Monday, March 31, 2008

All over but the zipper!

In a fit of insomnia last night, I put in the sleeves on my Central Park Hoodie. Here's a picture of the finished product. It's a terrible picture, because sadly it doesn't seem to be possible to take a decent picture of me in my bedroom mirror.

There's all sorts of stuff wrong with my CPH. The pattern isn't especially flattering on my body type, there's an error in the ribbing, and the seaming is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. And yet I love it. I made a sweater! Me! I feel like I am finally a "real knitter."

I still need to put in the zipper. The pattern calls for an open cardigan with no fastener, but that definitely would not work with my immense boobage. In that picture, it's held together with a safety pin. However, I'm contemplating holding off on the zipper until the next time I visit my parents and can make use of my mom's sewing skills/ sewing machine. I'm thinking about getting some sort of kilt pin type thing and sticking that where I currently have the safety pin. Is that cheating? Do I care?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

This will not be my second sweater

Has everyone checked out the awesome, beautiful Autumn Rose Pullover that Melissa at KnitPicks did in KP Palette? I've been tempted to try one of Eunny Jang's Fair Isle patterns, but I've been put off not just by the difficulty, but also by the colors and the price. I'm usually an inveterate yarn substituter, but the challenge of coming up with good substitutions for all the colors in a Fair Isle sweater is a tad daunting. That's a problem, because I couldn't afford the yarn Eunny uses even if I did care for her colors, which I generally don't. (No offense to Eunny, who is clearly a genius. My coloring is just different from hers.) But Melissa's choices are really lovely, and Palette is super, super cheap. There's like $20 worth of yarn in that sweater. All of a sudden Fair Isle seems within reach.

Sadly, there's still the difficulty issue. I've done a little bit of stranded colorwork, but doing Fair Isle for one's second sweater seems a little stupid, even for an overly-ambitious soul such as myself. But I'm still going to make a note of those color combinations. Somewhere down the line, I may rip them off for something.

So I've pinned in the first sleeve on my CPH, and now I'm about to seam it up. Scary! Wish me luck.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Second sweater!

I am so close to done with my Central Park Hoodie! I have finished the ribbing, bound off, and woven in all the ends. All I have to do is put in the sleeves and attend to the zipper, and then I am done. It should definitely be finished by Friday. Woohoo!

Of course, I am deeply neurotic, so all I see when I look at the sweater is its many imperfections. And there are several. In fact, I am sorely tempted to rip out the button band and knit it again, and part of me thinks I should redo the right front, as well. This is totally crazy, and the only cure for it is to get started right away on my second sweater.

My current thought is to revisit the Green Tea Raglan, which I made a failed attempt to knit last year. I think I would do it in Comfy, the new cotton/ acrylic blend from Knitpicks. Comfy is machine washable and light weight, which would be good for a summer sweater. Also, it's cheap: I could knit the whole sweater for about $25. As per usual with Knitpicks, the Comfy colorways are mostly not to my taste, but I think I would look ok in Blackberry, Planetarium, Fedora or Pomegranate. (Someone ought to tell the people at Knitpicks that not everyone looks good in cool colors or pastels. None of those colors is really right for me, and I would look like a ghost in all the other ones.)

The Green Tea Raglan has a seed stitch body and stockinette sleeves, and I think I would reverse those, to facilitate putting in some short row bust darts. I would also leave off the belt, because there is no way that a belted sweater is a good idea. Other than that, I think I will knit it just as written. I will probably order the yarn tomorrow.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

An attack of finishitis

I am not good at finishing things. I like to keep my options open, and the best way to do that is not to complete anything, so everything can continue to be tinkered with and revised. Right now, I am in the process of not finishing two things. The first is my Central Park Hoodie. The second is the stupid, stupid article that I'm supposed to be writing for a Very Important Journal's special issue on the truly obscure subject of my dissertation. (I have no idea why the Very Important Journal decided that this was a good subject for a special issue. I don't think they're going to get enough decent submissions to fill a journal, and I work on this topic. My article really sucks, and I think it may be accepted just because nobody else is going to submit anything. But what do I know?) I'm not going to blog here about my unfinished article, because I can't think of anything more boring in the entire universe. Instead, I am going to blog about the only-slightly-less boring topic of my unfinished Central Park Hoodie.

So I'm really almost done with the stupid sweater. I have knit the body, done the side seams, knit the hood, seamed that, and knit the sleeves. All I have to do is knit the button band and then put the sleeves in. The instructions for the sweater say to pick up 150 stitches from the top of the hood and down one side, knit the the button band on that side, and then pick up 150 stitches on the other side and do the same thing. So I picked up 150 stitches, knit a couple of inches, and then did an i-cord bind off, which took for-frigging-ever. I-cord bindoff is super pretty, but it is definitely time consuming.

After I had spent three days doing that, I realized that the whole operation didn't make any sense. Those instructions assume that you are knitting the button band before you seam the hood. If you've already seamed the hood, it's not immediately apparent how to attach the two sides of the button band. I was going to have to cast on overlapping stitches for selvage and then graft the i-cord stitches. It all seemed very complicated. Also, the main reason to do one side of the button band and then the other is, I think, to facilitate buttonhole placement, and I'm planning to do a zipper. So I ripped out my three days of work, bought a second circular needle, and now I'm knitting the entire button band in one piece. I have picked up the stitches, and now I will probably spend all week doing the knitting and the interminable i-cord bindoff.

The thing is, this is my first sweater. I've been so anxious to do all the seams, just to facilitate the process of admiring my progress. Next time, I will know to be more patient and hold off on the seaming. That is, assuming that there is a next time. It is possible that I will be ripping out and re-knitting parts of this sweater for the rest of my life.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The KnitPicks Podcast is Ruining My Life

Actually, it's not ruining my life. It's just making me want to do a lot of knitting projects. My new rule is that I have to finish a project before I start another. I currently have at least three unfinished projects, so that shouldn't be so hard. But I just listened to a whole slew of KnitPicks podcasts all in a row, and now I'm feeling dangerously ambitious.

1. I want to dye yarn. This is not a good idea. I do not have the patience or the artistic aptitude to do a good job dying yarn, and as a klutz who lives in a tiny apartment, it is unlikely that I could dye yarn safely. I should buy yarn that has been dyed by professionals, or at least by talented amateurs. But dying yarn sounds like so much fun. It sounds like the arts 'n' crafts projects that I loved so much in elementary school. I have fond memories of tie-dying all of my white t-shirts when I was in high school. Dying yarn has the same appeal.

2. I want to try knitting lace. This, too, is not a good idea. I don't wear lace. I am not patient. I am pretty sure that I would hate knitting lace. And yet it inexplicably appeals to me. Why is that? And should I give in to that impulse?

3. I want to knit an Aran sweater. Years ago, I bought an Aran sweater in Dublin. It was on super sale, because there was a dropped stitch in the sleeve. I don't know why it hasn't unravelled: I think it's been felted together because I wear it so often. Anyway, it is a truly hideous sweater. It has no waist shaping, and it's about four sizes too big. It's about as unflattering a garment as one could find. And yet I love it. It's super warm and cosy and I like to wear it in the dead of a Chicago winter. It occurred to me that if I knit my own Aran sweater, I could make one that actually fit me. It could have narrower shoulders and a little bit of waist shaping, and I could make it so that it wasn't designed to fit a man who was a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier than me. It would be awesome.

I think the reason for my sudden burst of ambition is that I am getting quite bored with my Central Park Hoodie. I decided not to carry the cable up the hood, which means that the hood calls for 11 inches of straight stockinette. That is a whole lot of stockinette. I should finish it tonight, and not a moment too soon. I'm pretty lazy, but the truth of the matter is that I don't like knitting that's quite that boring.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Expressing My Ethnic Identity through Baked Goods

Next week is Purim, the Jewish holiday devoted to drunkenness, noisemakers, and cookies. No, seriously. Ok, not seriously. Purim isn't really about drunkenness, noisemakers or cookies: like most Jewish holidays, Purim is about triumph over oppression. But you celebrate it by getting drunk, making noise, and eating cookies. There are also costumes. Anyway, it's an awesome holiday. When I was a small child, one of my closest friends was Catholic, and I took her along for Purim services one year. I'm pretty sure that it gave her the entirely wrong idea about Judaism. I probably should have dragged her along to Yom Kippur services just so she'd realize that Jewish holidays aren't usually quite that much fun.

My favorite part of Purim is the cookies, although the costumes and noisemakers and drunkenness are enjoyable, too. Like many of the best things in life, hamantaschen, the aforementioned cookies, involve a yummy filling surrounded by delicious pastry. I am a thoroughly terrible Jew in most respects, but I try to make hamantaschen every year.

I have rather strong feelings about hamantaschen. Many people feel that any triangular cookie is acceptable, but they are wrong. The dough, I believe, must include orange juice, and ideally it should be made with whole wheat flour and oil, rather than butter. The filling may be prune, apricot, or poppy seed. It may not be chocolate or lemon curd or mango or whatever other new-aged abomination you think sounds tasty. Canned filling is very wrong.

(Note: the above is a joke. I am truly not fussed about how you make your Purim goodies.)

I usually make prune hamantaschen, and I'm pretty happy with my prune filling recipe. However, this year I have received a request to make poppyseed. I am now frantically searching the internet for poppyseed filling recipes. After that, there will probably be more frantic searching the city for a source of poppyseeds. I will post pictures and recipes when I am done.

Incidentally, I know that I promised to write about my very exciting trip to the new grocery store, and I have failed to do so. It turns out that the new grocery store is identical to the old grocery store. I am just not a witty or engaging enough writer to come up with anything interesting to say about a standard-issue American supermarket.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

An open letter to new-age knitter types

Dear New Age Tibetan Buddhist Knitter,

There may come a time in your life when you are tempted to publish the following in a major online knitting magazine:

I suppose your relationship with your Stash can be seen as a reflection of your personal style. If you are very tidy and someone who actually finishes one project before you begin another (bless your heart) – you may be the one-plastic-bin type. You may also be someone who keeps a tidy home and are an anti-clutterist. If you are the type to have a closet full of Stash, you may be a little more ambitious than the one-bin yarnie, perhaps with two projects running at once. This appeals to me – one big project that stays home and perhaps another more portable project to throw in the knitting bag. Then we move up to those who’s Stash has its own room, well, these people are a little more serious. They purchase yarn without knowing what they are going to make with it – they’ll figure it out later. Lastly there are those like me – absolute fibergasmic freaks. Every color and texture holds a secret treasure yet to be discovered. We rarely have a project in mind when we have S.E.X., we just know we need to have it in our lives.

If that happens, you should stop. Take a deep breath. Meditate for a minute. As you ponder the infiniteness of the universe, take a moment to consider that not every knitter is an over-privileged yuppie dingbat. Good. Breathe some more. Find your center.

I'm sure I'm not a serious knitter by Ms. Manning's lights, and maybe she'd say that's why my stash fits in a plastic bin that lives at the top of my closet. Anyone who knows me, however, will laugh at the idea that I'm organized, have a tidy home, or am an "anti-clutterist." The reason that my stash doesn't have its own room is that my 500-square-foot apartment only has three rooms, and that includes the bathroom. If I sacrifice one of those rooms to my Stash [note the gratuitous capital "S": that's to signal that one's yarn collection is very deep and significant], then I will either have to stop showering, give up cooking, or sleep on an air mattress on the living room floor. It appears not to have occurred to her that people's stashing habits might owe something to constraints of space or budget, rather than "personal style." This particularly brand of dingbattery seems especially rife in on-line knitting circles, and I find it vaguely irksome. Also, are Tibetan Buddhists supposed to be that attached to their possessions?

Other than that irritating article, I'm really liking this issue of Knitty. I'm seriously contemplating knitting Jaden, although I'd want to change the sleeves.

I've also been doing some research for my Jayne hat bag. I knew I wanted to line the thing, and I've been trying to figure out the best way to line a bag if you don't have a sewing machine. I think my best bet might just be to rent studio space at the Needle Shop, where you can use their sewing machines for $10 an hour, although there is the added complication that I haven't actually used a sewing machine since I was about 10. I hope that it's one of those things that you don't forget once you've known how to do it. I could also wait to line it until the next time I see my mother, who is a sewing genius and has what I'm sure is a very nice sewing machine. Knitting Daily has these suggestions, but none of them really appeals.

Anyway, I have learned all about lining and interfacing and many other fascinating bag-related topics, and I am now rather anxious to start my bag. It is entirely possible that it will be a disaster, but I'm pretty sure that I can eventually figure out how to pull the bag thing off. And I would like to go ahead and do that, because I think bags would be fun places to try out all of those cool Barbara Walker stitch patterns that look like so much fun.

That's all. Tomorrow the new grocery store opens, which I'm sure will be the highlight of my week. Unless I have something better to blog about, I will probably be back tomorrow with a full report.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Futher Adventures in Geekcraft

I'm still working on my Central Park Hoodie. I'm about halfway done with the sleeves, and I hope to finish them up tonight. After that, all that's left is the hood and the button band. I think I might be able to finish this thing in the next week or so, which is very exciting. Almost as exciting is the fact that I get to choose a new project. And because I am a lazy geek, I plan to do something both easy and geeky. I am going to make a bag that looks like a Jayne hat.

What is a Jayne hat?, you ask. And here is where the geekitude commences. Jayne Cobb, who despite his name is a guy, is a character on the short-lived, geektastic sci-fi T.V. show Firefly. On a ship full of people with rather lofty motivations, Jayne is an uncomplicted mercenary. He's big and kind of dumb, and he pretty much just cares about money, sex and guns. He's also very funny, and a lot of fans love him, even though he's a big, dumb bully. Anyway, in one of the final episodes of the show, Jayne's mother sends him a spectacularly hideous hand-knit hat. It's about the ugliest hat in the history of ugliness, but Jayne is a big lug who loves his mama, so he has no idea that his new hat is ugly. Here is a picture of Jayne in his hideous hat.

So anyway, because Firefly fans are geeks, they have, of course, taken to knitting their very own hideous Jayne hats. And because I am a geek and want to knit something easy, I thought about knitting a Jayne hat for my next project. But there's a hitch. This has been the snowiest winter in Chicago in recent memory. It's snowed all the damn time. It is now March, and it's still snowing. No really: it's snowing as I type this. And I cannot stand the thought of knitting a hat. It is time for hat season to be over. I want to knit things that can be worn when it's warm out.

So I'm thinking that I'm going to make a bag based on a Jayne hat. It'll be like an upside down Jayne hat, with the ear flaps comprising the shoulder strap. I plan to modify this pattern from Knitty. And here is the extremely cheap acrylic yarn that I purchased today to make my big damn bag:

I'm 100% positive that it will be hideous, but here's hoping it will be hideous in the right way.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

In which my Central Park Hoodie begins to look like an actual sweater

I've finished the side seams on the Central Park Hoodie. On further reflection, I've decided that seaming isn't actually that bad. It took a while to get the hang of it, but now I can do it without much trouble. Anyway, I've cast on the sleeves, which I'm knitting at the same time. After that, it's on to the hood and the button band. Very exciting. It's awfully strange to think that I'm actually going to finish this thing.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Seaming has Commenced

One of the things I love about knitting is the constant opportunity to learn new and interesting thing. For instance, last night and today I have learned why everyone hates seaming so much. I think I've finally got the hang of it, but it sure is tedious and time-consuming. I've attached the right front of my sweater, and tomorrow I will attach the left front. After that, it's on to the sleeves.

The sleeves are another conundrum. I have freakishly short arms, and I think this is my first opportunity ever to own a sweater that didn't require me to roll up the sleeves. I'm very excited. I'm not so excited about doing the math necessary to make this work. I remember reading instructions for shortening sleeves somewhere, but I can't for the life of me remember where. I think after I psot this I'm going to sit down with the pattern and see if I can't figure it out for myself.

Anyway, as soon as the side seams are done, I will post pictures.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Public Service Announcement

If you're American or have access to American T.V., you really should check out the PBS program African American Lives 2. (I'm sorry I missed African American Lives 1.) It's awesome. It's one of the best examples I've ever seen of using genealogy to put a human face on history. It's also just really well-made television.

Random Ramblings

1. First, we have muffins.

The night before last, I was all set to make a lovely batch of pumpkin black bean soup, when I opened up my can of pumpkin puree and realized that I had mistakenly bought pumpkin pie filling instead of pumpkin puree. This was not a major tragedy: I used a third of a cup of pumpkin pie filling instead of a whole cup of pumpkin puree, because I didn't want my soup to be sweet. The soup turned out ok, although it definitely isn't as pumpkin-y as it's supposed to be.

But that is not why I'm posting. I'm posting because I used the rest of the pumpkin pie filling to make these delicious muffins, and I thought I'd post the recipe. It's adapted from the one on the back of the label. I made two big changes. First of all, because I didn't have "baking mix," I substituted flour, baking powder, and oil for the "baking mix" in the original recipe. Second, I left off the crumble topping. I think I'm going to frost them with cream cheese icing later on today. However, they're perfectly yummy as is, and if you leave off the crumble topping and don't frost them, I think they're parev. And I know you're thinking "if you're Jewish enough to care about such things, Em, then you shouldn't be posting on shabbat." The thing is, I'm not observant enough to care, but my friend M reads this blog, and her father keeps kosher. So that little observation is for M.

Ok, anyway, here's the recipe.

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar
3 cups flour
2/3 cups oatmeal (not instant, but quick-cooking is fine.)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 30 oz. can Libby's easy pumpkin pie mix
2 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 400. Grease or line cupcake tins.

Combine the dry ingredients (that is to say, everything up to the cinnamon) in one bowl. Combine everything else in another. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just moistened. Stick 'em in the muffin tins, stick the tins in the oven, bake 14-16 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean, and eat them. Because they are yummy.

The original recipe calls for optional raisins. I don't really like raisins, but next time I might throw in some dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots.

Mine was slightly different from this, because I had used 1/3 cup of the pumpkin pie filling for my soup. I chucked out a bit of the dry ingredients mix to compensate. It's possible that you'd want to use a bit less oil than I did if you were using the whole can of pumpkin pie filling, but I doubt it would make much difference. I suspect this recipe is going to be pretty forgiving of minor variations.

2. Last night I watched 28 Up, the fourth installment in Michael Apted's series of documentaries in which he meets up with a bunch of British folks every seven years and interviews them about their lives. And as I have been for the past two installments, I was struck by the fact that Michael Apted is actually a bit of a schmuck. He's kind of an asshole to the upper-class guys, at least one of whom makes it easy by being a complete stereotype of the oblivious reactionary upper-class twit. He's a lot more interested in exposing their privilege, which is blindingly obvious and kind of boring, than in exploring who they actually are as people. But where his jerkitude really shines through is in his treatment of most of the working-class men, the one downwardly-mobile, mentally-ill middle-class guy, and all of the women. On the one hand, he has obvious disdain for all of their lives, constantly implying that they ought to be disappointed that they haven't done anything "better." On the other hand, when one of the participant's wives expresses an interest in having a career even after she has children, he has obvious disdain for her, too, suggesting that she's difficult and that her husband, an academic, must find her a handful. This is supposed to be a neutral documentary, but it's clear that Apted doesn't have much respect for certain life paths. And that seems to include almost any female life path. Women are equally shitty if they marry and stay home with children or if they think they're worthy of having a career. Men, on the other hand, are only shitty if they don't have fulfilling jobs. It's all just patronizing and irritating, and it distracts from my enjoyment of what is otherwise a fascinating series of documentaries.

3. The Central Park Hoodie progresses. I'm almost done with the left front, and I think I'll finish it and block it today. After that, I need to take a brief break from knitting to sit down with some swatches and practice seaming. I've never done woven seams before, and they scare me. I will post about my results when there are results to post about.