Knitting on the road

Probably the toughest thing about packing for a trip is deciding what knitting or crochet projects to bring. Some projects are perfect for travel knitting, others less so. And a project that might be perfect for a three week research visit would be a terrible choice for a weekend in Paris. Here are some of the things I consider when choosing a project when I hit the road.
Will I be checking in a bag?
If I’m checking a bag, anything goes. If not, it restricts my choices somewhat. I know a lot of people fly with knitting, but I tend to prefer not to risk losing my needles. My go to carry on project is a crocheted dishcloth. I reckon that crochet hooks are less intimidating than my 2.75mm dpns going through the x-ray. I also wouldn’t be heartbroken if they were taken from me, which I can’t usually say about my non-dishcloth projects.
The other factor is that when I’m not checking a bag, it usually means a short trip, so not having any projects with me is less of a problem.
When will I be knitting?
If I’ll be knitting while waiting for talks to start, or sitting with friends or colleagues for coffee or drinks, I want a project that is compact, sufficiently straight forward that I can almost knit it with my eyes closed, and easy to put away when I need to. Socks with memorised simple stitch patterns work well, or simple lace shawls.
If I’m more likely to be chilling in my hotel room, something more involved is possible. When I’m not also following a conversation, I can be making notes and following a printed chart. Of course, the exception here is if I’m sitting chatting with other knitters. In that case, charts and notes aren’t usually considered obtrusive.
Am I at a suitable point in the project?
Long stretches of the same pattern? Perfect. But if in five rows I’m going to need to do a provisional cast on, pick up stitches and learn a complex new chart, it’s less than ideal. Those kind of maneuvers are better suited to quiet time on the sofa where I have all my tools to hand, and the time and space to think about it.
Does my project require special care?
Knitting on the road gets put in bags, and squished, and pulled about the place. Curious people might pick it up and poke it. It gets put on random surfaces for picturesque photos. Usually there’s wine, or at the very least tea and coffee. A pure white laceweight shawl might not travel well without a lot of TLC. A soft shawl made with felty singles might not take the rough and tumble well. A slightly more rugged lace project, or socks, or something even thicker and tougher is a better choice.
I’m not quite finished my travel for the moment. I returned from Japan on Friday, and left Monday morning for the Scottish Highlands. I’ll then have a week home before I pack up and leave for Finland. Three quite different trips, with three quite different knitting constraints. I’m looking forward to finally being home for good.
In unrelated news, my shoes were polished by my very lovely husband. The left toe has a scratch that can’t be fixed, but they’re looking a lot healthier now.

My New Shoes

These are my new shoes.

I bough them specifically for this trip. In fact, before I arrived on the 7th May, they hadn’t been worn after being tried on. I’ve been wearing them near constantly for the past two weeks, in offices, on beaches, at bbqs, up and down hills.

They’re looking a little worse for wear now. They have sand in the toes, the surface is scratched from when I fell over, and I have to admit they don’t smell the freshest.

There’s a part of me that is sad about this. My lovely new shoes are not so lovely, and definitely not so new any more. On the other hand, I have shoes that are as pristine as the day  I bought them. Those shoes have been worn once or twice, before being relegated to the back of the wardrobe. They weren’t comfortable, or weren’t practical, or didn’t suit my wardrobe.

These shoes on the other hand, I could walk all day in them. They don’t give me blisters or leave me dying to sit down. They suit skirts and dresses and jeans. I can wear them barefoot, with tights and, once I get back to colder climes, with colourful handknit socks. The scratches and scuffs are the signs of a lived in shoe, and a lick of polish will have them shining in no time.

It’s hard not to be as precious about knits as new shoes. When I first made my Winter Thaw shawl and unpinned it from my blocking mats, it looked like this.

Now, half way around the world and 18 months later, it looks like this.

It’s a little stretched, and bumpy, and it’s lost it’s crisp lines. If I had just blocked it and put it in a drawer, it would still be as perfect as the day I finished it. But what’s the point in spending the time on a lovely shawl like this if it hides in the dark. Nothing has happened to the shawl that a fresh blocking won’t fix, and even if it does get irreparably damaged, I’m glad I enjoyed it while I had it.

I used to want to preserve life in amber, capturing each moment and momento for fear of forgetting. Today I try to focus more on living the moments. Sometimes things get scuffed and scratched, and are less than perfect, but it’s better than keeping them in boxes.

I Care About I-Cord

The blanket I blogged about last week is finished, barring weaving in the ends and blocking. I managed the expected 10 full repeats of the chart plus 12 rounds of moss stitch for the border. After much debate and advice from twitter I decided to bind off with i-cord. From my initial calculations I had estimated I would have enough yarn for 15 rounds after the 10 repeats. As i-cord takes 3 times as much yarn as a knit round I anticipated I would have sufficient yarn for the bind off if I knit only 12 rounds of moss stitch. It worked perfectly – with only a few metres spare. Optimal yarn usage always makes me happy :) A few people asked for details so here are the instructions for what I did:

After the final round knit the first few stitches of the next round, to move the start away from the corner. I only knit 2 stitches but 3 or 4 would be better.

Then provisionally cast on 3 stitches onto a larger dpn than used, you’ll need two of these. Some people manage with just one by slipping stitches on and off the needle holding the live stitches but I’ve found using two dpns is easiest. The provisional cast on is so you can graft the two ends of the i-cord together for a really neat finish.

Now for the actual binding off! Using your second dpn knit the first 2 of the 3 stitches you cast on. Then knit the third stitch together with the live stitch to be bound off, through the back loops. Another option is to do a SSK with these two stitches. Now simply slide the three stitches on the dpn to the other side, without turning, ready for knitting again. The working yarn will be from the left-most stitch but that’s ok! Repeat this step, binding off one stitch each time, until you reach one stitch before the corner.

The corner:
Before binding off the corner stitch do 2 rows of standard i-cord: knit the three stitches, slip back and then do it again. Then bind off the corner stitch as for all the rest, then 2 rows of plain i-cord again before continuing to bind off the rest of the stitches as before.

When all the stitches are bound off you’ll have three stitches on your needle. Graft these together with the stitches from the provisional cast on.

It took a while but I’m really pleased with the results. It gives a really finished look to the piece and a nice even edge. It’s also stretchy enough to allow for hard blocking, which is important for a lace pattern like this one.

On the road again

One of the best things about being a researcher is all the travel we get to do. In the past seven years I’ve been all over Europe and to Canada. All these trips were work trips, but there’s always an opportunity to explore new places with new and old friends. This May, however, really takes the cake in terms of conferences and research visits. I’m spending three weeks in Okinawa, a subtropical island of Japan. Sun, sea, sand, and science!

There’s an added bonus, as I’m visiting the group I did my PhD with, who moved out here last autumn. In a way, it’s like I’ve just come home, catching up with my old office mates and seeing what everyone is up to.

Alas, this trip hasn’t been without its issues. It started when I got to the airport and realised that I had forgotten to pack my poster! Posters are one of the ways we present our research results at conferences, so it’s akin to forgetting the slides of a talk. Luckily I realised in time to email my former group mates a copy to print out in Okinawa. Crisis 1 averted.

The rest of the travel went smoothly, all the luggage arrived safely and there were no issues with visas. Unfortunately we discovered issue number 2 on the final leg of the journey. My laptop wouldn’t start! It had been fine when I left home Monday morning, but when I opened it on Tuesday morning it couldn’t find the hard drive. I’ve been able to borrow a laptop for work, and blogging, and I have a lot of stuff backed up so it’s not a terrible loss of data, but it is looking like that drive is officially borked.

Now I’m not superstitious, but I probably should have expected a third issue, to round out the narrative of my journey, and boy did I get one on Monday. I was on the way down the hill to the bus stop with another visitor. It was wet and miserable out, and I didn’t realise the grates on the side of the road would be so slippery. First my ankle went out from under me, then my knee hit the ground, then my arm, and then in a finishing maneuver, my backpack slammed forward onto the back of my head. Ouch!

Fortunately, not only did I have a friend right beside me, but a local driving past saw me go down and stopped to help. He drove us back up to our apartments so I could assess the damage, and arrange for someone to drive us to the institute.

I got off reasonably lucky. I didn’t skid, so I have more bruises than grazes, although my left knee has an exact imprint of the grating grid in a lovely shade of purple. My right ankle fared a little worse, and is now a delightful shape and colour. At least I’m sitting at a desk all day, with access to a medical centre, so a busted ankle is better than a busted arm, and I should be fine in a few days.

With all the bustle and excitement, I haven’t been doing much knitting on this trip so far. Usually that’s the sign of a good conference, if I’m not rushing back to hide in my room every chance I get. I did get half a sock done between talks, so I’m hoping to have at least one sock finished before I fly home. For the flights themselves, I took some thick cotton and a crochet hook to make a dishcloth. It was great to have something brainless for the nearly 24 hours of travel. I did get chatting to another passenger on the first flight about crochet and knitting. It turns out she does tatting and showed me some beautiful work she’s done.

Oh dear, I don’t need another hobby!

OIST, Okinawa: A beautiful place to work

Going Undercover

We are back to our weekly Wednesday posts. If you missed the mayhem of April Alphablogging there’s a linked list of the posts. I’m still looking for test knitters and especially test wearers for the Oisín baby hat.

I have so much on my mind at the moment that only the simplest easiest most mind-numbing knitting will do.  I’ve been knitting up a storm of baby things as they are small and relatively easy.  Especially as they’re quick to give a sense of accomplishment – something I need to balance the huge everlasting thesis. As the deadline looms ever closer garter stitch squares and stockinette hats are the order of the day.

In a fit of pique (a theorem seemed to have a hole in the proof) I ripped out a shawl I had crocheted in Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend. I thought the yarn was too beautiful for a shawl that’s rarely worn and needed to become a blanket for my future niece or nephew. Family babies deserve a little luxury, no matter how impractical silk and merino are. The colour is a lovely blend of cream, grey and denim blue probably best suited for a boy.

Inspired by stripycat I decided to cast on HedgeHog Fibres ‘Undercover’ Blanket pattern Knitting from the centre out, like two triangular shawls joined together, means I’ll make the most of the yarn. It’s a really pleasant knit with a simple chart – a ten round repeat that”s easily memorised. Every pattern round is almost the same and every second round is plain knitting. The set-up chart and 5 repeats took 1/4 of the yarn (75g of 300g) which should be 1/2 the rounds. This means, according to the maths from earlier, that I should manage 10 repeats in total plus 12-14 rounds of moss stitch for the edging. It should make a good size blanket for a baby. This project is exactly what I need at the moment, something I can knit while thinking or too stressed to think, and I’m halfway through already.

Warts and all

Well, we made it to the end of April, with a huge thanks to Stripycat for finishing us off with a Z for Zimmerman!

I had planned on taking this Wednesday off and getting back to our usual schedule next week, but as I was playing around with the timer settings of the camera, I couldn’t resist trying a few things.

At the end of March I reviewed the new Knit to Flatter book, but I didn’t get around to doing any of the exercises at the start to determine my shape. I decided to take a few pictures today and share my shape with you all, even the not so flattering bits.

I took a front facing photo to determine if I’m a top heavy, bottom heavy or proportional figure. I didn’t expect to be surprised by what this photo would reveal, but I drew out the shoulder, hip, waist and bust lines just to see how it all worked out.

You’ll have to forgive the rather gormless expression! I was aiming for neutral, but ended up with zombie.

I don’t think I need to offer a prize for guessing which kind of shape I am. I’ve always been a bottom heavy girl, whether a size 10 or a size 18. My hips and thighs are wide, my bust is small and my shoulders are on the narrow end. (If you look closely you can also almost see that my left shoulder is slightly higher than my right shoulder. Thanks, physiotherapist for pointing that one out to me.)

Another thing I have to bear in mind is that I am rather short of body. Height wise, I’m Miss Average, clocking in somewhere around 5’5″, but you can see that all my upper body key points are all bunched together above my elbows. This usually only creates problems for dresses, and I’ve started getting the straps of my dresses shortened so that they sit well on me. Hopefully that’s something I can learn to do for myself on my sewing machine, but I’m lucky enough to live in an area peppered with tailors, so adjustments aren’t too inconvenient.

Luckily, one thing I can do to help balance out my figure is add details to my upper half. Wide necklines or scarves, for example. Now if only I had some kind of collection of such things somewhere….