my first afterthought heel

I’ve wanted to try knitting an “afterthought heel” ever since I first heard of this intriguingly named construction technique. In essence, socks are long tubes of plain knitting, broken up by one bit in the middle which requires concentration and skill. Don’t get me wrong, I love heels, I think they’re all sorts of magic and I love trying out different ways of doing them, but the truth is, they can be fiddly, they require that you look at your knitting and concentrate, and somehow the need to knit them usually seems to appear at the most inconvenient time, like just when you’ve plonked yourself down in front of the latest episode of your favourite tv show and you just want some plain mindless knitting.

Well, what if you could move that fiddly bit to whenever it suits you best, rather than interrupting your smooth knitting when the sock tells you to? That’s exactly what an afterthought heel does. It lets you put in a sort of placeholder (a line of waste yarn) in the sock, where the heel will go, and go on with knitting your plain tube. You can return to your heel and complete it whenever you feel like it. The added bonus is that it helps maintain even stripes on striped socks.

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So, after years of knowing all this in theory, I finally tried it out in practice last week, and I’m pleased to report it was simple as pie and worked just as I had imagined it. Yay for afterthought heels!

As for the rest of this project, I’ll show and tell you more when I’ve finished the second sock. No one has yet invented a magic cure for Second Sock Syndrome, unfortunately… ;)

how to start a stitch’n’bitch club in less than 60 minutes

A few weeks ago, an acquaintance from work asked me if I be willing to teach an intro to knitting workshop for a few people at his place. At first I thought I was being teased. I have lunch with the guy occasionally, as part of a bigger group, and I know he’s always joking around, playfully teasing people for this or that. I figured he must have heard from someone that I knit, and wanted to score a few quick laughs. I agreed but thought nothing much of it. Until he followed up with an inquiry on dates. And an invitation to the whole group to attend. And questions on where to buy yarn and needles… Huh!

And so, yesterday, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, five of us met up with some warm coffee and lots of fresh balls of yarn. I was nervous – would I be able to explain this to them? I had no idea how to teach someone to knit. I had learned from books and youtube, so I couldn’t even think back to how someone else had taught me. We had settled on the simplest thing – a scarf in garter stitch, just knit-knit-knit to start with. But what about the part which I personally always struggled with most, the cast-on and the first row? Should I just do it for them? Well, that wouldn’t be very pedagogical, would it? Uh…

In the end I just jumped in and improvised. It turned out that the hardest thing to teach them was the slip knot (what helped was showing them how to do it with a finger instead of with a needle). After that we did a simple backward-loop cast-on (not my favourite, but easiest to learn, I figured), and then off they went on their first knit stitches. I worried a lot about what to tell them about holding the yarn (something I struggled with for years), but in the end I didn’t mention it at all, and they each figured out their own way of doing it.

At first there was a lot of cursing. Like, A LOT. Sentences such as “This is much harder than I thought!” and “How on earth is this supposed to be relaxing?” were uttered a number of times. We ripped and restarted a few times. I flitted around from one person to the next, showing them the movements again and again, and watching as their shaky hands slowly figured it out. Amidst this busyness, the curses slowly died off, and silence emerged, punctuated only by the occasional “Oops, I’ve done something wrong, help…” Someone remarked on how it was impossible to knit and talk at the same time. And yet, another 20 minutes later, we found ourselves in the midst of a lively office gossip session, the four of them all the while continuing to diligently work on their stitches. And I looked around, and thought to myself: “Wow, I’ve just created a stitch AND bitch club in less than 60 minutes.”

:)

guess!

Guess what I’ve been doing the last few days!

Hahaaaa, you don’t believe it, do you? :) Yes, after years of resisting, I finally gave in and tried a little bit of crochet! We had an amazing public gathering of knitters last Saturday (more on that to come) and in the overall atmosphere of discovering and learning I finally buckled and asked my lovely friend Johanna (who does wonders with crochet) to show me some basics. I was still kinda convinced that I could never master it. But, shockingly, I made some chains. And then some sticks (hmm, that’s what they’re called in Croatian, I guess ‘double crochet’ in English? the whole British-US double vocabulary in crochet is kinda discouraging me from even trying to learn…). And then some flat shapes.

Impressions of crochet so far?

I’m still not a fan of the fabric it creates – so I think my interest in it will stay limited to those things that are too complicated or too slow to do with knitting (the former: covering three-dimensional items with yarn, the latter: blankets).

It feels much “freer” than knitting. In the sense that in knitting you are always working in rows, you always know which stitch is next, and if you want to shape something you have to think of it in a galaxy far far faaar in advance (which all leads me to following patterns very strictly in knitting). In crochet, though, as far as I can see, you can just stick the hook wherever you like, and if at some point you decide you’d like to do some shaping, you just do it right there and then. Not to mention how easy it is to rip (no tinkering back stitch by stitch, wow!). All this contributes to me feeling much freer in experimenting, inventing and unventing things when I’m holding the hook than I do when holding the needles.

So, in conclusion, I’m a little surprised to say this, but I think crochet and I are going to end up being good friends. But don’t worry, knitting, you’re still my soulmate. :*

 

 

 

space robot

Space Robot is my first knitted toy! It took about three weeks to knit up, stuff and seam. But the moment it was done, Space Robot started having a life of his own.

First he went for a swim. I came home from work one day and immediately noticed the smell of wet wool. I had no idea where it was coming from, until I wandered over to the kitchen and saw that Space Robot had dived from the counter into the sink and was taking a dip in the leftovers of my morning cereals… He got a proper talking-to, and it seemed to have worked – he avoided swimming afterwards (at least when he could get caught!). This is his guilty face below.

Then he started experimenting with music. And like adults often do, I regretted my actions and started wishing he would go back to swimming. Do you know what space drums sound like when played by a rebellious young toy? If you don’t, trust me on this one – you’re better off for it.

Finally, he tried his hand at modelling. The girls that came with it were nice, but he found them a bit too empty-headed. In the end, he decided it wasn’t quite for him.

And then he announced that he would be packing his suitcases and flying off to Croatia within two days’ notice. I was devastated! Ok, we had had our differences, but he was still my favourite little chubby Space Robot! I would miss him so much. And worry about him too. He told me not to fret and gave me a biiiiiiiiig space hug.

And then he was off. Just like that. I was sad, but also proud. He was going off to make his own place in the world.

He writes to me regularly. He says he’s very happy. He’s taken up house with my nephew and they are working together at a Lego construction site. In their time off they do math homework. And he’s even learning to play football… (I say he’d make a great goalie!)

Space Robot was knitted without any modifications as per Ysolda Teague’s Trinket pattern. I found the knitting to be quite a bit fiddly, but absolutely worth it. The construction is very inventive and it will take you through a large number of different skills on a fairly small project. I had never done intarsia before, for example, and here I had a chance to try it out small scale. I recommend the pattern without hesitation. Some additional technical notes and links to tutorials I used can be found on my project page.

I used Cascade 220 Heathers because I had some lying around in nice colours. I am really a fan of this yarn and think it may be perfect for knitted toys. Before stuffing the toy I wet-blocked it, a process which works wonders for this 100% wool yarn. It helps the stitches blend together, thus making the toy surface smoother (and softer for children’s hands and cheeks) and closing up any holes where the stuffing may leak through.

The photos were taken by a wonderful friend of mine.

second mitten syndrome

Tonight at knit group, one of the ladies who hadn’t attended in a while glanced at my knitting and went: “You’re still knitting those mittens?!” And she was right, though only partially. Yes, the last time she had been there, about two months ago, I was working on my Fiddleheads. But where she was wrong was that I’m not working on them still – I am working on them again. Oh yeah, after I finished the first one, I got me some of that good ol’ second mitten syndrome! Funny how I don’t get that with socks… Well, I better not say that twice! ;)

Anyway, yes, I am working on the second Fiddlehead. And as I navigate the troubled waters of colourwork again, I’d like to say two heartfelt thankyous.

Firstly, to Adrian Bizilia, the designer, for having the brilliance and the foresight to divide the chart into 5×5 squares. It is indescribable how much easier it is to read and follow a chart that is presented like that. So great that it should be made obligatory, by knitterly law, for all charts. Ever.

Secondly, to the several people (both here and in real life) who advised me to try turning my colourwork inside out while I knit. At first the idea baffled me, but since I’ve tried it I haven’t gone back. I am now best friends with my floats and my tension.

And I think there might just be a finished pair of mittens soon. Maybe even in time to wear this winter… :)

diary

Well, the computer has had an autopsy and has been pronounced dead-dead. Apparently my hard drive is physically broken. My data is most likely lost, though some people I know might give it a shot to rescue it later on… I did do a backup of all the important stuff fairly recently, so guess what is the main thing I lost? Photos! Not all of them, but a good part. (Boy am I regretting now not uploading any photos of my Amsterdam trip on Facebook…) But in any case, I choose not to dwell on this too much and get on with life. :) And until I figure out when and how to buy a new computer (or how to upload photos onto my work computer ;), I’ll just have to find ways of non-photographic expression.

Which is all to say… that I’ve started a diary! A knitting diary!

So, last Sunday, I finally started my Fiddlehead Mittens. (And when I say “finally”, I mean after a year and a half of having them in my queue and at the top of my wish list, and about 10 months after having bought the yarn). Because I want to actually wear these this winter, and because I find colourwork challenging, I decided to set myself an aim and monitor progress regularly. The aim is to knit 5 rounds each day and to write down my progress each day. In addition, I think it will be quite fun to have the story of the progress from the very beginning to the final product, which I will be able to look at even years later. I don’t get paid for my knitting, but if I write about the process in such detail, if I write down every round I make, it seems to somehow acknowledge the value of the time and effort I put into it. So here goes, my diary of knitting my very own pair of Fiddlehead mittens, first five days!

Sunday, October 9
I didn’t have a project to bring to knit group today. I searched frantically for a new project to start half an hour before leaving home, but rushing it like that didn’t work. So I just did some (long overdue) seaming at the group. But after I came home I was still in the crafting mood and suddenly inspiration hit – I would finally start my Fiddleheads! I did the I-cord cast-on (the I-cord looks decent, but the cast-on stitches are huuuuuge and unelastic, any ways to get around that? Since I’m working with a 3mm needle on DK yarn, going down a few needle sizes is not really an option) and 5 rounds of colourwork. I tried using the thimble I bought recently, but gave up very quickly (I couldn’t find a way to tension the yarn, things were just flying all over the place) and took up my method of two-handed colourwork.

Monday, October 10
15 rounds!

Tuesday, October 11
0 rounds
French class after work, then meeting former colleagues visiting from Croatia, came home at midnight and collapsed into the bed immediately.

Wednesday, October 12
Knit group, did 10 rounds with only messing up a few times and noticing it straight away, I’m quite proud of myself for that (though to be honest it was a very quiet group, only about 5-6 people showed up).

Thursday, October 13
0 rounds
I was really looking forward to some nice stitching after French class, but had forgotten that I had a dinner planned with the flatmates. After a few beers colourwork was no longer an option… But since I did a few more intensive days, I’m still averaging around 5 rounds a day, so I’m on schedule!

So, that’s the beginning. And maybe making it even more public like this will give me an additional incentive… ;) Feel free to join in with diaries of your own projects, I’d love to read about everyone’s everyday knitting habits. :)

sunday afternoons

You know that little thing that’s been sitting in the corner of your flat for weeks, postponed and postponed, pushed further and further out of sight, not because it’s difficult or that time-consuming, but because it’s simply uninteresting, and perhaps a bit tedious? A-ha. You know what I’m talking about. I have it too. But somehow, on some Sunday afternoons, it feels just right to pick it up, sit down quietly, listening to the wind outside, and finally deal with it.

For me, it’s this little instrument. I always, always, always postpone it.

Part of the reason is that I’m not very good at it. I was fascinated several weeks ago at knit night when a fellow-knitter seamed her entire pullover right there and then, at a little crowded cafe table, in a semi-dark room, over a drink. Oh no, for me it looks more like this:

A manual, an instruction video, a big clear and bright flat surface, lots of space to take a break if I get frustrated… :)

Tell me, how do you seam? And how do you spend your Sunday afternoons? :)

honey

As promised last week, today I present to you The Vest Of Podcast Fame: Honey. Though Honey was finished a while ago, it took some time for all the elements to coincide properly so we could take photos. Considering the amount of effort I put into it, I wanted to have really good photos and didn’t mind waiting. The credit (and a big hug) for them goes to my best friend, who is steadily becoming my official photographer. We’re both learning as we go and having lots of fun at it. And every time we shoot something, I can’t wait for the next time!

Now, I’ve wanted to knit myself a vest for so long now. I love the idea of them. When I was 7 years old, I had a vest that I used to wear to school (first grade, eek!) all the time. When I think of vests now, I see an image of a nice warm colour paired with a white shirt, for a professional yet casual look. These are all the things I was thinking of when I was looking for a vest to knit.

I first noticed the Green Day pattern on handpande’s project page. And to be honest, good thing I did. Because if I had come across the pattern page first, I probably wouldn’t have looked twice before clicking the little red x in the top right-hand corner of the screen. I really don’t think the photos there do the pattern justice – especially with one of them (at the very top) not even being available any more. The funny thing is, it’s not the first time something like this happens to me via handepande. Her project page also led me to the Pajunkissa hat pattern – which I made (in three versions!) according to her mods, rather than the significantly different per-pattern version.

The pattern itself, I’m sad to say, is not written much better than its Ravelry page would lead you to expect. It is far from polished. First of all, the pattern is written for knitting on straight needles, even though the designer’s photos show a closed garment rather than a buttoned one. So the knitter is left to his or her own devices to modify the pattern to knit in the round, so as to get what the pattern photos show! That’s pretty illogical if you ask me.

Furthermore, the chart is rather confusing. It is partially duplicated without telling you that what you’re seeing is one and a half repeat rather than one full repeat. This led me to having some really strange twists in my cables, before realising what was going on, and having to rip 4 rounds.

Finally, there are some errors in the English translation. And I’m not speaking about not using the exact English knitting term. Rather, some numbers were copied wrong. Now, I’m a translator myself and I know translators get a lot of gruff for failing to copy numbers correctly and little acknowledgement for other things into which they put a lot of effort, but in a knitting pattern numbers are pretty crucial, I dare say.

So if you’re planning to knit this pattern, be warned: you’ll need to modify it for knitting in the round (unless you want a seam smack in the middle of your front) and figure out where the errors are. However, I’d say that with some experience and knitter’s intuition you should be able to make it work without major issues. I knit mine in the round, made it longer than the pattern stipulated, and worked out all the errors (though some after an attempt or two) – and this was only my third or fourth adult garment ever.

Having said all that, I can hear a little voice at the back of my head, saying “You’re too critical. It’s a FREE pattern. You have no right to demand anything from it.” True, it’s free. I didn’t pay anything for it so I might as well work harder to make sense of it, and, not having paid anything, I have no “claim” to demand better quality for my money. Are we allowed to mention when free patterns are poorly-written at all or is even that rude and ungrateful? I’d love to hear your opinions.

I’d like to note here that it’s possible the designer didn’t even intend to be a designer – she may have just written up her notes  because others asked for them upon seeing her improvised FO. This would explain the failure to polish the pattern to a great extent. So why on earth am I grumbling? Well, here’s the thing: I enjoyed knitting this very much, it was just challenging enough, it was fairly easy to modify, and it yielded a beautiful result. It is precisely for these reasons that I’d like the pattern to be presented better and polished a bit more – I’m sure a lot more people would be making it then, and it’s what the pattern definitely deserves!

something to aspire to

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This might sound a little cheeky, but there isn’t much in knitting that I aspire to, in the sense of wondering if and only timidly hoping that I may be able to do it some day. I haven’t done much lace, but I know how to do the majority of the stitches required for it. I still haven’t got around to knitting my first pair of socks, but I understand all the elements of at least one type of construction and I don’t fear it. I haven’t yet knitted and stuffed a toy, but I have all the materials ready at home, waiting until I find the time for it.

There is one thing, though, that makes my fingers hurt from the very thought of it, and my knitterly ego run into the corner of the room and whimper. Colourwork.

There have been attempts. First, optimistically, in the spring and summer of 2009, this.

Hello, wonky corrugated rib! Hello, puckering! Rrrrrip.

Then, in the winter of 2010, this.

How many stitches per round, while holding two colours? You’ve got to be kidding me. Rrrrrrip.

Then, for Christmas 2010, this.

Three colours. Haha. You would’ve thought the first two attempts had been successful, if I decided to do this. It did go quite ok, though, until I learned about a little thing called yarn dominance. And realized I had been doing it all wrong. Rrrrrrip.

I have actually restarted the latter, but they soon got moved to the bottom of the WIP heap. In the to deal with when I have the nerve again section. I do also plan to restart both Paper Dolls and Selbu, and I have yarn waiting for Fiddleheads and Tortoise and Hares. I am not one to back away from a challenge. Well, not indefinitely at least. ;) But temporarily? Oh hell yeah! :D I’ve been hiding from all of these for a while now.

But thinking about it now, I remember there was one successful (and extremely pleasing) colourwork project: Opus Spicatum.

Why did that work without major issues? Well, it hadn’t occured to me until now, but it’s obvious. It was knit in aran weight! The perfect kid-wheels for a bike – heavier yarn, bigger needles. And when I think about it – it’s one of the main issues I have with colourwork – my tight grip on the thin needle, which quickly causes a painful spot on my finger. Thus making the knitting literally pained. Eureka! Before I get down to all those lovely complex fingering-weight patterns listed above, I clearly need to get a few more heavier weight colourwork projects under my belt. How hadn’t I realized that before?!

Phew, we’ve got that figured out now. Good. But wait, I don’t know of any other colourwork patterns that call for worsted or aran weight… Hmmmm… Well, I guess that’s where you come in! Anyone willing to supply me with my kid wheels? I’d be much obliged for all and any pattern recommendations! Thank you :)

Skill + 1UP

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When it comes to my knitting skills, I guess you could say they’re a constantly evolving and a constantly devolving thing. I learn a new skill on most projects, whether it’s a huge thing like two-handed colourwork or a tiny thing like a new method of cast-on. I am usually thrilled by the said new skill and talk about it without end (you regular readers here are my witnesses). And then, usually, I forget all about it. In the knowledge that the link to the YouTube tutorial is safely stored on my Ravelry project page, I don’t feel the need to keep practising the skill. I use it on the thing I needed it for, and store in the “to re-learn” section of my brain until I need it again.

There are some skills, however, that you can’t learn from YouTube. And those are the skills that I am practising, and improving, on every single project. Which means that I can illustrate them easily using my latest FO, finished yesterday evening.

The skill of making do with whatever yarn I have available. The recipient wanted the colour lilac. The only lilac yarn I could find was DK, while the pattern called for aran weight. Simple, just hold it double!

The skill of finding other crafts with which to create what I need, instead of searching for just the right thing in the shops. I couldn’t find matching buttons that would be big enough. Simple, cover old buttons with yarn used in the project!

The skill to not fear experimenting with ideas that just pop into my head. I didn’t want to do single-coloured pom-poms again. Simple, vary it up!

That’s one option. What about another one? Simple!

The skill of modifying a pattern so I get exactly what I want. The earflaps were too long for my taste. Simple, shorten them!

I didn’t like the way the edge rolled. Simple, add a seed stitch border!

These skills are more important than knowing how to do a psso or a w&t. Because, I assure you, if you had set me up against these issues a year ago, I wouldn’t have squeaked “Simple!” and gone to work. I probably would have started pulling my hair out instead. And that’s why, even if I couldn’t make a list containing things such as  crocheting a border, embroidering a motif, sewing a flat seam, doing the twisted German cast-on, I still would’ve said my skill has gone up by far more than 1.

Happy Tuesday! :)