Monday, February 27, 2006

The End of the Olympics

I didn't finish. 

Well, I did finish the back of the sweater, which is one-third of the whole thing (if you don't count the side-seam gusset strips that I'm going to add because there isn't quite enough ease after all - did I mention I didn't do a gauge swatch?) - and I did it during the closing ceremonies, so I will at least claim bronze.

You know what? I really love knitting. I also love knitters, who think up things like this - although Stephanie ( is surely unique!

I've also learned a lot from the project. There are a bunch of practical things, like paying attention to the notes at the beginning of the book. (Yes, the color change does want to tighten up on the right side of shadow knitting. Don't pull the slipped stitch to make it look neat - ever.) Or like my aversion to colorwork: what I don't like is doing more than one color in a row, and that may be because I've never learned to do it properly. But I also don't like wearing too many colors at a time, so the shadow knitting, in three closely related shades of grey, is perfect. I will definitely try more shadow knit patterns. I've also learned (1) always do the swatch - which you think I would know, considering that my ganseys are all based on swatch measurements - and (2) a tunic in my size is going to take more than two weeks and three days. No matter what.

I've learned a couple of other things, though. I've said for years that I knit because, being a writer, I spend years working very hard to produce what is, in the end, a stack of paper. It is also a novel, a story, a world, but what I have to show to myself and the world is a compact disk and a stack of printouts. There's at least a year between finishing the manuscript and having a book to show off, and by then, I'm on to something else. Knitting produces something tangible, usually useful and sometimes beautiful, something that I can fondle and wear and point to as an actual object. Now that knitting has become popular again, I don't have to justify myself quite as much as I used to (and I feel more comfortable taking my knitting everywhere - though that may just be that I'm getting older and care less what anybody thinks), but it's still as much about the product as it is the process for me.  

In her book of meditations for women who knit too much (who, me?), the Yarn Harlot asked what you would do if you were stranded on a desert island and finished your knitting project. Would you rip and reknit it, just to have knitting, or would you put it on and go looking for grass to spin for the next project? I was amazed at the strength of my reaction. Absolutely, I would go find fiber and start something new. The idea of ripping a perfectly good object to reuse the yarn just so I could knit makes me shiver.

And that explains what I knit. I knit socks. I knit ganseys. I knit hats. I knit things I know I, or Lisa, or somebody, will wear and use. I don't really knit things that are pure experiments, just to try a new technique; I try a new technique because I like the way the fabric looks or what I think I can do with it.

Frankly, this is a surprise to me. In most of my writing, the process is as important and enjoyable as the product, and, as a writer, I've more than once done the equivalent of ripping the whole thing back to yarn and cast on again. In fact, my favorite books have all started that way. I write about 120 pages, realize I need to change something, and start over from beginning. The changes aren't that big, but they make a cumulative difference, like being half a stitch off in gauge. I'll do a hundred pages of notes and sketches, try and discard a style, a voice, sometimes a character - heck, I once wrote myself out of a novel - but I won't do that to my knitting.

And that's another reason I love knitting.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Days 14-16: Staggering to the Finish

I have completed 29 inches. I will finish the sweater-back tomorrow....

Of course, that leaves the front, two sleeves, and a possible side-seam strip to do. The side-seam strip isn't in the pattern, but I may add it any way. Partly I'd like a bit more ease than I think I'm going to get (this has something to do with the lack of gauge swatch back at the beginning) and partly the hems and cuffs are done in 2 inches of garter stitch in the medium shade of grey, and I think it would be pretty extended up the side seams and down the sleeve seams. I think I'll have enough yarn to make it....

Actually, I've really been enjoying this, even if I'm not nearly where I expected to be on this next-to-last day of competition. You think Bode Miller was overconfident? Try this on for size: a 33-inch long, long-sleeved, tunic-style sweater in an unfamiliar stitch that, despite its basic simplicity, regularly messes me up so that I have to unknit anywhere from three to 40 stitches to get back on pattern. Planning to finish that in 16 days was probably overambitious. 

My new goal is to finish the sweater before it gets too warm to wear it.

And to pick something smaller for Beijing!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Days 12-13

OK, I think we’re getting back to normal. Lisa has been checked out by her regular oncologist, who seems unworried by the whole episode, and has signed up for physical therapy again.

(The dialogue between her and the doctor apparently went something like this:

Lisa: I was standing on one foot, and I fell over and hit my head.

Doctor: Hm. Well. Don’t stand on one foot!

This is actually good, because if he had the slightest concern, he wouldn’t be making even a mild joke.)

Unfortunately, though I’ve been knitting away in the times not occupied by work, and we have moved into the medal rounds of the curling, the *#%& sweater-back is only 23.5 inches long. I have nine and a half inches to go. Maybe I should shorten it? Heck, a 24-inch sweater is nice and long - but I really did want a tunic.

And there are other projects waiting, becoming more seductive all the time: a sock, in a new self-striping colorway from Lang Yarns Jawoll cotton jacquard - it’s brown and grey with highlights of pink and blue. And it’s about half done, and will be finished a lot faster than this sweater. There’s a crocheted jacket in 4 shades of Reynolds’ Caviar, bought on sale at the local yarn shop, that just needs a couple more rounds on each sleeve to be totally done. (OK, plus weaving in the ends, which is daunting enough that I might rather stick to my sweater.) I’ve promised Lisa a gansey to replace the one the horses nibbled, felting the ribbing beyond the point of ripping and reknitting. (This is what comes of volunteering for equine rescue: the rescuees aren’t always well-mannered.) We bought the yarn for that on sale, too, and it’s lovely, Harrisville’s New England Shetland in a deep rust-orange . I have some forest-green lace-weight that I want to try in an ultra-simple lace pattern. Spectacular multi-colored Norwegian yarn called Eskimo (and Noway’s in the gold medal round for curling), plus pale blue baby alpaca, both for hats. Four more balls of sock yarn! A fingerless glove pattern and the hand-painted yarn to work it in! A new KnitPicks catalog....

Not to mention that I desperately need to re-do my website, and work on the new idea someone gave me at Boskone. (More on that after the Olympics.)

It’s a good thing there’s curling on tonight. It gives me discipline.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Days 10-11

Well, day 10 was actually productive, though I have to give at least part of the credit to the Daytona 500. There's something about a 500-mile stock car race that makes me want to knit fast - and there was a free in-car preview, though it didn't work very well. Seems the helicopters that re-transmit the pictures and team audio were grounded by thick weather.... And then, since Lisa and I both had today off, I stayed up and watched the Olympics until midnight. (Wasn't the ice dancing scary??) 

My results? 20.5 inches total! OK, I'm still on the back, but I'm in sight of the end. Or maybe it's just lap 1 around the stadium.

This morning, however - and now I have to be serious for a bit. Lisa had a fall. She's had balance issues since the surgery last June, because the original tumor was in the cerebellum, in a balance center, and cutting around in there causes problems. So, as she was getting up, she was standing on one foot, lost her balance, and fell into the corner of the dresser, hitting it with her head. No cut, but there was a dent in the skin that felt soft when I touched it. She was otherwise OK, so I got her up and sitting on the edge of the bed (which is about two feet from where she fell), told her we were going to the emergency room - and she blacked out. That's a scary, incredibly unmistakable moment: her eyes were open, and there was no person, no presence, no intelligence there.

So I called 911. You hear a lot of bad things about service in emergencies, but I have nothing to complain about. The dispatcher got the vital information, told me what I needed to do to check on Lisa (who had resumed consciousness almost immediately, and was sitting up and wanting to put on her shoes), and then told me what I needed to do to get the animals out of the way and get the EMTs in the house. They were here within 10 minutes of the fall, checked her out - she was fully conscious, not in any pain, and as much embarrassed as scared - and said she still ought to go to the hospital because of the cancer history and the loss of consciousness. Or maybe it was in the opposite order....

In any case, they put her in the ambulance and took her to the emergency room. I walked and fed the dog (wishing we'd trained her to defecate on command), grabbed a book for Lisa and my knitting, and headed to the emergency room. 

Where she was sitting up, answering questions (I was the one who got her age wrong), and otherwise showing no ill effects. She didn't even have a headache. There's a lump on her head, a tiny red mark where she actually hit the dresser - all of which you can see because she still doesn't have any hair - and the beginning of a bruise on her shoulder. That's it.

So we are basically fine. We weren't even at the emergency room long enough for me to do more than a row and a half of my sweater-back, and the examining doctor said she really wasn't hurt. But we are both just a tad stressed.

She said I could use this as my excuse for not finishing if I needed it, but that would be cheating.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Days 8-9

Knitting and SF conventions don't mix. Well, actually, they do - there were lots of people knitting small, portable projects in the halls and in the audiences - but large sweaters using multiple balls of yarn are not, perhaps, the ideal choice for a project. 

I got a decent amount done in the hotel Friday night. The Olympics were on, nobody knew we were there, since we'd gotten the room last minute to avoid having to get up at 6 AM to drive down and get registered in time for my reading, and we had a lovely, cosy room with a large comfy bed and a well-placed television. We did visit a bookstore, so there were distractions (it's hard to read a trade paperback and knit at the same time, no matter how prehensile your toes), but I felt that, on the whole, I'd done my Olympic duty.

Did I mention that the whole point of this trip was to get a good night's sleep? At 1:43 AM, our next-door neighbors returned from drinking - at least 4 of them, and possibly 5. Alan was the loudest and the drunkest, and he and Denise were having a fight, during which she insulted his manhood, and he called her "nasty." Their friends tried to shush them, and, in the way of the drunken, they were eventually distracted and I thought maybe they'd go to bed.

Unfortunately, a few minutes later, there was a thump and a drumming of heels on the connecting door between our rooms, and Alan announced, "hey, I can do a handstand!"

I called the front desk.

They sent up a cop, and the group quieted down almost immediately. However, it was 2:15 in the morning, and I was angry enough that it was hard to get back to sleep. Adding insult to injury, my internal alarm clock was set for 7:00, and I couldn't get back to sleep. I thought about calling room 533, asking for Alan, and telling him that I thought his girlfriend was absolutely right, but we weren't ready to check out just yet. Instead, I knit another couple of rows, drank a cinnamon latte, and watching some more curling.

I knew Saturday was going to be a low-productivity day on the knitting front, and I was right. I did manage to get two rows done in between talking to people at the autographing, and again in a lull between panels when I was supposed to be eating lunch, but mostly the sweater stayed in my purse. On the other hand, I was wearing an odd shawl-with-sleeves I made from a Lion Brand pattern (knit in two shades of blue Homespun), and kept having to take it off (or put it on, or put it on other people) so that they could see how it was made. That was gratifying, if not exactly what I'd intended. 

I knit some more after we got home last night, but when I measured, the back (the only part) is just 17 inches long.....

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Day... 7????

I am so far behind.... If this really were the Olympics, the measurement of my sweater back would be posted in red, and the commentators would be shaking their heads.

"Really nice pattern, nice tension, good choice of colors, but she's just not getting the pace she needs to finish."

"Dick, she should have chosen a smaller project."

"But this plays to her strengths. Her coach mentioned that she considered lace -"

"Which would probably have been more sensible - something like a scarf. It would have qualified as a challenge -"

"Yes, I have seen the shawl she's been working on at practice. Just one 30-stitch panel, and she's certainly experiencing difficulties."

"A small piece of lace would have been much more managable."

"I'm afraid so. Well, we'll have to wait and see how she comes back in Vancouver."

I guess I'll just have to wait and see how the judges score this one.....

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Day 6

More curling today.... Cassie Johnson and her sister are quite beautiful, with lovely skin — but the Dane Denise Dupont has a great sense of style! I like her hair (heavy blond bangs, two wider pieces falling to frame her face, the rest drawn back in a ponytail), her great big star earrings, and positively punk eyeliner. Extraordinarily cool for the average athlete!

Unfortunately, despite the length of the average bonspeil, I still only have 13 inches of sweater-back complete. I’m aiming for another 2 inches tonight, and, between the Olympics and Mythbusters (a truly guilty pleasure!), I should be able to get at least close. I’m not all that excited about moguls (mostly because I don’t understand all the criteria), but luge and short track skating are neat to watch.

I was sorry to have missed some of the men’s short program in figure skating last night. I confess, I kept switching back and forth between the Olympics and Westminster, and the dogs won.... (And Rufus, the colored bull terrier who took Best in Show, had a fabulous head!) I’m most sorry to have missed Johnny Weir’s program, though I did see a quick shot of him leaving the arena. He was wearing what looking like a furry glittery scarf (further inspiration for the knitters among us), or perhaps a shaggy boa, and waggled his fingers at the camera as he passed. This is the man who, when asked about his hair the other morning, complained that he was having a princess moment....

It’s so amazing to me that this is possible. I remember the fuss that was made about Rudy Gallindo not that long ago, the trouble that he caused by being just a little less than perfectly straight-acting — and now we have Johnny Weir. Who stands in second place just now, so it clearly hasn’t hurt his athletic ability. I guess progress really does happen!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Day 5

I have to admit that last night we watched Westminster more than the Olympics. I’d blame it on Lisa (or Vixen, our sheltie/whippet mix), but both of them fell asleep early on, so I could have changed the channel. Still, I got a bit of knitting done, and more this morning while I watched the men’s biathlon and more curling (also men’s), but on measuring, I only have 11 1/4 inches finished. Of the back. Which has a finished measurement of 33 inches. And then there’s the front, two sleeves, and a cowl neck to go.

I’m beginning to worry. This weekend is Boskone, which means that I will be spending all day Saturday at the convention. I have a reading, autographing, 2 panels, and a kaffeeklatsch.... Should I bring the sweater, and therefore a bigger bag, or just the sock that I started before the Olympics? Will I have time to do anything, particularly a something involving two balls of yarn, between panels, or should I just give up the day? After all, Sunday is not only the Olympics, but the Daytona 500, and there’s nothing like a stock car race for getting a lot of knitting done. (Last year’s first batch of gift socks was worked primarily during Lisa’s radiation treatments and the last few races. I can complete the leg, turn the heel, and pick up for the foot during a 500 mile race — but how does that translate to a sweater?) I think I need to fall back on my college athletic days, such as they were, and try to put the whole thing out of my mind. I’ll do what I can, and that’s enough.

Mind you, I’m learning a lot. I have never liked colorwork much. I like the results of both intarsia and stranded colorwork, but I hated doing them. I didn’t like mosaic stitch at all, though that may have been the project I tried. Shadow knitting, however.... It’s only two balls of yarn, only one color at a time, and seems to work really well when you use 3 related shades, like the 3 greys I’m using. All of that really suits both my work habits, and my taste in clothes. So, if nothing else, I will have learned a new technique that I’m likely to use....

But I’ll be really bummed if I don’t finish!˘

Monday, February 13, 2006

Day 4

I have to say, I’m really enjoying the yarn I’m using. It’s “Palette,” a 100% wool fingering-weight yarn from KnitPicks, and, at $1.79 for 50 grams/231 yards, it’s a deal. It’s not as fluffy as some wools I’ve used — if anything, it’s a little crunchy, both in the ball and as it’s knit up. Maybe some of that is the shadow knit pattern (3 rows of stockinette, followed by a right-side purl row), but, whatever the cause, I like the texture. It’s a little lighter than the yarns I usually use for ganseys, but I think I’ll try it for my next gansey. (After I finish Lisa’s, that is. I promise!)

I got quite a bit done today while watching curling, a sport which, despite the announcers’ attempts to explain, I don’t really understand. But there is something fascinating about watching the careful release of the heavy stones, followed by the frantic use of the broom.... It also contains some of the longest time outs I’ve ever seen in a sporting event (at least, the longest not caused by injury), with all team members standing around, leaning on their brooms, and discussing how best to either remove an opponent’s stone, score a point, or, preferably, both. Needless to say, I don’t appreciate the fine points at all, but it was fascinating to watch. The men’s world championships is actually going to be held only a couple of hours from here — and are advertising heavily on local tv — and I might consider going. I wonder if there are any clubs around here....

There was also one lovely bit of trivia, revealed during a long time out. It seems that curling began in the 16th century — which means that one could join the Society for Creative Anachronism as a fanatic curler.

The only bad part is that Grendel, the formerly feral, mostly-Siamese cat we acquired about 5 years ago, also seems to like curling. Normally, he isn't all that interested in knitting. (That bad habit is reserved for Pretty Boy Floyd, whom I have not been able to discourage from chewing on yarn.) Grendel and the others lie next to me on the couch, when they can be bothered to join me at all. However, today, as I settled in with my knitting on my lap, I was stopped by a solid tap on the knee. I looked up, removed Grendel's paw, turned back to my knitting — and received the entire cat in my lap. I removed him. He returned. We repeated this twice more, and I surrendered, instead rearranging my knitting to accomodate him. He stretched out, purring — the sort of purr you don't hear, but feel through your kneecaps — then stopped and yowled. He was lying on a marker, and apparently it wasn't comfortable. I moved the offending corner of the sweater; he shifted so that he could see the tv, and there he stayed. We reached the finish (the USA lost to Norway), he hopped down, and hasn't been back in my lap since.

I'm not sure what this means.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Day 3

We have a nor’easter today. It’s snowing hard, but it’s so windy that it’s almost impossible to tell how much snow has actually fallen. The parking lot behind the house is literally bare in spots, but the part where our walk enters the lot is slightly more than knee deep right now. Yes, I measured the hard way. It’s definitely over my knee, and snow got up under my jeans and into the top of my calf-high boots. I then transferred that snow, plus more, to the inside of my car. You see, we don’t have off-street parking, but we wanted to wait until the city declared a snow emergency before putting the car in the municipal garage, because that way we get the $3 per emergency rate as opposed to .75 per hour. After they finally said, OK, we want cars off the street, I went to clean off mine, and there was about 2.5 inches of snow stuck to the windward side, much of which fell into my car when I opened the driver’s door. The downwind side was completely clear. Also, my car had provided a windbreak to Lisa’s, parked directly behind mine, so, while I brushed several inches off the roof, she had only a dusting — until the stuff I cleared from mine blew onto hers. (Yes, I could have opened the passenger door, gotten out the scraper/brush thingie, brushed off the driver’s door, and avoided bringing in at least an inch of snow into the car. But I didn’t think of it, and if you would have, I don’t want to hear it.)

And, to add to the fun, the front storm door blew out of my hand when I went to get the paper, and I think it’s bent or broken a hinge, because I can’t get it to close properly any more. I am now attempting to prove the adage that anything that can’t be fixed by duct tape can be mended with twine.

So you can imagine how glad I am to be back inside and knitting! I’ve completed about 3 inches of the shadow pattern section, and it’s starting to show the vertical striping. It’s subtle, but definite, and I really like it. Canada is thumping Russia, 8 - 0 in the second period, in women’s hockey (and at least one Canadian player is a member of the Harvard women’s team), and I think I’ll settle in for a while.

One thing, though. A lot of sports provoke the reaction “that kinda looks like fun,” although in my case sanity very quickly prevails. But there are moments when I think that I might like to try downhill skiing, or cycling (OK, not cycling, not often), race car driving (quite often!), or curling, or pick up tennis or fencing again, mostly because I’ve seen someone doing it so well and effortlessly that I want some of that competence to rub off on me. Cross country skiing, though.... A sport where the drool of effort freezes to your face is not, I think, for me. e

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Knitting Olympics, Day 2

Today is the first time since college that I’ve watched hockey. It’s a sport that (as you may have gathered from my post about ice skating) I didn’t grow up with, and so never really learned to watch. I went once with a college boyfriend — a Flyers fan, he took me to a Bruins-Flyers game, at the old Boston Garden, which probably wasn’t the best introduction to the sport. But today, watching women’s hockey and knitting away merrily, I’m kind of getting into it. And it’s also been cool hearing how many of the women playing for the US (and several other countries) are from the Harvard women’s hockey program. My freshman-year floormate was one of the founders of the program, and a stalwart of the team for four years. And look what’s come of it!

As for the knitting, I’m making progress, though not perhaps as much as I’ll need to finish by the end of the Olympics. (I feel a bit like one of the guys looked in the cross-country part of the Nordic combined: I’m knitting and knitting, but I don’t seem to be getting anywhere....) I’m doing the long tunic in three shades of grey from Vivian Hoxbro’s Shadow Knitting, though the greys I’m using are lighter than the ones in the book. The book recommends placing a marker every time the pattern changes, which led to another Jamaican bobsled moment. I needed 17 markers for a 10-stitch repeat over 170 stitches. After scrounging through every single box, needle case, and stray unfinished object bag I own, I came up with 18. I don’t think I’ve ever used this many markers in any project, and, given the very light-weight yarn, they feel really awkward. It’s like holding a handful of marbles. And I’ve only done about 5 inches. Hopefully I’ll get used to it soon!

Of course, tomorrow there’s supposed to be a nor’easter, so I should be able to get a lot of Olympic watching and knitting in between sessions of shoveling. 20 inches to go on the back, then a matching front, and a pair of sleeves. Right....

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Knitting Olympics

Some of you may know that I’m a knitter. (Lisa says this is a bit like Lance Armstrong saying, “I kind of like to win the Tour de France,” or Imelda Marcos saying, “I have a few pairs of shoes.) Be that as it may, after an orgy of Christmas-present socks, I’ve succumbed to the latest suggestion from the Yarn Harlot: the Knitting Olympics. Basically, the idea is that you should choose a project that is an achievable challenge, cast on during the opening ceremonies, and have it finished by the time the olympic flame is extinguished. At first, I thought it was fun and funny, and then I realized that, since I was going to be watching the Games and knitting anyway, it might make sense to participate. Then Lisa brought me home a book from her company’s book swap, called Shadow Knitting, which looked as though it made really interesting fabric. And then I found out about Team Wales, for which I qualify on several counts.

So I had to do it.

I ordered my yarn from KnitPicks last week, and despite my failure to use expedited shipping, it arrived yesterday. I didn’t get the faster shipping because KnitPicks has always gotten my orders here in about a week, despite their warning it could take 14 days, so I figured it would be fine. But, of course, I didn’t think about the other 3299 (and counting) people doing the Olympics and probably ordering yarn.... Then this morning I checked the pattern again and realized that the sweater is knit on US1 and US2 needles, not US2 and US3 as I had thought. So I hustled right out and bought the US1s that I needed. For fellow knitters, this means I haven’t done a swatch, and am just going to cast on and wing it. The motto of Team Wales is “the Jamaican bobsledders of the knitting world,” and, so far, I’m living up to it.

I cast on for the back at 2 PM, about when the opening ceremonies were happening. Then I knit, oh, about 30 rows while we watched the pre-opening ceremonies (OK, we actually mostly watched a special on Lance Armstrong, but that has to count). The gauge looks good — that is, it looks as though this piece is a reasonable side for the back — so I think I’m on my way. And now I’m taking my yarn and my needles and going to bed.

More from the Knitting Olympiad later....

An ex-historian gets cranky

I admit that I follow fashion, at least in the sense that I like to know what’s currently in style, and, when it fits my shape, to adopt the cooler pieces. And right now, I’m enjoying the trend that’s most commonly labeled “Victorian.” I like the styles a lot, and, frankly, many of them look good on me. There’s just one problem.

They aren’t “Victorian.” They’re Regency, with a strong nod to the Napoleonic armies.

Note the Empire waistline (so-called because it was popular across Europe during the reign of Napoleon — the First Empire). Note the adorable little jackets and cropped tops, commonly called shrugs. Around 1800 — which would be the Regency, not the Victorian era — they were known as spencers, and they did a great deal to make an unforgiving cut palatable to the fuller-figured women. (They’re doing the same job admirably today!) Look at the quasi-military jackets, with their horizontal rows of trim and loads of brass buttons. Anyone else think of Napoleon’s hussars, or Wellington’s staff? In fact, I just bought a cropped jacket with a stand collar, deep cuffs, and braided trim that — bar the color, too faded to be fashionable — could pass for a spencer cut a là militaire. I love the full-sleeved shirts with their high collars and lace trim; I like the velvets and the saturated colors and the deceptively prim lace trim.

Damn it, they’re just not Victorian!D