Tuesday, September 28, 2010

To Gauge or Not to Gauge?

I have a confession - I love doing a gauge swatch before starting a new project. Did I just hear a groan? But it is true. I find swatching relaxing and therapeutic. I know for a lot of knitters the excitement of a new knitting project is too much and they must start the project immediately. I see the gauge swatch as the start of the project. To me it is essential to the success of the final project. I firmly believe - No I KNOW - that the 3 essential elements of knitting - yarn, needles and hands - are different each time you use them. Let me explain. The excitement of a new project can make a usually tight knitter more loose and a usually loose knitter more tight. This can make for some interesting knitting. Also needles - wood, metal, or plastic - make a difference with  the yarn. Knitting the gauge swatch is like a concert pianist practicing a new piece. Even if you have used that yarn before with those needles, the stitch pattern can throw you off. Swatching is my chance to get it right before I start the main event.

And I swatch big. Depending on the project, I usually knit a 5 to 6 inch square swatch. Even if the gauge only calls for a 1 inch swatch, I need to see the pattern over a larger area. I need to get the pattern in my fingers. But I never save my swatches. I live in fear of running out of yarn at the end of the project even though it has never happen. I frog the swatch after knitting it if I get the right gauge. So from this day forward, I'm going to save my swatches so I will have beautiful "catalog" of mini-projects!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Birthday Full of Knitting!

Today is my birthday. I'm 36 years old. And my birthday has been filled with knitting. My wonderful husband gave me a copy of the out-of-print knitting bible, The Principles of Knitting.  It is 571 pages of knitting technique and I plan on reading every last word. Then my mom gave me a knitting class at my LYS. The class will use Jared Flood's Beaumont Fair Isle Tam pattern and Classic Elite Fresco yarn. I've done Fair Isle before - I want to take it more for the knit-a-long aspect. My boss gave me the wonderful book, Knitting America - history and knitting in one!

It has been a wonderful birthday so far and it is only half over. This afternoon my husband and I are going to spend the afternoon doing random things that you can't do with a 2-year-old. Thank goodness for godparents!

Friday, September 24, 2010

February Lady Sweater Sleeve Victory

I am feeling slightly victorious about my February Lady sweater. A couple of days ago I was feeling defeated by this fabulous sweater pattern. A wonderful friend encouraged me to stick with the gull lace pattern for the sleeves. And here is the first sleeve almost finished.

YEAH!!! Maybe I will have this sweater finished by Sunday!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Frustration with Perfection

I just can't leave a mistake in my knitting. Even mistakes that only I know are there. I think that is why I have such a hard time finishing projects. I was working on my February Lady Sweater last night and I noticed a funny twisted stitch on the front, very close to the underarm. NO ONE WILL SEE IT but I will know it is there. So I keep telling myself that it will be tucked under my arm and I can't rip back to the stitch because I MUST finish this sweater!!!!

I needed to get that out. I'm ok now. Back to finishing my sleeves...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Feeling defeated by a sweater...

I'm feeling defeated by the February Lady Sweater. It is a fabulous pattern but this is my second attempt at it. My first attempt was a disaster - I didn't get the raglan increases right and my OCD wouldn't let it rest. So I frogged that version and started fresh with a different yarn. (The first yarn had too much of a halo).

So I made it to the sleeves this time. The pattern says to put the 63 live stitches from one sleeve back on the needles (after you have finished the body). Then you pick up nine stitches from the cast-on edge of the underarm. This was all successful. I triple checked my number of stitches and yes, I had 63 plus 9. I started knitting the gull lace pattern and when I got back around, I was one stitch short. So I backed out the stitches and started again. Same result. So I put that sleeve back on scrap yarn and started the other sleeve. Same problem. UGH!!!!!

After searching Ravlery and the designer's website, I appears I'm the only person in the universe that has tried to knit this sweater and had this problem. I will not be defeated. I have too much time and money invested in this sweater to give up. But I feel like I'm going crazy. Someone once told me that the definition of crazy was doing the same thing over and over again with the same result - and not a good result.

I will just have to live with garter stitch sleeves instead of gull lace sleeves.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Chasing The Dress: Katherine Carson Breckinridge

The Dress
 When I entered graduate school, the thesis process intimidated me. I think it intimidates most people. I had never written any thing that long and although I'm a good writer and a good researcher, the end result was going to be manuscript bigger than any thing I ever imagined producing. So I knew I had to find a topic that I was passionate about because if I wasn't passionate it about the topic, I might never finish.

As I began to explore the landscape of history and possible topics, professors encourage us to look at Arkansas History for 2 main reasons -- 1) we were in Arkansas and the primary research materials would be accessible, and 2) strong, scholarly history needs to written about the state. This was my problem - I was passionate about late Imperial Russian history. Nicholas and Alexandra, court society, and pretty clothing. Arkansas was about a far as you can get from the Imperial Court of the Autocrats of All the Russias! Or so I thought.

In 1999, I began working at the Old State House Museum. In their collection was the court gown of Katherine Carson Breckinridge. Her husband, Congressman Clifton Rodes Breckinridge of Arkansas, was appointed Minister to Russia in 1894 by President Grover Cleveland. The Breckinridges traveled to Saint Petersburg in late 1894 and arrived 3 days before Tsar Alexander III died. In this twist of fate, Katherine Breckinridge witnessed the funeral of a Tsar, the wedding of the new Tsar to Princess Alix of Hesse-Darnstadt, the coronation of the Tsar and Tsarina and the birth of one of the Grand Duchess. In fact, Arkansas and Russia are not that far apart.

Once I discovered the dress and Katherine Breckinridge, I was on a mission. This WOULD be my thesis topic. The new question became what direction will the paper take - will I focus solely on the dress or will I do a biography of the woman and include the dress as a part? Although I believed I had enough to write just about the dress, the designer John Redfern and the events Breckinridge attended in Russia, I didn't have her whole traveling wardrobe and it would be difficult to produce roughly 150 pages on one garment. So a biographer I would become.

KCB Letter
I soon found out that Katherine Breckinridge wrote letters. Yes, I know that everyone wrote letters in the 1890s but she wrote hundreds of letters from Russia to her friends and family in the United States. She wrote about life in Russia, about the Imperial Court and the wedding and coronation of Nicholas and Alexandra. All her papers are in the Breckinridge Family Papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. And in many cases, both sides of the correspondence existing the Breckinridge Papers because she was writing to other family members. It was a gold mine. The details that she was able to convey. I have only found one other American woman (from Minnesota) who was present at the coronation and she published her collection in a volume that is only available at a few repositories in the US.
But even with the letters, there were lots of questions left unanswered. What about her childhood and her family in Louisiana? Why did she go to New York to live with her mother's sister? What kind of mother was she? What was her relationship like with her husband - traditional or non-traditional? Who is John Redfern (fashion designer) and why can't I find any information on him in traditional fashion and costume histories? All questions needing answers. And I found the answers to most of them. I will do a series of posts on KCB and more to come...

Thursday, September 16, 2010


If you know the real name of the fictionalized race car called the King (in Disney/Pixar's CARS), then you like me, have watched the movie over 1 gazillion times!!!!! For those of you that have not seen the movie as much, his name is Strip Weathers!

My son has been watching Cars (or as he calls it My Queen for McQueen) as much as possible for about 2 months now. I know I know - we shouldn't let him watch that much TV but we can get so much done!!!! Now my husband and I have seen it so many times that we can recite the whole movie from another room and are beginning to find flaws in the previous brilliant movie. Why didn't Mack know that McQueen had activated the back door and was not longer in the trailer? If there are 250,000 cars there as spectators at the California race, how big would the track stands have to be to accommodate them all? These are just a few of the many questions that we have discussed before, during, and after our many viewings.

Here is the problem I have. It is a brilliantly conceptualized movie that we both loved the first 50 times we watched it. I mean the bugs are VW bugs and the mesa are in the shapes of cars from the 30s and 40s. As historians, we love the story of the how the federal interstate system changed America and changed the way we traveled (for good and bad). But now I dread the movie and that is my sadness. I hope that one day I will be able to watch it with fresh eyes and see all the wonder I saw the first 49 times. For now, I need to go reset the DVD player.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"I shall not buy more yarn until..."

Here is my new mantra - "I shall not buy more yarn until I knit down my current stash."

My stash is out of control. I have been buying yarn like a mad woman over the last year and I'm not knitting fast enough to justify it. I have yarn hidden all over the house (and yes, my husband knows about them all - no secrets here). There are baskets on shelves, tubs under beds, and bags in closet. If it weren't for Ravelry, I wouldn't know how much I have but it tells me in black and green on the top of my stash page - 86! Non-knitting people - that is not 86 balls/skeins/hanks of yarn - that is 86 individual types of yarn and in most cases, I own multiple balls/skeins/hanks of each.


So here is my plans -- I will finish my existing WIPs (works in progress) which include my February Lady Sweater, my Hourglass Eyelet Scarf, a pair of socks for my husband, and a baby sweater I started last spring. I will finish these projects by Thanksgiving. Then I will start on new projects only using yarn from my stash. If I have to I will pick a stash yarn and find a pattern instead of picking a pattern and going to look for yarn. Instead of cooking my way through the Art of French Cooking, I will knit my way through my stash. So by this time next year, I will either have a lot of beautiful hand knit items or I will have a lot more money in our savings account!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Allure of Scaves

Dropped Stitch Scarf
Scarves have a certain allure for me. There is something romantic and sexy and comforting about a scarf. Even before I began knitting, I was drawn to scarves ( I was drawn to sweaters as well but that is a different post). I guess it is the idea of bundling up on a cold winter's day with a hand-knitted wool or alpaca or cashmere scarf wrapped around your neck. It protects you from the chill of winter. Then there are summer scarves made of silk and cotton and linen. They are cool to the skin and add a touch of pizazz to an outfit. Living in Arkansas, we don't have much call for wool scarves and summer scarves are reserved for spring and fall because the summers here are too unbearable.

Cable Scarf
Last March I walked into my LYS and announced that I was "scarfed-out." I had just knitted a fabulous drop stitch scarf with an amazing Noro yarn (above) as well as a handsomely gorgeous cashmere/alpaca blend scarf for my husband (below). For the past 2 years I have worked off and on on a scarf for myself made out of Debbie Bliss Pure Silk (right). It is an incredible cable pattern that will be lovely once I get it finished. And this is my problem with scarves. They take so darn long to finish. Most scarves are 70 inches long - that's a lot of knitting. And of course I don't pick the simple patterns. No, I have to chose the complicated patterns that take concentration.

Cashmere/Alpaca Blend Scarf
And I enable new knitters. I teach a Beginning Knitting Class and one of the two starter projects that I give my students is a 1x1 rib scarf. The other project is a cotton washcloth but the majority of students pick the scarf as their first project. As the class progresses (it is only 3 nights), the students begin to realize how long it is going to take. But the tradition continues. And I continue to knit scarves and oh & ah at scarf patterns. And I will continue to knit scarves. I just love them too much to stop myself.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day!

Magazine Love

I love magazines. I always have - fashion mags, celeb mags and of course knitting mags. I can't get enough of them. I used to live for the September issue of Vogue and in high school, I worshiped Rolling Stone. But over the years I have purged my busy life of my piles of magazines. All but my knitting magazines. Knitting mags are not like other mags. They are more akin to books. Whole patterns are stored in their glossy covers. Beautiful advertisements that beckon you to buy this yarn or that yarn. Some call at you that their needles will make you knit faster. I don't remember being seduced by fragrances or clothing ads in Vogue the way I'm seduced by ads in Vogue Knitting.

A few knitting magazines for my reading pleasure.
And there are dozens of them. Mags for the high fashion knitter (Vogue of course), for the everyday knitter (Interweave Knits), for the trendy knitter (Knitscene and knit.1) and for the non-snobbish knitter (I will not name them for fear of a lawsuit.) I subscribe to VogueKnitting and Interweave Knits but I always stop by the magazine section of the local big box bookstore to see what new overseas mags they might have in stock. These are definitely a splurge. At $10 to $15 a pop, Yarn Forward, Knitter's, or Knitting are my special treats like ice cream or a candy bar are to others. These magazines are a nice break from knitting and they are much easier to read in the bathtub.

So now I have a moment of glee when I unlock the mailbox and a copy of Vogue Knitting or Interweave Knits is inside. Time to be seduced by the yarn and the new project possibilities and the latest new accessories that a knitter cannot be without. I'm off to read Vogue Knitting - it came on Saturday!!!!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Battle of the Juice Box

Our son turned 2 at the end of July and we steadied ourselves for the dreaded terrible twos. And so far we have seen evidence of what everyone warned us about but most of it is just funny. I'm sure we are causing him long time psychological harm but my husband and I have a hard time not laughing at him when he throws one of his fits.

Perfect example today! I was in the bathtub and I heard Will and my husband discussing what Will wanted to drink for breakfast. Juice was ordered and so my husband opened the refrigerator and produced a juice box. But Will didn't want the straw inserted into the juice box. He just wanted to drink from the hole in the top. My husband tried to explain to Will that unless he put the straw in the box, the hole will not be open for him to drink from.This made no sense to Will - he wanted the juice box immediately without the straw. So my husband handed him the juice box and to no one's surprise, Will got angry that the hole in the juice box was not open and that the juice was not flowing freely. He pushed the box back at my husband and with an expression like "Do something!" My husband took the straw and inserted it into the juice box and handed the whole thing back to Will. This caused great screaming, crying, and out and out rejection of the juice box. He didn't want it with the straw and he didn't want it without the straw. So my husband left him in the kitchen to have his fit. When he returned to the kitchen, the straw was on the floor and the juice box was empty. A happy Will sat watching TV in the living room with a purple stain on his shirt. I'd call that a tie - Daddy - 1 (because Will drank the juice box) and Will -1 (because he drank the juice box his way).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

All hail, Elizabeth Zimmerman!!! or Continental versus English

5 month old Will in his new sweater, January 2009
Elizabeth Zimmerman is right (isn't she always)! Continental knitting is much less work than English style knitting. And a lefty like me, Continental is the only way to go. When I taught myself to knit, the book explained the difference between English style knitting and Continental style knitting. I remember the book clearly stating that Continental style knitting was easier/better for left handed knitters because the left hand holds the working yarn. But for some reason, I decided to learn English style. So I did and was quite successful at it until I began to explore complicated patterns. Then things go...well...complicated. You see if you are left handed and you knit English style, you have to knit everything backwards because your working needle and your non-working needle are held opposite. So if a patterns refers to the right needle, I would need to know that it meant the left needle for me. With cables and other complex stitch patterns, my knitting became a mess.

So several years ago I was on medical leave from work because of surgery and I decided to teach myself to knit Continental style. I worked on a garter stitich sweater for my newborn son. My yarn tension was better, my stitches were more even, and all in all my knitting was better. I am now on a campaign to convert all lefthanded English style knitters to Continental knitting. So join me - all you left-handed English style knitters! Come to the Continent and stay awhile.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Today is 90210 and thanks to a certain local morning show I have had the theme to Beverly Hills 90210 in my head all day long. I remember when 90210 was not a phenomena. I remember stumbling on to a show about 2 twins who moved from Minnesota to Beverly Hills, California and the culture shock they experienced. I was a sophomore in high school and Fox was the cool channel because they had shows like Married With Children and 21 Jumpstreet. I remember thinking that this new show was interesting and that it was neat to have a show about "kids" my age. It amazes me that of all my experiences in life I can remember exactly where I was when I first saw this show. I was in my bedroom at my parents' house. I remember the now ancient looking television that my dad gave me for my room for Christmas the previous year. I remember the clunky remote control that only had 5 buttons. I remember talking to my friends at school the next day about the show. Amazing.

I didn't watch 90210 for its full run. I watched religiously through high school and part of college. But I remember the first time.