Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November Wrap-Up

Along with most of 2011, November has flown.  It was definitely one of my more productive knitting months (yay for setting goals!).  While I feel as though I should be able to boast more than 2 finished projects, considering both of those projects were started well over a year ago, I've decided to just be thankful that they have permanently vacated the WIP drawer and move onto December and my ambitious goal of finishing all remaining 5 WIPs.  Part of me wants to laugh out loud at that goal.  The other part is downright determined.

Speaking of determination, this is also my first big test on the marathon training schedule (last week was an easy week to recover from the Annapolis Half): 7 miles Tuesday, 4 on Thursday, and 15 (?!) on Saturday.   Seriously, 15.  Gah!  The 7 miler went well yesterday and 4 should be fine tomorrow, but Wednesday is cross-training day on the schedule.  I just dragged myself in the door from work and errands and would like nothing more than to settle down on the couch with my sock-in-progress, perhaps with a puppy cuddled next to me, and do nothing but knit for the rest of the evening.  But I'm not going to do that.  I'm going to go climb on my bike trainer and stick to the training schedule.

So sadly for now, the bike trainer trumps blogging about my November spinning project.  It started with 8 ounces of polwarth fiber beautifully dyed by Two if By Hand.

The rest will have to wait until tomorrow.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cabled Mitts and the Magic of Charts

And another WIP goes down.

Pattern:  Glorious Cabled Mitts (Ravelry pattern)
Yarn: Zen Yarn Garden Serenity 20 in Cherry Mist

I may have inched along initially on the second mitt, but once I hit the chart it was all over.  Something about being able to cross row after row off makes me a more productive knitter.  And well, once I finished the chart, I was just SO close that it didn't take too much effort to push through the last few inches of ribbing.

Pattern mods:  cast on 64 stitches instead of 72 and took out cables that are supposed to run alongside the lattice pattern.  As written, these would have been rather roomy and I like my mittens snug.  I lengthened the top ribbing so that it would cover my entire palm and knuckles.  This has never been a project I've had much enthusiasm for, but the end result is a nice pair of soft squishy mitts that I will wear as soon as mother nature realizes it's autumn and shouldn't be 60 degrees.

Yarn:  With 20 percent cashmere this yarn is soft and smooth and feels wonderful.  It doesn't have a super tight twist but isn't too splity and I liked the light feel compared to some of my denser sock yarns.  The one thing I really don't care for is the color.  The yarn can't decide whether it wants to be red or pink.  The end result is a sort of washed out red with lots of white splotches.  I've been told yarn is sometimes dyed like this on purpose to create a certain effect knitted up, but honestly it just looks like the skein wasn't fully dyed to me. I think one of these days, the mitts are going to take a swim in the crock pot with some red food coloring.

This brings me to ten projects finished with stash yarn this year and down to five WIPs.  Of the five projects left there are two that I've thought it might be a longshot to finish by the end of the year.  The first of those is an elaborately cabled sweater; the second is a pair of fair-isle socks.  The socks were started last summer as a mystery KAL.  I put them aside after finishing the leg and heel flap for both socks.  At the time, I wasn't in love with the pattern or my yarn choice.  For whatever reason, on Friday evening I settled onto the couch and pulled out these socks.  It only took about two rows before I was completely enthralled.  I knit for hours and finished more than half the foot.  By Sunday evening I was grafting the toe.

I credit the chart.  Every time I pick up a fair-isle project, I'm reminded how much I love stranded knitting.  Cable and lace charts will keep me motivated, but there is something magical about color charts that make me unable to put down the project.  After finishing the first sock, I figured I would try to finish off a couple of other projects before moving onto the second sock, but last night when I couldn't fall asleep, I reached for the sock and knit ten rows before putting it back down and going to sleep.

When I got home this evening, tired and with a headache, I went straight to the sock.  The gusset decreases are now finished and I'm itching to get back to it.  I don't think I'm going to have any problem finishing this project by the end of December.  The same cannot be said for the cabled sweater.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Next Big Thing

I was so geared up Friday night for the Annapolis half marathon because I had a very specific goal:  finish under two hours.

I came home with stiff tired legs, a big smile, and a nice feeling of accomplishment.  I stopped my watch a little late, and my official time was 1:52:26.  While I would love to think I finished a half marathon in that time, my watch also reads 12.71 for distance.  Uh, that's supposed to be 13.1.  Everyone I talked to had roughly the same distance so it seems that the course was a little short.  Even if I add an extra four minutes to my time to account for the difference, I still would have come in around 1:56, well under the two hour goal.  Accordingly, race photos show me with a big smile as I crossed the finish line.

A day and a half later, and I might still have that same smile.

A performance I feel good about at the Annapolis race also brings with it some nervous excitement for my next big athletic endeavor. A few months ago, I started considering the idea of training for a full marathon.  I had never aspired to run such a distance (of course until last year, I had never really considered running a half either), but with Mike gearing up to start training for his Ironman triathlon next summer, I'm motivated to do something big.  Something that requires a lot of work and dedication.  And for whatever reason, the half-Ironman triathlon I'll be doing in June didn't seem to be enough (yeah, that just sounds crazy--I have no explanation).  I focused my attention on the Annapolis half to see how I felt at 13 miles before making any decisions about aiming for 26.2.  Feeling good and having a strong performance at Annapolis sealed the deal.  Training for the Shamrock marathon on March 18, 2012, officially begins next week. 

I haven't quite figured out details, but I'm fairly certain a yarn/fiber incentive or reward should be worked into my training program.

Friday, November 18, 2011


I feel like I've knit a good bit this week.  The evidence, however, does not support that statement.

I was so completely bored with with this project, I considered giving up and relegating these mitts to the frog pond.  As soon as I bound off the first mitt, I cast on the second, and my enthusiasm has finally started to pick back up.  I'm still clearly inching along, but at least I'm enjoying the knitting now instead of cursing every stitch.

I've taken a bit of a break from knitting this evening, as I'm too preoccupied with pre-race excitement to think about much else. I'm bouncing around the house eagerly anticipating a bright and early morning when I'll be running 13.1 miles at the Annapolis Half Marathon.  I've been gearing up for this race ever since my somewhat disappointing end to triathlon season about six weeks ago (two flats and cramping calves did not quite translate to the finish I was hoping for).  Unlike my first half marathon last year, I know I can run the distance.  Last year I was nervous; tonight I'm just feeling psyched and ready to go.  This evening I brought home some new running gear and have spent the evening trying on possible race outfits and gathering my supplies. 

Bring it on Annapolis!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Back on Track

I spent very little time with my knitting needles this past weekend.  Instead, I have a much cleaner house and sore legs from an almost 12 mile run.  As I contemplate starting marathon training, I shudder that soon 12 miles will be a recovery run, but that’s a subject for another day.  Despite very little knitting time, 20 hours in the car the weekend prior equated to most of a second sock.  I finished the foot by Friday evening, and despite spending hours scrubbing cabinets and floors or pounding the pavement this weekend, I was able to squeeze in finishing the toe Sunday night to cross off one more WIP from list. 

Have I mentioned I hate taking pictures of socks?

Pattern:  Cauchy from Sock Innovation by Cookie A.
Yarn: Dream in Color Smooshy in Tea Party

These socks have a long history.  A very long time ago, Mike asked for dark brown socks.  I was excited at the idea at first, especially as I began yarn shopping.  I settled on the raved-about Dream in Color Smooshy, which I had never used, and cast on for Simple Skyp socks.  This was October 2009 (I had to look back to an old Ravelry post to find that info).  I didn’t like the yarn/pattern combo, and a few inches into the first leg, I ripped it completely.  According to my Ravelry project page, I started Cauchy in April 2010.  Progress was slow.   In July, with less than one leg finished, Cauchy made a brief blog appearance with the goal of finishing the pair in December.  It's obvious that I meant December 2011, not 2010, right?

I honestly can’t remember much about that first sock until I picked it back up a couple of months ago with the heel flap halfway done. Sock one was finished by the time I finalized my Operation Conquer the WIPs mission.  I was less than an inch into the second sock when I left for Atlanta.  By the time we reached my parents’ house, the leg was finished.  On the return trip, I turned the heel and knit until my fingers ached.  I bitched and whined these last few days as I slogged through the rest of the sock, but now, over two years after Mike made that simple request, I can finally deliver him some damn brown socks. I wonder how long it will take me to finally hand over the brown sweater I've started for him three times? 

Details:  I skipped the picot cuff and instead cast on 64 stitches and knit eight rows of 2x2 ribbing.  I then increased to 66 before beginning the chart.  The pattern is written for 60 stitches with a 10-stitch repeat.  I threw in one extra stitch in between the purl zig-zags to make it an 11 stitch repeat to size it up.

Verdict:  Easy pattern, nice texture, good guy sock without being mind-numbingly boring, although certainly not the most exciting knit either.  Even though this was the first skein of Smooshy I purchased, this is my second finished pair of Smooshy socks.  I know there are loads of knitters that adore this yarn, but I am not one of them.  To me it feels rough and is hard on my hands.  The sock feels like it will be extremely durable and the fabric has a nice feel now that the socks have gone for a swim, but it's not worth an unhappy knitting experience.  I breathed a heavy sigh of relief last night when I moved onto the next WIP and felt the soft merino cashmere yarn sliding through my fingers.  Next up: cabled fingerless mittens.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Handspun Exception, Part II

Since I learned to knit about five years ago, I’ve finished sweaters, socks, scarves, hats, mittens, shawls, slippers, toys, and a baby blanket.  I have not, however, managed to finish an afghan despite starting several.  Afghan attempt one was to knit a square a month in 2009 to make a patchwork afghan.  To date, I’ve only finished four squares.  This first afghan project was derailed when in April of 2009, I fell victim to the craze over Shelly Kang’s mitered sock yarn afghan.  I expected the sock yarn blanket would be a three to five year project.  Over two and half years later, and I’m less than a quarter finished.  I will have to pick up the pace significantly to make the five year goal.  I seriously doubt that will happen though as my attention is now only on afghan attempt three—the epic handspun afghan. 

I wrote about my handspun afghan dream several months ago when I was struggling with color challenges.  I heeded my advice, and my next two fiber purchases were much more subdued colors.

Both braids are blue-faced leicester (BFL) dyed by Miss Babs.  The first braid I spun on my spindle before I had my wheel, and after plying, I had a nice light worsted weight yarn in soft colors.  Definite potential for afghan yarn.  My only hesitation was that the BFL fiber was not superwash, and really, did I want to contemplate handwashing an afghan?  While I may come to regret this decision later, I ignored my reservations and started knitting.  A few days later, I had square one of my handspun afghan.

Add to square one, a spinning wheel, another fiber purchase from Miss Babs, and a few months of spinning and knitting time:

I think the blanket will eventually have 15 or 16 squares (each is over 12 inches long/wide), so I’m at least a quarter finished with the squares.  Knitting blanket squares is the other handspun knitting exception that is taking away from Operation Conquer the WIPs, and thus, square five is well underway. 

So lately I’ve been knitting handspun cowls, a hat, and a blanket square, and not one stitch on the Angostura vest.  Operation Conquer clearly has success written all over it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Handspun Exception, Part I

If I have any hope of actually finishing my seven current WIPs before the end of the year, a challenge I’ve come to think of as Operation Conquer the WIPs, it sort of goes without saying that I shouldn’t cast on new projects.  However, to preserve my sanity and to avoid knitting feeling completely like work, I have allowed myself a couple of exceptions—mainly that I’m allowed to work on small projects with handspun yarn.  The handspun skeins are starting to pile up and several are floating around that are only about 100-200 yards.   I’ve been perusing patterns for these skeins for months and recently have been dying to get going on a few.  

In the last week, despite proclaiming my dedication to Operation Conquer, I started two new projects.

Yarn spun from Fiber Optic superwash merino in "Peacock"

The hat is going along well enough, but I when stumbled onto designer Carina Spencer’s Ravelry pattern page last week, I saw Betula Ring and realized I had a handspun skein that might work.  The yarn I had in mind is little lighter than the bulky weight called for, but I bought the pattern anyway and cast on in minutes.  Less than 24 hours later I was binding off.  About 48 hours after that the cowl was blocked, dried, and had buttons.

Yarn spun from Bee Mice Elf superwash merino fiber in "Old Flame"

I’ve never been a huge fan of cowls, but I liked that this one could be worn in different ways so I gave it a shot.  The pattern absolutely flies, and with the unusually cold few days we had last weekend, I even got a chance to wear it.

Yup, totally bribed Rugby and Juno to participate in photo shoot

I may or may not have purchased that grey shirt while making the cowl so I would have something to wear with it.  This cowl is actually my first completely finished project made with my own handspun yarn. I enjoyed making this so much, I had to talk myself out of casting on another one right away with more handspun.  That only lasted a few days.  I cast on a second one today.

Off to pack now since I'm leaving for Atlanta tomorrow.  Ten hours in the car should make for some productive knitting time.   I really should leave the handspun projects at home and only bring Angostura and a sock, but....nah.