Friday, March 31, 2006

Lumos et Nox

Today it was warm enough and sunny enough to resume photography on the porch, just in time to record my latest science experiment. After hearing me mumbling about dingy blog pix, BIL rummaged through the basement in search of the Sylvania Sun Gun. For those who don't remember the glory days of home movies (not video!), the Sun Gun is the home version of a portable handheld movie light. In its day, it was considered such a valuable innovation that Sylvania received an Academy Award for the professional version. Here it is in its original box, with camera mount. I assume the product was marketed mainly to men – I just love the packaging.

The Sun Gun   The Sun Gun

Amazing to relate, this mid-century relic still works. The heart of the Sun Gun is an 850-watt bulb, which is intensely bright and hot. When it's on, it gives off a characteristic odor as dust on the bulb starts crisping. Compared with a new-fangled full-spectrum fluorescent, it seems to give off about as much heat as light. The light is not the pearly white of a GE Reveal incandescent or the intense blue-white of a camera flash, but it's much less red-brown than an ordinary incandescent bulb.

In honor of a specialist at conjuring bluebell fire, to amuse HP knitters, for my last Project Spectrum project for March, and in the interest of science, here's side-by-side pix of a Hermione hat and a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans (thanks, Good Girl Purl!), taken with ambient light and Sun Gun, with ambient light and flash, and with ambient light only. The yarn is Cascade 220 from stash; the band was missing so I don't know the colorway number, but it's a true red. The photography towel background is true white.

Lumos maxima! Hermione hat with Sun Gun   Lumos! Hermione hat with flash   Nox! Hermione hat with ambient light

As you can see, the different lighting schemes greatly affect the appearance of color and texture. Overall, I prefer the way ambient light only brings out the texture of the cable and bobble hat, just as bright overcast light brings out architectural detail on buildings. Guess that means continued dingy blog pix.

The hat was a quick, fun knit – I especially enjoyed its clever decreases. The pattern warns the fabric pulls in and needs stretching laterally; compounding this tendency, I never seem to get stitch gauge with Cascade 220. Sure enough, the hat turned out ectomorphic, skinny and tall (lament: I miss Brunswick Germantown!). I'm giving this one to a young friend; were I to make one for myself, I'd add another pattern repeat to accommodate my mesomorph head. I used four bobble techniques: the one given in Lauren Kent's pattern, the traditional one in Barbara Walker's Treasury, Annie Modesitt's heretical one, and short row. While I can distinguish between the finished products, one doesn't seem outstandingly better than the others to me, at least for bobbles of this size. I like the short row technique for bigger bobbles and boobies.

Meanwhile, Tom sent along links for a nice safety gadget for night riders: fluorescent downtube and chainstay tube lights. The ready-made version is called Down Low Glow by Fossil Fool but here's a DIY version as well. Ooh, I want, I want!

SP7 Reveal

[I've been having some trouble with Blogger today. The usual story.]

When I got home today, this SP7 parcel was waiting on the front porch. It was heavy and made rustling noisesSP7 parcel when shaken! In no time at all, I'd opened the box, read the sweet note, unwrapped the pretty prezzies, and discovered that my pal is Petra, the Good Girl Purl of the Purling Ps, who host 200Sox. It's her birthday today (happy birthday, Petra!), yet I'm the one with the great prezzies. Thank you, Petra! That's above and beyond spoiling!!

The dazzling loot: the (heavy) knitting book of the moment, published just this week, Mason-Dixon Knitting by Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne, the Mason-Dixon knitbloggers; yummy, chewy candy (rustling noises), including Mike and Ike, Goobers, chocolate covered turtles, and Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans; a nifty crocheted flower pin; Texas bluebonnet seeds; and a sweet note with a Kansas quarter inside.

Dazzling SP7 loot

This is all so perfect! I was just looking at my old vegetable patch (now unusable for food due to some noxious activity next door) and thinking all that nice double-dug soil should at least be a flower bed. Now it will be a flower bed edged with bluebonnets. The flower pin is exactly right for a project that will appear shortly. Ditto the Every Flavor Beans. The quarter goes into the collection, but the candy is not long for this world (yes, the Tortoise loves turtles – chomp). And I guess I'll just have to take the book to one of the book signings in Manhattan next week.

I hope the pal I've been spoiling, Tracey, has been having an equally happy time. I've enjoyed being her secret pal – it's been a fun challenge trying to find things for the knitter who has everything, even a tiara (teehee).

SP7 never works without the efforts of the whip-cracking tireless listmoms. Thanks to them all, and particularly to Sarah, who was the listmom for this happy little corner of the SP7 universe.

Signups for SP8 begin tomorrow – no fooling!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Warm Ears, Happy Cyclist

Last week my Sockapaltwoza pal, the phenomenally talented Lou, sent me some of her own hand-dyed and solid yarn leftover from the absolutely brilliant socks she made for me. Thanks, Lou!

I reserved the solid for sock repairs and immediately knit up a pair of Amy O'Neill Houck's Bike Helmet Ear Warmers out of the hand-dyed. (See them with the sock.) These odd little funnel tubes are meant to slip over the straps of a bicycle helmet, to cover the ears. For some odd reason, they remind me of sea fans.

The pattern calls for knitting two flat pieces for each ear warmer and seaming up; I just knit in the round. I also reversed the order of the decreases (k2tog in place of ssk, and vice versa) for a neater appearance. These were worked top down; next time I'll try knitting bottom up and adding some decorative stitchwork or reflective piping. The center would be a fun place to work a small shadow pattern. Hm... I wonder if a shadow pattern in reflective piping would work.

Knit ear warmers are a perfect accessory for equinoctial riding. It's far too warm now for a winter helmet liner or heavy duty 180s Ear Warmers, and yet that spring wind can still be uncomfortably chilly on the ears. In colder weather, these ear warmers could be layered over a balaclava. In field tests, they are lightweight and comfortable, sit securely on the helmet straps, do not obscure vision or hearing, and are quickly and easily placed or removed.

So practical, so versatile – and what a way to use up stash oddments! I'm going to make lots more for myself and as small gifties for riding buddies. (Hey, Team StillSpeaking and Team Spare Tyres – want a pair?)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bead on Sockapaloooza

After a few false starts, I'm finally making progress on socks for my Sockapaloooza pal. It's about time, too – we're past the halfway point. Aiee.

Beaded rib with beads Sockapaloooza sock

The stitch pattern is improvised, beaded rib with beads. I'm making up the sock pattern as I go along, with inspiration from multiple sources. The beaded cast on technique is given in Mrs. Beeton by Brenda Dayne. The combination of beaded rib and beads was inspired by the beaded rib sock in Sensational Knitted Socks by Charlene Schurch and by the Rowan 39 cover sweater, Jinny by Amanda Crawford. I'll probably use a modified version of Charlene's distinctive garter clocks, too. This Valentino bag and Alice Korach's old bead knitting workshop are kicking around somewhere in the mix, too.

The yarn is a favorite, Cherry Tree Hill Supersock Solids in colorway Loden, with some Bead It 10/0 Rnbw Grn beads for a bit of bling. Rnbw Grn beads look somewhat flashy by themselves, but add a delightful bit of brightness once knit in. They sit up nicely on the purl fabric and shouldn't cause any leg irritation. My sock pal doesn't seem to have super sensitive skin, so I'll carry the beaded rib down the instep, leaving the sole plain stockinette – all without beads, of course.

Placing beads on yarn is tedious

Stringing the beads is slow work and I'm not looking forward to doing it for the second sock. Maybe I have the wrong kind of bead needle? After breaking a couple, I gave up and started using a needle threader to get the beads onto the yarn. It's an awfully tedious process to place a few beads on the threader, place the yarn in the threader eye, slip the beads, remove the yarn, repeat. Not to mention I've broken two threaders. If you know a better way, please do tell.

The false starts involved Sockotta, which I thought perhaps may be more suitable to my sock pal's climate fiber-wise. But I didn't like the way the swatches pooled, in precise checkerboards of turquoise/yellow and red/blue [yawn]. And after a few weeks of blogstalking I see that my pal indeed has/makes/wears wool socks. So that's settled: wool it is.

Every sock oughta see a bit of the world. So far this one has only gone to SnB, but some adventures are ahead!


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Broadway Baby Bears

Last week I happened to notice mighty Wendy's mention of Phyl's Bear Drive (and her covetable drawing, now concluded) and got busy on Stripe and Pink.

Pink Bear and Stripe Bear

Stripe was knitted according to Phyl's pattern, flat in one piece from feet to head and back down again, using Coeur Rouge oddments. In the photo, the unconfined stockinette stitch has rolled up, making Stripe look very thin. Pink, with garter stitch paws, was knit in the round from feet to head, using formerly Unloved Sock Yarn (Regia 6-ply) and more Coeur Rouge oddments. I'm especially happy formerly unloved yarn has become a little bear for a child to love. Each bear is shown with with a small heart sachet filled with lavender because I always put a little heart in my bears.

Stripe Bear in process   Pink Bear in process

Knitting flat has the advantage of speed, but the drawback of lots of seaming and the awkwardness of stuffing through the relatively small crotch opening. Knitting in the round is slower and requires some grafting, but no sewing, plus stuffing is through the relatively large head opening. For me, grafting goes as fast as mattress stitching, so although Stripe was started first, Pink was finished first.

After knitting, sewing or grafting, stuffing, and more sewing or grafting came the ordeal of stitching the face. I'm not good at faces. My bears generally get six or seven faces with Picasso-type multiple perspective facial features before everything looks right. I define the neck and ears first, add accessories, then stitch the eyes, nose, and mouth.

Here's Pink...

Pink Bear sans face   Pink Bear with defined neck and ears plus scarf   Pink Bear with fifth face

... and Stripe.

Stripe Bear sans face   Stripe Bear with defined neck and ears plus scarf   Stripe Bear with sixth face

DH saw an earlier version of Pink and made that husbandly pause that means spousal loyalty and a desire for continued hot suppers are warring with a waggish desire for freedom of expression. Finally he said, "He looks like Gordon MacRae, in Carousel." Hrmph. Billy Bigelow never wore pink sweaters. Pink is a girl. (Pink got a new face.)

The rest of the evening was spent earnestly trying to select the greatest Broadway musical of all time, complete with a revue by Pink and Stripe, who sounded strangely like John Raitt and Jerry Orbach, even when they felt pretty. Which left open the question: What is the greatest Broadway musical of all time?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Spring Peeve

Although this week the thermometer doesn't quite know it, officially Spring has sprung roundabout Exit 151. An, um, exuberant exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show anticipated the day. Notice the lavish use of floral material, topiary, Slinkys, and dryer exhaust tubing – the last, um, wittily mirrored the conduits on the ceiling of the convention center. Anyway, the judges liked it, see the silver plate?

Spring has sprung

There's something about vernal equinoctial light that makes me want to scrub the cave, throw stuff out, streamline. The annual impulse runs smack into another annual phenomenon that includes useless software packaging. That makes me irritable (DH, from a safe distance, suggests extra irritable). It's my seasonal peeve.

Consider this software box, shown with two Familiar Objects for Scale. It's been years since software of this sort has come with a manual, and yet the box could still comfortably accommodate print documentation the size of an urban telephone directory. Inside the box there's a black plastic packing form to take up space. The actual contents – a CD and two rebate forms – have less mass than the two Familiar Objects for Scale.

Unnecessarily large software box   Black plastic packing form to take up space   Actual contents

The useless oversize box and the plastic packing form go straight from the store into the waste stream. Roundabout Exit 151, that means they go to the county incinerator in Newark, the state's most populous city. No surprise that urban asthma rates are up. It's not too great a stretch to conclude that excessive packaging not only increases dependence on petrochemicals, but also contributes to environmental racism. I'd be just as happy to have less packaging.

Naturellement, the Flower Show included examples of the minimalist approach. Here's one from the table setting competition (even the shadows enhance the theme and the edgy secondary triad color scheme). The judges liked this one even better (see the big fancy silver platter).

Big Apple table setting

Discerning readers will have noticed a dearth of knitting content lately and may have surmised I've been distracted by other things. Never to fear, there's some charity knitting in the wings. Implausible as it may seem, DH says it reminds him of the musical Carousel.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Three Fs

F is for flower show. That is, THE Flower Show – the oldest in the U.S., first held in 1829 and still among the nation's largest and finest:F is for flower the Philadelphia Flower Show. Roundabout Exit 151, flower shows tend to be held in the early spring, providing welcome relief from miserable gray weather as well as inspiration for the new growing season. Although when I visited on Friday it may have been warmer outdoors than inside the convention center – a record high of 76 F (24 C).

This year, the large displays included a forty-foot (12 m) floral topiary aptly titled (what else?), Floratopia, and a noisy geyser with a crashed space ship (?), but my faves are the smaller competitions and, of course, the marketplace. I walked and gawked until my feet fell off, stocked up on hard-to-find garden items, and had some excellent soul food at Delilah's at the Reading Terminal Market. And I took lots of pix, including an entire Project Spectrum in orchids (click to see larger).

Red orchid for MarchOrange orchid for AprilYellow orchid for AprilGreen orchid for MayBlue and purple orchids for June

For orchid fans and fanciers: the orchids are white Phaelonopsis; red, orange, yellow, and purple Brassolaeliocattleya; green Cymbidium, and blue Vanda.

F is for fear of felting. I still haven't felted or fulled anything, at least not intentionally. There oughta be a clinical classification or at least a name for this extreme reluctance to place handknits in a washing machine, this dread that disaster will ensue... maybe something like pilopoiiaphobia – from the Greek, pilos, felt + poieo, to make + phobos, fear, pronounced pill-oh-poi-ee-ah-phobia. With thanks to Fyberduck for the crafty etymology and pronunciation guide (did you see her Knitting Olympics button in Classical Greek?).

And F is for fur. Incredible to relate, there are handknitting yarns made of strips of real fur as well as those fun and funky fakes. Fabulous to be sure, but not among my favorite knitting fibers.

(See the rest of my ABCs.)

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Turtling Along

While I don't speak or read German, I'm pretty sure I understand the title of this post – Gold und nicht Gold – on the Knitting Olympics Team Deutschland blog. Helpfully, the buttons are in English:

Gold button!   Nicht gold button

Alas, that would be nicht gold for me.

Turtles KAL buttonSome might fall into a Munch-like Despair. I just went looking for another knit-along. Lo & behold FemiKnitMafia is sponsoring the Turtles Knit-along for slow finishers. Woo-hoo! A KAL for tortoises like me! I joined immediately. Er, just don't hold your breath waiting for the big finish. Wouldn't want you to hurt yourself.

And for all the Munchkins out there, sorry if my last post failed to do justice to the exhibit at MOMA. It's a major retrospective of an important artist's work, spanning his entire career and including works in multiple media, some rarely exhibited. Those who know Munch only for The Scream may be surprised by his full range, creative innovation, and lasting influence. Have a look if you can – Friday is the free day.

For further rumination on Munch, thanks to Deb for kindly pointing out the excellent article in March Smithsonian Magazine. And woo-hoo! for Stephanie and Patti, who have spot-on esthetic responses – Munch did indeed dabble in graphic arts and actually titled a couple paintings, Vampire.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Friday Munchies

Friday was cold and bleak roundabout Exit 151, so DH and I made a Friday Munchies plan. After work we (perhaps unwisely) went to MOMA to see the Edvard Munch exhibit, then had dinner out.

Talk about cold and bleak. And that's just the docents, who looked about as bilious as the paintings every time some naïf mispronounced the artist's family name (it's something like munk). It's probably a good thing we kept the name of our plan to ourselves. As for the paintings, woodcuts, and sketches, there's something oddly... self-indulgent?... melodramatic?... adolescent? about Munch's use of strong primary colors and stark architectural lines to express internal anxieties. In your face anomie. I'm repressed, dammit! Adding to the bizarrerie was the strong scent of brown gravy wafting through the galleries from the new museum restaurants. I sure hope the overall unappealing sensory effect wasn't intentional, but the absurd possibility cannot be overlooked.

Souvenirs from Friday Munchies plan

Happily, dinner was an unqualified hit. We went to Pigalle and pigged out on tasty southwestern French cuisine. DH had seafood in tomato-fennel broth and I had cassoulet (Castelnaudary-style, with breadcrumbs). Amazing to relate, especially given the restaurant's theater district location, service was unrushed and attentive. Plus the restaurant postcard shows a woman on a bicycle (strikingly, using the same bold tricolor palette as Munch, but to rather different effect), which of course got my attention. Definitely worth a return visit.

Oh, and I squeezed in a quick yarn crawl, too, and now am swatching for crazy socks for my Sockapaloooza pal.

Sockapaloooza yarn

Currently it's Koigu v. Sockotta. I'm leaning toward Koigu at the moment, but with warmer weather approaching, Sockotta may be the more practical choice. Hm, decisions, decisions.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Calmly Plodding

It's Ash Wednesday 2006. Overnight my knitting queue rearranged itself (quietly, without fuss) from Olympic feat to Lenten devotion.

I'm still plodding along on DH's cabled vest. The original design concept was close-fitting, but after consideration, He Who Makes Big Eyes at Me decided more ease would be nice. Soooo... the front is wider and has less shaping (the photo shows progress to the split for the V-neck)...

Front has more ease

and the full-fashioned back is (gasp) going to the frog pond. Clearly the work of the devil duckie.

Back to the frog pond

This photo captures the subtle ombré effect of Cashsoft 4-Ply. On the whole, I'd prefer more uniform color – a heather or tweed or solid solid.

Two pairs of socks are in the Lenten queue. One pair is a shamefully late holiday gift, now birthday present (eek) – more on this, er, tomorrow. The other pair is for my Sockapaloooza pal, who seems to like crazy socks. I can do crazy, hehehe.

A need for quite a few prayer shawls is looming in the near future. I plan to stay far, far away from the latest dispute [ETA: link updated] (scroll down to "girlcott") over who invented what in shawl ministry land – surely prayer and prayer shawls have been around a long, long, long time. Instead I'll use two Evelyn Clark patterns: Shetland Triangle from Wrap Style and Romantic Moments lace wrap. My excellent SP6 pal, Rainy at Will Pillage for Yarn, sent me some lovely Lace in black ombré that is perfect for Shetland Triangle. And there's some Lorna's Laces Helen's Lace in colorway Blackberry languishing in stash that would do well as Romantic Moments.

There's seven weeks in Lent. I should note I don't necessarily intend to start and finish everything named here – cable vest, two pairs of socks, two shawls – during the season. Some are already in progress and I fully expect others will continue after Easter, plus other projects are sure to rear their pretty heads. Instead of raw production, the aim is mindful creation; being observant, that is, to participate in a tradition and also to see into it keenly.