Friday, 30 July 2010

Knit Nation - Friday night Ravelry Talk

Well, my boss cooperated with the program by calling in sick today, so I was able to get away from work in plenty of time.  I even had time at my destination to go and find the Hummingbird Bakery on Old Brompton Road, which advertises real American cupcakes. So I had to try one of those, because your typical British cupcake (or fairy cake) is a rather miserable dry sponge with little fat content (so not very soft or rich) and either a smear of icing made by mixing icing sugar with water or lemon juice, or a buttercream-look-alike made with god knows what (certainly not butter).  I was charmed to be provided with a small chinese take-away type box with its own wire handle in which to carry away my small-by-American-standards cupcake, so I bore it away to Imperial College where I was second in the queue for the Ravelry talk.  I savoured it slowly while watching the preparations and talking to my queue mates.  I rate the icing, which was rather nice buttercream icing in an attractive blue shade, with sprinkles, but the cake was disappointing.  Better than British cake normally is, but still a bit dry.

The Ravelry talk was given by Jess & Casey Forbes themselves, freshly arrived from America a few days before.  As we were waiting for the official start time, the lady sitting next to me said "I don't know what they are going to find to talk about for an hour and a half, that seems rather long."  Well, they easily filled their time slot and we actually ran over a little with all the questions from the floor.

First of all, they are absolutely charming normal people, not starry at all, no airs, just quietly confident and very likable.  They apologised at the beginning, saying they've done few formal talks and that their presentation skills were amateur, but they did a great job, taking up the story in turn as they unfolded how Ravelry started from just an idea they had.  The statistics now, just a few years later, are staggering:  820,000 members, 3.5 million projects registered, and I forget how many millions of forum posts.  The story of how they risked everything, quitting their jobs with only three months savings to see if they could make a go of it, is truly inspirational.  And they still have a really attractive modesty, they still seem genuinely pleased and surprised at how much everyone is loving the website.

After the history lesson (which included screen shots of early versions of Ravelry including the first hand drawn logos), they talked through a few of the great things you can do on Ravelry which are perhaps lesser known. 
  • Goodies:  there is a link at the bottom of the front page apparently (haven't looked yet) to a Goodies page with Iphone apps and other random stuff to do with Ravelry. 
  • The new Search page has all sorts of custom filters for things like 'short sleeves' or 'colour work', and a really neat feature at the bottom right where you can add a pattern to your basket to compare with others.  So you could select, say, 10 cardigans from your search results, then compare all 10 on the same screen.  Or you could compare 100, and use the same filters/attributes to search through your chosen 100 cardigans.
  • You can now categorise your friends (they won't see the categories).  So you could group, for example, the friends that you know personally or from your local group.  Then when you look at Friends Activity, you can quickly filter down to a particular group of friends.
  • You can use Ravelry to see the nearest yarn shop to a given location, and as well as having information like opening hours, it will show you who has been shopping there, and what they have been buying, so it gives you an idea of what the store stocks.
The Q&A session was very interesting.  I asked how the data is protected:  they have a duplicate server, and if the building burns down, everything is also backed up a couple of times a day with Amazon data storage, so it is all really safe.  Someone asked if anyone had tried to buy Ravelry from them, they said only once when it was still small, nothing since, and that they couldn't imagine selling it because what else would they do, and they have so much of themselves invested in it.  Someone else asked how they are making money to live on.  They said that advertising provides a big chunk, with sales of t-shirts etc. providing a smaller amount, and another smaller amount from book/pattern sales.  So they are not going to get rich, but they have enough to live on and to pay their two employees.  Someone else asked if group creation is vetted, or if groups are closed down.  They said no to vetting, they don't control that, and they almost never close a group because they want the environment to be really inclusive.  They hinted that there are some pretty far out groups on Ravelry, which surprised me.   There were all sorts of other interesting questions, and they seemed really patient about dealing with them all.  By the time it finished, I was very glad to be getting up as the lecture hall seats were hard as a rock.

So then I wandered over to the marketplace again, which was extremely dead.  Even the wollmeise stall was empty, and it looked like they had re-stocked as there was lace yarn again in the baskets.  I did succumb to some other lace yarn which is thread silk from Artisan Yarns, £15 for I think 1200m, and it has a lovely feel.  Once again I was looking for some social activity and once again was disappointed.  There were a few knitters looking cold and windswept at the outdoor picnic tables but that seemed to be it.

Back tomorrow for my morning class and the Rav party in the evening!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Knit Nation - Thursday night preview

I left work early and rushed through London to arrive at Imperial College in time for the Knit Nation Market Preview.  There was a big queue all the way outside along the terrace, but I had time to duck in to the queue-less registration desk to pick up my tickets.  Then it was into the queue to be surrounded by yarnloving excitement.  The word being bandied about all around me was 'wollmeise', which is hand-dyed in Germany in vivid colours and is supposed to be lovely to knit with.

Then the queue started to move and we streamed into the long rectangular hall of the marketplace.  Although I am not part of the cult of Wollmeise, it was too irresistable and I allowed myself to be sucked along the entire length of the hall, past empty stands and bemused stallholders, as what seemed like the entire queue headed straight for the Wollmeise stall at the end.  You couldn't see the stall for a crowd of women 10 or 15 deep, it was an absolute mob scene, crazed knitters clutching 8 or 10 skeins to their bosoms, people lobbing skeins over the crowd, snatching up laceweight from the baskets, people calling for skeins to be passed back to them from those lucky few near to the wall displays.  I felt like a kind of bodysurfer as I was buffeted slowly along the stand, fondling yarn as I went.  I didn't buy anything because the bright colours aren't really my thing, but I enjoyed the vicarious craziness. 

Then I went around the corner and started shopping up the other side of the hall, which was still virtually empty, and all you could hear was the shrieks and babble coming from the Wollmeise stand.  The market place is well stocked with independent dyers, tons of yarn, a limited amount of accessories such as needles and project bags, a very few books on a couple of stands.  But very little haberdashery other than needles, almost no hardware (so if you were looking for spinning wheels etc. you would be out of luck I think) and not even that many patterns for sale except on a few stands.  It was yarn yarn yarn.  I went around three times and was still done in an hour.

In the end, I only bought what I went for:  3.5mm tips for my wooden KnitPro interchangeables, and some small diameter wooden straight needles, and of course a KnitNation totebag.  I did go back to one stall to buy some lace yarn I really liked, but it was gone when I went back - always buy it when you see it.

I was disappointed that there didn't seem to be anything else happening, unless it was somewhere else very quietly and unsignposted.  I thought there would be people hanging about knitting, or a knitting lounge or something.  Maybe there was and I just completely missed it.

I'm back there tomorrow night for the Ravelry talk, assuming I can get off work early enough (my boss is sadly in tomorrow, but it's her birthday so hopefully she will drink a lot at the pub at lunchtime and not notice when I leave early...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

My ideal town?

We spent Saturday afternoon in Wallingford, a town not too far from Oxford, and I've got to tell you, this may well be my ideal town.  Not only is it a pretty, historic town on the Thames, with loads of architecturally interesting buildings, walks along the river, and a ruined castle, they have:

- a cupcake bakery (which we tested out, of course)
- an oldfashioned sweet shop (just walking in the door you almost become intoxicated on the sugar fumes, and we tested this one also)
- several antiques shops
- an art shop that sells craft materials, including the range of FolkArt acrylic paints where I picked up a few colours for my dollshouse
- a craft shop that I didn't have time to go into
- AND what is probably the biggest quilt shop I have seen in the UK, Village Fabrics.  It looked so much like an American quilt shop that it was almost disorientating.  I felt like I had walked in from an English town square and been instantly transported to somewhere in Indiana.
- AND the quilt shop has started a knitting circle.

Gotta move....

In this week's news, I finished quilting the Disappearing Four-Patch  quick quilt for my boss, sewed on a little label, and gave it a couple of washes.  I will give it to her on Friday.

I also finished the Sockittome Hat by Cherry Tree Hill, which used to be my stressbusting knitting in my old job.  This is striped in two different colours of Koigu.  I changed the decreases at the crown to maintain the lace pattern as long as possible.

It's come out a tad loose but hopefully won't get any looser in wear.

I've been swatching this weekend for my Haapsalu Estonian Lace Shawl in the Garn Alpaca I bought at Loop (not blocked yet).  The Alpaca is nice to knit with, quite strong, with a surprising halo which I'm a bit worried may overpower the Reverse Lily of the Valley pattern I have chosen for the middle of the shawl.  I had to learn how to knit the 'nupps' for this pattern, the Estonian equivalent of a bobble.  There are several YouTube videos showing various methods including the traditional knitted version.  In the swatch I tried the traditional k1/yo into the same stitch, then tried k1/yo through the back loop, and doing it with a crochet hook.  I got the best result with the crochet hook, although they still don't look as neat as the ones in the picture in the book.  You can probably tell that the nupps in the upper part of the swatch are tidier than the ones at the bottom.  I found it hard to get the needle through all seven loops doing it the traditional knitted way.  The alpaca is also surprisingly scratchy, almost more like a mohair, so I am going to wash and block the sample to see what happens to it.

I'm looking forward to KnitNation this coming week.  It sounds like it is going to be really good, perhaps not the high octane excitement of Sock Summit in the US, but nevertheless a very full event with loads to do and see.  I'm not planning to buy much, apart from I need some more 3.5mm tips for my Knit Pro interchangeables because it just seems like every project I do needs that size, and I have to keep stealing them from other UFOs.  I certainly don't need any more yarn or patterns... but don't hold me to that!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

And how stupid am I?

Remember I was having trouble matching the tension on the lace swatch for the Bergere de France Eyelet jumper?  Well, the second swatch was still nowhere near correct, and I just about gave up, but decided eventually to have one more try - moving up another .5mm to 4.0mm needles.  So I sat down to cast on in front of the telly, then looked at my chart to cast on the right number.  Light finally dawned that I had been calculating the tension swatch based on my clear understanding that there were 18 stitches in the lace panel and 6 in the cable panel.  Guess what - there isn't.  The entire chart is only an 18 stitch repeat, not 24 stitches.  And guess what, the second swatch comes out fine when you use the right number of stitches in your calculation (Duh, smack own head several times).  I'm sure I used to be smarter when I was younger.  And before I reproduced.

I have moved on rapidly with the Disappearing Four-Patch project, seaming all the blocks together, adding a border, then stitching it to its backing and turning it through an opening (this is a quick quilt, so went with the envelope method), then clamping it up and pinning it for quilting.  This is a pic after all of that, but I haven't done any stitching yet apart from 1/4" around the edge.  I purposefully picked a rather neutral border because I don't know what my boss' favourite colour is.  I wanted to avoid the "there's a red border so it's a red quilt" syndrome.  The border fabric also features scottie dogs in little plaid coats which I think might appeal to her sense of humour. The size is roughly 45" x 60", so it will be a throw.

I experienced a severe episode of yarn lust this week.  Tuesday I had to go up to Islington for a work thing, so I looked up Loop's new address on my phone and dropped in on the way back to the station.  The new location at 15 Camden Passage is a lot closer to the Angel tube station, and I liked it a lot better than the old shop.  It is lighter, brighter, more spacious and there are three floors.  The top floor is currently being used for teaching although apparently they are redeveloping the basement to be a classroom.  The second floor has a nice knitting area with a sofa and some chairs, and there is stock on the ground and second floors.  I was only planning to look... until I saw the Malabrigo Silky Merino glistening in the light.  Love at first sight.  I chose three colours and wound the skeins the same evening, then cast on the next day for a Feather & Fan neckwarmer of my own design.

This has been a rather interesting experiment with the impact of different needles.  I am not usually very precious about my needles, tending to grab whatever is the right size and preferably circular.  I started off knitting this loosely spun one-ply with a fairly pointy metal needle.  I quickly found that a) the needles were hurting my hands as the yarn slipped on them so much that I had to grip too tightly, and b) the points kept splitting the stitches.  So the next day I switched to my blunt Denise plastic interchangeables.  That solved the splittiness issue, but introduced a new problem.  There is a minute crack where the plastic cable meets the connector that plugs into the plastic tip, and the threads of the yarn kept catching in the crack which was incredibly annoying.  Finally I switched to Clover Takumi bamboo straights in a short length, and hit the sweet spot as I can now knit easily without having to look at the knitting too much.  No more splittiness with the blunt tips, and the bamboo hugs the silky merino sufficiently that my hands are not overstrained.  Yay!

Meanwhile, back in the land of yarn lust at Loop, I  also found this Garn Alpaca laceweight in pale pink, which was fairly expensive but seemed perfect for trying a Haapsalu shawl.  I had ordered the sewing-thread-like Estonian lace yarn but just don't think I have the ability to enjoy knitting with something so fine, so this Garn Alpaca seems like a good substitute. So I've now picked a pattern out of the book (Reversed Lily of the Valley pattern) and wound the skeins into yarn cakes, so all is ready to cast on.

The Rowan Knitting & Crochet magazine No 48 showed up on Friday.  I am due to renew my subscription, and for a while as I read through the first section of knitted atrocities (called 'Nomad') I was thinking that I was absolutely not going to waste my money.  It's all about big yarn and textures and giant cables, and is mostly either unwearable or very unattractive.  (and you know that when a sweater is making a stick-insect model look fat/pregnant, that it is not going to work in the real world...)  But when I got to 'Russian Doll' all was forgiven, as it is all about colourful gorgeous fair isle in multiple colours of felted tweed.  Sadly a lot of them would cost upwards of £100 to knit because of all the colours, but I can still dream.  The third section, 'Timeless', is surprisingly dated and frumpy, with some designs looking straight out of the 80s, and few of them flattering to the models.  My friend at knitting club says that it is cheaper to just buy the magazines rather than subscribe, but on the other hand it is easier when they just show up at your door...

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Hot in the city

They were predicting it would reach 32 degrees C today, but thankfully there is a breeze and it doesn't feel too bad.  It certainly felt like 32 degrees in London Waterloo station yesterday evening - it has a glass roof so functions as a giant greenhouse, with the additional heat of hundreds of bodies waiting for their trains.  I feel sorry for all the men in their business suits.  I was in a sleeveless shift dress with sandals and I still felt overdressed and definitely over hot.

Today was my sewing group again and we weren't too badly off in our church hall, we kept one door open for air and I brought a fan.  I was working on the Disappearing Four-Patches, and finished cutting and sewing the rest of the blocks.  I had time for a quick play and I think I am just going to keep it simple and sew them directly together in a normal horizontal layout.  I had been toying with putting them on point, but I think they look just as effective square on.  I may try to finish this quickly to give to my boss for her birthday at the end of the month.  Not promising anything though with my record on sewing the past few years.  And it just shows how much this new job is in an entirely different universe that I would even contemplate giving my boss a present, much less something I laboured on myself.  She likes bright colours so hopefully she would like this busy Mary Engelbreit fabric.

And what have I been making in this hot weather?  A woolly hat!  Yes, I finished the Rhapsody Hat, or at least, my version of it in DK weight yarn.  I found I could only do one repeat of the chart, then moved into the crown decrease chart.  I had to add in a few extra rows to the chart to allow for my big head, but I am fairly pleased with the end result.  It will be a nice hat for transitional weather in the autumn/spring. This was Patons Diploma Gold wool blend.

I did do a bit of hand applique one night this week, working on another block for the world's-longest-ever-applique-project, my 25 block Applique Quilt from a book called Grandmother's Last Quilt (or something like that).  This is about block 14 and I am just stitching the centre rose with needleturn applique.  I originally thought I would do two blocks a month and be done in a year.  HA HA HA HA HA HA

I finished the first tension sample for the Eyelet Jumper from Bergere de France, using 3mm needles and Coton Mercerise.  Not only did it come out too tight, as you can see I completely mucked up the lace pattern.  I was using some magnets that MizMiffy gave me to mark the chart row and I think they must have got jostled because I obvious knit completely the wrong rows for a while.  Now I am using a row counter as a backup for the magnets and I have started a new tension sample with 3.5mm needles.  Although a looser fabric, it still doesn't look like it is going to be anywhere near the correct gauge of 27stitches to four inches...I'm so confused.  Maybe there is errata for the pattern, must go and look on Ravelry.  Maybe it will be different when it is blocked (and how many knitters have uttered that plaintive cry?).  I became so exasperated with my cable needle falling out that I grabbed some sandpaper and really roughed up one end (it's plastic).  It works much better now.

I'm almost finished another woolly hat (yes, apparently I am insane.  maybe the heat has driven me mad?) that used to be my stressbuster knitting at my old job.  When things got too much, I would grab it out of my drawer (carefully camouflaged in a mailing envelope) and walk off purposefully, then go and hide in the bathroom on another floor and have 20 minutes of sanity.  It is a Cherry Tree Hill pattern for a diagonal lace hat that I am knitting in two colours of Koigu, and I am just decreasing for the crown.  Soon I will have not one but two woolly hats to protect my head from the 32 degree sunshine!  I need a new portable knitting project now that I've finished the Pi Shawl.  The Broken Rib sock is still underway but so boring that I want to eat my needles just for variety.  And I will need a streetcred portable project to take to Scotland next month for Knit Camp, something impressive but at the same time simple enough that I won't screw it up while knitting in public.

Friday, 2 July 2010

It's too hot...

It is far too hot for my liking lately, and today is just downright muggy.  I have reluctantly decided to forego my trips to my local knitting group for the summer, as it takes me two trains, 25 mins in two parts of walking and about 95 minutes in total to get there after work.  I was arriving hot, bothered and quite grumpy, so it isn't really worth it in this heat (obviously I am not a truly dedicated knitter).  My fallback plan was to return to Thursday nights at I-Knit London, but last night it was so hot at I-knit as well, even with the door open.  Perhaps I will just be an isolated hermit knitter for the summer. I did get to see my lovely local group on Sunday, dragging my m-i-l along as well as she had come up for DS's school concert.  She enjoyed it apart from the very noisy World Cup on the television which made it hard for all of us to hear each other.

Here are some pics of the blocked and finished Clapotis.  I am surprised at how crisp and flat it came out.  I have actually worn it out a few times to protect against the car aircon, it feels dry and cool against the skin.  It's like wearing a cool cotton cardigan. It feels surprisingly comforting and the memory of the knitting pain is fading.

I am still soldiering on with my tension swatch for the Bergere de France Eyelet Jumper, although beginning to feel daunted about the prospect of an entire jumper with these darned slippery cables.  At I-Knit I was working on my Lace Hat and the Broken Rib Socks, and virtuously drinking lemonade after the whole drunken Clapotis disaster of a few weeks ago.

I spent much time this week going all OCD over my loose knitting patterns.  I had about a 12 inch high stack of patterns, ripped out of various magazines for the most part.  I worked through the entire stack and catalogued it all by yarn weight, using Ravelry to identify the yarn weight and also to obtain the tension information.  Then I filed them all into plastic pouches by weight.  So next time I want to make something with DK yarn, I can just open up the DK pouch and see what I've got.  This still doesn't solve the issue of patterns contained within books, and also is only going to work if I continue to catalogue future ripped out patterns.  But I feel good, and my inner-Librarian is satisfied.

The John Lewis (department store) yarn sale started on Saturday, so I hit that Monday after work.  I was purposefully targetting DK weight yarns as I have several Aran yarns from last year's sale.  I came away with a sweater's worth of Sublime Organic Cotton DK in soft pink, Rowan Purelife Organic Wool in a berry shade, and RC Extra Fine Merino DK in a denim blue.  I flirted with a few more in the sale, but decided that I already have enough stash to start my own small yarn store. I really need to stop buying, and start knitting.

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