Friday, September 25, 2009

Lullaby, and Goodnight...

When I was a little girl, my mom used to sing Brahms’ Lullaby to help put me to sleep. Sometimes she’d sing the words, sometimes she would just hum, and I remember being curled up against her and feeling the vibrations in her chest as she’d rock me and sing. It was probably the most comforting feeling I’ve ever known.

Oh, how I could use that now. I have not been sleeping well this summer. Some nights, it’s too noisy. Some nights, it’s too hot and stuffy. Some nights, it’s too cold and clammy. I wake up at least three times most nights. If I’m lucky, I can calm myself back to sleep. If not, I don’t fight it – that just makes it worse. That’s when I put the light on, and do some knitting, or work a puzzle, or read until I feel drowsy. Unfortunately, that doesn’t usually occur until it’s almost time to get up. This week, in addition to the all the above, I’ve been having nightmares. Not just bad dreams, NIGHTMARES. All-out, Technicolor, terror-filled, traumatizing nightmares. And not just one. Multiples: three on Wednesday, three on Thursday. There were several earlier in the week, but luckily I can’t remember them. In addition to the psychological messages prevalent in these dreams (anxiety, fear, etc.), there are vivid images to rival any horror movie: an inferno of trees engulfed in flames, and dead kittens crawling with maggots, to name a few.

WHY? What did I do to deserve a subconscious like this? Was it something I ate? Drank? Didn’t drink? Didn’t do? Life is stressful enough just now, thank you very much. I don’t need be run ragged while I’m unconscious. Sleep should be a period of rest and renewal. It’s been ages since I’ve awoke in the morning refreshed, and got out of bed without feeling tired and uncomfortable.

I blame it partly on the weather. It was such a mild summer, but the nights weren’t always “good sleeping weather”. Now it’s the end of September, and we’ve been in the grip of extreme humidity, and temperatures above average. I’m hoping this weekend that will finally change.

I don’t know. Now that the weekend is here, I hope I can relax, both while awake, and especially while asleep. I can't remember the last time I had a good dream. Maybe what I need to do, is get the rocking chair in these photos back from my brother. Maybe that’s the key to a good sleep. Sure looks like it…

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oh Baby!

Finally, a big project finished! I started this baby blanket back in March, for Lauri, a former co-worker who was adopting a baby girl from China. Originally, her baby shower was going to be in May. Good thing it wasn’t. This project languished for a while, and I’d pick it up every now and again and make some progress on it, then put it away for a while.

The pattern is the “Old Shale Baby Blanket” by Evelyn Clark from the Vogue “Knitting on the Go – Baby Blankets” book. It’s worked from the center out, so at first, the knitting goes fast, but later on, as the blanket gets bigger, it takes much longer to work even one round. I started out on double pointed needles, switched to a circular needle, and then ended up using three 60” circular needles to handle all the stitches and bulk. Thank goodness for the KnitPicks options needles. I already had two long cables from a previous project, so I only needed to order one more cable and three sets of #7 tips. I did have some problems with the screw joints loosening up, but it wasn’t too bad. It only needs to happen once, and you start watching for it, and tightening the tips every time you change needles.

The yarn for this project was actually two yarns held together. The cream colored yarn is an acrylic yarn that my brother picked up one day at Goodwill. It’s a bit loosely spun, and had a wavy texture. The rainbow colored yarn is Four Seasons Leone, which is a machine washable wool. I think it added just the right amount of accent color to the project. It’s a good example of two yarns that aren’t so great on their own combining to make a decent item. I was hoping to wash the blanket and dry it after knitting, to see how that went; but I only finished it a few hours before the baby shower, so I had to be content with blocking it with the steam iron.

And yes, I know steam blocking can “kill” an acrylic yarn, but it’s just something that needs attention when you’re doing it. When this blanket came off the needles, it was flat in the center, then bulged up, then flattened out again toward the edges. The bulge came, I’m sure, when there got to be too many stitches for the one large circular needle that I had. When the stitches are crowded like that, I think my gauge changes, and it could be that I actually (“gasp”) tighten up a bit. I know Elizabeth Zimmermann used to say you could knit an entire shawl on a 24” circular, and maybe that’s true for lace weight yarn, but I find that when the stitches get bunched together, bad things happen. I should have switched to longer circulars sooner, but didn’t realize it right away, then had to order them and wait for them to get here.
Steam blocking took out the bulge, and also helped the edge scallops lay flat and not curl. One thing about knitting the blanket in the round, even on long needles, was that it was almost impossible to lay it out as it was be worked, and check the progress. For the most part it just looked like a big blob. It was such a treat to cast off and lay it out, and see the lovely scalloped edge that happened as if by magic. The pattern was not difficult, but it did require a bit of attention. Every fourth round was the “action” round where the old shale shaping was done. The other three rounds were worked plain, and I opted to purl the roound just after the action round, to give an added bit of texture. I placed markers at each of the four corners of the blanket. I should have used additional markers for each full pattern of lace repeat. Since the blanket increased from the center out, there were always extra stitches being added and worked into the lace pattern. It wasn’t always easy to follow, and there wasn’t a chart with the pattern. I did get off track a few times on a section, but if I couldn’t figure out the mistake, I just fudged it at the end of the section, increasing or decreasing to end up with the right stitch count. If you hunt closely you can find a few odd jogs in the old shale, but the for the most part, the fudging is hidden, and the overall look is still the same.

I had planned on knitting this blanket until I ran out of yarn, which I thought would happen before I got to the end of the pattern. It might have, but I had to end the blanket sooner than expected because I ran out of time. I ended one full lace repeat sooner than the pattern, and worked the last few rounds in garter stitch, instead of stockinette, which I think worked better. The finished blanket measured 32” square, which is plenty big for a baby blanket. It’s a bit hefty too, so it should be a good wintertime blanket. As I said, the work in progress was a big blob, and couldn’t be laid out, even to measure. I had to measure one of the diagonal “seam” lines, and then use (“gasp, again”) geometry to figure out the total measurement. (The good ol’ Pythagorean Theorem). Since baby Sarah is already 14 months old, I didn’t want to make anything that would be too small to cover her. Hopefully this size will let her get some use out of it for a while yet.

I might make this pattern again someday. I would like to have one baby blanket “in stock” for a gift so that I don’t have to worry about finishing for a deadline. In general, I like giving blankets as baby gifts, because you don’t have to worry much about size, or gender, and I think they get more use than clothing, which babies grow out of so quickly.

If I do make this pattern again, I’d like to try it in a sport weight yarn, and smaller needles. Or maybe I’d just use the “center out” shaping concept and try a different stitch pattern. Lots of choices here.

One final good thing about finishing the blanket: Now I can work on something else, maybe even something for me! Something like that blue wool cardigan I started last month. After all, the first day of Autumn is tomorrow. Can I have it done by then? What do you think?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Order Out of Chaos? Not Quite Yet...

I thought a three-day weekend would be plenty of time to organize my upstairs needlework haven, and still have time to crank out beautiful handmade sweater or two.

Yeah, right. I was so deluded.

After three days, I only managed to put away three totes full of yarn, empty two boxes of needlework magazines, and create more chaos than when I’d started. The only thing I produced in abundance was frustration. I hardly did any knitting. Nothing “flew” off the needles, anyway.

I realized late last night that I need to move even more stuff out before I can bring everything back. It’s time to let go of the excess, in both patterns and fibers, and concentrate on what I really want to work on.

It’s funny though, because just when I think I’ve made that decision, it backfires. Example – Yesterday when I was sorting yarn, I came across a few balls of mohair that a friend gave me. As I contemplated it, I realized that I don’t really like mohair, and I could get rid of all my mohair, and never miss it.

No sooner that I thought that, I came up with the idea of combining the mohair with some of the other yarn I have to make slippers. I have a favorite slipper pattern, and I usually make a few pair every year. I like to knit the slippers out of several strands of yarn, coming up with something totally unique and very warm. So the mohair stayed, rather than go on the garage sale pile.

And then, to prove my point to myself, I took the one oddball of mohair, a few other oddballs, and a cone of rayon chenille, and whipped up a crocheted cat mat.

Rusty and the other cats have been pining for appropriate sleep gear. Rusty has been sleeping on an old beach towel, folded and re-folded every time it looks like there’s too much cat hair on it. His pleading stare seems to say that he deserves better. The rayon chenille was the constant in this mat. I added the mohair yarn first, even taking apart the little sample swatches that were included with the ball. I made a double crochet square, using directions from the old reliable copy of “Reader’s Digest Guide to Needlework”. When I ran out of mohair, I added the boucle yarn that was part of a yarn bag from Goodwill. I switched to single crochet, and just worked around, not making any more increases at the corners. This made the mat start to cup slightly. When the second yarn ran out, I thought I was done, but after a while, I decided to make the edge just a little deeper. I pulled out some other cones of black yarn, and kept crocheting. I even worked a few decreases, to help with the cupping. The finished product is kind of funny looking. The shallow sides aren’t quite sturdy enough to stand on their own. I’m not too concerned about that. I am going to machine wash and dry the mat, and see if it gets any sturdier. It will work out either way – Rusty was already curled up on it this morning when I left for work. And the beach towel had finally made its way to the laundry pile.

Starting today, and continuing this week, I’m going to move out more of the boxes that are still in my way, and continue the reorganization process. I have a few things set aside for my sister’s garage sale on the 19th, and I’m sure that stack will grow. It better!