Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Disgruntled Lamb

The first of three May baby projects was completed on schedule (though the recipient arrived two weeks early). The other two May babies were obliging enough to come late, but I'm still not done with their knits. Teach them to be accommodating.

For Leo the Early, I knit the Sheep Yoke Baby Cardigan by Jennifer Little of Looking Glass Knits (free Ravelry download). I'm pleased Leo turned out to be a boy, even if he was two weeks early - I chose unisex colors, but the sweater is better for a boy than a girl, conventionally speaking (and please don't revoke my third-wave feminist badge for saying so).

I hate to say it, but I'm ambivalent about both the pattern and the product. I knit it in the 6 month size and in retrospect, perhaps the 9 month size would have been smarter. That was my fault. I also wish that I had opted for a darker green, but there wasn't a good option available in the Rowan Wool Cotton; I think this makes the lambs look a little washed out.

The pattern calls for duplicate stitch for the lamb heads and legs and between that and how far between lambs the white yarn has to be carried, it's nearly impossible to finish the inside satisfactorily. Sure, the lambs are cute on the outside, but it just torments me to think of their dark, twisted innards. I could have opted to do the lambs in intarsia rather than fair isle, but I wasn't confident about my ability to twist the yarn properly to avoid unsightly holes, and the pattern itself called for fair isle with duplicate stitch.

Additionally, there is no relationship between the duplicate stitch chart for the lamb heads and legs and the photos of the sweater provided in the pattern itself, so I had to disregard the chart and figure out a way to stitch the cute lamb heads. If you go to Ravelry and look at other versions of this sweater, you'll see what I mean - lots of sheep that look like they've spent a little too much time grazing in the pastures of Chernobyl. My attempts at non-mutant sheep came out pretty well, I think:

The pattern's color chart for the yoke of the sweater won't print clearly on a black and white printer, so without easy access to a color printer, the yoke of the sweater must be knit within range of the computer. Even reading from the computer screen, the image quality of the schematic was also extremely poor, making it more or less impossible to read the row numbers (and I have better than 20/20 vision - I could have been a fighter pilot if it weren't for the math thing. Or, come to think of it, the girl thing).

The pattern also calls for evenly spaced increases in the green part of the yoke sweater, but it leaves it to the knitter to do the counting necessary to ensure even distribution without also providing proper increased stitch count after each row. Without the final stitch count, it takes some math to figure out the best way to place the increases. I also think I lost my (useless black and white) copy of the pattern, so I don't have those row count numbers anymore, either.

But anyway, it's done and given and I never have to knit it again. Todd absolutely loved it, though, so I might consider knitting our baby a fall hat that incorporates the sheep motif. Or maybe I will just try to finish the baby blanket by October, since even I don't think I'll have it done by the end of July at this point.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Justice, New York Real Estate Style

Todd and I have been looking for a slightly more baby-friendly apartment - our tiny 4th floor walkup without laundry in the building has served us well, and if we had to, we could make it work with a baby, but it seems that because of the recession the Manhattan real estate market has actually been taken down a bit, with the upshot being we can probably afford a bigger place with elevator and laundry in a desirable neighborhood for about what we are paying now.

Suburban readers of this blog are probably still reeling at the thought of no laundry in the home, much less in the building. To this mind-boggling concept I will add that searching for an apartment in Manhattan also involves checking potential buildings at this highly informative website:

Bedbugs. Oh, yes. They are coming back and they are taking over Manhattan. Part of the reason for the comeback is at this point, the only pesticides that will consistently kill them are illegal (officially, anyway) in the United States. Bedbugs don't spread disease, but they are gross and their bites itch. And I know this because I have lived with them in India. Many of them, actually.

So far, Todd and I have escaped the plague, though one of my colleagues at work was not so lucky, and this became a source of concern because my office is next door to his office. My office mates and I went in on a - I kid you not - bedbug sniffing beagle to sweep our offices for potential contamination:

The beagle gave us the all-clear and has subsequently cleared my colleague's office, too. Beagles are apparently 98% accurate when properly trained. So far, so good.

Anyway, the point is, we've been looking for a bedbug-free two bedroom for about two weeks now and have possibly come up with a good situation, but we won't know if we have it until after the long weekend. There have been some tragedies along the way which are still too fresh to be funny, much less blog fodder, but this I can report:

We were chatting with a realtor who told us something that we had already heard from another realtor, namely, that the Coldwell Banker group was going under. Mostly I think that real estate agents in New York City are bloodsucking bedbugs in human form whose "profession" consists largely of collecting upwards of $2,000 to $4,000 (or more) to unlock doors of vacant apartments and then stand around looking at potential renters/buyers like they are taking too long. So my sympathy for Coldwell Baker employees is limited.

Anyway, this realtor, who worked for Coldwell Banker, mentioned that the current theory among employees as to why Coldwell Banker is shutting down is as follows: at the height of the real estate boom in NYC about three years ago, Coldwell Banker rented a very, very expensive set of office suites somewhere in midtown. Now that the market has crashed and rentals and sales are not bringing in as much revenue, the rent for the office suites - which Coldwell Banker is locked into by the terms of its lease - far exceeds the revenue that the company is bringing in.

Which means, as alert readers may have already deduced, that Coldwell Banker, a real estate company, is going out of business because it made stupid decisions about the real estate that it chose for its headquarters. Which is a rare instance of deeply satisfying poetic justice in my book, almost making the past two weeks of apartment seeking stress worth it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

There is a first and last time for everything

About a month ago, I was tipped off on an 80% off store closing sale at Cadeau Maternity. I got there bright and early and emerged, dazed, two hours later, saddled with two massive bags of high-end European maternity clothing and enormous feelings of inexplicable yet also somewhat explicable guilt - inexplicable because all these fabulous items had cost me a mere, totally within my budget $240 and somewhat explicable because my Calvinist-esque upbringing could serve as a case study for proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Weber was absolutely correct about everything he said in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Walking home from a meeting this past Thursday, a woman in the fashion industry stopped me on the street and asked to take my picture - she worked for a maternity design firm, and she took my picture even after I had nearly scared her off with a panicked, slightly guilty monologue about how the only reason I perhaps looked good was because Cadeau was having an 80% off sale and if it weren't for that I would never be worthy of such attention and praise.

The outfit, in all its decadent, guilt-inducing glory:

Friday, May 8, 2009

Swatch isn't just a well-marketed crappy plastic watch

Like parenthood, this freaking baby blanket project offers ample opportunity to learn and grow. Happily, unlike babies, yarn can eventually be bent to my will.

I bought and swatched the Estonian Lace baby blanket pattern, and it just doesn't look all that great:

It's probably a brilliant pattern, but it needs to be knit with a tightly plied, springy yarn (cotton or wool - I bet Zara merino would look great) - something with a lot of give but also something with a lot of stitch definition. Also, obviously, lighter, unsaturated colors are better for most small lace patterns with surface texture - darker and saturated shades make it hard to see these textures.

With this lace pattern in particular, a springy yarn is essential in order to knit the 3 into 9 portion of the pattern on a small enough needle to ensure crisp definition of the lace pattern as a whole. I am not sure if I am being clear enough, but basically, I can't knit the alpaca on a needle small enough to both keep the knitting tight enough to preserve the crispness of the lace AND successfully execute the 3 to 9 stitches - the alpaca doesn't have enough give.

Alpaca in general has fabulous drape, but by definition this means it's not going to hold most small or tight lace patterns well (in laceweight, alpaca may perform more crisply, but not in worsted or sportweight). So for the past few days I've been scouting for a pattern that will make the most of what is best about alpaca. I actually really liked this pattern on Ravelry:

But it is only in Danish. No thank you.

Still, the idea of a solid, drapey square center with a slightly more open and angular lace border seemed like a good idea for the alpaca. Coincidentally, Brooklytweed just posted an improvised blanket based on this principle, and while I don't love the bias garter he used for the center or the feather and fan pattern he used for the edge, I like the basic idea.

So I went through my Reader's Digest Ultimate Sourcebook of Knitting and Crochet stitches and, after swatching a bit, decided that perhaps the humble moss stitch was the best choice for the center panel. Moss stitch in alpaca has amazing drape; it looks slightly lacy when blocked, and (bonus for blankets) it's reversible.

The below swatch has moss stitch at the top and bottom; the bottom moss is done on a 5 and has better drape than the top moss, which was done on a 3. From top to bottom, the swatch contains moss on a 3, garter on a 3, stockinette on a 3, Feather Lace (p. 105 of the Digest) on a 5 and then on a 3 (no difference in quality of lace despite change in needle), stockinette on a 5, and then moss on a 5. I like the Feather Lace and I think it works in the Alpaca, but again, I don't want that much openwork in the body of the blanket.

For the border, I think I will choose something from this massive great free online collection of charted Victorian borders:

I think the alpaca will look best in something somewhat open and angular - something that will look great as a silhouette and echo the diamond-like angular quality of moss stitch. These are three initial possibilities, but with a knitted on border I have lots of time to decide.

This one -

from - is also an option (minus crochet loops at bottom edge), but it's not possible to modify it to be a knit-on border like the others, and that makes me less excited about it - it seems I'd have to knit the whole border separately and join it to the square using mattress stitch, and that has a lot of potential to go wrong or to look lumpy. Probably.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The first in a series of posts on knitting the most exquisite pooping surface imaginable

I spent $119 on a special order of Blue Sky Silk Alpaca in an absolutely stunning silver gray (it shines in a way that defies digital imaging) and now I need to find a baby blanket pattern worthy of it.

Not that this will be the blanket used to take our baby home from the birthing center - that honor goes to some no doubt acrylic heirloom thing my in-laws are insisting upon. I figure choose your battles - Todd and I get to make decisions regarding name and vaccination schedule, so if they want me to wrap the kid in acrylic for cab ride home, well, fine. After that, only silk alpaca for my baby. And yes, I am aware that babies spend half their time leaking out of their diapers and the other half barfing and that maybe something machine washable might have been a better choice, but I hate the way superwash feels and I don't like knitting with cotton and I don't think I even need to say why acrylic is not an option.

Besides, having a kid isn't practical, so why should the yarn for its blanket be?

I was originally thinking about this pattern:

But now I don't like it as much.

Then I was thinking about using the Stripes and Torchon Lace shawl pattern and just making it more of a square:

but I swatched up the central diamond pattern and worry that the lace is a little too open (dime for sense of scale). I knit this on a 5:

Then I thought of doing a lattice only portion of the Hanami stole pattern:

But now I think it may be a little too Eddie Bauer Home for my taste...

Then I found this one on Ravelry and I think I love it:

But isn't Estonian lace supposed to be a nightmare to knit? The Ravelry knit along chat for this pattern involves discussions of the best way to knit 3 into 9 stitches every 8th row - that means a lot of pulling and twisting, for sure. Probably not fun, and the pattern is $5, so I'd have to buy it to see how bad knitting it would actually be. Then again, after $119 it's a little ridiculous to balk at $5.

What should I do?