Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Knitting at The Office

What do you do when you're down in the dumps? I knit. Of course, I knit when I'm feeling happy, sad, or nothing at all. But when life leaves me overwhelmed and anxious, I crawl into my chair with my yarn and needles and watch yet another rerun of "The Office." I own every episode on DVD, plus I have my Tivo set to tape the show whenever it airs. This means I have as large a stash of Office reruns as I do yarn. It's a great combination.

Phyllis, the show's resident knitter, could be a charter member of the Knitting at Large Club. God bless her and her giant purple plastic needles and quasi-crappy variegated Lion Brand yarn. I loved the episode when she made Michael an oven mitt for Christmas. I have to admit that I've made oven mitts as gifts, but after watching that show, I'm not sure I ever will again!

Besides all the laughs, I love the great sweaters that the female cast members wear. Next time you watch this show, keep an eye out for beautiful garments. Angela's cable yoke cardigan is one of my absolute favorites, and her cute little gray fair isle is lovely, too.

The show's costumers do a fabulous job selecting sweaters for the raven haired Meredith. She consistently wears intense kelly greens, sapphires, and russets that go perfectly with her hair and skin.

Then there's Pam. She apparently owns an entire wardrobe of plain Jane cardigans in every color of the rainbow. Pam doesn't know what she's missing: stripes, patterns, fair isle yokes, cables, lace stitches, or intarsia. So boring! Although I have to say that I love a simple cardigan.

I saved the best eye candy for last. Is there a cuter dude on television than Jim? I think not. Here is a pic of his altar ego, John Krasinski, wrapped in a terrific brightly colored striped scarf. Wish I had one... I originally meant the scarf, but I'd take Jim, too!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

It's no yoke!

Ta-da! Pneumonia has laid me low but not so low that I couldn't take advantage of the downtime to finish up the Handstrikket's second sleeve. Not only that, but now all the pieces are hooked together and I've completed the first inch of the yoke!

I'm excited. With these bottom-up sweaters, you knit until you think you can knit no more - and then suddenly the sweater is two-thirds of the way done and the end is in sight. I started in DC but now suddenly am in Denver and San Francisco is around the bend (quite a bend, but you get the drift).

I've got to knit eight inches before I can start the colorwork - I'm really looking forward to that. I'm pretty happy with the cardigan thus far; the stranded design on the cuffs isn't perfect, but it will do. Most importantly, I'm convinced it will fit. As you all know and completely understand, this is an achievement of monumental proportions (no pun intended).

So if you're reading along and thinking, "well, if Julie can do it, maybe I could, too," you're right! Get going, girl - let's see what you're made of. Wool? Cotton? Alpaca? Whatever it is, it's beautiful.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Walking pneumonia

Walking pneumonia, sung to the tune of "Waltzing Matilda." That's me.

I'm down for count, ladies and... well... ladies. After being sick for four days, I went to the doc on Monday and got a prescription. Things only got worse so I went back again this morning. My lungs are chock full of God-only-knows-what, but I've got three bottles of new pills that will hopefully help vacate my premises.

I can still knit but it's hard to write, so I'm going sign off now and go take a nap. Hopefully I'll be back tomorrow with an update on Handstrikket; I'm almost done with the second sleeve. The yoke beckons!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What I did for love

Kiss today goodbye and point me towards tomorrow... we did what we had to do... can't forget, can't regret, what I did for love!

Thank you, loyal knitting gal pal and blog reader, Teresa, for sharing this fabulous video. The knitting obsessed among us will definitely relate!

(For best results, watch this video full screen. It resizes strangely in Blogger.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A sneak peak

A couple of my knitting gal pals have requested information about my next project. I can't tell you everything yet, but here's a little foreshadowing...

A few months ago, while wandering around Ravelry, I came upon an darling little sweater made to fit a stuffed animal. I commented, "It's adorable! Wish it were 300 times larger so I could wear it!" Well, a long conversation ensued about sweater design in general and in plus-size knitting in particular. Although the designer is a skinny chick, she is very open and understanding about the plight of the ample knitter - so much so that she is now redesigning her little sweater in a large range of adult sizes - including one in a 62-inch finished bust size.

Woo hoo! Maybe we need to approach designers one at a time and plead our case? And present yarn companies with the fact that large knitters spend twice as much for yarn as the skinny chicks with which they're so obsessed? I've said this before and I'll say it again: it simply makes business sense to support ample knitters.

Anyway, imagine my joy when this designer asked me to test knit her ample size pattern. I agreed immediately. The designer is currently test knitting the skinny version. As soon as she finishes the upsized pattern, I'll start on it (after finishing the Handstrikket, of course, my only requirement for participation in her exciting project). So this, girls, this is what's next in my queue.

I'll have much, much more to say about this mystery project in the days to come, but here's a sneak peak at the swatch. I'm using Cascade Eco + which gives you an incredibly generous and affordable 478 yards per skein of 100% natural Peruvian wool. I was able to get 2500 yards for less than $65 from Webs. Pretty cheap for a long sleeved, hooded sweater.

I ordered Summer Sky Heather (shade 9452) thinking I was getting a light sky blue (as shown in the swatch from the Webs website below), but instead the yarn has a lot of green in it (see the swatch). As it turns out, I love it; I've been dying to make something in toned-down Tiffany blue for years and now I will.

This new project will likely bump the Three-Button Cardigan from the Curvy Knits book down a notch in my queue. I'm going to make it in Berroco Pure Pima - in a light sky blue! I hadn't thought of that until now. Makes me even gladder that the Eco + has so much green in it. It would be boring to knit the same color twice.

So girls, watch this space! Many more exciting adventures in knitting to come.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like...

A sweater! One sleeve down, one to go. I decided to join the sleeve to the body so I could retrieve my knitting needle. I'm getting excited because it finally looks like a sweater. One good thing about this method of construction: although it takes forever to knit the body, by the time you finish the sleeves and attach everything to start the yoke, you've almost finished the garment. I'm looking forward to the colorwork, too. Woo hoo!

(LOL - note the red circle in the bottom left. If you blow up the picture, you'll see that it's a Webs receipt for yarn I received yesterday for an upcoming project. Made me laugh. Busted!)

Really LOVE the Handstrikket yarn, btw. Berroco Ultra Alpaca: 50% wool/50% alpaca, great stitch memory and definition, lovely colors, just wonderful to work with. I'll definitely use this yarn again.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Still knitting the damn Handstrikket sleeves, so I thought I'd share this fun video with you. Maybe this fine alpaca would like to give me his fiber when he's finished? It will be clean after all. And I really heart alpaca.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Looking sideways

In knitting, you almost always knit sweaters from the top down or the bottom up. But there's a new wave of designs that turn everything sideways - and many of these new patterns are available in ample sizes.

I'm anxious to try one of these new sweaters because it looks to me like the sideways knitting allows the fabric to automatically provide waist shaping. Look at the patterns below and you'll see what I mean. The waist natually appears in every one, although some of the patterns use short rows for shaping, too.

Vine Yoke Cardigan by Ysolda Teague
Finished bust measurement up to 56 inches

"Knit in one piece from right front around the body to the left front, with sleeves worked as you come to them. Shaping is accomplished with short rows. Lace yoke and edging patterns are given in chart form only."
Finished bust measurement up to 65.5 inches with 4 inches of ease

"Cardigan with side-to-side seamless yoke construction. A band of cables, shaped with short-rows, curves around the yoke. Short sleeves, moss stitch, and a tweedy worsted weight make for a classic layering piece."

Waterlily Sideways Cardigan by Kathy Zimmermann
Finished bust size to 57 inches

"The gorgeous Empire lines, with the stitch pattern on the bodice and sleeves reversed from that on the bell-shaped 'skirt'; the carved V neck with simple two-button closure; the I-Cord edging (which incorporates the buttonhole loops) along the front edges and back neck; the easy, logical construction-- all unite for a piece of flattering loveliness and versatility, in a great size range to boot."

Tee for Two by Helene Rush
Finished bust size to 56 inches

"The center panels, front and back, are worked from the bottom up. The side panels are worked sideways and turn into short sleeves. Trim the neck edge with one row of reverse single crochet."

Sweater Wizard offers cuff-to-cuff patterns as well. Give one of the east-to-west versions a try. I'm going to - if I can ever finish my Handstrikket.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

By George...

By George, I think I've got it! The question is: which George?

George Will, George Michael, George Clooney, George Harrison, George Lucas, George Carlin, George Washington, Boy George, George Bush

Any of them will do, except maybe Boy George who is mega creepy and George Bush who is... well... George Bush. By the way, the saying "By George, I think I've got it" is a bastardization of the phrase "By jove, I think she's got it" from Pygmalion written, ironically, by George Bernard Shaw. (Thank God for the Internet because I would never know this otherwise).

Anyway, by George, I think I've finally got the sleeve right. I discovered last night that the Sweater Wizard pattern is just plain wrong. The math does not work on the first increase row. So I fixed this problem and some others, and knitted the fair isle portion with a size smaller needle. This Jared Flood trick really helps to maintain gauge.

As you can see, the sleeve still veers strangely to the right, but I only need to knit a few more rows with this severe pattern increase before the increases spread out and hopefully result in a quasi-normal looking sleeve. If you're a praying woman, please pray because I'm sick to death of knitting this damn sleeve.

So, to end where we began, we need a George, don't you think? How about Fifivet's cute baby afghan featuring Curious George based on a pattern grid sold by CrochetPatternsEtc.? By George, I think some lucky baby's got it!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Making spaghetti

Don't worry. This is not one of those knitting blogs that veers off into recipes because the blogger can't think of anything knitting-related to write about. I'm not talking about pasta today. Instead, I'm making spaghetti of my Handstrikket sleeve - again.

To recap: I decided a couple of months ago to remake this authentic, handknitted Norwegian cardigan my mother gave me 35 years ago. The label wording became my project name: Handstrikket. My plan is to keep the fair isle motifs but knit the garment in updated colors and in my current (much, much larger) size. My first thought was to use the Ditto cardigan I made last year as the basic pattern, but instead I re-created the cardigan using Sweater Wizard to ensure the finished garment's fit. After much whining, I completed the bottom of sweater, a huge (no pun intended) undertaking in stockinette stitch. I was thrilled to move on to the sleeves, but I've now knitted them twice, been incredibly disappointed both times, and unraveled them both with gusto and disgust (aka disgusto?). Hence, I present photographic evidence of the spaghetti that resulted from the sleeve being destroyed yet again.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again, right?

Guess so.  If you guys weren't watching me, this whole project would be in a plastic Safeway bag buried in the back of the closet. So thank you for making me feel like I have to work through this rather than abandon ship. Believe me, I'd rather be swimming in the Caribbean than trudging through this cardigan! Or knitting something - anything! - else.

But I'm dedicated to finishing what I started. This time I'm going to be exceptionally careful about counting rows and stitches. I'm also going to follow a great Jared Flood stranded knitting tip: use a size smaller needle for the fair isle portion to maintain consistent gauge. No matter how this next sleeve turns out, I'm keeping it - and then knitting the second one.

I believe strongly in perseverance. It has gotten me this far; it will get me through the rest. Onward, I knit.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Quiet an afghan, Ms. Gaughan

Whenever I'm bored or stressed, I go straight to Ravelry's Recently Added Patterns. Many times, the designs aren't that exciting - lots of crocheted hats and amigurumi, none of which I'm terribly interested in. It's a lot like a slot machine: in goes the quarter... pull the lever... watch it spin... and then... nothing.

However, every once in a while, you hit the jackpot: a particularly splendid design. That's been happening a lot lately because every day, some kind soul at Berroco posts a half dozen fabulous afghans. I'm not even into afghans - it takes all my will, strength, and patience just to finish the stockinette in my cardigans. But these designs are utterly fantastic - and miraculously combined into a single, incredibly affordable book: Comfort Knitting and Crochet: Afghans: More Than 50 Beautiful, Affordable Designs Featuring Berroco's Comfort Yarn by Norah Gaughan and Margery Winter.

Check out just some of these gorgeous throws. To see them all, visit this Berroco page.

I just bought Comfort Knitting and Crochet Afghans at Amazon for only $13.57. When was the last time you got more than 50 patterns for less than $14.00? (I also bought Lucinda Guy's Northern Knits: Designs Inspired by the Knitting Traditions of Scandinavia, Iceland, and the Shetland Isles so I could get Amazon's free shipping.) What a great deal for such wonderful patterns!

To increase the cost-savings, all of these afghans are made in the very affordable and washable Berroco Comfort (although I would seriously consider using Berroco Vintage with its wool content instead, but that's just me). This means you can knit an whole blanket for $50-100, especially if you buy the yarn with the Webs discount.

I'm so jazzed about this book that I plan to try my hand at an afghan. Maybe I'll make one with squares so that I can work on the project a little at a time. This would solve the first of two big challenges. The other? Deciding which one to make first, of course!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My LYSs, or why I always end up buying from Webs

You would think I was fortunate living within driving range of so many local yarn stores (LYSs), as shown on the map below. But despite my advantageous location, I've yet to find a LYS I like.

I live directly across the street from Woolwinders (see letter G above). This yarn store is literally a one-block walk from my condo. A knitter's dream come true, right? WRONG. I have a variety of problems with this shop, but I'll give you just one recent example. I went in last week seeking a set of size 5 double-pointed needles. Nothing esoteric, right? Standard fare in any yarn store? WRONG. They didn't have any size 5 DPNs, nor any 6s either. Sadly, I wasn't even surprised because this has happened there so often before. I went home, got online, and ordered the DPNs from my old faithful, Webs. This Massachusetts-based Internet store always has what I need and at a cheaper price, too - even with shipping. (As an aside, when I was in Woolwinders last week, I noticed a knitter leafing through the new Webs catalog - right at the store's main table!)

Next up, there is a new, well-marketed yarn store in Alexandria, VA, called Fibre Space. I haven't been there yet because it's 45 minutes away, but I've been wanting to visit. Well, last week the store announced that my beloved Jared Flood  would be giving three workshops in May. Woo hoo! I emailed right away to say that I wanted to sign up for the sweater workshop - and was right away rejected. "Registration doesn't open until March 8." Okay. Irritating, but I'll deal. I made myself a note in Outlook and started at 9:00 AM Monday trying to register. Nothing on the site. Went back at 9:30. Nothing on the site. Went back at 10:30. REGISTRATION CLOSED, class is full, go to hell. Dammit! So frustrating. I sent a complaint and asked to be put on the waiting list. I'm second in line apparently - which means I'm not going to get to take this class despite making multiple attempts to register. Needless to say, I won't be hiking to Alexandria anytime soon nor spending any of my hard-earned dollars at Fibre Space.

There are a couple of other yarn stores about a half hour from me. One is filled to the brim with novelty yarn that I almost uniformly hate. The other is a filthy mess with mismatched skeins of yarn strewn everywhere. In both cases, they carry very few natural fiber staples like Cascade 220, and of what they do carry, they only have two skeins of each color. "We'll be happy to special order this yarn for you," they say.  Never mind. I can do that myself - and get the 20-25% discount from Webs, too.

Two final complaints about LYSs. One, the knitting classes are uniformly too elementary for me. I guess yarn shop owners think they need to attract newbies to sell yarn. I disagree. LYSs should be attracting diehards like you and me. I'm the one who has a monthly knitting budget, for God's sake! I'm not in there buying two skeins and a set of size 10 needles so I can make my first scarf. I'm buying 2500 yards of the good stuff! The first rule of business is to go where the money is. Why don't LYSs work on attracting knitting devotees like me?

And two, I wish the drop-in knitting events were friendlier and more inclusive. Most stores near me offer such events - although the one across the street charges a fee, believe it or not! The other stores offer free knitting circles, but when I go I feel like the proverbial miserable high school wallflower. The women already know each other, and like the school cliques I remember so well, aren't open or friendly to newcomers. I knit in silence, counting the minutes until I can get up and leave - never to return again.

All this being said, owning and running a yarn store is incredibly difficult work, especially in this economy. I know how much it costs me just to buy yarn for just one sweater; the overhead must be astronomical. And after my short teenage career in retail, I can promise you I'll never do it again. But I wish I could find just one LYS that worked for me. I persevere; I have shops in Hagerstown, Frederick, and Baltimore I intend to visit.

But I suspect I will return again and again to Webs. Recently I told my old friend and college roommate, Chris, that I would love to visit to Webs when I next vacation in New England. She replied that she'd been to the retail outlet and wasn't impressed - it was just another local yarn store.

Wow. Maybe I shouldn't visit after all. I don't want to be disappointed in my tried and true. Maybe I should just keep happily shopping online, getting Webs' great discounts, and keep my perfect LYS fantasies to myself.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cinderella must die

I'm venturing off topic today because frankly, all I'm doing is reknitting the Handstrikket sleeve and I don't have much to report. So forgive me this little dalliance.

I awoke this morning remembering my Cinderella watch. A gift from my mother for my seventh birthday, I fell madly in love both with the watch - and with love. Like most little girls of my generation, I WAS Cinderella; in my heart I believed that if I toiled and waited long enough in the filthy fireplace of life that some handsome dude would amble by and give me a shoe. Then I'd live happily ever after. The end. Closing credits.

My rapture heightened with the 1965 television premiere of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical starring Lesley Anne Warren and Stuart Damon (of soap opera fame) as Cinderella and the Prince; Ginger Rogers and Walter Pidgeon as the King and Queen; Celeste Holm as the Fairy Godmother; Jo Van Fleet as the Stepmother; and Pat Carroll and Barbara Ruick as her daughters Prunella and Esmerelda.

There I was, Cinderella on my wrist and the television screen, and most of all, in my heart. I LOVED IT. I STILL LOVE IT. To this day, I can sing every note.

Fast-forward 40-plus years and I'm celebrating my 51st birthday with my bff, Theresa. Prime rib dinner to die for and plenty of time to comprehensively inventory our boyfriends and the deficiencies and disappointments inherent in our relationships. We love these guys, but c'mon, they ain't no damn Prince Charmings!

For example, Tom gave me a 25-foot Stanley LeverLock Measuring Tape for my birthday - and that's it. No armful of tulips like he'd given me for Valentine's Day nor a gorgeous sapphire ring like he gave me for Christmas. To be fair, this is exactly what I'd asked for, but still... this completely unromantic gift does not a Prince Charming make.

After more of my complaining, Theresa suggested that perhaps Tom wasn't "meeting my needs." Then it hit me: since Tom honestly and usually meets most of my needs, I (and the rest of my generation) must be the unfortunate by-product of a long-told tale of female rescue by a perfect man who - let's face it, girls - DOES NOT EXIST. I've spent a lifetime looking for that rat bastard and his glass slipper - and if I ever find him, I'm going to beat him to death with the damn shoe.

Perhaps this is maturity, or maybe just facing reality. But the fact of the matter is, Tom is a wonderful boyfriend. He is not perfect and does not come equipped with size 9.5 wide crystalline slippers customized just for my middle-aged foot. But he does love me and at this late stage of the game, that is enough. If I ever want to be happy, my inner Cinderella must die. This means I need to be content knowing he remembered my birthday at all and gave me exactly what I asked for - even if it was just a measuring tape.

After a lifetime of looking for Mr. Right, we can learn all we need to know about love from Cinderella's Fairy Godmother: It's Possible! Watch this and weep, girls, and remember that it's all a bunch of crap. Then love it anyway.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Knit. Frog. Repeat.

Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did. 
   ~ Newt Gingrich

I'm in no way a conservative Republican. But this time, Newt has it right - at least when it comes to knitting.

I slaved away on Handstrikket sleeve only to have it look like I'd made it for Wilbur in Charlotte's Web. Wilbur personified terrific, but that sleeve looked terrible.

So... sigh... you know the drill. Knit. Frog. Repeat.

I know what went wrong. To make the fair isle portion perfect, I refrained from increasing hoping that I could make up for it after in the solid brown part of the sleeve. Clearly, this didn't work.

So now I'm trying it again. I've increased every other row as instructed by the Sweater Wizard pattern, as well as when needed to make the fair isle design work. I also added three brown rows after the ribbing so that the initial blue and white section at the bottom of the sleeve won't buckle. I think this will work. We'll see.

Knit. Frog. Repeat. Persevere. Work diligently on that for which you've already worked diligently. No matter. I'd rather have it right. Wilbur doesn't need the just-right sleeve. But I sure do.

PS - Moosie says hi.  :-)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A picture paints a thousand words

If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can't I paint you?

Flashback: If, the syrupy love ballad by Bread, blairs from auditorium speakers at the Francis Scott Key Junior High School dance. Michael, my very first love, teeters with me in the dark, his arms wrapped around my waist, mine around his neck. Thank God for school dances, the only socially acceptable means of groping a boy in front of your English teacher. Michael possessed everything a young girl could want: he was intelligent, funny, handsome, and really, really tall. Nothing has changed in 35 years - except that Michael married some other chick - but I would describe my 2010 boyfriend exactly the same way.

(This picture is of Michael and me in the Key Junior High production of "Cheaper by the Dozen." I played Mrs. Gilbreth because even in ninth grade, I was matronly!)

All right, enough reminiscing. Back to knitting. As I said, a picture shows a lot more than I could ever say, so let me show you a couple of things.

First, I want to give mega props to Patons and Bernat for offering nearly every pattern in sizes up to 5X/6X. These companies obviously care for the ample among us and not just because they're providing upsized versions of their designs. No. These companies are actually they revising their patterns to fit a larger body. Check out this Urban Cables Pullover from Patons Cables 500846. This sweater comes in finished bust sizes from 28 to 62 inches and finished hip sizes from 46 to 67 inches (God bless them!).

I'm not a turtleneck wearer, but this is a fashionable pattern. Cute. I like it. But what I like even more is that Patons revised its design for sizes 2X to 5X. The company didn't take a skinny-girl sweater and make it astronomically bigger. Instead, Patons customized the pullover for a larger body. Check out the schematics and you'll see just what I mean.
Look at the body shapes. The bodice tops are identical, but Patons' designers know that the smaller-size waist shaping and 6-1/2-inches of ribbing just won't work most larger women. Instead, Patons removed the waist shaping, thereby giving amples more needed body room, and decreased the ribbing to a more reasonable 3-1/2 inches.

To be honest, I'd be reticient to make this particular sweater because I don't like turtlenecks; am anxious about covering my body with cables; and am wary about even the reduced 3-1/2 inches of ribbing. But that's just me and my... uh... unusual body. I'm sure this sweater will work perfectly for many larger women - and for that, I am grateful to Patons for their sincere effort. Although that particular sweater isn't my cup of tea, I do love a couple of other designs from this book, such as the Cabled Yoke Pullover and the Aran Accent Vest. These designs come in finished bust sizes up to 66 inches.

Check out other Patons booklets with the sizing to 5X/6X: Pure Style, Luxury KnitsNext Steps Six - Learn to Cable, 9 to 5, Fall in Love, Spring Styles, Top Down Classics, Sacs and Sweaters, and more. And visit Bernat's website for more larger patterns, including Ready Set Snow, Cold Front, Then and Now, and many more. Lots of great patterns! Thank you Patons and Bernat.

One more picture. Just want to show you my Handstrikket sleeve - I've got a couple of inches to go on this sleeve and I'll be done. Don't you think it's shaped kind of funny? I'm following the Sweater Wizard pattern I created to a tee; I'm hoping it will look fine after it gets connected to the yoke. I compared the sleeve sizing to a shirt that fits me well and the measurements match at the top. But this sleeve makes it look like I should have haunches! Sigh... I hope it works...