Thursday, April 29, 2010

Winna, Winna, Chicken Dinna

Folks, the random number generator has given us a winner! Congratulations to Amy, aka knitterofhats on ravelry. Amy, I'll PM you on rav and as soon as I get your address, your copy of Sweater Quest will be winging its way to you. Many thanks to everyone who entered the contest!

I'm especially happy to be able to spread a little cheer today as this is my last day of the spring semester. As of tomorrow, I'm free, free, free...for the next 6 weeks, that is. Still, a half-summer vacation is better than no summer vacation at all, and by the time I have to get back into the classroom at the end of June, the sweltering heat will be just about ready to kick in and I'll be grateful to be out of the house and into the air-conditioned coolness of the office. Till then, I'll be home with the kids, playing in the garden, pulling weeds and generally enjoying myself. Aaaaaah, good times, they are a-comin'.

Hopefully, I'll be able to squeeze some knitting in along with all of that. Most of my knitting time comes during my looooooong commute. With a month and a half off, I'll have to try and figure out when to knit here at home. I still have my Multnomah to finish, and after the problems I've had with the feather and fan border, I don't want to put it down for too long because I might not want to pick it up again.

I think I've worked the kinks, or at least most of them, out of the project, so once I'm finished posting I'm going to sit down and try to get a few rows into the pattern. I still love how the knit 1 below patterning looks on the main body of the shawl; I can't wait to see how the feather and fan will look paired with that.

Will post photos once I'm a bit farther along....

Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's a Small Internet After All

I'm not about to tell you my age. I will, however, point out that I earned spending money in college by typing papers for a buck a page on my state-of-the-art Brother electronic typewriter, the kind that had a double ribbon (one half black ink, the other half white-out) and a memory of about a single line of text. Goof up your spelling and catch it in time, and with a touch of a button that clever little machine would go back and blank it out so you could type over it and no one would be the wiser. Much, much better than the old cast-iron Underwood I'd learned to type on in junior high. Screw up with that thing and you probably wouldn't even be able to manage to line your text up again after smearing liquid white-out over the offending error, resulting in anywhere from a single letter to a series of words hanging half a line above or below the rest. Ah, technology.

I mention all this as a preface to why, when I glanced at my April 22 post, I was taken completely by surprise to see that Adrienne Martini had left me a comment.

Adrienne Martini, in case you don't know, is the author of Sweater Quest, a very clever and entertaining book that I happen to be giving away in a blog contest. Now, to my knowledge, almost no one reads my blog. As of today, I have exactly four followers, at least one of whom I suspect must have clicked the "follow" button by accident and then not known how to take it back. And yet somehow, the author of this book managed to find out that I'm giving her book away as a contest prize, and she was gracious enough to publicly thank me for doing so. According to my reckoning, it took all of three days for this to happen.

Back when I was banging out my junior-high typing class assignments on that noisy old Underwood, the only way to touch base with a favorite author was to write an honest-to-goodness letter -- on paper and everything! -- and, after scrounging up both envelope and stamp, mail it to a publishing house, hoping it would get forwarded to the author in question. Whether that author would give a crap enough to answer fan mail was anyone's guess. (Incidentally, while I never took the step of writing a favorite author, I did receive a very handsome photo of President Gerald Ford in response to a letter I wrote while in elementary school. I'd just like to say a belated "Thank you, President Ford." I do believe I still have that photo somewhere at my mother's house, tucked away with the other treasures of my childhood. Nothing's quite as sweet as getting an answer to a letter, especially when it's from someone famous who sends a publicity shot along to boot.)

It still amazes me how much the Internet has changed, not only how we communicate, but the very dynamic of communication itself. That a published author could find out that little ol' four-person-reading blogger me is giving away a copy of her book is marvel enough. It goes hand-in-hand with the very fact that I can even give a copy of her book away to a total stranger with just a few clicks of my mouse. Put a note on my blog, post an announcement on ravelry, and the offer is out there for anyone to see.

No, the larger change here is the dynamic between author and reader, seeker and sought after. Authors who, in the past, would have been as static as their books to a typical reader such as me, unreachable and unknowable beyond those words they committed to the printed page, are now instantly accessible in half a dozen different ways. Got a question about how to turn a heel on a sock? Message Cat Bordhi over on ravelry and get the answer straight from the designer's mouth. Sounding off about how much you love -- or hate -- somebody or something? Better watch out; far less than six degrees separate us from those we choose to discuss online, and we never know when our words may come back to us. For better or for worse, the famous and the completely not-so are talking more than I would ever have dreamed possible back when I scrawled my little letter to President Ford and was giddy with surprise months later to receive a heavy manilla envelope from the White House in return. What an amazing world we live in.

All of this to say, did you notice that Adrienne freakin' Martini left a comment on my blog? My blog!

How. Cool. Is. That.

Thank you, Adrienne. You made my day.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Modified Multnomah

Have you ever struggled with a skein of yarn that doesn't seem to know what it wants to be when it grows up? Well, I'm working with one right now. Meet Matuey the Cat:

Matuey came to live with me via a rav swap well over a year ago. I was in a sock yarn phase, and I was swapping for just about anything indie that I hadn't yet tried, just to see what was out there. These are definitely unusual colors for me. I have nearly no white in my stash, far preferring jewel tones and black or otherwise dark undertones to a white base. But, like I said, I was swapping for new stuff, and I'd seen Dashing Dachs before but never scored any. This skein came up on swap, and I jumped.

Upon arrival, Matuey was not what I'd expected. Well, that's not exactly true. I suppose I hadn't "expected" anything except a new and different sock yarn, and this certainly fit that bill. What didn't fit, however, was the construction of the yarn itself. First of all, it's a very light fingering weight -- 560 yds in 4 oz. Second, it's 100% merino; there's no nylon to help strengthen this very thin yarn. Finally, it's a two-ply. The notes on rav say it's a 4-ply, but god help me, I can't seem to find those other two plies. No, this is definitely a 2-ply, and I far prefer a 3-ply for socks.

So, I puzzled. What to do with this yarn, now that socks seemed out of the question? The colors seemed too wild for a lace shawl, which is what this somewhat fine 2-ply seemed best suited to. What, then?

Knit One Below, that's what. I bought the book not too long after it came out and was intrigued enough with the technique to cake up Matuey and start to play around. I thought maybe a pair of kid-sized socks for my daughter, who at that point really wasn't up on her feet all that much anyway. I could experiment, she would get a new pair of socks, and by the time she managed to wear holes in them, they would be too small anyway. I figured the wild variegations in Matuey's colorway would blend nicely with this dropped-stitch technique.

What I neglected to note as I started the sample sock pattern from the book was that the author recommended using a sock yarn with some elastic since the K1B technique is all stretch with no snap back. A couple of inches into the cuff, I realized that these socks would never stay on a human foot, and certainly not on a human toddler's foot. Annoyed, I put the cuff in time-out along with the now-caked-up Matuey.

Fast forward. I've completed an Aran cabled vest. I'm most of the way through a dropped-stitch scarf, and I'm contemplating what to start next. Another sweater or top, while tempting, still feels too long-term; I'm in it for the quick fix now. But this drop-stitch pattern is killing me. It's so simple I can't wait for it to be over. I know I want more of a challenge.

That's when I start thinking shawl.

Not a heavy-duty, serious lace shawl, mind you. I've had one of those -- beaded -- on the needles for the past couple of years, and I'm sure it will be there a couple of years from now. No, I mean one of those shawls that people seem to knock out in a couple of weeks. A small one that can be worn as a stylish shoulder scarf instead of a full-out granny wrap. Something that would get that freakin' caked Matuey out of the stash and into my closet once and for all.

I decided to try a Multnomah. I picked it because I'd heard a lot about it fairly recently, and while I never seem to get on the bandwagon until the band has packed up and gone home, at least with this one I could still hear the lingering echoes of music in the air. Also, it's a simple garter-stitch body (quick-n-easy; no years-long project, this) edged in feather and fan, which is excellent for wildly variegated yarns because it seems to break up pooling nicely.

Here's what my Multnomah looked like at about 100+ stitches across:

And, guess what?

I hated it. Hated it! Why, dear lord, why did it look so muddy, so bleh, all the colors sort of bleeding together and weird with the greeny-blacky streaks, and where had all that white gone anyway, it all looked yellow and I look horrible in yellow and maybe it will look better if I just keep knitting but, really, when is it time to cut your losses and call it quits and damn, I wonder if I can ditch this yarn on anyone else now, shit.

Matuey was turning out to be one great, big, pain in the ass.

As I gritted my teeth and prepared to frog my Multnomah, I started thinking back to that cuff I'd knitted. I'd liked the way the yarn had looked; I'd only frogged it because of the fit. How had the yarn looked so good in the cuff if it looked like such crap now?

And that's when it hit me: knit one below.

Here's what my Multnomah looks like now:

Isn't she purty? I'm working her using K1B techniques, which produce a non-curling edge and help prevent unsightly pooling. I'm so pleased that I keep stopping after every row just to stare at the colors. It's somewhat slow going as I'm now purling back every other row, plus all that knitting below tends to take the steam out of a good knit, but no matter. I lovelovelove how this looks now.

Let's just hope it stays that way.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yarn Review and a CONTEST!

Exciting things have been happening here at Maison du Splinarella. First off, I've finished something! After spending over 3 months working on my Cabled Aran Vest, I needed something quick and cute that I could whip on and off the needles, something springy that I could wear right away and enjoy.

I picked the Drop Stitch Scarf, by Christine Vogel. And I knew just the yarn I wanted to make it with: Tess Microfiber Ribbon.

I'd been hearing about Tess Microfiber Ribbon on The Knitmore Girls Podcast for months. Jasmin had been raving about the stuff, saying it knits like water and is perfect for cool and comfortable summer tops. I had, therefore, been delighted when I won a skein of it in the Knitmore Girls' "Do Some Good" contest earlier this spring. I could hardly wait to finish my aran vest so I could cast on my scarf.

So, here are a few details about the yarn:

It comes in generous 150g/333yd skeins for $25, although today the website shows them on sale for 25% off -- get 'em while you can! The colorway I used is #832411, a rainbow blend that transitions from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to purple to pink and back to red again. The colors are bright and vivid, a riot of tropical flora. The yarn itself is a true ribbon yarn with a width of about 1/8"/3mm by my measurement.

I knit up my scarf on US size 8 Knitpicks Options, the nickel-plated tips. At first, I found the knitting fiddly. I almost never knit with ribbon yarns, so that alone took some getting used to. The yarn is quite slippery, and for the first few rows I felt as though the project were in danger of slipping right off the needle tips. As the scarf grew longer, the weight of it was just enough to pull the yarn down onto the needles and get rid of that slipping feeling. The ribbon tended to twist and kink as I knitted it, which may just be a function of ribbon yarns and not a reflection of this particular brand. Fortunately, any twists that found their way into the knitting straightened themselves out in the finished product with no effort on my part. The yarn is so slippery that the twists just seemed to fall right out as soon as I lifted the scarf. I found myself frequently poking the tip of my needle into the ribbon (again, my inexperience with ribbon yarns was the culprit), but even though the Options tips are somewhat pointy, they never actually managed to pierce the ribbon. I did, however, snag the ribbon on just about anything that was remotely snaggable: a slight crack in a fingernail; the rough skin at the edge of a finger. In that sense, it was very much like working with silk. I would definitely recommend a good sugar scrub before taking up the Tess.

Overall, I liked this yarn. Except...I found a knot in the skein.

I debated about whether to even bring this up. After all, I received the skein as a prize in a contest. Free is free, and who complains about free, right? I can certainly understand a dyer wanting to provide prizes from mill-ends or seconds, and knots are part of that territory.


After I found the knot, I checked the label thoroughly. It's not marked second, or mill-end, or anything else to indicate that it's not a first-rate, grade A skein of yarn. Now, I find knots in big-box yarns all the time. I don't like it, but kind of like mill-ends, I also figure it's just part of that territory. Big-box is big-box for a reason, and part of that reason is price point. A knot or two finding their way into the occasional skein, while not desirable, is probably unavoidable.

But, I expect more from high-end yarns. Again, price point is an issue. If I'm going to pay $25 for a skein of yarn, I want that skein to be just that: a single skein, not two mini-skeins knotted together. Then, there's the issue of this particular yarn. It's a microfiber ribbon. The instructions on the label say "Use fabric glue such as Fray-chek to seal ends & fasten." Not only is it impossible to join ends in a somewhat invisible manner (via a Russian join, spit splice or the like), but the yarn is so slippery that it needs to be knotted and then glued together. You better believe I want as few knots as possible in my project. Finally, this isn't a big-box production employing hundreds or thousands of employees in factories worldwide. It's a small producer who, I assume, must take a fairly hands-on approach to the production process. I would hope that a knotted skein would be pulled aside, labeled as a second or mill-end and priced accordingly. Ultimately, I would have to think twice before paying MSRP for this yarn simply because, if this is an indication of what can be expected in a first-rate skein, I'm not sure I would be willing to spend quite so much on it.

So, there's my review. I like the yarn, I love the way the finished product looks, but that knot really bugged me. Finding a knot in any skein of high-end yarn bothers me, which is why I almost never knit with Noro. But that's a story for another day.

And now, on to a CONTEST!

I just finished reading Sweater Quest, by Adrienne Martini. Adrienne tells the tale of her quest to scale the knitterly equivalent of Mount Everest by knitting Alice Starmore's Mary Tudor sweater over the course of 12 months. I won't say much except that I really enjoyed it, and now I'd like to pass my copy along for someone else to enjoy.

Entering the contest is simple: Leave a comment on this post by next Thursday, April 28. Tell me about your own knitterly equivalent of Mount Everest. I'll pick one winner by random number generator. Please include your ravelry ID in your post so I can contact you by PM if you win. And if you're not on rav...why aren't you? Go sign up: I'll wait. Or, if you insist on remaining rav-less, please do make sure I have some way of contacting you in case you win. I'd hate for you to miss out on your prize because my mind-reading skills aren't up to snuff.

If you like what you read on my blog, sign up to follow me -- there's a box in the sidebar where you should be able to do that. And if you feel extra inspired, please feel free to make a small donation to the Spina Bifida Association of Northeastern New York. My younger daughter has Spina Bifida, a birth defect that affects approximately 1 in 1,000 pregnancies and is the most commonly-occurring, permanently-disabling birth defect in the United States. SBA of NENY does a great job providing families like ours with support and advocacy, and every penny they can raise is both important and needed.

OK, public service announcement over. Go play with some fiber, check out the links on this post, leave your comments and keep your fingers crossed. One lucky winner will be announced next week!

Monday, April 19, 2010


Rav can be dangerous for lots of reasons. For one thing, it's a huge time suck. I love it, mind you, but time spent there is time not spent knitting, spinning or otherwise playing with fiber.

For another thing, there are way too many paths toward enablement. There are the ever-popular destashes, the messages detailing the latest and greatest yarn sales online, and of course, there's the CPA (Completely Pointless and Arbitrary) swap group.

A year or so ago, I was swapping about $20+ a week in shipping costs. That was maybe 7-10 packages a week sent out. My local PO thought I had an ebay business. DH threatened to add "yarn shipping" as a category in our monthly budget. And I spent waaaaay too much time hunched over the PC swap stalking.

Then, we heard DH's job was not secure. After the initial panic subsided, I decided to stop swapping until things were all worked out. And so, I did. Cold turkey.

It wasn't as bad as I'd thought it might be. I still stalked the swaps, but I didn't claim. Brand-new, gotta-have-'em yarns came and went and came again. I slipped swiftly out of the loop, sitting on my stash and feeling virtuous for not buying yarn for most of 2009. I loosened the purse strings in the beginning of 2010 only to find that DH's job situation is now at its least secure yet. Ugh. So, back to the no-yarn-buying plan, which is actually OK since I'm pretty stash-happy these days (and, quite frankly, could probably clothe a small community if I managed to kit up all that I've got on hand).

And yet...I've really, really wanted to try Bugga! This is the sock yarn from The Sanguine Gryphon that's part merino, part cashmere, plus a touch of nylon for a bit of strength amid all that softness. Bugga! is notoriously hard to score during updates; popular colors sell out fast, and it's pretty much a free-for-all.

But today, I read on rav that The Sanguine Gryphon is picking a different colorway for each update and making it available in unlimited quantities for one day so that people can order as much as they want. The yarn will then all be dyed at one time and sent out to fill these "pre-orders." So, I went to the website. And, lo and behold, the colorway of choice today is "Twice-Stabbed Lady Beetle," which actually looks far prettier than it sounds. It's a deep, dark purple with flashes of muted fuschia that looks like it will knit up beautifully.

So, I ordered a skein. I also ordered a skein of Skinny Bugga!, a lighter-weight version of Bugga!, in Cowkiller, which is also a dark, rich, purply-browny sort of color that I'm looking forward to seeing in person.

All together, I spent around $58 on the two skeins, including shipping. If my mother ever knew the amount of money I spent on socks that I have to make myself, she would pass out. And I was hesitant to spend the funds that I really should be saving for a rainy day.

But, honestly, I couldn't resist. I've wanted to try this for a long time; these were colors I loved; and I've been so very good for so long, not even spending my birthday money "just in case." At the end of the day, I'm ok with it.

Now to stalk the mailman until my yarn arrives.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One Down, 11 to Go

Sunday was Big Girl's birthday party. She turned 5 last Thursday, and we celebrated with nearly a dozen of her friends at our house. They ate cake, played outside, and in general had a riproaring good time.

I, however, came down with a cold.

The last kid had barely left the house when I felt it come on. That first sneeze told me I'd better break out the neti pot and honey, which I did in short order, all to no avail. So now, in addition to the thrown-out back, the injured leg and the torn something-or-other in my heel, I have a killer head cold.

The only upside is that today, in between bouts of fitful sleeping, coughing, sneezing and neti-potting, I managed to finish my Aran Accent Vest from the Patons "Cables" booklet:

I must admit, I'm very, very proud of myself for reworking the pattern to do it in the round with steeks. I followed Eunny Jang's tutorial for crocheted steeks, and they turned out marvelously well. The inside is so neat and tidy! In the end, the vest is just a tad large at the shoulders. I probably should have followed the size M instructions for the front but the size S for the back. No matter, though. It's good enough and I'm wearing it as-is tomorrow when I go back to work.
It's my first of 12 completed for IntSweMoDo 2010, the KAL on rav that's a takeoff on the writing competition where you write a novel in a month. Only for this, you knit 12 sweaters in 12 months.

It's April, and I've just finished my first of 12 sweaters for the year 2010.

There might just be a chance that I won't get them all done in time.

Friday, April 09, 2010


I am easily influenced. Not in the usual ways, mind you. As a teen, I just said no to drugs, much to several friends' chagrin. I don't smoke, don't drink, eschew carbonated beverages and limit my caffeine intake to whatever is in chocolate (preferably dark, just in case, you know, you're thinking of enabling me). I avoid much pop culture by choice, which is one of the reasons we don't have TV in our home. In short, I like to do my own thing.

Except when it comes to knitting.

I just hopped over to the Yarn Harlot's blog and read this post. It's about legwarmers. Deep green, cabled legwarmers that she knitted for her sister. In the obligatory blog photo, the legwarmers are shown on legs (Stephanie's sister's, one guesses) clad in skinny, dark-blue jeans that end in the most violet pair of cowboy boots I've ever laid eyes on.

Now, I am a Yankee through and through, a city kid whose only use for cowboy boots would be to pry them off a sexy young cowboy for my own nefarious purposes. And I loathe the color green. So why is it that I suddenly want, no need, a pair of purple, high-heeled cowboy boots and some dark green leg warmers? How can I even envision myself wearing them like the skinny legs in the photo, leg warmers over the outside of the jeans and covering all but the heel and toe of the boot, purple leather barely peeking from beneath dark green cabling? What am I, crazy?

I get this way whenever I see good knitting. I want to make shawls that I will rarely wear. I desire sweaters that will neither fit well nor look good on me. I yearn for knitted skirts that will make me resemble an overstuffed pork product, sexy tanks that will spotlight my upper-arm deficiencies, and accessories either many years too young or too old for me. In short, my knitting eye, while able to recognize and appreciate great knitting when it sees it, is completely and utterly deluded about what an appropriate knit for me would be.

No matter. It's spring, the time of year to throw caution to the wind and start new things. Maybe high-heeled cowboy boots will be just the thing to spice up my staid wardrobe. Maybe I'll wear green cabled leggings and somehow manage to avoid embarrassing flashbacks to my '80s youth.

But maybe I'd better pour myself a good, stiff drink first.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Snip Snip

Well, I finally got up the nerve to cut the steeks in my Aran cabled vest. And you know what?

Cutting your knitting is the coolest thing evah!

Here's what it looked like before:

With a close-up of the first (and smallest) of the 4 steeks that I cut:


And, of course, the obligatory in-the-bathroom-under-awful-fluorescent-lighting shot:

I've just finished picking up 112 stitches around one armhole to finish it off with a few rounds of 1/1 ribbing. I'm so close to the end I can taste it! I'm especially happy that this thing actually fits. I gave myself a slight bit of heart failure today as I read other people's notes on rav about how this vest knits up waaaaay large. How had I missed this the first time around?? But, since I had no way to try the darn thing on without cutting it first, I just took a deep breath (OK, I took a few hours' worth of deep breaths), broke out the snips and had at it. And it worked! Unless I wake up tomorrow morning and find the entire thing has spontaneously combusted overnight, I've actually successfully cut my first real steeks!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Ah, Spring....

Today was my first "real" day in the garden for the year 2010. Meaning, of course, I overdid.

The results:
  • A whole mess of day lilies relocated. I'm not sure they'll take in their new spot, but at least they're out of their old spot, where they were doing nothing but wreaking havoc. Score one point for me.
  • One leg injured.

Yes, I managed to trip over a small concrete statue and slam my left leg into it hard enough to make me weep. DH offered not once but twice to take me to the hospital, that's how much of a baby I was being about it all. Seriously, though, it did hurt like a sonofabitch. Score one point for the garden.

  • Once case of poison ivy, acquired.

If there's one thing I hate more than hurting myself in the garden, it's accidentally getting myself tangled up in poison ivy. I spent much time today pulling raspberry canes and wild roses, and darn it if there wasn't some poison ivy mixed in with all that. I've been hoping against hope that I just managed to scratch my arm up some and get an itch from it, but now the fingers on my left hand are itchy, too, and I'm facing up to the fact that I may be starting a course of steroids in the near future. Bummer. Score one for the garden.

Final score: Garden - two, me - one.

When will winter be back?