April 2006 Archives

Dear Unfinished Projects,

Now that I have finished the Pearl Buck Swing Jacket, you'll be happy to know that it is now time for me to decide what to tackle next. As I began to do a little spring cleaning in my fiber room, I realized, however, that a number of you larger sized projects have been hiding out, waiting to be found. Some of you, in fact, have been waiting a shamefully long time with relatively little left remaining to make you complete. I have decided that I just can't justify starting something new until a few of you become the finished projects you were meant to be.

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Top Left: Jo Sharp Kaleidoscope Vest, Bottom Left: Handspun Spiral Rug, Top Right: Liberty Wrap Top

In order to help me combat project neglect, I thought I would engage in some self-analysis.

Handspun Spiral Rug. Poor rug! I knitted through all your garter stitch monotony, figured out how to connect your edges together in a way that appealed to me, and then neglected to give you the border edging that you deserved. The word "neglect" in that last sentence was not one I chose without reason. I literally lost track of where you went. Yesterday I discovered you in a basket on the high shelf in my laundry room under a table runner waiting for a bath. How did you get there? I suspect that a well meaning husband, straightening things up before our cleaning lady came to clean, put you out of harms way in the basket and the basket got moved to a place that is above eye level for me, and since I was in denial about dealing with your applied I-cord edging I did not put to much effort into finding you. Clearly I must work harder to make sure that future projects are stored away more carefully when I am not working on them. And deal with my deep-seeded issues relating to applied I-cord.

Liberty Wrap Top. Beautiful and soft, but plagued with two issues that can bring me to a total standstill every time. The first, and more surmountable, issue is that after your pieces are complete, I will have approximatley 1,324,926 ends to weave in. If I avoid colorwork, it is almost always because of the issue with weaving in ends. The second, and much less tractable, issue is the my constant fear of running out of yarn. I have finished your back and am but a short distance from having both fronts finished. Two large sleeves and a significant amount of ribbed edging finishing still remain. And all the yarn I have left is what you can see in the picture. So in this case, the fear of running out of yarn, also exacerbates the fear of weaving in all the ends. I don't want to weave them in as I go along, because what if I run out of yarn and can't complete the sweater? All that weaving in of ends will have gone to waste. I didn't buy an extra ball of that grey and orange yarn because I've been okay with Rowan patterns in the past and because I am a cheapskate who didn't want a bunch of extra, somewhat expensive, yarn left over. I am paying for that cheap-heartedness now.

Kaleidoscope Vest. More wonderful colorwork, but fewer unpleasant ends to weave in because the incredible Jo Sharp decided to design you in such a way as to make it not so difficult to carry yarn up the sides. I started you not so long ago, with much enthusiasm (it is hard not to be enthusiastic about Jo Sharp DK weight wool). Why did I cast you aside, even after putting you in one of my cute new Longaberger baskets? Apparently in addition to my fears of weaving in ends, interminable amounts of applied I-cord, and running out of yarn, I also have a fear of garments being too small for the intended recipient, and I do not trust my own measurements, even when I have calculated them several times and know they are correct. Especially when combined with having to break the continuity of a ball of yarn into multiple pieces that cannot be re-attached if the sizing is off. Nothing would help me go further with this project unless I could hold you up against the intended recipient. Since he doesn't share a house with me, that didn't happen until February. And in the meantime my eye was drawn by the seductive Pearl Buck and the call of some long ignored yarn in my stash.

I want to let you know that there is good news for all of you. Because all of these issues are issues with me, not you, I am going to work to overcome my problems.

To my Handspun Spiral Rug, the closest of all to the finish line, requiring only blocking and a finishing edging, I promise that I will block you soon. I will also look through all my books on edgings and trims and find out if there is something that can replace that dreaded applied I-cord. Perhaps a simple crocheted edging is in order? If not, I will suck it up, pour myself a glass of wine and queue up an audio book, and deal with the applied edging like the dedicated knitter you deserve.

To my Liberty Top, although the issue of weaving in ends cannot be solved, other than by weaving them in, I will finish the remaining front piece and work on the first sleeve before I decide to be too concerned about running out of yarn. In the meantime, I will contact the place where I got the yarn from and see if they have any more of the grey and orange yarns in the same dyelot. If they do, I will order them even if I don't end up needing them. Consider it penance for being cheap (a stupid thing after you have already spent a bunch of money of the recommended amount of yarn) on a sweater that I should not have purchased yarn for if I was only about cheap.

To the Kaleidoscope Vest, abadoned because of my issues and because I am easily drawn by another pretty face, there will be no more big projects started until I have worked some more to bring you to fruition. I will curb my wandering eye. Whenever I think about buying yarn for another sweater project for myself, I will think of the two pounds of moorit CVM roving waiting to be spun, and I will sit down in front of my wheel instead. It takes me much longer to create temptation than it does for me to buy it!

In closing, I hope you all realize that I am working hard to overcome my fears and to get beyond my shortcomings. At least, I can honestly say that I think in picking you, I have picked good projects that I will look forward to wearing and using or sharing. I have come a long way from the time when I would cast anything on, even if it was not quite right for me. Clearly, I still have a long way to go in considering techniques that I will see through to the end and keeping my roving new project eye at bay, but if you will give me another chance, I will keep working through my issues and hopefully you will all be finished soon, and future projects will not be tormented so much by my lack of attention.

Sincerely yours,

The Keyboard Biologist

34 Pairs of Socks!

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It has been a busy week for the Sock Challengers. Here's the updated list:

Annie
Socks for son Luke finished!

Carole
Socks for Daughter Hannah finished!

Started on Socks for Stepdaughter Jessica

Caryn

Heatherly
Socks for Baby finished!

Janine
Socks for Husband Finished!
Socks for Husband Started.

Janna
Socks for Mom Finished!
Socks for Sister Started

Jess
Finished socks for Grandmother!

Julie

Socks for Grandmother Finished!
Socks for Aunt Finished!

Kristi
Socks for Hubby Finished
Socks for Dad Finished
Jaywalker Socks for Sister-in-Law Finished
Second Pair of Socks For Hubby Started

Lisa

Socks for BIL Finished!

Socks for Husband Finished

Lora
Opal Dreamcatcher Socks for Mom finished!
Jaywalkers for Sister started.

Maggie

Maud
Regia Silk Socks for Her Son Finished
Socks for Older Daughter Finished!
Socks for Husband Finished!

Michelle H-K

Michelle K
Blue Socks for Daughter Kathryn finshed!
Jacquard Socks for Daughter Lindsey finished!
Green socks for Son Ian Finished!

Green socks for Son Justin Finished!

Started Pink Socks for Daughter Rachael

Hedgemom Nancy
Socks for Husband Almost Finished
Trekking XXL Socks for Mom Started

Just Knitting Around Nancy

Natalie
Socks for Mom Finished
Socks for Daughter Finished
Socks for Daughter to Be Finished
Socks for Mother in Law Finished

Polly
Twin Jaywalkers for her Twin Boys finished!
Socks for Husband Finished
Jaywalker Socks for Husband Started

Tish
3rd daughter finished!

Traci

Wendy DG
Opal Socks Finished for Sock Partner Molly
Sockotta Socks Finished for Sister-in-Law Mollie

Not only did 8 new pairs of socks make it to the finish line, but there is a great diversity of socks for you to take a look at. Check out the two new pairs that Julie completed (see the links under her name) to see the Opal Ladybug sock yarn in action. Maud finished two beautiful textured pairs of socks for her family (once again, go click on the links under her name to see the results). Carole finished a lovely pair of socks in Opal Flamingo for her daughter (just click on the link under her name to see), and Michelle K finished green socks for both of her sons.

This week, even I'm getting into the sock finishing act!

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Finished UMich Socks Basking in the Sun

I got these socks wrapped up Sunday night. Perfect timing for giving them to my dad when he and my mom came back from Hawaii by way of Chicago

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Happy Dad Feet!

Nothing too special about these socks from a technique perspective. I cast on 72 stitches on US Size 1 DP needles then did about an inch and a half of K2P2 ribbing. The rest of the sock is simple stockinette, with a short-row heel and my standard toe. What makes these socks special is the Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock in the UMich colorway. I didn't make Dad sing "Hail to the Victors" for me... but these socks are another small victory in my Sock Challenge progress nonetheless!

Of Elphes and Oblivion

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No knitting or spinning to talk about today. Today it's all about new toys. You see, I've been jonesing for a new camera for a long time. I know, I know, John got me that Sony T1 not very long ago, but it just wasn't the camera for me. Too many blurry shots in point-and-shoot mode and it really didn't reproduce colors well unless they were in the orange/yellow/brown color range. It was a real disappointment because I liked everything else about the camera. I tried to give it a fair shake, but I just couldn't make it work. So it went back in it's box and I went back to my Nikon CoolPix. My Nikon may be a bit elderly, but it still does pretty well when it comes to capturing color and texture.

Not so well when it comes to weight, taking pictures quickly and being carried in a small purse, however.

So with spring on it's way, a fibery woman's heart turns to thoughts of Maryland. And Maryland means interesting photo opportunities. Which brought me back to thinking about cameras.

So one weekend not too long ago, John and I set out on a mission to search out the best small camera. We were armed with a compact flash card, an SD card, a Sony memory stick, two skeins of brightly colored Socks That Rock (to test color) and two dragon socks (to test color and texture reproduction). We went to Fry's, Circuit City, CompUSA and Best Buy. We tested everything that was in the right size and megapixel range (greater than 5 megapixels) that had functional batteries and that we could put a memory card in: Nikons, Canons, Sonys, Kodaks, Casios and a Minolta (no Olympus cameras because they take a kind of SD card that we didn't happen to have, and I wasn't going to buy a camera if I couldn't closely examine the pictures I took with it). I tested with a flash and without a flash, regular mode and macro mode. Everything was done using the camera's "auto-everything" setting because, let's face it, I am not a professional photographer, I know very little about photography, and sheep won't hold a good pose while I try to figure out how to get the settings on my camera just right.

You might be surprised to know that no one seemed to find it too strange that a woman was taking pictures of brightly colored yarn in a Best Buy. You might also be surprised to know that Best Buy is the worst place to try out a camera. Their security systems block most of the digital media slots (Nikon was one of the few brands we could test there because their digital media slots were on the side of the camera instead of the bottom), meaning you can't put a card in them to take a picture. Probably the best place was Circuit City -- not only were their security systems test card friendly, in most cases the cameras could be turned on and used (Fry's cameras were also media accessible but many were not charged) and the guys behind the counter actually seemed to know what they were talking about.

What did I end up selecting?

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Canon PowerShot SD-600 Digital Elph

Why did I pick the Canon SD-600 Digital Elph? First of all, it did a great job with color. It did well with blues, reds and yellows and subtle shading variations. Since color is important in a lot of what I photograph, it was important in my camera selection. Secondly, it took good, consistant pictures even in macro mode without the flash, which means I don't have to worry about missing an important shot or taking 6 closeup pictures hoping to get one good one. Third, it has a great user interface. The controls are easy to use and their positioning makes sense. Fourth, size does matter. This camera is about the size of a standard deck of cards and it packs a real optical zoom lens in addition to a digital zoom. And finally, it has a quick recovery time -- no more long waits between shots. And as an extra added bonus, it can also make little movies. Maybe someday I'll have some live action spinning here on the blog. Oh, and did I mention John got a great deal on it, too?

In addition to small cameras, we also got a new computer game not too long ago. If you like RPGs and you haven't tried an Elder Scroll's game, I can highly recommend Oblivion. If for no other reason than it is a very knitter friendly game. I used the Elph to help me show you why:

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A Fat Happy Ram Roams in Oblivion

Pretty cool, eh? And he's animated well. These guys walk like sheep and move their little tails like sheep and generally have an air of real sheepiness. And in addition to the fighters guild, mages guild and thieves guild, there must be a spinner's guild somewhere. My evidence?

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Oblivion Has Yarn!

Now, when my dark elf female figher-mage take a break from saving the world from the demons of Oblivion, she can grab some yarn out of her pack and knit up the perfect sweater for her excursion up north or a nice shawl for a visit to the Emperor. Even if she has to use paintbrushes as knitting needles.

Plying

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On the surface of it, these little skeins don't look very different from each other.

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3 Ply and 2 Ply Moorit CVM Sample Skeins

The skein on the right is a 2-ply from the moorit CVM. The skein on the left is a 3-ply of the same fiber. In general, the singles that I prepared for each test skein were as similar as I could get them because I wanted to see the difference between a two ply and a three ply yarn made from the same singles.

When I put them together side by side like this, they don't look very different. At least I don't think so. So it was time to switch my camera into macro mode and take a much closer look.

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3 ply (top) and 2 ply (bottom) Comparison

Comparing them like this, I began to see more of a difference. The 3-ply had a rounder, puffier quality, even though it didn't seem to have a dramatically different diameter.

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3 ply (left) and 2 ply (right) Comparison

If you look right down the yarn, what's going on with the twist becomes much more pronounced. I created the singles with Z-twist, so the singles were plied together in the S-twisting direction. Looking at this picture, I was struck, once again, by the fact that it seemed like the 3-ply yarn was rounder and had more depth. This reminded me of a comment Toni Neil made when we were last out at the Fold -- 2 ply yarn is a 2-dimensional yarn, while 3-ply yarn is 3 dimensional. At the time, I didn't really understand that comment completely, but it came home better when I was looking at these pictures. In a two ply yarn, the singles are always side by side. There's always one horizontal plane, no matter where you are in the yarn. But once you get to 3- (or more) ply yarn, the singles are still side by side, but they are arranged such that there are three horizontal planes formed by the three plys at any time.

This might be more clear if I show you some pictures...

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2 Plies Twisting in the S direction

Imagine you are looking right down the center line of the yarn you are plying. If you were to draw just one line that went through the center of each circle (which represents one single), you have one plane. No matter how you rotate the plies, there's still just one plane. Though the plane does change it's angle relative to the center of the yarn as the twist is put into it. (My arrows indicate the direction of the twist). Thus the yarn is always two dimensional.

But a three ply yarn gets more complicated...

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3 Plies Twisting in the S Direction

Once again, imagine you are looking right down the center line of the yarn you are plying. Now when you go to draw a straight line through the centers of any two adjoining circles (plies), you'll find you need 3 lines. Thus there are three planes no matter where you are in the twist cycle. Three planes takes you into three dimensions. And the yarn develops that quality of having more depth. And this also demonstrates why you don't see much difference in the diameter of the yarn. The 3 ply does have more depth, but because of the way the plies "pack" it doesn't increase the diameter of the yarn as much as you might think it would. (I was tempted to make some more pictures showing the math for this (i.e drawing the smallest possible circle around the two and three ply illustrations and calculating the diameter), but I figured nobody needs to be confronted with too much basic geometery early on Friday morning -- the exercise is left for the reader to try at home if you really don't believe me).

As a final test of the yarn, I determined the wraps per inch (WPI) of each yarn. The 2 ply came out to about 21 WPI, putting it in the category of "fingering" weight yarn. The 3 ply came out to about 15 WPI, putting it in the category of "sport weight yarns", but just on the edge between sport weight and DK. That's still a little finer than I would like it to be. I'd like to have a 3-ply yarn that's solidly in the DK range (12-14 WPI), which means I need to increase the diameter of my singles. I'm going to look through my stash to find a DK-weight three ply yarn so that I can get a feeling for what the single should look like in hopes that my eyes can convince my fingers to make the single a bit bigger. So there is definitely more sampling ahead on my road to the perfect yarn for my moorit CVM.

Finished Spiraling

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If I suddenly disappear this week, don't worry -- I've only gotten sucked into the incredible black hole of lost time that is the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I had all my pictures ready for this post on Saturday, but then a computer game came and ate my brain. Oblivion definitely falls into the class of "dangerously addicting". In a good way, of course.

But I do have a finished project to start the week off. And this one makes me feel virtuous because it's one of the projects from my list of projects I've resolved to finish: the Handspun Spiral Rug, from Donna Druchunas The Knitted Rug.

To finish this project off, I blocked the center spiral and decided that I would do a crochet edging. At first, it was going to be a simple edging, just one row of single crochet and then one row of reverse single crochet (crab stitch) in the main solid dark blue color. But there's just something about doing single crochet that I find addictive, and I couldn't stop until I'd worked some stripes into that edging. Probably for a more sophisticated finished edge, I should have stuck with my original plans. But, hey, it's just a little rug that will probably never make it onto the floor because I can't bear the thought of cats clawing (or barfing) on or people walking on my knitting. At least not just yet. So, since I had fun, I'm willing to live with a little less sophistication.

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Handspun Spiral Rug Finished!

Some basic details: This rug was worked using Cascade 220 (the solids) and Mountain Colors 4/8's Wool (the variagateds), held double on fairly large needles (I can't remember exactly which, but it's not really critical). The colors were selected for me by Matt at Threadbear Fiber Arts (I had no advance warning since the yarn for the project was a birthday present from last year, but as always, I think Matt did a really nice job putting good colors together).

This rug looks bigger than it is. In reality, its probably not even 3 feet in diameter. Probably because even the author of the pattern got tired of knitting those garter stitch strips after awhile! I'm generally pleased with the edging I chose to do, but I also chose a crochet edging for another reason: it's much more structurally solid than an applied I-cord edging would be. This was important for me because my stitching to connect the long edges of the strips together is fairly loose in some places (because I was working hard to keep the thing from puckering) and I wanted the edging to work to hold everything in place. And, of course, even with all that going around and around with the three colors, it still probably took me less time to do the crochet than it would have to have done the applied I-cord.

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Spiral Edging: Single Crochet Stripes, Crab Stitch Edge

I think the crab stitch makes a more than adequate substitute for applied I-cord. This project did make me realize something, though. Clearly, crocheting in the round creates the same kind of "jog" as knitting in the round (you should be able to see it in the above picture). Is there any way to avoid this? I decided not to worry too much about it, after applying the galloping horse rule, but it would be nice information to know for the future.

One resolution down... 2 more to go.

Unchained Melody

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You'll have to pardon the bad pun. I couldn't resist given that the Melody shawl I have been working on (and working on, and working on, and working on) is knit in the round and cut open to create a fringed rectangle. Melody gets unchained both as she is bound off and as she is snipped open. Unchained my Melody now is.

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Morehouse Merino Melody in the Breeze

This project is from a very simple Morehouse Merino pattern, the Melody Shawl. It's knit from a quad skein of Morehouse Merino Variagated Lace weigh yarn. The color I picked is called "Aquarius" -- eminently appropriate for me, since I am an Aquarian. I worked it on a US size 10 AddiTurbo needle, but size isn't all that important for this garment. It just needs to be open and lacy.

While the work on this shawl is so monotonous as to almost make it not even fun mindless television knitting, there's one clever trick in the pattern that helps create the fringe. This is also the part that involves both unravelling stitches and cutting. Which was entertaining enough to make most of the monotony worthwhile, as I know feel that I have another nifty knitting spell in my knitting spell book "Create Fringe For Scarf Knit in the Round" (pardon me again, my RPG side is showing).

My final measurements, after wet blocking (since I've discussed Morehouse yarn and how much it relaxes up on blocking before, I won't go into great detail with pictures to demonstrate this point this time), were 75" x 24.5". The pattern predicts 80" x 16" so I'm figuring that I got a few more rows in at the expense of a somewhat smaller stitch gauge relative to the original garment. No problem as far as I am concerned, it is still long enough to do what it is supposed to do, and when you're dealing with a shawl, a little extra width doesn't hurt anything.

I only have one word of advice to anyone who is going to do this project, when the pattern says "cast on very loosely" you should read that as "cast on VERY LOOSELY". I would recommend casting loosely onto a needle a couple sizes larger than the one you will use for the main project. I did not cast on quite loosely enough and as I was stretching out the cast on edge a bit I actually broke the edge yarn strand. This is NOT a good thing to do unless you really like fixing damaged cast on edges. So learn from my mistake and take the cast on loosely thing seriously.

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Melody As Shawl

Melody can be worn in a couple of ways. The first way is just as a simple shawl/stole. Since the project is so lightweight (it's like a fluffy cloud) this could easily be something that you wear on a cool summer evening over a tank top or something to add a little bit of warmth in a cool house in the spring. This yarn is very "against the skin friendly" (you find occasional pieces of VM every now and again, but those are easily removed while knitting) so it makes a nice cover for bare shoulders or arms. (Not shown in this picture because last Saturday it was still pretty chilly here in Chicago, even if it was nice and sunny).

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Melody As Scarf

Melody also works well in her scarf incarnation. This is likely how I will wear Melody most often as I find that shawls don't work very well for me in my work environment and the whole stole thing doesn't work very well if you are walking a mile up Damen Avenue on a cool summer evening in search of a hamburger and a beer. However, I love to wear scarves with jackets and cardigans, and long scarves are my favorite. When worn as a scarf, you get lots of nice airy layers which trap warmth, which is perfect for this time of year.

One final comment about the yarn in this project... it pools a bit, but not very much in this project. I do like the watercolor brush strokes of color that seem to dance across it.

So here's another FO I can cross off my WIP list. I feel like I'm beginning to make some progress

Keeping Promises

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Thanks for all the nice compliments on Melody. Melody, I think, is testimony to the fact that sometimes very simple things can give you very nice results. You just have to have patience -- something that is usually in short supply when I am concerned.

In keeping with the theme of working my way through lingering projects, I finally got back to working on Liberty.

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The Front Sides of Liberty

I know the two pieces don't look exactly the same size, but the one on the left is pinned down for blocking, while the one on the right has been blocked and waiting for me to do something with it for quite some time. I think the left piece will relax into a smaller shape once I free it from its pins.

It didn't take very much effort to get the second front (the one on the left in the picture) completed. I wish I could remember why I stopped just a few inches from completing the piece. Probably I had no good reason at all, it just got warmer in Chicago as I was working on it and I didn't think I'd get the chance to wear it any time soon so I moved on to something else. I am beginning to wonder a little bit about the wisdom of the orange and the green for me -- which is, of course, one of the things that got me excited about the project in the first place. But I still enjoy working with the yarn. The Rowan Cashsoft D is really nice stuff, as is the Rowan Cashcotton DK. Very few yarns are truly against the skin wearable for me, but I think this stuff will definitely work out.

In addition to finishing and blocking the second front piece, I also cast on for the first of the sleeves. Hopefully I can keep my virtuous-ness going and actually get both sleeves complete before another year passes me by.

So I've been thinking about crochet. Like a lot of things, I got thinking about crochet because I got a good book recommendation from Julie. She'd just purchased a copy of Debbie Stoller's The Happy Hooker and was working along on a scarf and singing the praises of the section that describes how to crochet in the first part of the book.

I've been intrigued by crochet for a long time. Longer, actually, than I've been intrigued by knitting. When I was somewhere in my early double-digit years, my great aunt Verna taught me the basics of making a granny square. She didn't teach me everything, just enough so that I knew how to keep going around and around and around with my happy colored cheap acrylic yarn. This granny square became one of the biggest granny squares ever known to humanity. I just kept going and going and going, adding new skeins of yarn as I went. I kept going because I really had no idea how to stop and finish it off. I'd probably still be working on it today, except I have no idea where it went. At some point, it was just no longer in my life. And since I couldn't remember how to start another crochet project, and I was moving on to counted cross stitch, I never really got back to crochet.

And I wouldn't find my knitting muse until my mid-20's. For most knitters, crocheting is pretty much relegated to the provence of making pretty edgings on garmets. Slip stitch and single or double crochet are just about all I ever needed to do and those simple edging elements were explained in my big Vogue Knitting book. But putting that edging on my Handspun Spiral Rug really got me thinking about crochet again. I generally like doing those crocheted edgings on knitted garments: so fast, so simple and so easy to rip out and correct mistakes.

So it seemed like high time to give crochet another chance. I bought the book and decided that I was going to give myself some at home crocheting lessons, with the goal of actually creating a crocheted garment that I would enjoy wearing. Or at least some cool placemats for my table.

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Crochet Sampler Swatch: (From Bottom to Top: Single Crochet, Half Double Crochet, Double Crochet and Triple Crochet

Here's the results of my first lesson: a sample swatch composed of single, half-double, double and triple crochet, separated by a slip stitch rows. The swatch is done in Sugar n' Cream a 100% cotton yarn that I picked up at JoAnn's for just such a learning experience. I did five rows of each stitch between the slip stitch dividers. Pretty amazing how the size of the stitch can change just by adding one more loop. It also has a big impact on the density of the fabric. The single crochet at the bottom creates a much denser fabric than the triple crochet at the top.

So far, I have to agree with Julie whole heartedly -- this book does really have good instructions. After my first "lesson" with the book, I feel like I am ready to create a whole army of dish cloths. And I'm very excited about the next steps: increasing, decreasing and crocheting in the round. Maybe I'll finally actually figure out how to bring a granny square to a natural and lovely completion.

Images of Spring

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There's not too much knitting, crocheting or any other fiber craft for me to show today. I would say that I have too much work, but it's not really that. It's more like too much emotional baggage from work that leaves me unmotivated to be productive and feeling a little blue. So today I decided to take my camera outside and take some pictures of things tht did make me happy. Things that remind me of spring and of the renewal process that comes as a part of the changing of the seasons.

John and I are not what you would describe as good or attentive gardiners. But we do enjoy having green growing things around us in our yard. So when we decide to get new plants, we choose perennials that come up every year and require relatively little care. It's always a pleasant surprise for me when our little collection of hardy friends pops back up to say hello, especially the ones we started last year that we were a bit worried might not make it through the winter.

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French Lilac Bush Gets Ready for a Show

Our little French Lilac bush is making a very nice showing in her second year in our front yard. We didn't get any flowers last year, but we're hoping that this year we might have some fragrant blooms. Lilac is one of my very most favorite floral scents. And they take me back to some of my earliest memories when my family was in New York and we had these enormous and wonderful lilac bushes in our back yard and a pair of cardinals that lived in them.

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Peony Shoots Reach for the Sun

Some plants in our yard are all about wishful thinking. Our front yard is shaded most of the time because of the tall buildings on either side of us. But it gets a little light. My mother has had peony bushes growing around our house for as long as I can remember. I've always loved their big feathery flowers and as a kid I liked to knock the ants that always seemed to congregate off the buds. While shopping for some new perennials last year, I discovered some peonies that claimed they could grow in "partial sun" and decided that I needed to give one a chance and see. So this one is planted at the base of the steps that lead up to the door. It's a treat to see the plant coming back. We didn't get any flowers last year. Was it the limited sun or just the plant getting used to its new digs? Hopefully this year we'll get a little show.

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Return of the Lillies

One of the banes of urban existance is the trash that blows every where and under our fences and into our yard. We thought it might be nice to fight this problem with a pretty green solution, and went out and bought some hardy lillies that would spread out and cover the base of the fence with a shower of green leaves and colorful flowers. What a pleasant surprise to see that all the plants that we put in the ground last year made it through the winter and are coming on strong now that the weather has gotten warmer. I love the simplicity and pluckiness of lillies. They grow everywhere from the most lavish gardens to freeway medians to little cracks in the pavement between buildings and they come in delightful happy reds, yellows, oranges and pinks. We planted a patchwork quilt of miniature varieties here by the fence to help us keep out the trash and add a flash of color to our yard.

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Clematis Vines Revitalize

The very first plants I bought for the house after we moved here five years ago were three clematis vines from Home Depot. Nelly Moser, Polish Spirit, and one who's name I can't remember. Clematis are another childhood favorite for me. My mother has always had them around her home. I love how they grow bigger and bigger every year and the vines begin to take over whatever area you give them to grow on. After 5 years, these plants are finally getting truly comfortable in their environment. Once agian, it's rather shady in our backyard, so they have to work hard to get high enough to reach the morning sunlight. But they persevere and every year they've worked to each give us a few flowers. Well, except for the Polish Spirit plant, which gives us a crazy huge man-eating vine full of flowers. We figure it likes being near my Polish husband.

So spring is indeed in full force around my house. And a nice breeze is blowing through my window. A reminder to me that no matter what is going on in my life, no matter what is happening at work, the world still rotates on its axis and nature still creates beauty out of the simplest things. And that I am truly lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy the show.

P.S. to my wonderful daddy -- Happy Happy Happy Birthday to someone who always reminds me that the most important things in life have nothing to do with being employed. Love you, Dad!

Happy Easter

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Easter Breakfast Basket

We'll be starting our Easter morning with a basket of simple foods that we took to John's parent's church to be blessed for a traditional (at least for my husband's family) Polish Easter morning breakfast . It includes bread (both egg bread and more traditional rolls), butter (in the shape of a butter lamb), salt, pepper, and horseradish (representing the the flavors of life), hard boiled eggs (we chose brown eggs, but the traditional eggs are white eggs boiled with onion skins which turns them a lovely brown/purple color and gives the eggs a light oniony flavor) and two kinds of fabulous kielbasa. The thick sausage is called wiejska (vee-ay-ska) and the thin sausage is called kabanosy (kah-bin-oh-sey), both of which are flavored strongly with garlic, though the kabanosy is a leaner sausage than the wiejska and is often served by itself with no more preparation than slicing, while the wiekska is often cooked a bit more. Some families will also take sugar lambs and lamb-shaped cakes to be blessed, but we stick with simple, non-sweet foods to have for breakfast.

Easter breakfast is meant as a simple meal, to be shared with family to celebrate Christianity's "Return of the King" and is generally a true "breaking of the fast" as good Catholics will have at least abstained from meat from Good Friday until Easter morning. I don't really fall into that good Catholic category, but I do enjoy this tradition. Easter is definitely a day of eating -- a big Easter dinner is also served later in the afternoon/early evening that is also usually a big family event. John and I are lucky this year. We'll be sharing the day with his family and my parents, which doesn't happen very often.

Happy Easter to those of you that celebrate the holiday. A beautiful spring weekend to everyone else.

Down Scaled Dragons Take Wing

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In another act of project faithfulness, I finished John's "down-scaled" Dragon Scale Socks on Thursday night. There weren't any new and earthshattering improvements over the first sock, but it is always nice to discover that my notes were good enough for me to make it easily through the pattern a second time. As anticipated, this project, for a medium-sized man's foot required a full skein of Socks that Rock (Light) plus a bit of a second skein to finish off the toe. The good news is, I think there's enough to make me a plain pair of socks out of what remains.

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Finished Down-Scaled Dragon Socks

Just to summarize what you already know, these socks were made from Socks that Rock, Light in the colorway called "Beryl". This is a nice green colorway with little flecks of red. Quite lovely and man-friendly at the same time. I worked this pattern on US Size 1 Inox DPs using a modified version of the Dragon Scale pattern from Barbara Walker's Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns. The pattern is subtle enough for a man who doesn't like to take too many risks on his socks, but interesting enough for a knitter who doesn't want to just go around in circles. The socks have a short row heel and what I consider my "standard 4 point decrease toe" but both the heel and the toe are embellished to make them just a little bit more special for the knitter and the wearer.

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Down-Scaled Dragons Walk Away

For the heel, the scale pattern descends all the way down to the base of the heel with a scale centered directly over the heel for some extra interest if you like wearing your socks with clogs or just like that little extra special detailing.

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Down-Scaled Dragon Toe

As with the heel, for the toe, I've also extended the pattern out onto the toe box to better simulate a dragon foot (as much as a human could have dragon scales on their foot, at any rate). This is the toe where I started the new skein of yarn, and the skeins are slightly different, but not different enough to be rejected by the somewhat picky recipient. But not only were these socks not rejected, but they were worn on Friday. And while they were a little warm for the balmy weather we had Friday, they otherwise got a good report after a day of wear. There wasn't any uncomfortable rubbing from the patterned area and they didn't get wonky in any other way.

I know I keep promising a pattern. The first pair of Dragon socks has been written up and I hope by the end of this week I'll have this pair written up, too. I like to go through my charts twice, especially when there's shaping. Also, I'm knitting test samples of an alternate toe so that the length can be customized a little more, thus making the pattern more flexible.

P.S to Sock Challengers... I'm going to move our regular updates to the weekend. That will give me more time to get everything together and I won't keep moving the post around to accomodate my regular posts.

Devotion

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I have been unwavering in my devotion to Liberty of late. After finishing up the second front piece, I packed my knitting bag for an extended trip to Sleeve Island. I was expecting to be sitting on the shore baking in the unrelenting sun for quite some time before I got a break from my labor, but Liberty has been exceptionally kind so far, and I find myself in posession of a first finished sleeve.

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One Sleeve for Liberty

Sometimes sleeves seem to go on forever, other times they seem to sail by. This one hardly seemed to take me any time at all once I started to get serious about it. I think maybe it had to do with the burst of chilly weather we got this weekend that reminded me that there still might be a chance for me to wear Liberty once this year if I actually got busy and got the pieces knit and assembled. That and the fact that it has become apparent that I am not going to run out of yarn on this project, so I don't have to spend a lot of time fretting over that problem any more. It's kind of amazing how much time and energy I can expend being concerned about not having enough yarn.

I took a short breather to head to the Sleeve Island 7-11 to pick up some bottled water and a few snacks to tide me over as I work on the next sleeve. My return back to the mainland doesn't seem so far away any more.

Nothing Here...

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... except a new book review over at Two Friends Collect Books (blame it on too much TV and video game playing). If you're interested, I've written down my thoughts on Alden Amos' Big Book of Handspinning.

Return of Spring Knitting

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The First Outdoor Knitting of Spring

There are lots of ways to mark the change of the seasons. One way I mark the transition from winter to spring is when I can start to sit on my small balcony in the sunshine without a sweater on and enjoy a bit of knitting or reading or spinning. Overall, this week has been quite nice in Chicago and Liberty and I took advantage of that fact and made some progress towards leaving Sleeve Island while enjoying some podcasts in the sunshine.

I'm hoping tomorrow will bring me to closer to being able to catch the boat from Sleeve Island to the Isles of Copius Finishing. And I'm going to be helped along by the Chicago Public Library. Now you can "borrow" audiobooks electronically. How cool is that?

Crochet Lesson #2: Going in Circles

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I didn't tell the guy checking my bags at the ferry, but I snuck a crochet hook and a little bit of cotton yarn into my knitting bag before I left for Sleeve Island so that I could work on my next lesson in crochet: making circles.

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Two Crochet Circles

One of the things that I have always thought was one of the strong points of crochet is making circular pieces of fabric. Let's face it, when it comes to knitting, circles are hard to do. You end up having to get creative with short rows or deal with fussy double pointed needle tricks. Crochet circles have a simple elegance to them in both the way they look and the way that they are constructed.

After getting through the explanation on the basic stitches, the next lesson in The Happy Hooker is on creating circles. The circle on the left in the picture was my first circle. It's started with a loop of single chain stitches and, as such, has a hole in the center. The circle on the right was started with something like a slip-stitch -- after you make as many stitches as you want around it, you pull on the free end and tighten the hole down to nothing. Very clever and not very difficult.

Believe it or not, it actually took me a little while to figure out how to end each round of the circle without having a big gap between the series of chain stitches that start the circle and the last crochet stitch. Apparently I was putting my slip stitch into one of the chain stitches instead of into an actual stitch. Once I figured that out, it all got a lot easier and my circles looked like they were supposed to. Amazing how something so simple could elude me for so long -- I actually ripped that one out 3 times before I figured it out!

The first circle is composed of all double crochet stitches. In the second circle, I decided to practice the different stitches from the previous lesson. The first ring is single crochet, the second ring is half-double crochet, the third ring is double crochet and the outer ring is triple crochet. It's a bit hard to see, but the circle is getting airier and arier as it expands out. Making circles is also a lesson in increasing. Also something that is much simpler to do well in crochet than in knitting.

If only I'd had this book and done this little project before I put the edging on my spiral rug, I'd have known exactly how to avoid that jog! I'm not going to go back and change it, but this has gotten me thinking again about crocheted rugs made from good thick cotton yarn as accents for my bathrooms.

As it turns out, about the same time I crocheted the circles, I also picked up a copy of the most recent issue of Interweave Crochet. I think I have now found my next "sweater" project -- Annie Modesitt's Lacy Leaf Cocoon. It looks like a crochet take off on a similarly shaped jacket that she had in Vogue Knitting not too long ago. I love things like this for summer wear -- sometimes I just feel a little too undressed in just a tank top and want a little something extra that isn't too warm to wear as well. I think this project would be perfect! It's really a shame the picture on the website doesn't show you the back of the jacket. The back is what is really spectacular in my opinion. And really takes advantage of the neat thing you can do with crochet in the round. (As an aside, I like this issue of Interweave Crochet a great deal... I think it would be kind of fun to make the crocheted sandals (scroll down from the Cocoon jacket if you've clicked on the link above) and there are several other projects I can see myself enjoy making over the summer).

I've still got a few more lessons to go (and knitting projects to finish) before I commit to more yarn and a large crochet project, but I love how now that I have some basics, I really feel like I can tackle almost anything. And given how easy and fast it is to rip and re-crochet, I'm not even afraid of making mistakes. I can't see myself becoming a full-time crocheter, but I have to agree with Debbie Stoller's assessment that crochet is the perfect summer yarn-related craft and that cotton yarns (usually something I avoid when I knit) really shine when you have a crochet hook in your hand!

48 Pairs of Socks Finished!

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Finally, finally, finally I have another Family Sock Challenge update! Not only does this update mark the addition of 14 new pairs of socks from the last post (amazing, eh?) it also marks my entry into the world of multiple blogs on one front page linked together through the magic of PHP. I feel like I've finally moved out of the stone age with my blog as far as maintaining small bits of bloggable information is concerned, rather than just constantly editing my blog template. So this challenge has not only been good for the making of socks, it's also been good for my technical knowledge, as well. How can a girl not like a two-fer like that?

In honor of having an easier way to keep people posted on progress, I've also added dates to people's accomplishments along with the accomplishment itself. I take my dates from the day you send me the email/comment -- not completely accurate, but I hope it will be close enough for most of y'all). Now it should be much easier to see which socks are new to the roundup!

So without further ado... and with the help of a little more PHP magick, I give you the current Family Sock Challenge update!

Hooray for everyone who finished socks in the past couple of weeks!

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Two Sleeves for Liberty

There you have it, folks. All of Liberty's primary pieces are now fully knitted, and I'm departing Sleeve Island for an even scarier place: the Isles of Copious Finishing. This is always a treacherous passage for me, but even more so for Liberty because of the following:

1) A Zillion Ends to Weave In
2) A 306 Stitch Pick-Up Edging That Has to Be Folded Over and Sewn On The Inside
3) Set In Sleeves
4) Sleeve Caps that Must Be Matched to the Back and Front of the Garment
5) Two Ties that Must Be Properly Attached
6) Did I mention the Zillion Ends to Weave In?

Liberty is definitely one of those garments, that, in the end, are made or broken by the quality of the finishing work they receive. I'm trying to remind myself that to rush now and be sloppy is to do a serious injustice to the entire project. So I'm trying to be very meticulous and careful about the project in hopes that I will have a lovely final reward awaiting me for my patience and perserverence.

And did y'all see Bonne Marie's lovely CeCe Cardigan pattern that she made available over the weekend? I'm completely in love. So cute for spring and summer and early fall. If I had enough Calmer sitting in my stash, I'd already be knitting on it. I'm trying to remember that I have committments to some other projects right now. But it's definitely on my list of "future knits".

Edges of Liberty

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I'm afraid it's going to be all Liberty all the time for a little while as I try to keep motivated to get the finishing done. The first step for me was to sew the shoulder seams and then pick up >300 stitches around the fronts edges and neck line.

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Liberty Begins to Take Shape

The edging is a nice edging that involves creating a few rows of stockinette, followed by a purl row to create a fold area and a few more rows of stockinette before binding off. The result is a pleasantly firm edge that gives structure to the garment but doesn't overwhelm it. Which I first thought it might when I realized how thick it was going to be.

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Liberty Edge Detail

Quite lovely, I think. Firm, lovely, and not overwhelming at all. Except binding off greater than 300 stitches. That was a little overwhelming. After I got everything bound off, I realized I wasn't so sure just exactly how I was going to attach the folded over edge to the inside of the garment. Since it definitely doesn't want to roll, I decided that I could go with functional rather than strictly beautiful and I opted for a simple whip stich under the bound off edge and under the edge stitch that rolled inward after I picked up the stitches to create the edge. If there was a better way to do this, don't tell me now! There's no way I'm going to go back and redo it.

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The Underside of The Edge Attached

Originally I was planning to be a bit sneaky with the ends and just weave in the ones you couldn't see and gradually over time take care of the rest. However, after giving it a preliminary try-on, I've concluded that those extra ends will probably add bulk and bulges that will not make me want to wear Liberty. So the next phase in the journey is going to be hunkering down and weaving in a bunch of ends. Where's that bottle of wine when you really need it?

Infintesimal Progress

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Trimmed Ends from Liberty

This photo, unfortunately, represents an entire afternoon's work weaving in ends on Liberty. I say "unfortunately" because this also represents just the ends on one edge of the back of the top -- I still have five more edges to go! Insert big sigh here. I am trying to soldier on, but the road is daunting.

I might have gotten a bit farther if John and I hadn't gone out to see Spamalot! tonight at the Cadillac Palace Theatre here in Chicago. If you like yourself some Monty Python (and the husband and I do) Spamalot is a great evening. It's hard to explain why my favorite line is "That's just not something you usually admit to a heavily armed Christian" if you haven't seen the show. Context is everything. Especially with Python. And both John and I completely cracked up over that line.

I'm going to have to work really hard to come up with something better than a larger pile of ends to show off tomorrow!

Socks for Mom

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Elizabeth wondered yesterday where the socks were.

Heh. Well, the socks are sitting on the same desk with Liberty and the random bits of crochet that I'm playing with.

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Opal Rainforest Tiger Socks Begin

These socks are for my Mom. They are an interesting challenge for me because mom has both shapely calves and bit of arthritis in her feet that make the ball a bit wider than you might expect for a size 7 shoe size. I had to get a few more measurements to make sure that things would be more accomodating in certain places. The ribbing started with 112 stitches and by the time I had reached the top of the ankle I had tapered the sock to 72 stitches. I opted for a Dutch heel for this sock because I wanted a little deeper heel for mom than I usually get with a short-row heel (and I don't like less sproingy sock yarns for short-row heels... the little gaps are too obvious for me). I'm in the process of doing the decreases after shaping the heel and picking up stitches. I'm going to decrease down to 68 stitches, which I hope will give a nice snug, but not too snug fit.

Given all the shaping, and the way the yarn is colored, I decided to stay away from any complicated stitch patterns. Instead, I decided to do something simple to add a little oomph to the socks: whenever two dark stitches meet, I purl the dark stitch instead of knit it. This means that the dark stripes have a raised relief character compared to the rest of the sock and I think it makes a neat impression with tiger striped socks.

I'm almost done with the decreases, so it should be pretty smooth sailing down to the toe from here on out.

Liberty Forever And Ever

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Liberty Moves Slowly Forward

Liberty and I are still making progress with each other. As of the end of Thursday afternoon I had all the ends on the front right part of the garment. The left side is still to go. And the sleeves. Sigh. No CeCe for me until I get Liberty finished.

That sunshine streaming across Liberty was the sun of a perfect spring day. I've been very inspired by spring. In part because of the scene in the courtyard of the building I work in:

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Flowering Trees in the CTP Courtyard

A pleasant and sunny weekend to everyone!

54 Pairs of Socks Complete!

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6 new finished pairs of socks entered the Family Sock Challenge World this week courtesy of Janna, Kristi (who has two pairs, Michelle K, Natalie and Wendy. Wow. We're now up to 54 pairs! It really looks like I need to get knitting faster. When I can, I'm trying to make sure that I provide links to the finished sock pictures and a little detail about the kind of socks they are -- sort of a way for all of us to check out new sock patterns and yarns that we might be curious about. All the entries marked 4/22/2006 and later are new ones, so be sure to check them out!

A note to everyone: I will be in that Mecca for fiber people know as Maryland Sheep & Wool next weekend. As much as I love my laptop, I'm probably not going to take it along (a girl needs to have room in her suitcase for sheepy things when going to Maryland). So there will be no Sock Challenge post next weekend. If you need to update me, just come back and make another comment on this post. Movable Type will keep track of the dates for me.

I'm going to be taking two sock projects along with me: the pair for my mom and I'm going to invoke my "I can work on socks for myself if they were already started when the challenge started" clause and get started on my second Mermaid sock. The first one got started on my very first trip to Maryland in 2004. Seems like it might be time to get the second one underway and finished!

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