Friday, April 27, 2007

Unexpected Swatching

Upon (almost) completing two of my three designated WIPs - the Jitterbug socks & the spa socks - I felt drunk with my own sense of achievement. I felt I must immediately fill the two spaces which I now perceived had become available in my three-part list. What to add to Perugino?

What I should have done at this point was restart the Grandiflora shawl or the blue'n'brown Tammy top, or even the purple lace socks. I ignored their accusing looks. Here's how I rationalised it:

  • Grandiflora is lace and I am not doing any more lace until Perugino is finished. It is too easy to make mistakes as it is, without getting confused about which lace pattern I'm doing. So Grandiflora will have to sit it out for a while longer. Its unofficial new deadline is Xmas.

  • Tammy ... I would love to restart Tammy but my yarn is varying dye-lots. I need to have a thorough look at my stash in bright daylight before I can restart it, and I don't have enough daylight hours at home to do that right now.

  • Purple lace socks. The buggers. The short story is, I dropped a stitch, the lace unravelled half way down the sock, and I ran out of patience with it. They were not going to make any progress anyway, what with the new practice of only doing one lace project at a time. So I frogged the sock back as far as the ribbing, and decided to make something new. Which brings us to the main news:

What's new in town

Oh, once I'd justified starting a completely new project or two, I had a whale of a time. Perugino sat in a bag in the corner like Billy No-Mates, while I played with these ...

Purple Basketweave Socks

If you think you've seen this before ... It is of course a purple lace sock, reincarnated. I need a travelling sock (I realised the other day that 'need' is the right word, I now regard a travelling sock as essential to survival), and that means easy, and not lace. Also, while I was in Alabama I spoke to my dad on the phone and recklessly promised him birthday socks. I love love love this colour, which I've yet to photograph in its full glory (it's a tweedy chocolate/plum combo) and I would joyfully wear it myself, but it's also one of the nicer shades in my stash that a man might wear. So - I ripped back to the ribbed cuff and then leafed through Sensational Knitted Socks for inspiration. I have 64 stitches arranged on two circular needles (2.5mm). I had been using an eight-stitch pattern for the lace, but now I've swapped it for a four-stitch basketweave affair. The pattern seems like it'll be easy to remember but textured enough to stay interesting. I've done precisely one round of the leg so far.

Blue-Green Cotton Socks

An alternative travelling sock. If the weather gets too warm for knitting wool, this is mostly cotton. The yarn is Fortissima Socka. I am really enthused about this project, not because I'm particularly in love with the yarn, although it is wonderfully soft, but because I have just learned how to do Magic Loop. The lady at my LYS ordered some fine-gauge circular needles at my request. When I went to collect them, I found they were 80cm long. This was a blow at first, because I like to make socks on two circs, and 80cm is much too long for that method. Wondering what to do with them, I vaguely remembered hearing something about Magic Loop, a method of knitting small items in the round on one long circular needle. I looked it up on where there's a very clear instructional video. I tried it and it worked! I'm elated to have learned a new skill, so right now this is my project of choice if I have a spare moment.

Bali Bamboo Swatch

I got to thinking that I'd add a sneaky summer top to my list. I was looking around for something I could start quickly, and that wouldn't be too much of a challenge if I wanted to take it away with me. The Bali bamboo yarn I acquired in Alabama called me, and I knit up a swatch on a 6mm bamboo circular needle. The gauge came out just as the ball band requested, at 16sts to 4".

Look at the sheen on that yarn. It's slick as butter and it loves those bamboo needles. A delight to work with. I still don't know what kind of top it wants to be, but swatching was a pleasure in itself.

Malva Swatch

Malva is the pink cotton ribbon yarn that I got in Alabama, along with the bamboo. I have in mind that I want Malva to become a top I've seen in the Filatura Di Crosa Spring/Summer 2007 Collection. Here it is:

I like this a lot - the shape appeals to me. I'm trying to decide whether I really like it enough to make it, or if I just want to play with the yarn, or if it would look better in some other yarn. I'm not 100% committed yet. I thought I would look more closely at the pattern, swatch and check it out. What I found is, this top uses two yarns held together: Malva, and a sportweight glittery lurex-type yarn called New Smoking. I don't have any New Smoking. I'm not sure I even want any. I want to be able to wear this garment during the day, I can't be glittering like a big gold Christmas tree. The pattern calls for a gauge of 18sts/4", if my memory serves me. I took up a 6mm circular bamboo needle and cast on a swatch, using Malva on its own, to see how it would come out. Malva is a very light cotton ribbon. The stitch count came out just fine: 18sts exactly. Problem was, the fabric was like gossamer. You can see it in the lower part of this photo:

See? You can see daylight through it. That's not going to hold a structured shape, is it. And I am not trying to go for the floaty look. Pondering what to do, I remembered I had some hot pink 4ply Cotton by Rowan in my stash. I held & knit it together with the Malva for a few rows, and you can see the result in the upper part of this photo. A much denser fabric, I think you'll agree. Now this is something I could see myself wearing. I like the colour (enough) although I think it drowns the green in the Malva. I wouldn't mind trying some 4ply Cotton in green, just to see if it looks better. The main thing I discovered, though, is that Rowan's 4ply Cotton must be a lot thicker than this New Smoking. Held together with Malva, I'm getting gauge of 16sts to 4". This just *might* be a good thing as the sizes in the Filatura di Crosa pattern jump from 34" chest to 38". My chest is exactly between sizes. The pattern calls for 18sts to 4", and my current yarn combo yields 16sts. I sense a useful trade-off here but I have yet to think through the finer points of the plan.


Phildar Nautical Button Sweater

The community of enablers over at Angel Yarns exposed me to this graphic pornography:

As soon as I saw it, I fell in love. The fit. The stripes that stop short of the shoulders & bust. The button detail. I had to have it. The yarn and pattern are both by Phildar. The beige yarn is Phil Thalassia. It's 75% cotton, baby soft and has a recommended gauge of 20sts. The blue yarn is Falaise. It's 48% cotton (the rest is mainly acrylic) and it has little flecks of other colours here and there. It's a heavier, more textured yarn and its recommended gauge is 17sts. I set about making a gauge swatch. You need to make a stripy swatch, as my online friend Aberdonian helpfully pointed out, and the pattern calls for 17.5sts to 4". My guess about what needle size to use was way off: I went through five different sizes before I finally got there. I need to sleep on it and measure again. Ultimately, I think we'll be using needles of around 6mm: these are bamboo.

And that's all today's knitting news.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Third time lucky with Perugino, & other news

The whole prioritising thing is going really well. In a moment, an update on those WIPs. But first, this:

My mum, last weekend, getting a late birthday present. We are in a Moroccan restaurant near my sister's house. Can you guess what's in the bag?


They are the Opal Hundertwasser socks that she spotted me knitting over Christmas. She kindly didn't mention the crap sewing on the bottom of the bag, nor the fact that the picot edging looks like something ate it. Thanks Mum.

Now, here's the news on the WIPs.

Spa socks

Are all knitted and looking beautiful. I need to do something about the soles and various kind friends in the knitting community have offered helpful suggestions: thank you! Now I just need to make myself do it. Other than that, though, they're done. Buttons on, ends magicked away. I'm not showing you a photo until they're finished.

Red Jitterbug socks

Are knitted, just awaiting end-weaving & blocking. These were knitted pattern-free thanks to the sage and wonderful advice of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka the Yarn Harlot, in her book 'Knitting Rules'. Steph's simple sock recipe includes the best explanation of the logic of turning a heel that I've ever encountered. She has liberated me from the tyranny of sock patterns. I hereby vow that from now on, all the socks I knit will be pattern-free and by my own reckoning, incorporating whatever combination of cuff, stitch, heel and toe pleases me. I might even make a pair for Stephanie and send them to her.

I'll show you a full-frontal photo of the socks when they're blocked and looking neater. For now, here's an indication of the positively psychedelic fabric that this Mardi Gras shade of Jitterbug yields:


Aah, Perugino. I still love it. I must do - there's a story behind this:

Your eyes do not deceive you; we have here TWO Peruginos, or at least the beginnings. Yes, I have restarted Perugino yet again, now for the third time. Version Three is at the top of the picture. The lower one is Version Two.

Why am I putting myself through the sheer torture of restarting, you may ask, especially since Version 2 is so photogenic? The fact is, I just want this to be perfect. In earlier posts I talked about my dissatisfaction with my first attempt. This included wondering if the colours were a bit matchy-matchy in the order I'd originally chosen. I got to thinking that some of the ribbon yarns were visually disappearing because their colours were making them blend in with the mohair.

When I frogged version 1 (for other, perfectly good, reasons) and started version 2, I deliberately knit the yarns in a different order, to break the colours up a bit. I admit it now, I should have swatched. But instead I just knit on and on, eventually producing the quite large piece of fabric you see in the lower part of the picture here. But a new problem arose. I just didn't like the new colourway that much. I thought it looked a lot better when the similar colours were closer together. I thought about what to do for a long time. I love Justine and I want this to be beautiful. Eventually I started version 3, in something closer to the original order of colours. I had to knit for ages and ages until I had enough fabric to compare with version 2 (no, I still wasn't swatching). You can't really see it here because Version 3 is all bunched up on a bamboo needle, while Version 2 is stretched out on a big Addi circular. But trust me, Version 3 is a lot better. It is totallly going to be worth an extra couple of days of knitting.

And that's all today's knitting news. Coming soon: what projects to take travelling now my Jitterbug socks are done? (Hint, it's not going to be those damned purple lace numbers. Grr.)

PS: For those wondering if that's a Christmas tree in the bottom left corner of the Perugino photo - yes, it is. I will take it down in my own time. I am busy knitting.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A little progress

It was a good knitting weekend, helped by the fact that I had a day off work yesterday (I am sure I will come to regret that).

Rainbow spa socks: I knitted the second of these and sewed in all the ends. All that's needed now is some slipper soles. Get Knitted seem to have sold out, so I have to find another supplier.

Red Jitterbug socks: Making excellent progress. I bound off sock 1 and started sock 2. I am a bit concerned that I am going to run out of yarn, having knitted extra-long legs on these socks for no reason apart from I got carried away.

Perugino: I'd say about 30% of the actual knitting is done.

I have more hectic travel lined up for the next few months, so I am going to knit as much as possible while I'm at home and I have the opportunity.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


It has been exactly two months since I last took stock of my WIPs and UFOs. Back in mid-February I was becoming overwhelmed by a gathering army of WIPs and said:

I had better make a list of priorities and stick to those as much as I can. OK, the top three:
  • No 1: Miles's baby blanket, without a doubt.
  • No 2: Sven's scarf, before the weather warms up.
  • No 3: Elle lace socks: because I'm quite a way through & I'd like to finish them.

I am slightly amazed to note that in those two months I finished all three items on the list plus the sky-blue socks for Joe. What do you know, this prioritising thing really works.

Let's consider what has now found its way into the WIP list.

Rainbow spa socks. I've nearly finished knitting the second one. They won't be in use until I've obtained some slipper soles to sew on the bottom.


When I realised this project wasn't going to make a spring deadline, it mysteriously ground to a halt.

Perugino Throw

Making good progress, despite being frogged and re-started from scratch the other night (this is a 'before' photo).

It was a wrench to make myself frog this much knitting, but two things about it were upsetting me.

Firstly, the right-hand edge (not shown here for a good reason). In this pattern, you use six yarns and have to carry them all up the right-hand edge of the item. That's a lot of thread and it is inevitably a bit bulky and messy. First attempt at this Perugino, I made the mistake of pulling the unused threads too tight, so that the fabric ruched and then wouldn't go back to a nice, soft drape. So that bothered me.

Then, on sitting down with Perugino for the first time in ages the other night, I realised that I had not bothered to read the pattern properly. Oh, the shame. You use alternating mohair and ribbon yarns in this pattern. If you follow the instructions, when using mohair you purl on the wrong side. When using ribbon, you knit on the wrong side. This creates an attractive appearance of 'knotted' ribbon on the right side of the work. Trouble is, I blithely assumed that I was going to purl on the wrong side on every row. What a dolt I am.

I frogged the lot and restarted from scratch. It is looking a million times better.

Red Jitterbug Socks

These have made so much progress in the hours since this photo was taken; I'm already knitting a heel flap.

This yarn is amazing. The colours are deeply saturated and that's a pleasure. The main thing, though, is how quick this yarn is to work with. It is 100% merino, soft and about as thick as a yarn can be while still qualifying as 4-ply weight and not DK. I'm knitting 60 stitches on steel 2.5mm needles and it is flying along. I've never knit so fast.

Probably the rational explanation for this has to do with the relationship between needles and yarn in terms of diameter and surface texture. Experientially, though, it's like the yarn wants to be socks. You know how with some items you have to force the swatch or garment off the needles and the yarn resists transformation at every step? This is the opposite. This yarn wants to be socks so much that it cannot get off the needles fast enough. I have to knit really fast to keep up with it. It is like the Magic Porridge Pot.

I think these are going to be a gift for Frances.

Purple AY Lace Socks

This is a satisfying pattern and I want to finish the socks. I also want my 2.75mm circular needles back.

And my stitch markers.

Tammy Top in Cotton Tape

Sadly neglected, even though it's a really nice top and the weather is warming up now.

I think that's all my current WIPs. OK, I will not let this long list make me feel guilty. Let's just calmly nominate three items for immediate completion.

  1. Rainbow spa socks. I will have to send off for some slipper soles, which is a pain, but I am so ridiculously close to finishing the knitting. I might be able to do it this very afternoon, even. Let's just finish the damn socks, then they won't look at me accusingly from the living room table any more. I hope I can still find the button.
  2. Red Jitterbug socks. I need one easy sock project for when I am out and about. The Yarn Harlot frequently refers to 'your travelling sock' as though it's a safe assumption that every knitter has one.
  3. I can't believe I used up two of my three wishes already! OK, in that case there is no doubt that item no. 3 has to be the Perugino throw. I told Justine I could finish it in 3 months, and with my travel schedule I'm not here for two. It is her wedding present, and looking much better since I restarted it. So let's get it done. I might see if it's faster on different needles.

So, that's that. Suddenly life feels a smidge easier.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Yarny adventures in Alabama

OK, so British Airways found and returned my suitcase later the same day (my relief was profound). Thus, I'm now able to bring you some photos of what really matters: yarn. Here's the souvenirs from Alabama.

Firstly, a little of this: Malva, by Filatura di Crosa.

As I browsed around the store, this was the first of the yarns that really begged me to take it home. It's a light, flat, ribbon yarn (actually, on close inspection, a complicated mesh): 85% cotton and 15% polyamide. Needles around 8mm, gauge about 13sts to 4". There's a pattern book supporting Malva: Filatura di Crosa's Spring/Summer 2007 - which naturally I had to bring home with me too. There's a pattern in there that appeals, a slim cardigan/jacket, structured, with clean lines and some ribbing in the waist at the sides, to give it some shaping. I really want to make it. It will have to get to the back of the queue, though, I am not even letting myself swatch.

Also, a little of this. Bali, by Tahki/Stacy Charles Inc.

This ribbon yarn is luscious, slippery and shiny because it is 100% bamboo. Oh, how it slides through the fingers. I don't know what I'll make with it, but it will be soooo nice to wear. I do like some of the patterns in the Tahki yarns Spring/Summer '07 catalogue - for instance, there's a white boat-neck sweater with cables that extend only half way up the front. Thing is, this is such a vibrant colour it's going to need an ultra-simple design. Any kind of cable is going to be too much in this shocking pink. Also, I don't have enough of it to make anything really large. So I will have to wait and keep fondling this sexy yarn until it decides what it wants to be.

Finally, I had to have sock yarn. What the shop had in stock was Colinette's new sock yarn: Jitterbug. Yes, I went all the way to Alabama to buy sock yarn that's made in Wales. This shade is Blue Parrot:

And this shade is Mardi Gras:

Yes thank you, I do realise that I have pledged loyalty to an urgent backlog of WIPs, and yet here I appear to have begun a sock. I can explain.

I finished the sky-blue AY socks. Here they are earlier this evening, moments before being handed over to Joe.

I notice the stripes on the leg of each sock are strikingly different. One has regular stripes, the other has almost pooled (as on the feet). How could this happen? I know this is hand-dyed, can that really account for the remarkable difference between the two? I realise I don't know enough about the dyeing process. Not that I mind: I much prefer fraternal socks. I am just intrigued.

Anyway, so I finished the blue socks and that meant another pair in Angel Yarns hand-dyed yarn then rose to the top of my sock list. This would be the yummy deep purple/chocolate yarn I was raving about recently. I remembered which pattern I wanted to use from the amazing 'Sensational Knitted Socks' by Charlene Schurch. It was an 8-stitch pattern, called 'Ribbed Lace'. Dutifully turning my back on the newly-purchased Jitterbug, I started knitting the first sock.

Now, this is a lovely pattern to knit. No particular row is difficult in any way. However, the lace has a long pattern repeat, over 24 rows (we are about 18 rows in, in the pic shown here). This means regular consultation of the pattern book, and that rules out knitting this sock at the bus stop, on the tube, under my desk or any of the other places that socks are so perfect for. I am going to keep making these lace socks, of course! But I have to knit at the bus stop too, and so that's how come I found myself casting on with the red Jitterbug. Which, I haven't yet informed you, is 100% merino wool yumminess and knits up nice and thick on a pair of 2.5mm needles (the ball band suggests 3.25mm).

In other news: I frogged the Perugino throw today. I'll tell you about it another time.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Birmingham, Alabama

On Thursday 5th I flew to Birmingham, Alabama. I stayed there until eventually returning to London, today.
Birmingham is very pretty and amazingly rich in trees. They have a lovely library, next to the park.

The pace slowed down a little when I reached Birmingham. I had to work on Friday and Monday; I would be staying in Birmingham over Easter weekend and I had no plans.

Remarkably, I was adopted for the weekend by my new friend Frances, whom I met on Friday at my place of work. Frances is an amazing woman, and it's thanks to her that I finally have knitting news to report.

Frances would not hear of my spending the weekend on my own. Having discovered that I'm a knitter, she promptly reorganised her plans for Saturday so as to take me to the best yarn shop in the state.

It's the knitting shop of your dreams. Saturday mornings (and, I guess, during the week?), women gather at the shop for a morning of knitting. It's lovely. There are a couple of good-natured husbands minding babies. The women knit. The youngest knitter is about 10.

I bought yarn and patterns, which I'll tell you about later. I can't photograph the booty until British Airways returns my suitcase! For now, let me just record that:

  • Frances was the most hospitable lady I've ever met, and insisted I join her family for lunch on Easter day. She basically turned over most of her weekend to making me feel welcome, and even shared her home with me. Wow. I'm going to make her some socks.
  • I finally finished the blue AY socks and even weaved in the ends. As soon as I can get to my suitcase I'll proudly photograph the FO and then hand them straight over to Joe. Pics coming soon.


Sunday 1st April: woke up very early, thankfully headache-free, and went straight back to Heathrow to catch a plane to Utah, where I stayed until Thursday.

The work schedule did not let up in Utah. I stayed in Salt Lake City but I can't claim to know anything about it except:
  1. The hotel staff, and the people at the office where I worked were really friendly.

  2. Utah has big mountains.

I'm standing outside the office where I was doing some work: it's just off-camera, to the left. The whole city is surrounded by these incredible mountains. People come to ski.

The knitting highlight of Utah was putting a foot on the second of the blue AY socks and listening to someone's knitting podcast. Finding half an hour to do this entailed getting up at 5.30am, which should tell you something about how pushed for time I still was at this stage.

How Vienna turned out

I am sorry not to have posted for so long. Here is the news.

Vienna: was very challenging. I did not leave the hotel the entire time I was there. I ran around from the crack of dawn until late at night trying to meet deadlines on a dozen different projects, none of them knitting. Sleep-deprived and script-less was how I delivered my conference paper on Friday 30th March. Not surprisingly, I woke up in Vienna on the morning of Sat 31st with a monster headache. I flew back to London in a terrible state, trembling and upchucking all the way. A thank you to the British Airways cabin crew who looked after me as best they could & were very kind.

In short - I got no knitting done in Vienna, nor did I see anything of the city, which would have been more disappointing if I hadn't visited before, as recently as December.

On arriving home I took a truckload of painkillers and went to bed.