What is the letter we love?” indeed! I completed W Thursday night and it fits!!!! It really, really fits!!!! [pic coming later]

I’ve been so bummed that both tops I’ve knit for myself so far (Pin Up Queen sweater from Stitch n Bitch and Soleil cami) have not fit right. I was able to find them both good homes with relatives that really appreciated them, but…the point is I was trying to make them for myself and they didn’t fit right.

Ok, what have I learned from this experience? Hey, ain’t no fooling around here: gauge is ALWAYS important. And, also really try to figure out garment ease.

With Pin up Queen, I dutifully swatched and made gauge. But, I didn’t really understand the concept of ease. I knit a size that most closely fit my bust measurement, rounded up. If I had knit the next size down, it would have fit as shown in the photo and not like a sack.

With Soleil, I’ve already noted my revelation about swatching with the hand that I will actually use to knit with. Duh!

While knitting W, I made sure I always knit by throwing the yarn from my right hand (English). That’s the way I get the most even, consistent gauge. I finished it fairly quickly for me, since I don’t usually get a lot of time to knit every week. But, the weekend before last I got a lot done. My stepsister Sarah and her husband Ernie came into the city on the Saturday and stayed the night. The plan was to attend my sister Annette’s surprise b-day party late that afternoon and shock the hell out of her.

Sarah knows to always bring her knitting with her when she comes to visit. We knit for an hour or so after lunch, then brought our knitting to the party and worked away while we were waiting for the guest of honor to make it back home from the diversionary event she’d been dragged to. Boy, was she surprised! We made her cry. Is that good? Well, we definitely surprised her, that’s for sure. We left the party at about 8:30 since it was winding down, then stopped to rent some DVDs and knit away through a movie that night.

After breakfast on Sunday, I pretty much just knit the whole day. We watched our second movie rental, Sarah and I knitting away on our projects the whole time. Then Sarah and Ernie headed home and I decided it was too hot to do anything outside and it was better to continue knitting. So, I got a big chunk o’ knitting done that weekend, and had only a little to do on the AM and PM commute. I bound off on Tuesday night at SnB, and started seaming up the side. There was only one side seam to work on because I decided to just continue into side 2 from side 1 without binding off; worked just fine. I finished seaming the side and shoulders on Wednesday night, and picked up stitches for the bottom band. I completed the bottom band during
Thursday’s PM commute. Then it was just binding off the bottom, single crocheting around the neck and armholes, and weaving in ends. I was up a bit later than usual on Thursday night finishing it off, but I really wanted to get it done.

I decided to add the crochet to give it a better finish. The model one I saw at Arcadia had nice edging and I liked the look. Coincidentally, Elizabeth had brought in her finished W to SnB this week; I didn’t even know she was knitting one. She was working on crocheting the neckline and arms, too. I guess it was a consensus of sorts to crochet the edges on the W, so why not.

I wore W to work on Friday and brought along a cardigan to ward off the persistent chill from the overzealous AC in the office. It looked damn good, especially once I put on a pair of India-style beaded mules I keep at the office. In fact, those shoes and the yarn I used for W matched perfectly. Someone actually commented to how well coordinated I was.

…Special edition: stash enhancement…
Before sitting down to knit that Saturday, Sarah I ran out together on an errand. We needed to pick up a few things for breakfast the next day, but I also wanted to divert a little bit and we went to another JoAnn shop so I could scope out if they had any Cotton Ease. Ever since it was posted on the Knitlist that Lion is discontinuing Cotton Ease, seems like there’s been a contagion
of folks buying up all the Cotton Ease they can find. I had never worked with this yarn, but when I picked some up a few weeks ago at another JoAnn shop it felt really nice. I scored at this JoAnn and bought ALL of the Candy Blue, Popsicle Blue (aqua), and Licorice (black) I found. I left behind the really bright and hideous orange and yellow, which were the only other colors
they had. Not only were the skeins marked down to $3, but they had an additional % off, so it came to $2.10 a skein.

Sounds like I have enough Cotton Ease now, doesn’t it? Well…I also found time last Wednesday afternoon to squeeze in a trip to the closest Tuesday Morning — a chain reputed to have some Cotton Ease on clearance per the Knitlist — and picked up the last 6 skeins of Banana Cotton Ease (a soft yellow) they had in stock. Yeah, I think I have enough now. I can make 2 baby blankets for expecting colleagues now out of Cotton Ease. I plan to use the soft yellow Banana color for one, and the sort of minty green Pistachio I purchased a few weeks ago for the other.

…On the needles…
Sitcom Chic done in Cotton Ease Candy Blue. I’ve been wanting to make this little cardigan for several months now, but hadn’t really decided on the yarn. Until I got a feel of the Cotton Ease, that is. The pattern actually calls for Cotton Ease (in a color of pink that seems to be unattainable), but until I actually felt it I wasn’t sure I’d want to use it. Cotton Ease knits up wonderfully, and its a shame Lion is discontinuing it. I just don’t get it, frankly. I’ve tried Lion’s Homespun (*shudder*), Microspun (OK, but prone to splitting), Wool Ease (not bad, and great for kid’s winter stuff), and now Cotton Ease. Cotton Ease is by far the best of the lot,
and they’re discontinuing. Go figure.

Ok, I’m going to rant a bit now about yarns, so special warning. I really don’t think of myself as a yarn snob, but it is annoying as hell to me that the major craft store chains are stocking mostly stuff that I really don’t want to knit. I went into Michael’s Friday night hoping to get some size 5 DPNs for Sitcom Chic and perused their selections. The Michael’s near my house has recently re-organized their yarn area and it seems that now all they are stocking is acrylic baby yarns (Red Heart, Caron’s, TLC, etc.), Lion’s assortment of “general use” yarns (Homespun and Wool Ease), and scads and scads of various novelty yarns. Seriously, two entire aisles of novelty crap: fun fur, sqiggly stuff, etc. Yuck! How can anyone actually knit a nice sweater for an adult with this crap?

I foresee lots more Internet ordering of yarn in my future. I support my local LYS. I buy yarn and supplies there regularly. In fact, I made a trip there Saturday because, of course, Micheal’s doesn’t stock size 5 DPNs. Of course not. Who needs size 5 DPNs to knit a poufy little scarf with all that novelty yarn they are now selling? But, the LYS doesn’t stock every kind of yarn
available, and sometimes it’s better for my budget to order the stuff on the Internet. I always end up buying something when I walk in there, though, and think of this as my way to dutifully support a business that provides me with so much. Kathy and Sharon have given me a lot of advice and are always willing to do so, even on projects where I did not the yarn or pattern
from them.

Anyway, back to Sitcom Chic. Perhaps because of my success with W, I am totally committed to making another garment that fits right. So, I got really serious about swatching for it. My first swatch didn’t match the stitch or the row gauge. For my second swatch, I went down a needle size and got stitch gauge, but missed the row gauge by an ever-widening mark. It’s kind of
frustrating that my original gauge could be summarized as: too large of a stitch gauge and too small of a row gauge. Of course moving down a needle size wasn’t going to help my row gauge at all, but that’s what the LYS ladies suggested as the best course of action.

As luck would have it, Knitty has a great article on dealing with gauge issues in their current issue. I read it through, pulled up a spreadsheet, and calculated out my options. I actually mapped out the pattern instructions, how the dimensions were reflected with the pattern gauge, calculated how the FO would turn out at my original stitch/row gauge, then computed the variable in Excel. I was truly being geeky about this. After my second swatch, all that calculating around stitch gauge was obsolete, but I’m still glad I did it. It really helped me understand the pattern and the consequences of forging ahead without re-calculating for my gauge. So…I’ve doctored the pattern to fit my row gauge as best as possible. I’m only about 10% off in row gauge, but that would mean about 1.5 inches difference in total garment length, which is not what I want.

Yep, I’m a serious knitter now and don’t mess with me!

…In the garden…
Rain, ah, blessed rain! Last Wednesday, a quick moving storm dumped an inch of rain (according to my rain gauge) on my yard, and I was relieved of the chore of watering the beds for the week. It is raining in downtown Chicago as I write this now and I’m hoping some of it is
coming down at my place. (Although it will make for a miserable commute slogging through rainy streets and el platforms.)

Now that I’ve got the soaker hose in action in the veggie bed, my peppers and tomatoes are doing much better. I’ve seen the peppers dutifully flowering, and some good looking tomatoes are forming. Cukes and the like have been a disappointment this year. I am not getting any flowers on my cukes or the cucamelon I decided to try this year. But, I’m getting beans now and loving them, and the beets are great. I hope to get some brussels sprouts this year…the plants are growing well.

The ‘Texas Dawn’ water lily I added this year to my little tub water garden has been a real joy. It is blooming regularly. My newest bed (converted yet more front lawn into a perennial bed) is really filling in nicely with the selection of mostly native plants I planted. It’s looking just as I imagined.

Now I’m tempted to covert the rest of the front lawn into shrubs and perennials. Only about 1/3 of the front lawn area is now perennial beds. Why not, I’ve been thinking, we really don’t need grass there and it would look so nice and be easy to water with soaker hoses. It would be a lot of work and quite an investment in plant stock, though. Decisions, decisions…

It goes on

Life, that is. The past few days have been sad and unsettling, but we’ve been going through the motions. Although Mark had only known Mouf for half as long as I, he has been saddened by her death, too. He came home from work early on Wednesday and joined me to go to the animal clinic to settle things. The doctor and staff were very kind and brought her into a room so we could say goodbye to her, and he was teary, too.

We discussed the arrangements with the vet. Here in Chicago, as in many other cities and towns, it’s not legal to bury a pet at home in your backyard. All we could do was send her out for cremation. However, we asked the doctor and staff to do one last thing with Mouf before she was sent away. Bear with me and I’ll explain.

Such coincidence, such serendipity had been in the air this past week. Last Monday I had visited the main library branch downtown to check out a few books on my way home from work. I wanted a few books on knitting lace; I’ve been trying to be a bit smarter about my book purchases and reviewing books before I buy them. While in the knitting section of the stacks, I looked at the other books available. And, I saw a title that caught my eye, Knitting with Dog Hair. I had to check out something this strange title, and added the book to my pile.

Now, this isn’t the first time I’d heard about the concept of knitting with pet hair. But, I hadn’t really had much of an interest in it, except as sort of an oddity or indication of the extremes people will go to looking for materials to knit with. I thumbed through the book on the way home, and the next night as I attempted to brush out Mouf I set aside a little pile of her hair for a later decision on what to do with it. Usually, I add her hair to the compost pile along with any other organic item I no longer want in the house. This time, I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to do.

So on Wednesday afternoon while I was sitting at home stunned and unable to work, I picked up the book again and started reading it. And I knew what I wanted to do later that afternoon when Mark and I went to the animal clinic. We asked the vet if they would shave Mouf’s hair before they sent her for cremation, and explained that I wanted it made into yarn that I could knit into something as a remembrance. The vet was intrigued and readily agreed, but I didn’t want to stay and wait while they shaved her.

I picked up her hair yesterday morning. It had been put in a plastic bag (a no-no, per the book), so I emptied it onto a drying a screen and spread the hair out to air and dry it before I place it into a paper bag with the hair combed out of her earlier this week. I’m doing this so I can save something of her to be close to me, but it is upsetting to see her hair off of her body. I see it on the screen and it looks like her, but not her. Seeing her hair makes me cry.

The dogs are acting upset, too. While they were never bosom buddies with Mouf, she was part of the household and their routine. Dogs really need routine and this is unsettling to them. When I came home from work Thursday, it was obvious to me that Sadie especially was acting oddly. She was pacing around, pointing her muzzle upwards towards the places Mouf would sometimes perch, and sniffing and looking. She was anxious and would jump right into my lap when I sat down and lay her head on my shoulder. Sadie was also very restless in bed, so neither of us got much sleep Thursday night.

When I returned from my trip to animal clinic Friday, I set down the empty carrier on the floor to let the dogs sniff it and confirm there was no Mouf inside. After I spread Mouf’s hair out to dry, Sadie cautiously approached the table with the hair and sniffed at it. Perhaps having the hair out upsets her, too, as it smells like Mouf but it isn’t. What for me is an upsetting visual cue is for her a confusing olfactory one.

Whatever it may be that is upsetting the dogs (our high emotions, the lack of Mouf’s presence, etc.), there was an amazing snarl fest in the living room last night. I had never witnessed the girls getting into such an intense and prolonged tussle. They may occasionally snarl or snap at each other over a toy or bone, but this was not a fight about a bone and it did not stop within seconds. A firm No had no effect and I had to collar them both and physically separate them. Even while I had her collared and separated, Sadie tryed to lunge at Hannah a couple more times. I had to order them to lay down and stay for several minutes. As with most dog “fights” it appears there are no injuries to either Hannah or Sadie. But they avoided looking at each other the rest of the evening, and the undercurrent of tension is still palpable.

…On the needles…
I finished Soleil at the end of my vacation-at-home week and blocked it. I am not happy with it and contemplating frogging it. It is not as form-fitting as it should be. That life line was left in place until the very end, and it saved me at least 4 times. I had to rip back above the neck shaping several times, as I tried to follow some of the pattern changes suggested by the designer.

I did learn a lot about my knitting during the process of working on Soleil, at least. One of the most important lessons was that my gauge is differs a lot depending on whether I knit Continental or English. In Continental, my gauge is looser, and as Soleil is worked on in the round and is mostly knit stitches, I did quite a bit of Continental knitting. I knew my stitch and row gauges were a bit off, but had decided to proceed anyway, so I have no one to blame but myself.

This difference in gauge became really apparent to me after I had finished Soleil and worked on a gauge swatch for my current project, W. I made a very large swatch with both styles and when I measured them there was quite a difference. My English knitting is fairly consistent, so I’m knitting W strictly with this style.

Picking W as my next project came about when I visited Arcadia during my vacation week. I had gone in to get the sisters opinion about my gauge swatch for Lily, and to peruse the yarn selections to see if I wanted to spend the gift certifcate Adrienne had given me for my b-day. (Well, OF COURSE there was yarn I wanted to buy!) I saw a tank top hanging up that looked really stunning, especially when I examined it more closely and could see that it had been knit sideways. I asked for the pattern and was told that it was the Spring issue of Knitty. Huh! I had looked at that pattern when Knitty came out and was not impressed with it. I think the photos did not do it justice, as the stitch work wasn’t that visible. Plus, I didn’t care for the yarn colors used in the photos. What a difference it made seeing it in person. I HAD to try it, and so I bought the same yarn that Kathy had used to make the tank top, Filatura di Crosa’s Malva, although in a different color.

Let me just say that I burned through that generous gift certificate and much, much more that day. I always like to check their bargain bin of yarn, and came away with a big bag full of two or three skeins of this and that, as well as enough balls of a cotton yarn to make another camisole or tank top. Oh, and that swatch for Lily was just fine, although I haven’t started the pattern yet.

…In the garden…
We are officially breaking records with our rain deficit in Chicago. During my week off, I spent the first two days attending to my garden beds and they really needed it. I did lots of deadheading, dug up the garlic, finally laid soaker hoses in the veggie beds, chipped up a large pile of lilac and tree trimmings, and mulched the veggie beds with the resulting chippings. On closer examination, the few green tomatoes on the vines had blossom end rot (BER) so I pulled them off and discarded them. BER is caused by poor water uptake, which may be due to calcium deficiency. In this case, I think it had more to do with the inherent unevenness of overhand watering that I was forced to do since the soaker hoses weren’t in place. As usual, I had amended the bed with homemade compost and added some dried blood, bonemeal, and kelp meal to the planting holes of all my veggies, so I don’t think it’s calcium deficiency.

The garlic looks fine, however. It’s now drying on a large screen in the basement. I turned over the soil and planted some alfalfa where the garlic had been planted so the soil will be friable and conditioned when I put the fall crop of garlic in place. I picked a few yellow wax beans and pulled some baby beets, too. I have at least two small eggplants forming now, and the peppers and pole beans are finally setting flower. Regular watering really helps! Now if only the cucumber and cucamelon plants will show some action…

Sad day

Today I lost my little kitty, Moufette. Mouf was nearly 15 years old and has been with me through many changes in my life.

Mouf was my very first pet as an independent adult. I had just completed my undergraduate degree and was briefly living in my mother’s house while saving up funds for my first apartment when I adopted Mouf from the South Suburban Humane Society. She was a tiny little kitten 5 weeks old. She had been found in an abandoned car in a very rough neighborhood. That night, I gave her the first of many baths she submitted to over her life to get the last bits of tar out of her hair.

I named her Moufette after looking in my French-English, English-French dictionary for a translation of “skunk.” She looked like a little skunk to me when I adopted her, with her fluffy black and white hair and short little legs. A few years later while on vacation in France, I found that I had been misled and the word was incorrect. But, no matter: her name had become the diminutive “Mouf” by then anyway, and that was fine with both of us. She grew into a small, very fluffy cat that charmed nearly everyone who met her.

Mom was a bit unsure of me bringing a kitten into the house. My new stepfather, she said, didn’t care for cats. Mouf quickly won him over, though, and he was as amused as Mom and I at the way Mouf cleverly lay in wait for their dog and pounced on him every day. After I moved out to an apartment, he suggested they get a cat of their own.

Mouf charmed the landlady of my first apartment, a lovely older woman named Opal who had lived in her house for all of her nearly 80 years. Opal welcomed Mouf’s visits downstairs to her apartment while I was working. Both Mouf and I missed Opal when we moved into the city a few years later to ease my commute to a new job that gave me a step up in my career aspirations.

As I progressed in my career, started and ended a relationship, experienced highs and lows of dating activity, began a relationship with my current husband, changed careers, got married, moved to a condo, worked on a graduate degree, and moved yet again to our current house, Mouf was there. As she got older, she was obviously stressed by the disruptions of her routine brought on by changes in residence and vacations, but she kept adjusting. She seemed happy to be living in a house with lots of space to explore again, and to welcome having dogs around her again in the last two years.

Mouf wasn’t perfect, of course. She was never much of a lap cat, and did not like being held. She loved to be petted and stroked, but only on her own terms, which usually involved her plopping down on the floor just beyond my arm’s reach and rolling around softly meowing until I came over to pet her. She had long black and white fur, and keeping her brushed was quite a chore. While she would submit to the monthly baths I gave her to cut down on allergens that irritated some of my friends and family, she hated to be brushed or combed, especially around her back legs and tail. No matter what I wore, either dark or light colors, her long black or white hairs would always cling to my pants or skirts.

My last interaction with her involved a bit of tussling to run the mat-rake through the fur around her rear legs, as she was confined to the carrier for a trip to the veterinarian.
Mouf was going to have some routine surgical procedures today: teeth-cleaning, extraction of a bad tooth, and the removal of a little lump on her back. Going under anesthetic is always risky, but the vet and I had done all we could to ensure that it be safe. Mouf’s blood work, blood pressure, urinalysis, and heart and lung sounds were normal, and I had withheld her food last night so her stomach was empty. All seemed to be going well as the vet performed these procedures, but as she was finishing up, Mouf stopped breathing. Resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful and Mouf slipped away.

My little kitty is gone. No more will I hear her knocking things around the bedroom during the night or softly mewling for me to come and stroke her. No more will I step on a hairball in the dark, or feel her purring under my hands. No more will I be awakened by her jumping on my head, or amusedly watch her in the throws of a catnip high. My little kitty is gone. I mourn.