Thursday, May 27, 2010

Knitting for winos

I've been working on a super-secret knitting project for the past two weeks or so. The only reason it's been classified as 'super-secret' is that I wasn't entirely sure I was going to be able to pull it off. Nobody wants to puff themselves up only to be deflated later like so many euros. However, I think that I've progressed far enough that success is imminent, so I'm downgrading it's status to 'not-so-secret'. What is this mystery project? Three words: wine bottle carrier.

I can't take credit for the Grapes on the Vine idea: that's courtesy of The Knitter's Bible's stitch library. But, I will claim credit for incorporating two colors (however poorly executed). This was another one of those ideas I had while trying to fall asleep, which tend to be pretty hit or miss. I started out working in the round, because hey, wine bottles are round. That meant that I had to carry along both strands of yarn the whole time. Two colors of yarn, and cabling? I wanted to shoot myself in the face. No one is interested in that kind of a pattern, aside from total masochists. I turned to intarsia, which I had previously never tried.

The Knitter's Bible informed me that intarsia wasn't suitable for working in the round. It took a shamefully long time for me to realize out why. Ohhhhhh, right, each time you come around the color you want it's on the wrong side. Oops. Flat knitting it is. I've made a little circle for the bottom, which is at home. The bottom and the first two inches of the tote used both strands for each stitch, in the hopes that it will beef up the strength. No one wants their wine bottle to end up on the ground after it's ripped through the handknits. Intarsia isn't hard persay, but I think I need to invest in some real bobbins. My jerry-rigged version seemed to unravel a lot and then the strands would get tangled and the work would get mysteriously drop-kicked every now and then.

I'm experimenting with a couple of ways to use color in the grapes. First design:

Second design, more green stems:

What do you think? I'm not sure it's a fair comparison yet, since the second design doesn't have it's main stem yet. I may have to ask for your assessment a second time!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reporting from an undisclosed location deux

Nah, I'm just screwing with you. I am visiting another national lab, though. If it seems like I've been slutting it out to a lot of user facilities recently...that's because I have. I'm the grad student bicycle--everyone gets a ride. This super secret research facility (that is, if you're unfamiliar with how 'The Google' works) is located in Richland, WA. This is my second time here, and it's just a pleasure to visit. It's a gorgeous location--technically a desert, but definitely a temperate climate, with rolling hills/mountains in the distance (they're on that cusp of height where they could be either).

Richland is large enough to have some good food and fun things to do, but definitely small enough to maintain that 'small town charm'. I mean, the hotel where I'm staying gives you a key. A metal key.

When was the last time you saw that happen? The people at the lab are helpful and friendly, again, it's that small town charm feeling. I could foresee working here on a more permanent basis...

I finished my test knit over the weekend. Check it:

WOW. If I were any paler, I'd be transparent.

I received much praise from the copilot when I donned it for the picture-possibly because it's the first garment I've knit for myself that doesn't fit like a gunny sack or a sausage casing. I'm pumped to wear it. It was also fun to be able to automatically get clarifications and give the designer my feedback. My last tester for the Infinite Cabled Hat is just wrapping up, just waiting for the survey. I've finished all the corrections, now I just need some good photos...this and the layout are the hardest parts for me (if I was a REAL designer, I'd have peeps that I could delegate these things out to). I've already signed up for another test knit; I'm finding I really enjoy having the deadline. Now to find US 2&1/2 needles (I didn't know such a thing even existed).

Speaking of deadlines, still plugging away on the Mystery Wedding Project...SO..MUCH..GARTER STITCH.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Please, do feed the animals!

One can't really be sure what to expect when entering a park claiming to have elk, bison, bears, and other various arguably wild animals...where you are free to feed any of them with bread you can buy at the park. When my copilot suggested a trip to the Olympic Game Farm while we were in Seattle this weekend, I was slightly concerned. It seems like a terrible idea to feed a bear, considering it's entirely possible that human flesh is what they really have a hankering for. But I wanted to tour some of Puget Sound, and did I really need both arms? As long as I held on to the right one, I'd probably be OK.

My copilot, a buddy and I set off for the park on Sunday morning. It was gigantor. You pay your entry fee and they give you some bread and basically set you loose to drive around (with the caveat that you should keep moving around the buffalo in case they decide to, I don't know, tip your car over or chew on it or you or something).

There were peafowl just randomly wandering around every part of the park.

I really wanted to take some of these guys home, so that guests would feel like they were in some sort of surreal, Dali-esque dream whenever they came over. Alas, none of them fit in the trunk.

We went through a group of yaks that were very friendly:

They seemed to enjoy petting and a gentle scratch as much as the food.

"Can I keep him?"

The co-pilot made a friend too:

We sallied onward to the bears. My trepidation was in vain--they were safely behind an electric fence, but you could toss bread to them.

That's right--he's catching bread in his mouth.

They seemed to be as entertained as we were. This one would indicate when he was ready for another toss with a wave of his paw.

We moved on to another section--home to a large herd of European Fallow Deer. These guys and gals were aggressive:

They continued to follow us, poking their head through the window and vying for position. Then the car in front of us encountered the big guys:

Uh oh. There was a lot of girly screaming as the bison approached our car, but I reassured my copilot and buddy that I would protect them. I rolled up the window a tad so we wouldn't get the full monty:

Ewwww. It was all slimy, and it's tongue was practically a prehensile hand. It didn't help that we'd watched part of a Star Wars marathon on FX the night before, and an icky Jabba the Hut tongue was fresh in my mind. It slimed the window. Fortunately it's a rental car.

The last group we encountered were some elk, and by comparison they were polite and refined. It was the first time I'd seen an elk and they were impressively HUGE.

They politely popped their head in, retrieved their snack, then withdrew to chomp on it. Definitely a unique experience! Also, some of the largest piles of poo I've ever seen.

On our way home, we decided to check out a psuedo-famous ice cream place on Bainbridge Island--and Google Maps informed me that right next door was Churchmouse Yarns & Teas. Score. A yarn/tea shop is a 'retirement dream' for myself and another good friend, so I owed it to us to check it out. I'm kicking myself for not taking any photos, but this place was AWESOME. So much high quality and hard to find yarn and literature, and teas to boot.

The staff asked me several times if I was on the yarn tour. I was not, I didn't know that such a thing was going on. Apparently it was the 5th Annual 'Destination Yarn' for the Puget Sound area, where 25 LYS were participating. "Why the hell am I not on this tour??" I was thinking, but soon got my answer: my copilot and buddy navigated the store as awkwardly as if they were in Victoria's Secret with their respective moms. Going to twenty-five yarn shops would probably have made me liable for dude-torture (and would have been hell on my wallet), so it's probably for the best. But here's a sample of the goods:

This one actually has a motivation--I'm going to do a psuedo-Knit-A-Long (KAL) with WifeMomKnitter's Stitch n' Bitch group through Ravelry--so this is what I picked. It's virgin wool, so I could dye it any color, but I kind of like it that weird?

This is just because I've been told Socks That Rock yarn, well, rocks. It's quite tough to find, so I grabbed some while I had the chance. It's a favorite of the gal that taught me to knit my first sock, so there's gotta be something to that.

Shawl inspiration. I'm a sucker for knitting history.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Breaking news

The news was on the TV, but I was watching without the sound on so as to concentrate on sorting out some prickly intarsia. I happened to glance up, and swore that I saw something on the screen about a heifer attack. "Was that...really??" The curiosity factor was off the charts. Thank goodness for TiVo...

I found this entertaining on several levels (other than a period of feeling heifer sympathy). First, this assumes that your viewing audience knows what a heifer is (a female cow that hasn't given birth). It also assumes that the viewer finds the distinction important, and opposed to just saying 'a cow'. "Oh, a heifer? That's a shame. At least it wasn't a steer." I guess the distinction could be important if it was a bull--that would have been a less lopsided match-up.

Lastly, there are cougars in Wisconsin?! That's sort of...awesome. I'm declaring myself officially on (dramatic music intro) COUGAR WATCH! As my first order of business, I'm raising the current cougar threat level to orange.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kitchener bind-off

After my love-affair with the tubular cast-on, I have been remiss to re-try its counterpart: the dreaded Kitchener bind-off. I learned to do the Kitchener stitch (aka 'grafting' or 'weaving' seams invisibly) via the TechKnitter and her 'easier' technique. It worked well for seaming up the toes of socks; when I applied it as a bind-off for the bottom of a sweater, it became, how do you say? A hot mess. I finally ripped off the metaphorical Kitchener Band-Aid last night, but this time I tried the 'traditional' method of Kitchener for the bind-off. Here's how it goes...

Kitchener bind-off

Note: This bind-off works for K1P1 ribbing only, and you must have an even number of stitches.

So you've reached the end of your ribbing, and you're ready to bind-off. The first thing you need to do is get yourself a couple of dpns or circulars in the needle size that you're using, as well as a tapestry needle.

Step 1: Slip the first stitch (a knit stitch) purl-wise onto one of the dpns/circs:

Step 2: Slip the next stitch (a purl stitch) purl-wise onto the other dpn/circ:

Make sure that the needle with the knit stitches is closest to you, and the one with the purl stitches is in the back (unlike the photo...tsk tsk).

Repeat steps 1 and 2
until you have all the knit stitches on one needle, and all the purl stitches on the other:

Whichever way you turn it, knit stitches should be facing the outside. We'll call the one with the knit stitches on it the 'front needle', and the one with purl stitches on it the 'back needle'.

Now, cut your yarn leaving a tail three times the length of the work that you're binding off, plus an additional 12" for buffer and weaving in purposes. Thread the loose end onto the tapestry needle.

Step 3:
Hook the needle through the first stitch on the front needle as if you were going to purl it:

Pull the yarn through the stitch until the yarn is snug (not tight). Leave the stitch on.

Step 4:
Hook the needle through the first stitch on the back needle as if you were going to knit it:

Pull the yarn through the stitch until it is snug (not tight). Leave the stitch on.


You've set up the first two stitches, now comes the steps that you will repeat.

Step 5: Hook the needle through the first stitch on the front needle as if you were going to knit it:

Pull the yarn through the stitch until it is snug (not tight). Hook the needle through the second stitch on the front needle as if you were going to purl it:

Pull the yarn through the stitch until it is snug (not tight). Drop the first stitch off of the front needle (circled in green):

Step 6: Hook the needle through the first stitch on the back needles as if you were going to purl it:

Pull the yarn through the stitch. Hook the needle through the second stitch on the back needle as if you were going to knit it:

Pull the yarn snugly through the stitch. Drop the first stitch off of the back needle (circled in green):

Phew. You just bound-off two stitches. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until there are two stitches left, one on each needle, like so:

Step 7: Hook the needle through the only stitch on the front needle as if you were going to knit it:

Pull the yarn through snugly, drop the front needle stitch off.
Step 8: Hook the needle through the only stitch on the back needle as if you were going to purl it:

Pull the yarn through snugly and drop the back needle stitch off.

And you're done with 8 simple steps! Guaranteed fun! (Guarantee void everywhere.)

General advice: continually monitor your progress and adjust the tension of the bind-off. Stretch it out after every couple of steps to make sure the yarn is seated correctly and that nothing is tangled up.

I find that using the traditional method, my bind-off is very loose, so I had to go through and tighten it to my liking after every repeat of steps 5 and 6. It takes longer, but the result is worth it.

Try to make sure that the working yarn is always going over the work, but below the needles (so as not to create extra loops). Understanding this takes some practice (and cursing. So practice your cursing too).

The traditional technique is easier and more intuitive to me, but it may not be for you. If this method pisses you off too badly for words, try out the TechKnitter's method (linked in the first paragraph). This is after you've retrieved your work from the window you threw it out of and apologized to the neighbors for introducing their kids to words they'd never dreamed of, of course. In all seriousness, the Kitchener bind-off isn't hard, it just takes a lot of focus and patience. It works best if you do it somewhere quiet with no distractions. Since I'm the type of person that likes to drive to work while grilling hot-dogs and giving myself a sponge bath, that much focus is sometimes hard to obtain.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My testers = rock stars

I've said it before, but I'll say it again--I love interacting with the Ravelry Test Group, both as a designer and a tester. Two of my testers are finished, and when they posted photos, I may have squealed and clapped my hands like a seal.

From the needles of MsKniterrific:

And on the other side of the globe, celia:

This was the 'problem child'. Not the tester, the size medium design. It was acting out in class, not eating it's vegetables, and disrespecting my authorit-ay (metaphorically speaking).

These gals rock my world. I still have one holdout, and she's been methodical in finding errors, which is excellent. They were all good sports about corrections and dealing with my crazy.

If seeing the finished product was validating, the process of working through concerns and errors was extremely informative (newsflash: not everyone thinks exactly like me or can read my mind). I know, right?

Lastly, courtesy of Dyeing to Knit, my latest entertainment fixation: Regretsy (warning: some of it is not entirely safe for work/little ones, but you can claim the ol' "but it's art" excuse if your boss looks over your shoulder). I've totally made things on the level of some of this stuff before, but at least I've never tried to sell it to anyone.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stitch holder jerry-rig

As seems to happen almost every time I travel, I found myself missing an item needed to continue my craftiness. This time: stitch holder. Usually, I just use scrap yarn as a stitch holder, due to laziness and cheap-ness (I mean, frugality). However, all of the yarn I was using was agglomerated into one big ball--no dice. I searched for solutions in my surroundings. The first thing I spied:

Aha! Maybe some twine? Wire?

I didn't think that something mysterious and sticky called 'Sexauer' would be of any help--but my inner 13-year-old boy did find it amusing. The search continued. In any lab that's been around for a while, even the most immaculate of them tend to accumulate a lot of junk. I struck gold with this drawer:

Not gold, actually. Copper.

Heavy gauge unplied copper wire? Dear diary--jackpot. Copper is very ductile: you can often bend it with no equipment other than your hands.

I started with a straight piece:

Bent it in half, one side a bit longer than the other, then curled the longer side into a loop:

Readjusted by original bend so that I could easily move the unbent side in and out of the loop, but with a little poking through so the stitches would be trapped.

I also filed the ends a bit, just to make sure they wouldn't snag. Here it is in action:

I was feeling quite pleased with myself, but not really seeing any advantage to this as opposed to just a strand of yarn. Then I made an error (naturally) and had to pull the work back out to before where I used the stitch holder--bingo. It was so much easier to get the stitches on and off using a rigid holder, rather than yarn. They slid off like buttah. It's cliche, but necessity is the mother of invention.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Science fight!

I was 75% kidding when in my last post I asserted that this collaboration in Tennessee might blow up in our faces...but it only took 3 days for the proverbial excrement to hit some spinning blades. So! I'll still visit Oak Ridge to work with other equipment, but for this particular technique we're finally breaking the cycle of abuse and taking our business elsewhere. Every field has some sort of politics; I think it's just an inescapable part of being human. I'm sure even knitting has a dark side, where knitters make shady deals with sheep farms and yarn companies in dim, smoke-filled rooms. Well, maybe not smoke-filled rooms--that's hell on yarn. Maybe they're just sipping scotch on the rocks from low-ball glasses. We'll go with that.

The silver lining is that I got to do a LOT of knitting while working in the wee hours of the morning. I made huge progress on the sleeveless sweater that I'm test knitting:

But I had to stop as soon as I got to anything even remotely requiring thought. I'm not a night person. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a morning person either--more of a middle of the day, right before my afternoon nap type of person. So I moved on to Mystery Wedding Project (go go garter stitch!). And last night...I log-cabined for the first time. I also spent way too much time trying to come up with a way to make that into some kind of innuendo, and the only thing I could come up with equated 'log' to poop. And classy ladies don't talk about poop. In fact, we don't even do such an unsavory thing ourselves, we've just heard about it. What I'm saying is, I finished a block, turned it, and picked up stitches for the next block. Whew.

Another bright spot in the trip was that I got to eat here (repeatedly):

No, it's not a homeless person eatery.

I have to specify every time I try to explain it to people: no, it's not a traditional soup kitchen, no, I am not stealing resources from the homeless. It's a local soup and sandwich joint, where they have about ten homemade soups available every day. I'm a soup fiend; it's nice to get a daily fix.

What is it about TN (and especially a burg like Oak Ridge) that makes it not only acceptable, but practically necessary to listen to country music? Yesterday I found myself cruising along with the windows down, flanked by a Ford F150 to the left and an F250 to the right, listening to some guy croon and twang about how awesome water was, especially when applied to busty women wearing white T-shirts (I'm not making this up). It seemed completely appropriate. And, via the same station, I learned that Hootie (sans Blowfish) is still around, country-ing it up. Who knew?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Reporting from an undisclosed location

Just like Dick Cheney! Nah, I kid, I'll disclose. I'm in Oak Ridge, TN, doing some work at the national lab here for the week. I won't get into details (we don't want anyone shooting themselves in the face out of boredom), but it involved a back-room type deal where I make a bunch of samples during 2nd and 3rd shift type hours, and the person I make them for gives me a bunch of data. We'll see if it actually pans out that way. Mad scientists are one thing, but some of them are just not what you'd call "team players" (not that I'm referring to who I'm working with *cough*).

Travel started in the wee hours of the morning, and after checking in at the lab I was anticipating an epic nap at the hotel. I entered my room to a noxious and overpowering odor and some strange glass container on the desk full of ash--"What the...?" I can now say I've tested all but one of the hotels in Oak Ridge, and am crossing this one off of my list. You may laugh, but I didn't know that smoking rooms still existed ('smoking rooms' sounds weird, like they're on fire--would it be a non-non-smoking room?). They got me switched to a non for the first three nights, but couldn't guarantee the fourth; I'm bitterly awaiting my stay in the chamber of stank. Maybe I'll just sleep in front of the instrument I'm working on all night. Speaking of what I am planning on doing with all of the down time:

My ever faithful traveling companion, Murray, guards my stash.

I can say, without hyperbole, that half of the stuff in my suitcase was knitting related. Now of course, I could be reading journal articles and working on a paper in my downtime, but seriously? Between the stash and Season 11 of Top Gear that my copilot put on my hard drive, I'm going to have a good time down here if it kills me damn it! Now if you'll excuse me, Murray and I need to have a nap.

Also: I'm back to the point-and shoot-camera for the week, so I apologize in advance for the crappiness of future photos. And no tutorials this week. Sadness...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mental unload

For whatever reason, I can't think of a cohesive theme to today's post (and it'll be a big change because they are usually so plot driven and rich in subtext). What we're going to end up with is a stream of consciousness type thing--a mental dump, if you will.

First of all, a recent engineering feat using 'green energy' for something useful, for once (please don't send me your hate via comments/email--I'm mostly kidding--I'm just bitter that people tend to leave out nuclear energy when they're talking about non-carbon emitting forms of energy). Check it:

Wind Powered Knitting Machine from Frankie Thom on Vimeo.

It's a wind powered knitting machine. Sweet! The article's a few days old, but that doesn't detract from it's awesomeness in any way. Apparently it can only do scarves, but the length of said scarf is only limited by how much yarn you feed into it. I know what I want for my birthday!


I went to my LYS yesterday and did the deed:

That's right. 300 g of 100% RY Classic Yarn cottony goodness for the sleeveless cowl test. I swatched it up on US9, 10, and 11 sized needles. Then I concluded that I needed size 10 & 1/2 (which of course I didn't own). Went to other LYS to get the needles. I'm trying to spread the love around.


SO MUCH STOCKINETTE AND GARTER STITCH. I needed to get that off my chest. I feel like I'm a kid on a long car trip--"Are we there yet? How much longer? I NEED TO PEE!!" I can't believe I decided to make a [WORD REDACTED IN CASE FRIEND IS READING] for my friend's wedding. But I have a hard deadline. Blurg.


I really want to finish a swatch for my still ongoing "which cast-on/bind-off is the stretchiest for ribbing" test, but after my love affair with the tubular cast-on, I can't seem to bring myself to do it's counterpart--the dreaded Kitchener's bind-off. I'm pretty sure that I can't write the tutorial up without a plethora of obscenities. Maybe I'll offer a 'clean' and 'uncensored' version to spare those with delicate sensibilities.


My copilot made me an awesome new banner. He only had the advice of "something knitting-y, and something engineering-y, like some gears or something". I think he worked quite well with that poor guidance. Thanks luv!