Review: Knitting with Balls

Knitting with Balls: a Hand’s-on Guide to Knitting for the Modern Man 9780756622893 by Micahel del Vecchio is one of several knitting books out that are specifically for male knitters. They are also for women wanting to make things for men, which is where the book becomes relevant to me. I can’t tell you how a male knitter might like the book, but I can tell you what things look good to TH.

The book includes basic instructions throughout, which look decent as I glanced at them. There are a variety of projects that are somewhat different than most books, such as a wallet, a felted belt, an iPod cover (so if you drop it, it won’t break), a sleeve for a coffee cup, beer cozy (both to keep it cool in the summer and keep your hands warmer at the cold game), felted travel bag and utility cloths (known in most knitting books as dish cloths or wash cloths). He surprised me by liking the coffee sleeve, and then thought I should make him ones that fit around our mugs, with Velcro to attach under than handle.

The Aran laptop cover also appealed to TH, in part because he wants something to protect the laptop so he doesn’t need to haul our big carrying case around. I think it also appealed because it is has nice big cables. (This would definitely take less time than an Aran sweater for him.)

There are of course hats and scarves, such as the fisherman’s watchcap and scarf set. It looked fairly standard to me, but TH liked it, which might be a general thing on the style but I think the yarn probably helped make it appeal. The basic hiking socks also appealed to him.

There are also a few vests and sweaters, and a two are now on the possible project list (the Casual Friday vest and the Aran pullover). Both are quite nice. The Aran is not too fussy and has a really nice look to it.

Overall, I’ll give the book a 3. Despite there being several things TH likes, most of them aren’t particularly unique to the book. However, if I was a man who wanted to knit, it would probably be a good book to buy.

(Knot) Spinning

spinning 4aI finished spinning the llama that I purchased when visiting DJ. There are about 330 yards of 2 ply and it was 5.4 oz originally. (This included some vegetable matter that I mostly picked out when spinning, so the current weight would be a bit less.) The yarn comes out to about 975 yards/pound. I forgot to get the wraps/inch etc before I put it away in an inconvenient place. I’ll try to add this later, if just for my own record keeping.

At the spinner’s meeting last week, T showed us how to make a knotted yarn. This is a type of “novelty yarn”. To make it, you spin 2 regular singles and then when plying, hold one of them out at a 90 degree angle from the other yarn and move the yarn back and forth over a spot to make a bulge in the yarn. You then ply regularly and then repeat using the other yarn. Alternating the yarns is very important.spinning 4b

This is my first attempt (you can click the picture to see it bigger). I intentionally used two colors to make the lumps easier to see, but the barber pole effect is a bit distracting. I tried to make fattish yarn because we didn’t have much time after the business meeting was done. I did not put enough twist in the original for the speed with which my hands were (not) moving and the speed (too high) at which I was plying.

sample 2This is my 2nd attempt. Since it is all one color, barber poling is not a problem, but my spinning was even worse (because I was tired just before bed) and so the yarn came apart a lot during plying. When you are holding the one yarn straight, it loses twist so you need to be sure you get done making a “knot” before the yarn come unspun.

sample 3T told us that sometimes the knots are made with a different color. I spun this with little section of a contrasting roving. My sections were still too long; so on either side of a knot there is still barber poling. I also had the same problem of the yarn falling apart.

sample 4My last sample is using some of my energized singles from last winter that were knit into samples that I really didn’t need. This yarn was fairly fine, but with a lot of twist in it. It also had rested—B added that it is supposed to be easier if you let the twist set a bit by leaving the yarn on the bobbin at least overnight. The other improvement in my technique is that I switched to my slowest whorl to give myself time. The yarn did not fall apart, but I’m not sure this looks really good on a fine yarn.

sample 5I now need to knit these into samples to see if I can conceive of a use for yarn of this sort. Just looking at it (and trying to ignore my poor construction techniques and color choices), I’m not sure I can really think of when I would want to use this yarn.

Since I am showing spinning, here is a picture of the merino/alpaca/tencel blend we also sampled in the spinning group.

sample 1

Hat and socks for DJ

Last weekend I finished the socks for DJ.

sock 6a
sock 6b
Pattern: Madder Ribbed Sock, from Knitting Vintage Socks by Nancy Bush
Yarn: Interlacements Tiny Toes (100% superwash merino), 2 skeins, color 215
Needles: Size 0
Began: August 2007 ; Completed: September 2007
Modifications: none (other than ½ inch shorter leg)

I think they came out well. I hope she likes them. They have a Dutch or Horseshoe Heel and a Pointed Toe.

When visiting her in August, DJ suggested that the leftover yarn from her vest would make a good hat. She was right except for one thing—there really wasn’t enough, so that hat is a bit short.

hat 3b
hat 3c
Pattern: Cotton Chenille + Waikiki Roll Brim Hat
Yarn: Crystal Place Cotton Chenille, (100% mercerized cotton), leftovers (less than 1 skein total), colors 9660 (purple), 9628 (periwinkle), 1219 (pink); Plymouth Eros (100% nylon), less than 1 ball, color 7100
Needles: size 9
Began: September 2007 ; Completed: September 2007

Modifications: I used a different yarn combined with the chenille. I added stripes because that’s what I had. I started to make the roll brim hat, but by the end it was abundantly clear I was far short of the amount of yarn needed. The chenille wanted to roll up and then the hat was far too short. The chenille didn’t want to lie flat, and even if it did, there was far too long an expanse of periwinkle. I added Eros to the bottom and then folded it up to from a bottom strip and keep the hat from rolling.

Review: The Yarn Harlot’s books

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, a.k.a. the Yarn Harlot, is a pop star in the world of knitting. She is a knitting humorist who has written several books and writes a very popular blog. Huge numbers of people show up for her on book tour. I don’t think she has girls screaming as she arrives, trying to grab hold of her sweater, but I have a hard time picturing knitters doing that as a group for anybody.

S gave me Knitting Rules! 9781580178341 at a time when I really needed humor and an escape from work. I really enjoyed the book. It was a light, easy read. It was humorous and allowed me to escape into knitting even while reading. It also gave some theory on the structure of various items. At the time I read the book I had knit scarves and was working on the never ending edging of a baby blanket. Pearl-McPhee explained how a sock is constructed so that it wasn’t a scary mystery. I tried my first sock from her very loose instructions, but I do have to confess it was one of the many versions of the first sock that failed. The instructions would probably work now, but it something wasn’t working right and the sock had no relationship to my foot size. When M started to knit again last winter, at a time when she could use something to cheer her up, I passed the book along. It seems like a read and pass along to someone else kind of book, not a keep it and reread it or reference or inspiration book.

A couple months later, I’m not sure why, S gave me At knit’s end: meditations for women who knit too much 9781580175890. This is Pearl-McPhee’s first book and includes a lot of quotations and short (usually 1 page) pieces about knitting. It again was entertaining. Because of the way it was written in snippets, it was not as readable for long stretches, but it made a nice thing to insert between round of knitting or when I had a few minutes waiting for something at home. Also as the first book, I recognized many of the same ideas and themes that she had fleshed out more thoroughly in her third book. I later passed this book along to JQ.

I later checked out Yarn Harlot: the secret life of a knitter 9780740750373, her 2nd book. I enjoyed it, but having already read books one and three, I found many of the same things repeated. It did not have a lot of fresh material. Perhaps if this had been the first book I read, I would have really liked it, but I think it probably isn’t as good as the third book. Both are currently checked out from the library so I can’t review them and so this is all from memory.

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I just finished her most recent book, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts off: the Yarn Harlot’s Guide to the Land of Knitting 9781580176583. This was definitely felt like a lot of the same material as the first few books, just repackaged in a different way. I didn’t feel like I got to really new thing until about page 140 (out of 218). I still enjoyed the book, but not nearly as much as the other books. Again, if this is the first book you read, I’m sure you’ll really like it. It may be as good as the third book, but personally I still like the way she explained the construction of a sock.

Pearl-McPhee also has a blog called Yarn Harlot. It is exceedingly popular. I occasionally read it, but every time I read it she seems to be on a book tour so she is mostly talking about her tour and all the nice people she met and the misadventures that befell her when travelling. It can be amusing, but a bit too much is, well, advertising her books. I guess it makes sense that her blog (which is free) is not the place she will put her most creative writing. Through her blog, she promotes Tricoteuses sans Frontières (Knitters without Borders) which gives money to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), so she is doing really worthwhile things as a pop star.

Addendum: In case I sound too down on the author, I want to make it clear that if Stepahnie Pearl-McPhee was speaking in town, I definitely would want to go and I am subscribed to her blog (I just don’t always read/skim it).

Rating: all the books probably get a 3, but some threes are more equal than others.

Cotton Chenille Vest

A couple of years ago, DJ gave me a lot of yarn because a store was going out of business. Included in the collection were 3 hanks of periwinkle Crystal Palace cotton chenille. The color was obviously meant for DJ and chenille is not something I particularly like. I decided to do something with it and found a vest pattern on the Crystal palace site. It called for a hood, which I didn’t like at all. However, the parti-color look seemed like a good thing for DJ. I bought a hank each of hot pink and royal purple at my Mom’s LYS last January and then started a vest. You may have noticed that this is the first garment I ever tried to make. I thought the big yarn and very square shape would be good for a first project. In this respect I was correct. I think basic wool would have been an easier choice because the chenille is, well, not wool.

I started the vest last winter and then got stuck. It wasn’t that it was so hard, it’s just that I was (am) still learning and it wasn’t coming together. I buried the vest in the closet, which I believe is the appropriate thing to do with any project causing problems.

After I made the vest for TH and sweater for myself, the DJ’s vest didn’t seem so challenging, so I pulled it out and finished it on the way to and at my sister’s house this summer. I say finished, but we didn’t find buttons. I think she is also going to try to do something more to it, because, it really isn’t that great. In fact, looking at the picture tonight, it is pretty bad. But I made it and gave it away and DJ can turn it into a dishcloth for all I care now.

I couldn’t get the colors in the picture to adjust properly to show the right side as hot pink, so you’ll just have to pretend.

vest 2

Pattern: Cotton Chenille + Blippity Hoodie Cardigan Vest
Yarn: Crystal Palace Cotton Chenille, colors 9660 (purple), 9628 (periwinkle), 1219 (pink)
Needles: maybe size 8?
Began: Jan. or Feb 2007 ; Completed: August 2007
Modifications:Removed hood, reshaped the neck and added contrast color to neck

Notes: I had no idea how to get the chenille ends to stay put, so I would up sewing them down (zig zag with a sewing machine). I think I may have sewn it together too on the machine (hey, they do it with a lot of store bought things, and since I couldn’t figure out how to do it the right way without just pitching the project in disgust, I thought it was a good cheat.

I knit the front panels a couple of times but I never got consistent gauge. I tried to block it, but it still seemed lumpy and misshapen. In fairness, the photo is of it without blocking the edging. I left it with my sister in that condition. If the edging don’t lay down well after washing to look OK, I’m assuming it will never be worn, so I don’t think it is too awful to leave my sister with the undone vest. She is a talented seamstress and artist, so maybe she can make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear.

I did enjoy making it as a first project and I learned a lot, so it was worthwhile. And the chenille will pick up cat hair beautifully, so it is a perfect garment for DJ. If she ever does add button or some other closure, I hope she’ll send me a picture.

Sock-of-the-month club

Yesterday, I went to my LYS2 for their Sock-of-the-month club. I had hoped either S or Janna would be able to go, but both were busy so I went by myself. I knew one person there, a friend from my spinning group who works at the store. The new shipment of Cascade Fixation was not yet in, so I’ll have to go back if I want some of the new colors. I had never heard of Fixation. It is really different. It is 98.3% cotton / 1.7% elastic and super stretchy. It is also worked up on bigger needles than I have used for socks (5.5 s = 1″ #5-9). I’m not convinced I’ll like it, but I probably do need to try it. I’m also concerned that the socks will be so stretchy that I’ll make them too big, so I need to get a color TH would wear. I’m hoping for 9816, 9192, 9843, 9030, 9206 or possibly 9891, or 9862.

It seemed like a very different group of knitters than my normal group. That may be mostly because I only knew one person already. There were also two college students which made a nice mix. They were much more up on blogs and Ravelry etc. than anyone else (go figure) and they are both avid sock knitters.

The group was very informal – no official program this month (and by no means was everyone knitting socks). N was knitting two socks at once on circular needles. I had never seen it done before so it quite interesting to watch her. The one time I tried socks on two circular needles, I wasn’t a big fan, but I may have to try this anyway. One of my problems is that my size 1 needles are not Addi turbo and so catch just a bit. I don’t think I want to invest in two Addis just to see if I’d like this two socks at a time thing. N really likes the technique and she teaches a class on it. I’m not convinced it will be for me and think I may agree more with Sockknitter and Purly Whites.

In other news – I spun a small sample of merino – tencel – alpaca (unknown percentages) that I purchased for the Spinner’s group to try. I only spun about 1/6 of an oz (about 4.7 g), which was 28 yards plied. It is a small skein of white yarn so not particularly photogenic. I had never heard of this fiber combination so I thought it would be a good thing for us to all experiment with. I should try dyeing it sometime.

Review: Knitty Gritty Knits

My somewhat nutty goal is to review all* the knitting books in the local library. *All means books published in the last five or so years (unless they are classics or books I otherwise want to review). I also would exclude books that are clearly directed to an audience other than myself because they would all get a rating of 2 (basically meaning I’m personally not interested in the book). Examples of this include books to knit pet things (S can review) and books on Barbie knits (M can review). I also plan to ignore most knitting for kids, books for kids and teens to learn to knit, and books for knitting large size garments. I am mentioning this because I think the book I am about to review is meant for trendier people than I am, probably teens or a little older. This means I ought to have skipped the book, although in all fairness, the book does not indicate it is for a younger audience. Yes, the small print on the back does say she will share “hip, happening, and funky projects with you” which could be a clue this isn’t going to be a book for me.

I was interested in looking at Knitty Gritty Knits: 25 Fun & Fabulous Projects 9781579909161 by Vickie Howell because I keep hearing about the show in blogs but I have never seen it. Based on another DIY network book I looked at recently, I was suspicious that I would like much in the book.

Well, I was right. There is little in the book that appeals to me. For a while, I thought it was going to be a clean sweep, but true to form, I can find something to like in just about any knitting book.

TH’s favorite was probably the Camo hat because it reminded him of Marvin the Martian and thought L should make it for J. I am not showing a picture because he was not actually serious – I forced him to look at pictures last night when he was very sleepy.

The Sundown hat (Lisa Anne Auerbach) has and interesting construction. It is made out of 18 (or 26) triangles. If I ever made the hat, I would omit the optional ear flaps as I’m not too keen on the floppy eared dog look. The triangles (base of 16 stitches) are joined together, with five triangles making a circle.

Another good project is the Backgammon board (Tina Whitmore). I would pick different colors, at least if I ever want TH to play. I thought it was a clever idea for a travel set.

The book ends with several afghans made of squares in different patterns and colors. I think the Nine-patch baby blanket (Lily Chin) is the best of these. Mohair and wool in ecru and tan is not what I would choose for a baby, but I was thinking of this more as a small throw (I think it is about 3’ x 3’). The reversible blanket has 5 ribbed cable squares, 2 bi-color brioche and 2 diamond brocade squares.

Despite a couple interesting projects, the book really is not for me.

Rating: 2.2