Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Knitting Check-in: Meathead Hats and Engineering Sweaters

Knitting Distraction Numero Uno: The Meathead Hat

While paddling around the Blog-o-pond a few weeks ago, I came across a mention that Portland (Oregon, y'all) fiber artist Larissa Brown was in the process of compiling a knitting book and was looking for volunteers to test-knit some of the patterns. Well, I'm always up for a good old fashioned ho-down so I signed myself on up! Yee-haw!

Right now she's testing her signature piece: the meathead hat.
This was a pattern she developed for an art show called Conference in fall of 2005. For this piece, she gathered 100 volunteer knitters from around the world and had them each knit the same hat in the same yarn. She affixed a numbered cattle tag to each hat and pinned them to the art gallery wall in rows. You can read a brief synopsis of the show and see some of the photos on Knitty.com: click HERE. The original invite to test the pattern and some more background on the project is also HERE.

The pattern is very cute and quite simple--one of those great novice
knitter patterns that is a snap to make and still looks wicked impressive. The truly novel thing about this pattern is the suggestion to add some sort of embellishment over the ear. In my opinion, knitters tend to follow the pattern that's before them and they don't always realize that they can jazz it up any ol' way they please. I like that this pattern is basic and yet it also encourages you to add your own bit of creativity and personality. It's fun to see what people have come up with--you can check out the pool of pictures HERE. My favorite so far is the meat cleaver!

I'm sworn to secrecy on the pattern itself, but I will tell
you that I knit mine with a double strand of Lamb's Pride Bulky "Chocolate Souffle." The leaves are knitted with some scraps of Lamb's Pride Worsted using the pattern for Aspen Leaves from Knitted Embellishments by Nicky Epstein. This was a fun little side project and a nice break from the marathon Engineer Sweater (see below). I've gotten plenty of "Wa...huh?" looks as I've walked around Boston, but s'cool, yo. I can dig it. I'll be very curious to glimpse the other patterns that Larissa has in store. For those interested, she will be having additional volunteer knit-alongs to test out her other projects, and she will post on her blog when the knit-alongs are open. Her blog is http://larissmix.typepad.com/stitch_marker/.

Knitting Distraction Numero Dos: The Engineer's Sweater

Hello, my name is Emma, and I am a knitter who has never knitted a sweater. And I'll tell you why: yarn is not cheap. It's fine for the small projects--your scarves and your fingerless gloves and wombs or what have you--but for the larger ones? Fuggedaboudit. I mean, if I'm going to end up paying $100 or more on the yarn alone to knit myself a sweater, I'm sorry but I'll just go BUY a sweater that I like for that much. I'm a crazy obsessed knitter, no doubt there, but I've got my limits. And then along came KnitPicks.

While knitting the Aid-and-Abet Glove Pattern, I came across an online-only store called KnitPicks and fell in love. At first, I was skeptical--I mean $2.49 for a skein of merino wool? C'mon, where's the catch? (For non-knitters who are still with us at this point in the post, $2.49 is UNHEARD of cheap for merino wool.) I thought surely the yarn must be crap. The colors--deceptively gorgeous on the website--just had to be a fluke. But I asked around my knitting group at work and found one woman who absolutely swore that KnitPicks sold some of the best yarn she'd ever gotten. She said I couldn't go wrong. But if this were true, why aren't all the knitters stashing up at KnitPicks? Is it a secret because knitters who buy there are afraid it will become too popular and the prices will go up? Or is that the yarn just isn't very good? Still hesitant, I ordered several swatches so that I could see the actual colors and feel some bits of the wool.

The colors were indeed a bit off from the pictures on the website, but that's to be expected since digital colors are notoriously unfaithful depending on your computer. (If you order from KnitPicks, I definitely recommend ordering swatches first--especially if you're doing a big project.) The swatch yarn felt a bit scratchy, but otherwise of good quality (hard to tell how something's going to knit up when all you have is a 2 inch piece of string). I had ordered a couple of skeins of sock yarn along with the swatches and was very impressed by them--the yarn felt soft and the colors were very rich and deep-hued. I was starting to feel better about the cheap yarn and was ready to take a leap of faith. With some mild trepidation, I approached the Engineer on the subject of sweaters.

You know, i
t took four years of trust-building, proof-gathering, convincing, cajoling, and outright bribery, but the unarguable affordability of the yarn has finally tilted the scales. The Engineer has finally buckled under the pressure and is granting me the singular pleasure of knitting him a sweater for his Christmas present. (You might be asking yourself if taking a leap of faith on both the yarn and the project at the same time was really a wise idea, but I don't like to do anything in halves. There's a proverb about this somewhere, I'm sure.)

We looked at several different patterns and he decided that he liked the Leo pattern from Knitty the best. (A link to the pattern is HERE.) He left it to me to pick the yarn (but I double checked the color with him before ordering all 16 skeins, oh goodness, yes). I decided to go with a deep blue color in the Merino wool. Downside of the merino is that you have to hand wash it, but the upside is that it's very soft and a bit cheaper. FYI, this is not the type of present that I would want to surprise him with or try to keep secret from him--I want him to be happy with the sweater and actually WEAR it, so I knew I wanted him to be weighing in on the pattern, the color, the fit, and all those other crucial details. Since we live together, I also knew there was no way I could knit this in secrecy or have any hope of finishing it before the second coming if I tried to only knit when he wasn't around.

This project isn't so much a distraction as it is the focus of all motor activity any time I sit down on the couch. And since I discovered that the Boston Public Library kindly purchased all the seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager, I've been spending a lot of time on my couch reliving middle school fantasy worlds and knitting my fingers into knots.

The yarn is knitting up beautifully. I had a moment of panic when all those skeins showed up. Even with the swatch, the color wasn't quite what I'd expected. But now that I've finished the back and half of the front, I'm really liking the color. Neither of these pictures really does the color justice--it's kind of a summer sky right after sunset kind of blue. A bit turquoise, but deeper. The fabric of the sweater is really soft. It's put-your-cheek-against-it-and-coo soft. And the whole time I'm thinking, "I only paid $2.49 a skein!"

A few pattern notes: the sweater is actually NOT fitted--it just looks that way in the picture because I had to drape it over the back of the sofa to get the whole thing in the shot (who knew the Engineer had such a huge back?!). Don't worry--it's properly manly and straight. The red threads on the left-hand side (you can see them if you click on the top picture) are not a part of the pattern. They're little pieces of scrap yarn to count the rows since I inevitably get distracted and forget to write down how many rows I've done. I just thread a little piece of contrasting yarn through a stitch every five rows, and then I'll take them out when the sweater is done. They aren't actually holding any stitches in place.

With KnitPicks, my whole knitting world has opened up. All those patterns I coveted but dismissed because of lack of funds are now back up for grabs. I'm particularly excited by the sock yarn, the fingering weight yarn (for nice lacy sweaters) and the Wool of the Andes yarn (for felting). I've got big plans for 2007, my friends, BIIIIIG plans...

The KnitPicks website is: http://www.knitpicks.com. Have at it, fellow knitters. All my blessings.


rebekah said...

meathead hat = happiness

also, you're cuter than cute

Dominique said...

Yes...you are so adorable, and that hat is the perfect accessory to you adorableness.
Would you consider making one, say in a much more minature size, say the head the size of a grapefruit?

Angelina said...

I LOVE that hat! I'm terrified of the idea of knitting anything besides a scarf in the garter stitch. My friend Lisa has convinced me to take a knitting class in January. I've knitted three scarves and a shawl. Now I've forgotten everything I knew.

Say, are we still on for the trade? If so I will pick out and buy some yarn to send along with the pears. I better get on that soon!

Anyway, you are a knitting inspiration. Plus that picture of you is very cute.