Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Getting Ready for Winter

I finally bought a new winter coat. Ever since I moved back to the Northeast in 2003, I’ve spent the winter months schlepping around in a series of cheap, ill-fitting, not-very -warm black wool coats. All of these coats attracted cat hair, thread, and yarn as if there were magnetic forces involved. Essentially, I was a walking lint brush for six months out of the year.

This spring, in a rare fit of closet cleaning, I threw the last two coats out – they were completely wrecked, with Wilbert the Cat’s hair imbedded so deeply that the lady at the dry-cleaner just shook her head and said in broken English, “We do best.” And both had holes and torn linings, so donating them wasn’t feasible. I knew this would force me into buying a new coat this fall, when the prices are the highest, and so I’ve spent the past few weeks bracing myself. Every day this month has been just a little bit shorter and a little bit colder than the day before, and I kept telling myself, “just one more day, one more day”.

Yesterday, though, I folded. I had on a long sleeved shirt, a sweater, a handknit scarf, and my lightweight jacket – and I was freezing. So I left work, made a detour into Macy’s, and twenty minutes later walked out with a new, bright red winter coat that was seriously on sale (I suspect it was a left-over from last year, but who cares). I will grant you that this was easy because they had very few coats in sizes above a Medium (what’s up with that?!), but I’ve always wanted a red coat, and it makes me really happy to wear it. The only problem? All my winter hand knits are purple, and I’m not quite ready to walk around looking like a Red Hat Society member. I rooted through the yarn stash last night and came up totally empty handed, so sometime in the next week or so I’m going to have to do some yarn shopping. (It’s a real tragedy, I tell you what.)

Part of me would like to knit a new striped Noro scarf, but those are so time-consuming; I knit right-handed so switching back and forth between knitting and purling every other stitch is a nightmare for me. And, I’m constantly stopping to check out how the color patterns are evolving, which is of course half the fun of using Noro but it seriously lengthens my knitting time. (Plus, the scarf alone takes 4 skeins of yarn; at $12/skein it becomes a pricey project.)

The other part of me is obsessed with the new Cascade 220 book, which is chock full of great hat, mitten and scarf patterns. I’m currently muddling my way through the Spotted Fair Isle Mittens pattern, which when finished will go to my niece Julia. She originally picked out the octopus mittens, but she’s 10 and really tall (with long hands/fingers), and it became readily apparent I would need to do some way-beyond-my-skill-set pattern tweaking to make them big enough for her. Julia chose navy blue and lime green yarn, which I initially grimaced at but as it turns out, actually go rather nicely together. (Also, don’t tell the Cascade folks but I’m actually using a different yarn, because the yarn store Julia and I went to didn’t have any; I'm using yarn from Ella Rae.)

I’ve never done any stranded knitting before, so this took some getting used to. I’m almost finished with the first mitten and I’m still not completely sure I’m doing it right. Initially I was twisting the yarns to carry them, but I read in one of my Elizabeth Zimmerman books that she believed you could safely let the yarn “float” for 5 stitches. After that I stopped twisting (because this pattern most of the floats are 5 or less stitches), which made the knitting easier. The floats almost create a second layer, and I suspect these mittens will be supremely warm. But it is tricky to get the tension right – it’s very easy to knit too tightly or too loosely. There are definitely some wonky places that I am hoping will block out (is this serious denial on my part?). The other tricky thing, which I haven’t gotten to yet, is the thumb. Usually when I knit mittens the thumb stitches stay live and get put on a stitch holder. In this pattern, you use waste yarn to hold the thumb placement, and then when you are ready you are supposed to remove the waste yarn to reveal the live stitches. I am terrified of doing this and dropping stitches! Photos to follow soon...

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