Crochet, knitting, astronomy & life in general.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The World's Most Famous Baby Jacket

There are several reasons why Elizabeth Zimmermann (EZ) is the knitting icon of the 20th century, and one of these is the Baby Surprise Jacket. It's an ingeniously constructed piece of knitting, where you start at the collar and along the length of the sleeves, decrease for a while to shape the sleeves, and then increase for a while to shape the lower body of the little jacket. After you bind off, you end up with this strangely misshapen rectangle, but if you fold it just so and seam up the top of the sleeves, you end up with one of the cutest little baby jackets ever.

I recently got an opportunity to make one of these when I found out my cousin is pregnant. Mom had given me EZ's The Opinionated Knitter for Christmas, and so I had the pattern all ready to go. By the way, if you only get one EZ book, this is the one you should buy. It's pretty damn awesome. Anyway, I copied the pattern into my little notebook, balled up a skein of Noro Kureyon Sock, picked out some 3.75mm needles from my interchangeable needle kit, and threw everything into my suitcase for my trip to NRDA.

I managed to knit the entire sweater during the conference. Seriously... I cast on on the Thursday, and bound off during the car ride back on Saturday. The fact that I was sitting through hours and hours of talks (and that the wi-fi on my laptop refused to work) certainly didn't hurt, but I think I'll attribute the speediness of this pattern to the rows of mindless garter stitch paired with fairly intuitive increases, once you get the hang of it. I only had to look at my written pattern a few times to check how many increases or decreases I was supposed to be doing. It also didn't hurt that the colour changes in the Noro are absolutely fabulous.

I should say something about that yarn. Reading comments on Ravelry, people seem to have a love/hate relationship with Noro. They complain that it's scratchy, that there are lots of knots, that they find little pieces of hay in the yarn, that the thickness is too inconsistent to knit socks with, but then they also just go crazy over the colours. In my ball, I found only one knot (and so took the opportunity to do my own version of a Russian join) and quite a few pieces of hay. However, the knot happened where the colours more or less matched up, so that was ok. I was actually pretty lucky when it came to that knot. The colour changes were supposed to go from pink to green to yellow, but because of the knot, they went from pink to green to pink again. This meant that after picking up the stitches, the pink continued in the right place! Rather fortunate coincidence, I think. The yarn was also rather thick & thin, in some places it was as thin as crochet cotton and in others as thick as heavy worsted, but considering my needle size, and that the sweater was garter stitch, it didn't matter so much. It was also not quite as scratchy as I had expected.

But the colours... oh the colours! My pictures don't quite capture the depth of the colours of this yarn. I think the trick is that they don't dye the yarn after it's spun (or even the roving with multiple colours at a time), but instead spin in one colour for a while, and gradually introduce roving of a different colour. If you look closely at the yarn where the colour changes, you can see two strands of colour spun together. It gives the illusion of the colours bleeding into one another without the muddiness that would result from dying the colours long enough to obtain the same vibrancy. This way, they can dye a piece of roving in one colour, as long as they want to get the intensity of colour you see in the final project. Pretty smart, actually.

To go with the jacket, I decided to also knit up some Bootees, also an EZ pattern from the same book. They're knit in a similar way to the BSJ, by decreasing to a point, picking up stitches along the side of the knitting and then increasing until the piece of fabric can be folded to make a little foot shape. Because of the colour changes in the Noro, mine ended up being completely different colours, which is ok because even though they don't match each other, they both match the jacket. I also decided not to sew the booties all the way up the leg, as suggested in the pattern, but instead leave the upper part open so that the top parts can be folded down to look like little elf shoes! I also added i-cords to be tied in the back to give it a bit of a girly touch (the baby will indeed be of that gender).

My cousin reacted appropriately with all the squeals and thank-yous she could muster, and so I think she can probably expect to receive more baby things in the future... muahahahaha!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Baby stuff! (aka instant gratification knitting)

As I've hinted at in some previous posts, I've been doing a lot of baby knitting lately. Two important people in my life, my cousin and a friend from my hometown, A and his wife J, are expecting to have babies at roughly the same time, which, of course, means knitting lots and lots of baby things! Oh my... I've been overcome by the cuteness more than once.

The ultimate in cute baby knitting, in my humble opinion, is baby booties. Therefore, the very first thing I made for J & A's baby was a pair of these absolutely adorable baby booties, using the Blue Steps pattern by Regina Willer. It's a pretty awesome pattern, mostly because it doesn't require any seaming (Huzzah!). I made these in an unidentified blue 4-ply sock yarn from my grandmother's stash.

They're knit from the bottom of the foot up, and I think I might have screwed up the initial cast-on a bit because the seam somehow ended up on the outside of the booty, but I guess that's ok. I also had to do a single crochet bind-off so that the top would have enough stretch to fit around a fat little ankle. Also, I learned how to do brioche stitch ribbing!

I thought it would be nice to make a little hat to go with the booties, so, using the same yarn, I knit up a little beanie. I couldn't find a pattern I liked, so I made up my own. I cast on 104 sts, knit the brioche stitch ribbing for about an inch and a half, knit three ridges worth of garter stitch, and then started decreasing after about 3 and a half inches. I decreased 8 sts every other round until there were 40 sts left, and then decreased every round. I ended up with 4 sts at the top, and finished it off with a short icord. It's pretty damn adorable.

And now, this post is getting a little long, and I really should be getting back to writing a thesis proposal. Next time, the world's most famous baby sweater!

Monday, July 12, 2010

NRDA 2010

One of the joys of being a grad student is that I get paid to travel to conferences! I already talked about my trip to Halifax, but this more recent conference didn't take me quite as far afield. The last week of June, I went to NRDA (Numerical Relativity and Data Analysis) at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, only an hour's drive from Toronto.

This conference is meant to bring together the gravitational wave community, so those people who study the gravitational effects of black holes (and other compact objects) crashing into each other. This includes numerical relativity, gravitational wave detector data analysis, theoretical models of gravitational waves, etc. It was associated with CAPRA, which was more on the theoretical side, and which I skipped most of. It was great going to all these talks in my field and learning about what other people are doing. I found it much more interesting than CASCA where the majority of talks weren't in my field. I also got to meet most of the authors of the various papers I've been reading for my research. It's really cool to put faces to all those names.

I presented a poster with my research so far:

Another couple of people are actually working on the same thing (error estimation for hybrid waveforms), so I've got to get my butt in gear and actually publish. Too bad I have the second part of my qual in less than 2 weeks!

Other highlights included a nearby lake (more like a pond) and petting zoo with baby ducks!

Really fancy lunches

Really fancy desserts at out-of-the-way vegetarian restaurants

Interesting architecture at the Perimeter Institute

And knitting an entire baby sweater in four days (more on this later)

The world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is also visiting the PI right now, and I did in fact get a chance to see him. However, I was way too shy to talk to him or take a picture... oh well.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Two Socks at a Time!

So, when people knit two socks at once, it's usually with the Magic Loop technique or with two long circular needles. However, there's a certain elegant aesthetic that comes with knitting socks on double-pointed needles that you don't get when there are mad wires flying everywhere. But all is not lost! You can have the best of both worlds when you learn how to do double knitting!

I've mentioned a couple of times that Knitty article which deals with knitting two socks at once, one inside the other, on double-pointed needles, and also the pattern from Knitting Traditions Magazine which explained a similar technique. Well, I thought it was about high time I tried this interesting and intriguing sock-knitting method.

I started off with this deliciously colourful, yet wonderfully cheap, acrylic/polyester yarn (called Gala Mixed Fibre from Mary Maxim). It was so on sale that it would have been crazy to pass it up... something like $1.50 a ball. At that price, I was pretty sure it would be super crappy, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. A teensy bit on the scratchy side, and really pilly when it rubs against things, but the colours are super fun.

I used the cast-on method from the Knitty article, and knit the ribbings on the needles together. I then continued in the manner of the Knitting Traditions article by purling the outside sock and knitting the inside sock. I'm not sure if this is the best method, since I knit much looser than I purl, but the socks ended up being roughly the same size, and it was easier to keep track of the different threads this way. I didn't hold one yarn in each hand as recommended by both articles, but instead had them over my left index finger, and though the separate threads twisted together a bit, it didn't bother me too much. The only time I mixed up the front sock thread and the back sock thread was when I was knitting the ribbing.

Even after four pairs of socks, I've never knit a heel flap, and this time was no different. The Knitty article indicated that short row heels were the easiest to do in double-knit socks, and so I stuck with that. I'm fairly happy with the result... and I only screwed up one wrap and turn when knitting at a dark and drunken party. The stitches ended up being a little loose, and the same happened for the toe decrease, but that worked itself out after washing.

And so, I ended up with these crazy striped, super fun-looking socks! They feel a little funny on my feet, I think because of the fibre, but I'm sure they'll soften up as I wear them more. They're definitely socks I would wear regularly, and they fit nicely. This was an interesting experiment, and I'm happy that I got something wearable in the end... I wasn't too sure what to expect, but I'm pretty sure that I would do socks like this again. Now, if only I could figure out a way to double-knit socks toe-up!