Thursday, March 27, 2008

Knitting on the 'net

I have a routine that I follow every morning: I get up, take my medication for asthma that means I have to wait an hour before I can eat breakfast. During that hour I turn on the computer and read news and emails, reply to emails, and check out knitting websites. My hour passes quickly, I catch up on what is going on in the world, and then I'm all ready to eat breakfast and start the day.

Monday morning I got up as usual, took my meds, checked my peak flow, turned on the computer, and GASP! NO INTERNET!!! When I say to you that there was much horror, despair and gnashing of teeth going on, you may rest assured that I don't exaggerate one whit. It was really pretty pathetic. All day long, each time I passed the computer, I tried to check and see if I was getting any new emails. Nope. Tuesday, I turned on the computer in hope, and still no internet. Nonetheless, I found myself passing by the computer as I went through my day, and unconsciously giving the mouse a shake to wake up the screen and check for new emails. Oh, yeah. No internet. Wednesday I didn't bother to turn on the computer at all. After all, what would be the point? It was amazing how much I was able to get done around the house in those few days, and it really made me wonder if perhaps I don't spend just a leeetle too much time on the internet.

Yet it was still a very delighted Lynda who returned home from her book group last night to be greeted at the door by DH (Dear Husband) with the good news that the internet connection was fixed and we were back in business.

I had 142 emails waiting for me. That's right. One hundred and forty-two.

So you're thinking, Lynda, what the heck do you do on the computer all day? We thought you were a rabid knitter who knits all day and all night, even in your sleep. No, not true. But except for, all my interneting all day long is related to knitting in one way or another. Let me bring you into my dark world...

I belong to two groups on Yahoo that are about knitting and nothing but knitting. The first one I joined, the knitlist, has been in existence in some form or another since September of 2000. Rumor has it that there was another, earlier version of the group on a now defunct listserv. With 11,087 members, the knitlist gets pretty busy. But it is an education in knitting. At one point or another in this group's history, the membership can read like a Who's Who of the knitting world. I only lurk on this list for reasons of my own, but just in reading all the posts every day, I learn a LOT. If you have come to see me during Knit Doctor or had me as a teacher for a class or private lesson, and wondered how I've learned all that I've learned, I can tell you - a lot of it comes from the knitting lists. My favorite Yahoo knitting list is KnitTalk. The atmosphere is much more homey and friendly, and I have, indeed, made many great friends through this list. Not quite three years old and a fraction of the size of knitlist with 1315 members, KnitTalk is a great place to hang out and talk about knitting and life. Through both of these lists I have also found tons and tons of resources for various knitting-related info and stuff. You learn about various yarns, patterns, vendors, new books, etc., all by hearing about the experiences of other knitters. The other groups I belong to are OPKTucson, for members of our local knitting guild, Old Pueblo Knitters; and Masterknits-USA for people going through the Master Knitter process offered by The Knitting Guild of America. If you don't like the idea of a whole lot of emails, you can opt to receive them in a daily digest, or to read them on the website.

I also love the weekly emails from Knitter's Review. Great info on yarns, tools, products, shops, fiber events, etc. And if I didn't get the new, quarterly issue of Knitty, I'd probably faint from deprivation. Free patterns, articles, reviews, fantastic archives. Love Knitty! And don't forget Magknits! The newsletters from KnittingDaily are also wonderful - sponsored by Interweave Press, they are full of info on new books, advance notice of Interweave Knits or Interweave Crochet, and lots of great, informative articles.

Then there are the knitting blogs! I am a great fan of the Yarn Harlot, and I sometimes look over to see my husband at the computer, reading her blog too. I love her books, but I have to admit, I love her blog even more. Then I have to check and see what Ruth Sorenson, of the Kauni Cardi fame, is up to now. There's also Crazy Aunt Purl, Panopticon, Brooklyn Tweed, The Rainey Sisters, and Mason-Dixon Knitting. And I can't forget my friend Alison Hyde, the author of Wrapped In Comfort, with it's beautiful lace shawl patterns. It is because of Alison that we knitters now have the verb 'to Alison', which means to stealth knit a gift for anyone who touches our lives, and surprise them with the gift. She's good at it, and I'm happy to say that I've been Alisoned, myself. (Then my eldest sister saw the lace scarf Alison sent me, fell seriously in love with it, so I Alisoned it to her. How could I deny her?)

But do you want to know where I really, really could spend the whole day on the computer, til my bum was completely numb and bloodless, my fingers freeze up and and I fall off of my chair? Ravelry! Wow! If you don't already know about Ravelry, you have been living in knitting's Dark Ages. Not quite a year old, Ravelry is all things to all knitters. A place to post your current projects with photos, your works-in-progress, your yarn stash, your knitting books. As a designer I have my own Designer Page, with a Ravelry shop to follow asap. There are the forums - on any and every subject related to knitting - or just on anything that any knitter might like, such as movies, books, tv shows, yarn shops, yarn manufacturers, knitting magazines, geographic areas, common interests. If you wanted to find a forum for one-eyed left-handers who own parrots named Mike, I wouldn't be surprised to find a group for that on Ravelry. There are the pattern pages, where you can go to the search box, type in the kind of thing you are looking for, such as 'mittens' and see pictures and info on every single pair of mittens that anyone has ever put onto Ravelry. You get to see what they all look like, in a variety of yarns, where to find that pattern, and how easy or hard it was to do, as well as how much they liked the final result. The yarn page where you can look up info and photos of a specific yarn, or a type of yarn, such as 'sock yarns', or 'Noro sock yarn'. I'm convinced that one can spend days on Ravelry, without ever coming up for air. Right now it is still in beta-testing stage, so when you go to the web-page, put yourself on the invite list. When I signed up last June, I has several thousand people there in front of me, and it took 8 weeks to get my invite. Now they have a waiting list of just over 1000, and you should get your invite in a matter of days. Hint: Famous knitters and designers hang out here.

Also, do you know about Sock Wars III and the Mystery Stole? These are massive groups of people all knitting for a common cause. Sock Wars is a game where on the same date, all who have signed up are emailed the sock requirements, such as yarn, needles and gauge. A week or so later, we all get the pattern, and the name of your adversary. Knit your socks as fast as you can, send them off to your adversary. If they receive your socks before they are able to send the socks that they are knitting off to their adversary, they are 'dead'. If your assassin send you the socks they made you before you send yours off, you are 'dead', and you send the unfinished socks off to the next person in line, who must finish them and send them off before... You get the idea. Great fun, and what the heck, whatever happens, you get a pair of socks out of the deal! I'm already signed up! Mystery Stole is run by Melanie of Pink Lemon Knits, a great lace designer. This year the MSIV will start in the fall, after the Summer Olympics, and those who are signed up will get info on what yarn and needle size, as well as gauge will be used in the pattern, then once a week you get the next installment of the pattern. Also great fun, and I managed (except for the week that the last Harry Potter came out) to keep up with my knitting, and be finished with the previous clue before the next one was posted.

Now I am happily reunited with the internet, getting caught up with my Ravelry forums, and knitting up a storm.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What Those Odds and Ends Were

Well, This will probably be shorter than my usual rambling, blithering blog post. Yesterday I started on antibiotics for bronchitis. Since I only started getting sick the day before, I am hoping that we are nipping this in the bud pretty thoroughly, and that by next week this time I will be leaping about like a spring lamb.

Last week I entitled the blog entry as 'Odds and Ends' and ended up talking through the whole thing about slipped stitches. Never did get to put in the other things I was going to address, so it was a peculiar title for a post on just one topic. This week I'll tell you what else I meant to talk about.

A few weeks back, when I was (yes, again) sick during the Sock Boot Camp and couldn't go in to teach the techniques that I had intended, I posted here each day to tell you what I would have been teaching had I been there. One of the techniques I talked about was Short-Row Heels. Someone commented to the blog, mentioned that she has really high insteps, and wondered if that wouldn't be a problem with short-row heels. Here, finally, is my reply.

I also have very high insteps. There has been many a pair of shoes in my life that I have lusted after and not been able to buy because I just couldn't cram my feet into them. Or if I could, I knew that nothing below the arch of my foot would have any blood supply for the entire time I would be wearing the shoes. I have done a few pairs of short-row heels now - both for socks for other people, and for myself. I haven't had any problem with the short-row heels fitting my feet, even when trying on the socks I made for my sister with the smaller feet.

One of the things that I think could be a big factor here is the stretchiness of the instep of the sock. The first two pairs I made both had cabled patterns, which usually pulls the fabric in more and can have less give in the fabric. But the both were made using very stretchy, bouncy yarn. Another pair that I made for myself was knitted using a much less resilient sock yarn, and the first time I put them on I felt like it was a bit of a struggle to get them over my instep. But after the first wearing there has never been a problem with them, the heel fits snugly but not tightly.

I would encourage you to try short-row heels if you have never tried them before. They have become by far my favorite heel to work for socks. Take into account the stretchiness of your stitch pattern - a nice, stretchy rib might be a good place to start - and the resiliency of your yarn choice.

PHEW! After typing the foregoing, I surfaced to the real world and realized that my bronchitis needed me to sit down and rest a bit. That was two days ago, and I'm back. I'm still fighting the effect this has had on my asthma - so far I am winning, but at the moment it is a close-run thing. Remember what Auntie Lynda says, there are more people out there like me than you realize. If you are sick, please don't go out in public and as one of our clients phrased it, 'share to joy'.

Okay, the second odds and ends I wanted to talk to you about comes from Marianne. When I was posting about Kathy's classes here a few weeks ago, I asked Marianne if she had anything she would like to say about her classes here in the blog. She replied that what she really wanted me to discuss here is the importance of doing your class homework. Great idea, Marianne!

When we teachers sit down with Lynn to go over our suggested class list before the start of a new quarter, one of the main things we talk about is how many sessions to schedule for a given class. There are two warring factors at work here, each of which need to be given their due. On one side, there is the reality that each class session adds a certain dollar amount onto what a student is going to pay for the total class. Makes sense - the more sessions there are, the more the overall class will cost. We like to keep that number as low as we feasibly can so that we are watching out for your costs. We balance that against what we expect the materials for the class might cost. We don't want to make the classes so expensive that no one will want to take them. We're are thinking of the consumer when we make that decision.

Now contrast this with making sure that we set aside enough time so that you can learn all the necessary steps for a project during class times. Unfortunately, these steps don't all happen at the same stage in a project. So we need to be sure that we schedule enough class sessions so that we hit each new stage with a class so that we don't leave you hanging.

I'll use the Adult Surprise Jacket that I taught last fall as an example. This can be a pretty tricky project like nothing most knitters have encountered before, and there are several stages to it. Each knitter determines their own yarn weight and needle size, depending on what they like. They then work a gauge swatch, measure gauge, block the swatch, and measure gauge again. The whole pattern depends on that gauge swatch. If you look at the archives for this blog, you can see that I did an extensive post about swatching for gauge. So when students signed up for the class, they were told to choose whatever yarns and yarn weight they like, swatch with several needle sizes to determine what density and drape of fabric they prefer, and then to work the gauge swatch according to the blog post info. We had them do this before the first class session so that we aren't charging you for the considerable amount of time it takes a knitter to do this essential step.

Then during the first session, we were able to take the info from the gauge swatch, measure each student, determine the amount of ease they wanted in their jacket, and figure out their individual magic number that the entire sweater pattern is based on. This takes some time, a lot of detail, and is definitely worth a class session. Next the students cast on their sweaters, and learned the increase technique. From here they had several hours of knitting to do - following what had been learned in that session - before the next stage. Depending on how much work needs to be done before the next stage, we might decide to schedule one to two weeks in between that session and the next, to give the students knitting time.

We all know that life can (unfortunately) take precedence over our knitting time. I also know at least two students that when I see them signed up for a class, I know that what they really want is to sit and talk with other knitters while working on a project. One sometimes doesn't even do the class project, the other gets to the end in her own time. That's fine with me, I enjoy them both and don't worry if they haven't done their homework, because I know them and know their needs and life.

For the rest of you, however, if you don't do your homework in between class sessions, then two things happen - you aren't ready for the next stage that is scheduled for that day, and you are paying a teacher a whole lot of money to watch you just knit for two hours. And it will cost you more money in the long run as you will need to schedule private class time with one of our teachers in order to finish your project. This is entirely your choice, but it is a waste of your money and of an opportunity to learn.

For the most part, when I teach, I have to teach first to the level of the majority of the class so that they can continue on. Everyone else has to wait until those people are knitting merrily on their way before I can help them.

We teachers are a great resource! Pick our brains! Learn what we have to share with you. We LOVE to teach, that is why we do what we do. We hate to not see you get the most that you can out of our classes. Do Your Homework! :-D Love, Your Teachers.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Odds and Ends

A few weeks back, when the new Kiwi newsletter for Spring came out, I read it while standing at the counter in the shop, and was horrified to realize that I had made a huge, honking typo in my Tips From The Expert column. Egads! How to right that huge wrong? I announced a contest here on the blog, with the prize of one of my patterns to the first person who spotted my boo-boo and gave me the correct answer. Almost instantly I got a reply from Elizabeth with the correct answer. She opted to try my White Queen's Bag pattern. It's about time I told you all what my typo was, and explain the why's and wherefore's.

Here is my faux pas:

"#5 Need to work a decrease from the purl side of your work? Of course you know how to work a P2tog to make a left-leaning decrease, but what about a right-leaning decrease? SSP! Slip one as if to purl, slip the next as if to purl, place them both back on the left needle, then with your right needle enter the two sts from behind the left needle on the far side of the st. Wrap your yarn and finish the stitch."

Geeze! I still shudder to look at it! This is what comes the first time you don't re-read something endlessly before you send it off!

So today, class, we are going to talk about slipped stitches.

Basically, there are three reasons why you would want to slip a stitch in knitting. One is when it is part of the pattern, such as the slipped stitch pattern above, a modular shell shape as taught in an Irene York workshop at Kiwi last fall. Notice how the light blue stitches in the polka-dotty rows at the bottom of the photo are slipped, while the orange dots are purls that are worked in the current row. In essence, you slip one, purl one, all across the row, taking care to work the edge stitches as directed. In both upper corners of the photo you can see that same technique worked on succeeding modules. Irene works this technique with stunning success in her Patchwork Shells Patterns. I still swear, one of these days when I have lots of spare time and nothing more pressing in queue, to make one of her shell shawls.

A second reason to slip stitches is to make a smooth selvage edge on knitted pieces where there will be no other edge treatment added later, such as shawls, scarves, and cardigan edges. This makes a beautiful, finished, chained edge.

It seems that everyone has their favorite way to do this, but mine is this: K1tbl at the beginning of every row, no matter what other stitches are worked in the row, such as a purl row or ribbed pattern, etc. It may be necessary for you to add two extra stitches to your cast-on to account for your slipped stitch edge. On the last stitch of every row, bring your yarn forward as if to purl, and slip the stitch.

In both of these cases, the reason for slipping the stitch is decorative, and so the stitch is always slipped as if to purl.

The third reason for slipping stitches is when it is part of a decrease, such as an SSK, SSP, or a double decrease. In the case of a decrease, the stitch or stitches are always slipped as if to knit. Period.

Why? To change the orientation of the stitch legs before working the decrease.

For a right-leaning knit decrease - K2tog - it is right-leaning because the right needle enters the leftmost of the two stitches first, putting that stitch on top of the pile.

On the left-leaning knit decrease, in order to make the rightmost stitch of the two stitches worked land on top of the pile without twisting its legs, you must first transfer them from the left needle to the right needle. That's the S, S part. You slip them as if to knit instead of as if to purl because when all is said and done, you don't want the base of your stitches to be crossed, as they would be if you worked a K2tog tbl. The whole point of slipping them in an SSK is to change the orientation of the stitch legs. So you slip one as if to knit, a second as if to knit, stick your left needle down their little throats so that it comes out in front and the right needle crosses in back, and finish off by wrapping your yarn as usual and finishing off the stitch. It is essentially the same as K2tog tbl, with the tiny - but all-important - difference of changing the orientation of those two stitches before working the decrease, so that the left leg is in front when you work the stitch, instead of the more traditional way of knitting everything with the right leg mounted on the front of the needle, with the left leg in back of the needle. Righty ends up on top of the pile, making everything lean to the left.

So this teaches us two rules - one about slipped stitches, one about decreases.

Always slip a stitch as if to purl, unless it is part of a decrease, in which case, it is always slipped as if to knit. As ever, that bit of wisdom is left behind if the pattern specifies that you should do differently.

Whichever stitch the right needle enters first when working a decrease is the stitch that ends up on top of the pile when all is said and done.

By the way, my favorite knit double decrease is worked like this: Slip two stitches together as if to knit. Knit the next stitch. Pass the two slipped stitches over. Because you used your right needle to enter the middle of the three stitches first when slipping two together as if to knit, the central stitch ends up on top of the pile.

Okay, so all that brings us to purl decreases. P2tog - because the right needle enters the rightmost stitch first - makes a left leaning decrease. This can be used on the backside of a K2tog.

SSP, because the right needle enters the leftmost stitch first, makes a right-leaning decrease, to be used on the backside of an SSK. Here is how that tip should have read:

"#5 Need to work a decrease from the purl side of your work? Of course you know how to work a P2tog to make a left-leaning decrease, but what about a right-leaning decrease? SSP! Slip one as if to knit, slip the next as if to knit, place them both back on the left needle, then with your right needle enter the two sts from behind the left needle on the far side of the sts. Wrap your yarn and finish the stitch."

Well, I did have more to say, in answer to a question about the fit of short-row heels, and something Marianne wanted me to pass on to students, but I was more long-winded than I had planned, so those will wait for next time.