Saturday, September 30, 2006

Technical Knitting

So Meg has informed me that I have to post some "technical sh**" to keep the balance between her style (read: far more interesting) than mine. Ideas include "designing something" and "coming up with a different way to graft." She also informs me that Cat Bordhi has come up with some weird new way of doing sock gussets, which means, of course, that it must be good.

See, we have this expression we like to use. It basically goes like this: "I like so-and-so; it's nice and weird." This can range to anything from an Irish tune playing on the CD player to a knitting technique to a reference to the spouse (the last being a term of endearment). A variant of this is: "I think you'd like so-and-so because it's nice and weird." As you might imagine, we have a fairly unique relationship.

So, without further commentary, I present my latest epiphanies in the world of technical knitting.

I finally figured out, thanks to Charlene Schurch and Sensational Knitted Socks, what exactly is meant by "pick up two stitches at the top of the gusset" before knitting the first instep round for the foot. In retrospect, I realized that I used to do this completely wrong, causing a hole at the top of the gusset even though I was so careful to "pick up an extra stitch." So thanks, Charlene, for straightening this out. I don't want to divulge any of her secrets, so let me simply say the book is highly recommended, as many sock knitters will inform you.

Since I knit with either 2 circs or Magic Loop, stitch markers are commonly used in two places to mark where the instep stitches end and the heel stitches begin. I believe that most people use two markers. I, however, being "nice and weird," only use one. If the round starts in the middle of the back of the heel, I use a stitch marker to mark where the heel stitches end and the instep stitches begin, but I simply don't find it necessary to mark the other side. This may be due to the fact that I usually continue some sort of pattern across the instep rather than reverting to POSS (plain old stockinette stitch)1. Or it may also be that, since the number of instep stitches remains constant for the duration of the foot, needle 2 will always start out by me working the same number of stitches immediately followed by a gusset decrease (if applicable on the current round). Therefore, a stitch marker really isn't telling me anything here that I don't already know. Of course, that makes me the dork on the train with only one stitch marker on his sock. Is that like walking down the street with one shoe on?

1POSS is my rather poor joke on something in Java called a POJO (plain old Java object). I'm sure that I'm the only one laughing.

Ahhh ... weekend chez SockKnitters

We have Barachois on the CD player and a whole sackful of produce from the farmers' market to unload (fingerling potatoes, apples, cider, funny little gourds and an eggplant!), we opened all the windows, and we're going to clean.

Thursday was Contract Renewal Day, as my parents used to call it. The Fool and I decided the last three years have been pretty good, so we agreed to extend the contract - grin. Sealed the bargain with our annual fancy dinner at Topolobampo, Rick Bayless' Chicago restaurant. We sat next to a table of four doctors.

Dinner went kind of like this. I ordered the tasting menu, whereas the Fool decided to eat a lot of seafood instead.

ME: Two delicious big shrimp with garlic, chiles, sprouts and little crispy bits of potato
FOOL: assortment of three ceviches
DOCTORS: Discussion of Crohn's disease, intestines, intestinal surgery.

ME: Small bowl of garlicky, creamy chile-spiced soup with chives, cubes of roasted potato and crabmeat.
FOOL: Licking bowls of ceviche and crunching on homemade tortilla chips.
DOCTORS: Discussion of catheters.

ME and FOOL: Langosta al Pasilla Oaxaqueño - pan-roasted Maine lobster with a mezcal-laced sauce of roasted organic Happy Valley tomatoes and smoky-spicy chiles; beet chilaquiles, wild arugula salad and heirloom cherry tomatoes. (Thank God for website; I was forgetting adjectives. I got a half lobster, he got a whole lobster - I'm not a glutton.)
DOCTORS: More discussion of heart catheters, EKGs.

ME: Slices of pork loin in mole, fresh tortillas.
FOOL: Polished off second half lobster, broke legs open to see if there was anything tasty inside, assisted with mole.
DOCTORS: Residencies, something horrible and weird that happened to a guy they knew who wore too-tight boxers one day.

ME: sampler of moist chocolate cake layered with fresh blackberry mermelada, old-fashioned crispy rosette with Mick’s first Gala apples and raspberry swirl ice cream, blueberry-lime ice infused with tequila.
FOOL: Something amazing with crepes, plantains, berries, melon and a really incredible cinnamon sauce.
DOCTORS: Mortgages.

It was a delicious dinner, full of flavors we weren't familiar with at all.

Last night, I cast on for the complicated Japanese twisted stitch sweater. I used the twisted German cast-on. The Fool luuurves this cast-on. He is like a Jehovah's Witness of the Twisted German Cast-On.
For the last year or so, we have been having conversations like this.

ME: I think I'm going to start a new pair of socks.
FOOL: Would you like me to show you the twisted German cast-on?
ME: Nah, I'm kinda tired, I'll just use the long-tail cast on.
FOOL: The twisted German cast-on is easy to learn, and it forms a very elastic edge, which makes it nice for socks!
ME: I'm really kinda tired.

Or this:
FOOL: I see you're holding yarn and needles. Does this mean you want to learn the twisted German cast-on?
ME: No.

Or this:
ME: Hey, have you seen my green sweater?
FOOL: Isn't it on the couch?
ME: Yeah, thanks.
FOOL: Speaking of sweaters, a great way to start a sweater is with the twisted German cast-on. You want me to show you?

Or this:
ME: Don't forget to pick up some milk on the way home.
FOOL: Only if you learn the twisted German cast-on.

OK. Most of those are exaggerating. But the Fool really digs this cast-on. Finally, I asked him to show it to me a couple weekends ago, and it was like the gates to heaven opened in his eyes and there were harps and heavenly hosts singing praises to the twisted German cast-on.

And now I really dig it too. I've been casting everything on with it - but I'm not ready to take it door-to-door.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What they talk about

The Fool and I have this running joke, which started when I went to a women's craft circle.
FOOL: That's not fair, that I can't go.
ME: Well, the rule is that whomever is hosting it gets to make the call, and she said it's women-only this month, so that's that. If you want to come, we should host it, and I'll make it co-ed.
FOOL: What do you do at these things that I couldn't come? I know all these women anyway.
ME: (snarkily). We talk about our periods. And vaginas.*

Fast-forward several months. The Fool had gone off to his men's knitting group and upon his return, we had this conversation.
ME: So, how were the Britches?
FOOL: Fine, we had a good time.
ME: What did you talk about?
FOOL: Um, penises.
ME: No, come on, really, what did you talk about?
FOOL: Really. Penises.

And then tonight.
ME: So, how was knitting group?
FOOL: Fun! We got into this conversation about menstruation. And menopause.
ME: ?!?!?!?

So there you have it. When women get together in same-sex groups, we talk about our periods. When men get together in same-sex groups, they do too. Mystery solved.

I've been working on the back of the River Forest Gansey from Knitted Holidays (I think that's the title.) I know, technically, this is not an authentic gansey, but that's what the designer called it. It's a fun knit. I'm doing it in Cascade 220. And I'm knitting some monstersocken for a wacky contra dance caller we'll be seeing at Gypsy Moon Ball at the end of October. Just finished the heel, and am on the gusset, my favorite part.

* At a co-ed incarnation of this same group recently, I recounted the same conversation I shared here, and the hostess went rummaging around in her closet and found a piece of lewd origami someone had folded for her out of a dollar bill, a representation of the female sex organs.
"Huh," the Fool said. "It's a little airplane."
"Er," we said. "No."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hey everyone! I'm reading "War and Peace"

... one small chunk at a time. I expect it will take me two years or so. When I get to the part with the socks, I'll let you all know.

It's actually a pretty cool site. You can sign up for works of classic literature, which are delivered daily, a couple pages at a time, to your e-mail inbox. I hope it will be an antidote to the feeling that I'm not as smart as I used to be.

Thank you all for your kind compliments regarding the quilt. It's really not that hard to do - much like knitting, it's one little step at a time, and then, suddenly, you stand back and it's an Entire Useful Object. There's even frogging, although quilters call it, "Where is the damn seam ripper?" There is also the opportunity to accumulate stash. And that's all I'll say about that. If I sewed my entire stash together, I think I could make a garage cozy.

Finishing the quilt did make me think for a bit on the power of the UFO. One quilt book I have even suggests that you not call them that; you should call them "Works in Progress," because "UFO" has too much baggage attached -- it makes it a thing to finish, not a process to enjoy.

I usually go on finishing binges, where I start tearing through UFOs, whether they're socks that need kitchnering, or quilts that need binding (my least favorite part) or sweaters that need seaming (which I used to really despise, but I'm warming up to now). Sometimes, I imagine what my descendants would do if confronted with a whole room full of unfinished work. I like to think they'd be guilted into finishing it for me, but honestly? They'd probably send it straight off to Goodwill. That usually sets me off on a finishing binge, if only because I'm afraid on some level that the UFOs would somehow bind me to the material plane and I'd have to haunt someone's arse until it occurred to them that I wanted my last earthly sweater seamed.

Wow. There's a ghost story waiting to happen. I happen to have a few inherited UFOs of my own. My grandmother quilted - colorful square patches of Hawaiian fabrics, all sorts. They would give quilt instructors fits; they mix fabric blends and nothing's quite square and the seams are in-SANE. I love them.

I've got a couple quilt tops of hers and I know that sooner or later, I'm going to have to figure out how to turn them into something useful so I can have picnics on them or put them on the couch. Not because some old Okinawan lady is haunting my arse.

Now to go knit the edge of a mobius cat bed. Unlike the Fool, I found the Magical Mobius Cast On to be really amazing.

ooh, ooh, gratutious knitblogger cat photo! It's Mab! On the quilt!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Not knitting

But a finished object nonetheless, and actually, a finished object that I started way back when, two addresses ago, before I even knew the Fool was out there. It feels good to get it off my back; it was turning into an albatross.

Compared to the subdued quilt I had on the bed before - vintage and modern Asian indigo prints - this thing makes the bedroom hum. I joke about how it glows in the dark. The Fool loves it, and the cats seem to like it too.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Celtic Fest 2006

By the way, if you haven't been to Celtic Fest Chicago yet and you live in the area, you really need to come. We went to see some of our favorite Celtic bands perform tonight, including Kornog from Brittany, Beolach from Cape Breton, and La Bottine Souriante from Quebec. Tomorrow includes Beolach again and Natalie MacMaster. I highly recommend attending if you have nothing else to do. It's all day Sunday in Grant Park, and it's free. What else could you ask for?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Britches Update

So the men's knitting group has, in fact, been meeting regularly. Summer was a bit slow, but things are showing signs of picking up. Two new fellows, Michael and Hugo, attended for the first time last week. They live over in Ukrainian Village, have been to other knitting groups in the area, and heard about us through MenKnit. Michael was knitting his first sock ever: a vintage sock out of Nancy Bush's book, and I thought it looked great. Hugo was knitting a beautiful wrap of some sort. His stitches are absolutely impeccable. Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of either project, because apparently photos are prohibited inside the establishment. We found this a bit unusual, since we've never had problems before. Maybe we just got caught this time.

We also had a slight mishap. Apparently a stranger was rummaging through one of our bags while we weren't looking. A very nice man noticed this going on, and the guy bolted out the door. Fortunately, we're pretty certain he didn't take anything, but it was still a bit unnerving nonetheless.

We were graced with the presence of two people this week who are doing stories on our group. One guy is a producer from Chicago Public Radio and has come the last few meetings to record conversations for the piece. It may never make the airwaves and is mostly for his personal collection, but he promises to let us listen to it once it's complete. He's a knitter as well, and I hope that he continues to come to the meetings once his story is complete. The other reporter was a woman from Time Out Chicago who was very enthusiastic about doing the story. I think we gave her enough information, and we are supposedly going to appear in an October issue.

I have to admit that, while I find all of this attention from interviewers flattering, I am growing a bit weary of the questions (I think this was the fourth interview for the group). It would be nice to think that there really isn't anything worth reporting about a men's knitting group, but apparently I am wrong. Please do us a favor, however. If you are thinking about doing a story on our group, please hold off interviewing us for at least a few months so that we can have some good, quality time enjoying each other's company, free of interview questions. Really, we're friendly guys and like providing information about our group, but it's also nice to have some time to ourselves where we can really feel like we're not so unusual (delusional as it may be).

On a somewhat related note, I've been asked to review Michael del Vecchio's new book entitled Knitting With Balls: The First Contemporary Guide To Knitting For The Modern Male. This is very exciting for me, as I've never been asked to provide a review before. Michael is one of the founders of, and I'm glad to see that he's written a book. I'll let you know when it comes out.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Who says it's not a sport?

I was talking to the Fool over dinner last night about the new Knitty.
I mentioned there were some cool sock patterns, which got his attention. And an article on twisted stitches, which I plan to read in great detail.
Then I mentioned, casually, that there was an article on how to knit two socks, one inside the other.
This is a bit of knitting magic I'm rather keen to work.
But someone I live with (who is not a cat, if that helps you narrow it down) has a thing about knitting socks and I suspect, would be bothered if I were to do some cooler sock knitting first.
I said, "There's an article on knitting two socks, one inside the other," and he said, in that I'm-very-interested-but-pretending-not-to-be tone of voice, "Really? I'll have to look at that."
So now, it's like the Ghost of Sock Knitting Past rattling chains in the bedroom at night - and keeping me from sleep.
I found the article, darnit, I should get to knit it first.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Not Idle Hands

Well, sort of. I have managed to finish a pair of socks for a friend who is in turn constructing some reinforced, decorative coathangers. Certainly they are not the most elaborate pattern I've ever done, but I didn't have target feet readily available for sizing and therefore didn't want to get too complicated.

I am so incredibly close to finishing these, it's really starting to bug me that they are not yet complete. I am calling them the negative socks, since one is the exact negative of the other.

I am well on my way into my first pair of cabled socks. It's a simple cable pattern out of the Schurch book. It's much subtler than if I had knitted it with a solid-color sock yarn, but I like it nonetheless.

Then there is the double-secret cardigan I've been working on over the last few months. It's complete except for the buttons running down the front and some duplicate stitch detailing. The recipient of the sweater does read this blog, and since this is intended to be a surprise, I cannot reveal any more details at this point. Although I can show you a few things.

We went out for dim sum this morning with a few friends. We had an unexpected friend join us for lunch. He told me that he would be happy to eat any ha gow we didn't feel like finishing. We informed him that he was out of luck.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Finishing Day turned into Finishing, um...

Finishing Some-Period-of-Time, culminating this week in an actual finished object.
It's a vest for the Fool, which I began last fall, when we were at a contra dance weekend in Lansing, Mich. We slipped off from the dance long enough to go to Threadbear, which is such a cool yarn shop that we were both a little overwhelmed and I couldn't hardly hold myself together except to pick out yarn for this vest (Jo Sharp Silkroad DK Tweed).

When I thought I might like to knit this, I showed the Fool the photo, in Family Circle Easy Knits or something like that (It took so long to knit this thing that all I have is the photocopied pages, no title information available), and he looked at the vest, which was knit in a tweedy beige yarn.
"I like it," he said.
I was cautious.
"What, exactly, do you like about it?" I asked. "The color, the pattern, what?"
"I like the buttons," he said.
"The buttons?"
"They're nice and brown and round."

Eventually, I got him to admit he liked the pattern, too, and when he saw this yarn, he decided he liked that, too.
The only thing left was to make sure it had nice brown round buttons when I was finished, so this morning, I found these at Vogue Fabrics in Chicago. I waffled at first, between these and some nondescript plastic ones, like on every camel trenchcoat in the world, but finally went with the wooden ones. I like the way they feel in my hand, and I really, really dig the subtle crescent moon.

Here's a fuzzy closeup of the cable. The way the pattern showed it, the cables continued up over the shoulders and down the back.
The way I knitted it? Not so much, unfortunately. That's what happens when there's a lot of time between starting a project and finishing it -- things go wrong.

As long as we're showing off FOs around here ... couple pairs of socks, naturally.

These were a disaster. Some kind of twisted rib in the cuff, but look ... they match. Perfectly. I didn't try to do that at all, but here they are. I used my traditional knitting method with self-striping yarn and everything - I knitted one sock, then I finished it, then I took the yarn and knitted the second sock, and this is what I get. Twin socks. Sigh. Well, the Fool will have to live with it.

These were from that Knitty pattern, and I knit them in Socks That Rock - Emerald Isle, if I remember right.
That is some cool yarn. There's another skein in the basket right now, and if I hadn't promised the Fool the joys of knitting that hand-dyed goodness, I'd be planning another pair.