Monday, July 28, 2008

A Couple of FOs...

Well, Knitting Fans, as of Saturday, Pookie the Sock Monkey is finished. This project was a heck of a lot of fun, half of which had to be the search for monkey accessories. In the end, I found that the hair and the glasses really made the monkey - who am I kidding? It's the mouth that makes the monkey! But other than that, a teddy bear was all that was needed. The body is made with Araucania Ranco Solid, and the limbs from some old Koigu stash.

As I have already mentioned, I took an alternate route when working on the arms. The pattern calls for knitting and stuffing the arms separately, then sewing them to the monkey body. I knew that would be a disaster for me - so I took two pipe cleaners, twisted the ends together to make one long pipe cleaner, and then pushed it through the body to establish where the arms would go. Next, I picked up 10 sts in my arm yarn around the pipe cleaner and knitted the arms just like the legs. The tricky part, I discovered, was that my working yarn kept wanting to become seriously entangled with the legs, the tail and the other set of needles. And that is when I discovered Monkey Bondage. I got out some rubber bands and just held the legs, tail and first arm together, and that made knitting the second arm far less of a bother, I was done with it in no time. It did look a little kinky, though...

Doesn't she look like a defiant kidnap victim? I swear I didn't arrange her free arm that way. She did it herself.

Every time I look at that face I start laughing, so I think my sister is going to enjoy this part of her gift.

And do you recall that basket of 3000 skeins of multiple colors of yarn that I showed you back in February? This is what it grew up to be...

The Color on Color Scarf from Scarf Style.

Now, I have a lot to say about this project, and I'm sorry, but you're going to have to hear it. First of all - and I don't think I have ever said this about a knitting project before - I would not recommend this to someone I like. Nope. Mugabe, Hitler, that guy they just arrested in Serbia, our president, the guy who mugged me 10 years ago and broke my cheekbone as well as the strap on my Coach bag - although it is unlikely that any of these people are knitters. But not to anyone I like.

And let me count the ways...

Let's begin at the beginning, shall we? The designer gives a list of 40-something different colors. Of some of those colors - many, in fact - you are asked to buy multiple skeins. One color alone calls for 6 skeins. Although the skeins cost a mere .75 per and I bought them at a non-profit shop and so wasn't charged tax, I won't tell you how much the whole lot of yarn costs. My husband reads this blog, after all.

As I worked, I found that there were roughly 3-4 colors that I ran out of completely. Totally gone. Zip. Many others, once I had finished the project, I found I had never used at all. Including 4 of those 6 skeins of the single color. Other than having to substitute colors where I ran out of the color required, and while knitting perfectly to gauge - in my book, this just didn't need to happen.

Next, with these nearly 100 8-yard skeins of 3-ply yarn, one must peel off one single ply and put it aside each time you change colors. And, as you can see, you change colors a LOT. So roughly every 10 minutes you are putting down your knitting, fishing in the basket for the next color, and then untwisting 8 yards of yarn. Bad language is sure to ensue, I promise you. It's just inevitable. Keep the children and any excitable animals out of the room.

We could pretty much generalize - and I certainly intend to - that most knitters are visual people. Granted, we have all seen strong evidence to the contrary. Nevertheless, when you group your 100 skeins of yarn into some sort of workable order, how would you do that? By color family, you venture nervously? Of course! The only tricky element to that method is that the colors as you use them are not identified in the pattern by color family, but rather by color number. This means that one must first look at the artistically out-of-focus photos that the pattern supplies, try to deduce what color group number 742 falls into, and then hunt it down so that you can spend 10 minutes peeling it apart before you can knit. A note: Colors 723 and 732 are not interchangeable. Just so you know.

I always weave my tails in as I knit so that I don't have to deal with them later. When I am changing colors such as in this pattern, this means knitting in two-handed Fair Isle for two inches to work in the tail. But you still end up with a whole little wheat field of tiny ends sticking out of the back. On the inside of a sweater, ok, I might not care so much. In a scarf that is guaranteed to flip over from time to time as you wear it, this is just plain ugly.

I'll be frank with you, there were several times that this project went into 'time-out' and languished in a basket under the coffee table, sticking its tongue out at me and waggling the fingers that were stuck in its ears while I worked instead on some more pleasurable project. And yet every now and then I would drag the basket out, work on the scarf a little more until I felt the pressure building up in my ears and I thought my head would explode, and then shove it viciously under the table again.

At last it came down to the 5 miles of 39 pieces of I-cord fringe one was meant to knit at the end, starting with the 12 inches of yarn ends the pattern asks you to leave as you change colors in these areas. I hate knitting I-cord. I HATE KNITTING I-CORD! And 12" of yarn gives you enough to knit an I-cord about the size of a mouse's willy before you have to change colors and knit some more. In the end, I settled for doing a crochet chain fringe instead, and am mightily pleased with the results.

Positive things to say? I don't begrudge a nickel of the money I spent at the women's and children's non-profit. And while I was teaching the 4th and 5th graders over the fall and winter, stopping to buy a few more hanks of this yarn each week on my way home was all too often the only carrot on the stick that made me keep on keeping on.

I have to say that I love the colors, and I love how they work together.

And I was really looking forward to embellishing the crap out of it when it was done.

For those of you who are members of Ravelry, there are some stunning COC's that are worked in several shades of Noro Silk Garden and are therefore shawl-sized. Absolutely stunning, and if I had had the wit to look there first, that is the route I would have gone.

Also, someone on Ravelry mentioned that the designer had originally intended to have the project felted lightly when finished.

So I did felt it, and this is how fast it felted in just five minutes. Yet that allowed me to cut off the yarn ends on the back of the scarf, and gave a lot more flexibility and greater possibilities when embellishing.

Then I went after it with seed beads, some of the leftover yarn using an embroidery needle, and sometimes with a crochet hook.

This gave it texture as well as added dimension, and that all important element, what my friend Monica calls Sassy. (She cracks me up.)

Final judgment? I love it and can't wait to wear it.

I'm sending the pattern and the leftover yarns to George Bush.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Signs That You Spend Too Much Time Thinking About Knitting

At what turned out to be 3 a.m last night, we were tucked up in bed slumbering peacefully, when suddenly the sounds of a whole lot of sirens passing by for a whole long time woke us up. And you know how your mind will turn an outside sound into something that works with your dream. I don't know what I was dreaming just before the sirens penetrated my consciousness, but at that point, I was watching a long line of toy police cars driving up a toy landscape hill just like the one near our house, and they were all carrying a single skein of Noro yarn on the roof of the car, with the yarn details written in the air above the cars in floating black type.

Of course I awoke to find that emergency vehicles were not delivering Noro to my house, but even worse is knowing that those sounds mean that somewhere out there in the night, someone is in trouble. Reading the paper this morning I found that a woman was driving down a street just to the west of us, didn't see that it was flooded, and was washed downstream with her car for a goodly distance. They had to call out a great number of firemen to rescue her. This is not unusual in Tucson during the monsoon season, but the very fact that it happens every year, would, one would hope, ensure that others would then be disinclined to drive into flooded areas. Not so. Luckily she was saved, while they are still searching for a man who was swept away over the weekend in a similar situation. A high price to pay for deciding not to turn around and take the long way to your destination.

Anyway, the sock monkey progresses! Yesterday while I was in the shop I searched out the right sort of yarn that would look like my sister's short, spiky, greying hair, and I think this is a good choice. I crocheted it right onto the head using slip stitch, and now await the arrival of glasses while I knit up the arms. I think I can live without the baseball cap if I can just find a small coffee cup to put in his hand. Still looking for the right name for it (I suppose it is a she and not a he) which I will make into a little necklace with tiny alphabet beads. I was also thinking, as I was sitting and drinking my tea this morning and looking happily out at our rainy weather, that I have a book that has small knitted doll clothes in it... And indeed, yes, I see that Tracy Chapman's Knitted Toys has some clothes in the front, and one I can adapt into a t-shirt. This was meant to be just a little extra something in the Christmas box, but is turning out to be the main attraction. I'm having a lot of fun. I had been saving all my sock yarn scraps for an eventual blanket, but now I think the non-superwash bits are all destined for monkeydom.

Can you look at that face and not laugh? If you know anyone too sophisticated to enjoy a sock monkey, you are cultivating the wrong sort of acquaintance. I'm just telling you.

In the meantime, I can finally take my second project out of the proverbial knitting closet. This is the first of a pair of socks for DH's birthday, which was yesterday. Now that they are no longer a secret I can knit them anytime, and will finish them up pretty quickly. The pattern is the Retro Rib socks by Evelyn A. Clark in Interweave Knits' Favorite Socks. I have knitted up several patterns from this book and still have more that I look forward to doing. It has become a great resource. I hate to knit anything twice so eventually it might wear out it's usefulness but I sure am getting my money's worth in the meantime.

The yarn is a Trekking XXL in color #172. It's rare to find a really beautiful sock yarn in colors that a British man will wear in public on his feet, so I am enjoying this and looking to find more Trekking sock yarns for future knitting. It's very bouncy and squishy in the skein, a little, um, stiff, or coated feeling? as you knit, but I can tell already that once they are washed they will be like buttah.

So go and knit, don't drive into flooded washes, and start your holiday knitting now. It's not like we don't know from one year to the next when the holidays will be here - at least in general, if not specifically. I strongly suggest the sock monkey.

Ah- PS: For the SM arms, the pattern suggests that you knit and stuff the arms separately, then sew them onto the body afterwards. I can never get the two sides of anything like this to be symmetrical, and that makes me just slightly crazy. Instead, I took two pipe cleaners, twisted the ends together to make one long pipe cleaner, and threaded it through the body where I wanted the arms to go, to make an - ahem - armature. (I'm sorry, I just had to slip that in.) Using my arm yarn, I picked up the required number of stitches in a circle around the pipe cleaner, and am knitting away on the arm.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Not Quite So Creepy

At Least He Has Legs Now

But he does look a bit forlorn, unable to hug his bear. I mentioned that I wanted to suit each monkey to the recipient, and so due to an unexpected change in my schedule this morning, I found that I had the time to wander over to Michaels with partial monkey in hand to look for glasses and whatever else might pop into the basket. Alas, no glasses, but I did find this cute bear and thought it was a good touch. I had also kinda hoped for a baseball cap, and no luck there, either.

My sister. How do I describe my sister? Well, anyone who knows her can tell you that she popped out of the womb gay. She's a nurse, she likes to garden. So it gives some range of ideas to play with when looking for monkey accessories. Ideally, this monkey should have round gold glasses, a baseball cap, and a t-shirt - none of which I could find. Do they not make lesbian gardening nurse dolls in Tucson that would require accessories? Boy dolls? We're pretty flexible here.

I tried a cowboy hat, thinking we could work a whole 'YMCA' theme, but would she find that as funny as I would? Look at the monkey's face. You can tell he's thinking that if he had arms he would take that damned hat off his head. This is for a woman with a stuffed animal named Gay Bear, should I name this Gay Monkey? Or is that not the same coming from a straight woman? At any rate, I know the cowboy hat doesn't quite work, and it will go back from whence it came. I have found the perfect glasses online and they are on their way. I also found a baseball cap but the shipping cost it is twice as much again as the cap itself, and while that isn't a fortune, it just rankles.

I told you those couch pillows were ugly, didn't I?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ummmmm, I'll Think of A Title Later

The Big, Scaly Lizard, Spying on Us

There comes a point, I find, in the making of all knitted animals when they begin to take on their own live personality, and working on them starts to get a little creepy. (Yes, we are pretending that I've been here all along. Work with me.) So it is with my first Sock Monkey. Suddenly his sprouting legs are looking like weird little stumps and that is seriously strange. Thank God I've already sewn his crotch shut. I also find that they do, at around this same point, start chasing my husband around the house, begging, 'Kiss me, Mr. Sorenson!' in equally strange voices. Bad sport that he is, he usually refuses. He runs. It's kinda funny. You have to see it.

Sock Monkey

You may recall that last winter I knitted socks as Christmas gifts for both of my sisters, and since that was a great hit, this year I am getting a head start on all that. Mind you, I have knitted almost nothing but socks this year so far. For some reason they have got a hold on me that won't quit, and since I have the sock yarn stash to match at the moment, I'm just going with it. I took out this lovely blue Auracania Ranco and the Brigit pattern by Monkey Toes, and realized that it would all work well for one of the sisters, so it became the first of my holiday gifts to be finished. Oldest sister and I discovered the Sock Monkey pattern, and we both feel that everyone needs a sock monkey for Christmas this year. So as I finish each pair of socks, the leftover yarns will go towards a sock monkey. I'm planning to personalize each one so that they look like their new owners.

I also plan to tweak the pattern for future Sock Monkeys. I think that with the large monkey there could be about 5 rows less before working the mouth (this will make him look less like a Sock Squid Head) and those extra rows can be added to the body area. Also, with the mouth I plan to work a full short-row heel. The pattern calls for an afterthought heel with decreases on nearly every row, so the mouth area isn't quite deep enough once you start to stuff him. I've Kitchenered the crotch area instead of binding off and sewing together. I'll let you know if I have other tweaks, but so far that is all. I don't mind telling you that knitting the tail, legs, and I imagine, the arms, around the pipe cleaner is a pain in the bottom, but I hate knitting anything that resembles I-cord unless it is attached. I-cord is the mindsucking knitting equivalent of drivel, if you ask me.

Brigit Socks

But the Brigit Socks are lovely fun and I really enjoyed knitting them. Patterns with texture are my personal faves, although I will often encourage a knitter new to sock weight yarns to try a plain vanilla sock pattern to start with. For myself, I have to have something happening in the pattern in order to keep my interest. And while I love knitting lace (or lace knitting, who the heck can keep track of the difference, and does it really matter?), lace in socks is like those Men Working signs at the side of the road, where you look and there is one guy down in a hole, while 4 other guys stand around the hole with their pants falling off their bums, giving the hole guy advice. Can you trust advice from men who can't keep their pants up? In other words, if you are knitting something that is about staying warm - such as socks - isn't putting holes in them a bit of a knitting oxymoron? One person told me that lace socks are air-conditioned for days when her feet are warm. I replied that on days like that, I simply don't wear socks. Hmmm...

I've also recently finished these Rivendell socks. Love the design, I did have to do a fair bit of alterations to the pattern to make them fit the normal human leg. What I settled on was to add a whole 'nother pattern repeat (which made life easier while knitting, nicely enough) and decreased like heck on the foot to make that work. Also, if you were alert by the end of the previous paragraph, you'll understand why I worked the yo's as increases instead. I kept the ridge line coming down from the leaves, and crossed the final diamond on the ankle. Not crossing it bothered me. Remember, I'm the person who has been known to straighten pictures on the walls at other people's houses when they leave the room.

Modified Rivendell Socks

Modified Rivendells in their Natural Habitat

And last but not least, I have a pillow to show you. In the time since I have been here last I have been gifted with a knitting machine, and DH gave me a needle-felting machine for my 50th birthday. I have been combining the efforts of the two, and this was my first project. I knitted up a huge swatch with the knitting machine, felted it, and then needle-felted the design onto the felt pillow-top. The pieces that I needle-felted to the pillow-top started out as roving that were needle-felted with the machine to make flat felt pieces that I could then cut the shapes out of.

I also added beading, buttons and embroidery to the surface, and love the result.

I made it with the intention of using it in our living room to replace the ugly couch cushions that we have. I've also put it up for sale in my store, Knitwise, on, so if someone buys it, I'm happy, and if no one buys it and I get to keep it, I'm also happy.

As Arnie said, I'll be back...
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