November 29, 2012

I Spoke Too Soon

I hate when the stupidly unexpected happens, especially when you think you're done with something and...nope!  You screwed up and now have to fix it!

You see, while I was up at my parent's house for Thanksgiving, I decided to test wash Crazy Cable Blanket.  You know, to make sure it wasn't going to fall apart or anything.  That, and it needed to be washed.

Well, the good news is that it came out of the washer and drier intact.  The bad thing is doing so unblocked the damn thing.  This is acrylic/nylon yarn.  The blocking job I did should have been permanent (and, yes, you CAN block acrylic yarn, you just have to steam block instead of wet block the item.  Oh, and unlike wool, once you block acrylic, it's always blocked.  Which, given that I tend to use acrylic when I need something that can be washed and dried, is nice).

So, this means two things: either the nylon is keeping me from doing the acrylic perma-block, or the whole pillowcase trick I used became my iron has hard water dust all in it (which I rather not get all over my knitting) didn't really block it.  Having done a bit of research after the fact, it seems that it's the latter.  I'm guessing that I was supposed to use the steam setting of the iron with the wet pillowcase  because the pillowcase isn't supposed to generate the steam.  Or I didn't iron it until the pillowcase was dry enough.  Or both.  Probably both.

Of course, I left Crazy Cable Blanket up at my parent's house as planned, which means I have to wait until I go up there again to use their non-hard-water-damaged iron to steam block it again.  This also means it will be done right before I give it to my if it doesn't stick this time, I failed.

At least the other Hanukkah present I'm making is moving:

...for now, that is.

November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all the Americans out there!  Since I'll be busy for the holiday, I won't be keeping up my current posting rate (ha, my best yet, though there's no way I'm doing this long term).

To everyone else, have a good rest of the week. 

November 19, 2012

Crazy Cable Blanket Debrief (With a Bonus Border Pattern)

So, I finished Crazy Cable Blanket:

Yet I cannot make my bed well, or pick up the shoes I haven't worn in months.
It's all done.  Border, blocked, everything.  I can't believe I managed to finish it.  The label I sewed on it says it all:

I ordered them from KnitPicks, but other retailers may have these labels in stock as well
Anyway, since this took about a year and a month of my life (though if I had worked on it consistently, it would have been more around eight months), I figured I go into detailed 'debrief' of the pattern for anyone who's crazy enough to make one.

The Pattern
The pattern I used for the blanket itself was Alice Starmore's St. Ciaran (missing accents; sorry) from the reprinted version of the book Aran Knitting (it may be in the original as well.  I don't know and I can't vouch for that version).  Like all of Alice Starmore's cable work, it is interesting, creative, intricate, and absolutely crazy.  What made this more fascinating is the idea of having cables form Celtic patterns, which involves learning how to make the cable appear like it's making a bend when in fact that's where you started or ended the cable.  As I love cables, and I like Celtic designs, I loved this.  Hell, I bought Aran Knitting because I saw this pattern knitted up in a KnitPicks catalog.

However, the Celtic cabling is also what made the pattern challenging.  Now, honestly, the pattern and the charts that go with it are flawless.  I had no problem learning how to read the chart, setting it up, and following it.  I did have some issues the whole 'start and finish the cable in the middle of it' step in the beginning, though.  The first couple of times I screwed up and had to re-start the blanket.  But after that, all my mistakes were more due to my momentary lapses in paying attention more than anything (can you blame me? Knitting solid cables 200+ stitches across gets a bit tedious, no matter how much you like the pattern).

The other interesting thing about this pattern is that it's actually supposed to be a shawl.  However, it's a really big shawl...what most of us would call a small blanket.

For anyone who wants to attempt the pattern, the advice I'd give to you is:
  1. Use a 60" circular needle.  Use a good quality one as well; you will put stress on the joins between the cord and needle with this pattern and you don't want them popping mid blanket.  However, you will not get far with straight needles unless you are so against circulars you insist on using them.  Your sanity and wrists will thank me later.
  2.  I know it's a blanket, but for the love of the knitting goddess, SWATCH FIRST.  If you're too lazy to swatch one of the charts (which is recommended to learn how to do the cable from nothing trick before you start the blanket and then have to re-start it), at least swatch in stockinette.  Alice Starmore's patterns are notorious for tight gauge (I think I saw someone call it 'bullet-proof'; it's not too much of an exaggeration).  You may have an issue with it and have to go up a needle size or two, depending on the yarn used.
  3. While I used an acrylic/nylon blend successfully, I would still recommend going will some sort of wool, wool blend, or some other flexible, springy yarn for this blanket.  You will enjoy knitting it more with a yarn that doesn't mind going through some gymnastics, because that's all this pattern is.  You may find a different fiber that will work, but tread carefully.  If you need machine washable like I did, you may have to compromise on ease-of-knitting a bit, however you must triple-check that your chosen yarn won't send you to the wrist doctor for pain either (Ravelry reviews of other knitters having done cables with said yarn are a godsend for this).  This is also why you need to swatch, hopefully before you commit yourself to buying all the skeins.
  4. On the other hand, the yardage you will get by calculating it out of the pattern is a bit more than you need, unless you're knitting more loosely or putting the fringe on.  I used a little under 2100 yards on the blanket itself as written (minus the fringe), but bought 2730 yards based on the pattern.  With my border, I used about 2520 yards.
  5. Put stitch markers where each chart ends/begins.  They don't really get in the way and they help you see where all the charts are.
  6. Have separate row counters for each chart, along with one representing the whole blanket. You can use an app for this if you don't want five string-on counters on your needle cord.  The benefit of the app is that most of them will switch all the counters with one button push.  The downside is that you need your phone/tablet around and not dead whenever you knit.
  7. It may be easier if you photocopy the charts so you're not flipping back and forth in the book. I insist on it if you're using a library copy or someone else's copy of Aran Knitting. I didn't do this, and  I broke the spine of my book and the pattern pages de-attached. I had to duct tape them back in. Twice.
  8. Don't try to memorize the charts.  You may get the A chart down pat all right, as it's just a six-stitch braid (and it's the most common chart in the blanket), but you will make more mistakes than anything if you try to memorize the other three charts.  They are too long and complicated.  Save yourself some hair-ripping and just stick with reading the charts.

The Border
The border isn't part of the pattern.  I made it up on the fly.  The blanket just looked unfinished to me without one, and I had extra yarn anyway.  However, the thought of picking up stitches along it and knitting a  Just no.  So I crocheted it instead.  I love being bi-craftal.

For anyone who wants to go the extra mile of crazy, the border pattern is below:

Start in a stitch or two in front of a corner of the blanket.  It doesn't really matter which corner, but I started on the end of the blanket.

Use a US G/6 (4.25mm) or whatever is slightly smaller than the knitting needle size you're using (Go with the G if you're knitting with an US 7 (4.5mm)). Always end the round by slip stitching (sl st) into the top chain to end the round.  sc = single crochet, dc = double crochet, FPdc = front post double crochet, i = # of side you're on, loc = stitch you're at (the location).  This is a quick and dirty pattern, be warned.  The chart will be added later, as it will take more time to make (though it will be much clearer than my written instructions for many people, I think.  I said it was a bonus).
Round 1:  for(i=0; i < 4; i++){sl st to loc == corner st.  3 sl st.} sl st to loc = 0
Round 2:  Ch 3. for(i=0; i < 4; i++){dc to loc == corner st. 3 dc.} dc to loc = 0
Round 3: Ch 2.  for(i=0; i < 4; i++){sc to loc == corner st. 3 sc } sc to loc = 0
Round 4: Ch 2. for(i=0; i < 4; i++){while(loc != corner st ){sc. FPdc into below dc.} if(loc == corner st){sc, FPdc into corner dc stitch, sc.}}. do{sc. FPdc into below dc.}while(loc != 0)
Round 5-8:  Round 3
Round 9: Round 2
Round 10:  Round 4
Round11: Round 3
I can't tell you how many stitches I did on each side, because I was lazy and didn't count (and therefore had too many stitches and had to decrease. Then I had to learn how to property decrease in crochet, because I realized I've never had to decrease in a way that didn't involve just skipping the stitch.  The result was that I learned that decreasing in crochet is just a two stitch cluster, but I still had a few too many stitches on the ends).  I will tell you that you need to slip stitch into every knit stitch on the sides of the blanket, but you'll need to only do a percentage of them on the ends.

The Yarn
The yarn...what can I say? I used Berroco Comfort in color 9763 (it's a navy blue color, despite some of the photos I took). I knew everything about it from the reviews I read, and I pretty much had the same experience, minus one.  The good is that it's cushy and provides enough stitch definition for cables.  It's also machine washable and dryable, which is good for a blanket for a 13-year-old.  I haven't run it in the washer machine yet, but it's been in the dryer and it came out fine.  The steam blocking job I did created a bit of fuzzy, but that's because I wasn't being careful (it does say not to iron the yarn and while I was using a pillowcase between the iron and the blanket (wet pillowcase = steam without the steam setting), I was pressing too hard and had the iron up too hot).

The bad is that it does have a tendency to split into tiny threads, especially on the sharp tips of the metal needles I prefer.  I'm pretty used to this by now, as I can split yarns that almost never split when using said needles, but it's a bit of an issue with this yarn in particular. Also, you don't have the desired flexibility with the yarn that you may want with such a cabling job.  Sliding the stitches and twisting them are a bit tougher than one may like or expect with a good flexible yarn like wool.

The one thing I do disagree with from a review I read was that I found it easier to crochet with than to knit with.  Since the crochet hook was blunt, and my knitting needles were sharp, I had less of an issue with splitting when crocheting with it. It still split, don't get me wrong, but not as badly.  But maybe my experience is tainted with the fact that I was crocheting simpler stitches than I was knitting, so it just tolerated the less demanding stitchery better.

This was one of the most trying projects I've worked on, and there were many times I dropped it like a hot potato and let it cool for a couple of months. It got tedious some days, and I can't believe I spent so much time on it.

The next one I do is for me. In a nice wool.  I keep staring at it; I love the cables and I want one now.  Or maybe I'll adopt the cables in St. Brigid into a shawl like I wanted to do before I do another Crazy Cable Blanket.  Or actually get around to making Eala Bhan, which is the other pattern I bought this book for.

Don't worry, it won't happen any time soon.  I have enough yarn for other projects already that it'll be awhile before I get around to buying yarn for another one of these....

November 18, 2012

Guides for Self-Taught Knitters: All the Different Ways to Knit and Where to Learn Them

There are many books and webpages out there that let one teach themselves to knit.  If your book or website sucked, it would have just showed you how to knit.  That is, the author showed you one way to knit because that's how you do it, right?

Wrong.  There are multiple styles of knitting, and all are valid ways of producing knit and purl stitches.  A good self-teaching book will cover this, as all that matters is using the style that's most comfortable to you, and it's better to learn that style up front.  However, every self-taught knitter...hell, every knitter...should at least be familiar with the different styles of knitting.

Why, you may ask? Because knowing the different styles lets you:
  • Find the best method for you.  This may be the one you learned from the book you bought or your grandmother.  But you may find that you're more conformable or faster with a style you had no clue about before.
  • Use the best method for the situation.  For example, stranded color knitting is easier if you can knit using both of the most popular styles.
  • Understand some pattern assumptions that arise based on the knitter's own way of knitting.
  • Help or, ever better, demonstrate any method to a newbie (because your preferred way may not be someone else's).
  • Impress your knitting friends with your knowledge.  They may even think you're a better knitter than you are! (this is a double edged sword, so tread lightly).
So, lets get down to it.  One disclaimer, there may be other ways that I don't know about, so don't be offended if I don't mention some of the more obscure styles.  However, do let me know about them!

Oh, and this is an overview, not a teaching guide.  Use the links located in the 'So You Want to Learn It?' sub-section of each style to find good written and video instructions.

English Style
Also known as American style, this is the style you most likely learned from your crappy book you bought or that random website you found.  Very common in the Western world and in learn-to-knit guides for some reason.

What It Is
Either letting the yarn hang down or holding it in the right hand, the knitter produces stitches by using the right hand to wrap the yarn around the right needle.

The Positives
  • It's one of the styles you need to know for easy stranded knitting.
  • If you're a righty non-yarn-crafter, you may find this style easier to learn (as most of the action is done by your right hand).
  • It's pretty straightforward, and there's lots of instructions on it if it isn't.
The Negatives
  • It's easy to twist your stitches.  Just forget which way the yarn wraps around the needle.
  • It takes more movement to produce your stitches, so not the fastest method out there.
So You Want to Learn It? has series of videos on their site (second listed, page is for knit stitch but purl is in the menu).  They also have the purl video on YouTube. And now they even have the styles named right (when I first found the site, they had English and Continental swapped).

I like TECHKnitter for not only good instructions, but also explanations on why it works.  Link goes to knit stitch, see top for purl.

For Dummies isn't a bad series, and they have their knitting guides online (link also to knit stitch).

Searching YouTube always helps (so you can figure out how exactly you like to hold the yarn and so forth).

Continental Style
Also known as German style or Left Handed Knitting (not to be confused with backwards knitting), this is the other common method in the Western world.

What It Is
Holding the yarn in your left hand, you use your right needle to 'pick', or grab the working yarn through the stitch on the left hand needle.

The Positives
  • It's the other style you need for stranded knitting.
  • It's also straightforward and common enough to find good instructions.
  • Once you get use to it, it's fast.  There's less movement involved in this style.
  • If you're a right-handed crocheter, this style will most likely be the easiest to learn (as you hold the yarn in the same hand, keep tension in a similar manner, and move the right needle similar to a crochet hook). 
  • May be easier for left-handed people, as you control tension using the left hand.
The Negatives
  • If you've already been taught English style, it may be hard to learn.
  • There's a bigger difference between the knit and purl stitch, and purling is trickier in this method.
  • If you're an extreme righty, holding tension in your left hand may be tricky. 
So You Want to Learn it?

The For Dummies guide, TECHKnitter, and's YouTube video series also have guides for this style.  KnittingHelp also has all their videos on their site (first listed). All links go to the knit stitch like before.

Personally, I purl using my thumb to pull down the yarn, though I can't find where I learned to do that (and I don't think it's the best way, just the way that I fell into).  I find that the continental style of purling has the most variation, so you may need to do some hunting to find the best way for you.

Another awesome way to purl when you use this style is called Norwegian Purling.  Very helpful for ribbing, as you don't need to switch your yarn from the back to the front.

Also, most these guides will tell you to wrap the yarn around your pinky for tension. This video shows an alternate way of holding the yarn (start at time stamp 0:50). While I also don't have the link from where I learned this, this is how I hold the yarn:

I find that searching for 'speed knitting continental' on YouTube may net you some good videos if you're learning this way to knit faster.

Combination Style
Eastern styles meets western styles to produce a more uncommon but interesting way to knit.

What It Is
The knitter deliberately twists their stitches so that the live loops face the opposite way, allowing the knitter to insert the needle in the front for both the knit and purl stitches (Doing this un-twists the stitch, therefore still ending up with the correct knit and purl stitch in the fabric).

The Positives
  • Knit and purl stitches can come out more even.
  • Style can be merged with either English or Continental (that is, you can hold the yarn in either hand).  This is because both of those styles are Western styles, and this is a merger between western and eastern.
The Negatives
  • Some pattern re-interpretation is needed, as decreases slant the opposite way when done in this style.
  • Nowhere near as common as English and Continental style, so getting help may be a challenge.
So You Want to Learn it?

A slightly better description can be found on this style's Wikipedia page

One of the best known people who use this technique is Annie Modesitt.  That link goes to her comprehensive online guides on this style.

I first found out about this style when reading Grumperina's blog.  That link goes to her set of how-to videos on this style.

KnittingHelp also has a video on YouTube for the knit stitch in this method and its also on their site (third listed).

Backwards (Mirror) Knitting
This isn't really a style, but instead a method of knitting by swapping the actions for each hand in one of the above styles.  To really confuse you, this is also sometimes called Left-Handed Knitting.

What It Is
Backwards knitting is where you use your preferred style to work left to right instead of right to left. In all the styles above, no matter what hand you hold the yarn in, you use your right needle to pull the yarn through a loop on your left needle, which produces the new live stitch on the right needle.  When you mirror knit, you instead use the left needle to pull the yarn through a stitch on the right needle, producing the new stitch on the left needle.

The Positives
  • May be the easiest way to knit for someone who's left-handed (hence why it's sometimes called left-handed knitting).
  • You can avoid purling when flat knitting by knitting the purl rows this way. Also helpful when knitting a pattern that involves constantly going back and forth for short distances (for example, entrelac).
The Negatives
  • If you mirror knit exclusively, you will have to re-interpret any pattern you use, as almost all patterns assume right to left knitting. This can be very confusing and a source of errors.  This is also why it's recommended that those who are left-handed try to learn one of the styles above first (that, and knitting  really does utilize both hands in manipulating the stitches, so non-mirrored knitting isn't strongly 'right-handed' in the first place. However, you are still using your right hand to wrap/pick the yarn, which may trouble some left-handed people.  All I can say is choose your negative).
So You Want to Learn It?

KnittingHelp suggests to hold a mirror up to their video to learn how to do it backwards (see last section), though I'm including this to more laugh at it (Really? How are you going to hold up a mirror and knit with the video?).

This video on YouTube shows how to do this English style.

This video, on the other hand, shows it in Continental style.

The styles above are all the ones I know about as of now.  I'll add to this post if I find other styles in my knitting travels.  And yes, I know I'm missing Eastern knitting styles...but as I'm in the western world,  I still need to learn about those myself.

November 4, 2012

Blame Sandy

Another quick post saying that due to external influences I won't be posting until things get back to normal. Just as I was getting my posting rate up too, oye. 

If you are the maybe two people who actually read this blog, you'll know I'm in the NYC area.  If you're in North America and haven't been living off the grid in the middle of nowhere, you've heard about Hurricane Sandy and what happened with that thing. Having said that, I'm fine.  Actually, I got very lucky.  It didn't even knock out the power in my immediate vicinity.  It was freaky, however, hearing the winds whip around that night.  I went out to get stuff a couple of days later and passed by a tree that had crushed someone's car and landed on cable lines.  I just spent three days navigating Manhattan with a flashlight to get to work. But I'm fine. A lot of people here aren't, which sucks.

The aftermath of this is sucking up my time (I can't complain; I'm helping get things back to normal, but it is tiring), so no posting.  Sorry.  Will be back soon, hopefully.