October 2007 Archives

May Seamed

May Seamed

As September begins to wind down (where did another month go?) I'm also getting close to the finish line with May. Handy it is to have a husband who can watch the baby a little bit over the weekend, otherwise, I never would have gotten May's seams in place. Finally she is beginning to look like an actual sweater instead of a jumble of parts.

I'm not dreadfully fond of seaming together pieces that are mostly composed of reverse stockinette. To help make it a little easier, I did a one stitch selvedge on each edge of each piece (except for the front opening edges) in regular stockinette. I'm more or less happy with the results. Nothing looks too wonky and the sweater has the fit I expected it to have, although this is still a little difficult to tell without the collar. I've learned from more than one experience not to judge a sweater before all the finishing is done -- the addition of those finishing touches often adds necessary structure to the final garment.

Now I just have the shawl collar to go (it's knit separately and attached later) and the I-cord ties. The collar is garter stitch, so it should go fairly quickly. Seaming it and getting it to lay right will likely be another adventure, but when I tried attaching it as I went, I didn't like the way it looked, and figured maybe seaming the collar to the sweater was the right approach after all.

Rippedoffknitter asked why, since it is a raglan, didn't I just knit it all in one piece. The answer: because I was too lazy to re-jigger the pattern in order to do that. It seems like almost every Rowan pattern has you knit all the pieces individually and then seam them together. At least every pattern I've tried. Given that this is a light weight little bolero-style sweater, those seams probably don't add that much strength to the garment so the conversion probably wouldn't have hurt it at all.

Thanks to everyone who left comments about dealing with vaccinations. Every time I post about something like this and get to hear other people's suggestions and stories it makes me feel better -- or at least more prepared. Z got some Tylenol before her doctor's visit and I nursed her for a little while right before she had her shots to make her feel a little better before she got them. Z was a very brave baby and dealt with it better than I thought she would. There was some crying (and I got a little misty eyed, too), but it was probably harder on me that it was on her. We came home and she spent most of the time sleeping. It seems like the most major side effect for her from her 4 shots was just being a little drowsy. She was back to her very awake self the next day. So, all in all, not the worst possible thing. TracyKM asked in the comments if I could talk a little more about vaccines from an immunologist's perspective. I'll try to do that sometime in the near future, in case it would be helpful for anyone else out there -- and I'll try to explain why some of the side effects occur.

Ethnic Knitting


Today, I have a special guest post -- I'm part of the blog book tour for Donna Druchunas, Ethnic Knitting Discovery. Donna's new book is a lovely jumping off point for any of you interested in designing your own two colored and textured sweaters. The instructions and worksheets make it easy to take care of any "knitting arithmetic" so you can focus on the fun parts. As part of the guest posting, I asked Donna a few broad questions about her book that I thought other folks might be interested in hearing the answers to. Enjoy!


Theresa, thanks for inviting me to bring the blog tour for Ethnic Knitting Discovery to your blog.

What got you interested in writing this book?

I was talking to my publisher one day a year or so ago, and she mentioned that there were no books on ethnic knitting geared toward a younger audience or newer knitters and I thought, "You know, that's right." It seems like most of the books have have been published about knitting traditions from around the world focus on very traditional, even old-fashioned, garments. These books also tend to assume that the knitters have a lot of background experience, that they understand the shaping and construction of sweaters, and that they know how to do a lot of calculations without much help.

That's not to put these books down, I love them and I have shelves full of advanced books like this. But while most of the traditional knitting books give you charts and high-level overviews of garment instructions, there are very few that provide the basic tools to enable new knitters to get over the hurdles that they might feel stand between them and the ability to design a garment from scratch. In Ethnic Knitting Discovery, I am trying to provide more details of the process so there's not so much mystery involved.

I also wanted to show that you can update the traditional styles without losing the traditional feeling of the garments. For example, you can make what was traditionally a tight sweater, that fit snugly to be worn as a workman's outfit, into a loose fitting garment for casual wear today. You can take a black-and-white Norwegian design and do it in purple and green!

What fascinated you about the cultures you included?

I'm fascinated by many different cultures. I first got interested in Andean knitting when I was editing Andean Folk Knits by Marcia Lewandowski. Marcia had spent several years living in South America, and she wrote about her experiences and put together patterns for many of the knitted accessories she'd seen during her travels. I just loved reading her stories and seeing the color combinations she used on all of her projects. Some time after that, one of our local yarn shops held a class on Andean knitting and I took it because I love unusual knitting techniques. The instructor had a lot of sample pieces of knitting that she purchased when she was traveling in South America and I just fell in love with the knitting style after seeing the pieces up close. Some day I hope to make it to Peru to do some in-person research. But for this book, I had to be an armchair traveler.

The other sections of Ethnic Knitting Discovery were chosen more for the types of sweaters that were made in the region than for anything specific about the cultures. I wanted this book to feature drop shoulder sweaters, because they don't have much shaping and they're the most basic type of sweater for those who are new to designing. Learning about the cultures was a bonus for me.

What sorts of things did you think about when you worked on designing your own projects?

I wing it when I'm designing something for myself. I start with the basic number of stitches to cast on for the back (if it's going to be knit flat) or for the body (if it's going to be circular), and I just make up each part as I get to it. For example, on one Aran sweater I made, I got tired of knitting the cables after I'd finished the body, so I used the trim stitch from the bottom band for the full sleeves. It looks great, like it was planned that way, but it was a last minute decision. When I'm knitting a colorwork pattern, I pick a main color and contrasting colors, but I make up the color sequence as I go, just changing colors whenever I get bored. I might even add a new chart when I get part way done, just because I want to add another element or because I'm tired of knitting the other pattern.

If I'm designing for publication and I need a test knitter to make the garment because I don't have time, then I have to do a lot more planning up front. In that case, I make sketches and fill them in with colored pencils to get an idea what the entire garment will look like. I also put the specific colors into the chart for the test knitter. I still pretty much make it up as I go, but in this case I'm using colored pencils and charting software instead of yarn and needles.

Do you have any tips to encourage people to experiment? I just love the idea of experimenting with old traditional ideas.

Me too! That's the fun part, isn't it? Tradition is wonderful. But it's not like a law. Take the parts you like, and modify them to suit your own tastes. If you think a sweater with patterns all over it is too busy, make a plain sweater with patterning just at the hem or on the sleeves. If you don't like the colors used in traditional designs, go for bright, snazzy colors instead. In the Andes, knitters in the past used natural alpaca colors and yarns dyed with natural yarns, to the colors were limited to the materials on hand. But today the knitters in Peru and Bolivia love acrylic yarn that is dyed in bright, neon colors. They've modernized their own tradition to include modern materials and to cut down on the work of handspinning and dyeing their own yarns. But there's no mistaking a hand-knit Andean chullo for a commercial product, even when it's made with man-made fibers and dyes.

Donna and the Biggest Knitting Needles I Have Ever Seen

In the interest of full disclosure, I did get a copy of the book to look at as part of the book tour. But I didn't receive any other compensation. I just enjoy Donna's books, her knitting spirit, and keeping up with what another Lithuanian knitter is doing!

Baby Blanket


This week has been quite the week. Z has decided to give up napping during daylight hours. I kid you not. She started doing this on Monday and as of the end of Thursday she's still maintaining this pattern. She takes an evening nap now (which she never did before) and has not given up sleeping through the night. And nothing we seem to try during the day works -- except carrying her and letting her fall asleep on one of us. And even that tends to be fleeting. If we get an hour that way, we consider ourselves lucky. We're baffled. We have no idea what has changed -- or if anything has really changed. She's also gone back to wanting to nurse every three hours (when she's not sleeping) and when she nurses, it's usually a 45 minute session. I would love her to sleep some more, because it seems to me like an 11 week old baby needs more than about 12 hours of sleep a day.

Which is a long way of saying that I haven't gotten very much knitting done this week, since my days are filled with keeping Z from getting bored and wailing in all this awake time she has created for herself. I'm beginning to think that my baby has decide that she's going to adopt an "I'll sleep when I'm dead" attitude. Scary to think what could be ahead!

Fortunately, since I can't talk about my own knitting (well, I could, but I would have no interesting pictures to show), I do have someone else's knitting that I can talk about. Z was gifted with a lovely handknit blanket from one of her Babcia's close friends.

White Blanket with Pink Trim

It's not a huge blanket, but having knit a couple of baby blankets myself, I know that a 3' x 3' blanket is a huge amount of work, even with a simple stitch. This blanket is plain stockinette in the center, but has a lovely eyelet motif all around the edges.

Blanket Pattern Detail

I am sure I have seen this pattern in Barbara Walker's Treasuries, but I can't remember the name (not surprising, motherhood seems to have robbed me of the few memory brain cells I had left). John tells me that this blanket is a fairly traditional sort of Polish baby blanket. Probably because there is a lacy pattern in it. I love the scalloped crochet edging with the little bit of pink detail.

It's also a practical blanket -- it's definitely made out of an acrylic yarn. Once it gets a little colder we'll be able to use it and know we'll be able to wash it if Z does something that makes washing required. I'm really touched by the gift. While John's family knows the woman who made the blanket, I don't and it really gets me when someone that I don't know does something really nice for us. I know it's for the baby, but the person who really gets to enjoy the hand knits is me. At least until Z is old enough to appreciate that sort of thing.

Z Models Her Handknit Blanket

Of course, I couldn't close an entry about something that was a gift for Z without including Z in the post. She very gracefully agreed to model the blanket so you could all see how well it co-ordinates with her wardrobe. And while she's not smiling, I just love this picture of my very bright eyed baby showing us how well she holds up her head -- this picture was taken when she was about 7 weeks and had just figured out how much there was to see if she could keep her head up and move it around.

Half a Collar for May


When October rolls around, I am a happy camper. It usually brings that delightful cool fall weather where you don't yet really need a coat, but it's just the perfect time for busting out a favorite sweater. It's a time where I start to think that moving wool fibers through my fingers is a real pleasure and I anticipate what yarn in my stash might become what sweater or other cold weather garment. Here in the midwestern United States, the trees are beginning to change and so even though we all know that winter is coming, nature is giving us one final blast of color before we get to see a higher percentage of white and grey.

Except that this last week has been more reminiscent of July than of October, including high humidity. And just about the last thing I want to do is think about wool sweaters. So May, and a couple of other wooly projects that need to be completed (like my Ab Fab Afghan) have been a little neglected.

May and Half Her Collar

Fortunately, cooler weather is supposed to be just around the corner, which has been the one thing that kept me plugging away on May's enormous collar. This collar turns out to be the exact reason that it is always good to buy a little more yarn than you think you need. I had to use a size larger needle for the body of the sweater, so I should have used a size up needle for the garter stitch borders as well (it was two sizes smaller than the body needle). However, I liked the density of the fabric when I used the three sizes smaller needle (I like my collars to be a little stiffer especially in soft squishy yarn like Cashsoft) that the pattern called for and didn't think it would matter all that much. And in terms of overall look, I don't think it does matter that much. In terms of yarn usage, it matters a great deal. I expect, by the time the other half of the collar is complete, that this collar will take up the better part of three balls of yarn.

May Collar Detail

This collar is made in two pieces and then seemed when they meet. At first I thought it was kind of stupid not to knit it all in one piece, then I realized that it would be difficult to judge where to start the shapings on the second half and that the edging might be slightly different looking if one were doing decreases rather than increases, so I'm following the instructions as suggested. However, rather than binding off each piece as they describe, I'm thinking of doing a three needle bind off in hopes that it will create a smoother more invisible seam at the back center

I'm hoping to get started on the second side tonight. The nice thing about a garter stitch collar -- it's easy to knit in the dark while watching TV, which is eminently important in my house when you are trying to stay cool.

In the "arrggh!" file, I realized that I have now posted the same picture of Z twice. Clearly I love that picture. It's also one of the pictures I have on my desk at work. But with the nearly 3 million pictures I have taken of her, you'd think I'd be able to come up with something original every Friday. Ah well. I'll work on doing better on that account this week.

Cooler and Farther Along

Progress on May's Collar

As the weather cools off, progress on May's collar continues, albeit slowly. I have read of the mythical mother who can actually nurse and knit at the same time. If any of you are such a mythical person, can you describe how you do it? With as much time as I seem to spend nursing lately, I'd love to be getting some more knitting accomplished. But even with my pillow, I can't quite figure out how to keep secure positioning for the baby and work with knitting needles at the same time....

Friday Baby Eye Candy


Thanks to all the helpful comments from Wednesday, I finally figured out how to do a little knitting while I was nursing and May's collar is finished. Since a third picture of garter stitch collar pieces would more than even I could bear to see on my blog, I decided to opt for the cute baby picture route.

Before I get there though, I thought I'd comment a little bit about nursing.

While I was pregnant with Z, I was pretty sure I wanted to breastfeed her. I'm not a "lactivist" by any stretch of the imagination, but I am an immunologist and I know that breast milk has a lot of immunological value to newborn babies. I didn't figure it could be all that hard to breast feed a baby, after all, all of us that have 2 X chromosomes come with the same basic equipment.

Initially, I was surprised at how uncomfortable it was. It took me a while for me and Z to get a rhythm and for my anatomy to get used to doing something it had never done before. Early on, babies don't have much head control, so when you nurse, you pretty much have to support them the entire time. Even a nursing pillow can't do the whole job for you. So it can be challenging to get into a good position. And bad positioning means arm pain, back pain, etc.

But after a while, Z and I seemed to get things co-ordinated right and the discomfort mostly disappeared. I still have to deal with days that she clamps on like a pair of pliers and then proceeds to gnaw on my breast, but in general, she's gotten less aggressive. I suspect that I have also developed less sensitivity. A win win situation for me and for her.

After the physical issues subsided a bit, some of the mental issues started to become more prominent. On one hand, nursing is the ultimate act of nourishing and caring for your baby. On the other hand, you can end up feeling like you are just your baby's milk tank. I never really anticipated the stress that I would feel because I needed to feed a baby every three hours and feeding her took about 45 minutes. Or the stress of being worried that when she got hungry I might not be around to meet her needs. Its wonderful and awful to be the sole source of nutrition for my child. And on different days I swing towards one side or the other.

Which is where the knitting comes in.

When we first get up in the morning, Z gets almost my whole attention when we nurse. It's a special time in the morning. She's happy and I'm sleepy and I feel like I can just stare at her for hours. Endorphins, perhaps? Good Mommy hormones? But as the day progresses, and I'm on my 5th or 6th hour of nursing for the day, I start to feel like I'm not getting any time for me, and I feel like she's more of a burden than a joy. Yes, I know that motherhood is all about sacrifices, but it's also about balance. I want Z and I to have meaningful time together. I also want to feel like I am still a person in my own right and not just a food supply. So the compromise is that nursing time is for her to eat and for me to try to indulge in something that I might not get to do otherwise. I've gotten caught up on some of my pleasure reading, I make the occasional phone call and now I can make some stitches happen on a knitting project. And Z gets a much happier Mom -- someone who doesn't mind nursing quite as much and feels better about it because nursing means enjoying a baby and also getting a little time for myself.

The experience of nursing has made me realize why the statistics are so bad for breastfeeding in this country past the first month or so. Breastfeeding is hard work and almost no one prepares you for what it's really all about. I'm so glad I'm giving Z this kind of start, and I wouldn't want it any other way, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about giving it all up every now and again so that I could have some of my old freedom back.

But just about the time I start to think that way, Z treats me to something like this:

Baby Smiles

And I realize that that happy healthy baby in front of me is happy and healthy because of what I'm doing. It doesn't take the hard stuff away, but it definitely makes it more worthwhile and rewarding.

May Gets a Collar

May Has a Very Large Collar

While I can do simple knitting and nurse at the same time now, seaming things together is another story entirely. So attaching May's collar is the sum total of my weekend knitting accomplishments. I used a crochet-chain slip stitch to seam the collar to the body of the sweater and I am very happy with the results. It was a bit slow going mating up the garter stitch edge to a series of different types of stockinette edges, but I ultimately prevailed. I chose the slip stitch seam in case I needed to pull it out -- crochet chains come out a lot faster than any other seam type that I know.

May is just a mountain of finishing work... I think it gets it's 3 skein Rowan rating for that alone! There are still quite a few ends to weave in and I also have to make and attach the I-cord ties that hold it together in the front. But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now. A good thing, too since I'd really like to have a small sweater to throw on over my shoulders as it gets a little colder.

Nursing Along A Scarf

The Current Status of the Stained Glass Scarf

Now that May's collar is done, I had to find another project that I could work on while nursing. For me, the ideal project is something that

a) doesn't take too much thought
b) doesn't involve double pointed needles*
c) isn't insanely monotonous
d) can be stopped and started at almost any place without being difficult to figure out where I am
e) is already on going and needs to be finished
f) doesn't require row counting

This more or less eliminates socks on double pointed needles (which is my favorite sock knitting mode at the moment), lace (i.e. the Diamond Fantasy scarf and another lace scarf project I have started), my Habu scarf, Rogue, the Kaleidoscope Vest I am still working on for Dad and casting on something new -- I just have too much that needs finished up right now to justify starting a new project.

The two projects that were left to me then, were the Stained Glass Scarf and my Mountain Colors Targhee Log Cabin square blanket. The blanket might get some play later on, but for right now, I didn't want to deal with scissors and crochet hooks.

So I started working on the Stained Glass Scarf again. It pretty much fit perfectly with my qualifications. It's one of those projects that makes me crazy if I try to work on it in any kind of faithful or dedicated way, because it takes so long for any progress to be visible. The double knitting makes a very nice thick fabric (one that I think would make a great headband for John, so this might not be the last time I use it) but when you have to knit every row twice, it makes for pretty slow going. However, it is just mindless enough not to be something that requires a chart, but not so mindless that I'd rather read a book than work on it. And it's easy to pick up and put down on a moment's notice. About the only challenge is a baby who likes to fling an arm out and grab at yarn -- it's an accidental thing at this point, but knowing my baby it will be more purposeful in the not too distant future.

Since Z usually nurses from 30-60 minutes** a session and we have about 3-4 sessions a day when I can sit in a place where I can work on it, I'm hoping that with a week's worth of nursing I'll be able to see some progress. It would be awfully nice to be able to have this scarf for my husband while we're still in this decade...

* Z is getting more and more active and I worry a double pointed needle could be potentially dangerous if she flung a hand or any other body part in the wrong place at the wrong time.

**Yes, I know this suggests that she might just be pacifying, but I'm pretty good at telling the difference between her real nursing and just nibbling...and she really does seem to be nursing all that time -- I figure I must not have a huge capacity, but I keep producing in a steady enough fashion that if she just keeps at it she gets what she needs. Also, she only nurses 5-6 times a day instead of the 7-8 that a lot of babies her age nurse, and she has one 7 hour stretch at night when she doesn't nurse, so I figure she's making up for lost time. And, truth be told, I'd rather have fewer longer nursing sessions than more short ones... it's easier for me to manage my days that way.

Baby in A Cashmere Hat


Z is not a baby who forgets to say thank you for special gifts. And this week she received a very special gift from a very special friend.


The very lovely hat that Z is wearing is made out of cashmere, hand dyed by Posh yarns.


But even nicer, it was hand knit by Emma, my blog neighbor and fibery trading partner extraordinaire.


It arrived this week, along with those two sweet softies, and came as a complete surprise. Z, of course, had to try it on. The hat is still a little big, Z and her mom think it will be perfect for when it really starts to get chilly.

Thank you so much, Emma! Z and I are both touched deeply by your beautiful, sweet and thoughtful gift! And we especially like the softie with the crinkly ears. Z just loves the sounds it makes -- and I like the fact that she has some nice handmade toys that don't have an iota of plastic anywhere!

May in October

May in October

With the help of some unseasonal weather I was able to both finish and photograph May. In fact, it does really feel a bit like May at the moment, or maybe even June since we are experiencing 78 degree weather as I type -- which is a partial explanation for the dreadful hair day I was having while John was taking the pictures. The new hair cut is actually a lot more flattering when it's not quite so windy and warm.

May from the Front

It feels quite remarkable to have actually finished a knit garment -- even if the phot oshoot occurred on a day where it was far to warm for a sweater. When was the last time I actually completed a sweater that wasn't a baby sweater? I started Rogue last fall, but didn't get very far before I got pregnant, and decided to put it aside, knowing that my size was going to change rather dramatically. It was probably the correct move on my part. Although Z is now 3 months old, I'm still a long way from recovering my old shape -- between the 15 extra pounds that are lingering with me and the extra inflation in the "boobal" area I've shifted up from the 32-34" circumference range to the 36-38" range.

Nonetheless, I'm pleased with the final result. I rather like the way the shawl collar sits. And sewing on those little I-cord ties made all the difference, believe it or not. I didn't like it as much when I tried it on before those ties were in place and tied together. More proof of how such a small detail can affect the overall structure of a garment.

May from the Back

The center seam is a little more visible than I would like it to be, but I think the result would have been the same if I had followed the instructions to the letter instead of using the three needle bind off that I chose. I do think the collar sits well in the back as well as the front -- and I'm not doing anything special to help it hold its position.

About my only irritation with May is some flaws that I found in the Cashsoft itself. You may notice the small light spot on right side of the back -- that was a flaw in the yarn. The first couple of balls were just fine, but the last couple seemed to have quite a few joins and places where the plying got a little wonky. That was disappointing given the cost of the yarn and my previous positive experience with Cashsoft.

May with a July Baby

This photo collection clearly wouldn't be complete without a picture of the sweater and the baby it was made to help celebrate. A cute small person is clearly a nice way to help show off a new sweater! And now that she's going back to taking the occasional afternoon nap, maybe I'll get the chance to start working on my Diamond Fantasy scarf again!

Sweater Details:

May, from Rowan Classic, Mother & Baby
RYC Cashsoft DK in "Ballad"
Needles: US 7 and 3.

Brief Hiatus


Dear Blog Friends,

I always think that I am going to be able to do everything I want to do, no matter what new things I take on. So I had the same attitude about having a baby. Certainly after I "got used to" having a baby around, I would regain my equilibrium for balancing home and work and crafting and then I'd have everything back in order again. But at this point, I still haven't reached that equilibrium point. And, as a result, I spend a lot of time bouncing between things, and not really being happy with what is going on with any of them. So even though I don't like what I am seeing, it has become clear to me that something has to give. John and Z are non-negotiables, work, unfortunately, falls into that category as well.

Crafting and regular blogging, in part because they go hand in hand, are the easiest things to set aside for the time being while I work on getting the two most important things in balance. Blogging is creating additional issues for me at the moment because I made the mistake of trying to upgrade to Movable Type 4 and I have run into some server-side problems that probably aren't a big deal but which I just don't have time to troubleshoot easily right now. But the process of upgrading also resulted in changes to my database that make it difficult to use my old MT3 installation as well. And time I spend messing around with blogging software is time I don't spend with Z or on other things that I need to get done.

I will continue to pop in here periodically with a baby picture I especially like or a project that I manage to complete, but posting will be irregular until at least December and perhaps until after the holiday season. Hopefully by then I will have things in better order and can start adding a few more fun things to the collection of stuff I am trying to balance.

Peace to you all.


Smiles for Grandpa


Dear Friends of Mommy --

We are in Ann Arbor right now because Mommy and Daddy say that Grandpa had to have something called "surgery" to fix his heart. Mommy was very worried yesterday about Grandpa, but she is better now since she got to talk to Grandpa after it was all done. Grandpa is in a special room right now with his own special nurse. The nurse told us that Grandpa was very strong and was doing very well. Mommy told me that my job was to smile at Grandpa and make him feel better, but they won't let me see Grandpa until he's not in that special room anymore. Mommy has me all dressed up in a special outfit today just because she hopes that Grandpa will get to leave that special room today.

Since I can't go in and see him yet, and I am supposed to make him smile, I told Mommy that she needed to take some pictures of me smiling so that Grandpa could have me with him all the time. Here I am this morning in my PJ's looking extra cute.

I Am Cute Even When I Am Not Entirely in the Frame

Mommy says I have a very special Grandpa and that he does some things with yarn (I know about yarn because Mommy has a lot of it in my closet still) and that this blog is sort of about yarn. If anyone out there wanted to smile along with me, I know Grandpa would like it.