30 January 2009

BSJ #1 in use!

Remember the Baby Surprise Jacket I knit for Sister's Baby way back in the spring? Here it is in action:

Nephew is 2 weeks old in this photo, and the jacket is too big for him, but that makes it even more adorable. He's been growing like gangbusters (he's biggest -- and happiest -- and smartest -- and sweetest -- and mellowest -- baby in the Mommies Group!), so I wouldn't be surprised if he's already outgrown this one. Good thing I made him two.

And yes, Mom: Sister said it was okay to post this photo.

29 January 2009

Knitting up a Storm

I'm a bit behind on my picture-taking, and therefore a bit behind on the blogging, too. Then again, when have I ever bothered to worry about that before? There are tons of things I've made and photographed that I haven't gotten around to blogging yet...

The shop was having a closeout sale on some older Tilli Tomas yarn. Now, that's a yarn that is firmly out of my price range, even now that I get an employee discount, but closeout yarn is even deeper discount, and so I figured that this would be my only chance if I ever were to buy any. So I went for it. After a long and tortured decision-making/bullet-biting process, I bought four skeins of navy, and decided to make a hat and mitten set for myself.

The yarn is called Flurries, a worsted-weight singles merino yarn with glass beads spun in about every four inches. Beautiful. The company changed the yardage of a skein (from 130 yards to 70 yards!), which is why we had to close out the older (larger!) skeins. Otherwise, Tilli Tomas does not go on sale. Period.

I had a random ball of a lavender/pink-y Rowan Cashsoft 4-ply laying around (another sale bin purchase), and decided to use that for the inside cuffs of the mittens. I cast on 52 stitches, using size 4 needles, and knit stockinette in the round for 2.5 inches (20 rounds).

(gauge for the Cashsoft: 26 sts. = 4 in.)

Then I switched to size 7 needles, joined on the Tilli Tomas, and decreased down to 46 sts. at the same time: k2tog, *k8, k2tog.* Next round, I purled so the cuff would turn under nicely. I knitted in stockinette for a couple of inches and realized that the mitten was going to be too big around -- but that frogging would be a horrible experience (even more than usual) because of those beads. So at that moment, I decided that these were going to be felted mittens. (GASP! Felting Tilli Tomas! My heart did skip a beat for a moment, it's true.)

(gauge for the Flurries before felting: 18 sts. = 4 in.)

I kept going, knitting the cast-on edge into the Flurries when I got that far, and started increasing for the thumb gusset at 4 inches (28 rounds after the purl round), doing paired M1 increases every other round until I had 13 thumb stitches (yes, I messed up in there somewhere and added an M1 when I shouldn't have -- so I did the same thing on the second mitten). including the two "center" stitches around which I was increasing. Then I put those 13 sts on a holder, rejoined in the round with two added stitches for the hand (to make up for the loss of the two "center" stitches that became part of the thumb). (So, still 46 sts.)

24 rounds after the thumb-hole/rejoin, I began decreasing heavily for the top of the mitten, and after a few rows made it down to 10 stitches, then cut and pulled the yarn-end through those last ten. This is also where I stopped taking pictures, apparently.

I did make a thumb. I did make a second mitten to match the first. I did felt them. At some point, I will post finished-object photos.

Just not today.

Also, I will make a hat to match at some point. But I haven't done it yet. Fodder for future posts!

28 January 2009

Ugliest Socks EVER

When I bought this yarn, it was in a taped-closed bag (in the final sale bin), and I thought it was black, gray, and brown. Very manly.

When I got it home and opened the bag, I discovered that what I thought was black was actually purple and teal. What I thought was gray was actually lavender. And what I thought was brown was... baby-poop brown.

These socks are not going to be pretty. Or manly.

I cast on for them about three weeks before Christmas, thinking they would be a good last-minute present for Husband. This is as far as I've gotten on them, mostly because both Husband and I think the yarn is so ugly that neither of us wants the socks. They will likely end up being charity knitting; for now, they are just "purse socks." I worked on them yesterday when I went through the car wash and had a couple of minutes of enforced-sitting-in-the-car. That's the kind of project these babies have become.

Also, it's a Kaffe Fassett colorway. Normally I like his color pairings, but this one, ah, lowers his work in my estimation. There's a reason the Project Runway judges talk so much about "taste level." It's so people like me can get all snarky when the sale yarn they buy turns out to be ugly!

(The lighting is sub-par in this photo, but the colors are still eerily accurate!)(On my monitor, at least.)

21 January 2009

Psalm 139, part II

More sermon...

The other element of this great intimacy between knitter and knitted is a physical connection that has a spiritual element. As you knit, pieces of yourself are integrated into the garment you are knitting: strands of hair, skin cells, sweat, and so on. You literally put yourself into your project. You don’t know this transfer is happening, usually; and you have very little control over it. Your knitting project will forever contain little inextricable bits of you.

At the same time, in the process of knitting, sometimes fibers come dislodged from the yarn and float around in the air. They land on your skin as you knit. You inhale them accidentally, without even knowing it. You may get fibers in your mouth as you talk, and you end up swallowing them. Just as pieces of you are being integrated into your knitting, little bits of your knitting are becoming a part of you, as well. There is an exchange of being.

A piece of God rubbed off on you as you were being created. And a piece of you rubbed off on God. You and God are a part of one another; that’s how close you are.

(and a bit later...)

Faith calls us to a place of daring: daring to name the closeness of our relationship with our Creator; daring to name the holiness of our own creation; daring to be the person we were created to be, rather than trying to be Moses, or Jesus, or anyone else. We are gathered together by the Holy Spirit to be a community of daring – a community that dares to affirm our own sacred worth, the sacred worth of all creatures of God.

The truth of our created-ness is the one thing that we all have in common with every other human being around the world. God carefully and lovingly crafted each person; there is no one who was NOT made with God’s love and care. Perhaps that is why it hurts us so much when our brothers and sisters in the Middle East shoot rockets and bombs at one another, or when little boys are kidnapped from their villages in Africa and forced to kill one another to prove that they are men, or when kids in our own community are violated and slain. God knit each one of them together to be unique, to be a blessing that only they could be, and killing one another dishonors God’s handiwork. They were fearfully and lovingly made, but their unraveling was not nearly so holy. There is a piece of God in each of them, and there is a piece of God in each of us – and pieces of all of us in God. Of course we hurt when those pieces of God are destroyed!

We each have this intimate experience, this personal understanding of God as Creator, stitch by loving stitch. We are each called to be ourselves, a one-of-a-kind creation, a unique work of God’s fingers. And we are called together to recognize our common link as a community, to celebrate the sacredness of God’s whole creation. God knows each one of us better than we know ourselves, and far better than we know one another! Isn’t that reason enough to join together in God’s name? Let us rejoice, as God’s people, God’s knitting projects, God’s afghan, stitched together through our common calling to discipleship and faith. Let us share in God’s accessibility, God’s intimacy, God’s immediacy with us. Let us praise God, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

19 January 2009

Psalm 139

On Sunday, two of my great loves converged: God and knitting. Turns out, the tag on the bottom of my plan (scroll down) turns up in the lectionary -- that is, every three years or so, I *get* to preach on Psalm 139. And Psalm 139 declares in no uncertain terms that God is a knitter:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me,
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it...
For it was you who fomed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works,
That I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
Intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them -- they are more than the sand.
I come to the end -- I am still with you.

So yeah, God is a knitter.
I don't intend to use this blog as a platform for my own religious beliefs, but it is a knitting blog that theoretically is intended to touch on the intersection of knitting and spiritual practice... so yesterday's sermon presented me the perfect opportunity to reflect formally on the metaphor of God as Knitter, and I want to share it with whoever reads this blog. (Hi, Mom.) It would be too much to put the whole text of the sermon here, but I'm going to put in part now, and part later. Here you go:

That’s what Psalm 139 is expressing. The intimacy of God’s knowledge of each one of us. The nearness of God. The immediacy. God knows you better than you know yourself. God knows when you get up, and when you lie down. God knows your thoughts before you think them, and your words before you speak them. God is immanent, close at hand – inside you, even. And the author of this psalm used the metaphor of knitting to express this closeness. It’s a metaphor that probably made a lot more sense before modern industrialization, before the rise of cottage industry, the division of labor, and the invention of the knitting machine – back in a time when people made their own clothes, God as a knitter or a weaver would be an accessible metaphor. Today, we do not make very much of what we have, and so we have lost the sense of intimacy that the psalm is trying to convey.

But I’d like you all to think of something you’ve made. Maybe it’s a piece of clothing, maybe it’s a carving, maybe it’s a delicious turkey on Thanksgiving day, or a treehouse, or a child. And I want you to think about the care and time and attention and work and love you put in to the process of creating that carving or that turkey or that child. And I want you to think about the joy you felt as you were creating something you love, and the pride you feel right now as you think about your accomplishment. Maybe you made it to give away to someone who needs it. Maybe you made it to keep for yourself, to use and enjoy. Maybe you made it just because you wanted to make it – and now it sits in a box in the garage and you haven’t looked at it in ten years, because you made it just to make it. But think about that love, and that joy, and that pride you felt, and that you feel now.

That’s how God feels about you.

God is a knitter.

There’s a lot of thinking and dreaming and planning that goes into knitting, before you even cast yarn onto your needles. What kind of yarn do you want to use? What size? What texture? What color? Alpaca fibers are four times warmer than wool – but alpaca relaxes when you knit with it, and wool keeps its shape better. Silk is shiny and strong– but it doesn’t stretch, so you’re very limited in what kinds of stitches you can use. Linen is very durable, and is wonderful to wear on hot days – but it wrinkles like no other. There are a lot of options, a lot of decisions to make before you begin.

There’s also a great deal of improvisation in knitting – watching the yarn, feeling it as it slips through your fingers, changing the size of your needles, or how tightly you hold the yarn, or what kinds of stitches you make. You listen to your project as you’re making it, and respond to what the yarn is telling you.

And there are no shortcuts in knitting. The average sweater has hundreds of thousands of stitches in it, and you have to make every single one individually. You can’t make five stitches at once. Every stitch you form is intentional – and it becomes very personal. Every stitch is a moment in time, a piece of love. Every stitch is a prayer.

This is what the Psalmist means when he writes that God has searched you and known you, that God knows your every movement and your every thought. God has formed your being, stitch by loving stitch. God knows how those stitches fit together because God made each one of them. God chose the yarn and the needles and the stitch pattern and the design, and God cast on for you – and then sat back and observed, and adjusted, and amended, until you were just right. You were fearfully and wonderfully made. You are one-of-a-kind. You are a custom piece. Even things that are supposed to be pairs – like socks, or mittens, or sweater sleeves – end up being slightly different, because of a snag in the yarn, or an irregularity in the dye, or miscounting by the knitter. You are totally unique, because God formed each of your stitches just-so.

More in a few days...

(and I've finished the cable on the Tangled Yoke Cardigan. And made a pair of mittens. More on that soon, too.)

14 January 2009

WIP Wednesday: Tangled Yoke Cardigan

The "WIP Wednesday" thing is a bit gimmicky, but whatever.

I bought a giant cone of anonymous wool sport/DK-weight yarn at Vermont Sheep and Wool this September, $15 for 2250 yards! It's brown with a gray halo, well-spun (2-ply) but not thoroughly washed, so full of lanolin. I think I like that, but it's a little bit weird to have two lightly-waxed fingertips on each hand.

Usually when I buy yarn, I sometimes have a vague idea of what I want to do with it.... but I'm not one of those people who has the self-discipline to buy specific yarn for a specific project and that's it. I buy stash yarn, and then knit from my stash. But with this yarn, I knew exactly what it was for: the Tangled Yoke Cardigan from Fall 2007 Interweave Knits.

I began working on a sleeve during a three-day conference/continuing-ed retreat at the end of September, and got about 8 inches done. Perfect gauge, first try, no fiddling at all. Love it. I also love going to three-day-long meetings where it’s okay to knit and learn things at the same time. The world needs to be like that more often. I also went to Boston the next week for an overnight and did a bit of subway knitting while I was there.

I made little progress until the end of October/beginning of November, when an unexpected family funeral gave me two five-hour-or-so plane rides to fill, and I got both sleeves done and the first couple of inches of the body started.

Then I took a month-and-a-half break. I had a couple of smaller projects I needed/wanted to do for Christmas (like socks), and Christmas is generally a busy time for pastors anyway. BUT... two days after Christmas, I was back at it. I spent several days knitting seriously (particularly New Years Eve and Day, when we watched three or four movies in a row and I didn't change out of my pjs that whole time), and within the first week of the new year I had the body done, the sleeves attached, and about 2" of yoke completed.

And this is where I had to admit to myself that, well, the cable chart looks kind of scary. I wanted to do a more challenging cable than I'd done before, but still. I was feeling a bit nervous. I'm also well aware that looks can be deceiving when it comes to knitting, and the chart's bark was probably worse than its bite. I was intimidated, but figured I'd just have to get over it.

I was right.

Something wasn't right in my counting in the decrease row, so the set-up row of the chart took me forever. I had to keep ripping and reknitting these two rows several times -- two Gene Kelley/Fred Astaire movies back-to-back, and all I had to show for my time was those two rows. But they are well-done rows, let me tell you! And I figured out that all the WS rows of the chart are just plain-ol' purl-back rows. I was WAY less worried about this cable when I realized that. Hello.

I set a goal of knitting up one RS chart row and its purl-back WS row every day. Since each row is 300-400-some stitches, that's still quite a lot of knitting.

I'm currently ahead of my goal, because I did four or five rows while watching the Golden Globes on Sunday night. But I had to stop for the night when the muscles in my hands really started to ache -- too much holding-tight-while-cabling! First time that's ever happened, but it's really not surprising. I put the heating pad on my lap and my hands on the pad, and then the cat sat on my hands for a while. Fun! Then I went to bed, and when I woke up my hands felt fine. No worries.

So now I'm about halfway through the cable, and have realized that there's nothing in this chart that is scary at all. I'm so not intimidated by this cable anymore, and that was the point of tackling this project! Well, that and getting a new sweater.

Oh! I also kitchenered the underarm seams already, so I don't have to deal with that later. Also so I could avoid the cable chart for one more night, which I was fully capable of admitting to myself and to Husband. Doing the underarm seams early has the added benefit of making it easier to try on the sweater in progress. Yes, this photo is terribly unflattering. I'm okay with that. Like my cloud pjs?

12 January 2009

Baby Strawberry Hands

Several months ago, while Sister was still pregnant (but very close to due), I decided that Baby needed a pair of thrummed mittens that looked like strawberries. Then we could call him Baby Strawberry Hands -- which sounds vaguely like Edward Scissorhands, but much cuter.

I improvised the pattern, using the leftover Cadenza from the Red Bear, but didn't write it down. I made the first Strawberry in one night (maybe two?), and then it took me longer than I'd anticipated to sit down and work on the second one, so I had time to forget what I'd done. And then the first attempt at Strawberry #2 was terrible, so I frogged it and started over... well, my nephew is now three months old, and I just finished the second Strawberry today. And this after making a concerted effort to finish!

But SO CUTE!!!! He may have already outgrown them, I don't know. He is a BIG baby. But I'm popping them in the mail soon, and maybe he'll get a couple of days' use out of them.

I think I cast on two or three stitches and kfb-ed every stitch a few times, working in the round (size 5 DPNs). Then I just kept increasing randomly, adding the occasional thrum, and probably got up to around 100 stitches total. Then I started decreasing, also randomly. I also threw in purl ribs here and there along with the decreasing, so that the surface would have that irregular bumpy shape like a strawberry. (Inasmuch as you can make mittens look like a strawberry, that is! They're not very pointy/triangular.) I decreased down to 20 sts, all purls, and then switched to larger dpns and the green yarn, which is Jill Eaton Minnow Merino, by Classic Elite Yarns. I think I used size 6 for the first mitten, and 7s for the second mitten; it's hard to tell. Anyway, I did 6 rounds of k1p1 rib and then bound off loosely. I did a single-crochet chain to connect the two, so now they look like strawberries on the vine! And the vine can go through his coat sleeves.

Seriously adorable.

11 January 2009

Be Jealous...I mean, be happy for me!

A couple of months or so ago, I showed up at my usual Sunday afternoon knitting group and there were new people there, which always makes me happy. On this particular day, I was absolutely giddy, and I think I may have scared a couple of the new people away. Whoops. Sorry, gals.

The cause of my giddiness (combined with a probable lack of sleep) was meeting a fellow knitter who, it turns out, also went to the same college as I did, and knew several of my old college friends. I haven't been feeling terribly homesick or displaced lately, but it's always huge to find someone with whom you click so immediately -- especially when you discover that you actually do have something of a shared history/experience, like going to the same college. We found ourselves calling across the table things like "hey, were you there the time that kid fell out the window of the Forum?" or "Did you know that the Pub is now closed? Can you believe that?!?!??"

Soooo, it turns out that this particular friend works part-time at Kaleidoscope Yarns. Scratch that: she worked part-time there, only on Saturdays... but when another employee left, my friend moved to working full-time. And then the question arose, "what are we going to do about Saturdays?" and, ever the helpful yarn shop employee, my friend said "What about hiring my friend HolyKnitter?" She showed up at Sunday afternoon knitting that week and asked if I wanted the job.

Um, YES.

Really, this would have been an awesomely fun opportunity no matter what, but it turns out that the job market in Burlington has not been so kind to Husband (he has worked an approximate total of three weeks in the past year), and we actually could use a bit of an income boost. I'd been wondering about second-job options, but hadn't actually looked seriously at anything, as Husband's job-searching experience has taught him that it's pretty difficult to find a part-time job around here that will allow "my other job comes first" flexibility... and, since my career is the ministry, it's important that any other job I do allows me to put it on the back burner if something comes up. I'm super happy to work on Saturdays, unless I have to do a funeral. Church comes first.

Thankfully, Jill at Kaleidoscope understands that, and is just happy to have me working at all. If I can give her the occasional actual-weekend-at-home-not-working, I'm glad to be able to help. If that means I also get to put my love of knitting to a use that benefits people other than myself, so much the better! (If that also means I get an employee discount... well, chances are that Jill is actually making more money off of me than if I didn't work there.)

So I've got a second job. And so far it's been great. I like my co-workers (I'm getting used to having co-workers again -- I'd just gotten used to having colleagues!), I generally like the customers, and I've already learned a ton, and I've also had a great time realizing how much I didn't know that I know! Also, our holiday party was dinner at the awesome sushi restaurant in town.

You never know what kind of surprises God is going to throw your way.

01 January 2009

Teddy Bear #2

A friend of Husband's saw the red bear I was knitting for Sister's Baby, and asked me to make one as a gift for her knocked-up daughter as well (but in yellow). So I did. I used the same yarn as I did before (Colinette Cadenza -- really like this yarn), but on size 5 needles instead of size 6 so that I could stuff the bear a little more tightly without the stuffing showing through like it did with the red bear. This time, I got smart and knit the darn thing in the round, which makes it so much easier. The pattern is written for stripes, so there's seaming. But if you're not doing stripes, then the seaming is unnecessary. And a pain. Anyway, here's the result:
(in progress)

I had to finish in a hurry (about a week after running into the friend on the street and learning that I had "plenty of time," because she wouldn't be seeing her daughter for "a while," Husband came home and said, "M just called me, and she's coming to pick up the bear tomorrow because she's going to visit her daughter the next day." Ummm... okay!). I used this brown embroidery thread for the face because that's what I had -- but then realized it was not high-contrast enough. I rimmed the eyes in blue at the very last second (I was tying the final knot just as Friend walked up onto our porch), but didn't get a photo. Still, you get the idea, even with the bad lighting in this pic: