Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dee's No-Twist Circular Cast-On

I knit in the round a lot—and I've twisted my cast-on a lot, too. That is, when I've cast on all the required stitches and go to join the two ends, I have accidentally let the stitches twist around the needle, even though I tried to check for that. It's really frustrating when I don't realize it until I knit a round or two. And of course, the more stitches in the cast-on, the more likely this is to happen.

A few months ago, a knitter named Dee posted her solution on the "Techniques" forum in Ravelry. I didn't see it until a few weeks ago, and I wish I had sooner! "Dee's No-Twist Circular Cast-On" is simply the best way I've heard of to prevent twisting your cast-on when you join to knit in the round. You can use it with any type of cast-on, as far as I know.

Here is a link to the original forum thread on Ravelry, where this technique is discussed at length. (If you're not a member of Ravelry, I think you'd have to join to see forums. But if you're interested in this topic, and you read blogs, and you're not a member of Ravelry... the mind boggles.)

Dee has also made a YouTube video:

Dee knitted up a strip of fabric to use, but somewhere in the thread someone suggested using a ribbon that has loops along the edge, and I latched onto that idea. There are limits to my DIY-ing. I only have so much knitting time. I'm lazy. Pick an excuse, any excuse.

I went to Jo-Ann Fabrics and found a wide, stretchy ribbon with loops AND gaps along the edges. The loops will accommodate needle sizes of perhaps U.S. 8 on down, but the gaps are stretchy and could go much bigger. It's a bright lime green that will contrast with just about any yarn I might knit.

I "hang" the ribbon either before or after the first stitch, and then every ten stitches (using it also to help me count!).
As Dee says, the fabric or ribbon must remain BEHIND the cast-on. Here you can see my cast-on stitches in front of the ribbon, with a loop of green every ten stitches.

I have way too much ribbon for this project, but that's OK—it just hangs down, no big deal. I figured too much would be better than not enough. I cast on over 600 stitches for a project once, and you never know when I might do it again!

I found out the hard way that even doing this, it's still possible to twist the stitches when I join them in the round. However, it's obvious right away. I didn't have to knit a whole round before I realized it. The whole width of the ribbon twisted up and forced me to face reality.

Here's another view of the same cast-on, in case it's helpful. Another thing about my ribbon is that one side is satiny and the other side is matte, so I can tell at a glance which side I'm looking at (and therefore, whether it SHOULD be in front or in back).

I won't be surprised if this technique starts showing up in knitting reference books—it's that handy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hugelkultur: next steps

Sticks, sticks, and more sticks. I finally had time and weather to start the next step in my little Hugelkultur bed.
First I dug up some leaf mould. This has been sitting behind my shed for two years... last year I put most of the shredded leaves directly on my growing beds.

This was harder to dig out than I had expected—roots had grown horizontally through it.

It's very very matted. It kind of just sits on top of the sticks. It rained later that day, but that didn't affect the appearance of it that I could see.
I tried breaking this up with my garden fork, but it's VERY matted. The weather between now and spring should do most of that for me.

No matter. There's a whole winter of snow coming.

The idea behind hugelkultur is to mimic what happens on a forest floor, to create a similar spongy, soft garden bed. When I first heard about it, it made all kinds of sense to me because the closer you can get to how God set things up, the better. Worms will come up out of the ground to work this over, and it's already full of beneficial microorganisms.

I did put SOME of last year's leaves to the side of the shed. Maybe I should have started with those! They would have filtered down between the sticks. Ah well--I finished off with the rest of the old old mould after these pictures were taken. Besides, I have lots of other beds I can use last year's leaves on.
Next, a surprise... There was a dead tree in the lot next door. A large limb broke off and was just lying there. They had piled other branches that fell next to the garage.

I asked if I could have them. The neighbor and her son were like, sure. Not only that, but the son pitched them over the fence into my yard for me. Woo hoo!

Alas, her landlord sent someone to take down the rest of the tree and I didn't get any more lumber from it. However, I used the large limb and branches to start a much longer Hugelkultur bed. Any new sticks from my maple and the neighborhood are going onto this pile now.

I placed a couple of pizza boxes on the ground underneath to block the grass, but it's so long, I need about three more pizza boxes.

Below is a photo of our cat Buster on the largest tree limb, for scale. He, of course, thinks I put it there just for him to sharpen his claws on.
I've started grabbing bags of leaves off the curb when people put them out for pickup. Our county requires people to put yard waste in these large doubled paper bags for composting. Yes, the county composts them—but what do they do with the compost? They spread it over the top of the landfill. wha???

I asked over at the All Things Plants website in the Hugelkultur forum if I should put compost on top now, or wait until spring. Now, they said--to prevent any of my leaf mould from blowing away. I haven't done that yet, but I will soon.

I have a lot of work ahead of me yet with this, but I'm looking forward to having these dedicated vegetable beds!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Next year's experiment: Hugelkultur

I first heard of Hugelkultur on the podcast A Way to Garden. The link takes you to that episode's shownotes, which also list the basic steps to creating a Hugelkultur bed. (I'm capitalizing the word because it's obviously German. This idea has apparently been around for hundreds of years.)

The basic idea is to create a new bed with sheet composting—except that your base layer is WOOD. Twigs, branches, even logs. Just like in a forest.

Here's a website with some terrific diagrams.

The flaw in the forest bed logic, of course, is that you don't go trying to grow vegetables in a forest—it's a different type of plants that flourish in forest undergrowth. Nevertheless, they talked about how the sticks foster pockets of air in the bed. Plus, my main problem with starting any raised beds was trying to fill them. That could get expensive fast, if I had to purchase the soil. Wood in the bottom means perhaps not having to come up with as much soil. It's sort of the same principle as putting rocks in the bottom of a planter—and also would serve the same purpose of helping drainage.

I had no worries about where to get the wood. I live in a neighborhood full of mature trees, including the maple in my back yard. They're always shedding at least twigs, and often larger pieces. As soon as I heard this podcast, I stopped putting the fallen maple bits on the curb for pickup. I just kept adding more in the old cracked trash can I keep for the purpose.

When Gardener's Supply Company put their basic Grow Beds on sale after the spring planting season was done, I ordered one 3'x6' kit. It has 10" high walls. I figured that would make it easier for me, plus my neighbors would be less likely to object if my pile of sticks were contained.

My yard is configured with a triangular bed in the SW corner, which gets the most sun, and 2-foot-wide beds all around the rest of the perimeter. (These were already in place when I moved in, and mostly filled with perennial flowers.) This new bed is my first step toward filling the sunny third of the yard with vegetable beds that START organic. (I'm having to regenerate the existing beds, which were addicted to chemicals before I moved in.)

I set up the raised bed a mower's width away from the perimeter bed to the south and the corner bed to the west. Underneath it I mowed very short and then laid out the boxes that the raised bed came in, to block the growth of grass and weeds. Then I dumped in my collected twigs and branches.

Oops... not quite enough.

But that was July. I still had plenty of time to collect more wood. I started watching for downed branches around the neighborhood while walking the dog. I chose the largest ones, since I could only use one hand to get them home. I got a real prize one day after a storm—a piece of tree LIMB over 5 feet long and about 6" thick.

As of today, I've pretty much got all the wood I need in there. I still continue to add anything that falls off the maple, plus anything I see during walks that's irresistible. But as soon as I get over the bronchitis I'm fighting right now, I'm on to the next step.

What'll that be? Leaf mould. Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Big Foot Knits--because socks aren't as simple as they sound

The more I read about the book Big Foot Knits by Andi Smith, the more I think I've GOT to get me a copy.

My feet are size 10 narrow. I didn't think at first that would qualify for this book, just going by the title.

But actually, this book is about customizing socks to your own unique feet. I've heard the author interviewed, and it sounds like she did a LOT of research regarding different shapes of feet and toes.

There are people out there who knit any old sock pattern that appeals to them and they fit just fine. But I've knit two pairs of socks (one for myself, and one for hubby), and crocheted one pair too, and they just DON'T fit.

OK, I'll grant you, the first two pairs I just blindly followed instructions. But the third pair, I tried really hard... and knit them toe-up so I could try them on along the way, and they SEEMED to fit when I was 3/4 of the way up the foot. But once I went to actually wear them, it turned out they were actually too big around. It was those darn narrow feet again.

I'm still thinking about it... We'll see if I have any crafting budget left after Stitches Midwest next weekend. ;-)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cardigans large and small—WIP Wednesday

Last night I cast on for the pattern Climbing Lace Cardigan, by Vanessa Ewing. (Side note: this pattern was recently translated into French. Do I have any Francophones reading my blog?) I'm knitting this cardigan for myself.
Here are the swatches I knit first: one in the lace pattern, and one in stockinette. I'm glad I swatched the lace pattern—it tripped me up a few times. Probably because rows 2 and 4 are identical, so I sometimes lost track.

I'll be using the techniques I learned from Amy Herzog in her Fit to Flatter class and her book Knit to Flatter to make sure it fits me properly. This includes adding waist shaping, since the original pattern doesn't have any—it goes straight from hip to shoulder. That's not how I'm shaped!

The yarn is Peace Fleece Sport DK, in the colorway Sheplova Mushroom. I bought this for a different sweater about three years ago, before I understood that it's nearly impossible to make DK weight yarn work in a pattern that calls for Aran weight.

It's wool and mohair, very crunchy and rustic. I love crunchy rustic yarns. The swatches are noticeably softer after washing, though I'm sure they'll never be as soft as merino. That's fine; I'll always be wearing a shirt under this cardigan.

Oh, and I'm knitting this as part of the Yarniacs Podcast Fall 2013 knitalong. I figure this is close enough to the color Pantone is calling Samba.

The small cardigan referenced in the title is for my nephew, who's currently 8 months old. The pattern is called L'illo and is available in the Fall 2008 issue of Knitty. (Click over and have a look at the pattern model! Isn't he a cutie? Of course, my nephew is cuter....)
This photo shows the back and half of the right front. I'm knitting the 12-month size and shooting to have it done for his first birthday in November.

The yarn is Takhi Cotton Classic Lite, 100% mercerized cotton in sport weight. My nephew (and his mom and dad) live in a suburb of Dallas, so he doesn't need tons of cold-weather gear, and I already knit him an acrylic cardigan before he was born.... it was supposed to be a newborn size, but apparently my yarn was too thick, so I told my sister to save it for next winter. I'm hoping a cotton cardigan will get more use.

I wish I had started it on wooden needles instead of aluminum. The combination of slick needles and slick yarn means I have to take it slow. But I can't change in the middle. It might affect my gauge, and then the pieces wouldn't fit together.

The back looks short, but that's because this sweater has saddle shoulders. I've never knit that kind of shoulder before, so it'll be interesting.
Here are links to my project pages on Ravelry: Li'l Cardi and Climbing Lace Cardigan. (I guess I should come up with my own name for it?)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Can knitting be an idol?

The Second Commandment, out of only ten: Do not worship idols.

It was the subject of a recent sermon at my church. The preacher acknowledged that actual idols that people literally bow down to are vanishingly rare in modern Western culture. And yet, humans still have this need to worship something. And we still have this tendency to drop our eyes from God to something we can actually see.

I certainly do, anyway. I didn't write for ten years, because writing had become my idol. And when I write that, I don't mean that I nobly and selflessly put it away from me and now I'm all righteous. I mean that I had my idol smashed before my eyes, revealed as the false hope it was, and all my desire to write evaporated.

But that's a story for another time. Because now I'm worried about knitting.

When I arrived at church a couple weeks ago, I realized I'd forgotten to bring my tithe—again. Now, if it were just a bill to be paid, I'd be ok, because there was one more Sunday in the month, I could catch up then. But it's not just a bill... or at least, it shouldn't be. It bothers me that in some ways it IS just another bill to me. It's not the act of worship it should be.

By contrast, I went to a fiber event the day before. I planned way ahead for that. I carefully hoarded my spending money, made sure to get my cash together, thought about what I'd shop for.

Follow the money. What's my priority?

OK, it's not a perfect comparison. Fiber events are rare for me; church is every week, there IS always next week. However, one of the criteria our preacher mentioned for identifying an idol was, "What do you always seem to find money for?" Hmm.

The jury's still out; I don't see most of the other criteria applying to fiber crafts in my life.

However, I do see signs that there may be people out there in the "fiber community" who DO put their crafts in the place of a deity in their lives.

No, they don't bow down before their yarn stashes. But how about acquiring more stash than you can possibly ever knit—and then continuing to purchase more?

Some other criteria from the sermon:
  • It is the source of our security.
  • It is the source of our identity.
  • What do you treasure? Dream about, dwell on?
I see people writing about yarncrafting as if it's their comfort and their solace and their ultimate. Like it's the cure for all social ills. Like only at a fiber-oriented event can they find true fellowship. Is this worship?

Maybe; not necessarily. There's nothing wrong with using knitting to relax after work. Crafts can be a creative outlet, and yarncrafts have the potential for something really useful as the end result.

The trick is that just because something is lovely and comforting and whatever other good qualities it may have, doesn't mean it can provide ultimate fulfillment.

The key statement in the sermon for me came, oddly, in the middle. This is what I want to take away and evaluate myself against whenever I seem to be getting too much into something:

Idols are usually good things that we have made god things.

Another way of thinking about it is, what do I look to for life? (I don't remember where I picked that up; possibly John Piper.)  What do I look to for fulfillment?

I just want to remember that He is the ultimate; anything else good in my life is a gift from Him.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

WIP Wednesday: Background Radiation

This week I'm going to show some love to a project that I keep forgetting about in the context of WIPs. It's like the background radiation of the universe: always there, humming along.

The pattern for this shawl, "Mie," was originally written in Danish and then translated into English. I'm surprised it's only got 47 projects on Ravelry... especially since it's free! My project page is here.
I bought the yarn at Stitches Midwest 2012, and started knitting it last October. This photo shows it a little past halfway done. It's a simple end-to-end garter stitch pattern with a ruffle formed by short rows. It takes about four rows to memorize the pattern. Therefore it's become my social and stoplight knitting. I barely have to look at it. I've also knit on it while reading.

It's so perfect for those situations, in fact, that I seriously wonder what will take its place when it's finished!

The yarn is Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light in the colorway Lowland, which doesn't appear to be available any more. It was actually a limited run of short skeins (which was stated up front and priced specially because of that). It was a case where I saw the color and said "Oh my," and made a wild guess how much I would need. I bought two skeins at first, then went back and bought a third skein, thinking that might be enough for a sweater.

Ha! nope. After I got home, I strained my Ravelry search skills to the limit trying to find ANYTHING within the yardage I'd purchased. I wanted to use as much of it as possible, but it seemed I'd bought exactly the wrong quantity.

And then I ran across Mie.

Although it's not written that way, it seemed to me I could weigh my yarn, knit increase rows until I'd used up half of it, and then knit decrease rows until I used it up. It might actually turn out incredibly long... but I have ahem a generous circumference, so that'll probably be fine.

So that is exactly what I'm doing.

The pattern IS written for striping two colors. Since Madelinetosh is notorious for color pooling, I decided to knit from all three balls in succession. I switched every time the pattern called for switching colors (which is every time you get back to the straight edge). I think this scatters the colors nicely.

My photo doesn't do justice to the colors... When it's finished, I hope to get some really nice photos. Closeups and all that.

I like a challenging knit as much as the next yarncrafter, but there's a lot to be said for the elegant simplicity of this pattern.