Thursday, August 30, 2007

I Love Casting Off

I love casting off... well, I do and I don't. I don't really like the *process* of casting off. You know, making sure your tension isn't too tight...or too loose, and that your stitches are nice and even. All that stuff is a royal PITA. Now, make that soon-to-be-finished project one knit on small needles with double-stranded ultra slippery silk yarn, then decide at the last minute that you need to add beads to the cast-off edge and the PITA factor just rose exponentially. *BUT* move another lace stole from the WIP list to the FO list and, well...I just love casting off!

Yes, it's a WooHoo moment: the Hanami Lace Stole is finished! The timing, of course, was perfect as the KAL group I joined to help motivate me to finish my stole is casting-on tomorrow. Does that mean I was extra motivated??? (yes, absolutely yes!) The cast-on edge of the Hanami Stole is beaded, but the cast-off edge is a ruffle that doesn't include beads. In fact, the only beads in the design were at the cast-on edge. I really didn't think my silverlined clear beads were very noticeable against the celery green of my stole, a huge disappointment as they were such a pain to cast-on with. But after knitting my ruffle, I didn't think my edge was ruffled enough -something I also blame on the yarn. The silk yarn created a stockinette fabric that curled *a lot* more than usual. I was concerned that the stockinette ruffle would also curl and not hang properly so I decided to (gasp) add beads to the cast-off edge to add weight and give some balance to the otherwise asymmetrical design. This was my first 100% smooth laceweight silk project and it's had it's challenges. Only blocking will tell the truth in the end, but I suspect this project would have been better served with a wool or alpaca lace yarn.

I guess I need to have a little "block party" as I have four lace projects in need of a bath and blocking: a small shawl, 2 stoles, and a mohair scarf. Hopefully I'll get started on all that blocking this weekend. There will be pictures forthcoming!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Flap your Wings and Fly AWay

Flap your wings and fly away...oh MS3 "Swan Lake" Stole to the finished projects basket ! Yup, I cast-off my Natural white MS3 last Friday night. I haven't had a chance to block her yet (something about celebrating my parents 50th wedding anniversary), so pictures will be forthcoming. I cast-on on July 8th and cast-off on August 24th, having spent 21 days knitting on this project. I knit this version exactly as written, with the "wing". I used a single 100g hank of KnitPicks Bare Laceweight yarn and US5 Addi-Lace needles. The final stole weighed 91g.

Having finished the 1st of my 2 Swan Lake Stoles, I have to say that the pattern proved to be a pleasant knit--not boring! I can't offer a final opinion on the wing until after blocking, but my current thoughts are still not favorable. I don't love how my join between the 2 sections looks and I still would have preferred some connection between the lace patterning of each section. The good news is my mother absolutely loves the wing! She tends to wear her stoles and shawls with one end wrapped securely around her neck--the optimal way for the Swan Lake Stole. So I will give it to her after I weave in the ends and block the stole and I will finish the blue version without the wing for myself. I guess there was a reason why I ended up knitting 2 after all :-)

With one stole done I resumed work on another of Melanie's designs, the Hanami Stole. This was Melanie's first asymmetrical design, but this one is much more to my liking. The 1st half of Hanami is knit in a basketweave lace and the rest is a varying gradient of YOs intended to resemble cherry blossoms falling. I knit most of the 1st section before the MS3, but am now well into the last section of the stole. I have 1 1/2 charts left to knit before the final ruffled edging. I joined a KAL group for this stole even though I am a "cheater" thinking it would help me get finished. Besides, I can offer my help to others having already knit much of this lace stole.

Today's photos include some of my favorite things. First up is one happy baby and her very proud daddy-My nephew Tyler and his daughter Isabella, now 2 months old. Can you dig that goofy grin??? It's hard to top chubby cheeks baby pictures, but emerging from the drought and triple-digit record heat is a spectacular flowering vine--the passionflower. This version is a cultivar and is a bit different from the Tennessee State wildflower passionflower which has a lot more purple in in. I hope to have some of the wild passionflowers growing in my garden too some day. I found some growing in a place where I can legally take a start without hurting anyone or anything, so I may just be lucky enough to not have to buy a plant from a local wildflower nursery. The structure of the passionflower is simply amazing and would be considered beautiful by any standard. Christians find extra appeal in the symbolism attached to the passionflower, said to represent Christ's Passion. Either way, I just love these flowers!

Monday, August 20, 2007

This Teddy is...

dressed to a T! A great big orange and white University of Tennessee Volunteers T! I accepted the challenge of the Football-A-Long group to knit a teddy bear sweater in my team colors, something I had never done before. Not only did I use orange and white, but I did my 1st stranded knitting (fair isle) in the orange and white checkerboard and my 1st embroidery in the cross-stitch T--both iconic symbols here at Tennessee. This was my 1st top-down raglan, knit on DPNs due to the (not-so-small) size, and so it was truly a challenge for me to create/knit.

The purpose of the challenge was to knit sweaters to be donated to a charity that gives the dressed bears to organizations that deal with distressed/traumatized children. It's a good thing, but I have one big problem--I love the sweater so much I just can't part with it. It's been a really rough week with my Daddy going through angioplasty... again and coming to realize just how close he came to dying... again. The emotions of it all kinda caught up with me as I knit on this little sweater. This little sweater is really about a different kind of team spirit that has nothing to do with football, rather it's about my alma mater where I just spent 8 long years struggling to get my PhD. It's about the University where my father devoted his life to his students and colleagues for decades. It's about the united spirit of devotion to a place he and I uniquely shared. And so it will stay in a corner of my room where I find solace and inspiration--right next to that big honking diploma that carries my name and that of the University of Tennessee and says Doctor of Philosophy in bold print. It will remind me of the Team Spirit of the Drs. Plaas and our shared love for the University and education and research and all the good times we spent at UTK together. Go Vols!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Two weeks and counting down...

Until it's FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!!! The Vols are getting ready for tonight's scrimmage and I'm getting ready by knitting with the Football-a-long KAL. Yup, knitters are screaming crazy football fanatics too :-)

So the 1st (preseason) challenge for the Football-a-long was to knit a team-oriented teddy bear sweater to be donated to charity. Hmmm...that *is* a challenge for me since sweater knitting, even tiny sweater knitting, hasn't really been my thing as of late. in fact I've never done anything like this before. But I went to the suggested website and downloaded some patterns and came up with some orange and white yarn. I had kind of decided to not do this challenge, but I was in a funky mood last night and decided to give it a whirl. I'm knitting a top-down raglan sweater in 2 colors (both are new techniques to me) using worsted weight acrylic and size 4 dpns. My little furry friend volunteered (get it, VOLUNTEERed) to try on my Tennessee orange and white sweater, shown here during the 2nd fitting to determine proper fit of the sleeves and chest). So far things are going well, but the true Tennessee touch is yet to come. Stay tuned!!!!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Thank God for Knitting, part 2

It's been a horrible, long week. I don't know how I would have survived without my knitting and the kind words of others who have reached out to me via my knitting. I dragged my Little River Socks with me, from one Doctor's office to the next and through 2 days at the hospital as I tended to the needs of my father and mother. It took the cardiothoracic surgeons a long time, but with patience and persistence they were able to remove the occluded stent in a major coronary artery, clear all the plaque and calcifications, and place 2 new stents to restore perfusion to his stressed heart. It was exactly what I had hoped for and Daddy came through the procedure like a rock. I *know* miracles happen and the Lord just delivered our family another one.

After spending Wednesday going to doctor's appointments (1st daddy's, then my own) I was quite dissatisfied with having to untangle my knitting from everything else in my purse. I've seen those cute little bags for on-the-go knitting, but I just don't have $20+ to invest in such things, BUT, I do have a great sewing machine and a serger and a fabric stash that exceeds my yarn stash. So I dug through some remnants leftover from other projects and started cutting and folding, stitching and pressing. No measuring needed for this simple project.
It was 10PM when I sat behind the sewing machine and whomped up the cutest little knitting bag I ever saw. Do you like the FROGS? I couldn't think of anything more suitable than frogs...besides, I needed cheering up! I put pockets on the inside-one big pocket on one side that can hold a paper pattern and any notions like cable needles and scissors or a measuring tape, and 3 long pockets on the other side to keep my dpns sorted by size. In the middle is enough space for 100g of sock yarn (balled or partially knit :-) The froggy bag performed perfectly on its test drive at the hospital yesterday so I am pleased.

I took a break after daddy had been transferred to his room and came home for an afternoon nap. I was thrilled to find a package from the Loopy Ewe in my mailbox! I've been surfing the specialty sock & lace yarn retailers online for months and finally decided to splurge and try one out. I had heard good things about Sheri at the Loopy Ewe from, of all people, Sandy, the owner of The Yarn Haven, my just-across-the-street LYS. There were oodles of yarns I wanted at the Loopy Ewe, but I narrowed it down to one sock yarn, a beautiful hand paint from Apple Laine, and one lace yarn from J Knits. Not only were my yarns beautiful beyond words, but they were meticulously wrapped in tissue paper before being sealed in a plastic bag and sent speedily to my door. I felt like I just got a present, and frankly, I needed one :-)

I have knitting progress to report, but I think I'll save it for another post as I'm pretty wiped out. Thanks to all of you who sent your well wishes and offered prayers for my family. I know they made a difference :-)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Thank God for Knitting

I can't tell you how grateful I am to have knitting in my life. I've spent a lot of time at home this past week tending to the needs of my father, who is in very fragile health. He really depends on me to be his "private duty nurse" and he'll listen and comply with my requests many times when he won't do so for my mother. Mom needs time to escape the house and nuture her own well-being and I do my best to make sure that happens. Daddy is now at the point where he shouldn't be left alone so we take turns being with him. I've had a very long turn this weekend.

Things were going just fine from my perspective until about dinnertime last evening. That's when he refused to take the medicine I recommended for another bout of cardiac symptoms because it would be the 3rd time he needed it that day. He didn't like the idea of needing nitroglycerin for the 3rd time because it would look bad. Being the obstinate soul he is (I had to inherit the trait from somewhere!) I wasn't winning this war and I was exasperated. Fortunately mother came home and together we got the stuff down him and she went to work calming him down. I escaped to my knitting. Thank God for knitting!!! You hear folks talk about how soothing and relaxing it is, and I agree. Right now I mega agree!

As my stress antidote I added a lot of rows to my natural-colored MS3 stole. I let the stole languish while I worked on socks and, frankly, while I decided what to do about "the wing" on the Swan. I decided to knit the wing for the natural-colored version just to see how it turns out. I figure it's a learning experience...but... I did run a lifeline on the last row of chart F so I can frog back if needed. I won't knit the wing on the blue beaded stole, rather I make it symmetrical with the lace panel insertion at the center. I'm very confident that the blue stole will turn out great.

Lest this post sound like a downer I thought I'd end with a couple of very happy photos. The first is my great-niece Isabella who is a chubby, happy 1 month old. She has her father's eyes, but the rest looks just like mom--especially the red hair. I took the last photo, a Queen Elizabeth Rose, during my morning stroll in the garden. This is a very fragrant rose and is a favorite of mine.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Before... and after!?!

You see these pictures everywhere...the infamous "before and after" photographs. Usually B&A pix are used to show how much better a person looks after mega weight loss, or a makeover--be it fashion, hair, makeup, or a room in your house. Somehow we are addicted to before and after pictures. They seem to say to us--"omigosh, can you believe how much better this person looks now that they____________ (fill in the blank: lost 200 lbs on this weight loss program, learned "what to wear", gave up thift store clothes, or stopped wearing 6 six coats of mascara, etc.). You get the idea. We love the ugly duckling turns into a swan or they all lived happily ever after stories. This is one of those stories. The leading character (ahem) is a greatly improved knitter who has no money and desperately wants yarn to knit a great sweater that fits. Let's set the scene:

I am so motivated by the new issue of Vogue Knitting! After knitting nothing but lace and socks for 2 years now I want to knit a real sweater--one that fits this time (see exhibits A&B above for evidence of excessively large sweater UFOs). Being of excessively limited financial resources I began digging through my yarn stash to see if I had anything good that could be coaxed into an awesome sweater. Frankly, despite the size of the stash, there wasn't much there for a fall/winter sweater (lots of craft store acrylic and summery stuff though). Two of the 3 best choices were trapped in limbo in partially, yes even mostly completed garments that were so big that the front half of the sweater could almost wrap around my entire body. Let's just say I'm a much better knitter these days and I understand more about gauge and how knitted fabric stretches.

So I present my before and after photos. Exhibit A is a lace pullover in a gorgeous 4ply lambswool (I didn't even know what 4 ply was when I bought the yarn online). It was supposed to be 22" wide and it's more like 30". Exhibit B is a superwash Aran wt wool--my 1st real yarn purchase at my LYS. It was on clearance at 50% off adn i figured that machine washable was a good thing for wool. I had never knit with wool before. After a visit to the frog pond and some serious unwinding-rewinding time I now have lovely yarn (Exhibit C). Now I have some great, natural fiber yarn with which to knit a sweater--out of real wool--and this time it *will* fit! Oh boy!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Little Volunteers

It's been more than a week since I updated ya'll on my knitting projects, but what can I say? It's hard to have show and tell when you're un-venting a sock design and you don't want to show it just yet ;o) I'm certain it's an unvention, but I haven't seen this design in anything I've looked through recently, including the more than 200 sock patterns I had saved from online (free or otherwise) that I just burned to a CD_R disc. What I can tell you is that even taking a simple lace/cable motif and dropping it into a basic sock formula still takes work and lots of test-knitting to make sure that things like gauge and fit are all working together in harmony.

The first sock I knit was out of a multicolored yarn (Panda Cotton, of course! my new favorite sock yarn). The yarn is great, the colors are great for fall/winter socks, the design is pretty good too, but they didn't create that nice harmony as the colors overwhelmed the stitch details. I discovered that the sock was a bit too baggy too as the 64sts that were perfect for the stitch pattern were too many for a nice, snug fit over the ankle and foot. So I cast-on again using a solid color yarn and 56 sts this time. So far thigns are looking good, but I'm still working the gusset decreases so it's too early to know for sure.

I'm also knitting a little on the MS3 "Swan Lake". The unveiling of the theme and the asymmetrical final design caught most folks off-guard. I half expected the asymmetry since Melanie's last stole, Hanami, was her 1st asymmetrical design. Even still, the Swan Lake design seems to be quite distinct from what I can tell at this point. It'll be quite interesting to see how the final clues shake out. I've been knitting on the natural-colored stole and am planning to knit the "wing" although I haven't gotten to that point yet. I'm very skittish about grafting 2 halves of the stole together in the middle after I finish the knitting as my "Kitch" stitch is quite terrible as to nice even tension. I was pleased to get the email from Melanie today announcing a non-grafting symmetrical solution to the dilemma. I was racking my brain as to what to do for my blue stole, and this looks like an easy answer to me :-)

I didn't want to leave without sharing a few cheery pictures, so I thought I'd show you a few little "volunteers" that showed up in my veggie garden. The sunflowers were "planted" by the birds who love my birdfeeders. Did you notice the second sunflower picture? It's actually 3 small flowers blooming in tandem--2 in the back and one centered on top. Strange, huh? I planted a few seeds last year for a Zinnia hybrid called "Thumbelina" They are miniatures and are quite cute. Of note was the phrase last year, as I didn't plant any this year. No, they just came up along the edge of the lawn and next to the raised planter boxes. I just love the plants that liberally self-sow adn grow without any work on my part.