Word-Hats (Picture-Hats to Follow)

Let me tell you about hats. I can’t show you hats (because they’re in Santa Cruz and the camera is with Melissa in Oakland), but I will eventually post photos.

I finally finished my semi-Norwegian hat. I’d gotten quite comfortable with the whole stranded knitting thing and was zooming along, needing to pause less and less often to untangle my yarn—then the decreases hit, and I found myself switching from circulars to double-points. Ack!

At the same time that I began with the double-points on Friday night at Melissa’s, her cat Damian began a game of “Cannot-Touch-Floor-Evil-Floor-Must-Jump-Climb-Flop” and things went something like this—

Whunk! All 18 pounds of Damian came flying from the floor to my chest, obliviously landing on my work, to which I clung desperately hoping to prevent a needle-dropping, involuntary-frogging catastrophe.

Bamp! Bamp! He whacked his forehead against mine in greeting, giving me a nice rub with his wet nose (wet nose? isn’t that a dog thing?) in the process. Then he pirouetted a time or two, balancing himself on my knees, my shoulders, purring the whole while.

And finally—Oof! He bounced off me onto Melissa or whatever unfortunate person/object lay in his trajectory.

Now, reread the previous three paragraphs several times because Damian never settles for doing something once when he can do it repeatedly. I believe I got exactly one round done before giving up and hiding my work at the back of the closet.

On Sunday in Santa Cruz, I did get those last rounds done. I found it particularly helpful to distribute the stitches among my double points so that the first stripe of the three-stipe divisions between panels ended the stitches on one needle and the remaining two stripes began the stitches on the following needle. This strategy prevented any long bits of yarn jumping the break between needles, allowing me to maintain my tension more easily.

While the hat isn’t perfect (I did the SSKs wrong on the first 2/3 of the rounds, and my two yarns don’t stand out as distinctly from each other as I might like), I’m quite pleased with it as a first attenpt. And, having finished, I came up with a whole new set of “what if?” questions.

1. What if I use the variegated yarn for backgound instead of for the pattern elements?

2. What if I limit the double-stranding to the body of the hat and switch to a single yarn before beginning the decreases?

3. What if I alternate bands of double-stranded knitting with plain knitting?

After digging through my stash to find some appropriate yarns for answering these questions (a skein of navy wool-nylon Knit Picks Essential and a skein of denim-colored self-striping sock yarn in a cotton-wool-nylon blend), I got to work. So far the hat goes like this: navy ribbing; alternating rounds of the two yarns; an eleven-round band of stranded work; more alternating rounds; a nice wide stretch of just the self-striping yarn; more alternating rounds; and a five-round band of double-stranded work. I’m planning to finish up with a few more alternating rounds and will then end the hat using only the solid navy yarn. If you can’t picture this, don’t fret. Like I said, photos are coming.

Free Point Lobos Hat Pattern Packs

I have some leftover sets of 25 of the Point Lobos Hat pattern printed up on nice postcard stock to give away. If you know of a knitting guild or a LYS that would like a set to share with knitters, please let me know by dropping me a line me at shparmetATucscDOTedu with the appropriate mailing info. I don’t want to send out individual cards because the postage will quickly get prohibitive, but I’ll be glad to share full sets with people who can distribute them.

Stitches West, Part I: The Classes

I’m going to write about Stitches West in two parts, focusing first on the classes I took, then later on the yarn and other sightings from the market.

Increases and Decreases (326) taught by Elizabeth Fallone
The increases and decreases we covered could, of course, be applied to any kind of knitting, but in class we focused primarily on how to use them in constructing garments. Since I’m more interested in applying these to lace designs, I had to keep moving mentally from the work at hand to my own purposes, but this wasn’t hard. The class covered many single and double decreases/increases, and I particularly liked some of the increases, which I hadn’t encountered before (most directions for M1 call for knitting through the bar between two stitches or knitting front and back into a single stitch; the instructor included some other possibilities that produce a much smoother finished piece).
We knit up whole handfuls of little triangular swatches so we could see how the different stitches looked. I realized quickly that I wouldn’t remember what each swatch contained without some sort of system, so I tied knots in the ends of the cast on thread quipu-like. I now have pages of notes reading more or less like this: “one knot in cast on thread, wide base = K2tog on R, SSK on L.” I’ll have to spend some time counting knots and adding proper labels to all those swatches, but the swatches will be an immense help later when I’m working on designs. In fact, I’d like to add to my swatch collection, working up samples using simple lace stitches to compliment the stockinette ones I’ve already made.
My main concern with this class is that the handouts briefly described in words most (but not all—and that’s another problem) of the stitches we convered, but included very few illustrations, so I’m a bit nervous about whether I’ll be able to work these stitches correctly in the future. I practiced with one of the increase techniques last night (on an adaptation of an ear-flap hat pattern that I finally gave up on—the yarn apparently had no interest in becoming an ear-flap hat). At first, my increases were a bit hit-or-miss, but they looked quite nice by the end, even though I wound up frogging the whole thing.
If you’d like to see more of her work, Elizabeth Fallone’s designs are carried by Shelridge Farm.

Chart Reading and Writing (544), taught by JC Briar
This was by far my favorite class, which I hadn’t anticipated, as I’d figured it was the class most likely to cover things I already knew. In fact, much of the material was familiar to me, but the systematic way in which the instructor laid it all out (wonderful handouts!) helped me mentally organize my own knowledge. In the future I’ll be able to approach charts with a set of questions in my head to ask and answer before I begin knitting. Yes, I would be able to follow charts without these questions, but I would wind up having to do more problem solving as I went along.
By the end of the class, the teacher had us working on a set of exercizes translating written instructions into charts. These grew increasingly complex and really forced us to apply the full range of material we’d covered in the first part of class. When I write up my own patterns—particularly more complicated lace or cable patterns—this practice will serve me well.
If you ever have the chance to take a class with JC Briar—do it! Her organization is impressive, and she anticipates and provides answers for many questions, rather than waiting for these to come up on their own.
As an aside, the instructor was wearing a gorgeous short-sleeved cardigan and tank set of her own design that features all sorts of slip stitch patterns. This pattern is for sale at her web site, and I’ll definitely be ordering one. If you don’t want to knit a whole ensemble, but want to practice slip stitches, you could order this pattern and use the cardigan front pattern to knit up some really beautiful throw pillows. (Note that the picture on the web site makes this set look as if it’s knit in sort of deep, dusty pastels. the actual colors are brighter and more autumnal, a real visual feast.)

Hole-Istic Lace (529) taught by Maureen Mason-Jamieson
The class provided a clear, useful introduction to lace knitting. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really looking for an introduction to the topic. Still, I enjoyed playing with the class project (a lacey bookmark/bell pull), which gave me a chance to see several different decreases worked with lace stitches.
I would recommend this class for anyone who feels uneasy about taking on lace. The handouts offered a clear, detailed approach to the topic, leading students through a variety of single and double decreases. I particularly appreciated this instructor’s explanations of running markers (a sort of basting strand used instead of ring markers) and safety lines (a strand of yarn or thread run through the loops of a row to “lock” the knitted work once you’ve verified that everything up to that point is accurate). I’ll probably stick to my ring markers, but will definitely use a safety line when working on complicated patterns.
Besides knitting lace, Maureen Mason-Jamison designs lovely, colorful garments, including the Marmalade Sweater, which is as yummy as its name implies. I fell madly in love with it in the market.


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.