What’s Off My Needles

Finishing a project is one of the most joyful events in a knitter’s life, especially when the project turns out as planned. It’s been a while since I’ve had a major knitting disaster, and I hope to keep it that way. Of course, I’ve been knitting a lot of fingerless mitts lately, but even when a project that small is a total fail, it can never qualify as a major knitting disaster. A fingerless mitt, after all, is little more than a swatch. So if you need to rip the darned thing out and start over, it’s no big deal. When that happens with, say, a sweater, well, that’s a big deal.

The previous paragraph may lead you, dear reader, to conclude that I have recently had a fingerless mitts fail of some sort. If so, I apologize for misleading you. My fingerless mitts have been humming along like a well-oiled spinning wheel. Two pairs have recently left my needles, and both turned out quite well, if I do say so myself.

I’ll start with Anne’s Little Twist Mitts. They are finished, and I’m very happy with how they turned out.

If I could play the bodhrán, I could play it wearing these mitts. 🙂

Although I prefer to have some ribbing in the hand of fingerless mitts because I think it gives a better fit, these mitts don’t bag and sag excessively.

No bagging or sagging, just a nice, snug fit

The yarn I used for these mitts is Brown Sheep Nature Spun worsted weight. It’s my favorite everyday  workhorse yarn because it comes in a wide range of colors, knits up nicely, softens a lot once it’s washed, wears well, is made in the USA of American wool, and is well priced. A lot of knitters are in love with Cascade 220, but in my opinion, Cascade 220 pales in comparison with Brown Sheep Nature Spun.

But that being said, Cascade 220 is a good, solid everyday yarn, and I do sometimes knit with it even though I’m not overly fond of either the twist or the feel of it. In fact, I just recently completed these fingerless mitts using Cascade 220 that I had in my stash.

 

Mr. Pittsburgh Penguins Gnome approves of my Let’s Go Pens Mitts.

The pattern is Center Ice Hockey Mitts, which is a free download on Ravelry. These mitts are intended as a prize for one of the members of the Let’s Go Pens Ravellenic Games team.

It’s very difficult to find a yarn in a color that matches the Las Vegas gold that is worn by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Cascade 220 comes the closest with the color they call “Pear.” I wish Brown Sheep had a comparable color, but they don’t. If they did, Cascade 220 would probably be banished from my stash.

 

Because It’s The Cup

Round 2 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs is nearing its end. The Eastern Conference final pairing is settled; the Pittsburgh Penguins will take on the Boston Bruins. LET’S GO PENS!

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The Pens beat the Ottawa Senators in five games, while the Bruins sent the New York Rangers packing in five games, too.

The Western Conference is a different story. The San Jose Sharks tied their series with the Los Angeles Kings last night at three games apiece, so the seventh and deciding game will be played in L A tomorrow. The other pairing, the Chicago Blackhawks vs the Detroit Red Wings, will play game six tonight, with the Wings leading the series three games to two.

Because it’s The Cup, I have a lot of playoff knitting OTN. In addition to a couple of sweaters, I currently have four different socks on the needles. Hey, variety is the spice of life!

Stanley Cup Playoff sock knitting

Stanley Cup Playoff sock knitting

I hope you are watching the playoffs. It’s the best hockey in the world. LET’S GO PENS!

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A Sweater!

For the past six months or so I’ve been jonesing to knit a sweater. But I already have two drawers full of handknit sweaters, so I need another sweater like a need a hole in my head. But my son does have a lovely GF who adores hand knitted everything, so why not knit a sweater for her?

I started pouring through pattern books and searching on Ravelry to find sweaters that would be contemporary but classic. I went through my stash to find yarn suitable for sweaters. And I thought and thought and thought some more. I have been inspired by Ravelry friends and by knitting podcasters, especially the Knitmore Girls, whose back catalog has been my spinning companion. Through these folks, I found some lovely sweater patterns that are now in my queue, but they are not on my needles. Yet.

But more importantly, due to the recommendations of just about every knitting podcaster in existence, I decided to purchase a knitting book that everyone has been raving about, Coastal Knits.

A must-have book for any sweater knitter

A must-have book for any sweater knitter

Let me state first that I rarely buy knitting books any more. Too many of them contain either poorly-thought-out projects that I would never even consider knitting or trendy stuff. I don’t do trendy. But this book is different. It is filled with patterns, mostly for sweaters, but also some for accessories, that are classic and very knitable. The sweaters come in a large range of sizes and have shaping that makes them feminine. And if you don’t want the entire book (and I cannot imagine why you wouldn’t), you can purchase the patterns individually as PDFs.

When I got the book in my grubby little hands, I was so thrilled with it that I could barely contain my enthusiasm. The next time I saw the GF, I handed the book to her first thing and told her to take her time and go through it and choose any items that she would like me to make her. I allowed for the possibility that there might not be anything in the book she would want, but I knew the odds of that were somewhere between slim and none. And I was right. When I saw her a couple of months later, she said that she loved pretty much everything in the book, but the thing she wanted first was the Bayside Pullover.

Classic, not trendy

Classic, not trendy

Oh, my! She does have good taste. 😀

Next question–what size? That was answered quickly because she had been measured not all that long ago for a bridesmaid dress.

Now comes the most important question. The sweater in the book is knitted in linen–Quince & Company Sparrow–but it can just as easily be knitted in wool or a wool blend. What fiber would she prefer? Her choice was linen. Now, let me state for the record that I knew that linen would present a challenge, but that would just make the project more interesting. And a sweater in linen would definitely be scrumptious.

The next step was choosing and ordering yarn. I certainly don’t have sweater-quantities of linen yarn in my stash, just some leftover bits of Eurosport Linen that I knitted up into facecloths many years ago. I went to the Quince & Company web site and discovered to my delight that their linen yarn, Sparrow, is very well priced and comes in some lovely colors. I sent a link to the GF and asked her to choose the color she would like. She sent me three and asked me to choose, so I picked Nannyberry, a lovely dusky rose color.

Bayside Pullover and Sparrow–a lovely combination

Bayside Pullover and Sparrow–a lovely combination

I placed my order, which was quickly filled, and when the yarn arrived, I was totally blown away by how beautiful it is. I couldn’t wait to knit it up. So I hand-wound a skein into a ball and started swatching. And here’s where the challenge of knitting a sweater in linen lies.

For a lot of knitters, swatching is a dirty word, but when knitting a garment where size matters, it is essential. The swatch must be knitted, then laundered in the same way as the finished item will be laundered. Then the stitches and rows can be measured to determine the gauge. This is a step that should not be left out if you want the garment to be the size you intend. And this is especially true for a fiber like linen. No matter what size needles I used for knitting the swatch, the unwashed gauge was 5 stitches per inch. The pattern calls for 6 stitches per inch. I couldn’t possibly know the gauge until after the swatch was washed and dried. After knitting and washing several swatches, I finally found the needle size that gave me 6 stitches per inch. We are a go!

I was ever so eager to cast on, but something happened that made me put the sweater on hold for a little while longer. The NHLPA and the NHL reached an agreement and the hockey season was about to begin. I needed to have lots of mindless hockey knitting OTN, so I got busy casting on socks. The sweater would have to wait its turn.

Finally, last Saturday, after the Penguins had demolished the Devils at the CEC, I finally cast on the Bayside Pullover. This pattern is a very simple one, a top-down raglan embellished with a simple 6-stitch cable, but the casting on takes some concentration and stitch counting. Once I got the pattern established, this sweater became mindless knitting that I can work on while watching hockey, so the knitting should go quickly. I hope to have the sweater finished in a few weeks so the it can be worn this spring.

Side and back view. I obscured some of the text to protect the copyright.

Side and back view. I obscured some of the text to protect the copyright.

I've got three inches knitted so far.

I’ve got three inches knitted so far.

I’m very happy with both the pattern and the yarn. I just hope that when the dust settles, the sweater fits the wearer and lives up to her expectations.

 

Hockey Socks

Or, more accurately, hockey knitting socks. I’ve been watching a lot of hockey since last I wrote, and a few movies on my favorite television channel, Turner Classic Movies, where the beautiful and elegant Loretta Young is the featured star of the month. I thought you might like to see my progress.

Clockwise from the left, Reversible Rib Socks sock #2, 3 x 2 Rib Socks sock #1, Say You Love Me Skyp Socks sock #1, Spicy Sport Socks sock #1

Clockwise from the left, Reversible Ribs Socks sock #2, 3 x 2 Ribbed Socks sock #1, Say You Love Me Skyp Socks sock #1, Spicy Sport Socks sock #1

You may be saying to yourself, Why in the name of Elizabeth Zimmermann does Pinko Knitter have four different socks OTN at the same time? Why doesn’t she finish one sock before she begins another?

If you just asked yourself that question, here’s my answer. Each of those socks is hockey knitting. Hockey knitting needs to be mindless knitting because hockey is a fast-paced sport that requires one’s viewing attention. So I need knitting that doesn’t take a lot of concentration or constant visual attention. In other words, I need knitting that I don’t have to think about or constantly look at while I’m doing it.

Each of these socks is in a pattern that occupies a different point on the mindless knitting spectrum.  The Spicy Sport Sock, for example, is as mindless as it gets because it is simply knit every round, and being on two circular needles, I don’t even have to fish around under the chair cushion for the needle I just dropped. If I drop a needle, it just hangs there. 😀

The 3 x 2 Ribbed Socks are just a plain knit 3, purl 2 pattern that requires the knitter only to remember to knit 3 before purling 2. That’s a little more thought than plain knit or knit 2, purl 2, but once you get going, you get a rhythm established and it’s pretty mindless.

The Reversible Ribs socks are just 2 x 2 ribbing that is offset every other round. One round is (k2, p2) across, then the next, you k1, p2,  then (k2, p2) across to the end and finish with k 1. When I am about to start a round, I have to take a peak to see whether I’m on a round that starts with k2 or a round that starts with k1, but otherwise, the pattern is mindless.

The Say You Love Me Skyp Socks pattern takes a little more attention than any of the other patterns I’m knitting, but it is still pretty mindless. I worked on this sock yesterday as I was watching the Penguins beat the Senators in a shoot-out, 2-1. It was an outstanding hockey game. Both teams played well, both goalies were excellent, and the pace of play was extremely fast. The hockey didn’t interfere with the knitting, and the knitting didn’t interfere with the hockey. Every other round of this pattern requires me to peak at my knitting when working the skyp stitch, but the stitch is simple to work and quickly becomes automatic. If it weren’t for having to pass a slipped stitch over, I wouldn’t even have to look at my knitting.

Okay, Pink Knitter, you might be saying to yourself. I get the whole mindless knitting thing. But why do you need 4 different mindless knitting socks. Wouldn’t one sock suffice?

The answer to that question is a resounding, NO! One sock is not enough. And for a very simple reason. Socks have beginnings and ends. They have toes and heels and gusset stitches to pick up. As long as I’m knitting a leg or a foot, everything is hokey spokey. But what happens when I come to the part of the sock where the heel begins, or the toe? Heels and toes need attention. Patterns must be centered, stitches must be counted and shifted, heel flaps and heel turns must be knitted, gusset stitches picked up  or, alternately, a short-row heel must be knitted.  And heels and toes take more attention, both mental and visual, than the leg and foot.

So when I’m knitting along and suddenly it’s time to start the heel, if I’m in the middle of a game, I can just set the sock aside and pick up another one and keep on knitting. Then I can work on the heel (or toe) during intermission or after the game. (I’m not a fan of so-called Afterthought Heels, aka peasant heels, which would allow me to just keep knitting round and round until I reached the toe or the cuff, depending on whether I’m knitting the sock cuff-down or toe-up so that is simply not an option.)

Okay, you caught me. I lied just now, at least a little. Although it is true that heels and toes take more mental and visual attention than legs and feet, I am perfectly capable of doing heels and toes while watching hockey. I knitted at least 6 pairs of socks during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so I have had lots and lots of practice. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that the real reason I currently have four different socks OTN is that I just like having a lot of projects going at once. I like to be able to choose what I want to work on, and if I have several projects going, I don’t get bored working on the same thing all the time. I’m just not cut out to be a monogamous knitter. I admire knitters who work on only one project at a time, who never start the next project before finishing the previous project. But I could never be like that. The lure of casting on a new project is a Siren song I cannot resist. I don’t even try any more.

 

 

What A Weekend Of Hockey…

…can do for one’s knitting.

Oh, what a wonderful weekend. It all started on Saturday, the first day of the shortened NHL season. My beloved Penguins opened in Philadelphia against the team I hate most, the F^%ers. During the game, I finished up the right Blue Yonder Mitt, worked on Super Soft Double Rib sock #1, and even knitted a little bit on the 3 x 2 ribbed socks I’m knitting for the DH in the most gorgeous colorway I’ve ever seen. I didn’t work on the DH’s socks very much during the game, though, because I was afraid I’d break the K-P Harmony needles. I decided it was better to work on projects that are on metal needles. The risk of impalement was lower than the risk of snapping a wooden needle.

The game was well played and clean, which is unusual for a game between the Penguins and the F^%ers. There were no bad hits, no fights. The Pens won 3 – 1, getting my weekend of hockey and knitting off to a flying start. I got to watch the Bruins, my second favorite team, beat the Rangers and, thanks to a free-for-the-rest-of-January Center Ice, I watched a bunch of other games, too, in whole or in part. Of course, I knitted almost the entire time, taking only short breaks to give my hands and fingers a rest.

Then came Sunday. Things started off early with the Buffalo Sabres opening at home against those hated F^%ers. That game was a double joy because the Sabes, one of the teams I like a lot, won and the F^%ers, the team I hate the most, lost. Have I mentioned that I hate the F^%ers?

I then watched some football, the NFC championship game between the 49ers and the Falcons. It was a whale of a game, going down to the last seconds. Then it was time for more Penguins hockey. The team had taken the train from Philadelphia to NYC to meet the Rangers in Madison Square Garden. The Rangers were coming off a loss to the Bruins on Saturday, so they were desperate for a win. But the Pens were more than they could handle. Pittsburgh 6, New York 3. More knitting was done.

At this point, I took pity on the DH and didn’t check out Center Ice to see if there were any late games I could watch. He likes hockey, but he’s more of a Pens fan than a hockey fan, and I think he had had his fill of hockey for one weekend, so we watched Downton Abbey, which had been recorded on the DVR. (When he reads this, he will say to me, You should have said something. I wouldn’t have minded if you had wanted to watch more hockey. Yeah, I know. He’s a keeper.)

So here’s a photo summary of my weekend knitting:

Blue Yonder right mitt joins its left sibling.

Blue Yonder right mitt joins its left sibling. This is a pretty good reproduction of the color of these mitts.

Super Soft Double Garter Rib Socks sock #1 with the gusset decreases centered on the sole. I hope I don't run out of yarn before I finish.

Super Soft Double Garter Rib Socks sock #1 with the gusset decreases centered on the sole. I hope I don’t run out of yarn before I finish.

Revisible Ribs Socks sock #2 on the right, and the lovely Schaefer Anne sock #1 on the left

Reversible Ribs Socks sock #2 on the right, and the lovely Schaefer Anne sock #1 on the left

HOCKEY!

The NHL and the NHLPA have ratified the new collective bargaining agreement, and the 48-game (shortened) regular season begins Saturday. I’m trembling in anticipation. I cannot wait to see Sid Crosby, Geno Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Chris Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy, Craig Adams, and all the other Penguins back on the ice.

The season opener is in Philly against the F%$ers, and it should be interesting. The teams have had very short training camps. But these days, hockey players spend the off season staying in shape and even improving their physical conditioning, and some of the players have been playing in other leagues, so it shouldn’t take long for everyone to get up to speed. To put the icing on the cake, Center Ice is free for the rest of the month, so there will be lots of games to watch.

Watching hockey means knitting, but the knitting has to be mindless because hockey is a very fast sport. You can easily miss something great in the blink of an eye. Of course, with today’s technology, you can just back up and watch it over. You don’t even have to wait for an instant replay. But I like to have mindless knitting in hand for hockey games, so I have been busy casting on more socks.

Not all socks are mindless knitting, but my favorite, go-to stitch patterns for socks are all pretty mindless, so socks are a good choice for knitting while watching sports on TV. Since the casting on, either cuff down or toe up, is one of the few parts of knitting a sock that requires some concentration and close attention, I like to cast on ahead of time. Having multiple socks OTN means that if I get to a place that requires my attention, like picking up gusset stitches, I can simply put the sock down and pick up another to work on. Then I can pick up the gusset stitches or whatever during the intermission if I want to continue working on that particular sock.

Anyway, here are the socks I have OTN just in time for the opening of the NHL season, and what better day to share them with you than WIP Wednesday!

The second Reversible Rib sock is well under way.

The second Revisible Rib sock wants to grow up to be just like her big sister.

The second Revisible Rib sock wants to grow up to be just like her big sister.

And I have started a sock with the softest sock yarn ever, Pagewood Farms Alyeska, which is 80% wool, 10 % Nylon, and, wait for it…10% cashmere. It’s just 2 x 2 ribbing right now, but I will be working the leg in double garter stitch, which is just two rounds of 2 x 2 and two rounds of plain knit, mindless knitting that does wonders with handpainted yarn.

Just a cuff at this point

Just a cuff at this point

And then there is this sock that is destined for the DH. The yarn is Shaeffer Anne in a lovely blue and green color way that I simply am incapable of capturing in a photograph. The blues are like sapphires, the greens like emeralds. Anne comes in a skein that weighs a hefty 4 oz/120g and contains a generous 560 yards, so it’s perfect for making a pair of man-sized socks. Even so, I’m not taking any chances of coming up short on the second sock. I’m knitting these socks toe-up.

A toe is born!

A toe is born!

The stitch pattern I’m using is stolen borrowed from Hedgerow Socks by Jane Cochran, but I’m thinking about ripping it out and switching to another pattern, maybe 3 x 2 ribbing, because I don’t think this yarn is showing the pattern very well and I don’t think the pattern does anything for the yarn. Hedgerow is a heavily textured pattern that shows best with a solid or semi-solid yarn, and I’m afraid the combination of dark colors and frequent color changes obscures the pattern and the pattern obscures the beauty of the yarn. Maybe I should save Hedgerow for another yarn. 😀

Last, but certainly not least…

LET’S GO PENS!

Bye Bye Jordie Pie

It’s that time of year. The Cup has been hoisted–congratulations to Anze Kopitar and the L A Kings for a job well done!–and the 2012 NHL draft is under way in beautiful Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s also the time of year that NHL general managers talk to each other about trades and start thinking about which available free agents to pursue.

My favorite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, has a lot of very talented hockey players, including arguably the two best hockey players in the world, centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Crosby was well on his way to a record-breaking season in January of 2011 when he was sidelined with a concussion. His recovery has been long, but he returned to the team for the playoffs this spring and his future is bright.

Malkin, who was coming off knee surgery following the 2010-2011 season, had the best year of his career, winning the Art Ross trophy for most points during the regular season, the Hart trophy as the league’s MVP, and the Ted Lindsey Award for the most outstanding player in the regular season as judged by the players.

The Pens’ third center, Jordan Staal, is also an outstanding forward, a big, strong, dominating two-way center. (A two-way center is one who plays equally well offensively and defensively.)

Jordan Staal leaves the ice. Pens vs Sabres, 10-15-11

Jordan is the third of four brothers from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, who all play professional hockey. Older brother Marc is an all-star defenseman for the New York Rangers; older brother Eric is an all-star forward for the Carolina Hurricanes; and younger brother Jared plays in the AHL and is under contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. This is one talented hockey family, folks!

On another team, one without Sid Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal would probably be a second-line or even a first-line center. The Penguins recognize Staal’s talent and appreciate and value the hard play and leadership Jordan brings to the team. So Penguins GM Ray Shero tried his best to sign Jordan to a contract extension. He offered a long-term deal that was generous by any standard. It was an offer that screamed, We think you are a great player and we want you on our team for a long time to come! But Staal turned it down and then made it be known publicly that he wanted to play for the Carolina Hurricanes.

I cannot blame Jordan for wanting to play with his brothers, but unfortunately, he put Shero in a very tough spot. The Pens could keep Jordan for another season, then lose him to free agency and get nothing for him, or they could try to work a trade. But what team is going to trade for a player who has publicly declared that he plans to sign with the Hurricanes when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, 2013?

Lucky for the Penguins, Ray Shero is a genius, and when the 8th pick in the NFL draft came up, a trade was announced. The Penguins had traded Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for the 8th pick in the draft and two players, one of whom is another outstanding two-way center, Brandon Sutter.

It’s a great deal for both teams, and I hope Jordan, who got married yesterday, is happy there. I will miss him, but such is the life of a hockey fan. Players come and players go. You just have to deal with it.

And speaking of players going, the Pens traded one of their defensemen, Zbynek Michalek, back to the Phoenix Coyotes.

Zee defends the net against the Sabres, 10-15-11

Zee is one of my favorites and a very good D-man, but he just didn’t quite fit in with the Pens’ system of play. I will miss him, also, but I think he will be better served playing for the Coyotes who play a style of defense that is better suited to his talents. I must add here that Zee has the most incredible eyelashes I have ever seen on a man. They are so long and thick that they cast a shadow. Bye bye, Zee! I wish you the best.

Who knows what the next few weeks hold in store. There’s at least one more D-man that could be traded, and with the exit of Staal and Michalek, a large chunk of salary cap becomes available, so maybe the Pens can make a big splash in the free agent market. And the Pens have a few current players still to be signed for next season. Will Sully and Double A be back? Will Big Dog stay with the Penguins organization? Will a certain New Jersey Devil wear black and gold next season? The speculation is endless. 🙂