Sunday, September 14, 2008

Baby Buddies


Knitting for babies is new for me. But dear friends are having babies left and right! So my first adventure has been knitting for the new born twins of a friend from work. I started out with berets for the little girls... but they seemed too small. So I found some toys that I knew would fit.

These Blanket Buddies are knit from Debbie Bliss Cotton Angora. It's a nice soft, but strong yarn. And the angled blanket part is very easy to knit. Then you knit the head with double knitting so that you have a pocket. I stuffed it with cotton batting. My favorite part was the bunny ears. The pattern is pretty cute, giving subtle shape to the floppy ears!

But my friend doesn't want matching things for her babies, so I needed to make something different for the second toy. I was on my own for the ears. And it shows. The bear (?) ears are a little blocky, and they are finished pretty poorly. Hopefully Isabel will gum that ear out of shape pretty quickly and no one will know that it wasn't knit too well! :)

This is my first attempt at toys and I had no idea how to add details to them! It took a lot of experimenting, but it was fun. I had a bunch of embellishments from the fabric store that I scrambled through to find eyes and mouths. The bear's eyes are a little strange... they are from a 60's style pattern trim which I thought was pretty cool. My friend is pretty funky, so I don't think she'll mind the odd expression on the bear. I couldn't find an elegant solution for the mouths... so I opted for noses instead!

This was a good motivator to take some crochet lessons.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Starting Again, Oblique

I continue to love the Oblique pattern. I had a hard time with the lace, as usual, until the elbow of the first sleeve. Then it clicked! And I didn't need to read the pattern for every row anymore. Such satisfaction.

But when I got about 3/4 done with the sleeve I hesitated. It is really large. I'm worried about the sleeves being too bulky. They are twice the thickness of my arm. And I'm not a twiggy girl. Baggy sleeves might be cute on tiny women, but I think I need to try to be sleek.

So... I'm starting sleeve #1 over again, removing most of the seed stitch from the edges (underarm). This will make it knit up much faster and I won't feel baggy in this comfy sweater. I hope this is the right move! I'm worried about how I will get the stitch count right for joining to the shoulder... but I'll cross that bridge in a few weeks when I'm ready and I've read up on some Raglan shaping advice.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Marshmallow experiments

I'm excited about making the perfect marshmallows at home. For some reason their fluffy, mushiness is really compelling. And for some reason I'm more interested in the cooking of them than in the eating of them. But they are really fun to eat.

I'm starting this this recipe from Homeschoolzone.com because it has very explicit instructions (for kids).

Ingredients:
2 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
  1. Combine gelatin and 1/2 cup cold water in an electric mixer with whisk attachment (you can whisk by hand if you do not have the attachment). Let stand 30 minutes.
  2. Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a small, heavy,saucepan; place over low heat and stir until sugar has dissolved. Wash down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to dissolve sugar crystals.
  3. Clip on a candy thermometer; raise heat to high. Cook syrup without stirring until it reaches the firm-ball stage (244 degrees). Immediately remove pan from heat.
  4. With mixer on low speed, slowly and carefully pour syrup into the softened gelatin. Increase speed to high; beat until mixture is very thick and white and has almost tripled in volume, about 15 minutes. Add vanilla; beat to incorporate.
  5. Generously dust an 8 by12 inch glass baking pan with confectioner's sugar. Pour marshmallow mixture into pan. Dust top with confectioners' sugar; wet hands and pat it smooth. Dust with confectioners' sugar; let stand overnight, uncovered, to dry out. Turn out onto board and cut marshmallows with a dry hot knife into 1 1/2 inch squares, and dust with more sugar.
I'll let you know how it goes!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Wrangling with the Sweater Machine

This yarn, Rowan Scottish Tweed 4 ply is interesting. I love the fabric that is made from this thin, rough, nubby wool... but it doesn't flow over my hand needles. It catches on itself and all pleasure of knitting is lost. I threw away my first swatch with this yarn because I hated knitting with it so much. But I loved the color, and I had bought 8 balls, so I tried it out on the Bond Ultimate Sweater Machine. Thank goodness the Bond could handle it! And on keyplate 3 (equivalent to about a size 8 needle) The Bond gives me a remarkable fabric that is thin but stiff, rough but delicate. I can't wait to get the second piece off my needle so that I can stitches up the sides, pick up and knit the ribbing around the bottom, pick up and knit two short sleeves... and have the perfect Autumn vest!

I think of my sweater machine as more similar to a sewing machine than to hand-knitting. Yes, I get to use my knitting yarn to make things on it, but it really is a garment-making device. You craft sheets of fabric is specific shapes to join together into bigger creations. I can work at the sweater machine all day and still have a desire to sit and hand knit for an hour or so, to have that tactile interaction. I find that I am more adventurous with designing my own pieces with the Bond because it takes only a few hours to knit up a test piece... the whole front or a whole sleeve. But the pieces have to be fairly simple in their design because fiddling with the needles to make anything other than stockinette is annoying. But the pattern on the piece shown here is pretty simple, every 8th row every other stitch is moved to the right. Every 10th row every other stitch is moved to the left. There is a counter attached to the needle bed to help me count the rows.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bramble On, again!

Wow, I can't believe how unimaginative I am sometimes. When it comes to making scarves for men, there is only one scarf I feel confident in. This Bramble Stitch scarf is my go-to. And I love it. The subtle bumps make a nice geometric pattern, more like a texture than a bobble. And the wrong side is a nice, flat linen-like stitch that is perfectly presentable. No fringe needed. Plus it's fun and easy to knit. Total in-front-of-the-tv material. Even stitch-n-bitch worthy. And this is two evening's worth of knitting and I'm about 1/4 finished.

I've made at LEAST 4 of these scarves already, each with very different yarns. It worked nicely in the Mountain Colors Merino Ribbon yarn for a lacy effect, but I do like it most in a nice thick wool. This is Valley Yarns' Stockbridge 50/50 Alpaca and Wool. I'm pretty excited about Alpaca right now.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Oblique on the Caltrain

I was inspired by something Brenda Dane said on a podcast a while back (I'm behind on all my podcasts). She was talking about Elizabeth Zimmerman and remarked on how lovely her writing was, especially because EZ writes about her knitting life, or her life in knitting. So I woudl like to try to write posts that describe how knitting exists in my daily life. It does play a large role.

This month I am commuting up to my company's San Francisco office by Caltrain every day. I try not to drive, PRIMARILY so that I can have the time to knit. It's about 40 minutes of knitting time, and I can be focused, so I take a complicated project. Right now (and probably for many years to come) I am working my way through Veronik Avery's Oblique. It's such a beautiful cardigan with lovely, structural lace panels.

I'm not great with lace, so I am concentrating very hard to get it right. The 8 inches I have completed on the sleeve here have taken me 1 week. I started with the sleeve so that I could feel in control of the lace patterns before starting the body. I'm glad I did. The sleeve is small enough that I can get the rhythm of the laces, without the stress of making it across 100 stitches. And my confidence is building.

I imagine that this sweater is going to be something I wear for years. Classic color, classic, durable yarn and a classic (not trendy) design. So it's okay if it takes me years to complete.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Is knitting your casual gaming?

Casual games are hugely popular but underrated. Think Solitare or Mind Sweeper, if you owned a desktop computer in your life. But studies show they are "anything but casual." They are an escape from a hectic day, a way to relax and decompress without the pressures of everything else in your life.

I used to play "Bejewled" while listening to "This American Life" to relax. Now I knit while listening to "Stash and Burn" and "Knit Science." And it feels so good. Knitting is what I do to relax. and it makes me feel good. It is my casual game.