Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Whatever happened to Baby Jayne?

It's done, that's what. I finished my Baby Jayne hat in record time. Here it is.

I apologize for modeling that on a turquoise balloon. I thought about knocking on my next door neighbors' door and asking if I could borrow their baby, but I decided that would be weird.

I made this to be auctioned off at the silent auction attached to the Chicago screening of Can't Stop the Serenity, a geektastic fan event for Firefly fans. The Chicago CStS organizer is also a knitter, so I figure they'll be set for grown-up Jayne hats, and maybe it would be good for me to do something different. My baby Jayne hat was also, however, part of the extended gauge-fixing project. This was my first real project with my new, reasonably tight gauge. I knit this on size 8 needles and got four stitches to the inch. Go me! I think I am officially declaring my gauge successfully altered.

I'm kicking around the idea of knitting something else for CStS. Maybe I'll do a scarf with that browncoat emblem I charted lo these many months ago. In the meantime, I've got to say that I really enjoyed knitting this baby hat. I think I need to do more small, easy projects. Finishing things is good for the soul.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In which a gauge experiment becomes an FO

Ever since the great gauge-changing experiment of 2008, I've been playing around with waste yarn and cheap acrylic to try to figure out how my new and improved gauge works. I'm making a Baby Jayne hat out of worsted to figure out my approximate worsted gauge. (I'm getting 4 stitches per inch on 8s, which is pretty awesome.)

Before I made another attempt at my mom's socks, I wanted to experiment a little bit with sock yarn, just to get some sense of what kind of needles I should use and to make sure I was capable of maintaining even tension. I had some leftover yarn from my Hedera socks, so I cast on and started knitting in the pattern I'm using for my mom's socks: Anne Budd's Chevron Lace Socks pattern from Getting Started Knitting Socks. I wasn't planning to do anything with this. It was just a swatch. But then inspiration intervened, in the form of Ms. Pixley, who unfortunately doesn't have a blog and therefore can't be linked. Get a blog, Pixley! Anyway, Pixley posted a pattern for a coffee mug cosy. If you're on Ravelry, you can see it Here. Pixley's introduction to her pattern reads:

Want to keep your hand from burning when you pick up your latte, but you don’t want to use more of those paper sleeves? Feel like maybe your coffee cup could be more attractive? Want to knit socks but are scared of turning the heel? The coffee cuff might be just the thing for you.

Now, I am not afraid of turning the heel of a sock. I enjoy turning sock heels. But I never really intended to make a sock when I started knitting this. I just intended to make an extended gauge swatch. And it hit me, looking at Pixley's pattern, that what I had was not a gauge swatch but a coffee cup cosy. I bound off, and here it is:

I'm not sure how much use this is actually going to get, since I don't buy coffee very often. (I drink coffee all the time, but I generally make it at home and carry it around in a thermos. My thermos works very well and doesn't require a hand-protecting cosy.) But it's an FO, and I'm going to throw it in my bag for the rare instances when I do buy a cup of coffee.

I'm not sure that I'm crazy about this pattern, having swatched it in my new gauge. I think I might look for a different pattern for my mom's socks.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Gauge Update

Knock wood, but I think I have fixed my gauge issues. At least, I am currently getting 4.5 stitches per inch in worsted on 8s. That is a perfectly reasonable gauge! I am so impressed with myself.

It's been a bit of an ordeal, though. I'm a continental knitter, and after thinking about it and searching the internet for discussions of continental gauge issues, I realized that the problem was that I wasn't gripping the working yarn. Not only did that mean that my stitches were outrageously loose, but they were kind of uneven. I wasn't maintaining any tension at all. So the first thing I did to tighten up was to wrap the working yarn around my pinky twice, rather than once. That tightened me right up. It tightened my knitting up so much, sadly, that I could barely force the needle through each stitch. Knitting like that is deeply unpleasant, so I had to do some experimenting to figure out how to loosen it back up a bit.

I think I've found the solution. Here it is:

  1. I wrap the working yarn around my left pinky twice, but it has to be wrapped loosely. The idea here is that the yarn should slide smoothly when I want it to slide, but it should stay put when I want it to stay put.
  2. When I'm actually making a stitch, I press my left pinky against my left index finger, which prevents the yarn from moving. That makes sure the stitch is the right size.
  3. After I have slipped the stitch off the needle, I spread my fingers to pull more yarn onto my hand. As long as I spread my hand the same amount every time, that means that I have the same amount of working yarn on my hand every stitch and maintain even tension.
And that's it. I am currently knitting with acrylic and leftovers to make sure I've got my tension consistent. Once I'm confident I know what I'm doing, I'm going to frog my mom's socks and start again with my new and improved gauge.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

In which I actually finish something!

Miracle of miracles, I have an actual finished object. I'm not sure what got into me, but in the middle of the night last night I realized that I really needed to finish my Hedera socks. And here they are, all grafted and bound off and the ends woven in and everything. It has been a long time since I've actually finished something, rather than coming close to finishing it and then putting it aside for later. Here is a picture of my totally-finished Hedera socks.

(Erm, that photo is shot from a very weird angle. Also, that's my awesome new rug from IKEA, and if you don't like it, then you are wrong. All rugs should be festooned with pictures of dolphins. My awesome new rug also has pictures of a castle, a hotel, a sports stadium, an igloo, and assorted other random buildings. What's not to like?)

I'm still working on my mom's chevron socks, but in the meantime I've decided I'm also going to do some experimenting with gauge. In order to finish the Hederas, I had to go back to throwing, since my Continental gauge is way too loose to get away with knitting socks on 1s, which is what I started these guys on back when I was an English knitter. I definitely prefer knitting Continental to English, though, so I'm going to see if I can't figure out how to make my Continental gauge a little tighter. I'm going to do that baby Jayne hat that I've been talking about, and I'm going to do it on 6s or 7s. I'm going to make a conscious effort to knit more tightly, knit really slowly and deliberately, and see if I can do it. I don't mind being a loose knitter. I'm completely fine with knitting worsted on 6s. But I would prefer not to knit worsted on 3s, just because that has unfortunate implications for sock knitting. I'm still a little loose on 000s, and it is not that easy to find 0000s.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Actual Knitting-related content

I'm going to take a brief break from the Green Tea Raglan while I lick my sad gauge-related wounds. I think I have come to terms with my gauge issues. I'm just a crazy loose knitter. I need to admit that and stop fudging my gauge because I think that I can't possibly really need to knit worsted on 3s. I just do, in fact, need to knit worsted on 3s. There are worse things to be than the world's loosest knitter. I could be a kleptomaniac. I'll deal with it.

So that comes to my actual knitting. I am knitting a pair of socks for my mother. They're in light fingering weight Merino, and I am knitting them on size 000 DPNs. Yup, you got that right. I couldn't even enter that into the project data on Ravelry, because they don't have 000s on the pulldown menu. Sadly, my camera is on the fritz, so here are the best pictures I could get.

That's the yarn. It's Mad for Merino sock yarn from Knitting Like Crazy in their colorway "Sweet Dreams." I got it at Peggy's Strands of Heaven, a super nice LYS way the hell out in the Western Chicago suburbs. PSoH seems not to have a lot of online presence, and I didn't have high hopes when M. and I went there. But it's really a nice place, run by nice people, full of nice yarn. I recommend it if you're ever in the way-distant Western Chicago suburbs.

And here are the very beginnings of my socks:

That's a terrible picture. I need to figure out what's going on with my camera. At any rate, the pattern is the Chevron Lace Socks from Getting Started Knitting Socks. It's a really simple lace pattern that can be done in front of the television.

These are supposed to be my mom's Mother's Day gift. I don't know whether they will really be that. I love the yarn, because it's all variegated and pretty, but it's not really her colors. I may finish these socks, keep them for myself or give them to someone else, and make some other socks in bolder colors for my mom. I'm eying Lorna's Laces in Tahoe.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tater Tot Casserole: a photo essay

As I said over on Ravelry, I am not willing to judge Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar's reproductive choices. I am, however, totally willing to judge their culinary choices. Because I will do almost anything on a dare, I have made the Duggar family Tater Tot casserole recipe. I didn't follow the recipe exactly: I added some veggies, used ground beef instead of ground turkey, and saved a little bit of money by using one big can of cream of mushroom soup instead of a little can of cream of mushroom and a little can of cream of celery. But it's close enough. Here, in more detail than you probably want, is a report.

First of all, let it be said that Tater Tot casserole is not especially inexpensive. I halved the recipe, because unlike Jana Duggar, the oldest Duggar daughter and the designated Duggar family dinner cooker, I am not cooking for a family of 20. Even so, the ingredients cost me $15. That's almost twice as much as the big vat of veggie chili I made last night, and the veggie chili had actual nutritional value. It's true that I bought brand name ingredients, and I could have saved a little bit by buying generic. (They actually don't have generic tater tots at my supermarket. They only have Oneida Tater Tots. That should tell you something about the kind of supermarket at which I shop.) But this wouldn't be a bargain recipe even if you did get the cheapest ingredients possible.

What it is, however, is very quick to make. Even with the extra step of chopping up veggies, it was a cinch, and the cleanup was pretty easy, too. I didn't time it, but I'd say that my total active cooking time was maybe 15 minutes. Maybe I should fire off an email to suggest to Jana Duggar, whose email I found via google, that she could add the veggies without appreciably increasing the amount of work involved. I chopped the vegetables during Gossip Girl commercial breaks. I doubt there's a lot of Gossip Girl going on in the Duggar household, but perhaps she could chop some carrots, celery and onions in between reading Bible verses.

So I chopped up a large onion, two carrots, and two stalks of celery.

I heated up some olive oil and sautéed my veggies.

Then I scooped the veggies out of the pan, browned the beef, and stuck the veggies back in the pan with the beef. I cooked it all together for a few more minutes.

Then it was time to scoop the meat mixture into my lasagna dish.

I covered the meat with Tater Tots, mixed up my soup and my evaporated milk, and stuck that on top. Note that at this point, the casserole looked disgusting. I have no idea what cat puke actually looks like, but that's how I imagine it looking.

Then I popped the casserole into the oven and watched an episode of Battlestar Gallactica. I suspect the Duggars skip that last bit Perhaps they could read more Bible verses.

An hour later, it was time to take the casserole out of the oven.

I cut it, and it was a little too runny.

So I popped it back in the oven to see if I could get it to firm up a bit. In the meantime, I tried my runny casserole. And I have to say, it was delicious. It had the kind of sickening yummy quality that food has when it derives its deliciousness from being made of fat and salt. You'll see that I cut myself a pretty small piece, and when I tried to eat a little more I felt vaguely ill. In small amounts, though, it's pretty awesome.

The Tater Tots are definitely not crispy, by the way, but you kind of don't even focus on the fact that they're Tater Tots. They're just a soft layer of something potato-y on top of the ground beef.

It did firm up a bit after another ten minutes or so in the oven. Since I've never made a casserole with cream of mushroom soup before, I don't yet know how to gauge its doneness. I think my oven runs a little hot, if anything, so I would plan to possibly bake it for a little more than an hour.

So that's the verdict. As I suspected, the Duggar family's Tater Tot casserole is indeed made of yummy. It's not something that I'd eat on a regular basis, because you probably couldn't come up with a less healthy recipe if you tried. But if you ever need a super quick and easy recipe that will feed a crowd and you don't care at all about nutrition, you could do worse.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Once upon a time, I lived in a huge apartment with a crazy roommate. My roommate was not a bad roommate, as genuinely crazy roommates go, but she was still a bit difficult to live with. She had long, worrying periods of melancholy during which she seldom ate and never left the house. She had a hangup about closing her bedroom door, by which I mean that she never did it, which made me feel awkwardly surveilled when I was in our living room or kitchen. She constantly worried that the world was collapsing, and I felt a lot of responsibility to cheer her up, which generally meant getting her to watch bad teen T.V. shows rather than documentaries about genocide. I liked her, and I even sort of miss her, but when she moved back to Eastern Europe I decided that it was time for the roommate stage of my life to end. Sadly, the huge apartment was too expensive for me to afford by myself. I now live in a tiny apartment, but now I don't have to convince anyone that it would be better for their mental health if they watched One Tree Hill rather than The Sorrow and the Pity on a Friday night.

When I moved to my smaller, roommate-free apartment, I had to downsize my possessions. One of the things that didn't make it past the move was my blocking board. It wasn't a very fancy blocking board: I followed the instructions on Knitty and made it out of homosote and the absolute cheapest gingham fabric I could find at Joanne's. It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done. However, there is no space for my blocking board in my new apartment, so I abandoned it. I have been using my couch or my bed to block things.

I'm not especially happy about this state of affairs. First of all, I like to use both my couch and my bed, and blocking my sweater on them made them difficult to use for their intended purposes. Also, they're not as rigid as I think a good blocking board would be.

I had a sort of brilliant idea, which was to make a new blocking board out of fabric-covered homosote, but to cover it with fabric chosen for its decorative properties, not for being the cheapest that I could possibly find. When I was not blocking things with my blocking board, I could hang it above my couch and call it art. I am still kind of kicking around the idea of doing this.

So that was the plan until I saw Knitter's Blocks, a super ingenious solution to the problem of storing a blocking board in a small apartment. Knitter's Blocks are little puzzle-piece like things that snap together to form a blocking board. When you're done with them, you unsnap them, stick them back in their little tote bag, and put them at the top of your closet, where they will not bother anyone. Yay!

Sadly, Knitter's Blocks cost $48. I probably could spend $48 on a blocking board, but it feels like a lot of money. But this blog seems to suggest that similar snap-together puzzle pieces are available from hobby and dollar stores for a lot less money. I'm perfectly happy to supply my own tote bag. I'm going to have to look into this. I think that may be the solution to my blocking board issue.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bad Blogger

I am a very, very bad blogger. The thing is, I don't have very much to blog about. Actually, I'm probably just lazy. I apologize.

So I have reswatched for my Green Tea Raglan, with only mixed success. I was able to get gauge for the sleeves, which are done in stockinette. I will be knitting the sleeves in worsted weight yarn on size 3 needles, but that's ok, because I've got gauge. However, my attempts to get gauge in seed stitch have not yet been successful. I got 15 stitches per four inches on size 4s, and the pattern calls for 18 stitches per 4 inches. I am currently swatching in seed stitch on size 3s. If I can't get gauge on size 3s, I may give up and use my Comfy for some other purpose. I cannot knit a sweater on size 2 needles. That's just out of control.

I think I might need to do something about my gauge issues. I know that everyone's gauge is different and there's no wrong way to knit and all that, but this is just ridiculous. There is no reason for anyone to knit as loosely as I do. I must be the most relaxed, unstressed person in the history of humanity. And as the few readers here who know me in real life can attest, that is far from the case. It would be nice if my uptight, stressed out nature would manifest itself in ways that would be better for my knitting.