Thursday, April 29, 2010

Side projects status report

While the soon-be-chopped-apart Handstrikket lies folded in my knitting basket, I am toiling away on two side projects: my Northman Mittens and Marmalade Skies Afghan.

On Ravelry, I have retitled my Northman Mittens to "Mid-Atlantic Woman Mittens" since that's who I am. I finished the right mitten last night and started on the lining. The pattern is really cool: you make the outside of the mitten, pick up stitches under the lower braid, and then knit a lining out of a sport-weight yarn. When you're done, you just push the lining inside and - voila! - you have a fair isle mitten that's just as beautiful inside as out.

This mitten will look a lot better when it's blocked, but isn't it pretty? I've said it before and I'll say it again: Berroco Ultra Alpaca rocks.

Now for the Marmalade Skies Afghan. These days, I take this big project wherever I go. I'm now whipping out granny squares while waiting at the bank, doctor's office, dog groomer, etc. I don't mind biding my time if I can knit or crochet, so this has become my go-to portable project. I've finished 20 out of 90 red granny squares and still have a gazillion black ones to go, but it's coming along. My Ravelry name for the project is Checkerboard Unchecked because, in red and black, that's what it looks like to me.

The afghan is going to take a while, but I'll keep plugging away. I'm going to finish the mittens and then whip up a pair of socks - I'm thinking of Ann Budd's classic On-Your-Toes Socks. Then it's back to the Handstrikket. And that, unfortunately, is going to take forever and a day.   :-(

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Much to your surprise

My new abode is now open and ready for business. I've unpacked every box, hauled unending bags of trash to the dumpster, and moved every extraneous thing to the garage - which means, of course, that my car no longer fits. Oh well, it's April and we're no longer in danger of snow.

Today I want to give you a tour of my decadent red bathroom. My friend, Jamie says that it's like visiting another universe. The room starts conventionally enough. It's a bathroom, after all.

Turn around and you'll find the room's centerpiece: an oil painting of my beloved pug, Moose dressed as King Henry VIII. If reincarnation exists, Moose definitely thrived as a dictitorial monarch. The fabulously talented painter, Gary Cangemi, captured his old soul precisely.

Now, what's behind Curtain Number 1? A shower, you say?

NO! It's Julie's yarn stash! A better use of an extraneous walk-in shower has never been found.

Just to clarify, my apartment has two bathrooms; I assure you I take daily showers in the other. Since I would never use this shower, I decided to make it a closet, and believe it or not, this system works well. The boxes are neither clogging closets and nor stacked up in the corner of my office, plus there's plenty of light in there unlike the rest of my closets. I organized everything in accordance with my own wacky brain so now I can actually find my yarn. My stash is officially and decadently stashed. I love it.

On another note, I've not yet started hacking up (!) my Handstrikket. Instead, I'm taking a much-needed break by knitting Northman mittens. I'm really enjoying this pattern - I'd forgotten that you can knit something in a week or two rather than in multiple months. Plus they're just beautiful. David Schulz, the designer, simply created a divine pattern. Check out the beautiful thumb patterning.

The front of the mitten is pretty, too.

I love the halo proffered by the Berroco Ultra Alpaca, which is 50% Peruvian wool and 50% alpaca. This is my favorite yarn right now and it's on sale at Webs, too. I'm trying with all my might NOT to buy 20 skeins for some project-to-be-named-at-a-later-date. As you know from my shower, I've got more than enough stash for decades to come.

A normal, mature woman knits up what she has rather than buying more. An addict pays the mortgage every month for the owner of Webs. As I keep telling myself, I am powerless over yarn and my life has become unmanageable - except for that yarn shower, which is completely under control. Now, back to resisting good yarn sales...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Back to the drawing board - and lots of brown stockinette

Yesterday I ventured to a LYS to talk to the owner about my Handstrikket. My intention: learn how to graft to correct the sleeve length problem. But from the very second I put on the Handstrikket, the three women in the shop simulatenously exclaimed that the sweater is just too big. MUCH too big. The owner, who has knitted since she was a child and is an expert in sweater construction, swirled around me, pulling up the yoke, tugging on the ribbing, poking at the pile of fabric under my arms.

Finally, she made her diagnosis. "Well, I've got got good news and bad news. The good news is that this can be fixed. The bad news is that you're not going to want to do it. But you should."

Her prescription entails the following (see diagram below):
  1. Keep the yoke as is (whew) since it fits well across my bust, back, and shoulders.
  2. Scrap the rest of it.   :-(
  3. Start with the neckline. Remove the ribbing and add another round of decreases in dark blue before adding the brown ribbing. This will help close up the neck opening and lift the entire yoke up. She didn't say this, but I think I should add some short rows to the back of the neck so that the neckline fits better, too.
  4. Try on the sweater. Pinch the sweater under the arms to get a real-life measurement of what the armhole depth should be. This is probably two or three inches below where the yoke ends.
  5. Cut off the bottom of the sweater below this point and pick up the live stitches.
  6. Although I originally knitted the sweater from the bottom up, I would now reknit the sleeves and body from the top down, trying the garment on as I go to ensure proper fit and length.
  7. Start with the sleeves and knit down, re-creating the fair isle design and ribbing as I go. Ensure that both sleeves use the same number of stitches.
  8. With the remaining stitches, knit the body back and forth in rows from the top down, including the ribbing.
  9. Add the plackets and buttonholes.
  10. Finish with a cardigan that I know will fit because I have tried it on four million times during the knitting process.
I bet you're screaming ACKKKK!!!! That's pretty much what I said when she told me this. But I think she's right. The garment is too big mostly because there is a LOT of extraneous fabric under the armpits. If it was removed, the sweater really would fit better. I don't want a form-fitting garment, but I don't want a bag either. My whole point in starting the blog was to learn to make sweaters that fit, right?

I also measured the finished hip size; although I'm busty, my butt is my biggest "asset." (Aargh... sorry for that terrible pun.) The existing garment is 82 inches around; at most, I need it to be 72 inches around. At this point, the sweater has 14 inches of ease! Too much.

I created this pattern using Sweater Wizard. I probably should have done designed the garment from scratch given how things turned out. I don't know how the program's calculations work, but I suspect that when I increased the hip measurement, the software automatically moved the armholes downward. I've checked my gauge and it's accurate - 5 spi. I don't know how this went so off track.

So my verdict is in: I'm going to do it. I can't believe I'm signing up for knitting more miles and miles of brown stockinette. But I want it to be right. Plus it will be an interesting lesson learning to remake a too-large sweater into a garment that fits.

The LYS lady advocated strongly that I knit the entire bottom of the sweater in 2x2 ribbing, but she's nuts! The last thing I want is this thing clinging to me. Plus I want to make a classic sweater, one that matches the original sweater my mom gave me so many years ago. The LYS lady isn't into classics; we have very different taste in knitting, patterns, yarn, and color. But when she's right, she's right, and she's right about remaking the Handstrikket.

So I'm going back to the drawing board - and lots of brown stockinette. Whining about stockinette will commence in three, two, one...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Go north, young man

Last night's knitting agenda: chop the Handstrikket sleeves and then start grafting them together. I pondered this all day long before deciding that I should practice the Kitchener stitch on two swatches before undertaking this enormous undertaking. Smart girl. After an hour and a half getting absolutely no where, I gave up and cast on for the Northman mittens.

I need to find a teacher, class, or guru to help me. Until then, I'm going to get the Handstrikket dry cleaned and see how it fits (one of my loyal readers, Yarn Rescuer, made this suggestion - thank you). Maybe by some miracle of God the sleeves will spontaneously shorten! I doubt it. But I've got to find someone to help me if I'm going to do this. I don't want to wreck this cardigan I truly love because I'm incredibly inept and inexperienced.

Yearning for instant gratification and frustration-free knitting, I started the gorgeous Northman mittens. I love how the Ultra Alpaca knits up on the size 3 needles. Wish I'd done the whole Handstrikket with the smaller needle size (although it would have taken forever to have finished). I love the color, the fair isle patterning, the yarn, the design, everything. Plus I got the cuff done in an evening. These babies are going to fly off my needles and I'm going to enjoy every single second of them.

I am by now a fairly accomplished colorwork knitter. I am confident I could complete almost any fair isle project. That means  it's time to improve some other knitting skills. Towards that end, I signed up for a Kathy Zimmerman cable sampler scarf class in May. I love Kathy's designs which almost always contain some gorgeous cabling or lace pattern that I'm too intimidated to try (like this updated classic cardigan). So on the appointed Saturday, I'm driving from west of DC to east of Pittsburgh and taking this afternoon class. Really looking forward to meeting Ms. Zimmerman, soaking up her wisdom, and then trying my hand at a cabled garment. Like maybe an upsized version of this gorgeous cardigan?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Almost done

I've finished the plackets and added the buttons. Almost done! Tonight I'm attacking the sleeves. I've decided to cut off the fair isle portion and graft the cuff and the sleeve together. Then it's off to the dry cleaners - and I'm going to knit something else! So happy about that.

I decided to use the pewter buttons from Nordic Fiber Arts; they were the closest to the original Handstrikket buttons. I like them on this garment. The silvery colors goes well with the blues and the white.

Next up: maybe a pair of socks. I'm thinking about trying a pattern from Melissa Morgan-Oakes' new book, Toe-Up 2-at-a-Time Socks. My main concern is having socks that fit my ankles and calves well. I'm fortunate not to have cankles, but I still want socks that go up my calves and stay there; I can't stand when socks are too tight and fall down into my shoes. I don't want any esoteric designs either, just a good, reliable, warm pair of socks that will fit well in my ubiquitious Crocs.

I also want to knit the Northman mittens. I'm going to use the same agate blue and winter white Berroco Ultra Alpaca in the Handstrikket. These beauties are lined; I ordered some Berroco Ultra Alpaca Light in white for that purpose. Some folks are using contrasting yarn on the inside, but I couldn't find anything I really liked, so matching it will be.

Once I've gotten my urge for instant gratification fulfilled, I will be starting the Solstice 3-Button Jacket from Curvy Knits. And don't forget the Marmalade Skies afghan! Still working on that, too.

So much knitting, so little time! Stay tuned...

Monday, April 19, 2010

T minus 50 and counting

I've lost 50 pounds since October.

Before I say anything else, let me tell you that I will ALWAYS be fat. I am what I am, and what I am is fat. Just the way it is.

But I am much less fat than I used to be. Here is a mega-unattractive picture of me taken Christmas Day 2004 when I was at my top weight. (I mean, at least I could have shown you a smiling picture, right?) I was diabetic, hypertensive, and it was sheer hell just trying to get around.

In 2005, at the behest of my beloved chiropractor, I started dieting even though I don't believe in dieting. I also decided to have adjustable lap band surgery because it is the only effective treatment for chronic obesity. The docs don't let you waltz in and get cut, however. You have to jump through hoops upon hoops of doctor visits, medical tests, psychiatric evals, and dammit, dieting. So I got started. I lost 75 pounds by February 2006; this picture was taken the night before the surgery.

The surgery went well - truly a simple outpatient procedure for me. But almost as soon as I got home, I left my husband. He HATED that I was losing weight; he wanted me to weigh 500 pounds and therefore lamented my shrinking form every time we had sex. While I loved having a man who was so attracted to me, I didn't want to have to be unhealthy to keep him. Plus we had other issues, too. In the end, my marriage crumbled like so many others - believe it or not, 80 percent of marriages fail after a spouse has weight loss surgery.

But despite the stress of impending divorce, my weight continued to fall off. Before I knew it, I'd lost another 75 pounds. I was still fat, but I was no longer diabetic nor hypertensive - the two greatest achievements in my long battle with weight. Feeling more attractive, I started dating like a mad woman. I literally went out with 100 men in 18 months which was exciting, fun, scary, and frankly dangerous. But I looked pretty good and felt great.

The dating craziness finally ended when I met Tom 2.5 years ago. That's the good news. The bad news: I then gained back over 50 pounds. Why? Because I'm nuts and food is my first line of defense. I also stopped going to the doctor and getting my band filled. And frankly, even though I'm ashamed to say this, I wanted to see if Tom would stick with me if I gained weight. He did, God bless him.

Last October, after meeting a knitter online who has also had lapband surgery, I decided to go back to the doctor and get my band filled. I've made the other necessary changes, too and have now lost that 50 pounds I'd gained. I am very grateful. To watch my progress, just compare the three sweaters I've made in the past six months (click on the image to see a larger view). Again, I'm still fat. Always will be. But I'm less fat and that's a good thing.

I'm a little concerned about writing today's post because I know some ample women despise weight loss surgery. If that's your case, know that I honor your opinion and wholy support fat acceptance.

But I need to do what I need to do - and I'm doing it. My goal? I'd like to lose another 50 pounds which is likely the most I can hope to lose; with weight loss surgery, the more you weigh when you start, the larger you'll be when you finish.

The doctor now regularly advocates for me to have a tummy tuck and breast lift. The point is not to be a bathing beauty but to help my back. A little unsure, I'm contemplating these next steps carefully. But even if I lose 50 more pounds and have these cosmetic procedures done, too, I'll still be a fat woman. It's just the way it is.

As I said, I am what I am. And no matter what my size, that's okay.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shaq sleeves?

I've decided that the sweater is the right size, but my God, look at the sleeves! I still haven't done the underarm seams so that should help, but the damn things are still WAY too long. Who do I think I am? Shaquille O'Neal?

I've found several sites that describe shortening knitted sleeves. I'm evaluating the options, most of which involve snipping a row of stitches, catching the live stitches above on a needle, unraveling the portion below to the desired length, and then using the Kitchener stitch (which I still haven't mastered) to graft the two pieces together. Sounds difficult...

If I do this, I'm questioning whether I should just make all-brown sleeves and skip the fair isle patterning. Need to think about it. I don't think I'd miss it since there's so much going on at the top of the sweater. Cogitating as we speak...

Look what I've been up to

Still need to add the placket and seam the underarms but the Handstrikket is near completion. I'm afraid the sleeves are going to be way too long, but I'll decide that after the seaming. Maybe I could cut them and graft them back together? Sounds like a nightmare but I may be forced to do it.

My other problem: I've lost about 30 pounds since I started this thing so I'm afraid it's too large. I'm thinking about steeking the front sides, removing an inch or three, and then doing the placket. Roomy is fine, but I don't want a baggy cardigan. Tom says it doesn't look too big, but that's probably because the front sides curl in so it looks a couple of inches smaller anyway. Tom's on his way over; I'll have him take a picture of me wearing the Handstrikket and then you can tell me what you think about the size.

Just as a reminder, here's the original Handstrikket cardigan I re-created. I'm pleased with my version and the modifications I made, especially dropping the hip patterning. I tried the picot edging on the neckline but it came out really thick and clunky so I ripped it out and started again with smaller needles. I ended up knitting an inch of 1x1 ribbing and then casting off. This works better, maybe because I'm using worsted yarn rather than the fingering used in the original.

I can't wait to get this done so I can knit something small and fast to meet my need for instant gratification. I'm contemplating a pair of socks and these great Northman Mittens by David Schulz. My plan is to use the yarn leftover from the Handstrikket for the mittens. Having a pair of light blue and white mitts would be great to wear with my denim jacket.

But I need to finish the Handstrikket first. Seaming is next and then the hard decisions about shortening the sleeves and removing some extra inches from the front. And blocking! Can't wait to get this thing blocked. I will, of course, keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More from my hopeless chest

While unpacking, I came across another handmade item from my hopeless chest: a little quilt I made for the baby I'd always wanted but never had.

I made this unfinished blanket back in early nineties when I was still hopeful about having a family. At that point in my life, my enormous fabric stash barely fit in a walk-in closet so cobbling together the rainbow of colors wasn't difficult. I envisioned this design myself and cut the original pieces out of newspaper until I had the exact size and shape I wanted. My work friend, an avid quilter, was helpful and encouraging, too. Looking at it now, I love the design. I'd choose a different border fabric; it looks very dated to me, but the rest of it is fresh and wonderful.

My original idea was to hand-embroider part of an e.e. cummings poem on the border. It would read: "maybe god is a child's hand very carefully bringing to you and me and quite without crushing the papery weightless diminutive world." Cummings' version had all sorts of stops and starts and strange punctuation, of course, but I believed this baby quilt would benefit from a more straightforward message. I was right.

As you can see, I never finished the quilt - ironic and symbolic considering I always wanted a child. I still do, even though this possibility is now long past. My dream went unfulfilled and my baby quilt did, too. How sad and poignant.

This is not the only infant item in my hopeless chest. Somewhere around here there are baby hat and mittens I knitted, too. When I find them, I'll share them with you.

They say it's never too late to have a happy childhood. Is it too late to have a hopeful chest? And if the answer is no, what belongs in mine?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Relocating and/or pugs

I've been down for the count for a few days as every single thing I own was dumped in a box, hauled seven miles up the road, and then heaped into my new apartment. After three days, I now have a semblance of an home. The kitchen is a different story;  it still looks like a disorganized warehouse. I found the Fresca in the fridge and some protein bars - that's it. Meanwhile, I look like an old banana completely covered with bruises. Moving is hard work.

Every night, I collapse into my recliner, get my frenzied pug situated in my lap, and manage to knit a row or two before falling fast asleep. I'm exhausted! And Moose is, too. The move has completely freaked him out. Monica, my old lady cat, has faired far better. Why Moose is such a clingy, crazy whack job is beyond me. Here he is this morning installed in his desk chair. Yes, he has his very own desk chair so that he can sit right next to me all day long.

Speaking of pugs, look at these adorable stitch markers I bought on Etsy this morning made by the artist weeones. Love them! Because pug hair is knitted into everything I make, they seem very appropriate. The artist sells stitch markers with other little creatures, too.

Despite the move, I'm making a little progress on the Handstrikket. I just finished the second decrease row so now it should move faster. I'm still waiting on the light blue yarn - if I paid for express shipping, why is the damn thing taking so long to get here? I hope the yarn comes today because by tonight I'll be completely out.

Now back to unpacking and working. Work? What's that? I'd better go find out so I can pay the rent!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The afghan from my hopeless chest

Did I tell you I am moving? Like throwing or giving away half of everything I own, packing up the rest, and moving seven miles up the road? Well, I am. On Friday. My life is a complete disaster... but somehow I keep knitting, don't I?!

At the top of my bedroom closet, I found the very first thing I ever made: a white granny square afghan for my hope chest. I hooked it during high school after teaching myself to crochet using the Learn How Book, the venerable green booklet sold at every dime store in America for much of the 20th century. Someone gave me a bag of ancient knitting paraphernalia and this little gem was among the old wool and crochet hooks. The musty-smelling Learn How Book had vintage patterns that I'd never, ever make, but I could teach myself to crochet with the how-to photographs.

My mom passed on exactly zero crafty genes to me, but she did admire my zeal. I learned to knit from my Swiss aunt when I was four and my mother marveled at my natural ability. She was my greatest cheerleader and made sure I was always well plied with yarn. In fact, every time she went to a dime store, she'd grab another skein of white worsted. She didn't know wool from polyester; to her, white was the only thing that mattered. So I whipped up a white granny square wedding blanket from a gazillion different brands of white yarn.

It's funny... if I heard of a high school girl today who was crocheting a wedding blanket for her hope chest, I'd snap her retro ass up and drag her to a N.O.W. meeting. But back in the day, my hope chest was very important to me. A ridiculous waste of time and energy since I didn't get married until I was 36 and couldn't have children! Everything that went into that hope chest was completely and utterly hopeless.

I'm past the hope chest but still like to nest. Recently I've been cruising afghan patterns trying to settle on a block-based blanket for my new place. I finally decided to make Mary Beth Temple's Marmalade Skies afghan from the current issue of Interweave Crochet. Crochet, you ask? Yes. Crochet. Because it moves faster - I can make a square in 15 minutes every day without distracting from my main knitting tasks. If I plug away at it, the blanket will take care of itself. Plus I love the wacky new take on granny squares. I'm going to make a black and red blanket that will look like a falling checkerboard. What a hoot.

I chose Berroco Comfort Chunky to make the whole venture go even faster. I actually went to a LYS and bought the yarn since I was skeptical that I would like a nylon/acrylic blend, but I do. It's soft, plush, and perfect for an afghan. Nice stitch definition, too. Apparently it's washable but I don't believe in washing anything handmade. Too much work to risk such ruin.

So here's to hopeful middle age rather than a hopelessly naive youth. And to warm blankets made with love that last for years and years.

The Handstrikket and the placket

A Handstrikket update. The yoke is coming right along albeit a little slow going; although I've completed the first decrease row, there are still TONS of stitches in each row. Fortunately, it's not boring to knit because of the colorwork. I'm almost out of the light blue yarn though so I ordered more last night and paid for fast shipping, too. I need to keep moving!

This photo is a little deceiving because I need a wider hanger to spread out the neckline; the way it is now, it looks low cut but it won't be. I haven't knitted the shoulders yet - what you're seeing at the top of the hanger is really the upper arms. But you get the drift.

It's interesting to compare the original and my updated version. I'm glad I omitted the patterning on the hip; I think it's beautiful but drawing attention to my giant derriere is never a good idea. The new yoke may need more to be longer than the original, so I might add another peerie or two at the top. For the uninitiated, a peerie is the Shetland word for little and means a colorwork motif that is one to five rows deep. Here is one of the peeries from the Handstrikket. Fair isle knitting is really just a series of different peeries knitted together.

Now, let me tell you what I've discovered about the neckline and the placket. I've never seen this technique before; if you have, please let me know. It's very interesting.

The original knitter finished the colorwork yoke and then created the neckline by knitting one inch in white, then a picot row, and then another inch. She the folded the neckline in half along the picot row and whip stitched it closed. At this point, you'd think that she would pick up stitches along the front of the sweater to make the placket. Not in this case. Instead, she cast on seven stitches and P2 K5 for the length of the sweater adding buttonholes as she went. When the placket was finished, she machine sewed the placket to the garment, sewing right in the ditch between the purl and knit stitches - you have to look hard to even find the thread! She then whip stitched down the two purls stitches to the sweater. Ingenious! It gives the cardigan a smooth front placket and finishes off the neckline, too. I'm going to try it. A novel approach, don't you think?

This has been such a fascinating project for me. I was thinking last night that this sweater is exactly what I've dreamed about making for years and years, ever since the late seventies when I was in college and fair isle yoke sweaters were all the rage. No self-respecting co-ed would have been without one! Now this middle-aged mamma won't be without one either.