Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It sounds better than "Klugman"

In my last post, I mentioned an unanticipated peril of working with cheap yarn. I’d undertaken the original attempt because, after reading the instructions to the Jared Flood’s Quincy pattern in the “Made in Brooklyn” book, I wasn’t entirely sure I understood the construction. Plus, I was honestly a little bit concerned about the name. I mean, seriously, why would you name a hat after Jack Klugman’s intrepid coroner? Honestly, I’m not sure the hat fits the shape of the man’s head.

I thought I’d give the Quincy (a/k/a Klugman) a test run in some especially lousy yarn – get out all the mistakes – and then make one for real. All of this was of course ruined by a bad case of degenerative yarn disorder (or DYD). (

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried about construction. Quincy knits up nicely.

Although I worried a bit about grafting the two ends of the moebius together, and also about picking up the stitches in and around the moebius overlap, it was actually very easy and worked well. The only thing I would change if I made another version in the future is the size needles used for the crown.

The pattern calls for you to use US size 10.5 for the moebius strip and US size 10 double-points for the crown (all assuming you get the appropriate gauge). Candidly, I got a very different feel in my garter stitch between the moebius and the crown. Some of that is related to the needle size. Most of that, however, is probably related to the fact that my double-point knitting tends to be looser (i.e., worse) than when I use circulars (which I prefer and used for the moebius).

Shown below is my Quincy, completed in Rowan Cocoon. Mrs. TSMK has indicated that she approves of the result.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Swatching for Primates

A few weeks back, I attended a class on gauge. The class was split over two Sunday mornings, with homework assigned between the sessions. The homework consisted of preparing two separate swatches (one on size 7 needles and one on size 8) each knit from the same skein of yarn. In this case, each of us in the class was using one of my favorite all-around yarns: Cascade 220. The swatches themselves would consist of a set number of stitches in stockinette (the theoretical number which according to the manufacturer would result in a 4 inch swatch), with a two stitch border of garter stitch on the sides. For rows, we were to simply knit until we had a finished swatch slightly longer than 4 inches.

The point of the exercise was simply to point out that even with the same yarn and operating with the same sized needles, everyone would get a slightly different gauge. Sure enough, in the second class session everyone had a slightly different gauge. My own work was fairly close to the gauge anticipated on the ball band. I attribute this happy coincidence to the fact that I try very hard to use almost no extra tension when knitting - simply laying the stitches in place - although perhaps it was just luck.
I wanted to take the gauge class despite the fact that I really dislike swatching. Strongly. In fact, I'm prepared to say that it is my least favorite part of knitting. All in all, I'd rather spend hours untangling a ball of two-ply lace weight silk yarn ( than spend much time swatching. No, I wanted to get better with my gauge because I'd recently completed a sweater for my not-yet-then-born youngest son. Although I followed all directions in the pattern for the sweater, I failed to check (or perhaps refused to check - given my distaste for swatching) for gauge. The sweater looks nice enough, unless you happen to see the sleeves.

Now, we haven't discussed it before, but it is worth noting that neither I nor any known member of the TSMK extended family is actually an orangutan. It is true that I have occasionally been accused of being slightly too furry. It is also true that my two older sons greatly enjoy playing in trees. Nevertheless there are important chromosomal and morphological distinctions between the members of the TSMK family and most (if not all) orangutans. For purposes of my youngest son's sweater, the most important of these distinctions is in arm length. Orangutans are known to have arms which are occasionally twice as long as their legs. Humans, even if they are members of the TSMK clan, rarely have such an impressive armspan. By failing to check gauge (and adjust as necessary), I had inadvertently knit a garment for an infant orangutan.

Interestingly, I understand that the sweater might have fit an infant version of Michelangelo's David, as his arms are unusually long.

With this experience fresh in my mind, I enrolled in the gauge class and, having completed the class, I now feel compelled to check gauge early and often.
I first put my newfound gauge-testing mastery to work in preparations for making a hat. Specifically, I'd recently purchased Jared Flood's great new collection of patterns: Made in Brooklyn (available here: Many (almost all, actually) of the patterns in the book are stunning. So much so that Mrs. TSMK has already requested several pieces from the book. The first piece she requested is the hat on the cover: "Quincy".

The hat has an interesting construction, with a garter stitch möbius bounded by built-in I-cords, from which you pick up stitches and knit the crown. Too cool. Anyway, I hadn't done anything quite like this before, so I thought it made sense to take a test trial. I grabbed from the deepest darkest recesses of the stash some ugly blue yarn of questionable parentage but roughly the correct weight and set to work.

Like the good student I am, I first knit a gauge swatch. I counted my stitches and rows over four inches, and decided to move down one needle size.

But the fates were aligned against me.

Roughly nine inches into the garter stitch & I-cord portion of the hat, something unusual began to happen. The diameter of the dreadful, scratchy and completely inorganic yarn began to change. Specifically, what was coming out to 15 stitches over four inches was now around 20 stitches over four inches. This had never happened to me before. Although in my efforts to learn to spin I've recently had occasion to make yarn of erratic diameter, I've never before bought machine-made yarn with this characteristic (i.e., flaw).

I'll be ripping out the offending yarn tonight. I may have some trial and error in my future for construction of the hat, but I'd rather do it with a yarn I enjoy and that I can depend on. Now if only I could get some Cascade 220 in a heavier weight. . .


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sometimes, a Viking just needs a nap

We come from the land of the ice and snow,

from the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow.

The hammer of the Gods will drive our ships to new land,

to fight the horde, singing and crying:

Valhalla, I am coming!

In my house, this tune is known as the "Viking Song" - although I kind of chuckle at the more overt xenophobia (or perhaps its just tongue-in-cheek) of Led Zeppelin's original title: "The Immigrant Song." Anyway, it's a big favorite of my two oldest, who are known to wail along with Plant as he garbles the chorus:

On we sweep with threshing oar,

our only goal will be the western shore.

Usually, hearing the song prompts my oldest guy to want to talk about Vikings, and in particular about Berserkers. History tells us that Berserkers were fairly terrifying - clad in the skin of wolves or bears and fighting with a ferocity that was seemingly unmatched in the ancient world. It has been suggested that the word "berserker" itself comes from a perversion of the ancient Norse words meaning "bear shirt." To me, that seems like it is a bit too convenient. What is clear, however, is that one of the lasting legacies of the berserkers' trancelike fury is our modern word "berserk."

Every May, our neighboring town of Poulsbo hosts Viking Fest. Billed as a celebration of the town's Norwegian heritage, it is actually little more than a street carnival and an excuse to eat funnel cakes and ride spinning rides (with occasionally disastrous results if you do both in rapid succession). Also, there's the swag. By far the most popular item seems to be the plastic viking helmet, complete with horns. They must sell thousands of these things, and I confess that my two oldest boys each have one.

Honestly, I've never understood the horned helmet. If you were going into battle, it seems to me that having horns affixed to either side of your head would just give your enemy something extra to grab onto. Anyway, who am I to argue with the historical accuracy of hundreds of years of Viking stereotypes?

The one problem with the Viking hat, at least as far as I can tell, is that it doesn't come in a small enough size. Also, metal and horn (or extruded plastic if you get your hat at Viking Fest) is kind of scratchy on delicate skin. What a guy really needs is a kindler, gentler Viking hat. One that pays homage to the fiercesome legacy of Viking warriors, while still being snuggly. One that works even if your idea of pillaging is rooting at your mother's breast.

Problem solved. Here is my youngest, in Viking hat made from Berroco Comfort. Snuggly and - since its a nylon/acrylic blend - washable. That last bit is really important - pillaging can get messy.