Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Question about Dying...actual subject of a recent knitting list post...

Foodstuffs and dy(e)ing. If you read my Top Ten List of Overrated Knitting Fads, Kool-Aid dyeing was #10. But wait. I am remiss. Oh gentil parfit reder, I have overlooked the newest foodstuff dye to make one of the lists... J-E-L-L-O. And here's the recipe, somewhat edited:

1 package Jello
1 liter of water (or, if you prefer, simply use a 1-liter bottle of Coke, Pepsi, et al...adds fizz and a brownish hue to your dyebath)
1/4 cup of vinegar
1 tsp. salt
50 grams of 100% wool

Heat the entire disgusting mess to dissolve the Jello, then put the nice wool you are about to destroy into a microwaveable dish. Pour seething gunk over decent yarn. Zap in microwave for 5 minutes. Feed to family. What do they know?

Now, I always enjoy viewing the extensive collection of agar-less experiments that grow in my fridge. And I'm thinking, could that 3-week-old jar of spaghetti sauce that has, um, a Christmas-y look about it, possibly make a fabulous red dyestuff...with the little green hairy things adding a soupcon of fiber to my wool, creating a unique fashion yarn? And let's not forget DGS Ian's purple ketchup (with which he ices chocolate graham crackers...but I digress). My kitchen closet reveals even more potential outdated can of salmon...for that fishy, peachy color; just mash salmon, pour over yarn, bake at 350 degrees until the stench fills entire house. A bottle of Gravymaster...a can of chocolate Slimfast...the possibilities are endless.

I can't wait to go to the supermarket on Saturday and scope out all the possible food-as-dye combinations: soy sauce and vanilla ice cream = light brown...Louisiana Hot Sauce and Sunny Dee-light = orange...Paul Newman's Italian Dressing and Doxsee clam juice = ecru, with little red flecks and small white lumps (the oil in the dressing replaces any lanolin lost in the microwaving). I don't have to worry about buying fattening foods anymore--I simply add them all to the dyebath, luxuriate in the cooking aroma, and avoid unwanted calories, while playing Dunk-A-Skein. Of course, there's not much one can offer to the knitters of petroleum-product yarns, but may I suggest a dyebath of No-Nox and Valvoline? And for blends, such as Wool-Ease, a combo of Paas Easter Egg dye and dry gas...accomodates both the wool and acrylic mix.

I must thank the KnitDweebs on the lists for inspiration...their creativity is matchless.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

The Knitting Multiverse
My late husband, Jimmy, was as involved in his craft of shipmodeling and naval/maritime history as I was and am in my knitting. Jimmy didn't often like to move from our home...he was a creature of habit in every sense of the word...but when we went afield, it was usually to shipmodeling conferences. I could be found either knitting in the hotel lobby or off on my own searching for the local yarn shops. (No, he did NOT go to Stitches East.) And it often struck me, while listening to Jimmy and his modeling cronies talk, that there were modelers and there were Modelers, just as there are in knitting and probably every other hobby.

I take my hobby seriously to a point. I've been knitting for 45 years, I guess I'm a so-called expert knitter, and I own an extensive library of knitting books, from how to knit Shetland lace to knitting history. But the hobby too often takes itself so seriously that it affords me the opportunity to poke some fun at it. Hence this blog and the site that I ran before this, The Knitting Curmudgeon. I'm not really so curmudgeonly...but I don't suffer fools gladly.

The Knitting Universe. And those of you who knit, know the genesis of those words. Well, I find that concept offensive. Yes, it's true. I am offended. While I wouldn't put it in the same league as abuse of women and children, discrimination, instruments of mass destruction and other things that offend a great many of us, I still find the term odious. Why? Well, without risking a lawsuit, let me say that it takes big brass ones for one magazine to define The Knitting Universe as it pertains to the editorial staff and its bombastic, out-of-control publisher. Yeah, I know. I'll never work for them after this little essay. Ask me if I care.

The reality of The Knitting Universe is that it's truly The Knitting Multiverse. (If anyone has read "Timeline" recently, I freely admit to swiping this from Michael Crichton...but I love the concept.) Rather than explain the quantum mechanics/physics of it, let me simply say that I've figured out that there are a number of Knitting Multiverses...and perhaps all knitters are knitting multiverses unto themselves.

My favorite Knitting Multiverse...and the one that I love to tease, jab, what-have-you, is the world that Chris Erickson and I have christened The KnitDweebs. I rail against the KnitDweebs continually. They are the dimbulbs (or fuckwits, if you will, to use an earthier expression) that own every knitting book published, buy every stupid knitting tschatske, spend thousands every year on cheap yarn and needles...and never master much of anything except garter stitch. And are forever populating the lists asking questions whose answers can be found in the list FAQ or at the back of any knitting magazine. My favorite all-time best KnitDweeb question was one posed a couple of years ago on the Knit List: "How do you make a slip knot?" Talk about back to basics with a vengeance...and something that I personally learned how to make in the Girl Scouts when I was 8.

Another knitting multiverse is that of The Knitting Novices. I love these people...and there are lots of them. I wish I had had the resources offered to them via the internet when I was learning about knitting as a craft 30 years ago. Just recently on the Socknitters list a woman asked, "what does k2tbl mean?" I answered her very briefly..."It means knit 2 together through the back loops." But silly me. She really didn't understand the difference between the front loops and the back loops. And I remember having to figure that out on my own in 1974. I rather suspect that these people are not included much in The Knitting Universe...but no matter. They have their own multiverse.

My multiverse? I don't know what that is. I know that there are a few knitters who I can count on to get where I'm coming from...and our multiverses frequently mesh. I'm not sure that I have or will ever mesh with The Knitting Universe...any club that would have me as a member...

And Jimmy Joe, if you're out there in the greatest multiverse of them all, I'm still here busting chops and writing.

Sunday, July 28, 2002

The KC's Top 10 List of Overrated Knitting Fads

And far be it from me to pass judgment . However, since 1997, I've been exposed to the vagaries and fads of the various knitting mailing lists. And at least every other month there seems to appear threads about some bizarre and/or inane knitting technique/stitch/project that only the truly uninformed could possibly be interested in. So here's my short list...whether or not you agree "makes me no never-mind," as an former colleague of mine used to say. It's cruel to be kind sometimes...or kind to be cruel.

10. Kool-Aid Dyeing Yes, I know it's a quick and cheap way of dyeing. And it's a great way to teach kids about dyes without worrying about dyepots, mordants and so on. But if you're going to dye, why not learn to dye? Deb Menz's book for spinners on dyeing is a great way to get into it properly.
9. Warshcloths Glorified swatches. Have you ever tried to wash your face/dishes with one of these? And why oh why do people insist on working them in lace? Jeez...
8. Swimwear Somebody tell these designers (and their adoring fans) that you can't swim in a knitted anything. And that cotton stretches. And that they look ridiculous on anyone larger than a size 2 or over the age of 18.
7. Mosaic Stitches One-trick pony. And generally makes for an ugly sweater...although it's good for an ugly afghan.
6. Variegated Yarns How many garments made of space-dyed yarn does one need? And unless you know how to deal with the resulting blotches, they inevitably all turn out looking like some Red Heart thing you made when you were 10.
5. Double Knitting Has it occurred to anyone that knitting within the knitting does not shorten the knitting time? You're still knitting the same number of stitches, plus I think you lose time just executing the technique. AND you can make identical pieces just as easily by counting rows...what a concept!
4. Left-handed Mirror Knitting I can speak to this because I am a southpaw. And I learned to knit in the same way righthanders do. What is easier for lefties is to knit Continental, with the yarn held over the left-hand index finger. This way, the left hand controls the action. This is more important to me than knitting from the right needle onto the left...which leads us to...
3. Knitting Backwards Ah, never having to purl again. What wid dat? This technique has limited applications--I suppose it's good for entrelac but I don't have a problem flipping the work from right side to wrong side quickly, even on a large piece.
2. Designer Needles Smart business move...sell needles that have small Fimo sculptures for knobs at exhorbitant prices to knitting dimbulbs who have to buy anything that has "Knitting" stamped on it.
1. Garter Stitch My numero uno pet peeve. At the risk of offending all Elizabeth Zimmermann fans (and I am one, so sue me), this stitch has in recent years been touted by the knitting community as the ultimate stitch. Let me enlighten those of you who are garter stitch junkies: It is NOT a proportional stitch. It stretches like a bugger. An entire garment made in garter stitch looks like a bazaar item, even if it is knit in Koigu. It requires particularly good pre-planning because of its peculiarities, especially if you combine it with stockinette or other stitch patterns. EZ liked it because she hated to purl. I use it for: welts, in garments where it takes up less than 20% of the design, afghans, as edging for swatches.

So there you have it...10 of them, with apologies to Letterman. Sorry there isn't any Big Ass ham to give away. I'll be coming up with more Top Ten lists, when so inspired. As Dave would say, "Have a nice beverage." And go knit.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

The Fall 2002 Vogue Knitting
The state of knitting magazines being what it is lately, I was more than pleasantly surprised with the decent designs featured in the Fall 2002 issue of Vague. Mind you, there are still enough designs for the HYUKs (Hip Young Urban Knitters, a ghastly acronym invented by the ubiquitous Lily Chin) and some silly ones at that. But I understand Vague's marketing needs...and I can appreciate their bowing to demographics.

What was most interesting to me were the mini-histories of the yarns used for a number of the designs. For example, I had no idea that some of the European yarns have been available on the Continent for as long as they have, yet only recently distributed in this country. Dale of Norway's Heilo, the yarn used in the Olympics sweaters, came out in Norway in 1939 and 1983 in the USA. Makes you wonder what other fine fibers are hiding out across the Atlantic.

Two designs caught my eye--the knit-in-one-piece Noro Kureyon pullover and the square shawl-collared Donegal Tweed pullover. Neither are particularly challenging, insofar as they use very simple techniques and stitches--seed stitch for the Noro, a diagonal 2/2 rib for the Donegal. Nonetheless, the Noro design makes good use of a variegated yarn without the usual blotching so common, for two reasons: First, the knitter uses 4 different colorways, working them in sequence; second, since the garment begins at the bottom welt, then increases for both sleeves, the dye path is stretched out across the entire width of the garment. Pretty neat. Add some seed stitch to help diffuse the blotching and you've got a nice sweater. My only gripe was that Vague managed to choose the most unappealing colorways available from Noro. And if you plan on making this baby, my caveat to you is to buy a 40" circ--the directions only specify the needle sizes, with a 16" circ for the neckline. God help you if you attempt this on straights.

The Donegal seems pretty straightforward. Haven't read the directions yet but the garment's architecture seems easy, based on a quick eyeballing of the photo. And Donegal is a classic--if you haven't worked with it, you should. Been around since 1979 or so and Tahki keeps it fresh with good colors.

Meg Swansen wrote a throw-away article on some techniques that I think would have been worth revisiting, especially for novice and intermediate knitters. A little on steeking, a little on the provisional cast-on, a little of this, a little of that. Steeking in particular bears a repeat since so many people are seemingly terrified of cutting into the fabric. I guess this would be a good forum for me to publish my thoughts and experiences on steeking, for what they're worth. Another knitting bugaboo, along with using double-pointed needles, that needs to be cremated.