Sunday, April 22, 2007

Branching Out

Pattern: Branching Out by Susan Pierce Lawrence

Yarn: Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool

Needles: Clover Takumi Bamboo straights, size 8

Verdict: Love it!

Pattern is easy to do, but for some reason I never did learn it. Still had to look at the pattern every row. And, also for some unknown reason, the written instructions were what I used, not the chart. No explanation; maybe it goes back to the way I learned to knit, doing Aran cables from written instructions.

Yarn is wonderful. Crisp (or crunchy, as I've come to think of it). Good stitch definition, no knots whatever.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Be There Or Be Square

Susan Moraca of Kollage Yarns was our guest speaker at the guild meeting last Thursday. She and her husband drove over from Birmingham and she gave a very interesting talk on yarn, mainly a sales pitch for her products. I'm hearing from some members that they were surprised to get a sales pitch, to which I would say, "what did you think? you invite an entrepreneur to give you a talk on knitting in the south, and then you're surprised when she talks about her business--which is developing lighter knitting options for the south?" Oh, well.

Anyway, I ended up buying wayyyyyy more of her stuff than I had intended, which worked out well since Knitting Emporium, one of my favorite LYSes was selling it. (Go, Wanda!) Kollage Yarns are natural, mostly vegetable and man-made fibers, although some of the bamboo had some merino mixed in. All the yarn was very soft but had nice body. I ended up with 10 skeins of Cornucopia -- guess what that's made of? No, really, guess. Yep, you're right.

But the most interesting things I bought were Susan's square knitting needles, in two sizes (8 and 5). Of course, I had to try them out right away. There's just something about a square knitting needle that doesn't compute--and, by the way, she has square crochet hooks too. Anyway, the "selling" point is that they are "ergonomic."

Now "ergonomic" is one of those buzz words that people love to use but almost no one knows what it means. Actually it relates to the study (nomics) of work (ergo). The science of ergonomics studies how to apply human needs to the design of work to improve it. (Yes, I realize that's an extremely simplistic explanation--sue me!) Anyway, when people call something "ergonomic," they usually mean it makes work better or easier, and an ergonomics program in the workplace (such as the one I'm responsible for) is supposed to improve the way employees work by redesigning their working conditions.

All of which is a long way around this: Susan suggested in her talk that square needles could reduce carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion injuries. A big promise, and one that I probably wouldn't have made (but that's just me). The website says:

"Yes, they really are easier on your hands! Handcrafted to our exacting standards, KollĂ ge's square knitting needles are designed to be ergonomically suited to your hands, decreasing stress and strain for those who love to knit. The needles are handmade in Vietnam from a hardwood called Forest Palm."

So, here's my review after my admittedly amateurish testing process:

First, they feel great. The wood is smooth, with a nice dark walnut color. The point is sharp enough, though I guess I wouldn't want to knit a nupp with it. (Now that I've knit with Addi Lace needles, no nupp will ever be knit with anything else.) The size is burned into the upper end. (This is a pet peeve of mine--just put the size of the needle somewhere on it, for God's sake! Don't make me get out the gauge every time!) Okay, I'm calmer now. So, let's see how it works.

I picked up Branching Out. Yes, the same Branching Out that was a disaster last week and a Finished Object this week. Go figure. But in between those two extremes, there was the knitting part. I've been knitting BO on Clover Takumi bamboo straight needles (size 8, 9" long). And, yes, I know you're not supposed to change needles in the middle of a project. Again, sue me. (Well, actually, don't.)

And so I learned why you don't change oars in the middle of the lake, metaphorically speaking. Because I had to tear out the part I did on the square needles. The Kollage 8 needle is probably a 9 in reality. I'll have to do some major swatching to figure this out, but that's my estimate. The difference was noticeable. (I should have known this because the stitch counter that was whirling around the Clovers in an unrestrained sort of way barely squeezed onto the square needle.)

But the needles do feel good in the hand. I suspect that the reason people think they're easy on the hands is that you don't have to clutch them so hard. The square shape is intrinsically easier to grasp than a round needle. Now, I am an English thrower who holds her right needle in the classic "writing with a pen" position and grasps the left needle with thumb and first two fingers. This means (to me, at least) that I'm not really clutching the right hand needle so much as gently cradling it. So maybe I'm not the best person to speak to this. But the needle did feel good in my hands, once I got past the "knitting needles are not supposed to be square!" problem.

Let me say here that most repetitive motion injuries (RMIs) are the result of repetition (go figure!) of a motion over a long period of time. You don't get carpal tunnel or tennis elbow or whatever the problem is overnight. But sometimes the "fixes" can give almost immediate relief, so if these really do make someone's hands feel better, don't let me rain on the parade. I'm happy for you, if it works.

What I didn't like is the length. The Kollage needles are about 14" long, and only come in one length. For me, a dedicated circular needle lover, that's just the wrong length. If I'm going to use a straight needle, and I do occasionally, it needs to be short, just because of the way I hold the needles. (Could it relate to the fact that my fat belly sticks out too far and hits the needle? Let's not go there.) But this is a quibble, and admittedly a personal preference.

Finally, price. Each pair was $19.95, sort of a bite compared to other wood needles. I've paid more for ebony and rosewood needles, but those were gifts. I'm too frugal to buy those for myself, although I have an embarrassingly large collection of needles overall, including the original Aero set I knit with 40 years ago.) Typically, I'd expect to pay somewhere in the $7-13 range for a bamboo needle, and maybe $15-22 for a rosewood or ebony needle. So I guess this is in the range of acceptable prices. It just felt high because usually I don't knit with specialty wood needles. (But you can bet I'll knit with these puppies because I've invested 40 fricking bucks in them.)

So, report card:

Tactile: A
Appearance: B (it looks a little homemade but in a good way)
Size (diameter): D (you gotta be able to trust the sizes, especially when it won't fit in your gauge thingy)
Size (length): C (for me anyway)
Price: C
Ergonomics: Incomplete, but maybe...I'm just sayin'

Overall, I'm giving them a C+ with an A for effort and entrepreneurial spirit.

Branching Out complete. Well, it's knit, but not blocked. I need to find some blocking pins and then figure out what to pin it to. It's dark red, and I'm afraid of ending up with my comforter (off-white) or my carpeting (neutral beige) with big red streaks. I'll ask Whit about it when we have dinner tomorrow. Whit knows everything about blocking.

And I learned how to knit backwards. Of course, I used a YouTube video by KnitWitch. Now to practice on Monica, which seems to be positively endless amounts of stockinette.

In other news, my friend Robert gave me a print of pugs that he and Megan bought at the Dogwood Festival this weekend. It's a great picture, and looks sort of like Lucy. The artist is Michelle Mardis of the Tampa Bay area.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Yes, This Is Me!

You Belong in London

You belong in London, but you belong in many cities... Hong Kong, San Francisco, Sidney. You fit in almost anywhere.
And London is diverse and international enough to satisfy many of your tastes. From curry to Shakespeare, London (almost) has it all!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Branching Out

Branching Out is in recovery, thank you. No, not the Britney type...or the type that Don Imus might be considering now...nope, it's the "knitting back on track" type of recovery.

I'm officially at 15 repeats again, over 50%. Yay!

And, in other knit news, on Tuesday I knit at a Starbucks (reasonably) near me with two new-to-me knitters. Actually it's more like I'm new to them, because they knit together fairly often, but usually on Thursdays. I put a notice in the SNB Atlanta group list asking whether anyone wanted to knit there on Tuesdays, but it took 3 or 4 weeks before we actually got together. Anyway, they're both very nice people, and it was fun to be in a new venue with new potential friends. Hi, Paige and Liz!

Guild tonight, my next-to-the-last as guild president. And there's apparently a minor firestorm brewing (can a firestorm brew, or is that a totally screwed up metaphor? Oh, well ...). I think the general meeting will be okay, but the board meeting beforehand threatens to be a little hairy--tempers flying, if not yarn. Hopefully no one will draw out their knitting needles and brandish them threateningly.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

One Step Forward, Two Back

I have been so excited about the progress I'm making on the Branching Out Scarf from Knitty. I'm using Silky Wool, and I'm loving the way the yarn isn't smooth, but sort of catches on itself like twigs in the yard. Something I read the other day described the yarn as "crunchy" and I think that's a perfect description. It's like knitting with Bear Naked granola cereal.

And, of course, the pattern is described as "easy." That alone should make it do-able, even by a lace virgin like myself. And, to complete the picture, my sister, the incomparable Debbie, says she's made it twice. In fact, knowing her, she's made it twice again since that conversation!

Now about that last statement. First, my sister apparently can knit anything. She has no fear, and no limitations. Second, how in the world does she get it all done? A few possibilities: (1) she's knitting all day at work; (2) she comes home and knits all evening, now that all her kids are in college or otherwise gone; (3) she has no life; or (4) she's not as ADHD as I am, and she actually sits down and finishes her projects instead of starting new ones like I do.

And one other thing: how incredible is it that Debbie and I, separated by around 600 miles, would both be making the same pattern, without ever discussing it? The sisterhood thing is pretty incredible, when you think about it. Love ya, Debbie!

Anyway, back to Branching Out.

So, I was so excited. I think the pattern says to expect 27 repeats of the pattern in Silky Wool (more in Douceur de Soie). I'm an OCD type, so, of course, I've been counting repeats. And, low and behold, the other day I counted 13. Almost halfway there. So, right away, I had to do one more, so I'd be over 50% finished. Woo hoo!

Today, I was knocking out one more repeat, and lovingly counted the leaves crawling up this gorgeous scarf, and, WTF? One was seriously misshapen. A major screwup. So I've just frogged about six repeats. I'm probably down to 25%. Rats!

Sad News

One of our local yarn stores is closing. It's not one I get to often, because I'm usually at work when it's open, but I'll miss it. And, of course, I feel guilty, because maybe if I'd shopped more there it wouldn't be closing. But even I know that's crap.

It's closing because it's the right thing for the owners to do. When I moved to Atlanta six years ago (gosh, can it be six years? Wow!), there were four shops--Strings & Strands, Cast on Cottage, Needlenook, and Nease's Needleworks. A year or so ago, I counted 23 that were members of our guild--some closer, some farther, but still that's a huge jump! Now, three of these are gone or going--the store in Acworth simply went out of business a year or so ago, the one in Dunwoody is looking for a buyer, and now the one in Marietta is closing. A shop owner I spoke with the other day told me that the "peak" is over, that there isn't enough business from knitters.

My own experience in owning businesses is that business is cyclical. Business owners expect that, but it's still painful when you actually live through it. I expect there will be more "fallout" among the knitting shops in our area--I hope not. Some of them have been in business for 20+ years and most of them can probably ride out the storm. Others will fail; others will go out of business for unrelated reasons. In the end, I expect we'll end up with a few more than we started out with, but not 23.

But, of course, I did my part to help Dana and Ginger clear their inventory. I bought six skeins of Foliage (two each of three colors) because I have a pattern for a felted bag using it. And one skein of Trekking, or was it two? And they gave me a great discount on two full bags of Galway, which I'll use for CIC knitting. Twenty skeins of wool should make a bunch of sweaters for Russian orphans. And some patterns. Is that all? Nope, but I can't even remember it all.

Now to get it all put away before Ken returns from his trip.