What I’ve been doing lately

Did you ever have pets who did that thing where you’d open the door to let them out, and it was bad weather, and they’d look at you in dismay, then go to another door of the house, hoping that the weather outside that door would magically be better? I feel kind of like that these days. I keep looking out the window thinking, “I’m sure it’s cooled down by now,” and then I walk outside and go, “Nope, still hot.”

So the focus is still on indoor activities over here. Work has been busy, so I have been spending the free time I have on making things, rather than blogging about making things.

My knitting has been fairly monotonous lately, because I am still working on a baby blanket for a friend. Unfortunately I thought I had until September, but the baby decided almost 32 weeks was plenty, and he was coming out NOW. So far he seems to be doing extremely well, and it’s too hot for blankets here anyway, but I need to get it done. One night when I needed to wind a new ball, I cheated with my Talavera, on which I managed to knit 3 rows and then rip back two, so that’s proceeding pretty much as usual.

I tend to be a very selfish knitter and knit only for myself, when it never matters how long the project takes, so sticking to one project till it’s done with a vague deadline in mind is…less fun than my normal knitting. I’m also wondering why I decided I would be all ambitious and knit the “throw” size, when “crib” or “stroller” would have been totally fine. It feels never-ending, and I’m afraid I won’t have enough yarn, but I’m almost halfway done and the only way out is through.

However, while I feel guilty knitting something besides this blanket, somehow other crafts don’t seem to count, because I’ve been spending chunks of the last few weekends sewing. I made a pair of pajama pants in a print I absolutely love:

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Amusingly, if you look at it from far enough away, it looks like the print is actually dark purple alien heads with golden eyes – which I like just as well.

I’ve also cut out the pieces for a skirt in the white fabric below (the bicycles are the right way up on the skirt, I promise):

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It’s really intended as more of a wearable muslin/practice at making a skirt, than as something I would wear regularly; I bought the fabric because I thought it was adorable, and thought I would make another pair of pajama pants (I love pajama pants), but then decided I might as well play around with it.

This weekend I wasn’t feeling focused enough to work more on the skirt, though, so I made what has got to be the jankiest project bag ever:

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It’s a cheap remnant from Jo-Ann Fabrics, I didn’t measure very carefully so I don’t think there are any straight lines/angles, and my seams are terrible, but it’s actually very functional. The baby blanket has got too big for all my other project bags; I also get weird about textures, and the feeling of the soft-but-woolly wool scraping against the cheap cotton I’d used for my other project bags has been sending shivers down my spine. (I can’t bear the feeling of toilet paper or paper towel rolls rubbing against each other, either – it’s like nails on a chalkboard; does anyone else get this feeling?) So I lined this with a polyester lining fabric, and it’s SO much nicer to put the project away/take it out again. The slipperiness of the polyester is a big factor in all the wonkiness, since it slides around so badly, and the edges frayed so quickly, that keeping a consistent seam allowance was beyond my current skills. But again, good practice, since now I want to put a smooth lining in all my project bags.

I have some other, more focused posts I’d like to write, but when I have the free time knitting or sewing always seem to win out. So I guess I’ll get to those later, and end here for now, with a couple of pictures from early morning and twilight in the desert.

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Cabin fever 

Is that what you call it when it’s too hot to go outside?

I associate it with stories of frontier families snowed in for winter, where, when spring comes, neighbors wander by the cabin to find the family went mad from forced proximity and bludgeoned each other to death. (Or ate each other. I’m not so good on frontier history. I grew up in the land of the pilgrims and the Revolutionary War, after which, we were informed, some other things apparently happened in other, less important parts of the country).

But it seems a pretty good term for what happens when stepping outside feels like walking into an oven, where the heat feels like something alive but not sentient, simply a force to be endured. It’s the time of year when you walk out of the house at night and think, well, that feels better, then realize that it’s still 96 degrees.

It’s also the time of year when the creepy crawlies outside start to get fed up with the heat, too. We apparently have some kind of haven for spiders above our bathroom ceiling; last year around this time, we’d walk in and turn on the light and find a dozen baby spiders on the bathroom ceiling; this year, we discovered that was very much seasonal. Baby spiders here aren’t all that small, so all I can say is thank god the husband is willing to do spider duty.

But the spiders aren’t so bad. Mostly I miss being out in the sunshine and fresh air, going for walks and looking at the plants and animals in the arroyo. (It might be cool enough to walk at 5:30-6:00 in the morning, but let’s not get crazy here.)

In the meantime, have a picture of some oleanders, taken between my door and mailbox as the sun went down.

Relativity

My husband is from Canada, and one of the suprisingly many cultural differences between us that we discovered early in our marriage is how we evaluate skating skills.

I grew up in the northeast, and we had a pond in my backyard that froze every winter, so I grew up skating a number of times each year. I don’t think I ever took lessons, but I could get where I wanted on skates, and be confident that I wouldn’t fall over or crash into anything, so I figured I was a fairly decent skater.

My husband, on the other hand, considered himself a poor skater because he couldn’t do back crossovers.

I sometimes think knitters and non-knitters are like this about evaluating knitting skills: non-knitters are amazed that knitters can produce fabric out of string, while knitters aver that they’re not really that advanced because they struggle with purling five stitches together.

When I started knitting with purpose (rather than putzing around as I did when I was a kid), my first project was a hand puppet from a kit. My second project was also a kit – because I didn’t know how to choose my own yarn, needles, and pattern; a kit was so much simpler – and it was a beginner’s sock kit. Hey, I was a beginner – perfect.

This was back before Ravelry and easy access to patterns, and the instructions came in a little stapled xeroxed booklet. They were also excellent (I wish I still had them) and I followed them carefully, and created a perfectly good sock. I had no concept of gauge, so it was more like a really big house slipper, and I never made the second, because I think I knew I’d never wear these really big house slippers, but it was an honest to god sock.

At some point after this I went to the yarn shop where I bought the yarn for this scarf. The very nice lady there asked if she could help me, and I explained that I was looking for a beginner project. She asked what else I’d done, and I told her I’d knitted a sock.

She looked at me kind of funny. A sock? An actual sock?

Yes.

Continued side-eye (in the nicest possible way).

So maybe that wasn’t a typical beginning project?

The thing is, I absolutely was a beginner – I had no idea what I was doing. I could read and follow instructions, and I did, but I didn’t know why I was supposed to do anything the pattern said, and I didn’t have actual skills.

That was almost eight years ago now, yet I’m still not sure how to evaluate my knitting skills. On the one hand, sweaters require quite a few different knitting techniques, so I’ve learned some more techniques. On the other, a lot of sweaters just aren’t really that hard (especially the ones that I make, which tend to involve miles of stockinette). Lace – now, lace is hard. I knit lace at a pace of knit one, frog back two. I negative knit lace. (We won’t even talk about color work.) Yet I’ve seen people online who knit the most beautiful, complicated lace say they’re “not ready” to knit a sweater.

Of course, it doesn’t matter how good or bad I am at any of this – I enjoy it and that’s what’s important. But when I see patterns labeled things like “beginner,” “intermediate,” or “advanced,” I have to admit I’m never really sure whether they’re Americans talking about skating or Canadians talking about skating.

IMG_0213Okay, this lace wasn’t very hard. But it’s a big yarn, in a swatch, where I didn’t have to worry about shaping anything at the same time or even keeping track for very long. It’s the turtle tracks lace found in Veronique Avery’s pattern Helene for Quince and Co.

Why I am bad at lace

I don’t know, actually. I like to think I have some reasonable knitting skills by now, but I’m terrible at lace.

I’ve cast on the Talavera sweater from the summer 2015 Pom Pom Quarterly – see?

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The yarn is Malabrigo Silkpaca Lace, held double, in the Zarzamora colorway. Not really sure at all what gauge I’m getting because this is a spur-of-the-moment, “I’ve had this yarn for ages and haven’t done anything with it and let’s see what happens” project, not a “I have a serious plan and have bought yarn with a purpose and seriously intend to have finished product X that actually looks like finished product X AND looks good on me” project. Am just really curious about how this might turn out.

And it’s absolutely not hard lace. It’s got yarnovers and some slipping and knitting two together and whatnot, but it’s not complicated. There’s nothing about any of the stitches that is hard.

And yet I keep ending up short stitches at the end of the row.

Usually it seems to be a yarnover that I missed the row before. At least once I managed to drop down a row and add it back in, correctly. At least once I’ve dropped down a row and added something back in, not at all correctly. Twice I ended up short one knit stitch, and I just cast on one extra and called it good. (When I did that twice on the same row of the pattern, I started to wonder, just a little, if maybe the pattern was actually wrong…and then I tried to work out the math of YOs and added stitches, and then I realized that I can’t math and the pattern was completely fine and that I had screwed something up somewhere along the line.)

I think this is getting better – I’m on the fourth repeat of the pattern, and I’m starting to be able to read the lace. I have figured out for some rows that certain things are supposed to happen in certain places and if they don’t I need to go back and figure out what I did wrong STAT. I think my problem is with the YOs that outline all the pretty little stockinette triangles – they’re not all quite the same YO done at the same time and I can’t keep them straight yet.

But it’s humbling. A sad amount of time spent on this project so far has been spent tinking back – because, of course, I haven’t been using lifelines, because the lace isn’t hard! The pattern is super straightforward! ARGH. (But honestly, I hate lifelines. They’re super practical and functional, but I hate threading them and I hate poking the needles back into the lifeline’s tiny loops. I may have to start using them anyway.)

I think I have to face the fact that what I’m actually reasonably skilled at is not knitting, writ large, but just fixing mistakes in the acres of stockinette to which I usually devote myself.

And also that there will be some wonky bits in the bottom of this sweater. But they’ll block right out, right?

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