Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Book Meme

Helen and Cathy tagged me, so here goes. Keep in mind that I shape-read extremely quickly and will read anything with a happy ending (in other words, I have undiscriminating taste and adore romance). I used to read mostly thrillers and technical books, but cancer has a way of adding that aspect to a person's life already so I balance the angst with fluff. A huge portion of my physical therapy for my orb is to read, so I do. They know me well at the local library.

[1] Name five of your [many] favorite books. (All romances, just for fun.)
Lass Small's An Obsolete Man, Julia Quinn's Minx, Elizabeth Mansfield's A Marriage of Inconvenience, Jan Hudson's Fly with Me, Suzanne Enoch's England's Perfect Hero.

[2] What was the last book you bought?
Talk Nerdy to Me, by Vicki Lewis Thompson, and yes, I own her entire nerd series. The ending on this one was a bit weak, but I had a good laugh over the nerdspeak.

[3] What was the last book you read?
I read an average of a book per day, often three, so I'm looking at a few grocery bags full of books and wondering what I just returned to the library. A random selection from the top of one bag: The Winter Duke by Louise Bergin, Kiss Me Annabel by wonderful Eloisa James, and Elizabeth Boyle's This Rake of Mine.

As I was knitting Morgan, DH read aloud (with glee) from Alan Douglas' Tube Testers and Classic Electronic Test Gear; he can make anything sound good. DD's been reading aloud from a novel she picked up at Hein & Co. on vacation, The Company, by Robert Littell. I've been skimming Marilyn van Keppel's translation of Three-Cornered & Long Shawls by Sigridur Halldorsdottir.

[4] List five books or authors that have been particularly meaningful to you (in no particular order).
Elizabeth Bevarly's books got me through the ocular melanoma, kept me laughing through the pain and believing in tangible reality. I have her complete works and think the world of her as a person.
Gene Logsdon's Practical Skills saved my life numerous times on the farm in Montana.
Michael Pearson's Traditional Knitting got me back into designing in my 20's during a spell of hammock-rest in Santa Cruz.

Gretel Erlich's The Solace of Open Spaces helped me cope with loss and fear during some hard years.
When we were young, my brother bought me Cleary's The Mouse and the Motorcycle and taught me all the hard words. He's still and ever an excellent guy.

[5] Name some books you’ve been dying to read but just haven’t yet.
All the latest titles by my favorite authors? A bunch of the Squawkers (see sidebar) have new titles I have yet to buy. I've actually been on a re-reading binge lately, going through all of Liz Bevarly's books. Today I have a headache and am craving a Sandra Hill. Will have to dig through the shelves to find one of her Vikings I think.

[6] Tag people.
Annie, have you done this yet (yes, I've read your book page)? Elizabeth? (What is the 50 book challenge?) Leslie?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Morgan's code

Since we're in the midst of a miserable squall, here's a cheerful photo of our tree fern from a few weeks ago.

Yes, I will post the pattern for Morgan here soon, but it is my grandmother's 96th birthday on Saturday and I have to knit something for her, if only an omiyage for some chocolates, so that takes priority. I have Morgan's pattern in Word, the calculations sheet in Excel, and just need to modify the initial bit of the back neck so it increases more smoothly (there's a bit too much fabric in one spot and not quite enough in another. This will be labeled a DRAFT pattern since it hasn't been test knit, just composed on the fly. I would appreciate it if you email me with any and all suggestions and corrections. Before that, comments about the best way to post a pattern to the blog, especially the spreadsheet, are most welcome. I'd rather not have to email it privately as it is tax time and I'm mired in receipts.

I pulled the pins this morning so the shawl could relax, and I have it draped on the back of the couch now. It didn't need a hard blocking since the gauge of the stockinette portions was already spot on for that grist. This shawl feels like a dream around the shoulders and has great drape. Unless a family member or close friend nabs it before I finish tweaking the pattern, I'll have a drawing here for the prototype. As I told Claudia, the pointy aspect just doesn't do it for me. DD thinks I should take Heather's recommendation and have each contestant submit the reason why she needs to own Morgan the Duck Blind. [Keep in mind that if you have a prong-style engagement ring, it will snag on the viscose filament.] I'll post here when it's time for entries.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Morgan is blocked

Frankly, this felt so good unblocked, I was sorely tempted to leave it as is and just steam the points. But, it did need a wash since it has already had an interesting life, so into the sink it went. Finished dimensions are 24" deep at the center back, 42" across the shoulder axis, and the neck hole measures 42" along the garter edge. I didn't give it a hard stretch, just tugged it until the yo's looked good and the stockinette sections still had a cohesive profile. I put in a quarter and the Altoids tin (filled with pins) for scale. DH and DD have not been fond of the shawl since they have been living on leftovers for the duration, but when they saw it blocked they both went "Ooooh!" so I don't have to worry about finding it in the rag bag...

The yarn was six balls of Endless Summer Collection Luna from elann.com in a deep olive green, 57% viscose/43% cotton, a splitty, fussy yarn made of fine 2-ply strands of cotton and an under-twisted strand of viscose. In six balls, there were two knots and one damaged spot where half the strands were cut (I ran another strand through there when working in ends, bridging it). If the yarn were just the cotton elements without the nasty viscose, it would be a pleasure to knit, but that viscose gave me fits. The resulting fabric is gorgeous, elastic, cushy, warm without being hot, and a nice balance of drape and density without being too heavy. The viscose does add a pretty glimmer.

I used a 4.5 mm (US size 7) needle throughout, starting with a pointy aluminum and switching to an Addi 60" sixty-six rows in, more to loosen my gauge and make my hands relax than out of necessity. I did a modified 3-stitch Kiri start with the edge stitch slipped and 9 ridges, mirrored traveling vine with the pivot at the center back. As you can see in the photo above, I flared the solid portions of the vines, then branched the eyelet portions twice. When I got the size I wanted, I worked the standard seven stitch pattern until I finished the fifth ball of yarn. According to my calculations I was getting around 5000 stitches per ball, and with 56 points and a fluctuating 450 to 500 stitches per row, I knew I couldn't do another repeat so commenced the edging. I cut two rows of depth from the way I had pictured the lattice, just in case, but think I might just have had enough yardage to keep them in.

If you count the 9 ridges times 3 stitches for the cast-on base as one row, and then the 56 points as one row, it's 117 rows from start to finish. Around 3:00 this morning in a haze of chocolate-covered crunchy espresso beans and a splendid trashy novel, I realized I really should break the yarn at the center and knit the other half of the points from the purl side to get proper symmetry, but by doing some elegant maneuvers with rather elaborate decreases, I was able to get an equivalent stretched mirror profile. I didn't think I could bend my brain into backwards plus reverse and keep up the pace I'd set.

I actually could have finished this early in the week except I stumbled last week and landed hard on my right wrist. Because I've been doing piecework as a business since 4th grade and I practiced piano and cello an average aggregate of forty hours per week all during my school years, I'm always hovering on the edge of CTS and other delightful wrist and digit afflictions. I've managed it very carefully, taking breaks, being conscious of hand position, etc., but I have the unfortunate instinct of reaching out with my hands when I fall...

As I knit, I had my laptop open with a text document on the left and a spreadsheet on the right, and I entered each row as I figured it out. I know there are a few mistakes in there, but I'm not planning on knitting this particular shawl again and really just used the pattern as reference. It was a wonderful moment when I realized that I was into a 30-row repeat in the branching sections; that sped things up considerably! All I had to modify was the number of repeats and the continued increasing at the edge to curve the wings around. I played with the center back line a bit, too, one day when I was bored. I was careful to avoid adding a centered point to the edging because I didn't want to disrupt the flow with too much order.

Traveling vine is a fun stitch pattern composed of a decrease vine in a field of stockinette that zig zags in opposition to a ladder of paired yo's. It's a form of distortion lace in that the vine eats the field stitches and thus cants the solid portions of the lace back and forth. Because of the stitch architecture, this lace cannot be flipped upside-down to appear right-side up when knit top down. However, it is simple to modify the width of the repeat by skipping some of the decreases. Branching the paired yo's takes more planning because the new pair won't be moving in opposition correctly, but if you look at the photo above you can see that it does work.

It grows a stitch per repeat on the right side, then decreases back to the original number in the next purl row, so on my spreadsheet I had a running calculation of the percentage of gain/loss each row and also over a span of five rows. This made figuring out the increases to make a smooth curve around the shoulders easy. One of the goals in this project was to avoid ripping, and the spreadsheet was a great help. I did rip one purl row because I got distracted and worked too far and needed to flare. Aside from that, I had three times when I forgot the second yo in the oft-repeated yo, k1b, yo sequence, but those were easily caught in the next purl row.

Since this was, for all practical purposes, a giant swatch, I took some shortcuts I wouldn't do in a commission. For instance, I didn't fuss with the direction of the stitches in the p2tb's, especially once I saw that the twisted stitches raised and defined the vine, which was in danger of being indistinct in the marled yarn. I had gotten some interesting answers to my query on the EZasPi group about split circle shawls, and this was a fun experiment in that. I will change the curvature at the back neck just a bit and start the shoulder curve sooner to fit normal shoulders. I do like useful swatches.

I will probably return to my FLAK next since that bag of Cascade 220 is hogging some serious space in the closet and Sweater wants a friend. I just wound a ball of Claudia handpainted Merino from
Nathania at Communknity to try to the fingerless mitt pattern at a lighter gauge.

Ent Fashion GOLD

Done. Ten minutes before the finish time, ends all woven in. I haven't washed and blocked it yet, and will wait until the current storm has passed so the poor thing has a chance of drying. Sorry about the lop-sided photo; DD is a teen...

Here's a quick snap of the wing. It sits comfortably around the shoulders because of the way I flared the vine pattern. The edging doesn't show very well (needs blocking) but is a simple sawtooth of lattice.

In a late-night email to Cathy, my valiant cheerleader, I wrote that Steph says the shawl looks like the leaf shawl Helen Mirren picked up from the forest floor when playing Morgan in Excalibur. It would make a great duck blind. I was aiming for an organic look and definitely got it. It would be the perfect accessory for an Entish Halloween costume.

The ginger thins and dark chocolate covered espresso beans really made a difference around 3 this morning as I was swatching edgings and hoping not to run out of yarn. Oh, stats. It's around 29,200 stitches and I had 10 grams of yarn left so the weight is 290 grams. And yes, I have the entire stitch-by-stitch pattern in a file on the computer. I can't not do that after years of writing beadwork patterns. I'll post some of the notes another day; learned a few interesting things as I knit this silly thing.

The shawl feels good around the shoulders, very elastic and hugging. It isn't my style, but if nobody wants it when it's blocked, well, I have friends who hunt ducks...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Stitches West

Stitches West was a big party. I saw dozens of friends from the past twenty years, resumed conversations where they had left off, laughed, hugged, and wished we could bend time. I met ethereal friends in their tangible form and liked them even more than I'd hoped. And, while standing by Morgaine's chatting, my completely unexpected aunt bumped into me and we spent the day together. Serendipity.

I bought everything on my shopping list, plus a totally irresistible tanned sheepskin from Janet Heppler of Nebo-Rock Textiles (nebo-rock at saber dot net -- no website) in Covelo, CA, who raises exquisite colored fine wool. This fellow was a merino ram with serious horns so he was dispatched. This fleece is beyond soft, beautiful crimp, and the color -- wow. I've been buying fleece from Janet for many years and have been delighted with the staple length and strength, crimp, quality, and oh-the-colors! Last June at the Black Sheep Gathering, DD bought quite a lot of dyed tussah and angora from Janet for spindling on her Bosworths. Beautiful fibers and great depth of shade. After I bought my cousin Merino, Janet pulled out another in a deeper shade of moorit. She has quite a stash of these (white, too) and they are all splendid. The color is more true in the top photo, but the detail to the left shows the amazing crimp.

Auntie swooned over an Orenburg shawl, so we both bought Merino laceweight at Skaska Designs. They had skeins of Sally Fox's new laceweight cotton. Gorgeous! Aunt has a thing for alpaca and also got quite a lot of excellent sock yarn from Ellen. Aunt also kept gravitating to Darlene's booth, Hand Jive, so I know what to get her for Christmas...

Some of my friends from Jeanie Townsend's group and I tried to meet at Blue Moon Fiber Arts. We were sort of successful, but it was crowded! It turns out we all met and didn't realize it at the time. I bought some medium-weight and some heavyweight STR, plus got a mini skein of lightweight. What I really wanted was a bunch of the Hot Flash hot pink glitzy yarn, but I have no idea for whom I'd knit that color. It sure was bright and fun, though!

I went up against a few other women for three bags of deep olive green Jo Sharp DK at Webs. The competition was fierce, but I held tight and distracted them with three bags of forest green and got out of there fast! Aunt kept me company in the line. I was especially pleased that Aunt found fifteen skeins of just the shade of green Cascade 220 I wanted at Karen's Rug & Yarn Hut (Campbell, CA). Yes, fifteen skeins. It's for my FLAK, which I've swatched in an array of yarns and I really wanted the option of making a long tunic. Most stores carry maybe 10 balls, and I knew I needed at least 12. Karen had 15 and gave me a great discount so I went for it. Maybe I'll have enough left for a hat and mittens? Either way, I will enjoy knitting the FLAK much more because I know I won't run out of yarn. Peace of mind and all that, though we'll see how I feel about this shade of green when I'm done! [It's a perfect match for my eyes so I'm hoping I'm immune to overload.] I found two skeins of an oatmeal Trekking for socks for Alfred, who wears a 13EEE+, and at Rumpelstiltskin (Sacramento, CA) I found the ball of blue (for DD if she's still fond of that color when I get around to knitting the socks).

I was so very happy to see Nathania. When Leslie and I stopped by Commuknitty, Leslie found a lone skein of yarn that was just what I wanted for a lighter weight version of the fingerless mitt pattern. This is a Claudia handpaint and I can't wait to knit it (but I will since I have to focus on my Olympic knitting, right?). Luckily, I was able to con Leslie into letting me buy the skein.

DD's portion of my list was for more silk, so I got her some hankies from Nancy at her Chasing Rainbows booth. While I was there two different women came up with two hanks of dyed boucle mohair and asked if Nancy had more, and in both cases Nancy said she'd dye a new lot for them. Nancy is a gem. I'm hoping she starts teaching more classes in our area so DD can play junior chemist with a bit more skill. Crown Mountain wasn't at the show, but Morgaine is now carrying Nancy's dyed fibers at Carolina Homespun so I bought three colors of bombyx from her.

I enjoyed seeing all the kits knit up at the Yarn Barn. They had ten booths' space so there was room to move and accessible displays. I have trouble seeing where I am in relation to the people around me and Aunt helped me negotiate the crowds, but I simply couldn't go into some of the more crowded booths. Yarn Barn was perfect and I even felt comfortable browsing the piles of books. The rack of Hoxbro and Falkenberg sweaters was an eye opener for me. I've lusted after their designs for years, but I didn't like them up close. The colors of yarn were lovely, but they were scratchy. Is that typical of their kits? Many years ago, Lois of TechKnit sent me a birthday gift of a set of German ebony glove needles (2.5 mm) from the Yarn Barn. I checked and they carry Susan's circulars now but didn't have any of the glove size. They did have the 60" Addi I needed for the Oly shawl, and I grabbed 3600 yards of laceweight for a Kinzel. It isn't the most even white, so I might dye it a pale shade of blue after knitting. Since I take my knitting everywhere, the white yarn will probably *need* dyeing when I'm done.

Here's the hemp bark I picked up at Habu for Steph. She mentioned teaching at SOAR. I will see if I can wheedle more details from her. DD and I are heading up to the gold country for a few days of R&R at Casa Amos, so I'll be afk. We're planning to visit with some Thrillers, hit the guild meeting, and try on everything at Empress. And, if I can resist Alden's wheels, I'll finish my Olympic knitting.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Koigu Fingerless Mitts

Photos today, pattern later this month. Very pleased to report that the mitts weigh 20 grams each and need minimal mods to fit a lady's small to a lady's large.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Quick post

It was Teen Knitting Club day. Mostly boys this time!!! Total beginners, a bit wary of the yarn, but sweet and a lot of fun. It was high tide, so the only shorebird around was Mr. Willet, who likes me and posed and bobbed when I chatted with him.

Brenda mentioned the blog! Franklin's piece about stash is hilarious! I hadn't realized the Cast-On podcasts were such a delight.

Oh, and as for the olympic knitting, um, I'm helping DD finish a quilt tonight so will knit more tomorrow... The shawl is growing and I'm trying to get it to curve to the front, doing lots of math (didn't I say I chose to do this because I wouldn't have to do math? Little did I know...). Need to pick up a longer needle on Friday since the one I have will soon be too short. I will post photos of the lace glob when it looks significantly different from the last pic.

Anybody want to meet at Stitches West on Friday? I'm going just to shop and chat, a first for me. Always before I have worked at textile conventions and I am really looking forward to wandering around, knitting, and laughing with friends. [The first poppy of spring -- our state flower.]

Gauge in lace

This is for Alison, who was wondering if she should drop down a needle size in her alpaca Madli. [No! It looks wonderful!]

Gauge preference is definitely a personal thing, but there are some general guidelines that are driven by yarn structure, the engineering of knitting, human vision, and gravity, all inter-related. Since the topic is a shawl, I'll focus on that format. I always start by swatching in the field or ground stitch, usually either stockinette or garter. The field needs to be close enough to display a clear visual contrast with the openwork areas, especially if the openwork predominates. Kinzel was magical at determining the perfect gauge to maximize the visual value of this relationship. I do push myself to knit lace at the open end of the envelope because it *is* lace.

Gravity is the easiest. If the gauge is too open, the shawl will droop instead of draping pleasantly about the shoulders. The heavier the grist, the more important this consideration. If your yarn is low-twist and/or slippery (alpaca singles spun lopi style), gravity will streeeetch the shawl over time, so a closer gauge is necessary to sustain the yarn itself.

Yarn structure. If the yarn is long-staple, relatively thick in terms of microns (Wensleydale instead of Merino, for instance), and has a fair bit of twist, it can support a more open gauge. It's like building with steel instead of straw. If you knit a sturdy yarn at a close gauge, you can end up with wings or something so dense that it's like wearing a wet dog about your shoulders. If you can use your swatch as a frisbee, go up a few needle sizes!

Sharon Miller knits heavenly shawls with fine Shetland and relatively large needles. The minimal mass makes gravity irrelevant. She pays close attention to the engineering aspects and builds her shawls in ways that support the various elements. Her work defines one end of the spectrum. Because of the interrelation of gauge and grist and traditional stitch patterns, her shawls are wedding ring caliber, but not obvious examples of positive/negative space.

Fiddlesticks has great shawl patterns. Her Reef shawl shows the importance of letting the field set the gauge. Tina is an especially nice example of positive/negative space *and* correct gauge in the field.

The silly bit of lace I'm playing with for the Olympics is all about positive/negative space because the yarn is a marl of sepia viscose and olive drab cotton which obscures stitch definition and makes the whole thing look like a wad of muddy moss. (Yes, I dislike the yarn color and the shawl is definitely a gift for the first person who actually likes it!) The yarn structure is strong enough to be knit on a larger needle, but the decrease vine looks sloppy with larger loops, and the yo's are sufficiently big to show their wandering path as is. Speaking of which, instead of dueling with Blogger to post photos with this, I'll get back to my knitting. Remind me to post about tatting someday...

Monday, February 13, 2006

It works

Planning's over and I'm into the fun part, knitting! The goal was to knit a mirror shawl in traveling vine and tweak the lace to grow smoothly and branch. It took a day of swatching, charting, and calculations to remember how this lace works and why. I've only done two scarves in it, one 20 years ago, the other ten years ago, so I had a fuzzily happy memory but nothing solid. It has two elements, a yo, k1b, yo, and a decrease two every row. They travel in opposition through a field of stockinette, bump into each other, switch directions, and so on, zig-zagging along. The decrease vine eats stitches in one direction, then the other, distorting the field.

I'm not being terribly fussy about the motif width and instead am trying to enjoy the ride, to play with the lace repeats and figure out how to increase without messing up the lace. Distortion, yes, a bit of wiggle, sure, but it should look organic, not as if I counted incorrectly. So far, so good, though the photo reveals that I need to be a bit more aware of positive and negative space, the shapes created down the center line, and the way the field tends to expand along the edge.

The yarn is Luna and I have six 50 gram balls, of which I've used 25 grams, a bit over 9" to the point. The viscose portion of the yarn split at first because I frogged the cast-on a few times, but as long as I handle it only once it behaves nicely. It feels wonderful. I'm far enough along that I can see what to do next, but am typing the pattern as I go just in case I make a blooper and have to frog.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Day Two

A sunset to ease those frazzled knitlete nerves...

And, FWIW, my progress on my Oly project so far -- a pile of swatches, charts, and notes. Next, I'll swatch to see if my flipping of the lace pattern worked, then I have to play some more with either the lace for between the panels or just go for it and start widening the panels themselves... I had forgotten how much this kind of pattern modification tweaks my brain. Ow!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Angora yarn and knitting for kids

My friend Erin, who also gave me the Koigu I'm using for the mitts, sent me a skein of her millspun 85% German angora/15% Merino sportweight. I had wanted to buy some at the last fair we were at together, but she sold out instantly! Now I know why.

This stuff is beautiful, soft, good hand, consistently spun, and a great shade of white (someday I'll post a photo of a game board I wove with 11 shades of white beads). My mind fills with pattern ideas when I hold the skein. The lustre is incredible; the skein glows like the moon.

Everyone should go over to Rhonna's blog and read this post about de Quervain's, a repetitive motion injury. She has great photos and very important information. Knowledge is power -- if you're well-informed, you can knit (and type) with only positive results!

Here are a couple of shots of the right mitt in progress, showing the thumb and hand stitches on yarn holders, the needles positioned to make shaping and trying on quick and easy. I'm setting it up so you can get both mitts from one 50-gram skein. I might not finish right away since the olympics start today.

Lise posted about her little one knitting. Around age 2 they'll mimic perfectly and often get quite a few rows knit, beads strung, or picks woven. Between 3 and 4 they start thinking about what they're doing and question everything and thus it's all a little harder. Doubt is a wicked thing.

As I've written before, I'm a huge fan of tandem knitting and courtesy rows. I am totally into stress-free knitting. Tandem knitting is 4-handed knitting. Sit facing each other and let her choose whether she wants to start with the needles or the yarn. Switch if she gets stuck or frustrated, talk her through each step, knit a bit for her (it's just knitting backwards), and pretty soon she'll be doing everything herself.

Stephanie blogged about courtesy rows and my daughter was an instant convert, "Mom, please???" She does the planning and design, knits a few rows, then I knit a few, back and forth until the project is done. If it gets to be a slog, I'll knit enough to make it look different (turn a heel, for instance), then she's eager to work on the project again. One of the results is she's ended up knitting far more elaborate and interesting projects and increased her skill level radically.

For uncertain knitters or kids with minimal fine coordination, make pompoms or knot some netting (cotton twine market bags) just to get more comfy with yarn. I always have a pompom station set up at knitting club. Mental knitting is good, too. Make a design station with some old knitting magazines and yarn catalogs, scissors, glue stick, graph paper, a sketch pad, and color pencils. If the person is especially shy, have him design something for a friend (or his dog!). You can discuss why you'd start knitting at the bottom (or top), what kinds of yarns would work best (clip them out of the catalog and glue!), which needles, etc.

Should I post a quickie pompom tutorial or can someone post a link to one?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Answers to a few comments

Yes, my name is Sylvia. I made my first lizard (see how dorky he is?) by mistake in December of 1987; I was trying to make a triangular brick stitch earring and ended up with a peyote stitch lizard (I was running a fever at the time). In the future I'll post about the business of beadwork, contracts and galleries and editors and photographers and pattern language and vendors... There is a lot of my beadwork out there in magazines (especially Interweave), coffee table books, and private collections. The USPS has a box of it somewhere, too.

Connie. Which Connie? Connie M. from college??? Beadwork Connie?

Olympics. There are team blogs popping up all over. I've linked to a few in the sidebar buttons.
For a truly great button, go here. I will be blogging over at Teyla's and Sara's group blogs.

Vision. [No photos because they are really gross.] I have a resident tumor on my left retina, a thoroughly irradiated malignant ocular melanoma, quiescent for now, but 2mm from my optic nerve and closely monitored. It's been quite a ride, especially since I have a photographic memory so I rely heavily on my eyes. If you are in the risk group for melanoma (this was my second primary), have your retinas checked when you go in for an eye exam. When your eyes are dilated, just have the doc take a peek in there. My tumor was misdiagnosed as "just a freckle in your eye" back in 1990, so by the time we figured it out (2001), the glob was hefty and thick. I had a friend die of this a few years before that and had *no idea* that I was millimeters away from the same fate while sitting there at her kitchen table, wishing there were more I could do for her.

First symptoms were a shift to orange in my left eye's vision (pigmented tumor), headaches, and eye strain. It was a very slow process, starting in my teens. Advanced symptoms included painful optical bursts while watching the symphony. Treatment was primarily radiation (helium via a particle accelerator), with a laser chaser. I spent the week of radiation treatments at a B&B up in Davis, surrounded by spinning and college friends. I am lucky. The doctors have been wonderful, truly, as has my friend Lena, who is a gifted acupuncturist and healer. Because of them, I'm here today, learning how to see with the remnants of my left eye, and regaining vision in my slightly charred right eye.

And yes, that's why I have only made a few pieces of beadwork since 2001. I still have my box of patterns, though, and the latest eye exercises should make it possible for me to do beadwork again soon. It's one thing to knit without looking, but beadwork by touch is tricky.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Shake out those hands!

Please read Verna's comment to yesterday's post. She earned the CTS badge the hard way and has some excellent tips and advice we should all follow. :::shaking out hands::: Verna also has multiple Alden Amos wheels so is ultra-motivated to retain as much use of her hands as she can.

It's Wednesday, Teen Knitting Club day at DD's school. The kids are so fun at this age, sass and melancholy and curiosity and faux sophistication all mixed in a tumble inside. I went to that school, too, and was miserable, which I have told the kids, and they find it fascinating that I was a nerd like them (and still am, and am still comfortable with it). There are only the tiniest bits of innocence left; kids *know* so much more nowadays, but they haven't really experienced it yet so it's a hollow, tentative knowledge. All of this flows out while they're sitting around knitting. I wonder how many of their parents actually listen to them?

Today we made more pom-poms, definitely an excellent ice-breaker for the newer knitters. The confident knitters knit happily, chatting away. I brought that blue fulled messenger bag and a pile of PH chunky and we discussed bag shapes and how we want to go about knitting a bag as a group. I got permission from the vice principal to meet outside on sunny days -- I'll get the kids to make a fun meet-on-the-lawn sign to hang on the door of the classroom. And DD walked in crying, unable to speak, so after club I signed her out and we got a ride home. Time for more ginger tea and chicken soup. [There were no curlews on the shore today so here's a handsome bobbing willet.]

And since it's Wednesday and glorious out, we have bird photos! I realize a person doesn't really think of vultures as being shorebirds, but they thrive here and fill a very important niche. Our local pair of young vultures had two dead birds and a dead fish scattered along the beach. They don't quite know what to do when there is enough for both of them to eat; they are so accustomed to squabbling over the carrion. The parents are rather distant, but these youngsters are fun. They don't make any noise, or they haven't responded out loud to my talking yet, but they communicate clearly with body position and Significant Looks. Real sweeties, for vultures anyway.

This Koigu mitt is what I was knitting on my walk. Another pair for DD, who showed off the cabled pair at club today. This will be a basic pattern, fingertips up, and I'll post it when complete. Sure a lot quicker without all the fussy cables!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Thanks and row gauge

Has anyone assembled a comprehensive list of the various Knitting Olympic teams?

Thanks for all the comments on the speed post -- I'm learning a lot. Here's a jar opener, available in the utensils section of larger grocery stores and some health food stores. I actually prefer the discontinued kind from Fuller Brush that is mounted under an upper cabinet, but mine is still on the farm so I can't post a photo. It's a blue plastic rectangle with metal gripping teeth in a spiral, starting large so it handles a good array of jar sizes.

It isn't sleeping in fetal position that can irritate those knitting tendons, but the bending of the wrists to tuck your hands under your chin. For a while, I wore braces to bed, but they felt alien, so I ended up wearing fingerless gloves which were just there enough to keep me from bending my wrists in my sleep, but not annoying enough to keep me awake. When I've had tendonitis in my forearms, I've been much happier sleeping with straight elbows, too.

For me, tingling and numbness in my hands has usually meant my upper spine or neck was out of alignment; often just a few of those shoulder rolls will make everything click back in place. However, if it persists, see a doctor. You do NOT want carpal tunnel syndrome... There are a variety of symptoms and we don't all display the same way. If in doubt, get a professional opinion. Verna, what are the first warning signs?

Cat B., I actually do a lot of knitting while lying on my back on the couch, but hadn't thought of it as being a good balance to my upright knitting (ha! now I have an excuse for hogging the couch!). We live in a tiny carriage house that's mostly one big room with a sleeping loft. My family likes to sleep, and I don't need as many hours as most, so I lie on the couch in the dark, knitting well into every night, lute music playing softly on the stereo. My vision is coming back now that the radiation damage is healing, but knitting blind is a skill I don't want to lose. I make very few mistakes because I feel where I'm going with my left index finger and, frankly, it's a lovely finish to the day to knit another inch or two and listen to the seals barking or the foghorns sounding in the night.

I finished a sock yesterday morning and felt really good about myself until I tried it on. I had already knit the left sock, turned it inside out, tried it on my right foot, then replicated the left sock in mirror symmetry. Nearly one inch too long. Really. I knit the first sock in December, when things were less than harmonious around here, and knit the second sock in January, after things had resolved. Stitch gauge is uniform, but row gauge is 12% looser!!! I've re-knit the right sock now, starting the decreases at 64 rounds from the gusset pick-up instead of 72, but it still doesn't fit as well as the left one turned inside out. Shank slump and excess side toe. Figures. They're just for me so I'll throw them in the wash as is and wear them. I definitely need to get my life in order so I don't have any more angst-related gauge fluctuations!

I started a swatch for my Olympics shawl, just five minutes to test the needle size. I like the first one, but it's green and the yarn is green, so I'll check the stash to see if I have a similar size and point shape in a silver or gray needle to increase contrast. I'm blocking my brain when it tries to *see* the new shawl. There aren't that many things about knitting that are challenging for me (I've been knitting a long, long time), so the challenge aspect will be to do the complete project in the time allowed. I like races and deadlines, so the idea of having to sprint to concoct and finish some freeform lace appeals to me very much.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Shawl Team

My dad heard about the Knitting Olympics on NPR tonight and was disconsolate that I hadn't signed up! So, I'll be knitting a shawl with some green yarn that I'm pretty sure is squirreled away in the cupboard above the linen closet. I'll do a Kiri cast-on and some kind of lace that suits that yarn, probably just figuring it out as I go since otherwise I'll spend all sixteen days scribbling and frogging.

Crawling bootees. Our little friend's night nurse exclaimed to the nanny, whom we saw on the ferry, that the bootees are staying on the babe's busy feet. I have arranged for testing the next sizes up as she grows.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


In response to the call for poems, this was in a New Yorker years and years ago and always makes me smile:

Hares are rabbits
Who live in lairs
And have hare habits
And rabbit hairs.

If anybody knows the author, please tell me!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Olympic Speed Knitting

With the Knitting Olympics fast approaching, people are timing their knitting rates, training, choosing teams, and swatching for projects. It's going to be a fun time in blogland, but I am concerned that the post-Olympics posts will be about carpal tunnel and tendonitis. Thus, here are a few notes from a production knitter about knitting quickly and safely.

1. Knitting is a sport. If you relax, you'll have a nice time and eventually get tired after much knitting, but if you are tense, you will damage your tendons. Take breaks, drink water, rotate your shoulders, and look off into the distance for a minute. If you get a cramp or soreness in your hands, run them under warm water and rub. When you aren't knitting, do alternate, non-grabbing activities with your hands, like playing a little piano or updating your blog.

2. Tendon health. Avoid pinching (use scissors to trim the ends off string beans) and avoid hard gripping (use a jar opening tool). Above all, avoid bending your wrists backwards. Sleep with your arms straight, relaxed at your sides, not in a fetal position with your hands tucked under your chin, and not with your arms above your head. If you lean, lean on your fist with your wrist straight (see photo), not on your palm with your wrist bent. When I'm working the ends in on beadwork I use pliers to pull the needle because otherwise the tight pinching numbs my thumbs. Just one hard pinch can do it if you've been knitting all day, so be careful! If you have stiff shoulders or sore forearms, try my favorite salve, Aubrey's E-tomic Balm. A little goes a long way, it warms without burning, and it has a lovely spicy scent that, unlike most, doesn't give me a headache.

3. Use good lighting. If your only source of light is the TV, you will get eye strain and a headache, so position a lamp where it provides lumens without glare. If you are reading a chart, use a clipboard, color pencils or pens, magnetic strip, or whatever works for you, and position the chart where you can see it easily.

4. Sit comfortably. I reach optimum speed while curled in my cushy couch with my feet up. If you aren't a lounge knitter, do support your spine, prop up elbows if needed, and sit centered. No twisting to see the TV: move the furniture so you're aligned.

5. Support your work. If you realize that you are hunching over because your knitting is heavy and your arms are weary, put a pillow in your lap to support the work. If you find yourself knitting on the go, wear a sweater and fasten the bulk of your knitting to your sweater with stitch holders (a heavy Aran works best). If you're knitting in the round, you can use a swivel hook or just flop it back and forth. I usually tuck the ball of yarn under my left arm, but you can hang it from your sweater or belt, put it in a small bag with a handle large enough to hang from your elbow, or stick it in a pocket. And yes, I have gone to the grocery store with a half-knit shawl and balls of yarn clipped to my sweater. They're used to me here and just ask what's on the needles this week. Beware of yarn-biting velcro on jackets!

6. Use the correct needle(s). If you are planning to knit the Balmoral in sportweight, order enough long circulars that you won't have to cram stitches. If you're going to knit something with a lot of k3tog's, dig in your stash for a needle with pointy ends so your hands don't cramp up from fighting with an Addi. If you have wide palms, you'll probably enjoy a circ with a longer needle, and vise versa. If you're enchanted with needle-free cabling but your yarn isn't tacky enough to hold and you end up pinching the stitches, indulge yourself and use a cable needle. Yes, needle-free cabling is cool, but it's a bother to fuss over dropped stitches picked up with a mistaken twist because a skater did a magnificent jump and you tugged the sweater a bit...

7. Dpn's. Arrange the stitches so you can reach them easily. If you knit English and can reach with the yarn over a span of 18 stitches, but have to let go of the right needle if the span is more than 24 sts, then use an extra needle and distribute the stitches to maximize your comfort. That clenching of letting go and grabbing the needle again can cause horrid fatigue. Dpns are cheap, and it may be heresy but, unless I'm doing yarn overs, I often substitute a needle of the next size down if I'm short one.

8. Yarn health. Wind relaxed center-pull balls. A tightly wound ball blocks the yarn and when you wash your garment the yarn will return to its preferred length, often making the garment considerably smaller than expected. A tightly wound center-pull ball will also be more likely to burp clumps that proceed to tangle and waste your time. I usually wind from hank to ball, then wind the ball once or twice more to get a soft, squishy ball. If you don't own a ball winder, buy one or go to a friend's house and have a winding party with hers. (Bring cookies.)

9. As Margene says, it's the process!

A quick note. It's pouring rain today so no bird photos, sorry. Banner is a snippet of yesterday's dawn instead.