Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gauge Is A Fickle Friend

So, I feel the need to get back to is blogging about it. I dabbled with some tangential topics but now it's time to touch base with what has been happening fiber-wise. To do that, let's talk about gauge for a minute, shall we?

For those of you not lucky enough to have (yet) been indoctrinated into the world of knitting, "gauge" refers to the tension of your knitting and provides a sometimes necessary ratio of rows and stitches per inch. For some projects, such as scarves or shawls, gauge is almost nonsensical in that the finished size of the item is either "big enough" or...well, not. However, when a knitter embarks upon a fiber voyage of great magnitude, let's say a sweater, gauge becomes not only necessary but rather imperative.

Most patterns will give you the gauge with which they are to be knit, in a convenient stitch/row ratio. For example: 5sts/7rws = 1" in stockinette stitch on US #6/4mm needles. Simply put, if you were using the same yarn and the same needle size, and you were to knit up a square in the same stitch, then lay the square flat and measured, you should find that you have 5 stitches horizontally and 7 rows vertically for every 1 inch knitted. If you do, then you have gauge. If you don't, you need to alter one of many variables.

The possible variables include:
  • The weight of the yarn. Lace, sock, DK, worsted, bulky...the thicker the yarn, the thicker the knit and the fewer stitches per inch. Conversely, the thinner the yarn, the thinner the knit, the more stitches per inch.
  • The size of the needles. The larger the diameter of the needles, the more yarn it takes to make a stitch; the smaller the diameter, the less it takes. Bulky yarns are (usually) knit on larger needles. Lace projects are (usually) done on thinner needles.
  • Your own personal tension. Each knitter has their own unique amount of tension they hold in the active yarn when they knit. This makes for tight knitters and loose knitters. I tend to be of the former persuasion.
Given that each knitter has a unique tension, even if you did use the same yarn and the same needle size, there's still no guarantee you'll hit the right gauge. If you're a loose knitter in the above example, you might end up with 4.5 stitches per inch. If you're tight, maybe 5.5 stitches. And although 1/2 of a stitch doesn't seem like a big deal, keep in mind it's 1/2 of a stitch per inch...which means if you add 1/2 stitch for every inch across the width of a sweater, suddenly what should have fit like a glove looks more like a druid robe than a sweater.

As knitters, we are inundated continuously with admonishments regarding the necessity of knitting a gauge swatch. The swatch is that square of fabric I mentioned earlier, a test run with the chosen yarn and chosen needles to determine where you are in relation to the gauge needed. We are told to knit a swatch in numerous how-to books and at the beginning of almost every single pattern ever made. Ideally, the swatch should be knit, washed and dried to achieve an accurate measurement...but who has time for all that? Besides, I don't have my own washer and dryer handy.

So...where am I going with all this? Right here. There are two projects to which this topic is specifically relevant. The first is a hat. Specifically, the Not-Just-For-Chemo Reversible Cloche by Mary Keenan. It's a great pattern for a non-felted cloche and specifically calls for 18 stitches, 26 rows = 4" on US #4/3.5mm. Madame Keenan used Malabrigo Worsted. The friend whom this cloche is for, Miss Eva from Germany, chose Berroco Pure Merino. Both yarns are listed as Aran weight, with 8wpi (wraps per inch). I faithfully found my US #4 straight needles, cast on the requisite number of stitches for a larger sized hat and set off on my adventure!

After several nights of working the brim in a linen stitch on straight needles, I was ecstatic when the pattern finally called for joining the work in the round to begin the body of the hat. I found my double pointed needles and...found that, after joining, I had a hat too small. Not just too small for Eva...too small for a baby! I thought my eyes were perhaps faulty, so I worked a few rounds until the truth just could not be denied. Only a newborn perhaps would ever be able to wear this hat.

Okay, okay...not a big deal. I moved up to a US #7 and cast on again. Several nights of work, join into the round, work a few rounds and...again, too small. Are you kidding me? WTF? I'm sorry to say I don't have any pictures of the 2 baby hats. I ended up taking them both to Knit Night where they were unceremoniously dismantled and rewound into balls. Currently, I'm knitting the hat for the third time, on US #9s with the yarn held double. And you know what? Whatever size it turns out to be is the hat I'm sending to Germany. Hmph!

I do, however, have pictures of the second project, a pair of shorts that you will soon see the pattern for on a popular knit site we all know and consult on a quarterly basis. The pattern was sent to me by the designer directly. Let's call this a test-knit, shall we? I have loved this pattern since I first saw the finished project and immediately found some Patons Shetland Chunky. The gauge on the pattern: 5sts/7rows = 1". I made sure to knit a test swatch this time, given the hassle with the cloche. My gauge: 5sts/7rows = 1". SCORE! I grabbed the circular needle, cast on for the first leg and was off!

Here's the beginning of the leg:

What you may not be able to fully appreciate in this picture is the scale of this gauge disaster. Let me re-frame it for you with some context:

Yes, the leg is almost as large in diameter as a toilet seat cover. I hang my head in shame before you, fellow knitters. Needless to say, I ripped it out immediately.

So, where did I go wrong? I had the correct gauge, yes...but I had the correct gauge on straight needles. I neglected to knit a test swatch in the round, as the legs of the shorts would be knit. And that, my friends, made all the difference in the world.

I have re-started the shorts, this time using Rowan Cashsoft 4 Ply and am please to report that they appear to be of wearable size this time...though I may have underestimated the amount of yarn needed to finish the shorts.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Move to Amend

“I hope we shall... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and to bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

~ Thomas Jefferson, letter to George Logan. November 12, 1816

I've just become aware of a rather important organization, Move To Amend. Seeking to amend our nation's Constitution in light on the Supreme Court's recent decision concerning campaign finance reform, I think it's at least worth a moment of your time to take a look and see what it's all about. I've already signed the petition; you, of course, don't have to.

Friday, January 22, 2010


If you thought even for one second about that last question before answering, you've already taken one second longer than I did. Of course, I wrote him back.

Had this been another time, his message would have probably been written at a desk, it would have traveled across an ocean, probably folded neatly in thirds before having been placed in a heavier paper envelope, on the front of which certain names and addresses would have been faithfully inscribed. A colorful stamp would have been found in the upper right corner, bought in a French bureau de tabac on the walk to school, affixed immediately with a lick of the tongue and the press of a thumb, the whole thing being then dropped unceremoniously into a yellow box on the side of a nondescript building.

Had this been another time, I would have found it in two weeks time, lying on the hardwood floor in front of my front door, having landed there after being pushed through the mailslot by an oblivious carrier. I would have opened it immediately, hurriedly, ripping the envelope raggedly with my hands, not even waiting to make it to the desk where a proper opener lie. I imagine the reaction would still have been very much the same, however.

So, yeah...I wrote back to him. I wrote back wishing him a Happy New Year, too. I included a vague reference to our previous adventures and touched upon the highlights of the past five years: graduation, starting the gym, knitting, quitting smoking and starting a new career. Oh, and then I finished it off with another vague reference of the past, the writing equivalent of sealing an e-mail with a kiss.

And yes, he wrote back to me after that. He told me about buying an apartment, securing his job in Angers as a school teacher and faculty member at the private university where I attended classes five years ago. It's a lot of work, he told me, but he was really enjoying it. Unfortunately, his romantic life had been less than stellar, like mine, and, also like me, he was single. It would seem, he said, that la vie nous deux rend au meme stade: Life had brought both of us to the same stadium.

Then he mentioned the possibility of coming to St. Louis to visit me.

And that's where this story ends...for now. I wrote him back again and completely forgot to mention the possibility of a trip to see me. It doesn't mean the option if off the table, simply that I don't think we're anywhere near close to starting to talk about something like that. It's been five years...let's trade some stories and get to know each other again, first...

I'm going to write to him right now and tell him a little about last night's Knit Night. It seems a good place to start.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

...and then...

Okay, number one: If you haven't done so already, you need to go back and read the previous post.

Number two: If you have already read it, you may want to go back and skim it again, to brush up on the salient points of the story. It's okay...I'll wait.


You good? Alright, then. I had to go back and read the damn thing, too, because, as you may or may not have been aware, it's been several days since I wrote the first part of this story and, according to a bevy of sources, they have been filled for some with emotion and suspense. I've been asked a dozen times in a dozen ways, "What happens next?" This morning, it was explained to me why I'm a complete bastard. I have left people breathless, I have made some people cry. And if I don't write something soon, I swear I will be carried off by a 1930s B&W film riot crowd, complete with flaming torches.

However, I have also had to examine how far I'm willing to go with you. How much am I willing to share, to reveal about myself to you, the reader, whom I might though probably will never know. How much do I reveal about Bernard or any other person who might figure into an autobiographical tale? How much crosses a line, how much invades another's much am I allowed to tell you?

It started with "Hello my dear dean." It was Tuesday morning when I saw though it had arrived the day before. The left side of my mouth curled up in a half-smile and I swear to you, my heart skipped a beat. Immediately, everything came flooding back to me, like a movie trailer watched in fast-forward in the glory days of the VCR. Remember? When you were trying to get to the actual movie on the TAPE and the only way to it was to fast forward through the FBI warning and all those damn previews, one after another, with their teeny scenes cutting and jumping from one to the next so fast that if you barely know what movie they're advertising for? was kind of like that.

The message had two photos attached to it. The first is of him with a beautiful and obviously French woman. He's wearing an impossibly dark sweater with a white button-down collar setting up a startling and stark contrast. His hair is dark with a slight wave to it. And his eyes, light blue and still gorgeous. His expression is content, neither too serious nor with a smile. This is the face I remember, the face I traced with fingertips and whose contours I memorized in my sleep.

The second photo was of him with a small, blond baby boy with deep-sunk eyes and a chubby face. Here was his smile, so natural in its form and beauty, flanked on either side by the subtle flattery of the parenthesis, the slight laugh lines that flag him as someone who smiles a lot. Here he has a slight soul patch below his bottom lip and a small gold chain he wear beneath a black t-shirt.

Hello my dear Dean...

I wanted to wish you a Happy New Year by way of this message. I hope that everything is going well for you there in the States. When are you coming back to France? I hope to hear back from you soon...Je t'embrasse...B.

PS - Here are a couple of photos...perhaps you will find me very much the same. A bientot.

And that was all there was. A five year silence had been broken and if you think for a minute it was only to wish me a Happy New Year, you are not keeping up very well. Bernard is a dyed-in-the-wool romantic, conventionally so in many respects, but if there was a random message turning up after five years of shhh...nothing, my initial instinct says...well, do I write back?

Do I write back? You might think that it should be a simple question, with an immediately resounding, "YES." But think about it for just a moment: he is where he is and I am where I am and it's been 5 years and do I really want to turn over a stone that long ago dried in the sun? Or do I leave well enough alone?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

French Flashback...Five years ago, Part II

It's Tuesday night, I'm newly home from the gym and am suddenly struck with this autobiographical impulse. The idea for the French Flashbacks was to lift portions from a journal I kept throughout my time in France and re-visit them five years after the fact. This one, however, is motivated by the intersection of my history with my present, by an e-mail I received this morning from someone I never thought I'd hear from again. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, one of the many characters of my life, M. Bernard Jeannot:

Bernard and I met near the end of my stay in France, through a mutual acquaintence: his singing partner and my housemate, a young French woman named Emily. All of about 22, she was eager for he and I to meet and one day, when I was just getting in from my day on campus, I found Emily and Bernard singing together in the kitchen. Acoustics being what they are in old French kitchens, and I don't need to tell you, their voices were carrying quite a bit, drawing much unwelcome attention from the Monsieur and Madame of the house who, I might add as a small aside, were horrible, horrible people.

I was instantly stunned by everything about him, but mostly the angular cut of his face and those blue, blue eyes. Paired with the beautiful dark hair that typifies the French, you have to admit they do make a striking deux. As I felt a smile cross my face, I saw myself extending my hand as though I wasn't the one doing it. He rose from his seat with an expression that seemed to mirror my own and, as we shook hands briefly, there was some kind of fairytale, instantaneous spark that happened. And if you think for a minute I'm making any of this, you can't make this shit up!

He came upstairs later and as we sat next to each other on my bed, I felt giddy and stupid like a 15-year old. The door was open, of to do otherwise would either win you the cheeky and playful deridement from your housemates or a firm knock on your door from the proprietors, as we were not supposed to have overnight guests. As we talked in my room, there seemed to this unstated, unknown yet palpable level of understanding between us and I made very sure to make very clear from the onset that I was leaving in six weeks.

This departure, it is an inevitablity, not in the slightest open for debate or negotiation. We can either part ways now and call it good or, knowing full well the expiration date of our time, we can just see what happens in just 42 days time.

The very next day Bernard and I saw each other again. Since he was Emily's singing partner, he had the perfect excuse to be at the house when I would be, though he didn't need one, of course. But there was a playful coyness to our courting, which makes everything sound incredibly gay and campy but which, in reality, had a welcomed innocence behind it all. Bernard was sincere in his passions, with none of the vapid shallowness so often found here. Was that too cheeky? Fuck it, keep going...
...I was very, very sick in this photo...

So, how exactly does one go about dating someone for 6 weeks, knowing that everything stops, like it or not, ready or not, on the 43rd day. It depends on which one you are: are you Me, leaving France after 13 months to return home, to see my family, my friends, to leave behind this lovely country I had come to call home and close the chapter and turn to the next page? Or are you Him, having just met the person you feel you could quite possibly spend the rest of your life with and being faced with the immutable truth that he lives on the other side of the Atlantic ocean and nothing you say or do will change the fact that he's leaving?

Truth is relative to the person experiencing it and nothing could be more true in this specific instance. Though I loved spending time with Bernard, and our time spent together became more and more, he wasn't the only person in town I had responsibilities to. There were other friends, Americans, Canadians and French, some I had known since my arrival, who also wanted some of my time. Our times together were coming to a slow fade to black and everyone needed one more night, one more drink, one more more wave from the train. I tried to keep it light and give it my all, both at the same time. He, on the other hand, tried to live the life of a true relationship in the span of six weeks. There was a lot to accomplish and things moved very fast.

I was soon given a key to Bernard's apartment and I almost always have a change of clothes there, should I need one. He lived on the other side of town, some 1 hour on foot between my place and his. I walked it many times during those weeks, at all hours of the night and day. I have stumbled down the street at night, arm in arm with drunk French kids I didn't know but had somehow ended up getting drunk with on the way to his house. And I have seen the old French woman with her black shawl, sweeping the stoop of the bakery at the crack of dawn, preparing the fresh croissants and selling me 2 on the way home. I spent most nights there with him, curled up on the couch, talking about some aspect of French grammar he was trying to help me sort out.

Bernard, you see, is incredibly smart...and that's by French education standards which, compared to US standards make us all look like a pack of backwater hillbillies. (I was going to name a State, too, but I'll let you fill in the blank). He finished in the top three of his class, ensuring him of his pick of teaching posts throughout the entire country. He's the kind of smart that I am in awe of. He also taught French, which was just one of many perfect pairing points we had in common. Keep in mind, he taught French there the way we are taught Engish here, not as a foreign language but as our native language. Bernard knew French literature and grammar, style and rhetoric and every fine point of detail, every point of clarification that I came up with only served as an ongoing and perpetual conversation between the two of us, sometimes moving from the living room to the car, through the drive and even spill over into the conversation of the dinner party we were attending together. He was smart, he was gorgeous...he was French!

Ahhhh, well...time moves on and, unfortunately, as foretold, I could not stay on. Bernard and I split ways several days before I left. We were to meet on campus at 18h00 and he would bring me my things. It was cool and overcast at dusk, the perfect moment of twilight. If I remember correctly, he asked me not to contact him afterwards, that severing all communication would be easier than hearing my voice or seeing my face again. So, I turned from him first and started to walk back to my house. I could hear him get in his car and start to pull away, car tires on gravel...and you better believe I turned around and stood there in the gravel feeling like Meryl Streep, tears sliding silently down my cheeks. I never heard from him again...

...until today.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Can I Kick it?

First, winter has finally arrived here in St. Louis. Last Wednesday saw our first real snowfall of the season, maxing out at a traffic-stopping 3 inches. It was almost enough to shut the city down for the entire day. Many schools and universities called off in favor of snow days and even my office started an hour later to give people time to make it in safely. I imagine the jet stream will shift north soon enough and the warmer air will melt the snow. This is what usually happens in a St. Louis winter. We're lucky if we get 2 major snows each season.

Second, I had a wonderful surprise arrive on Thursday! A thank-you package from my Flickr knit bud LimeGreenOctopi showed up on my doorstep, a response to a package I had sent him containing the remnants from the Diamondback Mitts. Jo Sharp Silk Road Tweed Aran or some such nonsense. In any case, not only did I not finish the second Mitt (so sorry, Stephen) but I also didn't care for the yarn much either. LimeGreenOctopi made an off-hand comment and badda-bing, badda-boom...What I got in return, however, was way better than what I sent! Enclosed in an envelope were 2 hanks of AslanTrends Sante Fe, color #1320 Earth Seasons, a little "Knitta Please" postcard, a milk chocolate Yooper bar, a little Moleskine notebook and a mixtape of some of his favorite music! Do you even know how long it's been since anyone gave me a mixtape?! I already ate the Yooper bar, case you were wondering.Third, here's a crap-tastic photo of the Boneyard Shawl I've been working on for Ms. Sarah Scott, a phenomenal lino cut artist in Grand Rapids, MI. I just finished it last night, close to 1am...

...and haven't blocked it yet. I plan to do that today...but, then again, I also plan on going to gym, taking a nap, eating lunch...and who knows which tasks will actually get done. It's Sunday so it's anyone's best guess, really. I could really, really use with photography lessons, yo. Here's the print I received in trade:

So, when I originally sat down at my desk to write this entry, I had some really great shit tumbling around in my head...and although it's all still tumbling, it's not quite smooth enough to be committed to virtual paper. Stay tuned though...I'm working on it. For now, though, I think most everything's been covered. There was a pair of mitts and some work on the Sock Yarn Blanket, too...but I didn't snap a pic of the mitts and the SYB is so gargantuan, it's virtually impossible to photograph. See? Again with the photo advice...consider the phone lines open.

I'm going to take a Sunday nap now...
What? Take nap now? YAY! Purrrr...
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