Welcome to Crazytown, Population: Me

aeolianwip

I propose that Elizabeth Freeman is the Thomas Pynchon of the knitting world. She appeared out of nowhere with a background in science, wrote two of the most original, complicated, but ultimately very readable shawl patterns in recent memory, and is totally reclusive. Her Ravelry profile exists but is blank, and she doesn’t appear to have any kind of blog or even to do any design work other than occasionally writing the biggest and best shawl pattern ever. She is responsible for the Laminaria that I recently finished — a pattern that came out a little more than a year ago and has over 1100 projects on Ravelry — and the Aeolian that you see in its nascent stages above — a pattern that came out just a few months ago and is already giving the Laminaria a run for its money, with 840 projects on Ravelry.

What you probably can’t tell from the above picture is that it is in fact evidence of severe mental illness. The yarn you see there clocks in at about forty wraps per inch, making it cobweb-weight — half the thickness of normal lace yarn, which is more like 20 WPI — and I am using US 1 needles to knit it, which are all of 2.5 mm in diameter. Now, to be fair, this was not originally my plan. Originally I was going to knit this shawl in Handmaiden’s Mini Maiden yarn, which is a totally reasonable 14 WPI — I was going to make the smaller shawl in this thicker yarn, it was going to be super fast, and then I was going to get back to those other projects I showed you last time. But when the yarn arrived in the mail it was too purple to match the dress I was planning to wear to the wedding in September, and I despaired. I wrote to Evelyn, the proprietor of Knitty Noddy where I had ordered the yarn from, and explained the problem. Not only did she allow me to return the Mini Maiden, but she photographed several other yarns for me that she thought might work better, so I could see them all next to one another to compare their colors. One of these yarns was the brand-new Nirvana Lace from Stitchjones, an indie dyer — a yarn so new that it’s not on Ravery yet, and so new that Evelyn hadn’t even photographed it for her website yet, so I could never have found it without her help. And the color match turned out to be perfect!

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It matches so damn well that I was helpless to resist its crazymaking cobweb-weight charms. The upshot of this story is that (a) it’s not my fault, and (b) Knitty Noddy is a wonderful shop with a lovely & helpful proprietor that will be my first choice for internet yarn-purchasing from now on.

With a dress like this you might wonder why I’m not knitting a white shawl for contrast, and the answer is that I’ll wear a blue shawl on other occasions, but a white shawl would be really hard to bust out for a cocktail party without looking like I was planning to ascend to heaven at any moment. (Like Elizabeth Freeman kinda does in some of those Aeolian pictures.) Also I don’t get invited to that many fancy cocktail parties; I’m having a hard enough time trying to figure out how to wear shawls to bars and barbeques.

Now, the Aeolian is a shawl that is supposed to be knit with beads, which is something that I’ve never done before. I was originally planning to make it that way, figuring I may as well learn to do it and see if I like beaded shawls, but I was unable to find a crochet hook small enough to fit through the beads of the recommended size. I eventually ordered one on the internet, but I decided to go ahead and start the shawl without beads — since the yarn is so skinny, I think a whole bunch of beads might make it rip apart under its own weight. Probably I’ll put beads on the edging, though, in an attempt to have the best of both worlds. Check out how tiny this hook is!

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It’s a US 14 hook — crochet hooks get smaller as the size numbers get bigger, which is the opposite of how knitting needle sizes work. It’s a whopping 0.75 mm in diameter at the tip there. The plan for this picture was that the presence of my hands would be a scale to help you see how tiny these objects are, and hence how much misery I am heading towards — but in fact, the tiny hook, yarn, and beads have the effect of making my hands look all fat and huge. Please believe me when I say that my hands are in fact very petite. I have been severely handicapped at playing the guitar because my fingers are just not long enough to make bar chords, and the number of guys I have dated who thought it was debonair to recite those lines from e.e. cummings that go “no one, not even the rain, has such small hands” is pretty embarrassing.

So here’s hoping that my tiny hands will be an asset in this extended visit to Crazytown. Wish me luck!

On the Needles

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For the past week or so I have been blissfully polygamous with my projects, but yarn is in the mail for the shawl I’ll have to prioritize for a Labor Day wedding (not at Burning Man, to my great annoyance), so I wanted to document these projects for you before they get sidelined for awhile. Above you see the beginning of a Hamsa scarf, yet another Anne Hanson pattern. What can I say? The woman is a genius. The bold lines of this pattern stand up to the relatively high level of varigation in the colorway, and I couldn’t be happier. The lace is not super complicated, but it’s interesting enough that I’ve been using it as a mini-reward system: grade a paper, knit two rows; grade a paper, knit two rows. My summer class is allllmost over, and I can almost taste my freedom. Of course, I’ll really just be switching taskmasters– now instead of preparing for class and grading papers all the damn time, I’ll be working on my dissertation all the damn time. But it’s exciting, productive work, which is vastly preferable to the tedium and heartbreak of grading papers.

Speaking of heartbreak, I managed to undo my grafting fail, and have finished knitting all the pieces of my Nadine tunic, which are currently sitting around monopolizing all the KnitPicks Options cables in the house. (Pro tip: they double as the longest stitch holders ever, which are necessary for this project.) Maaaybe later today I will make another attempt at the grafting — or maybe I will let them languish for awhile longer and think about what they’ve done wrong.

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This is the beginning of a Rick sock, from Cookie A’s new book. The stitch pattern is ingenious; now that I’ve got the hang of it, I don’t need to look at the chart or even use a row counter, because you just apply a pretty simple algorithm to the stitches as they present themselves to you. Caper Sock from String Theory has instantly become my favorite sock yarn ever — it’s 80% merino, 10% cashmere, and 10% nylon, and it’s super squishy and super soft. It’s a little heavier than other sock yarns I’ve used, and knits up into a nice, sturdy fabric. The one word of warning I’d give is that since it’s a little heavier than your average sock yarn, you may have trouble getting gauge with some patterns — with these Rick socks, my gauge is a little larger than specified, but that’s just fine, because my legs are a little larger than the size the pattern is written for anyway (but not large enough to warrant doing an extra repeat of the lace), and it seems to be working out fine.

I fell so hard for this yarn when I started working with it that I immediately up and ordered another skein in a different color, without even having definite plans for what it would become:

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Sigh — I am such a sucker for blue-green. String theory has some gorgeous dye jobs (I am currently lusting after the new “Blue Hill” colorway & am thinking seriously about jumping on it before they sell out at Sock Summit next month), but they suffer from a serious inability to name their colorways. They seem to default to “Fusion” when they can’t think of anything else — currently on their website, they are selling a parrot green, a sea green, a purple, a rose, and a yellow under that name, which is also the name of the skein above. Clearly, what they need is to hire a poet to name their colors for them.

::cough cough::

Grafting Fail

One of my students recently reminded me of Fail Blog, an internet phenomenon whereby people send in pictures that give evidence of people failing at life in various ways, with the word “FAIL” emblazoned on them to heighten the hilarity and shame. I had my students write responses to the final chapter in the 1976 edition of The Selfish Gene, in which they were to mimic Richard Dawkins’ writing style and write an account of a current “meme,” giving a Dawkins-like account of why that particular meme possesses the essential survival characteristics of longevity, fecundity, and copying-fidelity. This student read her account of Fail Blog to the whole class, with Dawkins-like gravity and conviction, which was hilarious for all and a good lesson about authorial ethos to boot. Little did I know that I myself would soon fall victim to Fail.

Last night, I decided to knock off work at 10:00 pm. Pat (who has given me permission to give him a real name) had declared that he would be done with his work by 10:30, and I figured that a half an hour would be plenty of time to graft one, if not both, of the front seams on my Nadine tunic. Right? Wrong. First I had to measure out and pick up 86 stitches, and then I had to do the world’s longest effing Kitchener Stitch graft on all 86 of those bad boys. Doing just one seam took me over an hour, and when I reached the end, my poor, abused grafting yarn was shredding apart from being pulled through 86 stitches twice each, and I messed up somewhere and had two extra stitches on one side, which I just decided to finesse by grafting them together with their neighbors. I breathed a sigh of relief and inspected my handiwork, while commenting out loud to Pat, who was doing the dishes: “Well, this seam is kind of ugly I guess, but it took me a million years and it’s done and I don’t care.” Then I held the piece up to get a look at the whole thing, and suddenly I was in a slow-motion scene from an action movie: “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

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See the problem? The picture on the left is the way it’s supposed to look, and the picture on the right is my monstrosity. Those little lacy bits at the bottom of the middle part are of course supposed to go down by the hips, and the long lacy side part goes up and over the shoulder to become the strap. As I was rocking back and forth in a little ball on the floor trying to soothe myself, Pat ran the garbage disposal and we heard a loud CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH. I ran into the kitchen to discover that my favorite and most prized shot glass, from the Sod House Museum in Gothenburg, Nebraska, had slipped into the garbage disposal while neither of us were looking, and had been crunched into bits. This morning when the plumber came, he just reached his hand right in there to fish out the big pieces, and then ran the disposal until all the little bits were cleared out. Fortunately we did not have to pay him for this “service,” because we live in a university apartment where maintenance is taken care of by the housing office.

I couldn’t look at my Nadine for the rest of the night, and put in some rows on my new lace project instead (details forthcoming), but I am resolved to get back on the grafting horse ASAP rather than let this thing beat me. Maybe this very afternoon? May the Gods of Win be with me.

Geometric Shawl

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I finished my geometric shawl about a week ago, but have just now gotten around to the photoshoot! Lest you think I have become some kind of shawl-producing machine, I urge you to recall that I started this thing back in May, but I put it and everything else aside while I cranked out that Laminaria for the wedding later this month.

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This is a design-it-yourself shawl from Evelyn Clark’s Knitting Lace Triangles, and the yarn is Malabrigo Lace in the Stone Blue colorway. I liked Malabrigo Lace just fine in my Whisper Cardigan, but ultimately I’m a little dissatisfied with it for actual lace — it gets fuzzy, and it’s a little too light; it doesn’t drape the way I’d like it to. I think I’m going to favor slightly heavier, multi-ply yarns for lace in the future. But it’s also kind of nice to have a shawl that’s not as “precious” as my other ones — one that can be more of a workhorse piece in my wardrobe, not saved for special occasions only.

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That’s a tree behind my head, blooming purple — not a weird cowlick, I swear. I’m still figuring out how to be a shawl-wearer (since I love to knit them so!), and I do rather like this scarf-look. I finally took my Rainforest Swallowtail out for a spin this past weekend at my friends’ housewarming party, and it went pretty well — I was worried that it might look weird, or attract an embarassing amount of attention, but it worked out just fine. I got some nice compliments, but wasn’t excessively fawned over, which was a relief.

I forgot to take pictures of this thing while it was blocking, but here it is spread out on my bed:

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If you’ve got the Knitting Lace Triangles book too, and you’d like to reproduce this, here’s the recipe:

– Ripple Lace beginning

– 2 repeats Ripple Lace

– 1 repeat Medallion Lace

– 2 repeats Ripple Lace

– 4 repeats Medallion Lace

-1 repeat Leaf Lace

– edging

I orginally intended to do the Medallion Lace all the way to the edging, but I counted wrong and did the transition to the edging before I realized that I had enough yarn left over for another repeat. Rather than rip those transition rows out, I decided to go ahead and do the Leaf Lace (since it uses the same transition rows), and I think it worked fine! It fits well with the edging, I think.

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Now that I’m liberated from my Laminaria and from finishing this thing up, I’m working on like four different things at once. In my next post, I’ll show them to you!

Laminaria

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My Laminaria is finished! I dropped all my other knititng projects to work on it exclusively for the past few weeks, in order to make sure that I finished it in time for my friends’ wedding in July. It’s pictured in these shots with the dress I plan to pair it with for the wedding.

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I basically can’t rave enough about this pattern; it’s brilliantly charted, fully modular size-wise, and the weird Estonian stitches really aren’t that difficult once you get the hang of them. Don’t be put off by the stuff in the pattern about not being able to use stitch markers; if you have even a little bit of lace experience, it won’t be hard to figure out how your rows should be lining up and you really won’t need them. I ended up knitting 5 repeats of the star chart and 7 repeats of the blossom chart, for a shawl a little smaller than the “large” size, which as you can see is plenty big.

I knit this in Fleece Artist Suri Blue, after a long search for the perfect mottled gray, and I’m very happy with the color, but I don’t think I will be knitting with Alpaca again — it’s fuzzier than I’d like, and it sheds a little. I actually finished this about a week ago, but I was prevented from taking pictures of it until now because I couldn’t find my camera’s battery charger. So my blocking photos were taken on P’s new iPhone:

laminariablocking

This was my first project blocked on Knit Picks new cheap blocking squares, and as you can see, it was a little too big for them. I may decide to buy another set, but this will probably do for now — I don’t anticipate making any other shawls this huge for awhile. And it basically worked find to stick my outlying pins in the carpet and/or cardboard.

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P says I look like the figurehead at the prow of a ship in this shot. And maybe I do. At any rate, this was fun to knit, but I’m glad to be released from the project-monogamy my deadline demanded and am now happily working on three things at once — which I will show you soon!