Saturday, March 25, 2006

Best Quote I Heard All Day
If you really want to help the American theater, don't be an actress, dahling. Be an audience.--Tallulah Bankhead

It's so gratifying to get up on a Saturday morning and read that Daryl Hannah is, according to Yahoo News, "joining the search for Rwanda gorillas."

Thank God she didn't pursue her knitting design career. Or her acting career, for that matter.

The Rwandan jungle is precisely where she needs to be.

Obligatory Knitting, Spinning, Weaving Crap
I hate to say it but there's not been much going on other than work, but I knew it would be like this. A few more rows on the Melanie shawl and some rounds on a sock.

You know it's getting bad when the only picture I have is of a stupid sock; however, someone did ask and it's Regia Color, #5440.

Socks to me are like eating snack food. When you're hungry, you'll pop a few chips in your mouth if that's all you have time for. I've never considered making socks as bona-fide projects. It's just something that fills in the gaps. And my sock drawer.

I use the same pattern: A 60-stitch cast-on for a gauge of 7 sts/10 rounds = 1" on #0 needles. I have it memorized. It fits my big feet incredibly well and means that I seldom have to think about knitting socks at all.

The beauty of 60 stitches lies in its factors: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12. You can implant a lot of stitch patterns into this sock, that's for sure. I start with an inch of 2/2 ribbing, always. And then segue into either plain stockinette or whatever I may have chosen as a pattern.

Of course, if there are cables or Fair Isle involved, that's another story. But chose any stitch pattern that equals the lay of stockinette and you're in business.

I really enjoyed Franklin's guest stint on Brenda Dayne's Cast On podcasts. I was privileged to see his amazing first sweater at Rhinebeck. Sometimes I think that knitting is like many other things--you dabble or perhaps you're immediately gifted.

Although I'm not quite sure why he was intimidated by me and Joe.

I owe Brenda an essay but I'll be damned if I can figure out how to get Audacity to run properly. Franklin?

If I get my shit together, I may substitute an audio file for a blog entry one of these days. And if you think that's less work than writing, think again.

A Pox on Humanity
Well, the Spring issue of Knitter's is up on the X-men's Gallery, if you wish to peruse it. I won't give you the link, I'll let you find it yourself. Sorta like finding Waldo.

With the exception of one design, every one is a candidate for You Knit What?

Elsebeth Lavold has a nice hoodie design done in hemp. Otherwise, most of the issue was designed by some unknowns, two well-known designers who haven't jumped ship, the X-boy (who managed to turn the color green into the worst looking piece of shit I've seen in a long time) and of course the ubiquitous Knitter's Design Team.

Twenty designs, of which four were done by the erstwhile "Design Team"--that's 20% of the issue, by my reckoning. And why is Kathy Zimmerman still designing for them? Ye gods.

Do we need three capelet patterns? And what the fuck do capelets have to do with the theme "Be a Sport"? In fact, what did any of the designs have to do with it? I think the theme must be a plea for mercy.

I show no mercy.

Other Mag News
Interweave's next crochet issue will be out soon and Kathy Merrick is in it. So I'll buy it. And not because, as Interweave hypes, "Patterns from respected designers like Mari Lynn Patrick, Candi Jensen, Annie Modesitt, and many more!"

Kathy does the best crochet designing out there. Hands down. The others should just forget it. And some of them should forget knitting design too.

Readers Ask and My Brain Goes Numb
I haven't even had time to really write anything in the Comments, as I usually do. That's where I like to handle questions. And if you're e-mailing me questions these days, forget it. I probably don't have the time to answer. Put 'em in the Comments and I'll get to them.


Anne from the Jersey Shore (where, Anne?) writes: You've chosen very inspiring colors to work with--the raspberry Merino to spin and the blue of your shawl to knit. When you choose something to spin (or knit) do you find yourself more drawn to color, to fiber prep (top vs batts vs roving vs unprocessed fleece), or to breed characteristics? Or something else? Do you spin to a purpose, or spin to spin?

I usually spin to a purpose, which is why I spent the better part of a year spinning Starry Night. I don't mind sampling occasionally if it's a breed or fiber I have not experienced but sampling at this point is a bore. If I'm going to spin, I'm going to use the finished product for something.

With knitting, I'm generally drawn to color first, then fiber type, then hand, then texture.

With spinning, I tend to like combed top or roving. I honestly don't have the time to comb or card my own wool, despite having five pounds of Lincoln fleece up in the stash. I do choose for color first, then breed, then prep. I would love to have the time to do some fiber prep and some dyeing but that's not going to happen very soon, for sure.

Rachel Life asks: I have a question for my mother's sake. she wants to find editing gigs but has no confidence or ideas for how to get started. do you have some advice for her?

Not knowing your mother's experience, I can't really answer that question adequately. If she has none, I would suggest looking for an editorial assistant's position. Don't forget, there are many, many publications out there--every organization and business sector has plenty of them. So where she may not get a job at Time or People, she could start perhaps on one of her local newspapers. I know ours seems to need editorial help from time to time. If she does have experience, there are organizations that she can join. For example, I belong to the Society of Technical Communicators. These professional associations often have job listings or you can make contacts through them. Networking, baby.

I was extraordinarily fortunate because I fell into editing strictly because I was an expert knitter and hired for that, not because I had any impressive CV. And I managed to parlay my job at McCall's into much more diverse editing experience because I knew that the craft/knitting market was too small and I'd never make any money in it anyway.

Your mother needs to have confidence. If she doesn't, she won't get anywhere, be it in editing or another profession. If you don't believe in yourself, nobody else will either.

OK, gang, another rare and handy week with the Slovenians bites the dust. And now I clean the house and get on to things fibrous. As the Slovenians would say, nasvidenje!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Best Quote I Heard All Day
Every year, back comes Spring, with nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants.--Dorothy Parker

I have to disagree with my beloved Dottie; I prefer this one:

O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?--Percy Bysshe Shelley

Tomorrow is the first day of Spring, so they say. Hmph. I can see the daffodils starting to shoot up but otherwise, it will be a few more weeks here in the Northeast before we see anything resembling Spring.

I always feel my best between April and June, that's for sure.

Feline Presents
'Tis a fine Sunday morning indeed when I straggle into the living to find cat puke on the couch.

I could have taken a picture; however, I would equate publishing a picture of cat barf with publishing a picture of a supperating finger wound. That would surely be the ne plus ultra of bad taste.

Eucalan with cold water works marvelously well on puke residue, especially when you have not yet had your first cup of coffee and aren't in the mood to fuck around.

Merino Madness
I'm almost (but not quite) finished spinning the raspberry merino. Since there are a few novice(or in Franklin's case, wannabe) spinners out there, I thought I'd sing a little ditty about spinning merino. When I first started spinning merino last year, I found little information out on the internet as to how I should handle it, so perhaps this will add to the general knowledge.

My general approach to merino is the same as it is to silk: Cautious, careful and slow. Even with the combed top that I'm using, drafting is tedious and must be watched every second. No daydreaming with merino, spinning along with the mind elsewhere--it's all business.

You can see how incredibly fine the merino is:

The white fiber is probably the tencel; however, its addition to the fiber doesn't make it any easier to spin.

Merino wants to be spun fine. It begs to be spun fine. Big hunks of handspun merino are, in my opinion, really ugly and do the wool no justice at all. My first attempts at spinning on the wheel seven years ago were with the infamous merino/silk/angora blend that I bought in my ignorance. So I know from whence I speak. Merino is not for rank beginners.

With that in mind, here are some salient points to consider when spinning merino:

  • Choose the smallest ratio whorl you have. It's not necessary to buy the special high-speed whorl if that's an optional purchase.

  • Make sure that the flyer is at a right angle to the maidens. This means no tension. At all. The whorl and your treadling will provide sufficient take-up.

  • Make a new drive band. Whether you spin double-drive or with Scotch or Irish tensioning, you should always size the band to the whorl. You need not cut the old band off--just let it hang away from the wheel.

  • In her book Handspinning, Dyeing & Working with Merino and Superfine Wools, Margaret Stove recommends that if using Scotch tensioning, you replace the brake spring with a fine rubber band because it is more responsive. I used the Schacht in double-drive mode; however, this seems like a good idea and I may try it with the Joy.

  • Use a very fine wool yarn for your leader. Laceweight merino is good. And use a lot of it. You'll want a good yard or so of leader from the orifice to your hands. Getting the fiber to join the leader takes a bit of doing so you need a bit more leader than usual.

  • It's helpful to spin onto a partially full bobbin. I first began with an empty bobbin and it was touch-and-go. The second bobbin had a small amount of Starry Night left on it, so I tied my leader to that--much easier.

  • Use a worsted draw. Long draw ain't gonna work with merino because you can't control the twist as well.

  • Finding the correct treadling speed takes some practice. I found that initially I was treadling too slowly and the fiber drifted apart. When I sped up my treadling, I went into overtwist and the single snapped. Merino is not forgiving. So practice your treadling speed first on a sample.

  • Don't use big honkin' globs of fiber. Use small ones. They are more manageable. With the combed top, I did almost no predrafting; however, spinning from the fold works very well. I began each new join in this way, then switched the fiber into the palm of my hand.

  • Don't hold the fiber mass at all. Support it with your hand. The fiber should just slide into the twist.

  • Keep the twist from running away. If you lose control and it gets into the fiber, stop, open up the fiber mass and remove as much of the twist as you can. I thin out the twisted mass into the right thickness and then allow the twist to run up again. If you are hopelessly messed up, go back to a place in the single that is the correct diameter and start over with a new join.

  • When making a join, begin by introducing a few wisps of the new into the old and pinch them into the single hard so they grab. Then slowly introduce more fiber into the twist, slowing your treadling if necessary and coaxing the new fiber into the old. This also takes a bit of practice but you can make a nice join if you are careful.

  • If the single either drifts apart or snaps, and you have to retrieve it from the bobbin, find the end (Scotch tape works a treat if the end has disappeared) and carefully pull the single from the bobbin, keeping it under tension so that the twist stays put. And keep it under tension as you rethread it through the orifice.

  • Take a sample of the single and let it twist back on itself so you have a guide for plying.

Here's a picture of the finished merino/tencel single, which is 40 wpi:

It's not a great picture but if you look at the end at the top, you can see how the twist is starting to dissipate. This is why handling active singles away from the bobbin needs to be done with tension.

Here's a better picture, which compares the merino/tencel single to a 2-ply sock yarn:

When I finally ply the merino/tercel, I'm figuring that I will add a considerable amount of twist to the ply, given that the spinning the single worked well that way. Merino loves to felt, so washing will be handled carefully. However, I'm always quite particular as to how I wash my plyed yarn--I never wring it but squeeze it gently and then snap the skein prior to drying. And I don't weight my yarn either. I might weight it lightly if I sold it but for my own purposes, it's fine the way it is.

So there you have it. A Sunday morning tutorial on spinning merino. Of course, the non-spinners will gnash their teeth and whine. Tough shit. I'm still working on the Melanie but it's pointless to photograph my progress, as it would be more of the same. When I start the border, then you'll see pictures.

And I'm sure nobody's really interested in the generic socks I'm knitting between Melanie bouts. Yes, Franklin, I do knit lace on the train. I'm just as likely to screw up there as anywhere else.

I'm convinced that Dolores contributed to the merino/tencel. It has a rare and handy aroma of Johnny Walker Red.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Best Quote I Heard All Day
Even if God is dead, you're going to kiss his ass--Tony Soprano

Welcome to Sopranoland. Lovely view of I280, Newark, courtesy of my cellphone camera and taken from a NJ Transit train.

And welcome to my commuting life. You can be sure that I have a cup of coffee in my hand, my knitting bag next to me and my ears plugged into my iPod (I call it Shirley). Because it's an hour and fifteen minutes from Hoboken to Dover, if the train doesn't break down. Which it has, twice this week going into work. Fuck you, NJT.

So the shawl gets knitted on the train, alternating with a pair of socks. Hey, ya can't do fancy shit all the time.

How Do You Say in Your Country?
Well, I've slogged through about 160 pages of Slovenian English over the past week and a half.

I am beginning to appreciate my handle on English. It's a miserable fucking language and the Slovenians do pretty well, except that everything is written in the passive. So, OK, we Amurricans like to be active.

Oh yeah, and they write great convoluted sentences:

Driver of the vehicle which nowadays has mobile unit installed with PDA device (Blackberry, etc.) after toll payment can be sent to Control Center to make quick and efficient payment solution for logistics manager that could enter such data into system.

Pages and pages of this. That's why they're paying me the big bucks. To tell you the truth, I really love it, although it's damned hard work trying to figure out what the fuck they're saying technically sometimes.

I'm working with some Slovenian developers, all kids under 25 and all wonderful people. Of course, I've taught them swell American words, such as "fucktard." They bring out my maternal instincts, dontcha know.

I was thinking today on the train going home how much I treat writing as I do music. My father envisioned me as a professional musician, so I began violin lessons at about the same age as I learned to knit. And my parents were great classical music devotees, so all I heard until I was 10 was mostly opera and symphonic music, with a soupcon of Baroque thrown in.

When I read a poorly written and poorly spelled sentence, it's as if I heard a bad note played by a mediocre musician. I don't have perfect pitch but I do have relative pitch and an excellent ear. And that's why I am a good editor and writer. Notes have to be played on key, writing has to sing like Elisabeth Schwartzkopf.

So much for my quick post tonight. I'll write about some fiber crap this weekend. I'm about to warp the loom, so that might be of some interest to people other than Merrick. And of course, there's the ever-present, rare and handy Melanie shawl, which continues to grow. Sans mistakes, thank you Jesus. See ya on the weekend.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Best Quote I Heard All Day
I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.--Douglas Adams

It's been a long week. But a good one. The job is OK. I'm OK.

But I miss those leisurely morning writing sessions.

Now I have day-long writing sessions in Jersey City. But with health benefits.

Believe it or not, I've been dragging the shawl and accompanying cone of Zephyr on the train every day.

And knitting on the way home.

I love the way lace looks with the sun shining through it. Almost makes me want to knit lace curtains.

But no. That ain't ever gonna happen.

I'm on repeat #2 of the center square. Three more to go. So you know I have to get in at least two hours a night on this thing. That includes an hour on the train. I now know the pattern so well that there's no fear of making undesirable gaffes.

And There's More
I have somehow also managed to get some spinning done. This morning at 7 a.m. I've finished the first ounce of the cranberry merino/tercel.

Once I have the loom warped, I'll be able to sit down in the evening and do some weaving without having to be terribly alert. The towel warp gets wound today and perhaps sleyed tomorrow, if I'm so ambitious. Mayhap I will even have time to start the second raspberry bobbin.

So I can get to the Emerald City by next weekend.

I'm dying to see how this looks plyed up.

Spring Issues
Is it me or is it the X-men's ghastly, confused mess of a website, but have they stopped putting up the designs in each issue? The last I could find was for Summer 2005.

Based on the choices for Knitter's Spring 2006 cover, I'd say that the downhill spiral continues. How much further into the cesspool it can go is unimaginable. However, each issue manages to be worse than the last. Quite an accomplishment of publishing mediocrity, at the very least.

However, I am pleased to say that Interweave's Piecework and Handwoven were beautiful issues, particularly the covers. And plenty of stuff within, too. I'm anxiously awaiting the next issue of Spin-Off.

One of the things I like about Interweave is that they set up polls for some of their magazines on the website, asking readers' opinions. Or they provide a feedback link so that you can send your comments to them directly. That takes balls. Which the X-men don't have because they're more interested in fawning, kiss-ass comments than constructive criticism and suggestions.

And of course, Knit U is a vast wasteland of just those kinds of comments. Kind of a Mickey Mouse Club atmosphere, except you might call them X-cateers. The X-Boy Mondragon as Goofy. Or perhaps Dopey. Pick your own Disney character.

Whether or not I like the designs in Interweave's magazines, I give the editorial staff a lot of credit for being willing to take it, good or bad. That's why I stick with their publications.

OK, I'm ready to get out the mop bucket and start cleaning this shithole of a house. It's going to be in the 60s today. Before I know it, it will be Monday morning and back to work.

Time management is a rare and handy skill. However, what I'd druther do is go sit in the sun and knit.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Best Quote I Heard All Day
It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously--Oscar Wilde

A little enlightenment for those who were offended by Franklin's Knitting Olympics Gold Medal.

I am always happy to forgo good manners for the sake of educating fucktards.

Knitted Lace v. Lace Knitting
I'm writing this for my boy Franklin so that he doesn't have nightmares about big floating yarn-overs strangling him as he knits the Wedding Ring shawl. And for all the rest of you who might be having those nightmares too.

(Also, Kathy and Selma are whining that some of us write too much about spinning and weaving so now they can both have a nice cup of shut-the-fuck-up.)

Simply put, knitted lace has patterning on every row; lace knitting has a plain row, knit or purl, between the patterned rows.

Got that?

Most knitters with experience have done lace knitting to some degree. It's the knitted lace that makes cartooning, well-mannered gay men nervous. Along with the rest of us. Here's the pattern in the Melanie shawl that's lace knitting:

Very simple 6-stitch repeat that would be easy for most knitters new to lace. But then, pair this with knitted lace motifs and it's a whole different story.

You can see that the yarn-overs do not have the benefit of the plain row as the lace knitting yarn-overs do.

What makes knitted lace so much more difficult than lace knitting is not the first row but the second. In that, you must reverse the decreases so that k2tog becomes k2togB (or sl1, k1, psso or ssk) and vicey versey. Compound that with the occasional sl1, k2tog, psso and it's fuel for the dyslexic in all of us.

Here are the first two rows of the motif shown above:

Doesn't look that hard, does it? You knit row 1 as shown: K1, K2togB, yo, k1, yo, k2tog, k1.

However, on the second row, two things happen. First, you must now read the symbols in reverse, beginning at the lefthand side of the chart. As it happens, the second row is executed exactly the same as row 1.

Second, you will now have to include a yarn-over in your decrease. This is what had me floored until I got it into my head that the yarn-over must not be twisted when incorporated into the decrease. It's easy to do that.

Just remember this and make it your mantra: With k2tog, the yo follows. With ssk (or k2 togB), the yo comes first.

There's been some talk back and forth, on the Heirloom Knitting list and on Katherine and Ted's Princess Diaries as to whether it really matters if you mirror the decreases or just say, "Fuck it" and make all decreases k2tog. This has not been resolved. On a garter-stitch shawl and in such fine yarn, perhaps not. Probably not. Once the shawl is dressed, the directional decreases may be moot.

I've opted to knit the Melanie shawl as charted. Because I can and because it seems to me that if directional decreases were not a relatively important component, then all knitted lace single decreases would be charted as k2tog.

So, Franklin, when you get back from Ft. Worth and you read this, I'm happy to hold your hand throughout the Wedding Ring project. And work that sample swatch over and over until your brain sends your hands the right messages.

Back to School
Well, I got the job as technical writer/editor. I start on Monday. Vacation's over.

I have mixed feelings about this, of course. On the one hand, I have enjoyed every minute of my vacation from adult life. I've gotten a lot written on the book, taught myself how to weave (barely), got a lot of spinning and knitting done and a lot of blogging, too.

On the other hand, one does need those health benefits. And it's never good to live off of one's capital.

That said, as of Monday I would imagine that I will be blogging about twice a week, as I did when I worked full-time. And that blogging will probably take place in the evening or on the weekend. Whatever.

Suffice it to say that after almost four years, I'm not about to stop writing the blog. So bear with me while I get back into the swing of things--it may take me a few days. I'm actually quite excited about the job. It suits my skills perfectly and I always enjoy technical writing and editing. God knows why but that's the talent I was born with and that's what I love to do.

If you don't do what you love, work is just that. Work.

But this fiber life is a rare and handy thing, and I love that too.