Saturday, April 28, 2007

Gauge? Pah!

I am a mere mortal, and therefore never manage to get gauge on published patterns. We all know everyone knits differently, depending on all sorts of factors: yarn, type and size of needle, knitting flat or in the round, using magic loop or dpn's, English or continental, etc., etc. Basically, the chances that two people would get the same garment using the same pattern, even with identical yarn and needles, are close to nil. (Not one in a million, because as we've all learned from Terry Pratchett, one in a million odds comes up in your favour nine times out of ten.)

A while ago, I read of a strategy wherein one knits to a tighter gauge, and then simply blocks to required measurements. (As a scientist, I like to cite my sources, so I'm slightly embarrassed that I can't remember where I read this.) As soon as I read it, my brain went, "Duh." I've tried this with a couple of sweaters (since frogged, of course, although for reasons other than gauge/size), and it works for me. I knit really loosely, so I always do my gauge swatches with needles a couple of millimeters smaller than recommended. I never get 24 stitches over 10 cm, or whatever. I get 25, or 24-1/2. Like I said, mere mortal. And, should I, by some miracle, get stitch gauge, my row gauge is of course way way off. Instead of worrying over it, though, I wash and block my swatch to whatever size it should be. If I like the resulting fabric, then I'm ready to go.

This works best on something springy and amenable to blocking, obviously. Although I did it for a sweater knit from alpaca (famous for not having much memory) and it worked wonderfully. It also makes it much easier to substitute yarns. I like this method because it means I don't have to beat myself up over getting exact gauge. More importantly, it's an active way of getting correct tension. With this method, perfect gauge isn't something that I have little control over and can only hope to passively luck into. If I knit to a close enough gauge, I can make the knitting conform to whatever the desired dimensions are. Then my only issue is whether I like that particular yarn at that particular gauge, i.e., if I like the fabric I got. And that makes it my decision- I'm not abandoning a yarn and fabric I like because the vague, mysterious gauge fairies have decided I should be a half stitch off per inch. This is especially important when I remember that tension may change as I knit! I like that this method gives me an extra measure of control over the knitting.

Not that I'm a control freak.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

They're forcing me to it

I'm sure most everyone has heard of the vast pet food recalls in the US in the last month. It turns out a factory making wheat gluten, corn gluten and rice protein had contaminated these common pet food ingredients with melamine. This is a good site keeping up with the news on this.

Anyway, I had noticed Chloe was not altogether herself a couple weeks ago, when I started her on the newest batch of food I'd bought. Fortunately, it seems to have passed and she's fine. Even though her food isn't on the recall list, the company who makes it, Hill's, has recalled some of its products, and the recall widens all the time.

This recall has led me to revisit an idea that, I'm sure, is guaranteed to add the 'crazy' to my existing 'cat lady' moniker: a home made all raw food diet.

See, the thing is, pet shops in Ireland don't really carry decent wet food. They carry the low-end, supermarket crap like Whiskas or Frisky, or whatever. I refuse to feed this stuff to Chloe, and, in the past, when I've been in a pinch and run out of her normal food, I've given shit I've bought in Tesco to her, and she either refuses it (difficult to imagine her refusing food, but it happened) or she ate it and threw it up a few minutes later. On my bed. Some pet shops do sell the somewhat nicer Royal Canin or Eukanuba stuff, but here's the kicker: only the dry food. Dry food is bad for cats, m'kay? Chloe got bladder stones twice on the stuff. The second time was totally my fault.

After the first $1200 bladder stone incident, the vet told me no more dry food. This was fine, as it was easy to get stuff like Hill's tinned wet food at the pet shops at home. When I moved her over to Ireland, I found it was impossible to buy decent wet food at the pet shops here. They don't sell them and UK internet shops won't deliver pet food to the Republic of Ireland. I could only get it by special ordering it from the vet. It was a pain in the ass. I was ordering from a vet in Malahide, who after a few months, stopped doing it. In addition, higher end brands like Wellness, California Natural, Innova, Evo and others which specialize in quality pet foods aren't sold here, so I went back to the dry food. Sure enough, a few months later, more bladder stones and another €1000 at the vet.

So, now my vet special orders tinned Hill's food for Chloe. This was okay by me (though I'd prefer something nicer than Hill's) until this recall business. I haven't spent thousands of dollars/euros on this cat to have her die on me from kidney failure. So, since I can't buy food from a company whom I trust to have the health and welfare of pets as their goal (honestly, big pet food manufacturers don't- they want to make as much money as possible, and the fillers and crap they put in their pet food is disgusting), I'm just going to have to do it myself. So from now on, the damned cat will definitely be eating better than I am.

Monday, April 23, 2007

For now

I had a great time at the city centre SnB on Saturday. When I got home, I picked up Print O' the Wave. A few days ago, I'd finished the 34 repeats the pattern called for on the centre panel and still had more than half my yarn left, so I'd gone for for 40 repeats. On Saturday I sat down to the task of picking up the stitches along the edge...ugh. But, actually, it went pretty well.

First, I had to figure out how many extra stitches to pick up for those 6 extra repeats. Here's the math:
240 stitches for 34 pattern repeats means 7.06 stitches per repeat (240/34 = 7.06). An extra 6 repeats therefore means 42.35 extra stitches (6 x 7.06 = 42.35). 240 + 42 = 282 stitches. However, the edging pattern requires 8 stitches per edging repeat, so I rounded up to a multiple of 8, which is 288. Actually, I should probably just have rounded down to 280, and saved myself those extra 16 stitches (for both long sides of the stole).

Aaaanyway, forging ahead. I'd put in the vertical lifeline, so I used my 100 cm - 2 mm Addis to pick up all around the edge: I started with a long edge (I didn't break my yarn) and just slid the needle through the loops around the lifeline, then the provisionally cast-on edge, then the other long side through the lifeline loops, then finally the live stitches from the last row of my centre panel. The lifeline only went through every other row, so I needed to pick up some extra stitches. Easy enough- I marked off sections of five repeats each. Therefore, in each section, I needed 36 stitches. I counted how many stitches I had in each section before starting it and, evenly, added in the extra stitches needed to make 36. So, if a section had 30 stitches, I needed an extra 6, so I added one stitch after every fifth stitch. I did this as I knitted off the picked up stitches.

So here it is, all 712 stitches picked up and knitted. Yes, seven fecking hundred and twelve stitches.

It took maybe a couple hours and lots and lots of counting. And it looks like crap, but I believe in the magic of blocking.

After this was done, and I had convinced myself that I really had all 712 stitches (lots and lots of counting), I took a deep breath, and realized my right wrist and left hand really hurt. I think I've been knitting- gasp!- too much. My last few projects have been with 2 mm needles, and my hands must really feel it. Plus, I've been puttering around in the yard digging up dandelions, and those unfamiliar but repetitive motions have put some strain in them. So I've decided to stop knitting for a few days. I really don't want to stop- I'm dying to get POtW finished and see it in all its blocked glory, but I'd hate to find that I've really messed up my hands.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Negative net progress

I am on the thirtieth repeat for the centre panel of Print O' The Wave. Nearly there!

The 100 mm Addis were not so good for lace knitting: they're blunt-tipped, slippery, and the long cable got in the way. So I bought some bamboo dpn's and turned them into straights:

I switched to these in the middle of the centre panel, and I don't think there's a noticeable change in gauge, so I'll just cross my fingers and hope it blocks out alright. The funny thing is, the bamboos are better for this project in almost every way: they're pointier, they grip the cobweb-weight yarn much better, and they're short and easy to work with. However, it's nearly impossible for me to thread a lifeline through when the knitting's on the bamboo needles- the cord of the Addis is so useful for that. So I do the last row of every repeat on the Addis, just so I can thread the lifeline afterwards.

Although I've had nothing else but this on the needles since I finished the Cathay top last week, I have been busy thinking. Since I bought all that yarn a couple weeks ago, and since, um, I don't actually have a job enabling me to buy more random non-essential stuff, I'd decided no more yarn buying until I use up at least a sweater's worth of stash yarn. (As an out for me: sock yarn doesn't count, but I'm going to try not to buy more than I use.) However, using up stash yarn is kind of a problem at the moment, because I only have wool, mohair and alpaca yarns in sweater quantities. Not spring/summer friendly.

So the yarn diet, combined with a recent Knittyboard thread about how unhappy some people are about their finished objects made me think about and go through some of my finished stuff. Among the countless scarves and hats, and recently, socks, I've also knit, oh, six or seven sweaters. Among them are these:
  • The first was a disaster. Ah, the joys of yarn substitution.
  • I was proud of myself on the second and wore it a few times before I came to my senses and realized it's not for me, so it's been frogged.
  • The mohair cardigan based on Knitty's Candy, but, uh, without all the interesting bits. So a raglan cardigan, basically. Although I like it well enough, and I wore it half a dozen times last winter, the fit and shaping could be better, and the only reason it hasn't been frogged is that it's mohair, and I need my sanity in case I have job interviews.
  • A seamless yoke raglan knit in alpaca. I actually wore this for quite a bit before I decided that the yoke decreases looked messy and that the yarn would look much better knitted on smaller needles. That's been frogged.
  • An Hourglass Sweater from Joelle Hoverson's Last Minute Knitted Gifts. I made lots of modifications to the pattern, and I'm actually quite happy with it. It could be better, though. I think this will get to live. For now.
Before the Cathay top, my last attempt at a cap-sleeved tee was this:

I tried to copy the shaping of a favourite t-shirt. It was an okay attempt, and the result looked pretty good when worn. Made from Rowan's Calmer, the top was knit to the same dimensions as the green t-shirt, but has grown considerably since, and now looks quite loose on. Plus, my tension on this stretchy, stretchy yarn was all over the place, and all I could see when I looked at it lately were the rows and rows of uneven stitches.

So, given the yarn diet and my stash's lack of spring/summer appropriate yarns, the top has been turned into this:

This will become some kind of summer tee. Close fitting but not figure hugging tight. I can't decide what kind of sleeves and neckline it will have, though.

My, I've been wordy lately, haven't I?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Have the camera back, so can actually show some pictures now.

The scoop neck Cathay top is finally done!

Scoop neck tee
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Cathay, 5 balls
Needles: 2.5 mm circular (used as straights) and 2.5 dpn's (for the sleeves)
Pattern: my own

Before I go into the details of the knitting, let me tell you a little story about the evils of yarn acquisition. A year and a half ago, I went to Nottingham for the weekend. We were staying with friends in Beeston, who just happened to live right down the road from a lovely yarn shop called, fittingly, Yarn. So of course I went. Among some other things, I got three balls of Cathay in a lovely magenta-ish shade. I'd meant to get enough to make Grumperina's Tivoli/Picovoli, but for some reason, my brain refused to work that morning, and despite having the pattern with me, I only bought three balls. When I got back to Dublin, I smacked myself, and thought, well, there are some nice examples of striped Picovolis, I'll just get a few balls of a matching colour, and do that. At Springwools, there were only two colours, an icy blue-grey, and black. So black it was. The two colours sat there for a while, as I stewed over the stripey possibilities. After a bit, I started to fall out of love with the Picovoli. So then the six balls of Cathay sat in my modest stash for a year.

Fast forward to a few months ago, and I have an idea for a fitted, deeply scoop necked, cap-sleeved t-shirt. I thought through what I had, and decided the black Cathay would be perfect. As I started to knit it, I realized I wouldn't have enough yarn. I scaled it back to a sleeveless tank, but still had to face the truth- I was going to need an extra ball. I'd bought this yarn a year ago, so I had no hopes of finding the same dyelot. Around this time, my birthday came up, and The Limey took a day off work and surprised me with a trip out to Springwools. Well, just for yuks, I looked through their Cathay stash- they had black, still, and waaay in the back, one ball of the dyelot from my original yarn! I praised whoever is the patron saint of yarn (there must be one) and grabbed it. With this one extra ball, it was just enough to finish off the tank. But then I was left with a black tank top. I looked at my original design, and decided I really like the cap sleeves. In fact, I have a lot of cap-sleeved tops in my closet. So I thought, well, what the hell, I'll buy another ball and if I'm using them for the sleeves, a different dyelot won't be the end of the world. So I bought another ball at This Is Knit, and you see the finished product here.

Mind you, I still have the original three balls of the magenta. I'd only bought the first balls of the black to be able to use the magenta! But two extra balls, three yarn shops, and a year and a half later, here I am, still with the three balls of magenta I can't use! Aaargh!

Notes: Now, on to the actual top and the knitting. I knit the front and back separately, then washed and blocked the pieces before seaming them together. I then picked up stitches around the neckline for the ribbing and around the armscye for the sleeves. I really like the fabric I got with this yarn, but knitting with it is a pain in the ass. It's a cotton blend, and has no stretch, and to get gauge, I had to go down to 2.5 mm needles. The knitting actually hurt my hands. Plus, this is a multiple-plied yarn that isn't so much spun together as just sort of...put together into a single strand and then wound into a ball. So it's splitty. I was forever just knitting into part of a stitch with my pointy Pony's.

This top took way longer than it should have, because I hate -hate- picking up stitches. I did the sleeves and neckline twice, so in between, the project would just sit there for a week or so while I psyched myself up for the picking up of stitches. I just hate it so much. Even when I divided the armholes into sections where I'd only have to pick up 10 or 11 stitches, did I manage to? No, of course not. I'd always reach the end of the section with three stitches left to go, or use up my alloted stitches three-quarters of the way into the section. I hate picking up stitches. Did I mention that?

Having said all that, however, I'm really happy with the way this top turned out. I'm proud I figured out how to do the cap sleeves. They were done with short rows until I liked the length, then finished off with ribbing.

You can see how uneven the tension between my knit and purl rows are on the sleeve. I really have to work on that, but having no give in the yarn didn't help.

This was done early last week, so for the past few days, I've only had one project on the needles: Print O' The Wave. I just keep chugging along on it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A sad day

Kurt Vonnegut dies, at 84.

I shall go re-read some of his books now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Why was this happy news, again?

I've spent the day going through all the job advertising and recruitment sites on the web, and it is depressing. Out of the dozens of jobs that come up during a search for science jobs, only a handful require a PhD, and only two aren't in the pharmaceutical industry. That's right: two. 2. Dos. Deux. Two, out of nearly a hundred. Just as well, the pharma companies seem only to want "quality assurance" and "process validation" people. I don't even know what those terms mean. From the vague job descriptions attached, it doesn't seem like the recruiters know, either.

That's another gripe I have. I'm used to academic job descriptions, where they basically tell you in the ad what you'll be doing: SEM, AFM, synthesis of specific compounds, this project or that project, which can be looked up. But these recruiters seem to write job descriptions to be as vague as possible. Sure, everyone wants "a team player" and someone with "excellent organisational, communication and interpersonal skills" but what the hell would I actually be *doing* with my day if I worked there? No clue.

I can't really complain about the job search to friends, because they usually just look at all those years of schooling, and assume that I would be able to find a job quickly and without any problems. I mean, just look at all that education and those degrees! They don't understand that all those years and those degrees mean I've educated and specialized myself out of all hope of gainful employment.

I'm thinking seriously of leaving the PhD off of my CV, but then how would I explain the huge hole in the first half the decade? And then, the pay would be pitiful. Even the jobs that require a PhD pay barely more than I was getting as a post-doc. I'm incensed! For years, I've been told that academia pays shit, but that industry would make up for its less flexible schedule/less overall research and experimental freedom with higher pay. Well, that's crap, apparently. Or maybe the fact that academia pay scales actually look good says a lot about my job options right now.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Newly discovered

One of my favorite blog-type things is the newly-discovered Separated By a Common Language blog. It's written by an American linguist living in the UK. It's fascinating, and satisfies my love of geekiness AND linguistics, with culture thrown in, of course. Although I don't live in the UK, there are enough similarities between British-English and Hiberno-English that it explains a lot of the English I hear every day over here (not to mention on the TV, as we get a lot of British programming). Also, of course, it explains some of The Limey's utterances. Whenever I read it, there's always a point at which I turn to The Limey and say something like, "What do you call the piece of furniture you sit on to watch TV?" to see if he speaks the way the linguist describes or not. Also, her analysis of math vs. maths has, somewhat, settled the argument we're always having. Great reading. I love it.

In which I discover that it's really difficult to take pictures of yarn

As if my housemate doesn't already think I have a problem...
I spent yesterday afternoon trying to take pictures of some yarn I've acquired in the last two weeks (the last two weeks have been really good for yarn, but not so good for knitting). It's finally nice and sunny, so I figured that would be ideal for pictures...but, no. Or, at least, not with my powers of photography.

A couple of weekends ago, The Limey and I went back to the UK for a wedding reception with his family. Of course, the first thing I do nowadays when I know I'm going somewhere is to look up possible yarn shops to visit. The closest to Stoke is Knit2Together, in Wolstanton. They also run the on-line site Cucumberpatch. Reason my in-laws are awesome #1: The Limey's dad drove us up to Wolstanton, then sat in the car to wait while we went into the shop! It was much yarn...and when I asked if they had Rowan 4-ply Soft, they said, Yes, down the road in our other store. Indeed, a block down the road was another store, just as big, and just as full of lovely yarn. I felt guilty about The Limey's dad waiting for us, so I did a quick run-through to see what they had and picked up a flier for their website (one of the reasons I don't buy very much yarn on-line is that I like to feel stuff and poke at the yarn in person first). I also didn't want to spend any more of the money that I don't have. So I got just a few balls of nice stuff.

Some Rowan 4-ply Soft in a nice rich red. I'm thinking of making myself a pair of Anna socks with it.

A couple skeins of oatmeal-y coloured Rowanspun Chunky, for a bag, I'm thinking. Something in a herringbone stitch, maybe, or, at any rate, something woven-like. I also asked The Limey to pick himself some sock yarn for his next pair of socks. He chose some Patons in blue and black. I'll be looking for suggestions for a good pattern for men's socks; I'm sick of plain ribbing or plain stockinette. Any ideas?

Reason my in-laws are awesome #2: Sunday morning, The Limey and his mother dragged a TV-sized box and another huge bag of stuff down the stairs and set them in front of me. What the hey? I said. It turns out: YARN, and lots of it. From way back when she used to knit. In fact, as we happily rummaged through it, we found half an Aran sweater. She'd finished the front and a whole sleeve before she gave up. It looked great, and must have taken lots of work. Now, we'd flown Ryanair, so there was no way I'd be able to take even a quarter of that stash back with me. I chose half a dozen balls of this Jaeger mohair, figuring on a shawl or lacy scarf.

The pink is a little too baby pink for me, but I figure I could use it somehow. The blue is nice and dark and lovely, though. Maybe the reversible rib shawl? There were lots of other stuff in the box, if only I had room in my bag! She had some chunkier superwash wool in a creamy natural colour that I could totally see in a cabled cardigan. She's promised to bring some more over when they come visit.

Last week, I also heard rumours that The Wool Shop in Bray was closing down. (The dire situation of nice yarn shops in Dublin is ameliorated by This Is Knit moving to better, slightly bigger, sunnier premises.) I took myself down to Bray to see if this was true, and, alas, it is so. The owner, Bernadette, said she was closing down at the end of April to go sailing around the world. Great for her, bad for us. Most of the stuff in her shop, including lots of new products from Rowan, Jaeger, etc. was on sale. I made myself leave after getting just a few things (the only people who say money can't buy happiness are people who already have lots of it):

Six balls of Jaeger Merino DK, in a great deep red (more red?!), for a cardigan or sweater, I think. Can't decide what yet, though. And two hanks of Rowan Summer Tweed, possibly for something like this. The colour of this tweed is like...fields of wheat in the sun. Excuse the purple prose, but, really, it fairly shone out at me in the cramped, low sunlight shop. I also bought a couple balls of a Regia sock yarn, a very slightly variegated light blue. No pictures, 'cause I just couldn't capture the colours well. But I'm thinking lacy socks for me.

As I said, a good couple of weeks for yarn acquisition, but knitting? I plug along on the Print O' The Wave. I'm on the 11th repeat, almost a third of the way through the centre panel!