Thursday, December 20, 2007

Handmade Christmas

I've wanting to write this post for awhile, but I was sidetracked by school, that bane of my knitting life. As of 11:42 this morning, however, the last paper was turned in, the last exam taken, and I never have to worry about medieval polyphony EVER again. Come Saturday, I'll be winging my way across the country with a suitcase full of yarn and dirty clothes. Hey, ho, let's go knit!

Anyway. The thing. The thing is, I love Christmas. I really do. I love snow and decorating the tree and making (and eating) about a thousand tons of Christmas candy. I love hanging our stockings in just the right order on the mantelpiece. Since coming to college, I've loved being at home with my family, who I miss so much and don't get to see nearly enough. I will admit that I like getting presents, but what I love most of all is GIVING presents. I love finding or making just the right thing and watching people's happy faces when they open their gifts. I really, really love that.

However. Much as I hate to admit it--there are a few things about Christmas that I hate. Well, just the one...I hate the "Christmas shopping season." How, I ask you, is the "Christmas spirit" in any way related to maxing out your credit cards and stressing out all the time? What, did baby Jesus tell you to go stand in line at Wal-Mart at 4 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving to buy a 40-inch TV? Honestly, I think it's a little disgusting.

Which is why, then, I've decided to do my own little boycott: I am not buying a single new gift this year. All of my gifts are either coming from Salvation Army (always a source for amusing and...unique gifts) or, more importantly, I'm making them.

This is important to me. For environmental reasons, for political and social reasons, and yes, let's face it, because I'm an unemployed student and while I don't have any money I do have a lot of yarn and beads and in about forty-eight hours I'll have access to my mother's sewing machine. (Is this related to how I don't shave my legs partly because I don't let society dictate what I do with my body and partly because I have fine, blond leg hair and I'm lazy? Hmmm.)

Anyway. Now that I've revealed myself as the fuzzy-legged tree-hugging hippie that I am, let's see how we're doing on this gift-making. (keep in mind that those pesky exams were getting in my way until this morning, so there'll be a lot more knitting going on in the next few days.

Our first exhibit: Urchin, for my mom, out of that accursed Manos from my last post. I really think it might be working out this time, though!

As always, I modified the pattern a little bit--I wasn't getting gauge, not by a long shot, and I didn't have bigger needles (plus it was about 1 a.m. when I cast on) so I just added some stitches in the middle of each wedge. I really like this pattern--it looked like a blob at first but it's really taking shape (I've knit about another two and a half wedges since this picture was taken).

And doesn't the manos look nice in garter stitch? I think this might finally be the pattern for this yarn! I'm a little worried I'll run out, but if that happens I have another skein of Manos in a purple color that'll go with this one. It'll be a design element. Yeah.

Next up: gloves for my aunt, from this hand-dyed yarn. Should be done, no problem.

My dad asked for a hat before I left home after Thanksgiving, and he was very specific: "No fancy cables or anything, and not too bright a color...and I want it pretty fine, a small yarn." So...fine-gauge stockinette. Thanks, Dad. I think he'll like this though:

(the yarn is really soft, for his bald little head)

Finally, a hat for my brother, which currently looks like this:

Yeah. Um. There's more:

Originally it was going to be sweater vests for my parents' twenty-fifth wedding anniversary (purple for her, green for him), which was last week, but I've come to my senses. It's actually going to be a swatch, some yarn, and a sweet card.

And actually, in some ways, that's better--I really think that for anything bigger than accesories, especially something like this that I want to be really good, it's good to have input from the recipient.

So. In the next four or five days, I need to finish one hat, make two more, finish that glove, and finish the cabled swatch. Hmmm. Excuse me.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Gift Knitting: Engage!

It's that time of year! My college marching band traditionally does a secret santa gift exchange, with three presents on three successive days. Check out my gifts for days 2 and 3:

I knew I'd find a use for that novelty yarn...

Gift #3 was the Ultra Alpaca scarf, which I did end up reblocking to get rid of the scallops. Evidently I'm more compulsive than I thought.

Oh, and remember that #$%^!! Manos hat, that I was so convinced would finally work?

On what planet, I ask you, would this possibly fit a normal human being? I mean, I know I have a gigantic head, but still. (also: note handknit sweater! whee!)

All right, you stupid yarn. This is your last chance. You're going to become Urchin or I'll know the reason why.

(On second thought, the cables didn't really show up that well anyway, so I suppose it's for the best).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Oh, the humility. Oh, the handknits.

It's 12:52 a.m. My paper is due in approximately 11 hours. I have 17 pages done, not counting the works cited page, and I still need a conclusion. I'm camped out in the library.

It's chilly in here, though. Brrr. What am I wearing? Why, my Iro hat and my hot pink cabled armwarmers, of course! (No picture of those; loosely based on these. And I do mean loosely).

I'll be back soon, once the paper is done. In the meantime, can I just point out the cosmic unfairness of final exams coming right during Christmas knitting season? Yeah. "Here you go, mother dearest, woman who carried me, gave birth to me (giant head and all), raised me, put up with my whining, cleaned up my messes, didn't kill me when I went through my "Spice Girls phase" when I was ten, fed me, did my laundry for eighteen years, and now pays for my college education all while flying me across the country several times year and shipping me boxes of yarn that I've left at home. What a wonderful job you've done raising me, and how I appreciate you. Merry Christmas. Here, have this circular needle with two rows of knitting on it, and my apologies."

Sigh. When I'm not whining, I like to imagine that I'm knitting this. Except not as sparkly.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Speaking of which...

(One final exam down, problem set half-done, so I'm allowing myself to indulge in a little blogging today)

Speaking of dying, look at this article in the new Knitty! It's fascinating--I knew some of it already, but it was so interesting. I didn't realize (although I guess I would have if I'd thought about it) that Kool-Aid, liquid food coloring, and paste dyes all use the same kinds of commerical food dye. How interesting. And the way different dyes are absorbed at different rates, and the question of mixing colors vs. overdying--it's so interesting.

And the stuff on color theory-again, I knew a lot of it, but it never even occurred to me to use complimentary colors to tone down the really bright colors I've been getting with food dyes (i.e. add a couple of drops of green to my red to make it a little murkier). Oh, I can't wait to try some of this out! I've always shied away from acid dyes because of the scary chemicals (plus I'm lazy...and cheap...big surprise), but knowing the range of results I can get just with food dyes is great.

Relating to the dying, though, a Cautionary Tale: when dying on the stovetop...make sure that the other burner that you're setting your plastic plate full of yarn on is OFF.

No joke.

(all that shiny stuff on the burner? Yeah. Molten plastic. Mmmm.)

(don't worry, though--no yarn was harmed in the melting of this plate).

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Aww, man.

Oooh! New Knitty! New Knitty new Knitty new Knitty!

...problem set, paper #1, paper #2, final exams fast approaching...sigh.

OK, I'll only look for a LITTLE bit. Just ONE pattern. Maybe two. Oh man, look at the cover. Is that kidsilk haze? And beads? Oh man. I've never knit lace before. Or with beads. But I WANT THAT. Ice Queen, it's called. How beautiful, and how warm it would be! (It's been really, really cold here lately, although no snow yet, cold enough to make me daydream knitting a balaclava. My nose is cold). Oh, and look at Three Tams! They remind me a lot of Fake Isle, except with Silk Garden instead of Kureyon.

OK, no more. Back to the problem set.


In the meantime, here's a progress report on the glove: getting there! I've tried it on a few times (OK, a lot) and I really like the way the fingers feel.

I do have a problem, though--it's looking kind of big. Here's a picture with my hand for contrast:

Now, keep in mind I have freakishly tiny hands, and since I don't yet know who these are for, I'm making the size medium. And when I put them on, the fingers are really only too long by about half an inch.

Still, though...I don't think I'll weave in the ends just yet.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Dyeing to Knit

Auuugh. Sorry about the pun.

Over Thanksgiving break, taking advantage of an empty house and an excess of free time, I embarked on more dying adventures. Last time, when I'd dyed the yarn for the Kool-Aid Sweater, it came out REALLY bright and colorful--this was fun, but I thought I'd aim for something a little more sedate this time. I settled on Lamb's Pride Worsted in "Misty Blue" for the cool colorway I wanted to try, and Bulky in Victorian Pink for the warm colorway.

Here's the yarn pre-dying:

Mmmm, can't get enough of that bulky single-ply.

I skeined the yarn using a piano-bench-turned-skein-winder:

For the cool colors I wanted to do, I knew that Kool-Aid wasn't going to cut it--even with a base color, the Kool-Aid blue and green are too neon and not saturated enough. I'd had good results with food coloring and vinegar before, so after some searching I found a box of food coloring (can't find a link, but you know those little tubes that look like dwarves and come in boxes of four? Yeah, those) that had pink, purple, blue, and green. Just what I wanted.

Since I wanted blue to be the predominant color, I came up with a color scheme that looked like this:

Next, I used a very very scientific method to determine how much dye to use: since I would be dying two blue sections and one each of purple and green, I poured all of the blue dye into a pyrex pitcher, mixed it with water, and then divided it into two jars. One of these jars went into the pot, mixed with more water and some vinegar (I actually did measure this, though I don't remember how much--I think 3/4 of a cup?)

I brought it to a boil and then added 1/4 of each of the two skeins I was dying (I'd sectioned them off into four parts earlier):

I cooked it until the water was clear (it was opaque when it started):

(seen here about halfway)

and then repeated the process with the other blue sections.

Then I repeated the process with the green dye, except since I was dying half as much yarn I only used half the bottle to begin with. I was concerned, though, when it still looked really clear, not dark and almost opaque like the blue solution, so I eventually dumped in the whole bottle (yes, I am very precise and scientific. Shut up) along with 3/4 cup of vinegar.

Right away I was concerned, though, when the yarn took up the dye MUCH faster than the blue had done, and when I took it out it wasn't nearly as saturated as the blue, despite having used the same amount of dye for half the amount of yarn. The color wasn't what I'd wanted either--it was much more olive-lime and less the emerald that I'd envisioned. Hmmm.

In the meantime, I dyed the purple portion (also using half the dye; this time it worked like I thought it would, just as saturated and rich as the blue) and then let it all cool.

(after it cooled I decided I still didn't like the green, so I overdyed it with some other green food coloring I stole from my mother's baking shelf. Much better).

For the bulky pink yarn, I used a selection of warm (Kool-Aid) colors, using a pyrex baking pan and the microwave. Evidently the vinegar fumes had gotten to me at this point, though, because I forgot to take a picture.

(I also somehow managed to to melt a plastic plate on the stove and drip molten plastic all down the cabinets, but let's not go into that, hmmm?)

At the end, I had some Kool-Aid still mixed up, so I dyed a few mini-skeins I had lying around.

And the end results...

Tah-dah! From left to right: food coloring on "Misty Blue" LPW; Kool-Aid on "Victorian Pink" LPB, and leftover Kool-Aid on some random wool scraps. One of them is Patons; the other, a mystery single-ply.

I really think this is my favorite yarn that I've dyed:

(reskeined so it looks like Real Handdyed Yarn)

I love it. I love it. I want to carry it around with me and show it to everyone I know. I'm kind of doing that already. I'm aware of how obnoxious that is. I can't stop.

and in its current incarnation:

(see how the fingers are striping? Isn't that cool?)

Christmas break, here we come! I'll try to keep the damage to the kitchen at a minimum this time.