Saturday, August 26, 2006

Doilies Rock!

I decided on Wednesday that I needed to make my mother some doilies for her birthday. She plays bridge every Monday, and when she hosts she buys the little paper doilies to put under the snacks and so on. Well, I hadn't had any ideas about what to do for her birthday and was going to just get her a book when the words "knit" and "doily" collided in my head.

I picked out the "'Plastic' Doily" pattern from The Lacy Knitting of Mary Schiffmann. This one is called "'Plastic' Doily" because she copied the pattern from a well, plastic doily. But the plastic version had been pressed from a real knitted doily, and she could still see the stitches imprinted in the plastic well enough to, apparently, knit a duplicate. Little old lady lace knitters are not to be messed with.

I cast on Thursday morning, and finished Friday night (which, FYI, was my mother's actual birthday, but since I'm not going to see her until next Thursday I have several days in which to cheat on making presents). This is not as impressive as it sounds, because I only knitted 60 of the 102 charted rows, and ended with a mere 384 stitches per round, instead of the 600 one had by the end of the full pattern.

I shortened the pattern because I was using my beloved Cotton Fine and not teeny-tiny crochet cotton, and didn't want to end up with a doily three feet across. My finished doily blocked to 12" in diameter, which is right where I wanted. I bound off just after a big increase row, which caused a bit of a ruffle effect along the edge. I'm going to call that a "feature."

My ultimate plan is to make eight more, to use as coasters for the bridge players. I was going to use a different pattern, but then I looked at the center of the just-finished doily and thought, hey, if I just did the center of that, they would all match! Sweet!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Convention Knitting

Right. DragonCon is a week away. Well, tomorrow it will be a week away. Naturally, the most urgent, burning issue of my preparations is "What am I going to knit?"

Of my in-progress works, the St. Brigid sweater is right out. Not only is it far too large for easy toting, it's too complex for running around, roleplaying, panelling, and (most significantly) drinking. Also, I'm getting to the point where I need to take a break from it. I've made four minor mistakes in the last two repeats, nothing I even had to actually fix because they were so minor, but I'm apparently losing my will to focus on it properly. The back will done in 12 more rows, and after that I'm going to knit hats for a while. Possibly socks. Or gloves (I have a nifty idea for a glove done in heel stitch). So, St. Brigid is staying home. (Okay, I might tuck it into a wee little bag just in case...)

I'm not even going to dignify the Seaweed Afghan with an explanation.

So, it's going to be socks. Being the forethoughtful person that I am, I decided to go ahead and get both socks past the ribbing before trying to wander around knitting while walking. (The reason I started on said socks more than a week before the convention is a matter I'm going to gloss over. Let's just say it was a very close thing that I didn't show up in downtown Atlanta tomorrow and wonder where the other 25,000 people were.)

I initially cast on 76 stitches, but after a few rows I tried them on and convinced myself that they were too big. So I ripped and cast on 72 stitches. After completing 15 rows of ribbing on both socks and about as many rows of stockinette on one sock, I didn't have to do any convincing to realize that the socks were too small. So, I ripped and started over with--you guessed it--76 stitches. The really pathetic part of this story? The first thing I did was, in fact, a gauge swatch. Gauge is no proof against overthinking.

The bright side is that now I'll have time to get both socks past the ribbing before the con. And knit my mother a doily, too.

Monday, August 21, 2006

More Sylvester News

I took Sylvester to the vet today to get a read on how he's doing and what needs to be done. Although he's still doing better, eating and drinking and purring and sleeping and complaining, the kidney failure is still an issue, and isn't going to go away. The vet is putting him on a variety of medications to mimic various kidney functions, and to help him put on some weight. So, he'll be taking:

  • Tapazole, his thyroid medication
  • Potassium to replace the potassium lost because of the kidney failure
  • Pepcid AC to control the excess tummy acid caused by same
  • Epakitin (crushed shrimp and crab shells) mixed in his food to absorb phosphorus
  • Anti-nausea medication for a week or two, so he'll keep in all down and hopefully gain weight

    Everything except the Pepcid has to be given twice a day. Apparently, the kidneys are a complex organ.

    The bottom line, though, is that even if all the medications do what they're supposed to, the kidney failure is going to catch up with him, probably within the next few months. Again, not unexpected, and it's certainly a lot longer than I (or the vet) thought he was going to have when I took him in last week. He'll also, hopefully, have a relatively comfortable and happy life until that happens. Well, as happy as any cat can be when its owner is pushing five kinds of meds down its throat twice a day. So, as always, we'll wait and see what happens.
  • Sunday, August 20, 2006

    It's Not Quite Like Riding a Bicycle

    Remember the cursed socks? Well, I finished their replacements tonight. I used Lane Cervinia Forever Jacquard, in a blue, gray, black, and white colorway. I like it a lot more than most self-patterning sock yarns because the colors change more quickly, especially the short bits where the colors are supposed to mimic alternating stitches. Plus, it's slightly cheaper.

    I immediately started on a pair of socks for Boo that I'd been dying to get started. I bought a skein of Schaeffer's Anne in a bright pink, red, orange, and purple colorway, just the thing for the discerning toddler. When I say "immediately," of course, what I mean is "immediately after winding 560 yards of fine sock yarn into a ball by hand." (The alcohol had nothing to do with the fact that it took me something like two hours to accomplish this.)

    Because the Anne is a bit thinner than the sock yarns I'd been using, I had to go down from the 0's I'd used for Al's socks to a some 00000's. This isn't really a problem, except that the only 00000's I have are two sets of steel double-pointed needles. Again, not a problem, because I've knitted fifty billion pairs of mittens and hat tops on double-points, no big deal. And, yay, I have two sets, so I can still work on both socks at once, which is my preferred method.

    Well, okay. So it's been probably six or seven years since I've actually used double-pointed needles, not since I learned about the technique of knitting on two circulars and let out a whoop of joy at the thought of never laddering again. It didn't take me long to invest in a duplicate set of circulars, and I've never looked back. I still carry my double-points around because they're very useful for picking up and fixing, but I haven't actually knitted in the round with them for some time.

    So far, I've knitted one (1) round. It didn't take long for it all to come back to me, the needles sticking every which way and flopping around, the winding the yarn around the wrong needles, the dropping the emptied needle under the desk five times. Plus, these are, in case I haven't mentioned, very thin needles. Very thin, 7" long needles, which is an inch longer than the ones I'd normally use, on a project that's 2" shorter around than the average adult sock, which means that there's a lot more extra pointy bits waving around than I'm used to.

    Still, one round down, and while it's not quite the whizzing along I can manage on two circulars, the enjoyment of working with double-pointed needles is still there. Plus, I don't have to worry about whipping my needle around and smacking a cat in the face like I do when I change from one circular to the other. There's always a bright side, after all.

    Saturday, August 19, 2006

    A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing

    There are a lot of people who don't see the point of hand knitting. Why, they wonder, would any sane person spend hours upon hours carefully wrapping bits of yarn around a pair of needles when one can buy equivalents of the finished product at Wal-Mart? Especially when said Wal-Mart product is a hell of a lot cheaper. Luckily, I don't know anyone with that attitude. I'm very fortunate, in fact, to have friends and family who appreciate my love of knitting, in the fullest sense of the word.

    I have to wonder what the former group says, though, about knitters who spin their own yarn first. Because, damn, if I had a few hundred spare bucks lying around, I'd be surreptitiously Googling spinning wheels. And it'd be all Sheila's fault.

    A couple of days ago, at the regular Thursday Stich N' Bitch at Threaded Bliss, a lady named Marlene Gruetter from Timber Ridge Farm in Ohio came to talk to us about where little yarns come from.

    Five years ago, Marlene and her husband bought a farm, and, told they needed some animals, decided to purchase two (2) goats. They came home with six goats, and now they have goats, sheep, rabbits, and llamas, all of whom produce bags and bags of fiber every year. (Okay, in the case of the bunnies it's a very small bag.) Her husband shears the animals, and Marlene sorts, cleans (there's a separate technical term for "picking out the bits of hay, mud and poo," but I can't remember it now, bad student), washes, cards, spins, and weaves.

    There were about a dozen knitters there that night, and only two of them had ever done any spinning at all. A tabula rasa, as it were, of knowledge about raw fiber and what to do with it. Marlene started by talking about the critters themselves, and showed us samples of the different fibers that came from them. She even brought along her award-winning mohair fleece. Now, when I think "fleece," I can't help but picture a single, cohesive mass of fiber. This was simply a bag of large locks of goat hair. Marlene had removed the trash from it, but it was otherwise unwashed, un-brushed, and pretty much just as it it come off the goat.

    She also brought along some samples of llama, alpaca (she doesn't raise alpacas, but she has a friend who gave her some alpaca fiber), and angora from the rabbits. Brief nomenclature lesson: There are Angora rabbits and Angora goats. The fiber that comes from the rabbits is called angora, but the fiber that comes from the goats is called mohair, not angora. Just to clear that up.

    Anyway, the angora in particular was amazing. I really can't do it justice. One person said it was as if your fingers weren't sensitive enough to really feel it, it was so fine and smooth and soft. Marlene also had some yarn spun from 100% mohair, which was much slicker and smoother than I had ever thought. Most mohair yarns are blended with nylon or wool (For those who have seen the purple shawl I just finished, that yarn was about 75% mohair, 22% wool, and 3% nylon), and I was surprised at the difference the blends had made to the mohair.

    After showing us some different fleeces and fibers, Marlene demonstrated how to blend and card. This is a labor-intensive process, even with a drum-carder that combs the fibers by turning a crank, instead of using two combs to manually brush the fibers. Depending on how smooth one wants the finished yarn to be, the same fleece might need to be run through the carding process multiple times, and one can only card relatively small pieces at a time. This is why, Marlene explained, when her husband asks "What are you doing today?" she can simply say "carding," and he'll know she'll be busy all day long. This is also the reason that many fiber farmers send their fleeces out to be carded and spun. Even with a modest number of animals, it's far too much work for a single person.

    When the fiber comes off the drum, it's in a flat piece about an inch thick. This is called a "batting," and I had something of a belated epiphany when Marlene mentioned that these bats are used by quilters. Duh. I've known for years that the stuff one puts between the layers of a quilt is called batting, but I'd never connected it with the spinning term. Live and learn. When one buys fiber for spinning, one can buy it in the bats, or in rovings, which (if I'm understanding the terminology correctly) is a bat that has been teased out into a longer, thinner shape.

    The roving is a very thick, very puffy, very loose collection of fiber. Think cotton balls. You can't make anything out the roving that won't fall apart as soon as it's tugged or pushed or pulled or had, really, any pressure at all put on it. To make the fibers hold together, there are two things to do: felting and spinning. You can felt raw fiber the same way you felt knitted yarn, and Marlene does quite a bit of this. She says that it is, sadly, a dying art form, and she's determined to do her part to revive it.

    The second way to make the fiber hold together is by spinning it into yarn. Spinning is, essentially, the process of twisting the fibers together so that they cling to one another enough to hold their shape. A spinning wheel automates the twisting process, nothing more. The spinner determines everything else, including how thick, thin, loose or tight the yarn is.

    Marlene brought out the spinning wheel, and demonstrated. She asked for volunteers to try it, and I pretty much jumped at the chance. To spin, one holds the raw fiber in both hands, using one hand to feed the twisted yarn onto the bobbin, and the other to tease out the un-spun fiber so that it can be twisted. There is, obviously, a great deal of practice, skill, and know-how involved in said process, but it amazed me how easily that big puff of fiber turned into an object resembling yarn.

    I spun about three yards of yarn, which in its modest length contains many different spinning techniques. Parts of it are very loosely twisted--one might go so far as to describe them as "un-spun lumps." Other parts are very firmly twisted, and have a charming habit of kinking into tight little piggy tails at the least provocation. There are even some parts that combine the two techniques, resembling densely matted lumps. And there are even a couple of inches, here and there, that look like yarn. It was amazingly, amazingly fun, and I can see now why not only are there many knitters who enjoy spinning their own yarn, there are folks out there who have no interest in knitting, weaving, or crocheting, they just love making the yarn.

    I wonder if there are cheap spinning wheels on E-bay...

    Friday, August 18, 2006

    Sylvester FYI

    Belated update from my Livejournal.

    So, last Saturday I made a big ol' emo post about Sylvester, my 16-year-old kitty, being very ill and not likely to make it through the week.

    Naturally, two days later Sylvester made a semi-miraculous recovery.

    In a nutshell, I took him to the vet last Saturday because he couldn't lift his head at all, even to eat or drink, had dwindled to a skeletal weight in the last week or so (6 pounds--his normal weight should be about 11-12 pounds), and did nothing but lie by his water bowl staring straight ahead. The vet diagnosed potassium deficiency as a side-effect of kidney failure. He gave me some potassium supplements and gave Sylvester some under-the-skin fluids, and told me to come back if he didn't improve. Frankly, both of us expected that I'd be back in a couple of days, hence the aformentioned emo post.

    After the first two days of potassium, Sylvester was darn near his old self. Not only is he able to lift his head, he's able to jump up on chairs, complain, eat, and drink. Mind you, the only thing the potassium supplements did was treat the most obvious symptoms of the bigger problem, but now that he *can* drink more fluids, there's a better chance that he can get some kidney function back.

    To that end, I've positioned water bowls strategically around the house. The vet suggested changing them a couple of times a day, because for most cats the first impulse with a freshly filled water bowl is "Neat! Water! Drink!" I've also purchased a bubbling water bowl for him which, if he's not terrified of it and vows never to drink again, might encourage him to drink a little more because, you know, bubbles = fun. At least that's the theory. I haven't yet caught him actually drinking from it.

    So. If he drinks a lot, and if that gets his kidneys going again, and if he starts gaining weight again, and if he can get back on his thyroid medication without throwing it up, then we might get him on some prescription kitty food that will, hopefully, be of more long-term help. The kidney failure is still a serious problem, and we might be right where we started tomorrow, or next week, or next month, but I can't deny that right now, things are looking a bit better. We'll see what happens.

    Sunday, August 13, 2006


    Inspired by Jen, here are my current UFOs, such as they are.

    1. The Seaweed Afghan From Hell. I don't know if I'll ever finish this. It's an enormous afghan done in--you guessed it--a pattern called Seaweed. I started it in 1997, and it's the only project left from the Great UFO Finishing Drive of 2006. I'm still thinking I might just bind it off where it is and call it a lap robe.

    2. St. Brigid Sweater. Moving along quite well. I've got the back almost done, just one more pattern repeat to go.

    3. Al's socks. Proceeding apace. For a while the purse sock was way ahead of the computer sock, but I started toting the latter around and now they're about even. (I keep one sock at the computer and work on it while waiting for web pages to load--yes, I'm on dial-up. The other I carry around in my purse for working on while chasing Boo around the library and waiting in line, etc.) Both socks are now about two inches away from the toe decreases.

    And, er, that seems to be it. I suppose I could count the Sweetpea dress I started and then ripped out, since I still intend to make it, but seeing as it's currently in the state of "piled in a heap of yarn bobbins," it's more an Un-Done Project than Un-Finished.