Monday, December 30, 2013

I Double Dog Dare Ya: The Khajiit Cowl

I have to admit: 90% of all the knitting I've done since June has been, well, less than a challenge for me. Easy-peasy stuff. The old knitting mojo was at a low point, and we were traveling a goodish bit, which always puts a kink in my knitting time. That, and I just can't focus as well on the run as I do from the comfort of my well-broken-in knitting chair.  Excuses, excuses. Such a wuss, right?

That is all gonna change. Today.

I would still be a lazy knitter if left to my own devices. But while visiting us at Christmas, our middle daughter announced a trip she is planning to Prague, Moscow, and Altay, Kazakhstan in MARCH. This March. I am thrilled she is taking such a neat and interesting expedition, but in MARCH? I love that she's planning some of her trekking on the Trans Siberian Railroad, staying in hostels, hiking rural areas generally off the beaten path. Seriously proud of her, actually. 

I can't help that the mom thing kicked in, my adrenalin soaring through the roof as my brain buzzed "MUST knit something WARM ... must knit something SERIOUSLY warm .... RIGHT NOW".  Looking at the Altay weather archives for March 2013, the high for the month was 38 degrees Farenheit, the low -12!!! Most of the time, the mercury hovered in the low teens and twenties. Moscow was just as daunting: It never went above 40 degrees for the month of March. Most of March averaged consistently in the low twenties. And Prague? Warmest high temp was 40, lowest was 19. Mainly low 20s and 30s throughout. Brrrrrrrr.

Not comforting to a mom.  At. All.

I casually mention that I'd be happy to knit her a hat or whatever she wants for her trip. And I also open up the Ravelry pattern tab, type hats into the search box, tick off the aran and bulky weight yarn tabs, with stranded colorwork thrown in as an option for good measure. All the while my brain is screaming "IT HAS TO BE  WAAAAAAARM." But I am calm and impassive. Nothing makes a kid balk faster than knowing mom is trying to be protective. 

She already had some ideas. 
One was a hat much like Botticelli's A Boy
"A round, flat topped, straight sided, squat, felted hat, in navy blue, oh, and with earflaps" was her idea of a perfect hat. Could I do that? 

Well, sure. 

She paused, took a good look at me, mentally measuring my demeanor. "Or, how about a hood of some kind?"

All those well-below freezing temperatures were dancing before me, taunting. A hood could be pulled up securely over the head, or bunched up around the neck, or pulled down around the torso, used as a shield against the wind and blowing snow, bundling my dear daughter in woolly coziness. 

Now yer talkin. 

She searched the patterns database for hoods. Most of them were fairly decorative things; lacey, even. I felt slightly ill. Then the Khajiit Cowl popped up, and my daughter immediately said "I REALLY like this one."  

I peeked over: Bulky yarn, cables galore, could be pulled down over the body like a capelet, with a deep, short-row shaped hood to stay put on the head, knit in a stiff, wind rebuffing gauge. Its slightly Renaissance-y, monk-ish feel  satisfied her penchant for something along those design lines. 

I felt some measure of relief. She wanted a "warm neutral color". The designer designated Cascade Ecological Wool. After an extensive internet search looking for options with a smidgeon of alpaca or cashmere in them and finding nothing suitable, she went with the color Mocha (8085) in the Ecological Wool. I pressed send on the order button, and sat back to await its arrival. 

The fat envelope with two hanks arrived today along with another envelope bearing an order of Hiya Hiya circular needles. My lazy days of mindless knitting are over. Kaput. We are now in serious warmth mode, serious cable mode, serious short-row mode. This could be my biggest challenge ever. I'll definitely be on a huge learning curve with those pesky short rows incorporated into complicated cables. 

For anyone else contemplating this pattern, I suggest you take a good, long look at the KAL posts on Ravelry. There are definite hurdles, and the designer did not have the cowl test knit before releasing the pattern. There have been several revisions since the relatively recent release, and all of the KAL participants have found the short row directions somewhat inscrutable to the point where folks have drawn their own maps for that elegant curve at the back of the hood. The cowl is so lovely, though, that the extra preliminary sleuthing is worth the effort, as is knitting a gauge swatch of Chart B, as suggested. Before knitting a single stitch, my pattern is already a labyrinth of notes, numbers, color-coding and cross references. 

Time to get a move on. All those frigid temperatures in Prague, Moscow and Altay will keep me knitting. And knitting. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Succumbing to The Madness

It's official: I am certified. And I now belong to a group who are all equally as nuts. The Sock Madness Forever group on Ravelry are sock aficionados who, for the last seven years, have competitively knit socks beginning in March, at the time of the NCAA college basketball championship games. It's always seemed that the elimination events were interminable, and finally some knitters said enough was enough: 'Bout time we had our own March Madness. So Sock Madness was born. It's evolved and grown over seven years, moving from a webpage and a yahoo group to the present day group home on Ravelry.

The premise is simple: Knit socks as fast as you can. And knit them exactly as they are written from a pattern that is emailed to registered participants, who then almost instantaneously begin to knit them up.

Seven different pairs of them.

Not all at once, but progressing in difficulty with each pair. Each participant is placed on a Team with knitters of roughly equivalent skill and tempo. The number of slots on a Team is significantly fewer than the number of participants on a Team, so time is of the essence. The first to finish move on to the next round. The slowpokes then cheer from the sidelines. 

Knitters are eliminated each round as others on the team finish ahead of them  for the coveted spots. There are several fewer spots each round than there are knitters remaining on the Team, so the pressure gets a little intense. And there are SEVEN rounds. And every round gets harder. And you have to work faster. And there are fewer spots on each Team as you progress. This goes on until the last round, Round Seven, when only one representative from each team remains to knit the mother-of-all-sock patterns. A real lulu. The best of the best knit a crazily impossible (well, almost) pattern. Only one knitter emerges victorious, and that is the Sock Madness winner of the year. 

If you thought the NCAA tournament is long, then you have a big shock: Sock Madness runs from early March to June. So yes, Sock Madness participants truly are Mad. 
The evil geniuses behind the friendly competition are Julie Sprague and Tricia Weatherston, who organize the event each year, fielding sock designs and prizes from donors for the next Madness from around the globe. They knit pretty much nonstop in an effort to determine their degree of difficulty. From the legions of hopeful designers, nine are chosen: a Pre-Madness sock, seven competition socks, and an Optional Round sock. Julie and Tricia are tireless promoters, cheerleaders, counselors, tricksters, hand-holders, fairy godmothers, and magicians. 

Prizes are distributed throughout the competition: They're awarded for everything from taking an unusual photo of finished socks, to making interesting modifications to optional round socks, to suggesting names for the Teams, to posting helpful techniques info, to soothing knitters who experience broken needles, to guessing the total number of pairs of socks that will be completed during Sock Madness, to  .... well, it goes on and on. Participants can receive a prize for anything the organizers have a whim to award one for. 

This year is the first year I've participated, and I am proud to say that I made it all the way to Round Five before being eliminated. That's a couple of rounds further than I ever dreamed I'd be able to accomplish. At first I wondered if I were even 'competitive knitting material'. But the Madness is so friendly, the participants so eager to help each other that it became apparent that all of us were winners, no matter how far we were able to progress. Our sock knitting chops are stretched to the limit and beyond. Everyone, it seems, experiences something that is new to them or learns a new technique. These are my socks from the madness this year. All of them are destined to be gifts, and I am happy to call this bunch of international sock knitting maniacs friends. 

and the optional round sock, which I haven't had time to complete yet:

While I wait for Sock Madness 8 in 2014, I'll happily knit away on the socks that I was unable to complete during the competition. I'll need all the rest I can get until then, when the non-stop Madness continues.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Looking Back on 2012, Ahead to 2013

Steph's Hurricane 
Camino de Santiago de
Miss Margaret Dashwood 
Not one for resolutions, it's still interesting to review the year gone by and think about the one before us.
Let's see.
I knit 12 pairs of socks in 2012, 5 of which I designed myself.
2 shawls -- from the same pattern, a rare thing in itself.
1 hat for charity

I started 4 sweaters, frogged 3 of them, and am almost finished with the one that stuck. The lucky winner is Hiro, and it's one of the best written sweater patterns ever. I mean it. Julia Farwell-Clay has clearly knit enough sweaters to design hers to avoid just about every common pitfall a handknit sweater can befall: The bottom edge is hemmed in a very elegant way, the yolk decreases are ingeniously hidden in the stranded colorwork, and short rows near the neck make the sweater hang properly when worn. The button band could only have been thought of by someone who has knit way too many cardigans where the fronts sag and bag -- the slightly smaller gauge of Hiro's buttonband really makes all the difference in the perfect fall of the sweater fronts. I could go on and on ... and have been for over a month now. But I digress. Here's a progress picture right after I began the third color, which was some weeks ago. Though it's not complete, it nearly is: One button band left to knit and attach, sew the underarms, knit the neck ribbing, sew on the buttons and she's done. Well, it needs a good blocking, but you get the gist.

ANYWAY, where was I? Oh. Recapping 2012.
What else did I knit? Two things I swore I would never ever knit: a dishtowel and dishcloth. They were NOT for me, but for daughter Julia's lifelong pal and partner in crime Katie, who was regaled at a bridal shower early last spring. So I caved and knit a purple and taupe dishtowel and a purple dishcloth, since Katie loves all things purple. She had the purpliest wedding on record, I think. So now that that is out of the way, I will never knit another of either of these items. For some unknown reason, the idea of knitted dishcloths just makes my skin crawl. It just seems a perfect waste of time. I know there are legions of dishcloth knitters out there, but my name will never be on that list. Just as there are legions of knitters who think handknit socks are ridiculous -- I love handknit socks. To wear them once is to be enslaved by the sock siren forever. Socks are my go-to comfort knitting. There's always socks on the needles, regardless of whatever else is going on.

Now, for the look ahead in 2013.
I set a goal of knitting 13 pairs of socks in 2013. I see a trend developing for me: adding a pair a year to match the year. Any why not? I hope to design at least half of these. Gotta plump up the ranks of toe-up patterns, yanno.

I see two more sweaters in the near future: the Antler Cardigan and a toasty pullover, Mork. I have enough Ultra Alpaca in both Flannery Red and Cerulean Blue with which to knit Mork. Tough call, but I have a whole year ahead. It's another Julia Farwell-Clay design, and has set in sleeves and a cabled upper body.
Antler Cardigan, a Tin Can Knits design, is another circular yoke cardigan, with the yoke from cables. Maybe in robin's egg blue? Or a pale, washy ash? Or a fiery red? Lots of time to contemplate that one, too.

Since I have bought even more stash yarn less than three days into 2013, my goal is to limit purchases to perhaps once a quarter. Can I do that? Stay tuned. I've never claimed to have any discipline when it comes to yarn, but "It's getting a bit thick, what?" as Bertie Wooster would say.