Monday, June 27, 2011

Why I Knit

I had hoped some day to write elegantly on this subject, and perhaps I still will in the future, but for now, I wanted to share with you all a letter from Eunny Jang, knitter extraordinaire and Interweave editor.  This note accompanied the announcement of the release of the Interweave Knits Weekend 2011 issue, and while it does, of course, plug the new issue, it also sums up beautifully how I feel about knitting and why I do it:

Living a Handmade Life

Ever since we started producing Weekend in 2008, I've delighted in collecting cozy, casual knits that represent the kinds of things we really wear. There's a comfortable, satisfied feeling that comes of making something that is at once beautiful and eminently functional—these aren't dressy or finicky pieces, but garments and accessories that feel homey and relaxed, familiar.

Every piece in this issue is informed by the everyday life of its designer, her own wishes and needs for useful, purposeful knits that look and feel good. It's fun to catch a glimpse of their lives through their sweaters.

And I do think a lot about this handmade life we lead as knitters, people who make usable things out of sticks and string. It's an extraordinary thing in a larger culture that praises speed and disposability—our craft is methodical, meditative, thoughtful. Its gratification is delayed. But we do it for the joy of making wonderful things with our own hands, adding usefulness and beauty to the world with every stitch.

Of course, there are as many shades to the knitting urge as there are knitters, but I think that most of them boil down to this: We love being creators. Our knitting studs our lives with creativity; because of it, we're good problem solvers and thoughtful analysts, we know how to judge and take risks, we are at peace with the fact that you sometimes just need to start over again. We knitters are forces that add. 

So keep on knitting—and not just on swanky projects. Knit slouchy Saturday market sweaters, snowballing mittens, toys even for children who haven't quite outgrown bibs yet. Knit things you'll use every day. Wrap your loved ones in wooly armor and fill your home with beautiful things.

And enjoy them all, let them wear out, remake them into something else. Make your knitting part of your real, everyday life. Get your issue of Weekend 2011 now and fill the world with more good knitting than it knows what to do with—!

The Knitter's Life—creating, laboring, letting go. It is all fine and right.

Eunny Jang

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Cardigan Challenge Continued

I'm now on my fourth day working on mom's cardigan, and it's been a breeze so far!

I wound up going with size 8 needles for the main body (7's for the waffle-stitch borders). The 8's give me a gauge of 4.8 stitches and 6.5 rows per inch, which is a bit on the small side - the stated gauge is 4.5 stitches and 5.5 rows per inch - but I've had no trouble adjusting my stitch counts as necessary.  The swatch I did on 9's was slightly over gauge, and I didn't like how loose the fabric was, so 8's it was.  The drape and texture are perfect!

My only complaint so far is that the skein of Comfort is not a continuous strand - there's been a knot in each of the first two balls.  I attempted Russian weaver's joins, but it's an 8-ply yarn and the joins were just too messy and knotted, and it's not like I can spit splice a synthetic, so I had to go with the traditional double knit-in, which means slightly lumpy areas and more ends for me to weave in later.  Hoorah.

But, I've just finished decreasing for the waist, working even for a little bit, then going to increase back out for the hips.  Then - on to sleeves and button bands!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Gauge Woes

So, the yarn I ordered for mom's cardigan came in the mail a lot sooner than I expected!  I whipped out my size 5's and started gauge swatching.  I was highly skeptical that *anyone* could get a gauge of 4.5 stitches per inch with dk weight yarn on size 5 needles, but hey, I figured the pattern designer knew what she was doing.

Of course, my swatch came out WAY too small.

Moved up to sixes.  Still way too small.

Sevens? Too small.

Eights.  Close enough that it would have been acceptable, if it weren't for the fact that using size 8 needles on a smooth dk weight yarn made the fabric so loose it was practically see through.  Clearly, this wouldn't do.

So I did a little research and found that the specific yarn used by the designer may be labelled like a dk, but knitters say that it is really more of a worsted weight yarn.  This makes my gauge issues a little easier to understand.  So, I went back to WEBS, and ordered the same yarn, Berroco Comfort, in the same color - Beet Root - but in worsted rather than dk.  I'm still wondering what needle size I'll need to get 4.5 stitches per inch though.  I still just don't see that happening on size 5's!

Meanwhile, I'm using the dk Comfort to make myself Cassie Castillo's Camellia Shrug from the winter/spring 2011 Knitscene.  It's coming along gorgeously so far!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Busy Work

Every teacher knows about busy work.  A competent teacher conscientiously strives to avoid it - busy work generally carries the negative connotation of being pointless, tedious, and nonproductive, a clear sign of an apathetic teacher who has given up.  The truly clever teacher, however, can find ways to create busy work that is challenging and useful, results in a worthwhile finished product, and serves the same original purpose of keeping students quiet and out of mischief.

When I got the request from my mom for the cardigan, I had no idea that it would take her nearly an entire week to settle on a color.  I finally ordered it - a dark red called "beet root" - two days ago, and I assume it'll take several days to arrive.  I haven't even gotten a notification of shipment yet.

Knitting is something I do every single day.  Not out of willpower or dedication, but for sheer love of the craft, and because my hands simply get very antsy if I don't.  I prefer to have a project to work on, but I can be satisfied with gauge swatching or trying out techniques if I've got nothing better to do.  While waiting for mom to make up her mind, I found myself itching for something to knit (or otherwise craft), and somehow, I wound up going retro housewife.  Apparently I am single-handedly (well, double-handedly) unraveling the bra-burning, wage-earning efforts of 20th century feminists.

This week I have worked on a latch hook rug for the bathroom, knit four cotton dishcloths, and started gauge swatching for lace kitchen curtains, the pattern for which I'm getting from a book published in 1972.  I kind of feel like a granny, sure.  I kind of feel like I'm betraying my slightly younger self who learned to crochet and knit for the sake of fashion, proclaiming furiously that she would NEVER make housewares.  And yet, some secret part of me sees a really intricate, fine lace doily and is more impressed with the skill and beauty of it than deterred by its nursing home associations.

I'm still looking forward eagerly to the arrival of my yarn order, so I can get started on this cute cardigan, but I'm no longer ashamed of the fact that my home is suddenly sporting a few yarn-based accessories.

And you know what? Those cotton dishcloths work GREAT.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Cardigan Challenge

This week, my mom asked me to make her a cardigan for the workplace, something to ward off the chill when the heater isn't working properly, or the AC is working a little too well.  Now, I absolutely love requests.  Especially with an accompanying offer of pay!  But to knit something for mom presents a few unique challenges, first and most important of which is:

1. I can't use wool.  From any kind of animal.  This means not just regular sheep's wool, which comprises a huge chunk of the yarn market, but also alpaca, merino, cashmere, bison, vicuna, etc.  Therefore, I'll have to use plant fibers, silk, synthetics, or some combination thereof.  Synthetic fibers don't block AT ALL, and the majority of them feel like cheap crap against the skin.  Plant fibers are generally stiff and heavy.  Silk is prohibitively pricey, and not particularly warm.  So the first mission is to find a vegan yarn (silk excepted) that is lightweight, springy, soft, and affordable.

Then there are the less difficult challenges:

2. Sizing.  Even if she takes the time to send me all her measurements, I can't try it on her as I go, and she's a couple sizes smaller than me.  I'll have to be very, very careful.

3. Color.  This cardigan has to go with everything, almost literally.  It will live at the office and must coordinate with anything she might choose to wear in a professional environment.  This may not be a real challenge at all, actually, if she picks the color herself.

So here's what I've chosen so far:

The Brompton Cardigan: It's lovely, simple, and the waffle stitch borders will help prevent curling.

Berroco Comfort Yarn: I have one or two other yarns in mind as well, but according to Berocco, this yarn is one of their most popular, and is soft, springy, and warm.  Of course, being a nylon/acrylic blend, it won't block, but hopefully those waffle stitch borders will eliminate or at least greatly reduce the need.

As soon as we figure out a color, I'll order the yarn and cast on.  So excited!