In which my monthly post count exceeds three for the first time since May. Yes, thank you, I would like a parade.
Thank you all so much for your nice comments about the afghan. I actually wound up feeling much better about it as a result of your encouragement. I also wound up feeling somewhat perplexed about my “contest” for the scraps — I thought I was completely kidding (who wants a mailbox full of wool detritus?), but some people seemed genuinely interested in “winning.” So now I can’t decide which is worse: picking a winner and inadvertently inflicting the dregs on someone who would rather receive a paper bag of dog poop through the mail slot than more yarn scraps, or not picking a winner at all and seeming like some kind of heartless jerk to those folks who are sitting anxiously by their inboxes waiting to hear whether they’ve won. (I don’t really think there are people doing that. I use exaggeration for comic effect. You may have noticed.) Anyway, ’tis a puzzlement.
Instead of dwelling on this monumental and intractable problem, I will ignore it and hope it goes away. So, new subject! My mother’s friend Nancy, who is British and therefore has a dark and delightful sense of humor, sent this postcard my way recently. While the card cracks me up (in spite of the discomfort of recognizing an unavoidable truth about the wretched lives of my future children), I must also vehemently disagree: life has been so much nicer since my mother started knitting.
Every few months my mom and I try to arrange a knitting day, and they are always wonderful. Partly because we enjoy each other’s company and have great conversations, and partly because being together is a terrific excuse to do what we want to do all the time but can’t because of chores and tasks and obligations: knit for an unholy number of consecutive hours. (“Hey, my mom’s here! It would be rude to interrupt our knitting to clean up that cat puke right now!”) (Oh dear, only three paragraphs into this post and I’ve already managed to mention poop and puke. This cannot be a good sign.)
My mom arrived yesterday evening around 8 p.m. For the first five minutes after she arrived, we both made our various excuses for why we were so desperately tired, and we agreed that we would sit and knit for a half hour and then pack it in. Any guesses what time we finally went to bed? Anyone? The winner gets a Ziploc baggie of Manos scraps.
Ha ha, just kidding! (I do seem determined to get a lot of blog mileage out of those damn scraps, don’t I?) It actually wasn’t even all that late that we went to bed — 11:30. I think we could have made it later except my mom had been up until 2 a.m. knitting the night before. On a school night! This is because my mom got in the habit of knitting into the wee hours when she cranked out this gorgeous shawl in under three weeks. It is a 90th birthday present for a woman in England whom she is leaving to visit on Tuesday. I have never met any knitter who can match my mom in drive and focus: she cast this thing on and didn’t even glance at another project until she plowed her way through all 70 (by 30) inches of wave and shell lace in sport weight yarn on size five needles.
I know it’s probably cheating to show off my mom’s finished objects on my blog, but isn’t it beautiful? It’s knit with Frog Tree Alpaca in Cabo Sunrise. The pattern works perfectly with the variegation of the yarn — the lace keeps it from pooling, but there is enough non-lace content in the shawl that the pattern and the variegations don’t compete with each other. (Enlarge the photos to see this better.) It is soft and luscious and I hope I’m lucky enough to deserve such a shawl when I am 90. Now my mom is knitting dishcloths, which I think are the antidote to a huge project like that shawl, but she hasn’t quite shaken off the habit of knitting urgently in every spare moment, so they’re flying off her needles at an alarming rate. Deadline-style knitting combined with a stack of dishcloth patterns equals quite a lot of dishcloths. Good thing everyone can appreciate a good dishcloth.
Have you noticed how well I’ve avoided talking about anything having to do with my own knitting so far? There are a number of reasons for this. First, I’ve been traveling quite a bit (more on this in a moment), and my travel project of choice is socks, and I just can’t inflict any more photos and content about stockinette socks on you poor people. I have also been working a bit on the sleeve of Matt’s sweater, but the less I talk about that project the better I can repress the self-loathing I associate with it. I have been making moderate progress on the Liesel scarf, but I had a very small setback recently that infuriated me to a degree way out of proportion with its severity. See if you can figure out from this photo what idiotic thing I did. I’ll give you a hint: it has to do with a new ball of yarn and a felted join.
So let’s not talk about knitting. Let’s talk about knitting friends. I met Minty Fresh! (And even after meeting her in person I cannot develop any sort of inclination to call her by her actual first name, which, you might be surprised to learn, is not Minty. I know! I had a hard time getting used to this idea too.) I emailed her 24 hours in advance of my arrival in New York (and only about 72 hours after HER arrival — and hers involved boxes and unpacking and all kinds of exhausting responsibilities) and informed her that we would be having lunch the next day. Fortunately she thought “fun!” and not “stalker!” and we picked a time and place. I sort of thought about doing that self-describing thing one does when one gets together with someone one has never actually met before, but I figured we’d seen each other on our blogs and that we would be able to recognize each other without too much difficulty. That is an understatement. I would have known her anywhere. Talking to Minty was like talking to a familiar photograph that has suddenly started moving around and talking back with very good grammar. No matter how I phrase that I can’t make it convey how surreal this actually was (until I quickly got used to it, because I’m not crazy, you know). It was such an unusual combination of meeting someone for the first time and continuing a long-standing friendship. It was awesome. (Meanwhile, Minty’s now thinking, “Okay, she thinks I’m a giant talking photograph actually named Minty. This will not be a repeat encounter.”)
Now I’m addicted to the idea of meeting more blog friends. Ashley and I have already discussed the need for a national KnitBlogCon. (Actually, Ashley told me she wanted to organize one for all the cool bloggers and then charitably said she’d extend me a pity invite.) While I don’t know that such an idea could ever come to fruition, I am going to be doing a modest amount of travel for my job in the coming months and hope to turn that into a sort of mobile one-on-one, self-serving KnitBlogCon on my company’s dime. I’m already on the social calendars of Carry and Theresa in Seattle and San Diego next week. You never know when the Lickety Knit train could pull into the station in your town! (Oh god, that was definitely dorky enough to cause several of my readers to start readying their “previous engagement” excuses.)
Fun fact: Did you know Microsoft Word spell check doesn’t recognize the word “minty”? Weird.
This is going to be a photo-heavy post, which means it has to be a word-heavy post in order to generate enough text to wrap around the photos sufficiently. So brace yourself for some long-windedness — yes, even more than usual.
So, the more observant among you may have noticed that for over a year there has been a progress bar marked “secret project” over in the sidebar. I’ve felt a little foolish about it — it seemed to suggest, tantalizingly, that we here at Lickety Knit Laboratories had something really revolutionary in the works, like maybe a way to keep stockinette stitch from curling or something. In actuality, anyone who clicked the link and provided the correct password realized that the project simply needed to remain secret because it was a wedding gift for a blog reader.
That blog reader is my dear friend Colleen, and last weekend I was a bridesmaid in her fantastic wedding. Such a wonderful friend and beautiful bride (evidence to the left) deserved a truly special wedding gift, and that is what I tried to give her (and her husband Paul, of course). I emphasize tried here because I made a lot of mistakes with this project.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the gift: It is a Four Seasons Throw — a 12-square, patchwork-style afghan, with each square a different stitch pattern and a different color of Manos del Uruguay. The positives? The yarn is warm and soft and heavy and homey — perfect for a rugged, cozy afghan. It’s a throw that is designed for the family room, not the parlor, if you will. It’s meant to be dragged off the back of the couch and tucked around a TV-watcher or novel-reader night after night. I like to imagine it being used this way for years to come by Colleen, Paul, and possibly even their offspring (mentioned rather frequently by the priest that officiated their wedding, I must say) — always a familiar comfort even after it becomes old and kinda ratty and crusty with potato chip crumbs and YooHoo spills.
Doesn’t that sound nice? (The overall sentiment, not the crusty part.) Okay, now for the constructive criticism. Colleen, this is where you should stop reading unless you want to think henceforth that I gave you a crappy wedding present. The problems with the afghan are three.
Problem One: The Size
It is too small. This is not a good thing in a wedding gift meant for two. I might as well have written on the card, “I wish you many years of snuggling up on the couch alone.” I think it came out smaller than advertised mostly because I probably should have used needles a size larger (10 instead of 9). You would be reasonable to suggest that I could have added an additional strip of squares (making it 4×4 instead of 4×3), but by the time I finished blocking it and came to terms with its diminutive size, I was out of both the time and the money required to remedy the situation. Maybe I will add another strip for one of their wedding anniversaries. Or perhaps just one square a year, until eventually it’s a mammoth sofa cover. Hmm, I was just joking about that, but a one-square-per-year-of-marriage afghan is kind of a fun idea, as long as you don’t mind a non-rectangular shape in a majority of years. But I digress. The final measurements (excluding the fringe, which I added to create the illusion of additional length) were about 42″x56″.
Problem Two: The Colors
Though I was very excited about them at the start, in the end the colors did not really work very well. There is too much variety. I needed to stick with a narrower wedge of the color wheel or at the very least with colors of similar intensity (the cream square, for example, just looks too starkly bright next to its mostly dark neighbors). There needed to be some kind of unifying element, and there isn’t. This is something I really think I will be better able to recognize going forward, so the good news is that I have become a better knitter (or color-picker, anyway) as a result of this mistake. However, the downside to learning from your mistakes is that you’re still pretty much stuck with those mistakes. Or Colleen is, anyway.
I did discover one kind of cool thing about the colors, though. If you fold the afghan, you get two distinct color schemes: “Christmas” in the photo on the left and “Thanksgiving/Fall” in the photo on the right. (Okay, let’s be honest here, the color scheme to the right could perhaps more aptly be called “1970s Linoleum,” but I’m trying to accentuate the positive for a moment.)
Problem Three: The Colors Again
Finally, the most forehead-slappingly stupid mistake of them all. I picked these colors to be somewhat evocative of the mid-autumn hues of Colleen’s and Paul’s October wedding day. Hence the significant representation of both reds and greens. The problem with this? Colleen is red-green color blind. I have known this for years. Cue slapping of forehead.
There is a nifty online tool that allows you to upload your own images and then provides you with an approximation of what they look like to a red-green colorblind person. (I discovered this online tool all by myself and thought to include it on my blog all on my very own. It definitely wasn’t Laura‘s clever idea.) Here is how Colleen’s afghan looks to her. (Colleen, if this tool works correctly then you should see no difference between this photo and the same one above.) While I still feel like an idiot for selecting colors that the gift’s recipient can’t even see, I must admit that there’s a part of me that prefers how it looks this way — the color palette is less all over the map. Also, I know Colleen will assign colors of her choosing to the squares that look neutral to her anyway (she once told me how cute I looked in my green coat and little red hat, though both were in fact brown), so I’m going to assume she’ll see the most attractive and coordinated colors possible. Paul, unfortunately, is stuck with the real ones.
In spite of all its imperfections, Colleen emailed me today to tell me she and Paul had opened their gifts and that they simply loved the afghan. And that news is enough to get me to set aside all my gripes with the project (not enough to keep me from blogging about them, but enough to stop me from obsessing about them) and just be pleased that I was able to provide one of my very best friends with a handmade wedding gift she likes. Only one problem remains, though: What the hell am I going to do with all these Manos leftovers? The yarn just seems too nice to throw even these scraps away. So I’ll take suggestions for how to use them up. Whoever provides the best suggestion will receive a prize: the scraps in the mail. Call it a contest. We all win. Mostly me.
For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, this weekend I made a sort of soap holder bag thing. Many months ago I saw the pattern here and thought it was a cute gift idea (coupled with a nice fancy soap, perhaps). That doesn’t explain why on Monday evening I was suddenly seized with the urge to knit one RIGHT THIS MINUTE. I indulged the urge, though, and an hour and a half later I had a cute(ish) little soap mitt that auto-dispenses soap as you use it. It actually works pretty well.
I used Katia Pisco, a discontinued cotton/acrylic/linen blend yarn from my stash. (It took about a third of a ball. I have about 20 balls. Let me know if you know of anyone who needs 60 of these babies.) I actually think that a dishcloth cotton might work better because it would be a little rougher — helps with the exfoliating process, doncha know. This yarn should be fairly durable, though, and anything that reduces my stash of Katia Pisco — even by only 1.66 percent — makes me happy.
As you can see from this totally believable dramatization, this bag (knit in worsted weight on size 8 needles) holds a standard bar of soap without much wiggle room. I might make the bag a little bigger next time, both by going up a needle size and inserting a few extra stitches and rows so as to add surface area and accommodate a slightly larger bar of luxury soap. I might also make an i-cord tie rather than the lame crochet chain I used (in the blue Rowan handknit DK cotton that Laura sent me), but I only just last week (after 7 years of knitting) learned how to crochet a chain, so I thought I’d put my new skill to use. It looks exactly the way you’d expect someone’s first crocheted chain to look, but I’m proud anyway.
Hanging on a wall hook and lying in a pseudo puddle on the dining room table are not actually recommended uses for this item, but the dining room was where the light was good this morning. For the realists among you, I’m including one photo that shows it in its natural environment — sopping wet and hanging off the faucet. (I’d like you all to note that this would have been an excellent opportunity for me to inflict another naked shower knitting photo on my readers, but I declined to do so. I hope this helps repair some of the damage to my reputation.)
So (new topic), I’m sort of working on that ubiquitous meme, ten knitterly things you don’t know about me, but so far I only have three. I try to avoid excessive non-knitting content on this blog, which means I’m usually desperate to include any scrap of knitting information I can think of in order to generate enough material for a post a week, thus leaving very few of my knitting secrets unrevealed. If I can’t think of ten I’m planning just to lie. Totally make them up. Like…I learned to knit from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She and I were hanging out at a pretty lame party one night and I was like, nice scarf, and she was like, thanks, I made it myself, and I was like, cool, can you show me how to make one? So she did.
People, a few posts ago I was joking that my knitting just keeps getting worse and worse. Well, not joking so much as trying to disguise my rising panic with desperate humor. I think I’ve made this allusion before, but it’s like the subtraction soup in The Phantom Tollbooth. Milo and his friends just keep eating and eating it, but instead of filling up they get hungrier and hungrier. (Also an apt reference for today, Yom Kippur, but not entirely relevant to my current point.) Like Milo, I keep knitting more and more but instead of increasing in skill, I just get worse.
Take my Koigu socks, for example. You may notice they are not the same height. This isn’t even a knitterly skill thing so much as a not-being-an-idiot thing. Yet in spite of having made 5 pairs of identical ultra-simple all-stockinette socks in the last year, I completely failed to stick the landing. Frogging happened. Reknitting happened. Socks are done. There will be no further discussion.
Oh, except since you’re here, some quick FO stuff. Yarn: Koigu PPPM in color 315L. Needles: size 1s. Stitches around: 60. Notes: I had two different dye lots, so I knit the feet of both socks with one and the legs with the other. I’m glad I did, because you can totally tell and it would have been weird to have the two socks so different.
I like these socks. The end.
Moving on to other examples of my lack of knitting mojo: the sleeves on Matt’s sweater. I confidently cast on for these sleeves after executing some elaborate calculations. Several hours later, I determined that the sleeve was too narrow (I was using one of Matt’s ideally fitting sweaters as a guide, seen here) and cast on again with more stitches. A ball of yarn later, I realized that the sleeves still looked too small, so I frogged and cast on again, doggedly telling myself that my willingness to frog rather than hoping no one would notice the error was a sign of my maturity as a knitter. Baffled by why this was happening, I measured my gauge. I’d been getting 5.5 stitches to the inch on the body of the sweater. Turns out I was getting 7 stitched to the inch on the sleeve. No wonder I was getting a stunted, shriveled fabric! I guess my DPN gauge is drastically different from my circular needle gauge. So I went up a needle size, cheerfully went on my knitting way, and ten inches later, I screwed up my courage and once again measured the sleeve against Matt’s sweater and:
Kill me. Kill me now.
I know that doesn’t look like much, but trust me, it’s enough, especially given that the fabric of the handknit sweater is considerably thicker than the fabric of the store-bought sweater. So the sleeve is now in its fourth incarnation (not counting a couple minor stops and starts in which I didn’t like how and where I’d set up the increases and all that), and I have 11 inches of length and the appropriate amount of width. Lemme tell you, it is not exactly the masterpiece I would have liked given the amount of time I’ve put into it, but I’m pleased with myself for persevering.
Until two nights ago when I just couldn’t persevere anymore. Nothing was going wrong (for once), but I just couldn’t bear another round of brown seeded rib. I desperately needed to KNIT SOMETHING ELSE. So I dove into my stash, pulled out some yarn I bought last year, and cast on for a Liesel scarf. In spite of the fact that it’s too narrow, too itchy to wear as a scarf, and coming out just the way lace patterns always do when knit with variegated yarn (badly), I continue to knit it, because I just need to knit something semi-successfully, dammit! I figure if it doesn’t work out as a scarf, I can use it as a tablerunner or something. (When I told Matt this he said, “A wool tablerunner?” all incredulously, and then went on to say what a bloody brilliant idea he thought that was, and how he simply couldn’t wait for me to finish it so we could put it right to use. I’m sure that last part had nothing to do with the size 0 needles I had pointing at his eyeballs.)
Because Matt is so supportive of my projects, I’m going to be similarly supportive of his by posting this photo of him with a giant uncooked meatball. We have a tradition on Yom Kippur of breaking the fast with giant servings of spaghetti and homemade meatballs, and Matt is a hero for being able to prepare the feast even as his stomach growls and threatens to march on Washington in protest of the treatment to which it is being subjected. Me, I just lie on the couch in the living room, whimpering, my eyes filling with tears at each waft of the delicious aromas. Every year Matt steels himself against the rumblings (his stomach) and the whinings and complainings (me) so that he can produce a delicious meal for the break-fast. He’s not bad, my husband.
Speaking of Yom Kippur, I’m going to post below an essay I wrote last year on the holiday, which I posted on my now-defunct writing and photography blog. It is 80 percent serious and 100 percent unrelated to knitting, so I don’t mind if most of my readers skip it (and apologies to the few of you who may have read it last year). I just sort of liked it and wanted to repost it this year. Thanks.
My Yom Kippur
Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day for self-affliction and atonement. As is traditional on this holiday, I have not eaten since sundown last night.
What’s so remarkable about this? Jews all over the world are doing just as I am without feeling the need to blog about it. Well, there’s nothing remarkable about it, really, except that I’m not actually a Jew. I’m fasting and attending services and, in my own way, trying to come to terms with my own imperfections and failings from the past year. Given my gentile status, though, a reasonable question from an impartial observer might be, “Why?”
It’s a good question. Why am I participating in this fairly demanding holiday, one that is observed in a way that does not exactly resonate with my Unitarian Universalist upbringing? (Don’t get me wrong, self-reflection and atonement are hardly anathema to UUs, but declaring one’s failings at length, in Hebrew, in unison with hundreds of others, just isn’t familiar territory to me — and it’s harder than many other Jewish holidays to adapt to my own religious and spiritual tastes.) So why do it? As a non-Jew, I have to assume I’m not even getting credit for it from God!
Well, the obvious answer is that I’m married to a Jew, and when your husband is fasting it just seems rude to sit next to him on the couch and eat straight out of the container of Tiny Trapeze Marshmallow Fluff using a bar of chocolate as a spoon. But partly because, when presented with the opportunity, I can’t help but feel as though a day of self-denial might be, you know, good for me.
On the days leading up to Yom Kippur, as I anticipate the fast, I theorize that my hunger on that day will drive home to me the reality of the devastating hunger suffered by so many in the world less fortunate than I am. That my rumbling stomach will make me more acutely aware of all that I have. That I will be made sober by the realization that if I get very very very very very hungry to the point where I’m miserable (as I did last year), I have a fully stocked pantry and refrigerator from which to relieve my light-headedness, and that many who endure hunger as a part of life do not have that option.
The reality, however, is that during the fast day pretty much all I can think about is how hungry I am. I’m not very good at being self-reflective when all I can focus on is how many hours it is until Matt’s and my traditional spaghetti and meatball break-fast. I can do a little musing on how lousy it would be to feel this feeling every day, but for the most part I just get cranky and selfish. It’s not altogether admirable.
One might say that this renders the fast day a bit of a waste, at least for me. That if I can’t get something out of it, when push comes to shove, then what’s the point? True, the fast day itself does not live up to my before-the-fact vision of raised awareness and renewed gratitude for what I have. And each year, as the hunger makes me bitchier and bitchier, I have written off the whole exercise as pointless and ineffective.
So why do I keep doing it (aside from petty reasons of not wanting Matt to seem stronger willed and spiritually richer than I am)? Because it turns out it’s the two or three days that follow the fast that make it worthwhile. Like the feeling of euphoria that one experiences when pain is finally relieved, it is the return to eating that makes a meaningful impact on me. Not so much the break-fast feast itself, which is of course a festive occasion that I thoroughly enjoy, but the more mundane eating in the days that follow.
Tomorrow I will get up and choose from several different flavors of cereal. And when I do, I will feel genuinely grateful not only for being able to eat without thinking twice about it, but about having so much food, in such great variety, so near. At my desk at work I will resist, as I always do, the temptation to go purchase a warm, buttery muffin from the nearby coffee shop, but I will take great pleasure in the mere fact that I could do that if I wanted to. I will even find some satisfaction in the weekly chore of creating the weekend shopping list and filling my cart at the grocery store. For a few short days, the abundance and availability of food will actually feel very much like the enormous luxury that it is. For a few short days, I will not take it for granted.