February 18, 2013

Oh, Look, I'm Done Frogging (Professoressa Cardigan Debrief)

Well, that was a trip.  But I'm finally done:

I don't know how I got it in my head that this would be a quick project.  Ha ha.  Even if I hadn't screwed up as much as I did or had been doing things I've never done before, it still wouldn't have been particularly quick. 

The Pattern
I had no issues with the pattern itself (Professoressa Cardigan from Textured Stitches).  It was clear and easy enough to figure out what was going on. No errors that I saw, which is good because I don't think I looked for errata either. Chart took a couple of read throughs to get, but that's because the symbols were different than the last several charts I'd done, not because the chart was unclear. Also, this is I think one of the first books I've seen with full, complete schematics.

While I did make a good number of changes, the only design oriented one was taking out the bell sleeves.  I almost left them there, because they do add some interest and I don't dislike them, but decided it would be easier to have it straight-sleeved so it would be plain enough to work with my whole work wardrobe (you see, when it comes to jacket-like items, I'm boring.  I'll wear the same cardigan/zip-up sweatshirt over everything.  I wore my last work cardigan almost every day of the year last year...which is probably why it got a hole).

All the other changes I made were because I'm [insert body issue here], and patterns are done in standard sizing.  This isn't a complaint; it's just a fact.  So I change it to fit me, because if I wanted a slightly off-fitting garment, I'd go buy it off the rack.

Some tips and tricks to keep in mind:
  • This is a general tip, but weave in ends as you go.  You'll be attaching and re-attaching yarn, and this makes all the difference.  If you're going to be re-attaching where you cut off, leave a tail of yarn long enough to pick up and knit with the working yarn to weave it in (see the second method on this page.  It's what I tend to use for same color joins/random ends.  Though the other methods on that page work if that's more your cup of tea).  
  • I can't stress how much easier doing cables like this is when you can cable without a cable needle.  The cabling here isn't hard, but it is slightly intricate (and you can't always read where's its going due to the twisted stitches and wrong-side crossing).  Rows 5 and 15 will throw you as well, since you're not crossing the stitches you think you would be (for example, you'll do a K-P back cross with two K stitches, but when you do that row the back one is worked as a P stitch from that point).  Keep your counts straight and the chart handy, and you'll be fine.
  • The cheat method of making sure you do the same number of rows on both sides of the front after splitting for the armholes?  Try to do an even number of repeats of the chart.  If you can't due to sizing, just note how many repeats you did and what row you ended on on the last one.  Simpler number to remember.
  • Also, when you start working the first front, write down what row of the chart you started on, so you know where to start on the other side.
  • Post-it notes!  I wrote down all my changes on post-it notes and stuck it in the book on the relevant page.  There's enough picture space here to do this, and it's very helpful.  This trick only works for books though, so if you made a copy to carry around, just write everything in.  Also, make sure you record it somewhere a bit more permanent (like in a notebook, or on the Ravelry page, or in a text document) at some point, because you may not lose things, but I misplace paper all the time.
  • If you don't want to sew in the sleeve, you can block the body, bind off the shoulders, and then do the whole short-row afterthought sleeve trick.  I didn't because I wanted to learn how to sew in sleeves and it was either learn that or the short-row sleeve trick (which I've never done so I'm fuzzy on the details, but it looks cool).
  • On the other hand, if you are sewing in the sleeves, this site was invaluable to me to learn how to do it well. I might have spent the day ripping it out to figure out where to put the ease (I also think I didn't quite block the cap big enough.  Now I know why that's important, ha), but I would have spent more if I hadn't found that site, and I own the book she mentions for calculations (see previous statement about sleeve caps.  The math didn't work so well).
  • Since I also had to learn how to do short rows for the neck, well, I used this page, which got me through it (though not neatly, and I still did several things wrong).  I then found this free class on Craftsy (don't ask how I ended up on that site, I just did).  If you don't mind creating an account and have a couple of hours, I highly recommend it.  It also teaches the short-row sleeve trick if you need to learn that as well.
The changes I made (and how to do them) are below:
  • Since I'm a pear shape, and not an hourglass like this pattern, I chose to do the 34.75" size (close to my bust size) and CO'ed 12 extra stitches so I started with more width at the bottom.  I figured this out by doing the calculations on how many stitches it would be to get about a 36" circumference at the hips instead (using the blocked gauge, which was pretty much on gauge for me.  See yarn section for more details).  I spaced these stitches out evenly so there were three extra on each front and 6 in the back.
  • Due to this, I started the dart decreases around 2.5" from CO edge, and set up the darts so the extra stitches would be on the side of the dart you'd decrease from.  This works out to adding the front stitches between the cable panel and the dart, and the 6 extra in between the two back darts.  I also worked three extra decrease rows to get back to the pattern-specified stitch count for the waist.  From there I stayed with that stitch count.
  • I only worked 7 rows between the first three decrease rows, and 5 rows between the rest of them so I could fit all the decrease rows (including the extra ones) in a slightly shorter length.
  • 2" straight for the waist, then I did 7 rows between the first three increase rows, and 9 rows between the rest (again, goal was to shorten it so that the darts were done before the bust line).
  • In total, I subtracted an inch from the length before armholes.
  • To subtract bell sleeves, I added a series of increases starting from 2" from CO of sleeve, spaced out every 7 rows.  Do this until you get to the stitch count stated after the bell decrease.
  • Only went up to 9" before starting upper sleeve increases, and 16" before cap shaping.
  • Since it turns out that I have no slope between my back and neck (the things you learn about your body when you make clothes for yourself), I added extra 7 st short row to each wedge for the neck (guess how many frogs I had to do to figure that one out) so that the top was shorter than the pattern specified.  I also went down a needle size just because.  I could have gotten away with a little bigger, but I like how this pulls in the cardigan. 
 Some of the issues I had:
  • Once again, need to learn to read the instructions before changing something.  I didn't and missed that the stitch count was not the same below and above the bell sleeve.  I figured this out when I got to the top of the sleeve cap and had way too few stitches.  Yes, I had to frog the whole sleeve and start over.
  • Need to make sure I block out sleeve caps to measurements.  Also, most of the ease I need is near the armhole, with some at the top (though it would be better if I could have put a little in the top of the second section of the sleeve, but didn't have any left).  Took me four times sewing in one of the sleeves to figure that out.  At least I got really good at the seam stitches.
  • The neck piece...it's both ingenious and the biggest pain in the ass.  That got ripped out three times, once because I was learning short rows, once because I wore it to work and decided that I couldn't live with the neckline being too loose (for this pattern, this makes the cardigan hang wider as well), and once because the I added too many short rows when I changed it, and the bottom was too big.  All from it fully being seamed in, since that was the only time I could really get a sense of how it would work.  Then I had a slight issue with the bottom middle bulging out a bit.  To correct that, I did a horizontal-to-horizontal mattress stitch over the bind off to pull it in a bit.  I may do the rest of it, but for now I'm done.  I'm thinking it has more to do with the bind-off being thicker there due to all the sewing ends.  It looked like this in the end:

The Yarn
I used Blue Moon Fiber Arts Woobu, which is a Merino/Bamboo blend.  This is seriously one of the better yarns I've worked with, and it worked perfectly for this pattern. It's warm but with just enough sheen to make it look nice and professional.  It's soft but not overly so, and it can tolerate a good amount of frogging.  It's better after you wash it the first time.

I managed to split it while knitting, but at a much less rate than usual.  But I can split the best of yarns, so that means nothing.

However, this yarn grows after blocking.  Not just a little, but so much it will change your gauge and you NEED to take it into account.  Luckily, I checked out Ravelry first and saw other comments along the same lines, so I made a good sized gauge swatch and blocked it.  To give you an idea, when the swatch was unblocked, I was close to gauge using a size US6 needle.  After I blocked it, I was on gauge with the US5.  Any changes I made involving measurements were calculated using the blocked gauge.  Because I kept this in mind, it fits perfectly after blocking.  If I hadn't done that, I would have been screwed.

I might seem nuts with the notes here, but that's because if this wears out, I'm seriously considering making another one and I want to know what I did.  So, you know, the frogs don't take over my apartment again (my blocking boards on the other hand, they live here now).  I just wish it hadn't taken two months to do.

Now onto the next sweater...a simple top-down raglan.  Because I need a break.

February 12, 2013

Too Many Frogs 'Round Here

This past month, I can't count how many times I've frogged or otherwise had to undo some work due to a mistake I made.

For the Dwindling Cables Hat, I ripped out the base band three times, attempted to pick up the stitches twice, and then had to frog most of it after I screwed up all the cable crossings.  At least after that I didn't screw up majorly again (some minor issues here and there, but nothing that couldn't be hacked easily) after that.

For the Work Cardigan (almost done; debrief will be next post), I once again didn't read the pattern closely enough and missed that I needed to increase my stitch count up the sleeve to account for the subtracted bell shape.  I figured this out after I got to the top of the sleeve cap and was wondering why I had so few stitches.  A week's work frogged out.  How long have I've been working on this again?  Almost two months now?

I then spent my last Sunday sewing in and ripping out one of the sleeves to said cardigan as I learned how to sew in a set-in sleeve.

Now I'm working on the first of a set of fingerless gloves:

So far, I've had to drop down the stitches of one of the cables to re-cross a miss-cross, and had to rip out the start of the thumb gusset (about 5 rows) since it looked like crap.  It still looks kind of shitty, but since I stopped using the stitch markers, it's been better:

Oh, and I've decided to try another way of purling at the same time.  Which took me a couple of rows to get, and it's not so natural for me yet.  I don't know if I'll keep doing it this way or not (but that's another post).

Luckily, this is a pretty fast, easy pattern.  Yes, even with all the cables.  It's pretty logical and easy to memorize.  Despite my inability to do anything right at the moment, I love patterns like that.

Now my sweater just needs to dry again so I can finish it, oye.

February 9, 2013

And Now for Something Completely Different

I had a little childish fun:

That is all.  I though about making hats and/or scarves for them, but I didn't want to leave anything that wasn't snow out in the yard (as I'm not 100% I was supposed to be in the yard in the first place, but anyway...). 

Now back to being an adult and yarn crafting.

February 8, 2013

Things That Are Gray and Things That Are White

Oh, look, I've finally got something done:

This should have not taken me a month to do, but it did.  Mainly because I was too busy working on the work sweater at the same time.  However, it didn't help that I frogged parts of this hat multiple times either.

It came out a little big, I have to say that.  Having worn it a couple of times already, I wish that I had made the band a little tighter (though that would have screwed me up on picking up the right stitch count even more, so maybe that isn't the best idea).  It stays on, but if I dart around it sometimes slips foward, and otherwise doesn't always stay where I put it.  Nothing that can't be fixed with a snap clip or two, though.

I love the way it looks, which is always a bonus.  However, I had to switch back to my heavy duty hats today due to the lovely nor'easter that's coming through my area as I type:

That's what it looks like outside my window a couple of hours ago from this post.  Well, if you subtract the fact that my camera turned the scene yellow tinted....
Supposedly its name is Nemo, which I can't hear without getting this song stuck in my head, so I'm going to ignore the Weather Channel's attempt at giving cute names to nor'easters and just call it a snow storm.  Despite everyone freaking about about it here in NYC, it's not supposed to be as bad here.  But that's NYC mentality for you...it's going to be an event enough to cause minor disruption?  Everybody panic!  Meanwhile, back in 2010:

Three feet of snow, whoo hoo.
So forgive me if I'm not currently impressed at the moment (however, those of you northeast of us that are dealing with the snow amounts in the second pic...I feel for you).  The snow falling this morning was pretty, though.  It was the right weather to have light big snowflakes and not be crazy cold outside.  I actually didn't mind walking in it this morning.  Then again, I like snow and don't mind colder weather.  I just don't like crappy slush and shoveling things and the type of cold that is bitter and biting.

Another positive thing about it was that I got to do this:

Finished the last sleeve on the subway today, and managed to get to the post office before it closed to pick up the package that contained those nice new blocking pads (one bad thing about apartment living in the city; getting packages delivered is a pain in the ass.  Especially when they decide not to bother ringing your doorbell before leaving the slip that says 'we missed you, now you have to go to the post office that's only open during your working hours most of the time!' Ug).

In other news, yes, I finally broke down and bought blocking pads.  T-pins don't really hold when your using towels on a hardwood floor, and while I can work around it for small things, this needed to be pinned out sturdily. 

I'm not done, though.  I still have to sew it up and do the back of the neck (it's a bit of an odd construction).  Hopefully I can get it done within the week, though.  Then I'll have both my over-a-month long projects done.

Then I'll start something else...woops:

I kind of already did.

P.S.: For anyone dealing with the snow, stay safe and warm, and don't try to curse it too much.

P.P.S.: Oh, and we're in a severe French Toast Alert, ya'll (the site is Mass. based, I believe, so it's even more applicable). Have fun!

February 4, 2013

Stuck in Phase Two With a Sore Finger

I really should work on my knitting style again.

You see, I've developed a bad knitting habit.  I like to use my right pointer finger to push on the needle to help slide the stitches up the left needle.  I didn't actively learn this; it's just how I fell into doing it after I switched to continental style.  It's not a good thing to do, because you, at best, develop a nice callous (I wish.  As as someone who tried learning to play guitar long enough to know the benefits of callouses, I was hoping I would get one and that would be the end of it).  At worst you get constantly peeling dry skin, holes in your finger where you stabbed yourself with the sharp metal knitting needles you prefer, and an active split in the skin that hurts like hell (that started because you stabbed yourself with the knitting needle there).  Yeah.  It's not fun, and at this point it's bad enough that just brushing yarn against that finger hurts (because, of course, I use that finger to also hold the stitch on the right needle when I purl).

Every time I get the worst of it I tell myself I'm going to stop pushing the damn needle and learn a better way of moving the stitches up.  Then I start adjusting, end up knitting a few stitches slowly and carefully, then get annoyed with my speed and lack of understanding on how not to push, and go back to pushing.  Because as much as I accidentally hurt myself that way, I knit faster.  Even with the irritated cut.

Of course, I have no excuse.  I both learned the correct way to do English style and then switched styles (with minimal issue) when I figured out I was knitting wrong in English style.  Adjusting my technique shouldn't be a problem, right?  Well, it kind of is. 

I just finished reading a book called Answers for Aristotle by Massimo Pigliucci, which at one point touched upon what it takes to be an expert at an activity.  The book mentioned some research that it was found that a person trying to reach expert level goes through three distinct phases [1] The phases are (paraphrasing, here):
  1. Where the person is a novice and is focused on learning how to conduct the activity without making horrible mistakes
  2. Where the person has gained enough skill to preform the basics unconsciously and  at a decently satisfactory level
  3. Where the person becomes an expert in the activity (which is defined by having a high-level of skill at the activity)
You may be going 'duh', and you'll be right.  It seems pretty self-evident.  But that's not my point.  My point is best expressed from this direct book quote:
"Most people get stuck in phase two: they can do whatever it is they set out to do decently, but stop short of the level of accomplishment that provides the self-gratification that makes one’s outlook significantly more positive or purchases the external validation that results in raises and promotions. Phase three often remains elusive because while the initial improvement was aided by switching control from conscious thought to intuition—as the task became automatic and faster—further improvement requires mindful attention to the areas where mistakes are still being made and intense focus to correct them. Referred to as ‘deliberate practice,’ this phase is quite distinct from mindless or playful practice." (Pigliucci, 2012).
Now, I wouldn't go as far as to say that you can't get self-gratification from performing an activity at phase two.  Actually, I would say, especially in the world of hobbies, that many people have no problem staying firmly in some area of phase two; they're the knitters who are happily content with making plain sock after plain sock, garter stitch scarf after garter stitch scarf.  To them, playful practice is all the joy they need [2]. However, the aspect of that stage remains: unless you're both consciously mindful of what areas you need to improve in (aware of your mistakes or gaps in knowledge), learn how to correct them or learn the skill you're missing, AND mindfully practice it until it becomes second nature as they say, you're treading water skill-wise.  You just end up reinforcing the bad habits with the good ones you already know.  So of course I'm going to slip back to my bad habits because they're rote for me.  Unless I do my research, learn, and consistently practice how not to push with my pointer finger, I'm going to keep putting holes in my finger.

Not that this is going to stop me from knitting that way any time soon.  I both need to set more time aside to re-teach myself how to knit and I have a sweater that still needs to get done (on second sleeve, but that's another blog post).  Can you guess which one I'm picking?

[1]: Unfortunately, I don't have the book anymore and I stupidly forgot to see what study the author cited.  As well, I don't have any free access to academic literature, but a quick search on Google Scholar turned up this study for which the abstract sound like it's concluded a similar idea.  But I'm thinking there must be more studies somewhere, and who knows if the abstract matches the study.  Despite my lack of correlating evidence, it seems correct so I'll just go forward with it as if it's true for now.

[2]: Of course, I don't have any actual evidence for this claim, because who wants to study why some yarn crafters are happy producing the same basic stuff why others continuouly try new things (let alone everyone in-between the two extremes...it's more of a sliding scale, really).  Well, that, and I haven't bothered trying to look for anything similar yet.  Let's just say I'm skeptical that the claim holds true for everybody for now.