August in the desert

August in the desert is not the most pleasant of months. We had a visiting dignitary at work earlier this week, and in the introduction, my boss said, “And it’s a true sign of her dedication that she’s come down here to see us in August.” But on a different day last week, I walked out of work to see these clouds:

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It was still fairly muggy, but the temperature had dropped below 90 degrees for the first time in yonks, and I’d been cooped up inside for days, so I went for a walk.

It’s interesting to see little bits of greenery pop up wherever water can collect:

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I also really liked how these trees looked like an elderly lady’s crossed knees.IMG_0987

It seems that the acacia trees are over for the summer, and have been for a while, but you still seem to find tiny yellow flowers scattered in nooks and crevices.IMG_1004

The prickly pear have all fruited, and the tunas (as they’re called in Spanish) are this amazing burnished burgundy, to which my iPhone doesn’t really do justice. I’ve seen people harvesting the fruits recently, too – people make a lovely jelly from them. (You can also eat the pads of the cactus, or nopales, although the one below looks a little unappetizing. I ate prickly pear fries in the northern part of the state around New Year’s, and they were tasty, mildly sweet and a little juicy.)IMG_1035

You have to respect people who are willing to brave the spines, tiny and big, to make food from the prickly pear. Sometimes it feels like everything in the desert that might hold a little moisture is guarded by spikes, to keep away thirsty marauders.

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The clouds never turned into anything more threatening – by the end of my walk, the sun had come out, turning all the wildflowers-gone-to-seed and grasses into gold.
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Book Review: Elizabeth Doherty, Top Down: Reimagining Set-In Sleeve Design

So, I have a confession to make: I have never knitted a sweater with set-in sleeves.

But now that I’ve read Elizabeth Doherty’s new book, Top Down: Reimagining Set-In Sleeve Design, I may finally give it a try.

IMG_0874This new book, published with/by Quince & Co, is what I would call a kind a technique-pattern book hybrid. The primary purpose is to explain how you can knit set-in sleeves in top-down sweaters, at which it succeeds extremely well. The book walks you through the structure of a sleeve (and particularly the sleeve cap, the bit that fits the curve of your shoulder) and what different factors lead to different kinds of sleeve cap shapes. Doherty’s explanations are extremely clear, and she provides a basic formula for knitting set-in sleeves from the top down that can be applied to any/most patterns. The book also has useful instruction sections on things like how to fit a set-in sleeve sweater and how to modify a given pattern to get results you like with Doherty’s set-in sleeve method.

If you are like me, and not yet practiced enough at constructing your own sweaters to come up with your own pattern or change the armholes/sleeves on a pre-existing one, you will find it particularly helpful that Doherty has included six patterns using her technique, three cardigans and three pullovers. The patterns each involve mostly stockinette stitch, with textural touches at collar/cuffs/waist, or down the button bands or front of the cardigans. They’re classic, simple designs that would fit into many people’s wardrobes.

With regard to the designs, each one shares a lovely balance between a kind of spare simplicity and enough texture in the details to make the sweaters interesting. Personally, I particularly like that the Meris Cardigan uses a more geometric lace, because it lets people who are not perhaps into some of the more frilly or traditionally feminine lace designs have the fun of knitting lace (as well as get a little ventilation in our sweaters).

This simplicity’s also reflected in the fact that I think these are fairly beginner-friendly patterns.  For instance, the button band in the Meris Cardigan is an eyelet rib, creating buttonholes for you automatically. More experienced knitters could easily modify this to handle the button band however they like, with whatever size buttons they like, but when the goal is for you to learn how to make top-down short-row set-in sleeves, that you don’t have to learn how to make more complicated buttonholes if you don’t already know how makes sense to me. Another example of this is how Doherty creates the look of cables on the Copperplate Cardigan with a traveling rib stitch. Of course there are tons of knitters out there who can cable up a storm, but it’s nice that if you want to tackle top-down set-in sleeves but haven’t yet done cables, you don’t have to. And perhaps one of the most considerate aspects of the patterns is that they all include both written and charted instructions for any kind of stitch pattern.

This is also a physically beautiful book. The photographs and layout all share that simple, spare aesthetic that can be seen on Quince & Co’s website and their previous designs, and they do an excellent job of showing you the designs.

I like all the patterns, though I think perhaps my favorite is the Underwood pullover:IMG_0894

I am a sucker for a wide neck, and I think that the collar detail is particularly flattering for someone like me, who wants to draw attention to my shoulders. (We’ll ignore that that the patterned hem probably also draws attention to the hips, which I don’t want, because its geometry is so satisfying.)

I have plenty of WIPs (as you know), and even more plans for others, but I think I will have to find time this fall to cast on something from this book, and tackle a set-in sleeve for the first time.
Not that anyone would have any reason to send me something to review, but just to be clear, I bought this book myself, mostly because I’m a sucker for anything to do with sweater techniques. 

Oh dear

IMG_0879 I should probably begin by pointing out that my current career requires minimal math skills, and my previous career required minimal math skills. They’re both fields where when you do have to deal with numbers, you may well get it wrong the first time, and you may well then say something like “There’s a reason I went into field X, because I’m bad with numbers.”

Of course, knitting frequently requires at least minimal math skills. Like, it would be expected that you can look at the amount of yarn a pattern requires, and look at the amount of yarn in a single skein of the yarn you’re considering, and figure out how much of the latter you need for the former.

Or you could be me, and figure out halfway through your “baby” blanket that you have one skein left, you had originally bought five, each skein is 210 yards, and for some reason you thought that five skeins at 210 yards a skein would get you to the 1,950 yards the pattern requires.

Even though I knew I was knitting the largest size of this blanket (not “lovie,” not “stroller,” not “crib,” but “throw”), for some reason I was sure that five skeins would be enough and it would nonetheless end up a nice baby-sized thing.

In any case, late last night – after I had spent much of the day binge-watching Anthony Bourdain and speed-knitting – I finally, finally figured out my error. Since I’d had a baby-sized object in my head, and what I’d produced was pretty much that size, I had convinced myself I was nearly done (after all, I was using up the yarn!), and realizing I had basically a whole other baby blanket left to knit was…depressing.

I faced two choices: buy more yarn, keep knitting, and produce something very not baby-sized; or frog what I’d done, and start over with a more reasonable-sized project. It seemed really sad to consider frogging all. that. work, but I had pretty much the same amount of knitting in front of me either way. And buying more yarn was going to be expensive.

RIPPPPP.

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(Of course because I’d alternated skeins, ripping back got me into a huge tangle to begin with, so that was fun, too.)

I’ll admit, though, that I couldn’t face continuing on with the original pattern I’d chosen, the Harvest Moon Blanket. This has absolutely nothing to do with the pattern, which is perfectly clear (both in general and with regard to size and yarn requirements – apparently I just can’t read) and produces perfectly lovely results (I particularly liked the border texture). It’s more that after already knitting the equivalent of a whole baby blanket in that pattern, I couldn’t bear to do another one. (Not being a regular blanket knitter, I found those rows lonnng.)

So I’ve started over, with Tanis Lavallee’s Smooth Sailing. (Some day I am going to buy some of her gorgeous yarn, too.) The nice thing about this pattern is that the reverse side looks prettier than on the Harvest Moon Blanket, and I actually think that the stitch pattern works better for my yarn, which I’ve decided is a little too variegated for the Harvest Moon Blanket anyway. (So all that wasted work was for the best, right???)

IMG_0888It’s a good thing it won’t get cold here for – well, it doesn’t get truly cold here, but it won’t be chilly enough for a blanket for a while. Hopefully I can at least beat winter.

Monday? Tomorrow? WHAT.

So… it’s Sunday night already? How did that happen?

The weekend was a bit of a wash because I had a big work thing on Friday that simply wore. me. out., and I mostly spent the weekend recovering. It’s depressing that something super mentally taxing, where you’re constantly “on,” focusing intently, ends up making you feel like you’ve been run over by a semi truck, when you don’t actually burn any more calories than normal or gain any fitness, because you haven’t actually been doing anything physical.

(Though, embarrassingly, when I woke up Saturday my legs were a wee bit sore from standing much of Friday – embarrassing because it brought home exactly how much I normally sit each day. I would really love to get a standing desk contraption, but I’m fairly picky about how my computer is set up, and I can’t find one that would meet my requirements without spending ~$600. I’m sick of sitting all day, but not yet that sick of sitting all day.)

In any case, we went out to dinner on Friday night, where this lovely beacon of G&T finally awaited me (sorry for the repeat from Instagram):

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And then I slept and slept and slept.

Saturday I exercised, and got a manicure/pedicure, and listened to the thunder and torrential rains that descended while I was in the salon. Then I picked up tamales for our dinner, and took a quick picture of the monsoon running through our arroyo before heading in to devour tamale deliciousness:

IMG_0851When I was approaching our parking lot, Don Julio, one of the three local feral cats we feed, saw me from the side of the road, and followed me home. He and Daisy, another of the ferals, practically chased me to the front of our apartment, where their food sat in its dish, soaked and turned to mush. Don Julio’s head and chest were wet, but the rest of him was dry; Daisy looked pretty much completely dry, so they weathered the monsoon. (It is entirely characteristic that Daisy seems to have done so more effectively than Don Julio.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen them come so close to me before, but the rain must have driven all the lizards and mice into their hidey-holes, and they clearly really wanted dinner.

(The third feral, Stripey, is friendly, and was sitting in our apartment in absolute comfort throughout the whole storm.)

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Different day, but pretty much what Stripey usually looks like when he’s inside.

I did experience one crafting triumph this weekend, though, because after ripping back yet more rows of my Talavera sweater, I finally figured out how to read the lace! So while I still make mistakes – usually skipping a yarnover, or failing to knit into it on the next row – I can now go back and put in the yarnover after the fact, and get back on track, rather than having to tink back for yonks. (I can’t remember if I’ve said that I’m holding laceweight double for this sweater, but I am, and so tinking is just that little bit more annoying.)

And excitingly, I have just about reached the point in the pattern where I divide for the underarms, which will feel like real progress. I think, though, that I’m going to add a couple more repeats to make it a little bit longer (it’s going to stretch with blocking, I realize, but inevitably when knitting gets longer, it also gets narrower, which for me will be Entirely Unnecessary and Counterproductive, so I hope to avoid that. And while the styling in the magazine is lovely, I don’t wear fit-and-flare dresses like the model in the photo shoot, so will be looking for it to hit a bit lower on the torso).

We won’t talk about the baby blanket… (I need to wind another skein and just haven’t felt like it!).

It was a relaxing weekend. I could really use another one.

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I cannot get enough of the red-orange-yellow gradients you get in the flowers here.