Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Chicago Blues Mitten

The first blue mitten is finished, and it came out nearly perfect! But! (there is always a but, isn't there?) I am now in anxiety as to whether I used more than half the skein of yarn! And if so, whether I will be able to match it in order to finish the second mitten! For some reason when I made the Maine Mittens, I had no worries about having enough yarn, and I ended up with a small ball of yarn left over. But this time I doubt myself. I wanted this one to be a smidge longer. Did I overshoot? Will I end up without enough yarn for the thumb? Or the fingertips? Oh me, oh my.

I wanted to be able to measure the first mitten carefully, and I had noticed on the previous pair that the position of the thumb determines where the mitten sits on your hand. So it is helpful to have the thumb in place before you decide where to start decreasing and end the fingertips. So I did this rather complicated maneuver--I put the body stitches on two dpns with point protectors on both ends, and then I picked out the waste yarn and knit the thumb--but I didn't want to break the yarn from the body of the mitten, si I left that attached and pulled yarn from the opposite end of the skein. It was quite a tangle, with two dpns stiffly holding the fingertips, plus two long circular needles, plus a skein of yarn attached from both ends. But it worked! I did the entire thumb at Starbucks this afternoon, and finished up the hand tonight.

So the Chicago Blues Mittens are halfway done--if only I have enough yarn left. If not, I'll have to run to Michaels and hope to God they have some left. I don't even care if it's the same dye lot. The thumb could be slightly different. Oh please God let the yarn hold out!!

On Knitting Mittens

I am really pleased (knock wood) with the way these mittens (well singular, so far--mitten) is working out. It turns out that on closer analysis, the decreases and the positioning of the thumb are very simple to translate into a 2-needle method. In fact, easier than all the fiddling around with 3 needles and uneven numbers of stitches. This way I have 22 stitches on each side, and make the decreases at both ends of both needles. Or at least that's how it looks. I haven't quite gotten there yet. The knitting is nice and tight, as it should be for mittens, but it's also rather slow-paced. However, with some work, I might have mitten 1 done this evening, or tomorrow at the latest. 3 days? Of fairly obsessive knitting? Per mitten? Well that still gives you a pair per week. Heck , that could be 52 pairs a year! More than enough mittens! :-) After I get this done, I will post my revised instructions.

On Sunday I went to Teresa's house for knitting instructions/gathering. Teaching people to knit is really hard, imo. It's hard to see and feel what they're doing unless you just take the needles into your own hands and try it. It's hard to explain things so that 5 or 6 people all get it at the same time. Basically it has to be one on one. That's why the old way of mother to daughter or grandmother to granddaughter is really best. Because daughter can practice for however long she needs to and turn to mother for help at whatever point help becomes necessary. In a lesson setting, you tend not to need much help while you're there, and then as soon as you get home, things fall apart and you need help just when it's not available. I was very impressed with Christine's calm and patient manner. Very soothing.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mittens it is!

I think. The mitten yarn more or less threw itself into my lap and begged to be knit up. So I started out using 5 dpns and the pattern from Knitting Pretty, which said to cast on 36 stitches with size 4. I had size 5, but that should make it a bit bigger than their predicted "average woman's hand." For 3 hours, I painstakingly worked on the first cuff, and it was working fine, but when I took a good look at its tininess, I had doubts. I put it on my wrist--hmm, barely.

Then I compared that pattern with the Lillemor's Mittens I have already completed, and saw that those used the same yarn and the same needles and had 44 stitches. (20% bigger? Something like that.) I began to doubt the wisdom of the pattern. I also had cause to doubt whether 22 rounds for the cuff and 25 rounds for the hand made any sense at all. (and why would they tell me how many rounds, thus making me count--which I wasn't doing anyhow--rather than telling me how many inches to knit, so that i could simply measure?

So I lost faith in the pattern entirely, and tore the thing out. And then I decided that this would be a good chance to try a cool new technique. Instead of knitting on 4 needles plus a working needle, why not try the two circular needle method.


So I bought $15 worth of size 5 circulars and set back to work. This time I managed to get working on the inside instead of the outside, and in trying to fix that I got the whole thing would around itself in a mess, but in the end (ie by midnight) I have 2 inches of cuff and the beginning of a stockinette hand of a reasonable size.

But pitfalls loom. I am using the Lillemor pattern, but that is intended to be knit flat in garter stitch, and I am knitting in the round in stockinette. I can make the right adjustments, can't I? I can figure out how to make the decreases come out in the right places even though it talks about the first two stitches on needle 1, the first stitch on needle 2 and the last stitch on needle 3. Right? Well, as a last resort, I can switch to dpns at the end. But this 2-circulars method, while not exactly super smooth, is I think easier than the 3 or 4 dpns. The only real problem is that there's a tangle of twisty cords all over the place (almost as bad as the porcupine of needles), and you do have to stop and re-organize yourself after every 22 stitches. (slide stitches from one end to the other, get the resting needles out of the way). Anyhow, it's intriguing. Mysterious.

But I had always pictured knitting as rather elegant and homey looking, granny rocking in her chair by the fire, two needles smoothly clicking along. And neither dpns nor circular cables fits that image at all. It looks mechanical, wiry, ugly actually. But the mitten is growing and looks lovely.

Isn't the concept mitten just intrinsically appealing? The word is charming, much nicer sounding than glove. And all the feelings of being warm and cozy in winter, snowball fights and hot cocoa afterwards, grandma or mama making loving items to keep you safe and warm--all in one word mitten. And their shape! Who could fail to be charmed by a group of small hand-knit woolen mittens in various earthy tones, or in bright cheery colors? They echo the human hand, one of our most distinctive characteristics. Also, mittens seem to have many of the plusses of hand-knitting socks, but easier. There is still shaping and overall smallness and opportunity for experimentation, but it is done in worsted yarn on size 4 or 5 needles rather than fingering yarn on size 0 or 1.

The Lion brand all-wool felting yarn is extremely pleasant--in the skein it feels a little rough, but in use it feels much smoother somehow. There's a springiness to it and the word buttery keeps coming to my mind. The color is called Ocean Blues, but they must have looked at the ocean at night, because it's much darker than anything ocean-y. It has shades of turquoise, purple, navy blue and black. It reminds me of how trees look against the blackening sky in winter in a cold climate. But what would you call that? Evening Sky Blues maybe.

So on with mittens!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Pride goeth before....

I finished the hat! And it's not half bad. I spent basically all day yesterday knitting, and finished it before dinner. This time, I used a total of 5 dpns instead of 4, and I think it's actually easier. With 4 needles holding the stitches, you have a square instead of a triangle, and the angle between each segment is less, closer to round. And I have a bit more practice and skill, and was more aware of avoiding ladders at the joins, so it worked out ok. I do have some blurps that I need to tidy up before I send it to Karen, but it's actually kind of cute. It stays down over your ears better than the pink one I made for myself, I think.

So after that bit of triumph, I decided to give that cable pockets a whirl. I found that I have Lion Homespun all over the house, and it's not suitable for cables at all, imo. It's artificially lumpy! Made of two strands to create a fake texture. Fine for crocheting afghans, but how would it show off a lovely cable?

So I tried some Lion Jiffy fake mohair that I also had in the house leftover from an afghan project of long ago. Cast on 39 stitches, and tried to simply purl a row. Couldn't do it! Yarn split and pulling in all sorts of strange directions. Hmmm, maybe this yarn doesn't like bamboo needles. Started over on aluminum needles. Better, but still not good. After a couple of rows, I had all sorts of confusion, stitches that weren't quite stitches, things pulling tight and appearing to be on the needle backwards for no good reason, etc. A mess. Ok, so Jiffy is just bad yarn, not meant to be. So I started yet again, using the aluminum needles and a skein of plain winter-white wool. I know this yarn works because I've knit several things form it already. And I actually got as far as the cabling, almost completed one whole set of 10 rows, but by the last row, I once again had weird stitches happening. I think they were caused by switching from knit to purl or vice versa without moving the yarn to the proper side. But by then it was 11 pm, my eyes were tired, and I felt beaten down by yarn. So I tore it all out.

So now what to do? I think I'll wait a bit on the cables! It looks simple enough, but every row is complex: (k6 p2) twice, k7, (p2 k6) twice. Plenty of opportunities to misplace the yarn in all that. And the next row is the same only opposite, and so on. I will give it another try when I am wide awake and in a well-lit space! But I don't think I have the patience for that right now.

So--another pair of mittens? Or baby sweater? And if I do the mittens, should I do the purled ones again? (I know I can do it, at least, having already made 2. And I know where the potential screw-ups lie, having made all of them!) Or should I try for the more traditionally attractive stockinette pair in Knitting Pretty? But my copy hasn't arrived yet. I could go to Borders and cast on and get started using their copy of the book. And then, if it's knit in the round, would this be the place to try out the two-circular needle method? In that case, I need to buy two new circular needles. (Which cost more than a pair of mittens!) Or should I continue to work on my dpn skills?

The baby sweater has no such technical issues. It's just plain flat knitting. Which is both its beauty and its downfall.

Hmmm, challenge or relaxation, which do I want? Have yarn, but what to knit?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Pain and Pleasure

When my knitting is going well, when the stitches are flowing nicely and lovely fabric is emerging from my needles, it is so pleasant. The feeling of contentment and accomplishment are very fulfilling.

And then I look down and find a hole! A big honking pea sized hole! 4 rows down! How the hell did that get in there? What is going on? It seems like black magic! Suddenly instead of being a source of pleasure, the knitting needles seem like cruel instruments of torture!

Last night I had the hat to the length (7") needed to begin decreasing. I tried it on and looked in the mirror and it seemed like it might actually be a cute and useful hat (though it is kind of thin. I still don't like the texture of this yarn. But it looked ok.) I sat back down ready for the challenge of decreases while watching Ugly Betty and discovered Ugly Hat in my lap! For a moment I thought there was more than one hole, but no, it was just one, but it looked huge. As if a hungry moth took a chunk out of my hat while my back was turned. I tried picking up stitches, thinking maybe I had just dropped a stitch, but that wasn't working. So I bit the bullet and started ripping.

Luckily the stitches were fairly loose, so I had a chance of getting them back on the needles. And I had the bright (I think) idea of going ahead and putting the stitches onto dpns at this point rather than getting them back on the circular needle, re-knitting 4 rows, and then switching to dpns in a few more rows. But will the dpns leave gaps (ladders?) Sigh. I don't know, I'll just have to press on. With a little persistence, I should be able to finish the hat today. Provided I don't do anything else stupid (I must have made a yarn over, creating a damn *buttonhole* in the middle of the hat!) And I think I can knit cables next? Am I delirious?

On the bright side, I created the entire Powerpoint presentation for the Korean Medical Association yesterday, after roughing the ideas out in Word. I thought I would have to get technical assistance from Kristen, but I managed to get the points to fade in smoothly all on my own! Sam looked at it and was very impressed both by the content and the technology (of course, he's probably never seen a Powerpoint presentation before, so it's not hard to impress him.) He's going to attend the presentation with me. I am feeling so relieved now that this is written and ready to go. I know I can easily talk for an hour, and I hope there's something of use to anyone who might be in the audience.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Knitting Dreams

I can't stop planning my next project. I saw a pattern yesterday that looks like the perfect way to try out cable knitting, and Kristen had convinced me that cable knitting is within reach. But her project has a lot of complications--dpns, cables arising from ribbing, decreases, etc. The pattern I now have my eye on is for a shawl with pockets, and the pockets have the cables. The great thing about it is that I could do the pockets first. Then if I survive the cabling, I would just have to knit an extra large scarf and sew the pockets on the ends! And the pattern calls for Lion Brand Homespun, which is cheap and readily available and not bad looking at all. I've used it for crochet before. Plus, there is no fitting to worry about. A shawl will fit, guaranteed!

Incidently, I discovered yesterday that the very tight, hard-to-move stitches were not caused by the needles or the yarn, as I thought, but by my own excessive tension. I had originally been knitting without any wrapping of yarn or anything to create tension, but I read that it was wrong to do that, led to sloppy stitches, so I tried this and that and settled on a double wrap around my middle finger that controls the yarn. But I was pulling it much too tight. I consciously loosened up the tension and the stitches now slide easily and it's moving along more quickly.

I have a Powerpoint to create for a presentation to a Korean medical group about how to improve their English, but all I can think about is knitting! Ho-ho, better go work on the hat!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Two little tricks

This seems like a good place to store these little techniques so that I can find them again, rather than on the back of a receipt where they currently reside.

The first is for smoother joining of the first row in circular knitting. To avoid confusion, make sure the last cast on stitch is in the right hand and the first cast on stitch is in the left hand. Cast on one extra stitch, slip it on to the left hand needle, and then knit the first two stitches together (k2tog). This should make a strong join without a gap.

The second technique is to avoid or hide the jog when new colors are introduced in circular knitting (which is actually a spiral.) Join the new yarn and knit one complete round in the new color. At the start of the second round, lift the right side of the stitch below onto the left needle, then knit it together with the next stitch (again k2tog). This pulls the row below up a bit so it's more in alignment with the next row. Looks pretty good.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Homey is such a good word. I cannot imagine how its variant "homely" ever became a synonym for ugly. And I love the fact that black/urban slang has endowed "homey" with another positive meaning of person who will look out for me and hang with me, my homeboy, my trusted friend.

Last night I made home-made macaroni and cheese for the first time in my life. Pathetic, I know, but Kraft's dollar a box substitute had driven the concept of shredding a half pound of cheese and making a white sauce far from my mind. However, Kristen and I were marveling over the yumminess of Koo-Koo-Roo's version of mac and cheese when the thought struck me--maybe I could do this! And then at Karen's house, I came upon a recipe that specified panko for the topping and I knew it had to be done. I had bought a pound of medium cheddar earlier for use in baked-potato soup (good, btw), and had plenty left, but then I started thinking that sharp cheese would be better. So I bought 8 more ounces of extra sharp and used half and half. That was just right, but next time I'll just get sharp to begin with. And next time I'll do the panko crumbs the way I do for tuna casserole--melt the butter in a frying pan and actually brown the crumbs in the butter before I put them on top. But it came out delicious. And a half-pound of macaroni and half pound of cheese makes a very large amount of mac and cheese. So leftovers for dinner tonight. How homey is that?

I am back at work on an eggplant-colored hat for Karen, and have gotten to approximately the point at which Hobo the cat tore it all out previously. But I am itching to finish this up so that I can move on to the next projects on my wish list:
  • another pair of mittens, maybe in stockinette this time, maybe knit in the round (or maybe not), for which I bought a skein of the same type of yarn but this time in blues with touches of black. If it happens, I'll send them to Kristen. I really loved coming up with functional mittens.
  • a Yoda sweater for a baby, for which I purchased a skein of dark rosy pink Caron soft acrylic. (I had thought of washable wool or cotton, as the pattern suggests, but for babies, acrylic really is more suitable.) I will find a baby to give it to. Maybe Nancy Currey's baby-to-be.
  • that Celtic vest thing. If it turns out to be entirely too small to go around my body (which it might or might not) I could always give it to Liz or Karen. Maybe a "going away to Africa" gift for Liz. Hmmm, makes sense.
  • another go at the small shoulder bag from Klutz, but this time in wool and felted to give it more structure. And maybe done in the round so that it doesn't need seams.
  • a red felted knitting-supply case, for which I already bought the zipper. But how hard will it be to make something felt to a predetermined size to fit the zipper? Maybe I can shorten the zipper if necessary.

Isn't the homeyness of all these hand-made items just wonderfully comforting? I think so. Wal-mart, eat your heart out. You can't touch this!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Honey I'm home!

Flying from Bangor Maine to Los Angeles never ceases to amaze me. I left my mother's kitchen at 12:30 local time yesterday afternoon. Karen drove and Mommy and Daddy also came along. The wind-drifting snow moved across the road like smoke, creating fantastic whirls. The whole world was shades of white, gray, and black, as austere as a Japanese ink painting or a Puritan church. After some issues with my luggage (what does a foot-warmer made of 4 pounds of flax seed look like in an x-ray? Something suspicious, apparently, since I got stopped both coming and going!), we took off for Boston. Lovely flight, lovely views of Lynn, Winthrop, and the islands of Boston Harbor and then that always-thrilling descent into Logan in which there is nothing but water visible out the window until moments before landing!

A quick turn-around and off to Salt Lake City (Boston, incidently, had no signs of ever having seen any snow this year. Completely bare ground.) I watched "The Queen" on the 5 hour flight (intriguing, but how exciting is a movie about a woman who is emotionally barren?) then landed in several inches of fresh snow in SLC (I would have worried, if I had known, but the snow didn't seem to cause any delay at all). And finally, a 2 hour flight to LA. The whole thing passes in a kind of blur, as if I am not really there. And then I'm in a van and suddenly back in my own house, but my mind is still back in Maine. For some time after I get home, I see things with different eyes, as if Mommy, Daddy, Karen, and the rest are mentally accompanying me.

It is comforting to be back with Sam, back in my own life. I felt like cooking for him, so I made bacon and French toast for breakfast and Buffalo chicken strips for lunch, with plans for Baked Potato Soup (and leftover chicken strips) for dinner and home-made mac and cheese tomorrow. It is very nice being well-cared for by my mother and sister, but I become a child when I'm there, and it feels nice to resume my life as a functioning adult where I know where things are and how to do things.

Oh, and did I mention that I finished the second mitten a few days back? The second one had the same issues as the first, but this time I was watching for them. (I tried to prevent myself from knitting on the inside instead of the outside, but it happened anyhow, so I had to purl. But I got the thumb completely right. As a result, you can see the learning curve between the left and right hand! But symmetry is over-rated. If I wanted bland and boring perfection, I would buy my mittens at Wal-Mart. The mittens will forever be known as my Maine mittens, since I found the pattern at the Pittsfield Library, bought the needles in Newport, and completed them in Hartland and Pittsfield. And then I christened them by wearing them to shovel snow! They were very warm and cozy and I love them to bits. In fact I love them so much, in their slightly off-center way, that I wore them this morning in Torrance driving to Borders and shopping i the grocery store. :-)

I am starting for the second time on a roll-brim hat for Karen. I had about 2 inches of it done last week, when the phone rang. I laid it down to talk to Kristen and the cat tore into it, unraveling several rows worth. I tried to salvage it, but getting 100 stitches back onto circular needles was mnore trouble than it was worth, so I let it rip. I came up with a slight variation in the color layout, so I don't mind trying again. It will match the Windy-City Scarf I gave her. This yarn (DK) is not really as thick and fluffy as I would like, but the scarf looked pretty good in the end, so a matching hat would be a nice gift for her I think.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

54 year old woman gives birth to mitten!

I finished my first mitten! But I thought this was supposed to be relaxing and suitable for elderly women! Instead it was quite anxiety-provoking and I had a stiff back all day from the pressure of trying to finish it off properly. First of all, when I switched to double-pointed needles and knitting in the round, the fingertip section turned out inside out! How is this possible? I did straight knitting and and instead of the stockinette stitch coming out on the outside, it was on the inside!

Well, ok, once I figured that out, I just turned the mitten inside out (thus having the stitching on the outside, but that looked ok.) As a result, the right-hand mitten became a left-hand mitten. Which is all right the first time, but the next one needs to stay a right-hand mitten! I succeeded picking out the waste-yarn and and picking up the stitches for the thumb, and knitting a thumb-sized protrusion in the round, but again, the stockinette part was on the inside!! This is certainly not acceptable!

So I managed after a couple of rows to change to all purls, and the right side was on the right side. But all of this was more puzzling than I expected, since this pattern was basically meant to be a super-simple approach to producing a pair of mittens.

The end result looks very folksy--like a mitten knit by a slightly mentally defective peasant from Nepal, perhaps. But it fits very well (adding the ribbed cuff was a good call) and being all wool it seems to be nice and warm. This morning driving over from Hartland to Pittsfield, I wore one store-bought insulated mitten and my one hand-made mitten, and both hands were equally toasty, though I think the hand-knit one had the advantage in allowing freedom of motion.

So I am working away on the matching one, and hope I can figure out how to make the knitting turn out on the right side. I think I somehow got started knitting on the inside rather than the outside when I switched to dpn. (but how? I have no idea! If it happens again I'll be forced to rip out the stitches. Which is complicated on 3 needles!) My idea of buying just a set of dpn's and using point-protectors to turn them into single-pointed needles for the straight knitting worked out well.

Yesterday I spent the day in Hartland, and it snowed steadily all day long from 8 am till dark, with an accumulation of about 8 inches of soft snow. And today it was 17 degrees when I got up but it fell to 15 degrees by 7 am. It's sunny now and perfectly warm and cozy in Karen's house, but forecasts are for temps around zero by tomorrow morning. And there's a wind. A good day to stay inside, make brownies, and finish my mitten!

Karen got Zack safely to college in Farmington yesterday, got him into his dorm, registered for classes, and bought his books. She called around 2 pm to say she was back home. Not an easy drive in steady snow.

Liz is here today, telling me about her plans for the Peace Corps. It seems like quite a challenge, since she will have to take with her only what she can carry in two standard suitcases.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Romp in the Snow

It has been snowing lightly all morning, with more serious snow predicted for tomorrow. I came over to Pittsfield with Mom and Dad to go to Mass this morning, and then we stopped off at Karen's house afterwards for coffee. Karen suggested that I stay, since there is entertainment in town this afternoon in the form of a comedy show followed by dessert for $5 to support the Pittsfield Library. A worthy cause! So I stayed here, and Karen took the dog Stella for a romp in the snow, and I tagged along. Stella likes to play wolf while tromping through Manson Park.

There is rough ice underneath a lot of the snow, so we had to proceed cautiously. But we walked over to the snowmobile bridge and with some trepidation crossed it, then decided to press on to the railroad tracks. Crossing the trestle was also a bit of excitement for two middle-aged ladies! By the time we got home, my thighs were tingly cold, as well as my face, but my core body was quite warm and toasty. It was a very pleasant adventure, with the woods looking very lovely in an inch of snow. Stella went into the river up to her knees, which seemed awfully chilly to me! In some places where there was shallow water, the water was frozen into inch-thick sheets (generally broken in places so that the thickness was observable.)

I did finish the Windy-City Scarf and gave it to Karen, and it looks very nice on her with her camel-colored coat. Now I am quite far along in makiing the first mitten--but so far, no shaping or picking up of thumb stitches has been required, so I don't actually know if I am up to the technical demands of this simple pattern. I added an inch and a half of ribbing at the cuff since a big thick mitten with no cuff seems odd to me. I am using size 5 needles with heavish worsted wool yarn (variegated red colors), and it is very dense. No matter how much I try to keep the knitting loose, it feels quite tight. But I guess tight is a desirable characteristic in a mitten. It's a nice relief to just knit every row, without even the bother of purling alternate rows. And the garter stitch makes a nice thick fabric for warmth.

Last night Hannah and Molly called and invited me to come over and watch "Little Miss Sunshine" with them. It was a very enjoyable movie, though totally inappropriate! (bad language, lots of talk about sex, drug use, etc.) but actually with a good moral base under it all. The acting and directing were excellent, and it was a lot of fun to watch. Plus Joanne sent us in popcorn and a pitcher of melted butter!

Yesterday the whole family got together--Karen and her family, including Liz, Joanne and all 6 of her kids, Mom and Dad and me, and Aunt Bobbie and Uncle Richie. It was nice--everyone brought a dish or two--Karen made a yummy pumpkin cobbler (like pumpkin pie, but with a cake-y crust and a slightly creamier texture. I made the spinach-feta bake, but while I was gone to the library, Stella the dog helped herself to a few bites of it! But we just stirred it up and ate it anyhow!

First thing in the morning yesterday I went to a live basketball game--an intramural game of 5th and 6th graders. Ben played very well and made several important baskets, but his team ended up losing by 1 point. They played a second game at 10 am, but I stayed home during that one. And he was also supposed to travel to Auburn for a third game of the day, but he stayed home for the family gathering. But word was that it was a blow-out, they lost 22 to 72! So it's just as well he didn't take an hour and a half drive to get to that!

Tomorrow Karen and James will take Zack to Farmington to start his first semester of college. Unfortunately, at the same time they need to drive an hour west on Route 2, the first real snowstorm of the winter is predicted. Karen is thinking that if it's really bad, they might have to go later, but tomorrow is really the time when he's supposed to be there. I'll be safely back in Hartland by then, however.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Maybe I'm just not cut out for this!

Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Woebegon, and likewise in Hartland Maine.

Honest to God, I cannot believe how many errors I'm making in this idiotically simple scarf! There is nothing to this at all--knit a stitch, purl a stitch, that's IT! And yet I keep making mistakes and having to rip rows out and then I get the stitches back on the needle in the wrong way. Aarrgh! I am about 3/4 of the way through with this thing, and it looks all right, but there's a row where some of the stitches were put back on twisted, and there is no way I'm going back again, because all I do is mess them up again when I try to put them back on the needle.

Besides, I'm already obsessing about the next project I want to make--a pair of mittens knit flat in garter stitch and then joined into a tube just before doing the decreases and the thumbs in the round. It's from Knit Mittens! which I found at the library in Pittsfield. All I need is to finish the darned scarf (hint to self: no more scarves for a while!) and then get my hands on some size 4 needles, and I can use the variegated yarn I brought with me.

I am wearing my hat, and here where the weather is cold, it doesn't seem silly at all. It folds up neatly into a pocket when not in use and keeps my ears and head nice and warm when I pop it on.

Better get home before night falls--it gets dark really early here--noticeably earlier than in LA, partly because of the latitude, but probably moreso because of the location within the time zone. Even 3 weeks past the solstice, sunset is at about 4:30 I believe.

There is a lovely coating of snow on all the open land, but the roads and sidewalks are dry and the temperature is moderate--low 30's, with a fairly stiff breeze. I just walked up to the Hartland Library from Mommy's house, and it was cold but not bitterly cold. There are rumors of a real snowstorm on Sunday. That would be just right, as far as I'm concerned.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Snow Day!

The trip to Maine was completely uneventful. Got to the airport with time to spare, did get my bag hand inspected, but not on account of knitting needles--it was a cushion filled with flax seeds that I warm in the microwave and use as a heating pad that raised questions. But that was resolved quickly enough. The flights were on time and smooth--so I knit away on the Windy City Scarf from LA to Cincinnati.

It's such a simple pattern, but I still managed to ball it up. Somehow I knitted when I should have purled or something, and had to backtrack. I tried patiently tinking (knitting spelled and done backwards. But when every other stitch is a knit or a purl, it's very tricky, at least for me. I could tell that I had picked up the knit stitches backwards, but I somehow thought that I had reversed all the knits while leaving the purls correct, so I re-knit, and decided that no, the purls were all on the needle backwards too. So I had to undo it and do it over twice. But it's now back in order and going along fine. The slit worked out easily. The yarn I'm using is a little fine for the needles (DK yarn and size 8 needles) so the gauge is a bit loose, and the top of the slit seems kind of floppy. But I will reinforce it when I'm done by sewing it, I think.

Anyhow, when I got to Bangor, it was a bit of a surprise to see how bare everything looked, and how moderate the temperatures were. Ben and Caleb were out playing basketball at 8 pm in just sweatshirts. The ground was actually muddy. The weather forecast was for a "wintery mix" of rain, sleet and snow today, so I was pleasantly surprised to awake to a white world! It had snowed during the night, about 2 inches of powdery snow--looking absolutely lovely. Whether it's actually a snow day or not is still up in the air. Hartland and other communities have school today, but Pittsfield called for a 2 hour late start, rather than cancelling school outright. And maybe it will be cancelled or maybe not.

So the timing for me was perfect--I got to fly in in clear dry weather, and yet enjoy the beauty of a winter snow when I awoke on my first day here. Karen took Ben over to Waterville to the doctor because his asthma is giving him trouble. The snow is still lightly falling. And I am drinking coffee and knitting. What could be better?

Saturday, January 6, 2007


Tomorrow I'm flying to Bangor. Travel plans always seem more attractive from the distance of several months, but when they draw closer, the true dimensions of what travel entails come into focus. This flight leaves LA at 7 am. Ok, 7 am, that's a normal hour, right? Well, let's backtrack--they want you at the airport 2 hours ahead. Hmmm, 5 am. And I have to allow a half hour to drive there--4:30 am, and it takes a half hour to get dressed and finish the last minute packing--well that puts us at a 4 am wake-up call! No longer such a reasonable hour! I am planning not to check any luggage and just go with what I can fit into my wheeled back-pack bag, so I probably don't actually need 2 hours to get to the gate. I just have to go through security, and how crowded will that be at half-past dark on a Sunday morning after all the holidays are over? But can I actually bring myself to leave the house at 5 am, which is within the time frame during which I should be there? Suppose I got a flat tire on the way? Aw, screw it, I'll leave at 4:45 am.

And then there's the combination of waiting and hurrying. If I actually arrive at the airport at 5 am, there's a mad scurry through security. (Put coat and shoes and purse in a bin or two, put bag on the conveyor belt, walk though the x-ray thingy, make sure you grab everything out of the x-ray machine quickly, make sure you don't leave anything behind, and then find a place to sit down and put your shoes back on. And hope to God they don't decide to hand-inspect your stuff! Everyone moves as quickly as possible through security, knowing that there are people behind you who need to make their flight. So it feels frantic. And then--ok, now wait. Wander around the terminal, buy Starbucks, eat some breakfast, wait some more. Get in line at your gate. Wait some more. Finally, it's time to board the plane, scurry to get into your seat quickly so as not to hold up other passengers or the flight, and then sit there, all seat-belted in, and wait.

Then there's the flight--should be peaceful enough, we hope. 4 hours and 8 minutes non-stop to Cincinnati. Time to read and/or knit. But then there's only a 47 minutes connecting time between that flight and the final flight to Bangor. Suppose the first flight is a bit delayed? Suppose the gates aren't near-by? (Suppose there's a long terminal corridor, or worse yet, a different terminal or different part of the terminal altogether? Suppose it's one of those things where they put you on a shuttle bus! Surely they know this stuff and wouldn't sell the ticket this way if the connection was that bad. Right? Surely!) I seem to recall a shuttle bus at Cincinnati two years ago. That must have been a bad dream, though. That can't be right.

Anyhow, that particular anxiety attack is why I plan not to check any luggage. If they don't have my luggage, they can't lose it. If I make the flight, my luggage makes the flight. If not, then I have all my stuff with me for any contingency. (I have had contingencies!) But that means that I have to be sure that whatever I'm carrying will pass inspection. When Kristen flew to Chicago, she had a circular knitting needle with a precious cashmerino mitten on it, and I was concerned that there might be a problem with that. But there was not. The needles are nylon and bamboo, so presumably the x-rays go right through them. And the information website from the NSA says that knitting and crocheting supplies are allowed on planes. But some knitting needles could certainly look like (and be used as) weapons! But not mild-mannered bamboo, right? They wouldn't take that away, would they? I cast this onto circular needles specifically so that it would be easy to take through security and easy to work on in a terminal or a plane. No needle to drop!

And how about my precious folding scissors? Should I chance that? I'm sure they length of the blade is well under the published limits. And besides it's folded into a neat and ambiguous shape, in its perfect leather case (this pair of scissors is the only worthwhile thing I got from 18 months of employment at an insurance company in Salem Massachusetts in 1975! I've almost lost them in the bowels of a couch more than once, but I still have them and would die if they were taken away by security. Maybe I'd better just leave them home.)

So what am I knitting? Well the octopus-wrestling incident with the hat kind of scarred/scared me, and I wanted something simple. So I started the Windy-City Scarf from Stitch 'N Bitch. But perhaps it's too simple. It's just a 1 x 1 rib (which is nice looking) for 40 inches, a change of color half-way through, and a slit. The slit is a bit of a mystery. Since it needs to be vertical, you can't just bind off some stitches and then add them back in. You have to attach a separate ball of yarn and knit one ball for 15 stitches and then the other ball for 15 stitches until the slit is the right length, and then drop the second one and knit across again. And all the directions say is: attach second skein. Ok, but how? Attach where, to what? I knit a small sample to try this out, and I attached the second ball with a slip knot onto the needle, as if to start casting on. And then I made sure to skip that "stitch" as I knit, and then I figured I could untie it and weave the end in firmly. Is that right? Is there a better way? In my practice sample, I changed yarn color, but in the real one, you continue with the same color at this point. Well, we'll see. This is really a small and mindless project, and worse-case scenario, I could just rip it out and not feel like I was tearing out my heart. The colors I've chosen are two shades of aubergine. (a heathery purple and a blackish purple)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bajada/5971236/ (Someone else's Windy-City Scarf, which confirms my fear that the real-life one won't be as cool looking as the one in the book. Her purple is very similar to mine, but even I am not lame enough to pair it with grey. I'll have a deeper shade of purple.)

Somehow I think this project might have been a mistake, since I don't feel any real enthusiasm/passion for it. There's very little to learn from it, the yarn is not particularly sensuous or luscious in color, and when it's done, do I need a 40" scarf with a keyhole to keep it from blowing away? Not particularly. Maybe I will give it to my mother. That's a good plan! I don't even think it's a long enough project to keep me occupied for 2 weeks in Maine (along with 2 cross-country flights.) Then what? I'll be stranded in the wilds of Central Maine with no yarn and nothing but a Wal-Mart to shop in. All they'll have will be cheesy acrylic yarns. Should I also throw another skein of yarn into my suitcase? (Shove in. Squeeze in!) Should I order a kit of something and have it delivered to Hartland? I would like to make a vest. I had my heart set on a Celtic Vest that crosses over and fastens with a long pin. But I'm not sure about the sizing. It seems to come in only one size, which is something like 37" bust. That doesn't sound very roomy....Could it work? Sound it be adapted? Could they add an extra skein of yarn?

Where is the line between relaxation and boredom in knitting? (in life?) Why is it that a challenge can so quickly slide into a pain in the butt? What is the perfect balance of learning new and interesting things and getting stressed out over something that is supposed to be enjoyable?

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Like wrestling an octopus!

Phew! I finished my little knitted cap today, and it looks fairly good, but what a struggle! I was going along fine till I had 7 inches done, and no problem with the first few decreases. Then I decided to transfer it to the double-pointed needles. Yikes! I got all tangled up trying to knit it off the circular needles and onto the dpn. And then as the size got smaller and smaller, it was very difficult to manage the three needles plus the working needle. I pushed on, afraid to stop lest I lose count of where I was entirely. But the stitches got loose at the joins of the needles. I ended it with 3-stitch i-cord at the top. (There were supposed to be an even number of stitches on the needles at all times, but I must have failed to k2tog somewhere along the way, because I had an odd number.) So it is a little holey (hole-y? holy??) at the top, but the decrease pattern looks more or less symmetrical and the knotted off umbilical-cord style flourish at the top is cute. Maybe a bit too cute for a person of my age, but what the heck.

Kristen got safely back to UCHicago today. We got up at 5 am, left the house at 5:30, and she took off at 8 am. She called me at 2 pm West Coast time (4 her time) to let me know she was back in her room. She took the bus from Midway to UChicago, which was strenuous, what with a laptop, a backpack, and a wobbly old suitcase. Note to self: new suitcase for birthday!! And that's the *good* one--the bad one is not only wobbly but is missing on foot that is supposed to hold it up-right. Time for new luggage, since she'll be doing quite a bit of traveling in the next few years.

I also took down all the Christmas decorations today. That is such a dreary job. The only pay-off is that the house looks kind of refreshingly bare and spacious. It also looks as dusty as hell, but driving to the airport and taking down the tree and lights was all the stress I could handle for one day, so I'll try to run the vacuum and remove a layer or two of dust tomorrow. Or some time. No promises!

Monday, January 1, 2007

In with the New

Last night was a rather gloomy time here. Kristen has been hard at work on her lovely mittens, knitting a good-looking cable pattern, when she discovered a stitch-sized hole about 7 rows back. There was no way it could be ignored. She set to work unraveling. But once she got back to that point, it was very tricky to get all the stitches back on the needles properly. Then she re-knit those 7 rows, only to find that her cable was no longer twining itself together neatly but looked all bent out of shape. She unraveled *again,* and put the stitches on a piece of thread to be re-started in the light of day. It seemed like a bad omen, an unpleasant way to end the year. And hanging over her head was the fear that she had failed her first class in physics. She had put off looking at her grades for the entire vacation because she was convinced that it would be nothing but bad news.

In the morning before breakfast, she got her stitches back in line on the needles. Papa left to exercise, and we knew that this was it--she had to check her grade today, before heading back to Chicago tomorrow. I insisted that she couldn't knit another stitch until she went online and found out her grades. She knew already that she had an A in two of her three classes--humanities and honors calculus. But the physics class was a constant low-grade dread. She was so worried that she made me look in the catalog to find out what the consequences were for a D. Would it count? Would the course have to be taken over? What would it do to her GPA? Wonder if it was even worse than a D?After some fiddling about on the computer, she finally found the site with her grades. Oh my God, she said. (What??) I got an A minus!

She was really embarrassed that she had expected so much worse. But all the evidence pointed to a C at best. She had left large parts of the final exam blank! Other people in the class had seemed to her to be much smarter. But apparently they were not. Apparently she was one of the better students in the class. Of course, it was curved. But she came out on the high end of the curve, by some miracle.

So now she can get on the plane tomorrow and go back to school with peace of mind. I was really worrying about what might happen. Would she have to go to her counselor as soon as she got back, and re-arrange her schedule? Would it be possible to take the next term of physics? If not, would she be able to re-take this in the winter, etc. etc. But all such worries were alleviated. Now I will be able to drive her to the airport tomorrow morning with an easy mind. She made it through her first term at a very serious university with a 3.9 GPA. It certainly will make winter in Chicago more bearable knowing that she has done so well.

And today the mitten went along smoothly and again brought joy. The mess-up seemed like an outward reflection of an inner state of mind. And the smooth sailing of restoring the cable and figuring out how to Make One and how to start the thumb gusset seemed to flow from a restored mind.

My hat is also looking good. I picked up a tip yesterday evening at the Knitting Meet-up from Steve (cool knitting guy) about how to change colors when knitting in the round without having a jog where the new color comes in. (Kind of counter-intuitive, but it works. After the first round in the new color, just as you're about to start the second round, pick up a stitch from the row below in the old color and knit it together with the new row of color. I've done it twice now, and it is very sleek.) The bright pink with a one-inch turquiose stripe looks very perky. I might add another stripe near the top, or not.

So 2007 begins on a happy note.