Friday, December 9, 2016

Let's put Santa Claus back in Christmas

Let me start off saying that I do not want to offend anyone.  I am a Christian and know the real meaning of Christmas and agree we need to keep Christ in Christmas (after all without Him it would must be “mas” and nobody would get that excited about “mas” – maybe if it was "muchomas".)

Having said that, I think we also need to put Santa Claus back in Christmas.

Let’s take a look at this St Nick guy.  Every year he goes around the world giving cheer and gifts to everyone.  He knows the name of every girl and boy.  He has them on a list and even knows if they are naughty or nice.  He sees them when they are sleeping.  He encourages everyone to be good for goodness sake.

It has been rumored that he leaves a lump of coal for children who were naughty but that has not been my experience.  Growing up there were several years where I would have to classify myself as naughty – but every Christmas morning, Santa had left me nice gifts.

In the military I was Santa Claus for the squadron Christmas parties for several years (probably because I fit the costume.)  I learned a lot about being Santa Claus.  My brother and my Father-in-law have also been Santa Claus.  My Father-in-law did it for several years professionally.  Talking to them about Santa made me realize they had many of the same experiences I had.  Putting on the suit gives you a responsibility.  You can feel it.  Suddenly you are not your self, you are this great person who loves all unconditionally.  You bring happiness to children of all ages.  My brother said he often went to rest homes where he would visit with the patrons passing out little gifts and just spending time with them.  Often tears would be shed on both sides.  Truly Santa Claus gives to children of all ages.

So why am I posting this in my knitting blog?  I got to thinking as I was out buying a gift card for a gift.  Santa doesn’t give out gift cards – he has a team of elves that work all year making toys for each individual.  He knows each child (the list again) and picks out something special for them.  I’m not knocking gift cards – often we give them to our adult children now and ask them to use them for their family’s Christmas – but we also give gifts. 

I have a spreadsheet with every child, their spouse, every grandchild and anyone else for whom I want to make a gift.  During the year I keep an eye out for that perfect gift for each of them.  Then I start knitting.  This is normally a year long project.  It seems about this time of year I vow to not start so much for next year – but I know I will.

Every person on my list will get a hand-knitted gift made especially for them.  It might just be a scrubby dishcloth or a warm hat – but they know hours were spent creating this gift for just them.

We are knitters.  With a couple sticks and some string we create joy.  We are Santa Claus.  We have lists of people who need our knitting.  We search patterns all year looking for that perfect thing for each person on the list (even if they were naughty.)

So, let’s do our part to put Santa Claus back in Christmas.

Monday, November 9, 2015

More Babies - More Blankets

More Babies – More Blankets

As my children get older they are presenting me with more and more grandchildren.  In 2013 and 2014 we had 4 new granddaughters, Cora, Carina, Esther and LaRue.  Of course any knitter knows baby girls mean lots of knitting.  Three weeks ago we got a new grandson, Calvin, and even though little boys don’t take as much knitting as little girls, there’s still the baby blanket. 
A few posts back (which sadly turns out to be a few years back) I posted about several of these baby blankets.  Well, these last 5 are different and interesting.  I’ve learned  a  few things.
  1. Cotton is awesome.  It may not be as pretty or knit up as nice as wool but for babies it can’t be beat.  We all know what babies do.  Everything they put in their mouth either comes right back up and out, or if they do keep it down, it still ends up coming back out – sometimes very unpleasantly.  A cotton baby blanket turns out to be a great baby rag.  You can use it to wipe up the mess and then throw it in the washer and clean the heck out of it.  
  2. Other patterns can be converted into a baby blanket.  I already talked about this using Grannies Favorite Dishcloth to just make a big square blanket, but for 2 of the last I’ve converted a different shape into a square baby blanket.  On the first I converted a triangular shawl into a square blanket – more on this to follow.  I also made one by just making a scarf much wider.
  3. The final thing I’ve learned is never make a baby blanket with fingering weight or lighter yarn.  As you will see from my examples, I haven’t learned this very well.

So here are my last 5 baby blankets in no particular order

Double Knit Play Mat

   My daughter in law found a cool pattern she wanted me to use.  It was very thick and was basically a fancy knit blanket which wasn’t reversible and a plain knit blanket sewn to the back side.  While considering that, I was interested in a scarf I saw on Ravelry, called Moonstone DK Scarf by Luch Neatby.  It was double knit and I wanted to try my hand at double knit.  Then I got the idea of making a thick baby blanket by just doing double knit.  I took the Moonstone pattern and modified it to be a blanket.  I’m very happy with the results but I have one warning, You have to knit every stitch twice – once on the front of the blanket and once on the back.  Also, you have to remember, every time you turn the project, the front and back color switch so you have to take a deep breath before every row and make sure you have the right colors in mind.  The great things about double knit is 1 - it's totally reversible and 2 - it's very thick making more of a mat than a blanket.  

Cotton Hexagon Blanket

Another daughter in law found a pattern with crocheted hexagons connected into a blanket.  Being an old math teacher, I liked the idea of connecting hexagons but was not about to give way to the dark side and start crocheting  so of course I decided to modify it and make a knit one.  I also don’t like the idea of seaming anything together, so I decided to knit the hexagons together as I made them.  You can look at my project page on Ravelry for more details but basically here’s what I did. 
Before I start, I was in a geometric phase in my knitting.  I had just knit a life size soccer ball by connecting hexagons and pentagons and done a couple hexagonal blankets so this seemed to follow naturally.  

The blanket is made by connecting 23 smaller hexagons together to form a square (when you add several partial hexagons to the sides).  Each side of each hexagon is 22 stitches so I did a provisional cast on of 22 x 6 = 132 stiches.  Then I knit these stitches in a circle, Now, every other round decrease 2 stitches (SSK, Ktog)  at each corner (there will be 6 of them since it’s a hexagon).  You keep working into the middle until there are only 6 stitches left, thread the yarn through the 6 and pull them tight.  That’s one.
Now, go back and cast on 5 x 22 = 110 stitches along with 22 stitches from one of  the sides of the previous hexagon.  That makes 132 stitches.  Knit this hexagon.  Now go back and cast on 4x22 = 88 stitches and knit them along with 22 stitches from the 1st hexagon and 22 stitches from the second.  

Keep doing this, adding new hexagons until you have what you want. 

If you look at the picture it doesn’t look like the yellow ones are hexagons, that’s because there is no border around the hexagon like there is with the white ones. 
I also had to figure out how to make the partial hexagons along the side.  Finally, I did a few rows of garter stitch around the whole thing and then did a picot bind off.  NOTE TO SELF – I HATE PICOT BIND OFF.  It’s like take 3 steps forward then 2 backwards all the way around (actually in this case, 5 steps forward - 3 steps back.

Cotton Polka Dot Blanket

 My 3rd daughter in law wanted something with polka dots.  I couldn’t find anything  I liked so ended up making my own.  Basically, it’s a big grey square with rows of large and small dots.  I used a random number generator to decide what color dot to put where because no matter how I tried, I always ended up with blotches of color when I tried to do it myself.

This was just simple intarsia (if those 2 words can be used together).  As you can see from the picture, that means lots of bobbins hanging and then at the end there was a million ends to weave in and since it’s cotton the ends are hard to hide but overall it turned out nice – She’s happy with it.

Rainbow Star Blanket

So, when I heard I was going to have a grandson, finally, I decided to make a Spiderman blanket.  I’d seen this one on Ravelry and was kind of excited to do it.  I got nearly completed with the Spiderman blanket when she announced that she wanted something that looked like the Revontuli –huivi/Northern Lights shawl by AnneM.  That’s a semi-curcular shawl made of 8 wedges.  They are each pointed at the edges created by adding one at the beginning and end of each wedge and decreasing 2 in the middle of each wedge.  You do this every other row, except every 6th row you don’t do the decreases which makes the circle grow.  Well, I knew from doing the spider man blanket that if you did 14 of these wedges you’d end up with a complete circle so I modified the pattern to be a complete circle.

 There are also rows of lace.  I was planning on using using 4 rows of white for the lace sections and alternating 3 different colors between the white rows.  (The colors my daughter-in-law selected).  Well, I didn’t know what I was doing because I ordered fingering.  I totally meant to order DK which is what I used for the Spiderman blanket.  When the order came in I was going to order new yarn when I came up with the idea to hold two strands together.  This would allow me to blend the colors.  I could do a few rows with 2 strands of color 1, then a few rows with color1 and 2 held together, then a few rows of 2 strands of color 2.  You can see from the picture the result – I like it.

Truly Truly

 A few years ago I saw a pattern that reached out and grabbed me.  As I say in my notes, this hasn’t happened with this force before or since.  I simply had to knit this shawl.  Believe me, my picture isn’t nearly as stunning as the one that grabbed me.  The pattern was Truly by Ann Kingstone.

After I finished the shawl, my daughter really liked it.  It also turned out, she was having a baby girl, so I got the idea of doing basically 2 shawls back to back.  The normal triangular shawl consists of a few stitch garter edge, then increase one stitch, knit the first half, increase a stitch, knit the middle stitch, increase a stitch , knit the 2nd half, increase a stitch, knit the garter edge.  Then turn around and knit the garter edges stitches and purl everything else.  Keep doing this row after row and you end up with an ever increasing triangle.
So, if you eliminate the garter edge, and do 4 panels instead of 2 you would knit all the way around.  Now continue, only you’ll stay on the right side, so just knit a round.    So Basically, increase, knit 1st panel, increase, k1, increase, knit 2nd panel, increase, k1, increase, knit 3rd panel, increase k1, increase, knit 4th panel, increase.  Now knit a round.

So, I did that, and was very happy with the results.  Don’t tell anyone, but truly-truly is probably my favorite of all the baby blankets I’ve done so far - the picture doesn't do it justice.  

And of course, no baby blanket is complete without a baby or 2.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Why We Knit

Why We Knit
            So I spend a crazy amount of time knitting.  If I go to the dentist – I take my knitting.  If I’m watching TV – I’m knitting.  When I go visit the grandkids – I take my knitting.  Basically, if I’m not working or sleeping – I’m knitting.  So one must ask the question – WHY?

            There are lots of reasons that come to mind.  I knit to relax.  I knit because I can.  I knit because I like it.  But what’s so relaxing about poking a needle through a loop of yarn, wrapping a new piece of yarn around the end and pulling it back through the loop – over and over and over.  I had to do this over 50,000 times for the last baby blanket I made.

            So why do we knit?  I love yarn and wool.  I like making things out of just a ball of string.  There’s a satisfaction that comes when you finish the last bind off and the project drops into your lap.  I love to see lace pop open when I block it.  Is that reason enough to spend countless hours knitting?

            I may find some really cool yarn that would be perfect for a pair of socks.  It may cost $20.  I could spend over 20 hours knitting this into a beautiful pair of knee high socks every bit as nice as something that would cost $2.99 at Walmart.  Go to ETSY and look at beautiful hand knit shawls selling for $80.   When you take away the price of the yarn this could not be more than $1 an hour.  So – we don’t knit for economy.  We don’t knit to provide clothing.  That could be accomplished much cheaper and easier at any box store.

            Do we knit for ourselves?  OK – we do.  When I go to meetings with knitters many of us wear our knitting.  I have made myself a sweater, a scarf, a pair of black socks and a pair of white socks.  That’s 4 items.  I’ve made hundreds of knitted items.  Many hundreds. 

            So, the simple answer must be we knit for others.  We knit for the joy of giving something that can’t be bought.  I once made 5 dolls at the same time for some of my granddaughters for Christmas.  They turned out beautiful so I took one to work to show off.  Several of the ladies there really liked them and asked what I would charge to make one for them.  I told them that the dolls took about 20 hours each and had about $10 worth of yarn, so at $10 an hour, I would be happy to make them one for $210.  Of course I make much more than $10 an hour, but I told them that for a co-worker, I would be willing to work for that price.  They looked at me like I was crazy.  But the worth of the dolls is much more than $210 to me.  Everytime I see one of my granddaughters drag her doll around I get a payment.  I have a foster daughter who was recently divorced.  Even though I never see her children, I hope my doll sitting on their bed makes them realize they are loved.

            I like to see baby blankets and toys worn out.  One of my granddaugters has drug her blanket through everything.  I’ve tried to patch it, but some of the areas are so thin there’s nothing to darn.  Still she takes it with her everywhere.  I’m constantly running a doll repair shop for worn out dolls and other knitted animals.

            I have a rocket scientist son-in-law.  He’s a bigger nerd than I am.  He’s a huge Dr Who fan so for Christmas I sent his family some scarfs.  They live far away so my daughter taped them opening our presents.  It was fun to see his eyes light up as each of his boys unwrapped a 2/3rds scale Dr Who scarf.  He was playing with the scarfs and telling the boys he would have to borrow one to take to work.  Then it was great to see him open his own package to discover I had made him a full sized one.  Later in the video they can all be seen running around playing with their toys.  The boys have their scarfs on and the 2 year old Kaitlyn has her little alpaca shawl draped over her head.  In the back is my Son in law with his scarf on.

            If you google charity knitting, or search for charity groups on ravelry you will be surprised at the number of different projects going on.  There’s a general group called Charity Knitters that has over 4000 members.  There are hundreds of other charity groups.  You want to make Afghans for Afghans – there’s a group.   I’ve participated in several.  My favorite is knitting blankets and burial clothing for premee babies that don’t make it.  I can’t imagine the sorrow that a parent must go through to go to the hospital just to loose a baby.  I love making beautiful lacy things that will do nothing but let some sad parent know that someone out there cares.  Another project is making leper bandages.  You take a small needle and some crochet cotton and knit bandages about 2 inches wide and 4 feet long.  Basically you’re just making an ace bandage.  I assume somewhere in a terrible place is a leper living in very sad conditions.  I can’t imagine how they feel to know that someone spent hours making a bandage for just them.

            I’m part of a knitting group here in the St Louis Area.  One of our members had a terrible house fire.  Her family got out but she has a little girl who was screaming because her “babies” were all burning in the fire.  Along with her children’s toys and things, all of her knitting was either burned or smoke damaged.  So for our next monthly meeting we decided to all donate some of our stashes and try and help rebuild her stash.  We also wanted to give something for her children.  I have one of my Annie dolls waiting for my own granddaughter but I won’t give it to her until this summer – so it was just sitting there.  I figured I could always make another one, so I threw the Annie doll in the pile.  At the next meeting we presented her with the knitting and tears were shed on both sides. 

            After she gave Annie to her little girl she could not be separated from it.  She takes it everywhere.  That night she slept with the doll.  Ever since the fire she has had nightmares of the fire and of her babies burning.  The next morning she told her mom that the doll took her nightmares away.  That is the best payment I have ever received for anything. 
Annie and her new home

            So, why do we knit – we knit to bring joy to the world.  Out of balls of string, we make happiness.  There’s no greater purpose.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Minding your P's & Q's

Minding your P Q’s

My mom always told me to mind my P’s and Q’s.  I didn’t know until many years later that this stood for “Please and Thank You’s” but I did know I should mind my P’s and Q’s.  For knitting, I've come up with a new rule, Mind your Projects and Queues. 

Today I want to address a serious problem that hits every knitter.  Next to managing your stash (which I don’t even want to talk about), managing your projects can be the biggest problem a knitter faces.  To keep things simple, a project is any item that has at least one stitch cast on and hasn’t been blocked and had all the ends woven in.  I believe these projects fall into 3 categories.

1.      The Frog Pond
2.      The Inactive Queue
3.      The Active Queue.

I’ll handle these in reverse order.

When I talk about my project queues, I’m not talking about items I plan on knitting.  This is what the Queue on Ravelry is all about.  You line projects up in the order you want to start them.  You find a new item you simply must knit and add it to your queue.  Every so often, you may even order your queue, but if you’re like me, you normally find something you just have to knit NOW and forget you even have a Ravelry Queue, and pull something out of the stash that is perfect for the project, and away you go.  Probably the only things in my Ravelry Queue that will ever see the light of my needles are the top couple items.  My current queue has 22 items.  I just looked through it and there’s not even a remote chance I’ll ever do 12 of them.  Of course I’ll never remove them because I like them.  Anyway, that’s not the queue’s I want to talk about.

I believe the first rule of knitting is: Knitting should be enjoyable.  Knitting is why women outlive men.  While men have all that energy pent up inside raising their blood pressure until they pop – women drain all that pressure through their fingers into the knitting needles.  If we’re knitting something we don’t want to knit – we’re not enjoying ourselves – we're breaking the number 1 rule.  If enjoying yourself is the 1st rule of knitting, the 2nd is:  There are no Knitting Police.  This has been said many times by greater knitters than me but it bears repeating – so I will, There are NO Knitting Police.  Just like there is no set way to hold your needles, there is no set way to manage your projects.  Some knitters can cast on a fair isle sweater on #2 needles with sock yarn and knit until it’s done.  Then they cast on a Dr Who Season 12 scarf and knit until it’s done. 

I am not one of those kinds of knitters – Hence, my project Queues.  I can normally knit about 1½ hours in one kind of knitting before I have to switch.  Normally this is about 2 episodes of Little House on the Prairie or 4 episodes of the Andy Griffith Show (assuming you are watching without commercials).  Normally, this comes down to about 1,600 stitches in straight knitting.   I'm I'm knitting something that is 100 rows across, I'll break it up into groups of 15 rows or so (or other obvious breaks around that size.)

My project queues are for items that are either being worked on regularly or are waiting on something like more yarn, or beads.  I normally have 5 or 6 projects that I am actively working on.  Normally they alternate from worsted to fingering to lace.  Simple mindless knitting will be followed by complicated lace which may be followed by small projects like dolls. 

To see my queue, you have to go into the unfinished storage room in my basement.  I nailed a board on the wall and stuck several hooks in it.  I just hang my various project bags on the hocks.  Then, I take one down, work it for an hour or so and then hang it back up and grab the next bag.  Below is a picture of my active queue.  The projects are:

1.      In the first canvas bag is a “Truly” shawl by Anne Kingstone.  It’s made with DK yarn and is mindless knitting (until I get to the last 15 rows which are lace – but still pretty simple)

2.      In the Bart Simpson bag is a “Truly” baby blanket (by the way, this is out of order, it should be in position 3.  Since the Truly shawl is a triangular shawl, if I knit it in the round, and repeat the pattern twice, I end up with a square blanket.  More on this in an upcoming blog.

3.      In the black sheep bag is my Ethereal Shawl by Lakshmi Juneja.  This is tedious lace work.  After about an hour on it, I am close to going blind (that ‘s why its position is actually #2 between the 2 worsted projects.)

4.      In the blue bag (hand made by my wife – thank you very much) is a lace Rose of England tablecloth by Marianne Kinzel.  It’s also tedious and now that I’m getting near the edge, 2 rows are about the most I can do at a time.  This is probably in danger of the frog pond when I get the supplies to do some of the projects in my inactive queue.

5.      Finally, the 5th bag which is also a canvas bag has my current doll project.  It’s a “Little Lisa” doll by Yvonne Boucher. 

I can’t over emphasize that there are no Knitting police and there are no Queue police.  If I feel like working on the baby blanket for 3 hours, I do.  If I get tired of the doll after just one arm (like I did last night) then that’s it.  If I feel like doing something out of order – I do.  The queue is for guidance only.  Often, if I’m near the end of a project I’ll just work until it’s done.  On the other hand, if it’s something with a million ends to weave in, I may go through the queue and skip it several times.  If I find that I’m dreading something each time it comes up – it’s shuffled off to the frog pond for a much deserved time-out.

 My Queues (excuse the mess)
My 2nd queue is my inactive queue.  These are projects that are on hold for some reason.  You can’t see them very well, but they are in the above picture on the far end.  Currently in my inactive queue are the following:

1.      The small black sheep bag has a Downton Alley Mystery KAL project.  I only get the clues once a week.  When I get the clue, I knit it, then back in the inactive queue it goes. (This little guy is in grave danger of the frog pond and eventual death by frogging)

2.      In the Red bag holds Charity work – currently booties.  I normally work on that on Sundays.

3.      The Purple diamond bag holds my Christmas stocking project by Marji LaFreniere.  It’s on hold for yarn.  This year I’m planning on making 23 of them so I better get the yarn soon.

4.      Finally the huge green bag is a Kiki Mariko Felted Rug by Kay Gardiner and Anne Shayne.  It’s also on hold waiting for yarn.

That brings me to my frog pond.

Technically the Frog Pond gets its name from items waiting to be frogged.  While this could certainly happen to any item in my frog pond, for the most part, these are just projects that have been set aside to do at a later time or for my children to worry about after Idie (which may happen to a lot more projects then I care to think about).  So it’s not really a frog pond, it’s a hibernation pond.  Right now, I have 3 projects there.  They are not in danger of being frogged – but that could change at any minute.  There’s a purple shawl made with crazy thin yarn.  I have nothing against the pattern or the yarn, but they don’t really go together.  I found I dreaded this thing every time it came up – hence it’s in the pond.  Also there’s a shawl made with fingering yarn that is all garter stitch and made in waves (little shell pieces one at a time).  I have nothing against this one, except there are so many shawls I’d rather be making that it got squeezed out of the active queues.  Finally there’s a huge baby blanket I started years ago when I had nothing else to do.  It’s made by holding 2 pieces of yarn together and using “grannies favorite dish cloth pattern” I just kept getting bigger and bigger.  It’s the definition of mindless knitting.  It’s not in danger of being frogged because the yarn isn’t worth it (I started it before I discovered wool).

I mentioned that knitting should be enjoyable.  If a project gets naughty and needs a time out – I throw it in the frog pond.  That’s not a death sentence.  On the other hand, I’m not one that has to finish something just because I started it.  You may feel it’s giving in to something if you quit, I think just the opposite.  If a project has been bad and deserves to be frogged, frogging it makes you the winner – not the quitter.  If you frog something, even something you’ve spent countless hours on, no policeman will show up at your door and take away your needles.  As a bonus, if it’s very nice yarn, you’ll get the pleasure of making something nice out of it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Social Knitting - Everybody's Doing It

Social Knitting – or Everybody's Doing It

When I decided to go public with my knitting, I thought it might be fun to seek out other knitters.  I was certain that there were quite a few and thought I could probably learn something from others.  I thought I could even find a knitting group.

My Local Yarn Shop (LYS), Knit & Caboodle, has a weekly knit-in so I thought I would try it out.  I went and there were 4 other ladies and another guy sitting around a table knitting.  They welcomed me, and asked me to return, and I did for a while.  One of the ladies said I should check into Ravelry (an online knitting community) so I did.

  Holy Cow!!

This year, Ravelry got their 2,000,000th member.  At any time, there are between 5,000 and 10,000 knitters online searching for patterns or talking about whatever.  I had no idea what I was getting into.  They have groups for everything you can imagine.  I have a Boston Terrier, so for fun, I did a search of groups who like to talk about Boston Terriers – There are 7 different groups.  I’m in one called Boston Terrier Owners and Lovers.  There are 588 members.  If you like a specific designer I’m sure there is a group where people discuss her designs.  For example, if you like the Rosemary Hill (Romi), there a group called Romi’s Studio with nearly 5,000 members.

On Ravelry I heard that Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (the Yarn Harlot) was coming to the St Louis area for a book signing.  I couldn’t believe it.  I entered the world of public knitting just in time to find out my hero was coming to town.  The book signing was held at a local church.  I decided to go.  Again, I was still very new to social knitting so I didn’t know what to expect.  Luckily, someone said to bring your knitting so I brought some.  (This was before I learned that you can and should take your knitting everywhere).

I got to the church early because I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get there.  I sat down and started knitting.  Pretty soon the church filled up – completely.  In fact, some people were standing in the back.  Everyone was knitting.  I was surprised at how friendly everyone was.  Everyone was checking out shawls and sweaters people were wearing.  People would ask you what you were knitting.  Nobody even thought it was strange that I, a man, was knitting (there were several of us.)  The program was late starting, but nobody cared – because we were all knitting.

The actual program was awesome.  At the end of the presentation she did a book signing.  There were several hundred people there and she was going to sign books for everyone.  She said an interesting thing up front.  She said that people should start the line from the front row and work backwards – but if anyone needed to leave early, they could just come up front of the line.  She said nobody would mind because we’re all knitters so we’re friendly.  She was right.  Nobody complained about the line.  Nobody complained about people that went up front and cut in.  I stood in line for over an hour and everyone was happy.  I learned an important lesson – Knitters are kind, friendly people.  Stephanie acted happy to talk to me.  I had a picture taken with her (sorry it’s fuzzy, blame the lady who took it.)  She did refuse my proposal of marriage but other than that it was great. 

Since that time, through Ravelry I have found other groups locally.  I believe every yarn shop has knit ins.  I know of many many knit-ins done at women’s homes or in rest homes or churches or where ever.  I’ve kind of settled into a group that meets here in St Louis.   We’re called the Gateway Knitters and have over 200 members.  We have monthly meetings with 30 or 40 women and an old man meeting together for a few hours to eat cookies, show off our projects, give each other knitting hints – and knit.

I have since also discovered a knitting group which meets monthly at our local library which I attend regularly.  I was there last night and was again impressed with how nice everyone is.  It’s more than just showing each other how to knit – it’s a place where someone can go without a friend and be immediately accepted.  One lady had just had her cat put down and was alone and new in the area.  One young woman was trying to learn and was knitting her first scarf.  Everyone is so helpful, supportive and friendly.

Of course, there are much more sophisticated knitting events.  Our little group had 2 retreats a year where we go to a local hotel for a long weekend.  There are other events that are much more exotic.  I just did a computer search for knitting cruises.  There’s one going to China in Mar 2013, the Panama Canal in April, and Alaska in July – and so forth.   There are mountain and/or beach retreats on both coasts.   You can go to a retreat in Vancouver where they just do sock knitting for a week.  These can cost thousands of dollars.

There are Knit-a-longs (KALs) where a group decides to knit the same pattern.  You can help each other over difficult parts, compare yarns, or just see how different people knit the same thing.  These groups can be in a small LYS knitting group, a designer’s forum, or a Ravelry group with hundreds of people knitting the same thing all around the world. 

One additional point I will make is that most knitters are obsessed with yarn shops.  For me, I’m content with on-line shopping; I use for nearly everything, so I don’t go to the LYS too often.  When I do, it’s in and out.  I’m not sure what the big deal is.  Other knitters talk about going to the LYS and spending all their time and money there.  I guess it’s a testosterone thing.  I may knit – but I don’t shop.

So, what I learned from going public is that there are lots and lots of knitters out there.  They are uncommonly kind people.  They love to knit and they love to talk about knitting.  They love to help.  What I really learned is that I am not alone.  Last weekend I visited my mother in law.  I knit while I’m there (surprise) and one of my sisters-in-law told me that she thought there might be a knitting group there in the area.  I just smiled and thought, “Yes, there probably is.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Death Shawl

The Death Shawl

OK, I really hesitate to tell this story because it may offend.  On the other hand, it’s Halloween, and everything in this story happened a long time ago – so What the heck. – here’s the true story of the Death Shawl.
I was in the military stationed in Virginia.  We decided to go visit family in Utah for Christmas.  My first wife’s grandmother was very sick and was not expected to live more than a few weeks so we especially wanted to get a chance to visit with her for one last visit.  I had been making a few shawls and decided it would be nice to make one for her grandma. 
The pattern was lacy, but this is before I discovered there was something besides acrylic worsted yarn from Michaels, so I made it out of some sparkly white acrylic yarn from the local big box store.  We were staying at my parent’s home in Provo.  I worked on it like mad for a couple days after we got to Utah so it would be done when we went to visit Grandma.  I finished it the night before we drove to her home in Ogden
Grandma was thrilled.  She cried (no surprise there my wife’s whole family has leaky tear ducts) and was so happy. 
She died a couple weeks later.  No surprise there.  We flew out for the funeral.  After it was over, Grandpa returned the shawl to me. 
A couple years later on a summer vacation to visit Utah again I gave the shawl to my mom.  A few weeks later my mom announced to my sister that she was going to take a nap on the couch for an hour or so before the football game.  She never woke up.  This was a complete surprise.  My mom was old and had a history of heart trouble, but had been fine for quite a while before this.  When we were dividing up my mom’s possessions, there was the shawl.  Of course, since I had made it, I again took it home.
On that visit we visited my first wife’s other grandmother.  She was in a rest home and would fade in and out of reality.  She asked why we were there in Utah and I told her that my mom had passed.  When I told her how mom had died, grandma teared up and said that was so beautiful.  Then she told us that she couldn’t die because she had a pace maker. 
Grandma lingered on for a few years, wishing she could pass on, fading in and out of reality.  She would stand by the micro wave because she had heard people with pace-makers shouldn't stand by macro waves.  She wanted the pace maker removed - but of course doctors won't do that.  She was convinced she couldn't die as long as she had the pace maker.

   Before our next visit to family in Utah, my mother-in-law told me it was time to give Grandma the “shawl.”  Of course that was a joke, but it did remind me that I had that basically unused shawl that Grandma would probably enjoy - so, I packed up the shawl and brought it to Grandma.  I was hesitant to do so because I have heard stories about how nice things owned by people in rest homes are stolen by the staff and that shawls especially find a way of disappearing, but the shawl was just sitting in a drawer not being used so I figured Grandma might as well enjoy it.  So, I brought it to her.
Two weeks later Grandma died!!!
To quote Goldfinger in James Bond, “Once is happenstance.  Twice is coincidence.  The third time it’s enemy action.”
            The shawl is now buried deep in my old knitting boxes.  I really should destroy it because I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to find it when I’m gone and decide it’s a pretty shawl.  On the other hand, it’s an old acrylic shawl.  I have lots of really nice ones that will be found first, so it will probably be thrown out anyway.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Baby Blanket from Heck

The Baby Blanket from Heck

In my original how-to-knit book, there was a nice baby bootie pattern.  I used it to make booties for several different people who had babies.  When I started having grandchildren, I decided to graduate to the next step – The Baby Blanket.  I currently have 13 grandchildren and have made 9 baby blankets.  I guess I should go back and make 4 for the older kids, but I’m not sure how much a 10 year old would enjoy a baby blanket. 
Simple block pattern
            Baby blankets are really just a big square.  You don’t have to worry about gauge because it really can’t be the wrong size – somewhere between 28 and 48 inches square – and square – or nearly square.
           You can do square blocks, stripes, solid, diagonal, or even entrelac.  I have done at least one of each.  It’s fun to compare my knitting skills progress from blanket to blanket. 
The quickest blanket that isn’t just straight garter stitch is probably the diagonal blanket.  You can find the pattern all over the web.  Normally it’s for a wash cloth or something else like that – but what’s a baby blanket but a big wash cloth.  The pattern is simple.  Basically you increase every row until it’s big enough, then you decrease every row.  You end up with a square.  Here’s the pattern:
Diagonal Baby Blanket (or wash cloth or whatever)
·       Cast on 5 stitches
·       Knit one row
·       Increase row:  K3, YO, K to end.
·       Repeat Increase row until blanket is half done.
·       Decrease row: K2, K2tog, yo, K2tog, K to end
·       Repeat Decrease row until there are 5 stitches remaining
·       Bind off

I had to do 2 blankets close together (my kids should learn to space their children out better.)  I made the first one using the diagonal pattern and two colors of yarn together.  For the baby girl, I used white and pink.  I went from several rows of two white yarns, to several rows of one white and one pink to several rows of two pink yarns – and then reverse.  It turned out pretty cool with diagonal strips blending from white to pink and back.  It was also very fast since I used large needles and a very simple pattern – nearly all in garter stitch.
Since the blanket was so easy – I decided to make another one using blue and white in the same way.
Dexter tries out all my knitting first
         I also tried an entrelac pattern for a baby blanket.  My daughter-in-law says she has been stopped by people on the street commenting on the blanket.  Entrelac looks hard, and is not.  If you haven’t tried it, do it.  A baby blanket is a great place to start because it uses large stitches and the gauge doesn’t matter.  Of course a huge drawback is that it is not at all reversible.  The right side is beautiful.  The wrong side looks like the wrong side.
So, my oldest granddaughter didn’t get a baby blanket (I hadn’t started making them when she was a baby.  I decided I should make her a “big girl” blanket.   She loves rainbows so I decided to make her a rainbow blanket.  I went back to the good old diagonal pattern.  My wife always gives me a bad time about my stash - so I threw about 40 different balls of yarn into a big bag.  Fingering, worsted, bulky - whatever.  Then I would randomly pull a ball out, knit a row, throw that ball into a different bag and grab another ball.  When I finished all 40 balls, I just start over.  I left the ends about 10 inches long on each end.  Then every row, I would tie the end with the end left from the previous row.  I used over 40 different yarns – all different sizes and materials, chunky next to fingerling.  When I got done, I trimmed the ends to about 6 inches.  Even though she’s now 8 – but she loves her rainbow blanket.  It was the best stash burner ever.  You know – you can never throw any yarn away longer than 3 feet.  You never know when you might need it.  In fact, I liked the idea so much I made a “rainbow” scarf for my newest daughter-in-law.  Figured she should know right off that she had a crazy knitting father-in-law.
Again with the dog
        I also made one blanket based on an afghan pattern I got for free.  It started with a large square.  Then you pick up the stitches along one side and knit for a while.  Then pick up the stitches along the side of the 2 pieces and knit for a while.  Keep going until you have a blanket – kind of like a log cabin blanket only you just keep building.  (I also made a Log Cabin blanket)
An important part of making a baby blanket is that it has to be reversible.  Babies tend to mess them up so if there’s not a “right” side, it helps.  The diagonal blanket is great for this because it’s all garter stitch which is the same on both sides.  With this in mind I saw a pattern for a reversible shawl.  I saw it on  It’s called Courtyard Drape  from Reversible Knits © 2009 by Iris Schreier.  It is multi-colored with white cables going across one side.  The cables are cleverly worked on one side only and don’t even show on the other side.  I saw it and immediately thought it would be a cool baby blanket with soft white cables going down one side.  The pattern said to use US size 5 needles – so I did.  I learned a valuable lesson - never use anything smaller than US size 8 on a baby blanket.  The above diagonal blankets I mentioned used double strand and US size 11 needles.  Anyway, the blanket turned out beautiful and it’s one of my favorite baby blankets – it’s not the “baby blanket from heck” but it did take a heck of a long time.
That brings me to the Baby Blanket from Heck.
I knit a set of hats for my granddaughters.  I picked up  a little pamphlet with 3 different hats.  One of them had a cute pattern going around brim with a star stitch design.  Basically it’s knit the RS and on the WS  P3Tog leaving the triplet on the left needle, do a YO, then P3Tog through the same 3 forming a star.  Then Purl one stitch and do it again.  Repeat.  That makes a 2 row pattern of stars.  If you switch colors and on the next WS row you Purl 2 before you start the first star, you’ll build another row of stars that fit nicely down between the stars in the previous row.  Very simple.  Very fast.
           The “stars” turn out to be nice little squares and I noticed they formed a square diagonally as well as up and down.  This gave me the bright idea – make a variation of the diagonal blanket I described above only instead of using simple garter stitch, use this star stitch.
It worked beautifully.  I did one pattern in pink, 2 in white, one in yellow, 2 in white and so on. It looked great.  I got to the halfway point and noticed that the blanket didn’t look too square.  Well, one thing I’ve learned from many knitters – we are stubborn.  I mean, we can see a sweater is big enough to fit a hippo and still press on thinking it will block alright.  So, I ignored what looked like a catastrophe and pushed on.  Near the end, it was clear I was crazy, but I kept on.  Finally, I got to the last row of just 5 stitches and bound off.  Now, I put it out on the floor and had to face the reality that I had just knit an abomination.  It looked like a kite.
So, I was a Jr High math teacher, I told myself I could figure out what happened.  Let’s look at the anatomy of the diagonal blanket.  Garter stitch has the wonderful property of having 1 stitch be almost the same length as 2 rows.  Because of this, if you add one stitch at each end for every 2 rows, you are building a nearly perfect right isosceles triangle with the active row being the hypotenuse.  If I lost you, just trust me, it works great.  Now the star stitch is close to the same measurement as stockinette.  2 stitches = about 1 1/3 rows.  Again, if I lost you that means, it won’t work.
After figuring out what went wrong and messing with the math, I figured out that if I added 2 stitches every other row on the increase rows and decreased 2 stitches every other row on the decrease rows it would work.  I frogged the whole dang thing.  I rolled each color onto its own ball and then reknit the blanket using the pieces I rolled together.  It turned out the pieces were close to the same size (in fact I required a little less which meant I didn’t need to use other yarn.  When I finished I have a beautiful blanket that had to be completely knit 2 times.  I plan on publishing the pattern if I ever get around to it.