Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why are you here?

This evening I learned of the existence of Avinash Kaushik. He's a super-successful blogger. He's had a blog for only 15 months, yet it gets 39,000 visits a month, he's already published a book based on the blog, and now he's doing paid public appearances to talk about the book.

Must be a really gripping subject he's discussing, right? Well, it is 'web analytics' and that basically means measuring the traffic on your website.

You might think that considering the number of clicks on your website or blog, and making graphs and statistics out of them is a bit boring, and Avinash might agree. He's insistent that if a website or blog is going to hold any lasting value, it has to know what purpose it serves for its visitors. It has to know why people visit, and if they got what they wanted - so better ask them.

So, here is my question to you, right now. Why are you here? What brought you to Beelzebub Knits today, and did you get what you came for?

A prize ball of yummy sock yarn goes to the writer of the comment that will most help improve BK.

The blog of Avinash Kaushik is here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A little progress

Well, my persistent tackling of the over-numerous WIPs is paying off. I finally sewed the buttons on the Baby Surprise Jacket, so it's ready for dispatch, and the Finishing Basket is empty (that's never happened before!). Imken's socks are dry & ready to go in the post. I've also used recent commuting time to unpick Sock 2 of the Badly Behaved Rainbow Socks so that it's now currently in two separate pieces. I might completely frog the toe & foot section and reknit it from the heel onwards. So that's my job for this afternoon.

With the small items boxed off, that has cleared the way a bit for me to re-energise the larger WIPs. I've decided to tackle them one at a time, so I'm almost exclusively working on Perugino II at the moment (with occasional sneaky short bursts on Basil, which is my no-brainer project for when I can't handle anything else). Perugino actually had an end-of-October deadline attached to it when I started a few months ago, so that's why it's my top priority now. 60% of the actual knitting is done. I know from experience that blocking it and making the tassels won't be quick but it's making measurable progress, that's the main thing.

Wouldn't it be nice if I had everything done by Xmas, then I could have a completely fresh line-up of projects to start 2008. Something to aim for.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Charmed Knits, a review

A rather lovely thing happened to me the other day. I won a prize! I'm in the habit of entering competitions in the various knitting magazines I read, and it seems like it's starting to pay off. A couple of months ago I won several balls of Patons Moonglow, and this time a copy of Charmed Knits: Projects for Fans of Harry Potter, by Alison Hansel, suddenly landed on my doorstep. Since it's new, I thought I'd give it a review here. I should mention at this point that I am not the world's biggest fan of Harry Potter. It is a little bit twee and Blytonesque for my taste (sorry, JK). But I am not one to turn down a book of knitting patterns just because of a few quirky motifs, so let's take a look inside ...


Charmed Knits is published by Wiley in New Jersey, which means it's in American English. All the patterns give needle sizes in mm as well as ". It's a small-ish paperback, but at 166 pages, it feels thick & chunky enough to promise satisfaction. It doesn't mess about with overly chatty introductions, but launches straight into the patterns. The table of contents shows nearly 30 patterns on offer. Let's see how they break down.

At the absolute most basic count, there are four or five each of sweaters, hats and scarves. Around three sock patterns, a blanket, a shawl, a Harry Potter dress-up kit (robe, wizard cap, stuffed toy) and a handful of accessories including bags. However, this basic shopping list really does not do Alison Hansel justice. You don't need to be a Potter fan to appreciate the thoughtful work that's gone into putting Charmed Knits together.

The book is far from frou-frou and is full of good, solid-looking, wearable patterns. Hansel has gone to the trouble of providing a range of sizes for adults and children for all the sweaters. Added to this, several of the patterns are photographed in more than one colourway and displaying various optional features. Her three Elf Hats for babies are distinctively different - and all as cute as a button, incidentally. She's similarly generous with her sock patterns, seemingly offering the reader as many options as she can squeeze under one heading.


Hansel is an independent designer and so the recommended yarns in her patterns show wide variety, while her sensible, quite plain sense of design means it won't be hard for a British reader to substitute their own favourites for the American yarns in Hansel's book. The socks pictured here are knit usiing Knit Picks Essential (regular sock yarn, mostly superwash wool, the rest nylon). Another pattern, the ribbed Quidditch Sweater is made in hard-wearing Plymouth Encore Worsted (75% acrylic, 25% wool, DK gauge). The most luxurious item in the book, the lace Invisibility Shawl, is knit from Hip Knits Laceweight Cashmere (100% cashmere).
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The book closes with an appendix in which techniques such as Swiss darning, chain stitch embroidery and simple crochet are illustrated.
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Perhaps surprisingly, since Hansel is apparently a Potter fanatic, you really don't need to like Potter, nor have kids, to find lots of interest and value in Charmed Knits. It might be something I'd take away travelling with me, for instance, because there's at least one pattern for pretty much everything in there. If I suddenly feel like making a sweater, pair of socks, handbag, cardigan, hat, mittens, scarf, knitting bag, shawl or whatever, I've got all the options right there.
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Oh, and if you do happen to have kids and love HP, I'm sure your ankle-biters would go wild for the dress-up kit.
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Until next time, folks.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Sirdar patterns arrived.

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*glee*

They look dead easy, it is going to be a massive effort of will to finish my WIPs before casting on. Tell me off if you catch me swatching.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sirdar Ocean: New Plans

Yes, I know. I was only just wailing about having too many WIPs. Well that does not stop my hunger for new projects, and nor should it. I just wanted to tell you about something new I've got in mind.

Sirdar has made an unexpected appearance on my field of consciousness lately. I keep noticing this rather nice boatneck sweater that they advertise in the knitting magazines. The pattern accompanies their Ocean yarn.


Whenever I saw the ad, I was drawn to it. I really like that neckliine, and the openwork. I might do longer sleeves, but other than that I think it's perfect. Thanks to the postal strike, I'm on tenterhooks waiting for the pattern to arrive (it's been in the post for about a week now).

While I was online buying patterns, I was also drawn to this, which uses the same yarn:
Of course, patterns are no good without yarn. I found a very reasonable retailer on Ebay. Blue yarn for the boatneck sweater.


And while I was shopping for the blue yarn, a couple of other shades fell into my basket. This:

And this:


I am so excited but I am not even letting myself swatch right now. Ocean is a ladder yarn, resembling a narrow, shiny ribbon. It strongly reminds me of the sort of thing Colinette makes, but at around £3 for 50g you really can't go wrong. 62% nylon, 38% cotton.

Lost in Ravelry

So, I'm on Ravelry. I'm Beelzebub of course, should you look for me.

I am slowly finding my way around Ravelry and starting to upload stuff. It is a lovely thing but also huge and complex, like a warehouse crossed with a labyrinth.

Right now it only accepts photos uploaded from Flickr.com, which is fine, Flickr seems like a great service and everyone uses it. There's a problem in the sense that:

  • My yarn stash and collection of projects is vast and it'll take forever to find all the photos on my PC, catalogue them, upload them, organise them, and synchronise all this across four platforms (PC hard disk, Blogger, Flickr, Ravelry). Yowsers.
  • I can barely find my way round Ravelry and have no idea how to use the 'organise' tools.
  • I am simultaneously learning Flickr for the first time and right now I am confused about a bunch of stuff, including the difference between a 'set' and a 'group', and why my photos are all stretched.

This means my progress on uploading stuff to Ravelry is very slow and patchy (although I am determined to get it all up there eventually!). In turn, this cuts into my blogging time, which then cuts into my knitting time.

That all said, I am relieved to say there has been some progress on the knitting front. Here is the news.

As you know, I am suffering with far too many WIPs right now. Recently I was blogging about the problems caused when a multiplicity of projects leads you to forget crucial details about each one when you're not working on it. This week I've discovered a second problem: too many WIPs makes it feel like you'll never get to the end. I am sick of some these items hanging around on my WIP list when I could be pattern-browsing for new projects.

There is only one thing for it, and that is to systematically finish some items. There has been mostly good progress on finishing small items this week.

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Clara's Baby Surprise Jacket

This is wet blocking. I decided to block it before sewing on the buttons. Then it is out of the Finishing Basket and off to the baby, who is probably twice its size by now.




Sven's Red/White Arsenal Socks

Done! Here they are, wet-blocking on a pair of sock blockers, hanging from the Knitting Tree (which once again demonstrates its wonderful convenience & versatility).

Blue/Green Fortissima Cotton Socks


I made these while on the road in the US earlier this year. They've been in the finishing basket for ages and I'm happy to report that they are now in use. Those are my feet, looking happy.



Imken's Angora Socks

Were awaiting wet blocking and are now sitting damply on a pair of sock blockers, hanging from the Knitting Tree, along with the red'n'white socks.



Badly Behaved Socks

These would be Ian's Rainbow Socks. Gah. I have had so many problems with the heel on Sock 2, mostly down to my own stupidity. I had to rip it out and reknit it, now I'm having problems getting it to rejoin the foot of the sock, on the back needle where the under-part of the heel joins to the sole of the foot.

In the photo below the socks are placed face down with the heel pointing towards you. The sock with the teal heel is the problem. See where it joins the purple stripe on the sole of the foot? Having reknit the heel, I grafted the stitches together with the live stitches from the purple stripe, not too tightly, and then weaved in the end (talk about tempting Fate!). What I've found is that this has created a hard seam that is acutely noticeable when the sock is on the foot. I will have to unpick it and see if I can find another way. Grr. There is work to be done here. I am also less than delighted with the toe on Sock 2. I am occasionally tempted to cut off the sock at the leg and knit the heel and foot of Sock 2 all over again, from scratch. Luckily, I have more yarn.


Now, these are all small items but nonetheless they are nearly all Finished and I figure that has to clear the way for larger items such as Perugino II, CPH, Basil & Green Silk Happiness, right?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The dernier cri in luxury yarn

This isn't a news update, although I have been pretty good about doing some finishing this weekend. No, it is to alert you to this, possibly the most luxurious and frou-frou yarn in the world. No, really, It makes Tilli Tomas look like Ann Widdecombe.

The yarn of which I speak is Ribbon Ball by Be Sweet. It's composed of a strand of fluffy mohair, a small, loopy boucle & a thin metallic thread, and it looks like this:

See those bows? Those are hand-tied on to the yarn by women in South Africa (there's a Fair Trade-y back story to the product to make you feel better about the outrageous, Marie Antoinette luxury of it all).

Loop in Lnodon are selling it for £18 for 50g.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

SEX at the palace.

Good afternoon all. If you are reading this and it is still the weekend, get thee to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace, where there are yarn retailers, knitting magazine publishers and knitting workshops & demonstrations galore. Wear comfy shoes and take a large holdall, preferably on wheels. Some people are carting wheelie suitcases round with them, and by the end of my visit yesterday, I could see why.

Of course, after attending such an important event, it is polite practice in the online knitting community to show your fellow knitters what you brought home. Before I show you the haul, I'd like to say that I was extremely restrained on the yarn buying front. No kilo-sized packs of discontinued Rowan & Jaeger, although there was plenty to be had. Not one of the giant skeins of sweater yarn, each one the size of a sweater in its own right, that bulged temptingly from Colinette's stand. I was pretty good, I thought. That said, I'll show you the booty.

Knitting Magazines

I adore knitting magazines, I love the random selection of patterns that accumulates if you collect them. I did particularly well at the stand of Knitting Magazine, where they had tons of back issues and recent issues that I'd missed. I now wonder how I got all these home on the bus.



Knitting Patterns

Because you can never have too many. First up, a heavy cardigan from Sirdar. In a more subdued colour (I'm thinking iron grey, something Shetland-y, maybe), that rib collar's going to look great.


I can't resist long coats. Sirdar surprises me sometimes, I have low expectations of their fashion sense, but then once in a while they get it perfectly.






Had to have the new Kaffe Fasset book, for the sexy colour pictures. Top-quality yarn p*rn.


Freebies

This little lot came free in a goody bag, courtesy of Knitting Magazine. Two pairs of wooden needles, three balls of Elle Plume, one box of gold & silver sequins, one box of orange beads, one box of green beads & a 'love knitting' sticker.
Tiny Sock Needles

One set of tiny Brittany birch dpns (2.5mm) and one set of Sox Stix (2.75mm).
These are far too delicate and tiny to rattle around in the dpn drawer with all the big, steel needles. They'll get bullied. I decided to hang them fron the edge of a shelf instead.



Yarn

OK, here's the bit you've been waiting for. First up, some Colinette Jitterbug sock yarn in Fruit Coulis. These colours are spectacular, you can taste blackcurrant and raspberry in your mouth when you look at it. That said, I have used this yarn before to make a pair of socks in the red Mardi Gras colourway. I found it totally overpowering, to be honest. The pooling and colour flashes when I knit up a plain sock were damaging my retinas. So - although you must understand that I adore the colours and texture of this luxurious sock yarn, I am going to have to choose a sock pattern carefully so as to control the flashing & pooling effect. If I make the right choice, this yarn has the potential to be amazing socks.


Next up, some Austermann Step sock yarn with jojoba and aloe vera(!). I am not sure I think the added ingredients in any way justify the premium price of this yarn but I saw a couple of finished socks using this yarn on one of the exhibition stands, and I had to have it. It's always the colour that draws me in. Probably one of these balls will become socks for Joe, and the other, a pair for Sven.

And finally, some pink cotton sock yarn from Regia and some orange and brown from Fortissima Socka. I love both these colourways and I can't wait to see how they knit up!


And that's what happened at Ally Pally.
In other news: I am soldiering on with giant project of finishing far-too-many WIPs. The red/white Arsenal socks and the rainbow socks are nearing completion. Perugino II is making reasonably good progress. There are things in the Finishing Basket shouting to have their ends weaved in. I'm not sure I know where the buttons are for Clara's Baby Surprise Jacket. I'd better get on with some of it, doncha think?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Finishing: Late Update

I'm very pleased to announce that this evening I took Imken's angora socks from the UFO pile and finally knit the second toe to the right length. They have entered the Finishing Basket (which means that right now they are actually nestling among nice-smelling soaps, dried lavender and other almost-finished knitted things, gathering a nice fragrance while waiting to have their ends weaved in).

The other big achievement this evening was weaving in all the remaining ends on the Baby Surprise Jacket. The boucle was a pain. If you have ever tried to weave boucle ends into boucle fabric, you'll know what I'm talking about. All that remains to do now is sewing up the shoulder seams (oh great, more boucle!) and sewing on the buttons.

*glows with pride*

Too many WIPs

OK, I have a record number of WIPs on the go just now, more than I’ve experienced before. I wasn’t scared. I thought I could handle 20 WIPs. A hundred, even. I liked the variety. What could go wrong?

Well, this week I’m learning what goes wrong. What I’ve discovered is that when I have a WIP on the needles, no matter how many detailed notes I think I’ve made about needle sizes, decreasing patterns, etc, there is always a ton more information in my head that escapes notation and promptly evaporates if I don’t work on that project for a day or three.

For instance, take the Rainbow Socks. These couldn’t be simpler. I’m knitting the second sock of the pair, so I have a reference point. It’s an ultra-plain vanilla sock in stocking stitch with a garter stitch short-row heel and common wedge toe. So simple I can do it without looking. And there’s your problem right there. I was knitting on Sock 2 just the other day and the time came to work the heel. I’d taken the precaution of making a note that I worked the heel of Sock 1 over 36 sts of the total 60, and that I picked up a few stitches when starting the foot, so as to close the holes at the corners.

I thought my careful notes were fool-proof so I happily knit the heel and then the rest of Sock 2 (which seemed to take no time at all – strange, as Sock 1 took months). When I’d finished the blinking sock, I then realised that the one thing my notes didn’t tell me was that I didn’t need to switch to a smaller needle size to do the heel, even though that’s the convention with garter stitch short-row heels. Because I was feeling blasé and on top of the project, I hadn’t had the sense to have a good look at Sock 1 before starting to knit. So Sock 2 ended up with a heel that is much smaller than Sock 1. Dammit.

And that is why there has not been much knitting progress this weekend. Last night I sat down with Sock 2 and unpicked that heel. I now have a flat tube of knitting with a split in it, waiting for a correctly-sized heel to go in.

Don’t tell anyone, but the toes on these socks don’t seem to perfectly match either. It’s not noticeable though. That’s my story, anyway. You see what happens when you leave even something as simple as socks unattended? I need to get that WIP list right down to something manageable, asap.

It is going to be a festival of finishing this week. Clara’s Baby Surprise Jacket and Imken’s angora socks are absolute top of the list. More news and photos coming soon.