even two) that went together in a way that said “happy” and “sunny weather ahead” and “knit me now” (which was what I wanted them to say), so I actually left empty-handed. I will just have to keep cheking back regularly and hoping the gods of yarn roll the dice in my favor one of these days. (Meanwhile, I do have a number of skeins of Lamb’s Pride Worsted in dicontinued coloways coming to my house, so I can play with them—but I’d like the final product to be in Malabrigo.)

For now, I’ll go back to kids’ clothes/accessories in cotton and see if I can come up with something better than the mutant yarmulke I wound up with last time.

Dr. Belgum’s Grande Vista Sanitarium

This morning, Melissa and I set off to photograph the completed “Urban Trekker” hat at Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, the site of Dr. Belgum’s Grande Vista Sanitarium during the WWI era. (Text from one of the original advertising pamphlets here.) Nothing remains of the sanitarium now but some overgrown foundation stones. However, in its day it was the ideal place for wealthy San Francisco and Oakland residents to send their addled/inconvenient relatives as it offered a highly civilized, but very out-of-the-way location and featured comforts like evening concerts and weekend dances. The site seemed appropriate for our photo shoot as the hat does give one a bit of an “elderly mad” look.

Here is the Urban Trekker modeled by a stick.
The Urban Trekker hat in the wilderness

Here is the Urban Trekker modeled by Melissa. (You can’t see it, but Melissa is perched on a bit of sanitarium foundation stone.)
Melissa models the Urban Trekker hat

The former sanitarium’s grounds present the sort of jumbled flora that typify our part of the California coast: oaks, palms, eucalyptus, spring bulbs, and various brambles.
California scenery

I’m adding a close-up of some of the flowers, just for the sheer delight of seeing them pushing their way into the world.
Lilies of the valley

As I write this, the Malabrigo bag is thumping about in the washer getting felted. I asked myself a “what-if” question: What if I attach shower curtain hangers every few inches along the opening of the bag to make nice, round holes to thread the drawstring closures through? The answer to that question and comments on felting Malabrigo coming up soon.