August 18, 2006

Large Grey Blob

I tried a whole bunch of ways to make this post interesting, but the truth is that I am knitting a large grey blog out of large amounts of grey handspun and that there is very little to write about that. The silly little cut on my finger is still present enough to prevent the knitting of lace, so it's just me and Joe's gansey, all the time.
I'm knitting it on the bus...


I'm was knitting it on at Joe's sisters birthday last night...


(Although I did take the travelling sock out of my purse for the occasion of Kelly's 40th birthday. ) I'm knitting it everywhere that I go, and still...


The thing is a big grey blob.

The traditional gansey usually (but not always) has a plain stockinette bottom which gives way to cables and plain and purl patterns round about the armpits. The idea is that the stockinette knits up quickly (HA) and efficiently (Ok. I'll give it that) and that the patterning across the chest is both beautiful, interesting and (remember that everything about a gansey has a reason) that the cables and patterns across the chest take up more yarn and provide extra warmth and thickness where it's most needed. That patterned part will start to be considered 15 inches/ 40 cm up in Joe's case, and I'm only at the 27 cm mark, and I'm pretty much bored out of my mind.

I know that lots of knitters love plain work. They love it. It's meditative, it's simple, it lets their minds wander while the perform brain work or watch tv, their hands chug along and they find the simple straightforward nature of knitting every single stitch for miles and miles and miles really restful and relaxing. I might be able to get into the zone too...except for this.


There are two purl stitches, one at each side of the body. These mark the "seams" of the gansey and mark the spots where the division for the arms will be. They are there, technically, so that the gussets for the arms have a natural line to grow out of, and so that the gansey knitter can be on autopilot while knitting, never having to figure where the arms or gussets fall. (There is the added bonus of the sweater folding a little tidier and taking less storage space.) Me, I've discovered another purpose. I believe that these two stitches are there to drive me stark raving mad, since I keep getting into the stockinette zone, then blowing by the purl stitch and discovering 20 stitches later that I've knitted it instead of purled it. The first 47 times I did this, I decided to tink back, correct the error and reknit the 20 stitches. Then I got smart, and decided that I would I would rather dust the living room with my tongue than tink back one more time and made the very clever decision to correct the stitch the next time that I came to it.

This would have worked, had I been in touch with the problem of my original lack of intelligence, and not blown by the stitch a second time on the next round. Clearly that won't work. Other ideas?

a) Do my best but accept that I will periodically correct that line of stitches with a crochet hook and try to be happy.

b) Go to my knitting basket and get a big honking stitch marker that I can put on my knitting to warn me of the purl stitch. (For this to work I would need to be able to accept the intense burning irony of using a stitch marker to warn me of a stitch that is a marker.)

c) Rig some sort of finely tuned electrical device to those two stitches of my knitting. Some sort of technology that would, when I blow by that ridiculous purl stitch for the 484th time, deliver a mild dose of voltage that will be not really dangerous, but corrective. I'm imagining some sort of knitting variation of an invisible fence.
Knit the purl stitch and ZAP.

Choice C, despite it's complexity is likely my best option, since it stands a greater chance of ultimately correcting my dumbass behaviour on a more permanent level. I can see other knitting uses too. Miss an increase on the 4th row of a sleeve? ZAP.
Forget to cable every six rows? ZAP.
Knit 10 cm past where you were supposed to start the fair isle? ZAP.

How about the worst...You know the ones...the ones where it says "decrease two stitches at the beginning of every right side row for neck until 15 stitches remain" ...So you do. You decrease for ages and you've got 15 stitches left and you feel pretty good about it and you look for the next instruction, and it says "at the same time" and then, while your heart sinks all the way to your flip flops, it details some stinking thing you were supposed to do while you were doing your decreases. Something like "continue to shape armhole as set".
That one? Fail to check ahead in the instructions?


This could be really useful.

Posted by Stephanie at 04:14 PM | Comments (215)

August 16, 2006

I was going to knit a lot...

Five reasons I have no really impressive progress to show you.

1. A good chunk of my knitting time was sucked into the "housekeeping, feeding your family, celebrating family milestones and earning a living" trap. I can't believe I keep falling for that.


It was good pie though.

2. I went to the dentist again. I have not yet figured out how to knit while in the chair, and I was in the chair for a long time. (I will spare you the absolutely pathetic story of this visits panic attack. I assure you that I am normally a very tough lady and that the completely pathetic behaviour I exhibit at the dentist is a rare anomaly that is best forgotten by all parties concerned.

3. I have suffered the worlds most minor injury.


Sadly, this incredibly insignificant cut on my finger is in the precise position necessary to interfere with knitting. I can still knit, but this makes me slow. (It also makes me knit with my finger sticking up like I'm trying to make a point. Very unbecoming.)

4. Megan got an Eye Toy and Kinetic game for her Birthday.
Now, I'm not the biggest fan of the playstation out there. There have been a few terrible incidents involving several days of my life lost to The Sims (I do really love being in charge) and the kids (and the adults) have some pretty sharp limits on how long and when they are allowed to play. As a result, the black box of inactivity had gathered a layer of dust around here. Then Meg's buddy Maddy walks in here last night and sets this thing up. It's a little camera that plugs into the playstation, and the Kinetics game starts and the camera puts you on the TV and you go through all of these virtual games and workouts. You follow a glowing ball with your hands, kick a virtual ball away from a target you protect... the thing really, really gets you moving and raises your heart rate. The kids were all fighting over the privilege of getting to play and the grown-ups were having a good time too. You can watch a preview of how the thing works here. I had no idea that these virtual games even existed. It's a very good time and leaves me, as a mother, wondering what the rules should be on a video game that's a workout. Thoughts?

5. Ted (The Oracle) sent me yarn. I usually don't blog gifts between friends, because I think them private matters, but this was simply to stunning to not tell you about.


Ted spindle-spun this 100 grams of finn laceweight, and it is so beautiful that huge swaths of my day are falling away as I sit and stare at it.


No photo can show you how complex and lovely the red/orange is. It makes me want to pitch everything I'm knitting now and sit fondling this one skein for all of my days. Mercy.

As compensation for the lack of knitting projects, I leave you with these pictures of hatty success. Remember when I asked knitters to help support breastfeeding by sending fruit and Veggie hats to WIC offices for Breastfeeding week? Knitters are maniacs. Jeanne received 400+ hats, and Ilene got more than 100. That's incredible to me.

Here's tons of hats...


only a small sampling of the hundreds that arrived in California at Jeanne's WIC office.


Hats on tables,


hats on breastfed babies.


Hat's in Brockton at Ilene's WIC office.


Read more about it here (and make sure and look at Mary's fruit and veg hats with ladybugs on the stem.) I can't thank you all enough. Breastfeeding is such a cheap, easy way to change the lifelong health of the babies who get it and the mothers who do it, and makes such a tremendous difference to the economy of the family, that I get all choked up when I think about knitters using their wool and their wits to change the world.

Next domination through wool.

Posted by Stephanie at 04:02 PM | Comments (133)

August 15, 2006

Meg is 15!

Today is Megan's 15th birthday, and she continues to be a lovely, engaging young knitter woman. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Megan for not doing anything too horrible during the year she was 14...and especially for not doing anything that involved a fire truck, police station or the words "safe house". Keep it up kid, and I'll keep making the birthday waffles.


We have a tradition that the birthday person in the family plans the menu for all three meals of their day. I've been absolutely flabbergasted to discover that even when they can have anything at all, the girls still plan really well balanced meals. Meg's dinner tonight is rice, mushroom sauce and those yummy fake meatballs from The President, (I really feel affection for him, don't you?) salad with goat cheese, balsamic and pine nuts, and apple pie with sharp cheddar.

When I was Meg's age I think I chose a big plate of sauteed mushrooms. Full stop. (That was a great dinner.)

Although today is Tuesday (and tuesdays are for spinning) it rained too much yesterday for the fleece to dry. Today is warm and sunny, but too windy to put the fleece outside, so I guess it will wait for another 24 hours before I haul out the drumcarder. (Really, I need to wash more anyway. I'll fulfill my spinning obligation by washing fleece. I do it on the stove...I'll show you how in an upcoming blog if you want. It's gross, but effective.)



My shropshire shawl is amusing me to no end. I've worked three repeats, and by my reckoning (and without figuring the math for getting my chosen 50 row border to fit) I think I need seven. According to the shawl calculator (found on Jessica's blog in the sidebar), this means I'm about 14% done.

14%? This could take a little longer than I thought.

Shawl Q&A

Mary Asked what needles I'm knitting this on...


3mm Ebony Holtz & Stein circulars. I like them, since they are
a) Black. Easy to see white yarn on black needles.
b) Pointy enough. I would wish for pointier, but I always do.
c) Wood. Gives a little bit of grip for manipulating wee yarn.
d) Have a reasonably smooth join, though I still find that the yarn catches on the join as I try to pull it back over on the purl side. (Someday I will do a scientific study about why "knit-facing" mounted stitches slide nicely over even the most craptastic of joins, but "purl-mounted" stitches resist the charms of even the nicest of needles. Anybody else notice this?)

Barbara A.M. asks:

All that laceweight yarn is inspiring me to try some myself. Any advice to someone trying their first laceweight project? Should I make your snowdrop shawl? Is there a classic, laceweight yarn that every knitter should use in at least one project? I am wide open to suggestions from those who have gone before!

I actually wouldn't suggest my snowdrop shawl for a beginner, not because it isn't easy...but because the directions are a little "quick and dirty". I'd suggest starting with any of the shawls or scarves from Fiddlesticks Knitting. Dorothy's charts and instructions are impeccable, and several of her designs (like Lotus Blossom or the Triple Mohair Triangle) are written for larger gauge yarns, so you don't have to get used to lace and tiny yarn all at once. Really, I don't think lace is difficult, it's mostly just yarn-overs and knit two togethers, it's keeping track of where you are that takes learning. My solution involves moving post-it notes around the chart.

WavyBrains (love that) asks:

What ball winder do you use/recomend for these herculean tasks?

I've got me a standard issue ball winder. The gears on it are starting to go, but it's served me nobly for many years. The design limits the ball size, some huge skeins (like the shropshire) need to be broken down into smaller balls, but I don't mind, especially with lace, when a large ball is more likely to result in a tangled ball.
Some knitters swear by nostepinnes, but when it comes to winding 3000m of yarn (that's 3km!) there's no way I'm doing it by hand. I want to be able to use my hands when I'm done.

Mardi asks:

I'm knitting a baby blanket in the Lorina Shell stitch pattern, and have resorted to knitting off my #2 needle onto a #5 just before the row that says "knit 4 stitches together" because otherwise one ends up paralyzed after attempting to work the needle through the 4 frickin' stitches umpteen times over. Anyone else out there ever have this sort of problem??

Yes. I myself work multi-knit togethers using a complex system requiring a decent Shiraz, a very pointy needle, isolation and curse words. You don't want to know what "PURL 4 together" takes.

Other solutions welcome.

Filambulle says:

That whole lace thing is addictive, isn't it?

Yes. Next question?

Tour update:

Jayme-the-still-seems-pretty-wonderful-publicist who is completely in charge of where/when/why I go places has sent me some updates for the tour page.

Sept. 10th I'll be at Yellow Dog Knitting in Eau Claire, WI at 6pm

Saturday, September 16th I'll be at the Park Slope Barnes and Noble in Brooklyn at 7:30.

Sunday, September 17th I'm going to the Knit Out in Union Square
(New York, New York ) from 11am to 5pm

....and there's one change. The Powells event in Portland is at Powell's Books for Home and Garden, 3747 Southeast Hawthorne Blvd, not at the other store.

I'll update the tour page shortly, but for now, I'm off to bake birthday pie.

Posted by Stephanie at 01:14 PM | Comments (214)

August 14, 2006

Paging a smaller fisherman

The ladies are back and order disorder is restored. I remember what it's like now to have no phone, no food and no quiet. It's all coming back to me. I'm not sure I mind though, except for the abbreviated work-day. That really bothers me. Trying to cram a whole days worth of work into the few hours/moments/seconds of peace per day that three teens affords you? Tense.

Might not allow much work time, but it's pretty good for knitting time.


Here's Joe's handspun gansey, moving right along. I cast on 200 stitches and knit 6.5 cm of 1X1 ribbing, then increased to 228 and began working in Stockinette.

A bunch of you have asked for more information about Ganseys, so I'll try to explain about them as I go. For starters, a gansey is a fishermans sweater of a construction that predates other sweater types (like Aran) from the British Isles. Ganseys, unlike Arans were not knit for commercial sale, they were working sweaters and every characteristic of a gansey was knit for a practical reason.

Allegedly, both Ganseys and Arans were knit with particular patterns to help identify drowned sailors. This has turned out (probably, depending on who you believe) to be untrue of Arans. The legends surrounding the meaning and significance of the patterning of Aran sweaters were likely developed in this century as part of a completely charming marketing ploy. (I actually find this pretty intriguing by itself. The idea that knitters came up with the Aran sweater and it's legends to supplement their meagre incomes is fantastical to me. I love stories of genuine resourcefulness.) There is very little in the way of photographs or actual historical evidence to support the idea that anybody was really knitting (or wearing) Arans until pretty recently, when they were adapted from the Gansey, and supplemented with the particular Irish artistic sensibility. They were knit for beauty.

Ganseys on the other hand, were actually worn by fishermen (and were often knit as betrothal gifts by the fisherman's lovie) and as such have some very practical details. (More on that later when I knit the very practical details.) For starters, they use a very sturdy double cast-on (or other strong techniques) to make them wear better, they are knit from a tightly spun yarn worked at a tight gauge to repel wind and water, and because the patterns were passed on knitter to knitter, by watching or telling, the patterns used vary from town to town across the British Isles. (In Gladys Thompsons cool book she collected these patterns by region.)
After a couple of rounds I knit in Joe's initials.


This is a traditional feature of a gansey, allegedly for identifying a drowned sailor. (Another feature of the gansey is that it is close fitting, so as not to wash off in the water.) Joe is a fine sailor, and unlikely to wear his gansey swimming, but I thought that it was best to include this. If I'm going to knit a handspun traditional gansey then I might as well go all out. This is an appallingly poor photo, but the initials read J D.

From here I just have to go on and on and on, around and around and around doing nothing but knitting until it measures....well. I don't know what it should measure, I'm sort of flying by the seat of my pants. I'll keep holding it up to Joe until it looks right. (I think this is also a very traditional approach.) I know it's not long enough now, so I haven't even measured it or him.

What I do know, now that I've knit a bunch of gansey, is that I am definitely not going to have enough yarn. I knit the ribbing out of one ball, then joined another ball and started alternating rows. (This is an attempt to hide any inconsistency in my spinning from one ball to the next.) I've just run out of the first ball, and I only have 13, so clearly....


I needed to wash more fleece. I'm trying not to be crushed by this realization (and have drunk a great deal of coffee and eaten a great deal of chocolate on the path to acceptance) and to embrace the opportunity to spin more wonderful yarn for this great sweater. (Sigh.)
The only thing comforting me, considering the long history of the gansey, is that I really can't be the first knitter who sat there watching her wool run out and thought "Man. In my next life, I'm going to love a smaller fisherman."

Posted by Stephanie at 05:37 PM | Comments (129)