Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Big Ol' Pile of Yarn

If anyone wants to come over here and give me a foot rub I will reward you with one knitted sock and a promise for another. Any takers? Going once? Going...once? Hm. OK, then. Your loss.

This has been a full weekend. Friday started with a snow storm on the first day of spring, a half day of work, and then a cross-state trek to Pittsburgh for a wedding. My friends, I am not a good traveler. I like my own bed, and my things where I can find them in my sleep. I have no problem with new sights and places...I just really wish science would get on disapparating to make it easier on everyone. And to save on turnpike tolls. Anyway, after an absolutely fabulous wedding and night of fun and dancing, we made the long trek home, where I've been applying ice packs to my knee and gearing myself up for work tomorrow.

Ok, no segue. Just changing the subject. Amid my frenzy of sock knitting (it's not really a frenzy, it's more of a kick, and I'm aware of how nerdy it all is) I also started an afghan. I don't want to show it to you until I get through one pattern repeat so you can see how everything is going to play together, but it's going to be a little of this and a little of that from this pattern at Little Woolies, and this pattern at Not Your Average Crochet (which is based on the first, so I'm deriving from something that is already derivative). I realized that I never showed you the giant pile of yarn I got for Christmas that I'm using for this blanket.


Lots of color, but also very different from what I usually use. No bright pops of pink and lime green and so on--much more muted colors that remind me of autumn, from the leaves on the ground, to the purpley flowers that abound, to the blues of a crisp October sky.


It's all Stylecraft Special DK in a bunch of different colors. I tried to pick mostly those I had never used before though there are some that are just perfect and I couldn't pass up.


I love super-delicious eye candy almost as much as real candy. Fabric, yarn, whatever it is--there is something about collections of craftiness that I just love looking at. So inspiring.


So that's the yarn. I didn't want so spring an afghan on you and have you be all "Wait, when did this happen? Did we discuss this?" It moves along quite nicely when I get going, so hopefully I'll have the first section to show you soon. I've already worked through each color, now to get through the stitches.

Have you ever made a mixed stripe blanket? I'd love to know any tips or thoughts you may have.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Like Getting Back on a Bike

Possibly not the best title as I stink at riding a bike, and me getting back on one would be a terrible experience for both me and any witnesses to the event... Anyhoodiddlehoo....I have hardly sewn a thing in months. I don't know if it's because I haven't felt like it or if because nothing has grabbed my interest or because winter seems like the right time to snuggle on the couch with some knitting. For whatever reason, needle and thread have rarely seen fabric. But I've slowly been getting back to it--I sewed something tonight I can't show you yet, and I have a few bags on order for a wedding (which I haven't done yet so I can't show you), but on my snow day a couple weeks ago I sewed a bag. And then promptly forgot to share.

Ok. So I have a wedding coming up, and have this beautiful navy blue fit and flare dress that I am actually excited to wear because it is so comfortable (which, take note--I don't know if I've ever said that or will ever say it again), and silvery shoes that are comfy too, so I'm not dreading dressing up! I didn't have a bag that was a good size, and I couldn't find anything I really liked. I came across this frame that I had bought a while ago and never got around to using:


This is the frame I used (from u-handbag)

I didn't feel like doing any major thinking on making this work, and I knew that u-handbag used to have a pattern for this (it's called the Kyoko Frilled Pouch). As luck would have it they were sprucing it up for a re-release, so my timing was excellent (for once). I spent one night cutting and fusing and adding an internal zipper pocket, and a few hours the next day assembling everything. And now I'm all ready to par-tay!


The outside is this great batik I found at Joann's. It's hard to get the colors right on this one as it's got a swirly blend of navy, dark teal, and just a hint of purple thrown in (which is what I was going for, as I crocheted myself a shrug of the same colors to go with the dress). 


The inside is a teal and silver polka dot. I don't know if it matches, but it's perfect because Z-man picked it out. I was a little fingers-crossed hopeful while sewing that pocket in as it's not part of the pattern and I didn't know if I'd placed it too high or too low, but it (thankfully) came out OK. The inside is really a nice size for the essentials for an evening out. My favorite part is that the frame screws apart, so you could actually make yourself a few bags and then switch them out as needed. Much more economical than buying bag after bag.


The bottom is an inset bottom--no boxy corners, no gusset, just a rectangle to inset into a tube (my least favorite kind). I long ago gave up on expecting perfection from myself on this method, so as long as it doesn't look like my dog sewed it I'm good with a little bit of a human touch added to it.


The only part I had trouble with was the casing for the rod part of the frame. Either my ruler is crooked or my eyes are (and I just came from the optometrist this afternoon and he assured me my eyes are in good shape so I must have a shape-shifting ruler) because my casing kept coming out a wee bit off. I had to pull the old mafioso one-liners out from my mental store of movie quotes to convince that thing to go through, and at last it did. 


There are little loops attached to the frame in case you'd like to attach a chain or a strap of some sort, but I feel a little fancy carrying it by the handle so that's what I'm going to do while I pretend I'm a fuller-figured version of Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn (can you tell I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl?).

Ok, I guess I should trot. If my computer reminds me one more time that it wants to install updates I'm going to utter unladylike phrases, which one should not do when one has a perfect dress and a lovey bag, both within close proximity.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Official Points Tally

source

Ok, kids, if you're checking in for the official score, here goes.

My sister: one
Cancer: zero (nice try, but zero)

Some of you send me emails inquiring about my sister's progress, and it's something I truly appreciate more than you know. Cancer is something that touches every single person in some way, so the sympathy and concern that comes from that is a natural reaction.

After her sessions/rounds/cycles/I don't even know what they're called of chemo, she had a scan earlier this week, and that came back clear. Clear. As in no cancer cells were waving their illuminated hands yelling "Here I am!" So with the right dose of science, a little faith, and a middle-finger-up attitude, those cells who didn't know when to leave the party finally skedaddled. And hopefully for good. Like I-hope-the-doorknob-hit-them-on-the-way-out for good. Like twenty-three-skidoo for good. Like make-like-a-try-and-leave for good. Like....OK, I'm tapped out, but you get it.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Let's Talk About Socks, Baby!

I can't believe I'm writing a post about socks. A few months ago if you had asked me about such a thing I'd probably have told you I'd only ever write about socks if they had pictures of spools of thread or something on them. I certainly would not have imagined I'd be talking about making them. I read somewhere that it's best to branch out in your knitting as quickly as possible, or else you get stuck in a dishcloth/scarf sort of rut (which was true, in my case, as my early attempts at sweaters were nothing short of pitiful and double-points and circulars were scary). I'm glad I decided to branch out recently into garment knitting, as I've been pleased with the things I've made enough to wear them (in public!, mind you). This may be because I understand so much more (from sewing) shaping and sizing and ease and all that sort of thing. It may be because I've finally decided to understand what I'm doing. I don't really care what did it, I'm glad it happened, as I've really been enjoying brandishing my needles throughout the winter.

OK. So. There are two main ways of making socks--cuff down and toe up. They can be made with a few double-pointed needles or by using one looong circular to knit a small tube (which still greatly intrigues me how someone was all "Oh, hey, let me try this" and figured that out). I had never tried either style or either method, so I found patterns for each (I'll put links at the bottom), got some cheery worsted yarn (you start big to learn the mechanics of it all before you try with teeny needles and thin yarn), and set to.

These are cuff-down. On the left I used magic loop and on the right I used dpns.

Cuff down has (or feels like it) more techniques. You knit the cuff, do the heel flap, turn the heel, pick up stitches, decrease, knit, decrease, and finish it off with a kitchener stitch. It sounds so daunting and seriously put me off ever trying, but when you do it one part at a time it is not bad at all. 


I made the cuffs longer on the dpn versions and forgot to do so on the others so I have matching socks that don't really match, but that's OK as these are practice pieces. I really like that you can see all the parts coming together in the cuff-down version, and that the heel is reinforced (with that ribbish-looking stitch on the back of the foot).

These are toe-up, magic loop on the left and dpns on the right.

Toe-ups have very different techniques. You start with a temporary cast-on and do short rows to make the part that encloses your toes. Short rows are kind of fun, but you have to keep very good track of what you're doing. You then have to pick up your temporary cast-on, and that makes up the tube part of the sock that encloses the rest of your foot. You then do short rows again to turn the heel (it's crazy how the same exact thing that turns the toe also turns and fits the heel), and then do the cuff and you're done. 


This version leaves those little holes you see as a kind of diagonal along the heel. These are supposed to be there as per the pattern, but if you're proficient at short rows these can be done differently to hide them--I've just never done them before so I stuck with the pattern. I don't mind the look of them, as there are store-bought socks that look the same way. The thing that I don't care for with them is that part of the foot is the widest, and pulls the most. I'd worry about pulling and wear in that area.

Here they are side by side:


I did all this because I wanted to see where I want to devote my sock-knitting efforts so I can have an actual pair of socks that will fit in actual shoes. So, my decision is cuff down. My socks came out neater, and the cuff has just the right amount of stretch to it. On the toe-up version I'm sure I could practice the homespun look out of it, but the cuffs are my issue. If I do a stretchy bind-off to make it fit my foot it's all loosey-goosey and doesn't fit snug. If I do a basic ribbed bind-off I have to sweet-talk it onto my foot. The one thing that would be in the toe-up's favor would be that you can use all of the yarn by knitting the cuff until you run out. 

The main factor, though, is that the cuff-downs fit better. I thought when I saw how the toes differ that the yellow would surely fit better with that nice rounded toe as opposed to the interesting look of the pink sock:


But I was wrong. The pink cuff-down socks hug my foot delightfully, whereas the yellow socks don't feel as nice. The heel even fits differently, and more comfortably on the pink. That was the main deciding factor--it's essential that socks feel good on your foot. Fun fact: John Wooden, UCLA's long-time basketball coach, was a stickler for socks. He ensured each player knew how to put on their socks perfectly without wrinkles and such, and held inspections to make sure they did so. His thinking was that the comfort of their feet was essential to how well they played the game. They couldn't play well if they were aware of their socks falling down or bunching up and whatnot. Anyway...

Less important but still part of my decision process was the method of sock-making--dpns or magic loop? Magic loop won out. I had to rearrange my needles fewer times per round and it was far easier on my hands and fingers. If you look back up at the first photo you can see how the magic loop sock is much neater looking than the other. So cuff-down, magic loop it is. Or cuff-down, teeny circulars (which I happen to have just bought and am curious as to how my hands will take to them).

So that's it for now. Sock-knitting training is over, and it's going to be game on. Hopefully. I did promise you some links in case you'd like to give them a whirl yourself, so here they are. The patterns aren't free, but each one comes with links to instructional videos that are free and available on the site (and are also helpful for the main points of sock-knitting whether you use these patterns or any other sock pattern you may know of).
See you soon! I sewed something! Woo-hoo!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Finally!

Today it snowed.


All day long.


A steady wet-yet-powdery-if-that's-even-possible kind of snow.


It landed on a layer of slush and ice and got really cold, so that was fun to get off of my car.


I phoned out of work, and I'm glad I did.


I shoveled. My skin turned red and my hair turned white from ice, and it felt so good to put on dry clothes.


I sat down and read, which is something I haven't done for a while as I've lately only been cramming chapters before lights-out.


I read, and knitted, and divided some yarn for socks (we still need to talk about those, don't we?), and sewed a bag (show ya soon!) and took some photos and thoroughly enjoyed my day.


I've been skimping on my workouts so I'm sure I'll feel the shoveling tomorrow, but I deserve it for being lazy.


Like this gnome. Who is enjoying the snow much more than the other one riding the rabbit.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Knitting Knock-Off

I finally had a chance to photograph for you a cowl I finished a few weeks ago. I have to be completely honest and tell you that I did not come up with this pattern, or this color combination. I actually feel a little naughty posting this as it's a complete knock-off. I saw it on Very Pink as a fingering weight cowl where the pattern was free so long as you purchased a certain kind of yarn. There were several times I had my colors selected, but I just could not make my brain justify the expense of the yarn plus shipping. After watching the tutorials (and looking carefully at the colors) I decided to just have a go on my own. I could not find a fingering weight yarn I liked locally, but I did find a DK weight that came in the colors used in one of the examples (and that I had fallen in love with). This cowl worked up pretty thick and would be fine for outside, but is a bit too thick and toasty to wear with a sweater and jeans or something (though I tend to get quite chilly so I might just go for it).

The colors are Koala, Sheep, and Mint in the Nicole Craft line of yarns I found at AC Moore.

I like how the colors all just intermingle and flow one into the other.

One thing I learned was to correct a color jog for knitting stripes in the round. It does make it look like there are two stitches instead of three and disrupts the line a little bit, but this part is folded along the edge so you can't really see it.

This was my first crack at a kitchener stitch. I need to practice my tension with it as I either forget to tighten the stitches or pull for dear life, but it's nice and smooth looking (it's between the large gray section and the last white stripe).  See that rogue stitch towards the right that's waving at you? The yarn had several such flaws in it leaving some odd lumpy bumpies here and there, or some loosely spun sections. While this yarn is pretty and soft, I don't know if I'd jump to use it again because each ball had such flaws.

This was round after round of knit stitch and was great for knitting while watching TV. Since I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out, I think I'll try to find some less expensive fingering weight yarn and make one that's more suited for my chilly workplace.

Here it is full-length. It'd be a decent-length scarf if the edges weren't stitched to make it a tubular cowl.

And now doubled up.

When I noticed this matched my nails I was quite amused. These wraps have been on for a week and are only slightly worse for wear (unlike polish which looks awful after a few days and is why I don't bother). These are Jamberry wraps in 'Ice,' which is quite fitting, actually...

...because that's what my car is covered in right now, as well as the roads. 

I've been learning to knit socks, so I'll have my comparative analysis of different styles soon. Which is geek-speak for "I'll show you what I've been up to and what I like and don't like."

Now, off to Downton.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Million Thanks

It seems like a million years ago that I wrote this post. And at the same time I can't believe the benefit for my sister has come and gone. I also can't believe that I'm still tired (or else it's the onset of a cold I fought off last week only to feel it trying to creep in yesterday). Last week started with lots of driving to pick up last-minute donations and drop off tickets and things like that. That led to hours of wrapping and sign-making and ticket sorting and list-ticking off. And it ended with a snow storm. Would you stinkin' believe it? How many weeks have I been saying I want a great big pile of snow, and gotten nil? Well, Saturday we had quickly accumulating snow all afternoon. There were questions of "Should we cancel?" (no, we can't) and "Do you think people will come?" (heavens, I hope so!).

We were able to get into the event site a few hours early to make sure everything was just right. We were overly organized (thanks to my sister and her amazing list-making skills) and had an hour to pace the floor and stare at each other. We kept checking Facebook, and worrying that people would stay away (after a few cancellations from some long-haulers). But there was no need to worry. The magic hour arrived, and so did loads of folks. And the frenzy never stopped. It was absolutely amazing.

The calm before the storm. I love just being still in the moments leading up to an event, whether it's something like this or our annual Christmas party. It's like the room knows what is about to happen and is just waiting, with an almost palpable excitement bouncing off of the walls.

I only took a few pics toward the beginning as we were here, there and everywhere as the night wore on. I think we had about fifty fewer people than anticipated due to the weather, but we still an amazing turnout.

My friend Megan (we've known each other since third grade) made the cake based on the flyer we sent out. Doesn't it look great? And it didn't taste too bad either, lemme tellya.

We had this in the hallway so folks would hopefully tag any event photos so we could find them easily. These are chalkboard markers on a blackboard. If those kinds of markers had existed when I was younger I would have covered my bedroom walls in blackboard paint and never left the room except to buy more markers.

I know, the photos aren't exactly inspiring, but the evening was amazing. People I haven't seen in years came out to show their support. Some came from quite a distance, braving some quite serious elements. Others walked from not that far away. There were hugs everywhere, desserts that were amazing (and that I may have eaten as breakfast and lunch yesterday as we could take them home), dancing, laughing, and that level of excitement and warmth and love that you could almost reach out and touch. The comments we received from folks who came were lovely--ranging from "I've never been to something quite like it!" to "Damn! You guys are a FAMily!" (which was my favorite as that one word 'family' conveys so much). Yes, we are quite a family, friends included.

My sincerest thanks to those of you who sent me items I was tempted to keep they were so beautifully made, thanks to those of you who donated funds, and thanks to those of you who sent well-wishes and happy thoughts and prayers. There is something about that feeling of community, no matter the type, that gives you the warm fuzzies. Some atrocious things have been happening in the world lately, but this has reminded me that most people, the ones who don't make the evening news or the FBI's most wanted list, are good, good folks. They're kind, they're generous, they want to help, they care. Thank you for being those kinds of people.

And most importantly, I suppose, we brought in enough money that the worry of those medical bills has receded. Which, when I think back to the level of love in that room on Saturday night, seems like a nifty side effect instead of the main purpose of the whole affair.

Now that all of that craziness is part of history, hopefully this blog will return to regularly scheduled programming.

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