Friday, May 26, 2006

I've been thinking for a few months now that in order for me to really improve as a knitter, I need to design and knit my own sweater. I don't think I need to become a designer, but I think designing at least a few sweaters would teach me a lot about how to evaluate an existing pattern: will it fit the way I want it to? Can I change it so that it will? Can I drastically change the gauge (i.e. from chunky to sport weight) and how would that work? Etc.

The thing is, though, I'm kind of the equivalent of a knitting cover band. I have no problem knitting other people's designs, but cannot conjure up a vision of my own. It's kind of the same problem that plagues me in the flower garden: I see other gardens that I like, but can't picture what will work in my specific space. So I have been a bit at a loss.

Until today.
Isn't that the coolest sweater*? It's so Art Deco. Definitely has to be a finer weight than DK (5.5 st. to the inch), and a different color. Maybe a touch longer? I know that there is a Rowan or Jaeger baby sweater with smocking similar to this, so I wouldn't necessarily have to make up the stitch pattern. I think it would have to be an unmercerized cotton for wearing next to the skin, and nothing shiny to take attention away from the lines. Yep. This is the sweater I will start with ('cos why start with something, you know, easy? What would be the point?)

*These days Faye has been hitting the plastic surgery pretty hard, but dude, she was a stunner!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Some knitting

Honestly, not a lot of knitting is getting done. I've mainly been working in the yard, pulling garlic mustard, and planting flowers and herbs. Len finished the fence around the vegetable garden, so yesterday I took a half day and spent 5 hours turning over the dirt and planting. I'm a lot less sore than I thought I would be (even the blister I have is under a callous, so doesn't bother me much). I still need to put in tomato plants.

During the week of rain and 40 to 50 degree temperatures, I managed to finish Storm:
Do you like the buttons? Me too. Sadly, I have a set of buttons which would work nicely for this, but I have only 6 and I need 7. Nope. I didn't think about that when I was planning my button bands. Oh well. Trip to the yarn shop. Darn.

A couple of weeks ago, Eyeknit from Two Sharp Sticks pointed out some sock patterns she was considering for vacation knitting, which reminded me of a couple of sources of sock patterns I'd forgotten. Len and I were going to be spending a lot of Mother's Day at his parents, and what better way to avoid playing cards than starting a slightly complicated knitting project? So I stole her Waving Laces idea from IK Knits:
The yarn is Louet Gems (I think), and there isn't much to see. I got the scalloped cuff done on Mother's Day and then it was put aside to finish Storm. Despite how small it looks, there are purl stitches buried in there and the sock stretches out quite a bit. I'm a little concerned with how much it stretches, and may end up ripping it out and going down to 0's (I'm on 1's now).
Len's socks are almost done. A couple more carpooling days and he should have another pair for...Fall. Whatever.

If I get a break from outside work, I'll start pulling out summer projects and see what I have. I have vague memories of unfinished t-shirt (of the Rowan variety), a cotton cardigan with a big intarsia flower on it (almost as obnoxious as it sounds), and Daffodil (which I think I haven't touched since February).

Friday, May 19, 2006

Vegetable Garden

This is another blank slate, though I am less intimidated. We doubled the size of last year's garden and now have a fairly substantially sized plot (maybe 30' x 20'?) I shouldn't say "we" doubled the size of the plot, Len did. I worry that it won't be big enough. Then I look at all the plants and seeds I have and wonder if it will all fit.

The top plants are tomatoes I managed to grow from seeds. Some are from a crop of heirloom tomatoes I had last year, others are from a packet of heirlooms. Had I been more intelligent, I would have labelled them; it will be obvious once the tomatoes show up, since they are cherry, yellow, large red and something else, but for now I have no idea. The picture on the bottom are basil plants from seeds. I failed miserably at starting seeds last year, so I am very pleased these are growing.
This is Len's baby. If it had a drink holder, it would be perfect. Maybe an engine rebuild too, but we'll try not to be picky.
And here is a hill of weeds, garlic mustard mostly. This makes me want to rip out my hair.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Finishing a Philosopher's Sweater

Philosopher's Wool Sweaters are mostly knit in three tubes, with holes cut for the sleeves, and the front cut open if you are making a cardigan. There are some exceptions -- e.g. the Mandala -- but knitters have been doing this for a very long time. It isn't really that hard, and can even be fun (especially if you take the great Elizabeth Zimmerman's advice and go in for some heavy drinking. You might want to wait until after sewing and cutting, since alcohol and scissors don't mix). The problem is that the instructions included in the kits are not very detailed or well organized, which makes the whole process much more intimidating than it really needs to be. It's ok! Really. To take scissors to your sweater. It really won't fall apart. This is how I did it (with notes on how to avoid my mistakes, which are plenty).

1. I didn't do this, but it's really important: measure a similar sweater which fits you well. You might have to measure several, and you might have to go to a store to do it (I, myself, have no other sweaters like this). You want to know length of sleeves (keep in mind that this is a drop-shoulder style), chest measurement (not your own, a thick sweater that fits the way you like it), and the length of the sweater.

Also, you'll want to make a neckline template. Eventually you will trace this onto your not-quite-finished sweater, so you will want something more tangible than measurements. You will still want some measurements, especially the width of the neckline. Since you're already writing things down (which puts you way ahead of me), add the depth of the neck to your notes. Just in case.

2. Knit the sleeves first. Their instructions suggest this, and they are right. Sleeves make for great circular swatches. Several inches into the first sleeve you can decide if things are going well, and if you hate the gauge you are getting, ripping it out and starting over with a different size needle won't be so painful. I marked the increases on the chart. Very helpful.

3. Cast on the number of stitches which will get you closest to the chest measurement you took in step one. I used markers for the beginning of the round and for the halfway mark. This was really helpful for making sure I hadn't screwed up the chart. I did not bother with a steek stitch (a purl stitch which you will end up cutting) in the ribbing. That decision turned out to be fine.

4. Increase for the body. At this point you will add a steek stitch. I added one halfway between my two markers. Stef! had read a suggestion to use the beginning of the round as the steek point, which makes a lot of sense -- it's pretty ugly there, so why not just cut it? I wish I had. I also wish that rather than adding an extra stitch, I had used an existing stitch. Now that the sweater is finished, it doesn't matter at all, but while knitting, it threw off the centering of the pattern and that bothered me a lot. I don't know why.

5. Measure across the top of your sleeves (which should match). Subtract this measurement from your overall length. This number is how long you have to knit. Once you get to that length, add steek stitches. These added stitches did not bother me at all since they didn't come in the middle of the pattern. However, if you follow Stef's suggestion, the added stitches will be in the middle of the pattern.

Actual Finishing

6. Machine stitch two fairly fine straight lines on either side of the purl rows at the center front and the arm holes (don't forget to stitch under the arm holes, as well). This was the hardest part for me, since I don't know how to use my sewing machine very well. It involved a lot of jammed threads, threading and re-threading the machine. Maybe some swearing, too.

7. Now, remember that neckline template you made in step 1? Slap it on your sweater and use chalk to draw around it (I have read some hints that say the neckline is a third of the width and to use a plate as a template. DON'T! Your neckline could end up too wide and deep. Ask me how I know). Take it back to the machine and sew two lines along the curve (I was very concerned about sewing a curve, but the machine and I had become allies by this point, so it was very easy).

The sucky instructions say: "Machine stitch 2 fairly fine straight stitches rows along the curve. Use stretch stitch or zig zag if you have them but sew curve once only." Is is just me, or could they have said that more clearly? In any case, if you are making a cardigan, the stretchiness of the neckline doesn't matter as much.

8. Cast off the shoulders; I used three needle bind-off. Cut open the arm holes. It's ok. You can do it; I did and the knitting didn't fall apart:

9. Sew in the sleeves.

10. Pick up and knit the button bands. Obviously, you are only picking up to the neckline, but you knew that. I did the button band first, then measured and placed markers for the buttons. Then I picked and knitted the button hole band, spacing the holes evenly (I did a cast two off in the middle of the band, then cast two on in the next row). I managed to muck up the button band, so while theoretically the button markers should have helped to space the holes, they didn't for me. I re-did that band and it is better, though not perfect. I used a 3-1 pick up rate (pick up 3 rows, skip a row); the instructions recommend making a 24 stitch mini band before committing to the entire thing. It's a good recommendation, but I think more stitches would be better -- I didn't end up using the pick up rate I used for the mini-band.

11. Pick up and knit the collar. I knit a fold over type (3 inches or so), which covers the depth of the neck reasonably well. Looking at the pictures on Philosophers website (the picture which came with my kit has long since disappeared), if you want to do a crew neck, you should do this step before the button bands and then pick up the bands along the collar. I, ummm, well, I just now looked at the picture, so pretty much faked the collar. Whatever. I'm good with what I did, except I will probably take the cast off out and knit a few more rows.

12. Now cut out the neck and cut open the front. Sew on buttons. Weave in ends. I trimmed the extra long steek edges, but otherwise am leaving them alone. If they really bug you, and you are maybe a little insane, you could knit facings for them, but I'll leave that to your psychotic imaginations.

13. Wash. I soaked it the washing machine with that no-rinse wool stuff, Euclan, and spun the water out. I love having a washing machine in my basement! Lay it flat to dry. This magically fixes many many problems. In my case it was the oh-crap-I-made-it-too-short problem (see taking good measurements in step one).

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

1. I. Am. So. Sick. Of. Rain. Seven days? Too much.

2. Paul Simon just released a new album, Surprise. The surprise, to me anyway, was that Brian Eno* provided "sonic landscape" (not produced, mind you, "sonic landscape"). This is not the Here Come the Warm Jets Eno (I can hardly imagine what that collaboration would sound like) or even the Before and After Science Eno. His contribution seems to be along the lines of Music for Airports (or at least what I imagine that to be, since I haven't actually heard it). He creates kind of a landscape against which Simon does his own thing. I haven't delved very far into the album yet, but I can say that, as usual, his lyrics are most excellent.

3. I did finish The Kid by Dan Savage. I'm happy to report, he did not screw up the ending (I didn't really think he would), though it was a bit mushy. His style is pretty casual, which can sometimes be a little irritating, but it's such a funny book, sticking with it wasn't an issue. What I appreciated the most about his story is how honest Savage is, especially about why he wanted to have kids in the first place and why he and Terry chose the route they did (open adoption).

4. I've finished the knitting for Storm. I ended up having to re-knit the raglan part of the back, since it was quite a lot longer than the rest of the pieces. I sewed it up this weekend and am now working on buttonbands. This will be the first adult sized sweater that I will have finished in one season.

5. In lieu of knitting photos, I give you pre-sweaters:
I see these guys most days on my way home from work (they are somewhere else in morning). You can't see them, but there are lambs in there as well. This is one of the reasons I don't mind my commute.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Ultimate in Disposability

This is University of Michigan's School of Business Administration. Oh. I'm sorry. The Stephen M. Ross School of Business. Ross gave $100 million to the School of Business, so they adopted his name.

This was built in 1948. Sure, there isn't anything special about it (I kind of like the tiered effect at the top, but the Art Deco movement did it better), but it isn't the LS&A Building, which was built the same year and I think is quite ugly. LS&A is being gutted and rebuilt, but not torn down. This building is being torn down and replaced. Like an old boot. $100 million buys you a School of Business and the right to tear down buildings. He is a real estate developer after all.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Blank Slate

Two summers ago, when we moved into our little house in the country, this area was completely full of ferns. They were pretty enough, but really. How many ferns does anyone need? I spent most of that first summer trying to pull them and their root system -- which is extensive -- out. Last summer, Len took a rototiller to the space. That got rid of most of the ferns, but left room for every other weed on the face of the earth to grow. So I spent last summer pulling all of those very tall weeds. While digging around this year I found a little plastic marker which said "Foxglove". I looked it up and I'm pretty sure it was among the weeds I pulled. Oh well.

I did manage to plant a few herbs (you can see the remainders along the back wall), some hostas and some bulbs. My plan, such as it is, is to put a walkway* through the middle of the above picture (from left to right) and put herbs on the wall side and flowers on the other. For some reason, I find this whole gardening thing really intimidating. If I screw up my knitting (and don't get me started on Storm), I can just rip it out and do it again (like I'm doing with Storm -- &*%$#!#$). But plants? I can kill plants and that just freaks me out.

*Len decided the best route to getting rid of dandelions which had taken over a small portion of the lawn would be to rip it up. In so doing, he uncovered a walkway of sandstones which had been completely taken over by the dandelions. Go figure. I'm going to use these for the garden. There is also a cement pad which has been taken over by blackberry vines and garlic mustard. Every time we stick a shovel into the ground, we find something new. It's kind of...overwhelming.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Spam Names

Most spam names I've gotten have been very boring, but the last few days have brought some very interesting senders:

  • Marlin Fine (Marlin sends another trippy message which has something to do with dwarves, heavy burdens and Dains folks);
  • Adelmar Wingo (re: good csredit. Dude. Don't e-mail while drunk)
  • Duran Don (fun factoid: Duran Duran took their name from a character in that babe-fest "Barbarella". I don't know about Duran Don, though).
  • Ameretat Clairmont has a website called I don't even want to think about the damage that website could do to my computer!

Never Enough Judy

Thursday, May 04, 2006

World Domination

This is Garlic Mustard. Do not be fooled by it's innocuous appearance. It is evil and it's only goal is world domination. According to the USDA it is already in all but 13 states, as well as parts of Canada. The Alien Plant Working Group (isn't that a great name?) says:

Once introduced to an area, garlic mustard outcompetes native plants by aggressively monopolizing light, moisture, nutrients, soil and space. Wildlife species that depend on these early plants for their foliage, pollen, nectar, fruits, seeds and roots, are deprived of these essential food sources when garlic mustard replaces them.

Earlier this week, there was an article in the New York Times about research on how the infestation of garlic mustard may be having a destructive effect on forests. Essentially, there is a system of fungi (mycorrhizal fungi) which delivers nutrients to most plants. Mustard plants don't need the fungi for nutrients and produce an antifungal chemical. Mycorrhizal fungi have had time to get used to, and learn to live with, most mustard plants. But the spread of garlic mustard has been so fast that the fungi hasn't been able to adapt, so it is killing the fungi and distrupting the growth of new trees. This is pretty ironic, because it seems to prefer the shade.

It's a very wily plant. It isn't very strong, 70% of the first year plants die, it is easily removed by the roots, and while it will keep coming back if mowed down, if you keep mowing it, the root will die. However, once let loose, the seeds stay viable for 5 years and I've noticed that deer won't eat it (choosing my strawberry plants instead). The stuff spreads like wildfire in a dry prairie.

Study the pictures. Know your enemy. Then pull it up by it's roots.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


I haven't posted much on political issues. There are a couple of reasons for this: first there are many blogs out there, with authors much smarter than I, who write about the rotten state of the world. I can hardly compete. Second, I'm lazy. It's true. Spewing my opinions is easy in the privacy of my own home -- to back something up all I have to say is, "I think I remember someone said something on NPR", Len tends to believe me, mostly because he hears the same news, and because we have similar opinion (but not always). In a (somewhat) more public forum, I feel more compelled to back up what I say, and I am generally too lazy to do the research. Also. Too busy. But Iraq.

First I'm going to say something that will probably shock some of you who know me: I don't believe the U.S. should pull troops from Iraq. I believe if the troops were to leave now, Iraq would be much worse off than it is now, and certainly than before they invaded. Frankly, it would be immoral. Not that there is anything moral about this war. From the beginning to pressure cooker we're in now, we have had nothing but lies, exaggerations and fear-mongering; it is for this that over 2300 American soldiers have died and 14,000 have been wounded. Not to mention the Iraqi dead and wounded, for which there is not reliable count. Iraq Body Count is a place to start, but The Lancet puts the number much higher. Pulling troops out won't stop the killing of Iraqis, I think it will just get worse.

This administration never took this war seriously. It was supposed to be a video game, flowers and dancing children in the street, and then a Republican lock on all three branches of the Federal government and most of the states. Had they taken threats from the Middle East seriously, they would have stuck with Afghanistan, a country where we might actually have done some good and a war most Americans could get behind (without being lied to, anyway).

Joe Biden, Democrat from Delaware, and Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, published a piece in Monday's New York Times about what could be done in Iraq instead of pulling troops out (you might have to log in for this, the column is free, but I can send full text, if you prefer). Juan Cole, of Informed Comment, responds here and here, and has his own proposal here.

Personally, I think one of two things will happen. Bush, et al. will shrug their shoulders at Iraq and go invade Iran instead, leaving Iraq to burn up in a fireball. Or Bush and cronies will "stay the course" until 2008 and force the next President (probably a Democrat, because they always get stuck with the dirty work) to pull out and leave Iraq to burn up in a fireball. Either way, Iraq is screwed. And it is Bush's fault.

And in 2008, Bush and cronies will go back to their rocking chairs in Texas. Or hell. Whichever comes first. I don't believe in hell, but I'm willing to make an exception.

South Park Me

Do you like my new South Park Me over in my profile? You can get your own at Planearium (Alles ├╝ber South Park). Heh.

I highly recommend The Generator Blog, if you have a week or two to play around. It's crazy addictive!