Tuesday, January 28, 2014

If only he had known about wool-wash

I don't know about you, but I grew up with the poetry of Shel Silverstein. Where the Sidewalk Ends was always checked out of the school library and even had a waiting list. His poems were fun and funny, not too serious but with a few touching moments. As an adult, I still enjoy rereading them from time to time. But in the intervening years I've added another humorous classic poet to my bookshelf: Ogden Nash. Some of his poems are strictly rhythmed and rhymed, others read almost like free verse with rhyming words at the ends of each phrase only, for instance "What Almost Every Woman Knows Sooner or Later". He wrote on a wide variety of subjects, from animals to airplanes and children to grandparents. One of my favorites is this:

The Centipede
by Ogden Nash
I objurgate the centipede,
A bug we do not really need.
At sleepy-time he beats a path
Straight to the bedroom or the bath.
You always wallop where he's not,
Or if he is, he makes a spot.
I dare you to find another poet who uses the word objurgate. Meanwhile, yarny goodness makes an appearance in his works, too. If only dear Mr. Nash had known about Eucalan or any of the other fine wool-washes we now have for our hand-knits, we might never have had "Shrinking Song," his ode to woollen socks.

Shrinking Song
by Ogden Nash
Woollen socks, woollen socks!
Full of color, full of clocks!
Plain and fancy, yellow, blue,
From the counter beam at you.
O golden fleece, O magic flocks!
O irresistible woollen socks!
O happy haberdasher's clerk
Amid that galaxy to work!
And now it festers, now it rankles
Not to have them round your ankles;
Now with your conscience do you spar;
They look expensive, and they are;
Now conscience whispers, You ought not to,
And human nature cries, You've got to!
Woollen socks, woollen socks!
First you buy them in a box.
You buy them several sizes large,
Fit for Hercules, or a barge.
You buy them thus because you think
These lovely woollen socks may shrink.
At home you don your socks with ease,
You find the heels contain your knees;
You realize with saddened heart
Their toes and yours are far apart.
You take them off and mutter Bosh,
You up and send them to the wash.
Too soon, too soon the socks return,
Too soon the horrid truth you learn;
Your woollen socks can not be worn
Unless a midget child is born,
and either sockless you must go,
Or buy a sock for every toe.
Woollen socks, woollen socks!
Infuriating paradox! Hosiery wonderful and terrible,
Heaven to wear, and yet unwearable.
The man enmeshed in such a quandary
Can only hie him to the laundry,
and while his socks are hung to dry,
Wear them once as they're shrinking by.
See how a little wool-wash and laying flat to dry would have solved his problem? Although one little sock for each toe sounds very cute. If you need to wash your wooly hand-knits in a location where you don't have access to your favorite wool-wash, try a little shampoo in cold or tepid water. Rinse and squeeze water out gently as you normally would. To conclude today's post, here's one more of Mr. Nash's shorter works which can be enjoyed by yarn-o-philes everywhere:

The Mermaid
by Ogden Nash
Say not the mermaid is a myth,
I knew one once named Mrs. Smith.
She stood while playing cards or knitting;
Mermaids are not equipped for sitting.
(Although how she managed to stand, I don't know - as Gilbert & Sullivan acknowledge in the Pirates of Penzance, "tails they may - but feet, they cannot!")

For more about Ogden Nash, see www.ogdennash.org.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A hat really does keep you warmer

You know the old saying that we lose 80% of our body heat through our head? Many sources now say it's a myth. We lose the same amount of heat through every part of our body, and since we're warm-blooded creatures, as long as we're alive, our bodies maintain their temperature.

I think the real issue is semantic, though - all in the words. When our mothers told us to cover our heads, they didn't really think we'd turn into a kid-sicle if we didn't. They meant we'd be warmer if we kept our body heat in. When the weather is cold, we bundle up in coats and gloves and boots, which keep body heat from escaping through the majority of our skin. If we don't cover our head, heat will still escape through our scalp. BUt iif we do wear a hat, it keeps that heat in and we stay warmer.

Have you ever looked at a road in the summer and seen wavy air above it where the rising heat is causing distortion? I was standing at a door once on a very cold day with the light shining from behind me. The door was white and my shadow was very clear. I wasn't wearing a hat. Above the shadow of my head, I could see that very same ripple effect where the heat was rising out of my head. From that day on, I've been a believer - when it's cold, I wear a hat.

Also, when it's cold, I knit hats. They're quick and cozy, they don't use much yarn, and they make good gifts. They're fun to design, too. Sometimes a cooperative snowstorm will even pop up to provide the perfect backdrop for photos! Depending on your preferences, there are lots of patterns available to knit or crochet your own. But since it's not possible to have too many choices, I've added a few to the list:

Tesla's Lightning - $5.95- includes 4 sizes (Baby, Child, Woman, Man)
buy now | add to cart | show cart
View details at Ravelry | Patternfish

Candace's Cables
- $6.95 - includes instructions for a matching cowl
buy now | add to cart | show cart
View details at Ravelry | Patternfish 

Red Dog Blues - $6.99- includes instructions for a matching scarf
buy now | add to cart | show cart
View details at Ravelry | Patternfish

Duchesse - $6.99 - includes instructions for a matching scarflet
buy now | add to cart | show cart
View details at Ravelry | Patternfish
 Everyone stay warm and safe in the snow, and happy knitting!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Totally Tubular, plus a review of grafting

I just learned the absolute best technique for casting on and binding off 1x1 ribbing: tubular cast-on and tubular bind-off. When complete, they look almost exactly the same, and they give the ribbed edges of the knit piece a smooth, rounded finish. Here are some brief instructions:

Tubular Cast-On

Picking up stitches for a tubular cast on.
Picking up stitches for a tubular cast-on. Lighter color
is waste yarn; darker color is working yarn.
Using contrasting waste yarn, cast on 1/2 the number of stitches you will want for your ribbing. Knit 1 row or round. Cut the waste yarn, leaving a 6 inch tail. 
Join pattern yarn and work 2 rows or rounds of Reverse Stockinette Stitch. On next rnd, *purl 1, then slip purl bump from first row or round of pattern yarn onto needle and knit this st. * Repeat from * to * until all stitches and purl bumps have been worked. (See diagram.) The number of stitches is now double the cast-on. From this point, work P1, K1 ribbing to desired length. After a few rows are complete, carefully remove waste yarn.

Tubular Bind-Off

You will need two empty needles for this step. Circular are best; it doesn't matter if they are slightly different sizes, as long as they are close to the size of the working needle.

Beginning with a purl stitch, work P1, K1 ribbing to desired length. When final row or round of ribbing is complete, divide stitches as follows: Hold both needles together in your right hand with tips facing left. *Slip first stitch (purl) onto one needle and hold in back; slip next st (knit) onto other needle and hold in front.* Rep from * to * until all stitches are divided. All purl stitches should be on the back needle; all knit stitches should be on the front needle. Break yarn, leaving a tail at least 3 times the length of your bind-off row / round. If you used straight needles, slip stitches onto a new needle so the yarn tail is at the working tip; if you used circular needles, slide stitches so tail is at the right tip. Graft stitches using Kitchener stitch, exactly as you would for a sock. Don't worry about the ribbing - it doesn't affect the way the stitches are grafted.

Grafting: a Quick Review

Here are the steps for grafting (aka Kitchener Stitch). When you're grafting stockinette or 1x1 ribbing, it helps to remember that on the side facing you (the front needle) you see the knit side of the stitches. On the side facing away (the back needle), you see the purl side of the stitches. So when you're completing a stitch, you'll be doing so knitwise on the front needle and purlwise on the back needle.

Begin by cutting your yarn, leaving a tail at least three times as long as your bind-off row. Thread it through a yarn needle and repeat the following 4 steps until all the stitches are gone off your needles:

1. Back needle: Draw yarn through first stitch purlwise, slip off needle.
2. Back needle: Draw yarn through second stitch knitwise, leave on needle.
3. Front needle: Draw yarn through first stitch knitwise, slip off needle.
4. Front needle: Draw yarn through second stitch purlwise, leave on needle.

Periodically use your needle or a crochet hook to adjust the completed stitches, making sure they are even.
This is the memory aid I repeat as I graft:

Back: Purl 1 off, knit 1 on; Front: Knit 1 off, purl 1 on.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why is "abbreviation" such a long word?

* YO, K2tog * Rep from * to *. What does it mean? It's like another language! You'll find these abbreviations and more in most modern knitting patterns. So I put together a handy list for translating the ones commonly used in North American patterns. You'll find it here at the new Abbreviations page. If you knit one of my patterns, these are the ones you'll encounter.

So far, the list only contains knitting terms. For crochet patterns, there are a whole other set of abbreviations. Fphdc, anyone? On the last pattern I crocheted, I learned that stands for front post half double crochet. It's actually kind of a fun stitch.

Happy knitting!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy Shortbread Day

According to Food.com, today is National Shortbread Day, in honor of which I'd like to share with you my favorite shortbread recipe. Thanks to the Tetley Tea Twitter feed for the heads-up. Enjoy; it's delicious!

Cranberry Shortbread
Victoria Magazine, 12/01

2 sticks (1 c.) softened unsalted butter
½ c. superfine sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour
¼ c. cornstarch
¼ tsp. salt
2/3 c. coarsely chopped dried cranberries
¼ c. minced crystallized ginger

1. Line one large or two small baking sheets (to accommodate three 6-inch rounds) with parchment paper.
2. In a bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients slowly, and the cranberries and ginger, mixing just until crumbly. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Gently knead until it just comes together. Divide dough into three balls and transfer to baking sheets, pressing each into a round about 6 inches in diameter. With a large, sharp knife, cut each round into eight wedges. Do not pull sections apart. With a small knife, score the edges of each round to create a scalloped edge. With the tines of a fork, decoratively score the top of the dough. Chill for at least 15 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
4. Bake the shortbread for 25 to 30 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let cool for 15 minutes and transfer to racks to cool completely. Shortbread can be cut into wedges while warm or kept in rounds to be cut at serving time. Makes 24 cookies.

In case you're wondering, the picture behind the ingredients is from a drawing I did of Mary, Queen of Scots' garden at Stirling Castle. Shortbread is a traditional Scottish treat, and it goes wonderfully with tea. Here's the original ink drawing.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bad Blogger

Hello and welcome to January 2014 at With Strings Attached. Since you're reading this, may I just say thank you for your persistence. I logged into my blog software and discovered that in all of 2013, while I managed to keep the pages for Patterns, Freebies, and Errata up-to-date, I only gave you three blog posts for the entire year. Obviously, I'm not the most frequent of writers.

When you were in school, were you required to keep a journal for any of your classes? I was, for a couple years at least. We were supposed to write at least 6 times in the space of two weeks. It didn't matter what we wrote. When I couldn't think of anything else, I'd play Word Association against myself. I was very glad when we weren't required to keep a journal anymore.

I still enjoy Word Association, though, but in a form I like to call Song Chain. It's a fun game to play with yourself if you're bored, or with someone else whether you're bored or not. Unless you're Sherrie (who co-invented it with me), you've most likely never heard of it, so here are the rules. If you're playing by yourself, you're both Player 1 and Player 2.

Player 1: Sing a phrase of any song - at least 8 words.

Player 2: Choose one word out of what was just sung. Sing a phrase (at least 8 words) of another song that contains that word.
Player 1: Choose one word out of what was just sung. Sing a phrase (at least 8 words) of another song that contains that word.

See the pattern? Keep it going as long as possible. Make your own additions to the rules: continue the song that was just sung, or sing another by the same performer, allow (or don't) songs with words in other languages or different phrases in songs already used. You'll be amazed at the amount of lyrics you didn't know you knew! (On short notice I can come up with lyrics containing the words residuum, hippopotami, or liverwurst. They're not the same song.) It's also fun to see how widely varying the songs can be. Start with a nursery rhyme, and the sky is the limit as to where you end. Play it with kids on a long car trip - you don't need any extra items, no reading or writing is involved, and you don't have to wait for a license plate with a Q in it.

One of the nicest things about this game is that it's non-competitive. Don't keep score, harmonize when you both know the words, and just have fun!

So what did this post have to do with knitting? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. If you're looking for recent patterns, check out the Patterns Page - the newest ones are listed at the top. And even if you don't find new blog posts here too often, the informational pages are kept up to date. You could also follow me on Pinterest or Twitter, both of which I update more than I write blog posts.

Happy knitting (and singing!)