Sunday, March 30, 2008

Weekend Wonder #4

Swatching: An Open Apology from a Recent Proselyte

This week's Weekend Wonder is about my new love/hate relationship with swatching. I've never really swatched before, though I've certainly started and frogged something when I didn't like the emerging result. I've read and read and read the advice of numerous knitbloggers who teach the holy way of swatching, and yet I never really felt it applied to me. (Not the least of which is the Yarn Harlot who teaches by example both the wonder of swatching and of not.) Part of my reasoning was that I had never made anything BIG until the shrug, which might (in retrospect, I say MIGHT) have benefited from swatching. It definitely would have benefited from a book on design. My most complicated project - the Calla Lily Bag translated to the loom - had a swatch only so I could test-felt the fabric, having never done that before.

Having decided to make my first crochet sweater (from Amy Swenson's Sensual Crochet - Ravelry) I initialy went with a yarn I already had in my meager stash - one of only two not committed to an already ongoing project. (Yes, I'm stashless. I know that's weird.) The two are Lion Brand Landscapes a super bulky acrylic that would never work for this sweater and organic cotton from Bernat in (ironically) Hemp and Oasis colorways. I was considering using the Hemp for the sweater - numerically, it matched the pattern suggestions perfectly.

(You'd think this lawyer would know the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of it.)

Finally beginning to see the light, though not yet truly believing in it, I made a swatch per the pattern. A swatch that was supposed to be a 4" square. You can see it in the picture above - a lonely little number that was only 2-and-a-half inches on either side after vigorous wet blocking, even though I used an I hook instead of the smaller H called for. (I sensed the yarn wasn't fluffy enough, but wasn't really understanding what a difference it would make and that a hook size or two wouldn't be enough.)

Facing the obvious shortage of my stash, which I'm okay with, I headed to A.C. Moore and bought a few skeins (plenty) of this alpaca blend from Bernat in Peony. (The last photo below is the truest in terms of color). All swatches are shown above. The alpaca swatches were done with H, J, and finally a K hook (my largest) and all fall short at 3", 3.5" and about 3.75" on a side respectively. This is my third and most recent swatch - all wet blocked and hung to dry with weighted pulls.

I think the yarn is lovely, and it feels very nice to work with. But I'm having a damnable time getting a big enough swatch. This is more open than I expected the fabric to be, so I don't want to try to hunt down a larger crochet hook. K is my favorite anyway. I'm thinking, therefore, of proceeding with this even though I'm a little bit short on the swatch dimensions. (For those of you not into crochet, I can tell you that stitch gauge is much more important than row gauge (height). My swatch may actually be 4" wide if I didn't wet block it so hard to get row height, which is where I fall shortest.

I haven't decided what to do (and therefore am instead making notes on a new pattern idea and finishing up other little projects (more on that later this week)) but I think I'm going to spend a little more time with The Knitter's Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes before I actually begin this project. I love this book. :)

And I am now officially a believer in swatching. Imagine the blog posts you would have had to sit through had I (stupidly) gone ahead with that cotton yarn, or even with the new alpaca and the pattern-suggested hook? Now imagine how I would have felt writing those posts? Save yourselves while you can!

All that said, will I turn into the perfect swatcher? Am I going to swatch for the beanie I'm going to make soon? Heck no. What's the fun in that? My point is only that taking a little time to make something we love better, is definitely worth it, in this girl's book.

Advice done. I'll just add one more thing. I've got 9 thesis defenses to sit through this week and may be neglectful of the blog, against even my own wishes. :) Hopefully I'll be back soon, but if you're interested, my latest FOs are up on Ravelry.

Friday, March 28, 2008

What is means to be college professor

Teaching at a College: What I've Learned ... So Far

It means competing for students' attention against whatever is going on in their lives, from their roommate's hair-dye crisis to their family member's terminal illness.

It means hearing "I'm really not happy with my grade on [insert assignment or test]" and knowing that most of the time that really means "I want to come in and convince you through cuteness, whining, wheedling, and/or flattery that you should raise my grade. P.S. I tried realllllly hard."

It means always wondering if some of your students really do think you're that stupid, or if they are just irrationally optimistic.

It means having to keep a mental tally of someone else's recently deceased or dying relatives.

It also means being introduced to smiling parents who apparently have heard a lot of really good things about you. (Sometimes it means being grateful you remembered the student's name.)

It means dreading opening your email for 48 hours after returning work and being surprised by the occasional unsolicited grateful email.

It means being thanked by parents who (unfairly to their child) think that you are somehow the only reason their child managed to graduate.

It means being the recipient of secret crushes (and if you're unlucky, a stalker).

It means hearing "Thank you" a lot and wondering where you can get your sincerity detector re-calibrated.

It means being blunt and learning to say no when the situation calls for it.

It means being surrounded by colleagues who are (on average) as smart as you, and who know it. That in turn means learning to argue with flattery and make strategic compromises.

It means inventing novel ways of getting motivated to work on the less appealing aspects of your job. Cough*grading*cough. Ahem.

It means staying up until 4:35 grading because you told your students they could beat you with a big stick if you didn't have their papers graded by the next class period.

Okay, maybe that last one's just me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Buffalo vs. Madison

I realized this morning that I'd been remiss in sharing our good news of late, which is that my husband has been accepted to his top two choices for PhD programs: U at Buffalo and U Wisconsin-Madison. I've been sniffing around the Buffalo and Madison groups on Ravelry - have I mentioned that I'm shy? - but until he gets to go visit and hopefully hears a little more about money, we won't know for sure what the future holds.

I'm looking forward to the move either way, but it sure isn't easy waiting and not knowing what will happen next!

If anyone out there is from either of those cities, or went to either of those schools even, shoot me an email. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sorry so brief today, I've got to get back to work and get a few more things done before this week's faculty senate meeting (where I will be crocheting - you know it!). We may actually be wrapping up tonight on our major motion (the one we've been dealing with every week this year). There's still a secondary motion to deal with separately, but this would be a big step - not to mention a nice treat to get to go home before 7 on a Tuesday. :)

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Lots of motivation issues today. The first was motivation to get out of bed, which came in the form of a full Southern revival-style dawn Easter service on the street corner just down from our house. The real down side to waking up that way was that our iPod alarm was set to play Tom Petty songs and since we both woke up with headaches, we both lay there pretending that the cacophony was just going to go away on its own. :)

My next motivation was crochet related. I wanted to start (is it accurate to say "cast on" for crochet really?) the Retro Femme top from Sensual Crochet, but my swatch didn't work out. Even with all the parameters matching the pattern, I got a 2" by 2" square dry instead of a 4" by 4" square. I wet blocked it on advice from the lovely Amy Swenson (the pattern's designer) but it wasn't even 3" on a side. So, my husband and I decided to go out to breakfast before grocery shopping so we'd have an excuse to (1) swing into a craft store for me to get a larger hook (or three) and (2) go to Best Buy to get a movie just out on DVD that he wanted. Well, alas, the craft stores were both closed. We dedicded to hang around Barnes & Noble until Best Buy opened and spent an unnecessary sum, as I always do. Then Best Buy didn't even open. We got out to double check, but there was no sign about Easter hours, and we weren't the only annoyed customers. It was strange.

So we came home, and as we closed the gate behind the car, we realized we hadn't gone grocery shopping. But, the motivation to go back out was gone and we retired to an afternoon of laundry folding and Firefly watching. (Joss Whedon, if you're reading this, Thank You.)

Alas, I'm really lacking motivation to do what I need to be doing now before shower and bed, which is grading. Does anyone out there have a trick or tip for improving your motivation to do things that need to be done?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Weekend Wonder #3

Hello again! While this was a really long week for me, I'm happy to say that I've still got a Weekend Wonder for you. This week it's a new pattern, which is available on my design site or on Ravelry. I got in just under the wire to beta test the Ravelry shop feature, so you can find PDFs of my first pattern - Vicki's Mittens - and this new one:

One-Hour Eye Mask

For those of you who are exclusively knitters, I have to say that my first knit pattern may still be a while in coming. From my last post, you know the shrug didn't work out as hoped, though thanks to Lacey for letting me know I'm not alone! I do have a loom pattern to put together... BUT! In the meantime, for anyone with a medium size (K +/- 1 mm) crochet hook, some cushy yarn, and a desire to learn something new, this should be a bit of fun!

I planned this eye-mask to use up the last of some Bernat Bamboo that I had, but it didn't take anywhere near as much as I expected! (I used the leftover leftovers to make a petite petite bijoux bag from Sensual Crochet by Amy Swenson. Pictures soon, because I love it!) But I used the eye mask that night and the next night and ever since. It's light and lovely, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in trying out Tunisian crochet. My new friend and test crocheter, Silver on Ravelry, had never done Tunisian before and found the instructions easy to follow. I hope you will to, and if you give it a try, do let me know!

More soon!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

P.S. to Cass

I'll see your cute dog and call your hand.

To Frog or To Fix?

Time for a bit of reader feedback. (Come on lurkers, time to contribute!) :)

I made a shrug on a yellow KK long loom in mock rib stitch (my pics below). I love the way the fabric itself turned out, but the design does not fit the way I wanted. Essentially, I was trying to imitate a design I'd seen on Ravelry - something similar to this crochet shrug at left from I wanted something that would go across both my shoulders and my collarbone with nice long sleeves for my super long arms. And I wanted to knit it. There was no shoulder shaping involved, essentially it is just a long panel split down the middle for the neck opening and seamed up the undersides of the sleeves. My original plan had been to do short row shaping and to make the front and back wider than just half the sleeve, but I got lazy about the increases and was fooled by the project while it was on the loom.

What's wrong with it? Some things I can fix and some I can't.
1. The neck opening is wider than I intended, but I've already crocheted it shut a little to reinforce it - I could do more.
2. The arms are too narrow to seam up any higher than just above my elbows, meaning that this won't work for its primary purpose (my office is berry, berry cold in the summer, and I had hoped to have something to slip on over sleeveless tops, but this would leave an unattractive swath of ... my husband gets mad if I call it turkey arms, so I'll just leave it at that.
3. The lack of shaping and the long sleeves mean I can't just seam up the neck opening and wear it across my back - it falls down.

So, in the "Frog it" category is the argument that now that I've seen it finished, I know where I could put short rows for the shoulder shaping and how wide the neck should be and how I would like to make one change to the stitching... Plus, I have nearly a skein of yarn left over to add to the height of the front and back.

In the "Fix it" category, I could crochet gussets into the arms to lengthen the sleeves and even add height using crochet with no frogging required. (That won't get rid of the lack of shaping in the shoulders and puckering that results though.) Also, I need to get to work on a time sensitive project for my husband, and I'm not sure I'll have time to do both before he needs his done, and by then, I'll be home for the summer and packing to move to colder climes where a completely redone shrug will be more appropriate.

I'm still debating, and I promised my husband (who needs a cute knitblog nickname) that I wouldn't rush into frogging it. It was time consuming to make 450 rows of 30+ stitches...
What think ye?

Yikes! Must get back to work!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Weekend Wonder #2

Hello again! I'm sorry for a lack of posting this week. It's a crunch time at work, so there hasn't been much time. And, sadly, my latest FO is also a disappointment. But(!) I'll save that for another post. This one is a Weekend Wonder! wonder... wonder... wonder...

For this Weekend Wonder, I wanted to share with you three of my favorite knitblogs. There's a lot of memes and such out there about top ten blogs, but I wanted to just do three to share something nice about these lovely ladies. As we all know, the great thing about blogs is that they give us a window into someone else's world. For some of us, this satisfies our inner voyeur, but I also think that for many of us, especially crafters, blog reading is about feeling like we are a part of a community.

While these aren't the three blogs that got me sucked into the the Inter-knit (heehee), they are three that make me love knitters and the whole knit community. I don't have everything in common with these ladies - I'm not a homeschooler, a book author, a knit designer, a mom, a divorcé... I don't drink as much ;) as they do, and I'm not even a needle knitter. Because of that last one, I often feel on the outskirts of knitting conversations, which is similar to a lot of the rest of my life. But reading these three blogs gets me excited about my own stuff - knitting, crafting, living. And THAT's what makes for a good blog.

Without further ado:

Knit and Tonic, by Wendy
Wendy has a design eye that I really like, both fresh and classic, but she's also a natural storyteller. She'll make you laugh with stories from the gym and stories about her family. She'll make you feel like you're in her backyard, enjoying knitting on a spring day. I'm not sure I can put it into words she would admire, but I feel like Wendy is a person, that I like her and she would like me and we could hang.

Shut Up, I'm Counting, by Cass
What to say about Cass? She'll crack you up. She's a great mom who makes me want to have teenagers RIGHT NOW, though as far as knitting goes ... she does much more colorful stuff than I do. :) She's real and messy (like me) and reminds me often of the value of laughing at one's self. Her blog is always either the first I read or the one I save for last.

CrazyAuntPurl, by Laurie
Crazy Aunt Purl is a recent discovery for me. I admired her book in the store a few months ago but managed to resist (a feat for me) until recently. The humor on her blog the last few months really drew me in until I couldn't help but buy the book. I haven't started reading it yet, but I did start at the beginning of her blog the other night. Laurie's story... Well, her book is titled Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair, so that says a lot. I'm still happily married and still believe in marriage - and my husband doesn't read this blog, so I'm not just saying that - but Laurie has been helpful to me in my own efforts at self-discovery of late, of remembering and learning who I am as a person. And I'm admiring her journey (as well as laughing at her wonderful writing).

I hope you enjoy these links. I'll try to check in early next week when I've mounted the next hill of grading. :) Future Weekend Wonders may include... (bum, bum, bummm) crochet blogs, loom knitting blogs, patterns that work (the shrug has fallen off that list) and tips and tricks from little ol' me!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mandatory Advising

I would much rather be posting about the coolness of my new glasses, but I have no camera and therefore no visual aids. So, instead, I will post about what I've spent most of my day doing. Mandatory advising.

I know a couple of my readers are academics and may already know what I'm talking about, but for the rest of you: mandatory advising is when a college/school/department/program requires its students to come see a designated advisor before they can register for classes each semester. In our case, we divide our students up at random unless the student has a preference, meaning every spring and fall I have to advise around three dozen students. We talk for 20 minutes each, though sometimes more, sometimes less, about what classes the student needs to take and what her/his long term plans are. Grad school, internships, and other issues come up.

For the most part, I don't mind. I like getting to see students I might not have seen in a while, and I enjoy helping some of them on their life paths - though I'll admit to wanting to send some of them off to someone else as swiftly as humanly possible. I feel that mandatory advising is paternalistic - we're babying them a bit - but I also recognize that a lot more of them seem to need it than you would expect. Then again, would so many of them need it, if it was optional? If we didn't hold their hands, could they stand on their own sooner?

I don't know, and I don't think I can even begin to have a good answer. I can say that for those of you who have to do this or something like it, it helps to cultivate a healthy aura of one part approachability and one part fear. My students feel comfortable coming to me and trust my advice, but they also don't dare come to me without having worked on their course schedule first.

I have a colleague who notoriously gripes about the number of students who come to him expecting him to design their schedules. He asked how the rest of us prevent that from happening. Everyone else commiserated but had no solutions. I admitted that it isn't a problem I have, perhaps because when advising starts I announce to my students that if they come unprepared, I'll send them away. I also put the same announcement on my door. And they come with cards and papers and scraps in hand, and we get through the whole thing like two adults 95% of the time.

(One girl this week came with a laminated list. It was awesome.)

My colleague claimed that he too sent them away, after giving them a lecture about behaving like adults, taking responsibility for themselves, and not wasting his time. Now, it's my suspicion, and I could be wrong, that students either sense or seek out the hypocrisy in his lecture. We want you to take responsibility, but don't trust you to do it without us. We'd rather waste some of your time up front than let some of you waste our time later on by coming up short for graduation. You're an adult, but you can't do this for yourself. My time is too important to be spent on you, unless I can spend it admonishing you and being condescending.

I didn't tell him this, because untenured faculty don't advise tenured faculty - no, uh-uh, no way - but what I do is actually much colder than his lecture. I ask the student, "Why didn't you take the time think about your course schedule before you came?" Then, I nod along while they are hemming and hawing, and all the while, I'm writing the address of the website for their degree requirements on the top of a course schedule. Then, I give them that paper and a disappointed smile. I tell them to come back when they can make time to think about it; after that I say as little as possible while looking as disappointed as possible. Out they go, trailed by a thin veil of frost and looking a little bit (or a lot) ashamed. I have fewer every semester, and only one last fall, which is best since I hate making them feel bad only a touch less than I hate making their schedules for them.

And yet, I've had at least one student every semester in my classes or in this major because their parents signed them up for it. And my colleagues wonder why I don't have kids yet!

Knitting next time. I promise.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Weekend Wonder #1

Hello, hello!
The first ever Weekend Wonder is the premiere of (1) a spin-off of this blog and (2) a new crochet pattern. I know, I know - this is No Tension Knits! I promise the shrug will be posted as soon as it's done - which may be tomorrow if I'm a good girl.

Anyway! The new website is I created a WordPress blog to have somewhere easy to post static pages (I use wordpress for my academic blog, so it was an easy set-up). All my designs will be posted there, starting with this first one!

Vicki's Mittens

A simple mitten that - if you're slightly faster than me, or better at concentrating - will take just over three hours. (It took me over four including rip backs and design time.) Details at No Tension Design!

The blog itself will only be used for sharing designs and errata, which will also be announced here, so no need to track a new feed if you don't want to. You can also find them on Ravelry, through me or through No Tension Design.

My long term goal is to post my knitting patterns in two formats - loom and needle - but I'll only be able to do that with the help of a needle knitter. I'll try not to get ahead of myself.
And that's the Weekend Wonder!

In other news, I'm plugging along with my grading and using knitting as a reward. Working well so far, but I better get back to it!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Not really sure I understand irony

I'm not sure if this is truly ironic or Alanis Morissette ironic, but go with me here.

Any one ever read Stephen King's The Stand? Did you get sick when you read it? As in, did the book give you the superflu? Every time I had read it - and that was three times before this year - I got sick. No, not tubeneck, but a nice cold that left me feeling better after than I did before. I'm not unique in this either, as my husband got sick both times he read it.

Over winter break this year, I read a new copy of it, feeling like I needed to get sick for a couple of days to get the stress of last semester out of my system. (I bought the new copy because the old one is near its end with part of the cover missing.) This year, for the first time, not a sniffle. I don't know if I wasn't ready to let go of last semester or what, but Captain Trips passed me by. A good friend theorizes that maybe I was just sick the first time I read it and that the book itself is contaminated. I like to think not. Ew.

Anyway, now, when I should have had a whole week to grade and work on my writing, I find myself completely tied down with - yep - the flu.

Yesterday I was feeling better, but in a dangerous don't-do-too-much-or-it'll-come-back-worse-than-before way. So, I read some theses and knitted and crocheted, but apparently, that was too much. I'm back on the couch today, with an FO (Vicki's mittens, crochet) and a nearly FO (the shrug, loom knit) and a small mountain of grading. My hands are too shaky to craft or grade - I have a nervous condition that gives me tremors when I'm fatigued, which is a nice canary-in-a-coal-mine stress indicator, but something I do try to avoid. Therefore, I'm blogging, surfing Ravelry, and then napping if I still can't grade.

You may still be asking yourself, self, what's between me and good knitting pictures? This lovely storm is, as seen from my couch on the right or as seen from [begin reverb] SPACE, space... space... space... space...

P.S. Sorry my grammar skillz go away when I'm sick. Leave a comment if you like the blog better this way. ;)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Flu + Karma

Alas, the weekend passed without either an end to the suspense or an end to the flu. I had something neat I wanted to post sometime over the weekend, but I'm afraid it will have to wait another week. Hopefully, by then the flu - who I am very sorry for insulting in a previous post - will have passed. As it is, I can only knit about four or five rows on the symmetrical shrug before I get tired. I've tried grading, but don't feel like I'm giving it the mental energy it needs, so none of that either. On Saturday, I thought I was getting better and spent a little time at the LYS and Barnes and Noble, so I even have new projects I'd like to be working on, just no energy.
Apologies then for the radio silence, but know that I'm planning to make it up with pictures, a pattern (or two) and positive thinking that none of YOU get sick, too!