Monday, April 28, 2008

shopping again

On Thursday, a day I usually blog about knitting, I went yarn shopping instead. On the Ravelry Chicago Knitters forum people are always talking about some stores that I've never been to visit. These four shops are located in neighborhoods that we used to call urban pioneering, although pioneering days are past; most are getting ultra hip and pricey. The vitality of Chicago is not to be exaggerated. Two of these shops are located in a tangle of neighborhoods called Bucktown/Wicker Park/Humboldt Park on the near northwest side. People who live there know the difference, but they kind of blend together for me. "Near" means near the Loop, or central business area of the city. Two are in the south loop (near south side), a more recent development adjacent to the Loop. I live far north.

Nina is the most beautiful of these shops. It is set up like an art gallery with a well-curated selection of expensive yarns, although it also stocks basics like Rowan and Cascade. Nina herself, the proprietor, is pleasant and knowledgeable. The location, either Bucktown or Wicker Park, is on an unpretty main street surrounded by renovated working class housing and new townhouses with no parking. Due to the pricey image and tragically hip neighborhood I am not likely to shop there again. I bought a skein of Louet Euroflax sport weight linen to play with.

Knitters Workshop is in a homier neighborhood a little to the north and west of Nina. I could park in front of the shop. I recently shopped their moving sale , so I didn't buy anything. Their new location seems a bit cramped. Their yarn collection is less precious than Nina's and more all around. Although they have too much novelty yarn, I would shop here again for sweaters worths of yarn. A few doors down the street is Soutache, an amazing button, ribbon, and trim shop.

Knitwerks, the furthest south of these shops, is perhaps my favorite. The friendly owner is a weaver, much to the delight of my weaving friend Linda. This shop is small but larger than Nina with a well-selected collection. Knitwerks carries basics with some more unusual though reasonable brands like Frog Tree, Interlacements, Artworks, and Dream in Color. They have a good selection of lace and sock yarn. I bought a big skein of orange Dream in Color sock yarn since I read online that sock yarn doesn't count as stash.

Loopy has a knowledgeable staff, a pretty big selection, lots of basics, and a bustling atmosphere. I was able to park in front, but that might have been just luck. Of all these shops, I think Loopy is the most geared up for long-term success. They have the most interesting classes and feature twice a year yarn tastings which are wildly popular. I bought some inexpensive Fortissima Socka sock yarn in a cardinal red. I need red and orange socks.
Traveling between Knitters Workshop and Knitwerks, Linda and I encountered this amazing attraction on an unassuming side street. Despite our enjoyment of the shops, this may be the highlight of our trip:

Here is a close up. This isn't what they mean when they talk about Chicago architecture:
Here is my progress report on the Drama City skirt. It is just over 7 inches long. Kill me now. The ultimate length is meant to be 21 inches. I might switch over to the Kimono shawl soon since the skirt is more wintry and the shawl is more summery and it is getting to be summer (although 40 degrees and raining here today).

Monday, April 21, 2008

progress? a bit

Today I open with an actual knitting picture. Here is my progress (ahem) on Drama City, the skirt. You can see the 2" band of moss stitch around the wide bottom edge. There is now almost 2" of stockinette done above that. The photo shows the decrease line that I am putting toward the side of each front section (remember it is one piece, button down the middle). I am not sure where the lines will actually hit on the finished skirt; I worked the placement out arithmatically. Four decreases come on every right side row for a while. Because I decreased 68 stitches after knitting the moss stitch band, I am now down from 528 to stitches to 444. I should be finished in no time.

Naturally, after bitching and moaning about circular needles, I am forced to use one for this project due to the immense number of stitches. It is the only way, but I am aware of some discomfort in the drag of the stitches over the join and the flex of the cable. The needle I am using is from the Boye set that runs from needles sized 4 to 15, a great range. I like it for that and also because I got it for a very cheap price at Tuesday Morning.

If you look back at the photo you might spot that the needles are two different colors. For the past few projects of back and forth stockinette I've been using a smaller needle for the purl side. In this case the sizes are 5 and 4. I just read somewhere that the looseness happens because the purl stitches are wrapped counter clockwise while the knit stitches are wrapped clockwise. Counter clockwise is a longer way around and therefore uses more yarn. I tried changing the wrap of the purl stitches, which was easy enough to do, but it caused the stitches to sit facing the wrong way on the knit side. They had to be knitted through the back. I didn't think it was worth it. I think this method is called something (Eastern Cross?) but I'm not sure. Does anyone know?

Silky Wool, as has recently been pointed out by Desi Knitter, has a special quality. It doesn't look that great in the skein or even on the swatch. It's kind of bumpy and rough looking. But knit up it has a rich, velvety texture. Seeing it in moss stitch makes me think that it would have been a perfect choice for the Kim Hargreaves Darcy sweater. So if you're planning to knit that sweater, consider Silky Wool. It is also a good value - between 7 and 8 dollars for 175 meters or 190 yards. Of course, since this is my first time using it, I can't say how it will wear. And best of all, even though it's not all wool, you can spit splice it. I like that.

In further knitting news, it looks like my mitten project is off. At a meeting on Friday the staff at the library agreed to the secret santa Christmas gift exchange rather than getting something for everyone. I suppose I could still give them all mittens, which I would like to do, but I think it would look show-offy and not in the secret santa spirit. I can still knit some mittens for other friends and family, but since I will need fewer, I can make them fancier.

Since this post is short on photos, I will leave you with some garden pictures. The top pictire is of pansies on my patio. I am into gardening this year. You can tell because I am doing seasonal pots. The bottom photo shows some old fashioned short tulips (Red Riding Hood?) that I planted many years ago and that come and go in my garden. This year, it looks like they've regenerated themselves a bit. The grave of our beloved cat Jane is to the left of the tulips.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

all about ME

No knitting to show today. I have knit about 2 inches on the bottom band of the Drama City skirt (the book is going well) and am getting ready to decrease around for the transition to stockinette. So in lieu of knitting photos, here is the first bloom in my raggedy garden. The potted plants are Martha Washington geraniums, said to bloom well in cool weather and headed for compost when it gets hot out. The plant's tag says otherwise. We'll see.Can you tell how crap the pots are from the photo? I can never find nice affordable pots. These actually aren't the worst I've seen. The next photo is crocus. I want to get some more, but you have to order from a specialist to get white, and I only want want white. It's my front garden theme: orange and white.

But enough about extraneous matters. Let's get to ME. I haven't been tagged for a meme, but I thought I'd do something like one anyway, focused on knitting habits. A short while ago Knitter's Review did a poll called "Straights or circs?" to find out what kind of needles knitters prefer. It turns out that over 56% of those responding prefer to use circular needles; only 6.9% prefer straights. I am so in the minority. I have also noticed that I disagree with the majority of vocal knitters on other aspects of knitting as well. So here is me:

  • I actively dislike circular needles. I hate that whippy cable. I prefer straight needles and even double pointed needles to circs. I said earlier that I would like to try knitting socks on 2 circs., but I was kidding myself. I'll never try it.
  • In line with hating circular needles, I tend to dislike tubular sweaters as well. All one piece, no seam sweaters seem barrel-like to me; seaming produces a more refined looking fit.
  • Luckily I, unlike most knitters, do not hate seaming at all. I could do it all day. And it produces my finished garment which I am excited to see and wear (or use), assuming it turns out wearable.
  • Also, unlike most knitters, I hate charts. My eyesight is pretty good (with glasses) but charts make me go blind. I prefer words to charts, and, while I do use charts on occasion, I have been known to translate the chart into written directions.
  • I like mindless knitting to a degree. The only part of complex knitting I really like is seeing how the pattern will look. Once I have that established, I find complex patterns just as boring as simple only a lot more stressful.
  • I think Elizabeth Zimmerman is over rated as a guru. She surely does have some clever ideas, some of which are definitely in my future, but I don't like her style.
  • If the above dislike didn't offend you, this one is sure to. I could do without all the abbreviations knitters (and other bloggers) use. LOL strikes me as a little cutsey and DH or DD as a combination of snarky and smarmy.

Signing off now. Don't hate me because I'm opinionated.

Monday, April 14, 2008

a bold undertaking

So I thought about a skirt with my stash of Elsebeth Lavold's black Silky Wool. I was warned that the Silky Wool yarn wants to grow, so I had second thoughts. I noticed that the swatch lacked elasticity to some extent, which means that it might stretch, but not necessarily grow. I figured to take care of that with negative ease at the waist. The skirt will not be fitted elsewhere. It is meant to be full and knee length. Here is a sketch - not a good scan, but it gives the idea.

The body of the skirt will be stockinette, but since that curls, the bottom is banded with about 2 inches of moss sitch. The top will be shaped by inverted pleats with stockinette on the outside and reverse stockinette on the inside. Does any of this sound familiar? Yes, it's Darcy revisited . For the rest, there will be a front placket, maybe in moss, with buttons that will probably be snaps in reality and a 1x1 (twisted?) ribbed waistband of about 2". The band will be higher than the actual waistline and will probably have a tie at its lower edge.

If this project is a success, I doubt that I will post the pattern. Here is an idea of why not:

I am almost embarresed to say it, but would any other knitter on earth cast on and moss stitch 528 stitches? Now it is bottom up and will decrease as I go, but still. The original idea for this skirt was actually for a thick yarn and not as full. If I reknit it that way and it makes a worthwhile design, I would post it.

The book I'm listening to now is George Pelecanos' Drama City about the DC underworld of drugs and dog fighting. Isn't Drama City a great name for a skirt?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

the listless blogger tries to design

I am so not bloggy today. First of all there is our endless winter. Today it's 45 degrees F and raining a cold, drippy rain. It's always winter and never Christmas! Aslan save us. Here is a picture of this day in spring:

There is a tiny bit of green showing and that leads to my next blog blocker: I need to think about some renovations for my 20 year old garden. I am planning to spend our tax refund on landscaping. That won't cover all that needs to be done, but I need to make an overall plan so as to figure out how best to use the money this year. That has been nagging at me.

Third, I have an assignment from my volunteer job at the zoo to revise the fact sheet on on the African Straw Colored Fruit Bat.

Not a big job but messy in that I have to consolidate a bunch of information from different sources. Fruit bats are huge, live for 15 years in the wild, and roost in colonies of 100,000 to 1,000,000.

But don't worry, I do have some knitting talk. I finished with mittens for the moment and have been kntting a bit on my Kimono Shawl and trying to find inspiration for a new project. To that end, I had some correspondence over a week ago with Ruth of Ruthless Knitting and have been mulling it over since then.

Ruth is an amazing designer and, it seems to me, extremely productive. She mostly works on projects of her own design rather than published patterns. Now I have a lot of design ideas. I have even started a design sketchbook. But it always seems easier to knit a design that someone else has worked out. I don't think it's laziness. I think that I want to produce rather than fiddle around with trial and error. But I still have the urge to design for myself.

What gives me pause is this: Ruth says that she likes to work with yarn that she has on hand, trying to find an idea for it rather than trying to find yarn for a pattern or design idea. My thinking is the exact opposite. I get the idea for a finished garmet and try to work out how to make it and then try to find the right yarn for it. Oddly enough, as a knitter, I don't seem to be that inspired by yarn.

But I have been thinking about Ruth's design method and about the yarn I have on hand. Maybe I'll focus on the yarn a little more and about how best to use it. So yesterday I swatched Silky Wool:

It's really hard to photograph black yarn. I used 2 different needle sizes (5 and 6 US), a basic rib, and started a cable but got tired of it. I blocked the swatch and was surprised at how much better it looked. Usually I don't see as much difference after blocking. So I'll sit down with my sketchbook for the rest of the day and try to think of the best use for this yarn. (Actually I have an idea for a skirt that I had in the back of my mind while swatching, so the purity of the design process has already been compromised.)

Monday, April 7, 2008

oh no! more mittens

Here on the left is the next pair of mittens finished. Ann Budd's pattern book has a much better thumb than the Knit Simple pattern I made first. The mittens are a little snugger also, which I like. Anyway, they will fit the small-handed person that I have in mind for them. Now I have made two pairs.
I do have to rename the new ones though. They are now called Grace after characters in The Sea by John Banville. This is an unpleasant but readable novel that won a Booker prize in the UK. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson turned out to be unreadable. It was like reading a religious Emerson or Thoreau, two authors that I cannot stand. I like philosophical novels as much as the next person, but this was too much: no plot, just pontification.

Speaking of philosophy, I have a new library book from one of the most philosophical minds in knitting today: Cat Bordhi.

I must say that I have not been interested in her previous books. I was not impressed by what you can do with a mobius ring. I think the fascination is with the mobius idea rather than the thing as a knitted object. And as for knitting socks on circular needles, I have come to realize that I detest circular needles and will avoid them except when I have to knit 300 stitches back and fourth. Those cables give me the creeps.

This new book is another story. Cat has developed some novel and extremely elegant looking sock designs based on what she calls sock architecture. And you can see the built quality of some of these designs:

In addition to her unique and innovative designs, Cat offers tons of information about sock knitting including many charts indicating stitch numbers for all the sock parts in a lot of sizes. This enables you to design your own socks much like the Ann Budd books, but Cat's are somehow more sophisticated. This book is already in my Amazon cart, and I'm not returning the library book until it arrives.

As well as being a knitting innovator, Cat Bordhi is a self-publisher, again, at a sophisticated level. Her self-designed and -illustrated sock book is pretty and fun to read.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

finishing mittens

All finished. My first mittens, named A Thousand Acres. They are cute and kid-like though fitting a small/medium woman's hand. Do you think their name is a little too grand? Oh well.

The second mitten came out better than the first. These are borderline as to whether they are good enough to give. I made a mistake in the thumb gusset. Seeing that I got 6 rows to the inch rather than 7, I added a few rounds to the gusset part where the work goes in rounds rather than inches. I have made that type of mistake before, trying to be too precise. The thumb gusset is thus too deep. I'll have to see how subsequent attempts come out before I decide to keep these or give them away.

I can see that mittens are going to be fun and easy. They take so little yarn that I'll be surprised if I have to buy new yarn for them at all. Of course have to and want to are two separate matters. Here are the next in line:

This is the basic mitten pattern from Ann Budd's pattern book. The yarn is leftover Paton's Classic Merino in Rosewood. I made my mother's Christmas Clapotis from it. They are knit on #5 US Crystal Palace bamboo double pointed at 5 stitches and 7 rows to the inch. But I'm not messing with the row gauge.

I just started listening to Marilynne Robinson's Gilead so, assuming that I stick with the book, I will have to name these Gilead Mittens. What is with Kansas abolitionisim before the Civil War? This is the third book I have read recently with this theme. The Civil War era has such a strong hold on the American imagination.