Knitting with Balls

Yesterday I came up against one of the hard realities of knitting.  Things don’t always come out like you plan.  You can follow a pattern, swatch like a lys owner, block your butt off, and still come up with something other than what you aimed for.  Knitting as metaphor for life. 

This was the deal:  I am knitting a stockinette stitch sweater, stockinette from the bottom back to the front bottom, all in one piece.  On finishing, I discovered that I was an inch shy in the back and the front.  Never mind why, that inch in the front and inch in the back was the reality of it.  First I said a number of choice words.  Like “durn“.  Since there wasn’t a ribbed border or some other pattern change that I could hide behind, I couldn’t just take the cast-on row loose and knit backwards.  The join would have looked awkward.  I did take the bind-off row loose in the front and knit an extra inch on that side, binding off again.  No problem there. 

I wondered next about grafting.  When you graft with the Kitchener stitch you wind up with a join that looks like you’ve knitted a row that connects both live sides together.  I’m accustomed to using it on the toes of socks, where I’m joining two rows that are going in opposite directions.  But I was considering whether it would work if I cast on the right number of stitches for the back, knitted an inch, and then grafted the new piece to the old.  I composed a question, trying not to let myself sound like a total idiot, and sent it through KnitU.  It was already late and nobody was at the board, so there were no answers from (hopefully) smarter and more experienced knitters last night. 

There was only one thing to do.  I put on my big-girl balls and tackled a trial.  I held the new knitted addition on one needle and the live stitches I’d uncovered on the back bottom of the sweater on another.  They were wrong sides together, just like in’s wonderful tutorial on grafting, or using the Kitchener stitch, presented by Theresa Vinson Stensen.  I encourage you to look at   because  it has wonderful illustrations and will help you to see the process, step by step.  However, since I have now grafted a 115-stitch chunk of sweater quite successfully, I’d like to share the additional insights experience gave me. 

  • Make sure your grafting yarn on the needle is a separate strand, not the tail from one of your pieces.
  • Keep your grafting yarn positioned below the level of the needles.  What I mean is this:  if you have completed step 2 (a purl into the 2nd stitch on the front needle) and are carrying your yarn to the back to perform step 3, hold your grafting yarn down, not letting it languish across the top of the front needle on the way to the back.  The more you do this, the more you will have an orderly, neat construction developing in the grafted piece, and it will fall to your right without tangles.
  • To tighten your grafted stitches, use a small knitting needle point and pull your loose graft one stitch at a time, starting at the right.  You can regulate how wide or narrow your graft is, keeping it to the same size stitch as you used in your knitted pieces.  Moreover, you won’t destroy your yarn by roughly pulling it through that long sequence of zigzags. 
  • Stop to tighten your grafted stitches every two or three inches.  If you begin to tighten them and a hole appears, make sure you have pulled the right strand of yarn.  You can gently tug on the previous grafted stitch to follow the yarn to the right place.
  • Stensen recommends chanting “knit, purl, purl, knit” as you perform the four corresponding steps.  I find it easier to say “knit-off, purl, purl-off, knit” as a cue to removing the stitches from the needle in steps one and three. 
  • Stensen also says to keep your place because it’s impossible to find it once you set your work down.  Nonsense!  When you use your grafting needle and thread to purl into a stitch, you are working right to left into the front of the stitch just as when you knit normally; when you use your needle and thread to knit into a stitch, you enter left to right into the front of the stitch; you can look at your stitches and see what was done last, including whether you took the stitch off the needle.  If you are interrupted, pick up your needles in your left hand and hold them like you are grafting.  Follow your needle and thread to the last stitch you worked.  Determine if it is knit or purl, on or off it’s needle, and you will know which step you performed last.  Then you can pick up with the next one.  Believe me, when I worked 115 stitches, I took a number of breaks.  I even breathed!

  This hasn’t been written into law yet, but I personally feel that when you graft more than 100 stitches you are entitled to wear a tiara for 24 hours.  I hope I can find one for my next knitting group meeting!  If you are male, I don’t know-maybe a jewel-encrusted codpiece?  

Now, a few tidying up notes.  Lucy is a full-blooded dachshund, with papers that she is very proud to show off.  She is almost seven years old and has only recently learned to use the Internet.  I used the term “lys” above-that is knitspeak for local yarn store.  In yarn and craft stores, to show off yarns the owners will display small (about 4 x 4 inch) swatches-pieces knit from the yarn. 


Lucy Speaks

lucyunderdesk.jpgessie can’t write today.  she is very busy.  she is finishing a sweater that she has been working on for too long, as far as i am concerned.  when she works on this sweater she takes it to her bed and she won’t let me come on the bed because she is keeping me away from the sweater.  i told her my brown footprints from the backyard mud would look good on the white sweater, but she doesn’t think so.  grrr.  if she didn’t let me run out through the garage and have a good trot around the neighborhood this afternoon, i would be really mad.  when i’m mad i lay on my stomach and put my snout on the floor.  i make sure i don’t look at the people i’m mad at. 

when essie is finishing some knitted thing, she gets very obsessed with it.  she stays up late working on it and she puts all her other knitting stuff down and she doesn’t play with me enough.  did i mention that she’s not letting me on the bed?

i thought i would write while she isn’t using her computer.  i know she talks about me and puts my picture on here, but i never get to pick the photo.  i can find some now.

 this is a picture of me under the desk in my newest hang-out.  i have pillows and a blanket so i can curl up here.  i never sit on anything hard.  in the kitchen i have to sit on the mat in front of the refrigerator or the mat in front of the sink.  my butt is tender.  sorry that the picture is kind of blurry.  i had to set the timer myself and run fast to pose.


you better blow it up big so you can see me.  i have a little mud on my tummy today but that doesn’t diminish my charm.

this next picture is me with my toy.  my favorite way to play with toys is to bite a little slit in them and pull all the stuffing out.  this orange toy has been flat for a long time, and i can shake it in my teeth.  essie never lets me keep the fluff.  grr.


oh no essie is coming.  i gotta get back in my mad position.  bye human people.

13 Stars

 Ever since the first treatment three days ago, everyone is asking “How do you feel?”  I will attempt to answer that for today.  I have to be up a few hours before I can take a good inventory.  This one is shaping up pretty well.  Here’s the rundown:

Energy                          ********

Pain                               *********

Stiffness                       ******

Sense of humor           *************

Knitting desire            *************

Travel desire               ********

Appetite                       ******

Okay, totally unscientific, but 13 stars is the best for the good stuff like knitting and the worst for the bad stuff like appetite and pain.  I definitely don’t feel as bad as that listless day after the treatment.  I’ve been up for a while, knitting on the mohair wonder and having that healthy oatmeal and an apple and turkey slices breakfast with my daughter.  I’ve just realized that my stiffness is definitely better.  My hands and fingers are very limber, and my hips didn’t feel as stiff this morning.  How about that?!

I am watching Stigmata for the first time.  I am jealous of the young women in Frankie’s shop, the hip hair stylists and body piercers.  Some days I wouldn’t mind a couple of purple streaks in my hair and a small loft apartment in the artsy section of a large city.  But I wouldn’t want to be the star, Frankie (Patricia Arquette), who is being inflicted with excruciating pain that she doesn’t understand, from a belief system that isn’t hers.  It makes me think of the pain inflicted on some people by the extremely religious, judgmental, “right Christians”.  Yes, I know that in this country they’ve been dubbed the “Christian right”, but I think that most of them believe they are both right and right.  Attacking people with harsh judgments and unrestrained criticisms, insisting on unquestioning stewardship, moving the religious into the political realm…I am a Christian, but I cannot be “right” like that.

I am looking forward to the end of the holidays.  Does that sound crazy?  I kind of want the regular stuff to be available again, like I want Yarn Works to reopen and all the online places to be back to regular business.  I haven’t really been tending my store like I should.  I have cashmere pieces to photograph and list, and things that I no longer like to remove from the display.  But the holidays hold me back, give me this lethargy toward work, make me feel like I am wasting precious holiday time when there will be plenty of work, work, work soon enough.  There has to be something perverted about this kind of thinking in a person who is no longer officially employed. 

In the movie, Frankie is now at the arch diocese being cared for by the nuns.  I want to jump into the screen and warn her.  In the eighth grade I started Catholic school.  A non-Catholic, I was submerged in the culture of religious teachers and daily mass.  My teacher, Sister __, was the principal of the school.  When children were sent to her for discipline, she would take them into the cloakroom at the front of our classroom and spank them.  Afterward, the little kids would come out crying and she would return to our lesson, smiling.  Yikes!  Run, Frankie, run! 

I am horrible to go to the regular movie theatre and talk to the characters on the screen when there is danger involved.  Ever since my first scarey movie, The Wizard of Oz, when I tried to warn Dorothy about the wicked witch and the flying monkeys, I have gotten seriously involved with the action and talked to the characters.  As a kid I didn’t see many scary movies, but I do remember The Birds, and then The Exorcist.  Now I watch horror movies only when there’s someone in the house with me, although Dayna fell asleep during Stigmata and left me gasping alone.  I doubt that I’m going to make any further progress in this watch-scarey-stuff-alone thing.  I’m proud just to be able to see Friday night TV by myself. 

I haven’t talked about Lucy much because she tends to dominate things.  Dachshunds are very stubborn and when they want to be the center of attention, they do a damn good job of it.  She’s sitting here staring at me, hoping I will pick her up and put her in her chair.  I suggested that she jump, something she’s perfectly capable of doing, or take the stairs that I so kindly provided, or rest on her cushions that I placed under my desk.  Her gaze is compelling, but I will not give in.  She is a dog and she can jump.  This morning she gazed me out of a couple large slices of deli turkey.  I am so weak.  Aha!  She jumped!  We’re 1 and 1. 

Peace, people, enjoy this day.

Mohair-Need I Say Mo’?

I crack myself up.  People who know me will vouch for that.  I frequently make a dumb joke, like today’s title, and then laugh so loudly the neighbors can hear it.  When I moved into my last mountain house, my neighbor heard me laugh and came out of her house and across the street to talk to me and my dad.  The first thing she said was that she knew the new people had moved in because she heard the laugh.  My ex-husband is a master of puns.  You can guess how we have warped my daughter’s sense of humor.  She knows that she is the world’s funniest person.  When the three of us are together, it’s not unusual for someone to come across a restaurant to ask what we’re up to and comment that we are having entirely too much fun.

I also lie.  You may remember that I bragged about having willpower, then started the mohair creation in the middle of the night.  I needed an excuse, the diminished capacity defense.  But I also said that our decisions in the middle of the night might not be wise.  This is to say that after two days I decided I didn’t want the wrap to just be a long, plain rectangle with vertically striped patterning.  I wanted a shaped capelet with the pattern wrapping around in long swooshes of colour, and I wanted to break up some of the front with eyelets formed by yarnovers.
Okay, hold up a minute.  Had to get up and slip on my Crocs quickly and dance with Ellen Degeneres.  She has not taped a show that I didn’t love.  If I can’t get up and dance I dance sitting down.  (I learned chair-dancing from Bill Cosby.)   The Crocs are the most wonderful shoes my sore feet have ever worn.  I can bear to put my feet on the floor with their squishy cushioning.  This is my dog, Lucy, watching me dance.
Back to mohair.  I took the old piece off the needles and unraveled it with difficulty.  Mohair that is spun with the little curliques does not like being pulled apart, no matter how loosely you knit it.  When I finished I had a pile of pathetic yarn, rather ragged looking, and I knew I’d have to start fresh with the yarn in the ball to do my capelet.  Dayna made a fantastic suggestion.  She said to go ahead and knit the ragged yarn and make a small felted piece.  Those small felted pieces (things the sizes of a swatch, 4×4 inches and larger) can always be used for potholders or coasters, or folded in half and stitched up for coin purses or iPod holders or cell phone cases.  You can cut out smaller pieces and paste them onto collages or use them to decorate your bigger knitted accessories…endless possibilities.  Thanks, Dayna, you saved a big handful of beautifully-coloured yarn from being trashed.
For the capelet, I’m using Knitpicks Options circular needles size 5.  (Remember me, the loose knitter?  You may want to go to a size 6 if you knit tightly.  But still try to keep from choking up on the mohair too much.  You can tear it up dragging it through very tightly knit stitches.)  Any length from 20 inches up is fine.  I’m using a 32 inch because that’s the first cable I took out of the case.  I cast on 90 stitches for the neck edge.  I made one knit row, then started increasing 10 stitches every other row:
  • Row 1:  Knit.
  • Row 2: Knit 3, (yarn over, knit 9) repeat 9 times, then yarn over and knit to end of row.
  • Row 3:  Knit.
  • Row 4:  Knit 3, (yarn over, knit 10) repeat 9 times, then yarn over and knit to end of row.
  • Row 5:  Knit.
  • Row 6:  Knit 3 (yarn over, knit 11) repeat 9 times, then yarn over and knit to end of row.
  • Row 7: Knit.
  • Row 8:  Knit 3 (yarn over, knit 12) repeat 9 times, then yarn over and knit to end of row.
  • Row 9:  Knit, placing 1 yarn over any place you desire in the row.  (131 stitches)

So far you have started at the neck and used the yarnover stitches to increase gradually so that the capelet flares to accommodate shoulders.  At this point you want to knit until the total piece measures about 4 inches.  During this phase of the knitting, I wanted to have a random eyelet pattern around the front edges of the capelet.  I made yarn overs at the beginning and end of the row, not really counting how many or choosing any specific pattern to put them in, but always making sure to follow the yarnover with a k2tog so that the total number of stitches didn’t change.  I also made sure that I had at least 3 knit stitches at the beginning and end of the row, so that there is an effective band down the front of the capelet.  That means if you want an eyelet close to the end of the row, you might have to make your knit 2 together, then the yarnover, then knit 3 to end the row. 

Okay, now we’re at a total length of 4 inches, and we want to add a little more width, give the capelet some flare.  At the beginning and end of the row, work in 7 more yarnovers on each side.  You could, for instance, make a row like this:

Knit 3, yarn over, knit 2, (yarn over, knit 1) 3 times, yo, k2,yo,k1,yo,knit until you have 15 stitches left, then (yo,k1)4 times, yo, k2, yo, k3,yo, knit to end of row.  Now you have a total of 145 stitches.  Don’t count.  There’s nothing we’re going to do in this capelet that can’t be done just as well with 143 or 146 stitches.  Not only am I a loose knitter, I do not obsess about the details unless they are crucial. After the increases, keep knitting.  Add some (yo, k2tog) if you like, but not so many that your piece looks like swiss cheese.  Remember, this is a lightweight capelet that is designed to keep you covered and a little warmer.  We’ll pick up at this point when I have knit some more.  Don’t worry that your piece currently looks like it will only wrap around a 3 year-old.  Blocking is going to really stretch it out and make it cover the wider you.  Not that you are very wide.  But if you happen to be a bit larger than a runway model, this will fit.  You will block it to the size you want. mohaircapeletb.jpg

One more note before I peace-out.  One of my nephews is the same age as Dayna, and he is also a college sophomore.  He is leaving the country today for Kenya where he will live for the next month and help out in a medical clinic.  He is a very directed, hard-working, talented young man, and I admire his resolve in taking on this volunteer task in a difficult new environment.  We talked yesterday.  I wish him Godspeed and a great experience. Peace!