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2012 – A Yarn Odyssey Part 7 November 30, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Crochet, Home, Yarncraft.
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Part 1 here

So I open up the package and take a look at what I’ve gotten myself into.

Yarn

Here we go again

Yeahup. It’s another lace-weight yarn. It looks thicker in the pictures where I bought it, but that’s just the fluffiness of the fiber. If anything this is even thinner than the qiviut. As I indicated before this is a silk/cashmere (with a dollop of merino wool thrown in for good measure) 25% / 70% / 5%. The silk forms the actual core of the yarn. That’s the shiny, silvery looking stuff in the middle. The rest is the cashmere-wool fluff that’s twisted into the silk.

No, this wasn’t a mistake. I knew it was lace-weight when I ordered it. You see, this is what I learned from my earlier acrylic swatches – sport-weight is simply too thick. Once I’d gotten 20 of the things made and put together it would wear like a big, wet dishrag. It also wouldn’t look lacy unless I made the blocks on a pretty big diameter hook. Then it would be ridiculously huge as well as still too heavy. This is it. I’m throwing down the gauntlet. I’m not waiting for the other cashmere yarn to arrive – I’m not going to use it for Mom’s shawl anyway. It’s time to have the Final Showdown. I dig out the qiviut.

Let’s settle this – once and for all.

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2012 – A Yarn Odyssey Part 6 November 30, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Crochet, Yarncraft.
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Part 1 here

Although I’ve complained about it all this time, it occurs to me that I’ve never really explained what exactly makes the qiviut yarn so difficult to work with. It’s not just that it’s difficult to see, although that is certainly part of it. It also behaves strangely. I’ve already mentioned that it sticks to itself. Also the stitches don’t look like the way they do with heavier yarns. It’s very hard to make out the structure of the stitches so you know where to put the next one. It’s almost like working with quantum thread; the effect of creating a stitch creates uncertainty about where exactly it is. A typical internal dialog goes like this: “Okay. Poke this hook through here and pull up a loop. Wait, that doesn’t look right. Is that the right spot? Ehhh, pull it back out. Maybe here? Noooo, that can’t be right, pull it out again. Shit! It’s stuck! Carefulllll don’t break the thread…okay. Maybe that other spot was right after all. *Poke the hook back in, pull yarn through* DAMMIT! I only managed to get under one loop! There’s supposed to be two!  GAAAAAAAAAH!” Lather, rinse, repeat.

Anyway, the boss was interested and he wanted to know if I was open to the possibility of making the same shawl for his wife. And he said he certainly would pay for it of course. Ahhh yes – well there it is. I’m often amused by people who look at my work and say “Oh! That’s nice! You know, you could totally make a bunch of these and sell them!” LOL. Unless you’re very good and extremely fast it’s nigh impossible to make it worth your while to crochet or knit for money. Some people do, but they’re either rock stars of yarncraft who can command high prices or people in poor economic conditions. It’s one of those weird things – people LOVE nice, hand-crafted items but absolutely balk at paying the real price for them. Then they’ll go buy a cheap, greatly inferior quality version of the item made in China.

Here’s a picture of the granny square design and one of the sport-weight acrylic swatches I made:

GrannySquare

I accept the project anyway. Nooo, this is NOT brown-nosing! Mom’s yarn is on back-order for who knows how long and I’m tired of playing with the acrylics. Plus this is a chance to actually work on something and practice that pattern; I’d really like to get it memorized. It’s so much easier when you don’t have to look at a diagram every few minutes. On top of that, I get to work with a new yarn on somebody else’s dime. There’s a specific yarn used in the book for the design I’m making and it’s a cashmere/silk blend. It looks interesting and it’s not cheap: boss-man is gonna have cough up a c-note to make sure I have enough. He’s okay with it. We go through the color choices and he’s definitely keying on pink. He notices the pale one first, then gets excited over the fuchsia, “Ooh that looks nice!”. Um, no. His wife is not a 20 year old stripper. I steer him toward a darker pinkish-red. It’s very classy and it’s in stock! We haven’t discussed what I’m to be paid yet though. I need to check out the new yarn and get a rough assessment of how long the project is going to take. A few days later the yarn arrives.

To be continued…

2012 – A Yarn Odyssey Part 5 November 30, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Crochet, Knitting, Yarncraft.
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Part 1 here

Before some wiseacre brings up magnifier lamps and the like, yes I had considered them. But such things are simply crutches. Plus you can’t really lug them around. I like to have my projects on hand when I’m out and about. You never know when you might get a chance to cram some work in. As a wise muppet once said, “Do, or do not. There is no magnifier lamp.” Or something to that effect. No, I was going to have to stand or fall on my own unamplified talents. So last winter I busted out my long disused hooks and books and set to practicing the basics in earnest. I made dishrags, hot sauce bottle cozies and whatnot. This I felt was the proper path: drill, drill, drill the basics. I even put sweaters on my trees. (BTW, an excellent Chrismas present for your Happy Hooker is a set of crochet hooks from this guy: www.turn-of-the-century.com)

While browsing through one of my books for something new I came across a pattern for the basic granny square. Yes! This was Just The Thing. It wasn’t terribly hard to learn as it still just uses the standard single and double crochet stitches. It’s not really anthing fancy, but it looks like more than it is so to speak. And…dare I say it – verging on “lacy”? I felt like real progress was being made. Finally! Then I got it into my head to make a baby blanket with small granny squares. One of my neices had a baby the previous fall and it would be nice to make something for her. That took considerably longer than I expected though. In the end it came out pretty nice and I was well pleased. I even learned a new stitch for the border: the back post treble crochet.

During this time I had bought some more books that focus on these types of constructions: granny squares, rounds, triangles, hexagons, etc. I started making some of the more advanced designs. And of course, the Bavarian Crochet baby blanket. These blankets were also made with a lighter “sport-weight” yarn.

It was during the early stages of that last blanket something finally really clicked. I had been struggling a bit with it, my hook action wasn’t smooth and the yarn kept splitting (that’s where you grab just part of the yarn and it pulls apart a bit. You have to let go and grab it again – very annoying.) But other times I would have no problems at all. I found that if I just changed the angle I was poking the hook in, and loosen up the stitches just a bit everything became much, much smoother. I picked up considerable speed and accuracy too.

After that was done I already had my next project picked out: a granny square lace shawl for Mom. There is a pattern in one of my books that uses one of the more complicated patterns. You make 20 of them and sew them together, then crochet a border around the outside fringe. And I found a site that sells sport-weight 100% cashmere yarn. I needed to find out what color she wanted so it’s not going to be a surprise. She picked out a really gorgeous red yarn. <Scroll down to the bottom and look for “Seeing Red”. Nice eh? It’s on back-order so I’ve been practicing the pattern with acrylic so I’ll have it down. I showed my boss what I was going to be making and he became very interested.

To be continued…

2012 – A Yarn Odyssey Part 4 November 29, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Crochet, Knitting, Yarncraft.
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Part 1 here

Time passes. I’d buried my detestable enemy deep in the yarn pile, but I could not bury my failure. It gnaws at me. But…there is another, darker passage to dare: Crochet. Understand that crochet is absolutely the “red-headed step-child” in the yarncraft community. Some would say it is the evil, bearded Mr. Spock universe of fabric arts.  It’s the Sauron / Saruman tag-team of the World Wrestling Federa — sorry, wandered off onto wrong tracks there. Anyway, it’s a very divided situation. In the public eye everything made with yarn is “knitting”. It’s the default, generic term and it’s an annoyance. I had some prior familiarity with crochet as I’d fiddled with it before but never really did much with it. Also my great grandma did crochet and when I was a kid she would send me things she made from time to time –  small stuffed animals, slippers and whatnot. For the Parental Units she made a gorgeous lace bedspread as a wedding present many years before. So I had some idea about what it was capable of.

Knitting and crochet can be very similar in some respects, but are very different their basic structures. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t know the difference but knitting is more row-based, crochet more stitch-based. if you’re wearing a typical t-shirt the fabric is knitted with alternating knit and purl stitches with very small threads by a machine. It has a nice, stretchy quality that is the hallmark of knitted wear. If the cloth isn’t knitted, then it’s almost certainly woven, again by machines. While crochet can make a fabric, it isn’t commercially mass-produced by machine as far as I know. crochet makes a more textured, somewhat coarser fabric because it’s basically a series of chained knots.

The advantage knitting has is that it’s easily regimented by rows. Machines can be programmed to do fantastic things with the knit process. Crochet, not so much it seems. The odd, closed stitch by stitch crochet method doesn’t seem to lend itself so well to such manipulation. However, because of that particular structure it does lend itself to more free-form techniques, like lace.

And so I turn my back on knitting and embrace the Dark Side of the Yarn Force.

…To Be Continued

2012 – A Yarn Odyssey Part 3 November 29, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Crochet, Knitting, Yarncraft.
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Part 1 here

So, how thin is it? This thin:

I know yarn. Yarn is a friend of mine. You, sir, are no yarn.

Yeah. It’s half the thickness of the sock yarn I had used before and I already had problems with that. Nevertheless I put it on my smallest needles and gave it the ol’ college try. No go. I could barely cast on correctly much less work with this thread. Aside from hardly even being able to see the damn thing, it had a nasty habit of sticking to itself. Yes, there is the trick of using double yarn to make a thicker strand to work with, but this would cut my yardage in half. 400 yards sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Particularly when dealing with thread. Even doubled up it’s still next to nothing. I told Mom my skills were simply not up to the challenge of qiviut just yet. I put it aside and brooded.

I worked on projects here and there, tried other thin yarns to kind of “work up” to the Real Deal. The problem still was even if I could knit it like regular yarn, there still wasn’t really enough of it to make anything substantial. I could buy more but I was already 400 bucks into this mess and I was reluctant to throw more money at it. Then I thought “well, since this is lace weight yarn, why not make something light and lacy?” Perfect! So I go looking up lace shawls and the like. Oh man there are some drop dead gorgeous designs out there. I figure I can practice with not-quite lace weight yarns, learn the techniques and pattern and then try the qiviut. I’m…not great at reading abbreviated knitting instructions but I can usually follow along if I go very slowly. I looked at lace knitting pattern instructions. I might as well have been trying to read Sanskrit. Some patterns helpfully provide a visual diagram of the pattern. Blue prints to building a B2 Stealth Bomber would have made better sense to me. This was clearly beyond my now obviously very feeble skills. It would take years of dedicated study to get to the required level. Then it was that I finally understood: I had a Nemesis. Nay, an ARCH-nemesis!

Actually 10% muskox hair, 90% evil.

Oh yeah, it has another spelling with a “k” at the end instead of a “t”. Never trust anything that has more than one spelling. This…nasty thread had defeated me at every turn. My failures preyed on my mind. I’m not used to being so completely thwarted like this. Qiviut(k) was now the White Whale to my Ahab. It was the KHAAAAAAN! to my Kirk! The Balrog of Morgoth to my Gandalf! The…well you get the picture. But all the same I was greatly disheartened. I actually started to lose interest in knitting, frankly. I tried some other patterns, more advanced techniques. Mom loved one of the scarves in the store they keep as a pattern example of entrelac. They taught a class on how to do it and I took it. I was quickly lost. I could do basic things but beyond that seemed out of my grasp. I put my needles away and started playing World of Warcraft instead. You know you can make stuff in WoW right? And there ain’t no stinkin’ qiviut(k) in Azeroth.

To be continued…

2012 – A Yarn Odyssey Part 2 November 28, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Crochet, Knitting, Yarncraft.
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Part 1

So back in my stateroom I begin the process of learning how to knit. There are four basic things to know: casting on, the knit stitch, the purl stitch, and casting off. Casting on is just the process of setting up the yarn on one of the needles. The knit stitch is using the other needle to pull yarn through one of the loops on the first needle and pulling the completed stitch onto the second needle. The purl stitch is the same thing, just on the back side of the loop. Once you get to the end and have transferred all the stitches to the other needle, you turn it all around and do it again. Each row builds upon the previous and before long you have a knitted fabric. Casting off is doing a series of special stitches that sort of “seal off” each final loop on the final row and completing the project. Knitting is probably 95% of doing just this. You get various textures by varying when you do a knit vs. a purl stitch and there are variations on the basics. You also shape your fabric by adding or subtracting stitches and there are various ways to do that. Knitting is also more than just back and forth; you can knit circular things too with additional double pointed needles or two needles joined with a cable.

Casting on is a bit tricky as the loops have to be put on in a special way that involes a twist around the needle. I got that down before too long and was underway. Exciting! I was determined not to make the same mistake as the kid in the story by doing everything too loosely. I’d make sure each stich was nice and snug before moving on. You have to keep a certain tension on the yarn as do each stitch. I did everything the way the book said, but the yarn in the hand feeding the knitting always felt too loose, like I just didn’t have control over it. Wrapping it around a couple extra fingers gave me good, tight tension. No loose shit for me! I ran into some problems very quickly though. That darned chenille didn’t seem to want to slide on and off the needles very well and every row just seemed to get tighter and tighter. Invariably it would get to the point where I couldn’t knit anymore or the yarn just broke. I struggled with it a few days and then gave up for the rest of the trip. I was doing something wrong and it was pretty obvious I wasn’t going to figure it out on my own.

So we get back home and I seek out the fabric / yarn store my Mom goes to for her quilting fabrics and supplies. It turns out a lady teaches knitting classes there for a nominal fee. I sign up and take the class and I soon learned what was wrong. First, chenille is a terrible yarn to start a beginner on. It has absolutely no “give” and it doesn’t slide well metal needles anyway. For the record, wool is actually the best yarn to start with. It’s inexpensive and slightly stretchy. My second problem was actually the worse one – I was knitting WAY. TOO. TIGHT. Apparently I learned the wrong lesson from the story. You’re not supposed to have a stranglehold on the yarn, indeed you’re supposed to have hardly any tension at all. That…was very hard to learn. It seemed like cheating to knit so loosely. I also made the switch from the Continental knitting method to the faster American method which helped. Eventually I did learn how to knit fairly well and even some of the more advanced techniques like cables. I learned circular knitting and then designed and made my own Santa hat!

Santa Hat of +5 to Awesomeness

Off and on when we discussed the cruise or my knitting my Mom would mention how much she really would like something made with that wonderful qiviut yarn. Well, Christmas was coming up so I went online to see if I could order some. Yes, indeed there are sites that sell it. And YIKE$! That’s $ome pricey $tuff! It’s nearly 100 dollars per ball! At just over 200 yards per ball the scarf design I had in mind calls for four balls. At that price I need to know what color she wants so that I can be absolutely sure she will like it. I tell her what she’s getting and show her the pictures of the colors but don’t tell her the price. She picks the natural, non-dyed gray color and I order it. I notice that it’s “lace weight” so I know it will be thinner than the yarn I usually use. I figured it would be like sock yarn, which is the thinnest stuff I’d worked with. It comes in and…it’s thin. So very thin. It’s not like sock yarn. No, Precious – not like sock yarn at all. I begin to suspect that might be in over my head with this stuff.

To be continued…

2012 – A Yarn Odyssey November 28, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Crochet, Knitting, Yarncraft.
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It’s been a long, strange journey that actually started several years ago, during a cruise up the Alaskan coastline. It was a wonderful, relaxing trip with new sights to greet me every morning outside on my room’s balcony. If you’ve never been on a cruise you owe it to yourself to do it at least once in your lifetime. But that’s enough shilling for the cruise-line industry. Anyway, even with all the things one can do on a cruise ship I did find myself with lots of spare time on my hands and I thought I would finally get around to trying something I’d been curious about since I was a kid: knitting.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale
A tale of a fateful knit
That started from this arctic port
Aboard this mighty ship

As a kid? Yes, well if told a rightly I suppose this story really starts when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, some mumble years ago. One of our reading assignments was short story that has stuck with me for all these years and it planted the knitting seed in the back of my head. The story was set back in Dubya Dubya 2, and it was about a boy in elementary school. One day the teacher announces to her class that they were going to knit wash rags that were going to be included in care packages given to soldiers who were shipping out to Over There. Knitting needles and yarn were distributed, lessons given and the kids started their projects. One boy struggled with his knitting, starting out too loosely and then getting the hang of it as he neared the end. It turned out lop-sided and awkward and he felt bad about how some guy was going to get stuck with it. Alas, there was no time to re-do it as the care packages were to be packed up that day and distributed to the soldiers the next as they were leaving. The class went down to the train station the next morning to see them off. There was much waving and good-byes and such and just before the train started to pull away the boy saw that one of the soldiers had already dug into his care package and pulled out the knitted rag. It was his rag! It was recognizable because of the sloppy stitching on one side. The soldier was very sweaty and was using it to wipe his face and wave at the crowd from the train window. He had a big smile and seemed very happy with his rag. The boy felt much better as obviously it’s better to have a lop-sided rag than no rag at all. The end.

Yes, I remember all those details in that story from that long ago. I recount it here because it has bearing on stuff I do later. Now, back to the ship. We pull in and dock at one of the towns along the way and we head into the shopping district. One of the stores we find sells hand-knitted clothing articles made with 100% qiviut yarn. Ahhh, qiviut! “What is it” you ask? Good question, we had no idea either. It was explained to us by the salesperson that it’s the yarn made from the downy winter undercoat of the muskox that roam around in Alaska. It’s softer than cashmere and eight times warmer than wool. It’s so verrrry nice.

The Look of Luxury

It can’t be harvested like wool or other similar animal fibers. No, you have to wait for the one time of the year in the spring when the muskoxen shed their undercoat. There are only so many muskox around and most of the yarn is used making stuff to sell to tourists. A limited quantity of it is available to purchase to make your own stuff as I’d find out later. Prices in the store started out around $200 for small items, up to several thousand dollars for some of the nicer sweaters. No doubt it’s all marked way up for the rich cruise folks. We didn’t buy anything, but we were all very impressed by this super-soft yarn and it made me want to learn how to knit all the much more.

Later on I found a fabric store that sold knitting supplies. Yay! I bought a starter kit with a pair of needles, instruction book and other items. I asked the nice lady who ran the store what would be a good yarn for a learner to start out with and she showed me a selection of chenille yarns that she had. “My granddaughter started out with this,” she explained. I picked out a pretty blue-green hank and left the store determined to master this ancient and arcane art.

To be continued…

Crass Christmas Commercialism November 18, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Home, Politics, Science & Technology, Yorling, Zen Magnets.
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Well, it’s that time coming round again. I love to find & give those those neato gifts that are a bit different that the usual stuff. Check out this find at the Renaissance Fair last month:

This is a door harp. You put it on a door and the little balls plonk up and down against the strings and play a little tune when you open and close the door. Very cool! Renaissance fairs are very commercialized anymore and most of the stuff you find at them are junk. This guy actually makes his own stuff and it’s good quality. He makes actual harps and other stringed musical items too. You can order one here Dreamsinger Harps. One nice feature of these things is that they’re attached to the door with super sticky pads on the back. You don’t have to drill a hole in your door!

Magnet spheres update: Buckyballs has given up and will discontinue making them. As of now you can only get them from Zen Magnets. How long I don’t know. I just bought some more and I noticed they come with a new, prominent warning:

Warning: DO NOT SWALLOW MAGNETS

How old do you have to be to play with these? Dunno. 14 years old in the US for a strong magnetic toy, unless it’s not a toy, then no age limit, but they’re fun magnet spheres, aren’t they a toy? Unless it’s a “science kit” then the government age recommendation is 8+. But really, it’s whatever age at which a person stops swallowing non-foods. Strong magnets can cause fatal intestinal pinching. Place swallowing magnets on your don’t do list along with breathing water, drinking poison, and running into traffic. Call poison control if more than one is swallowed. And keep these away from kids(and pets) who don’t understand these dangers. Btw, this product is a “science kit” for sure.

Isn’t it so very sad isn’t it that it’s come to this? This is your U.S. Federal Government hard at work, destroying successful businesses for no other reason than it can. Oh sure, they say it’s “for the children” of course but since there’s only been 12 incidents in all the years these things have been around I can’t help but wonder what the real motivation is.

Anyway, I HIGHLY recommend giving these out for Christmas to people who know not to eat magnets. Frankly, they are better than buckyballs anyway. I also recommend getting the gift packaged set for those that are new to these things, you get some nifty extras with it. Shipping is always prompt and I’ve never had any problems with them. Oh, and if you want to go all out, there’s the Mandala Set with 1,728 magnets. These things are insanely fun and hard to put down when you start playing with them. Does 1,728 magnets sound like a lot? Well, go see what someone with a SERIOUS magnet ball collection can do: COCOAUB.

More crass Christmas commercialism gift ideas as I come across them.

T Minus 7 Days to National Turkification November 16, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Food.
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Thanksgiving draweth nigh! Are you prepared? I’m nearly there, myself. I have a few more things to pick up. Normally we do Thanksgiving at my parent’s house with Mom cooking the turkey and side dishes with my Dad doing the dressing. This time it’s going to be different. I’m cooking the turkey and we’ll have dinner here. They’ll still do all the side dishes and dressing and bring it all here. Over the years Mom has tried all sorts of ways to cook “the perfect turkey”. She finds new techniques in magazines and on cooking shows. Unsurprisingly, Martha Stewart has often played a role here. Still, things never quite seem to go the way they do on TV. Go figure. There’s one way she’s never tried though, and that’s the way I’m going to do it: deep frying baby! 

I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve heard that deep fried turkeys are the best, but isn’t it terribly dangerous?” Yes, I’ve heard this very often myself. But I have a couple things going for me – 1) I’m not a moron, and B) Alton Brown. Shortly after last Thanksgiving I found out he did a “Good Eats” show were he showed how to brine and deep-fry a turkey very safely. This is the method I’m going to use, right down to a T. Happily somebody uploaded it to Youtube. Here’s part one:

I bought the burner, the pot and the big brining cooler on Amazon. Free shipping for Prime members! Amazing. Also, they’re the exact same ones that Alton uses – look for the Bayou Classic brand items for frying, Igloo for brining. Tomorrow we’re going to pick up the turkey at Whole Foods. I’m looking for a Mary’s Heritage Free Range turkey. No Butterball here, which by the way are all slaughtered in accordance with Halal standards. They label very few as such though.

I’m hoping and expecting that this will be the best turkey ever. I’ll let y’all know how it turns out!

Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia November 11, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Music.
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For some reason this song started playing in my head, over and over and over again. It’s a catchy tune, but I have to admit it’s always confused the hell out of me. There’s something about it that just doesn’t make sense. Oh and this is the original Vicky Lawrence one. I understand Reba somebodyorwhatever did a cover of it too. I never heard hers.

As a side-note, something odd happened in the recording studios in the late 60’s to early 70’s: producers grabbed anybody who had ever done anything in front of a TV camera, shoved a mic in front of their face and told him or her to sing. Some of them did surprisingly well – the aforementioned Mrs. Lawrence for one, Goldie Hawn for another. Others…not so well. It was probably the drugs. I mean, what else would explain THIS? Anyway…

Let’s unpack this sucker and see if we can’t get to the bottom of what exactly happened one fateful night in Georgia when the power in the entire state got snafu’d:

(more…)