Friday, August 20, 2010

Define "Skill Level"

Don't you just love it when an article or class or anyone anywhere declares that one should "know your skill level" before jumping into a project or class... and doesn't bother to define what those levels are or the criteria with which you qualify for that skill level???

A question came up elsewhere, and I've spent at least an hour on the internet attempting to track down some basic list to answer the question, "what skill level am I?"

My experience is that most people short-change themselves in terms of what they can do or learn to do, so I'm not really a fan of these sorts of boxes, personally. But I respect the fact that other people like the safety of a "nest" that lets them know "which box to check." Such knowledge can function as a kind of "training wheels" while they test the waters and venture forth. Once they realize that all crochet, and all knitting... and all of most everything else in life, for that matter... is just one step after the other, they'll unscrew the training wheels and head for the nearest high hill, down which they'll careen with squeals of delight. But, until that "secret" is revealed to them in a meaningful way, they like to know to which pleasant nest they belong.

AdesinaCat, for example, doesn't know that as a "new knitter" she ought to be intimidated by a cabled purse pattern. Nor does she know that everyone is a "new knitter" when they come to some skill they've not tried before... no matter how many months/decades/years they've been knitting or crocheting or sewing... or whatever they come across in life. She is fortunate to have a knitting companion, her beloved mother, who knows the secret. :-) She showed me the pattern for a KAL (knit-a-long) on Ravelry and asked if she could make it. Of course she could make it. Cable knitting is nothing more complex than knitting a few stitches out of order, right? It was a simple, basic, cable... just follow the directions carefully until you get the hang of it... or test it out in some other yarn first and then start the project.

As a result, her second finished project following a pattern is a perfectly lovely cabled purse, which she finished without incident, and which you can view on Ravelry. (If you don't have a Ravelry account yet, it is free for the asking, and seriously important to have for all sorts of awesome reasons. See links at bottom of page.) She is about to embark on an Entrelac purse. I love it when people don't realize they "aren't supposed to be able to do" something, and just go and do it!

So far, the best succinct list I've found regarding Skill Level is this one from the Patternworks site:

Here is a basic description of the different skill levels:
Beginner: knit and purl, minimal or no shaping
Easy: basic stitches, repetitive patterns and color changes, simple shaping and finishing
Intermediate: variety of stitches, knitting in the round, mid-level shaping and finishing
Experienced: advanced techniques (cables, lace, Fair Isle, short rows) and color changes, refined finishing

I don't know about you, but I find this very unsatisfying and confusing. First of all, there are quite a few terms here still undefined: "basic stitches," "simple shaping," "mid-level shaping," and "refined finishing"... what does that mean? My second issue is, by this definition, AdesinaCat is an "Experienced" knitter having completed only two entire projects from someone else's patterns? Huh?

But my biggest issue is the fact that not one thing listed here is beyond the reach of anyone who has mastered at least one successful way to cast on and bind off, who can knit and purl without talking themselves through each step, can slip a stitch from the left needle to the right needle and wrap the yarn around the working needle. No one. I do concede that one must feel comfortable with these most basic of skills but only by virtue of having some degree of confidence so as not feel too overwhelmed to do something "extra" or "new." That puts anyone who has made a potholder, scarf, or baby blanket well within reach of "Experienced" crafting skills. They just don't know it yet. And if the rest of us will keep our traps shut and not tell them we are about to teach them an "advanced" skill, they'll do it and never know they've just done something they "aren't supposed to know how to do because they haven't been knitting long enough."

Here is my personal wish list for all designers:
  • provide a list of the skills a given design will require to create, and when possible, provide links to tutorials or the name of a basic reference text wherein the poor soul who gets their hands on your pattern can figure out how to do each of the skills. Your "not experienced" crafters will adore you! With so many patterns being made available as PDF downloads, links make a lot of sense to include, but even printed patterns could include a few links or reference books.
  • provide an actual, separate, swatch pattern if the pattern uses a stitch pattern &/or "not basic" technique. Meaning, anything beyond basic knit/purl, empower the knitter to play with the elements of your design before they cast on for the project.
  • in addition to the name brand yarn for which the pattern is written, provide a basic description of the yarn in the materials list: fingering weight sock yarn; any worsted yarn with which you can obtain gauge on this needle size; etc. We can't always afford the yarn in the pattern, or can't wear or work with the yarn in the pattern. Make it just a little easier to find something that might work instead... pretty please?
  • needle &/or hook sizes in MM, please, for the love of Mike. Why the industry continues to support archaic, arbitrary "sizes" rather than actual measurements of the tools that directly translate into gauge is one of my major pet peeves.
If you struggle with confidence about your knitting skill level, permit me to recommend a few reference books that will be of great help when you come across a technique with which you are unfamiliar or cannot recall how to perform.

"The Knitting Answer Book: Solutions to Every Problem You'll Ever Face; Answers to Every Question You'll Ever Ask" by Margaret Radcliffe... and she's not kidding.

"Teach Yourself Visually Knitting" ... great for visual learners

"Donna Kooler's Encyclopedia of Knitting" ... a virtual knitting course in a book but also a great reference book

"The Knitters Book of Finishing Techniques" by Nancie M. Wiseman

Want a fast, almost entirely painfree course to "Experienced Knitter"? Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Jacqueline Fee's book, "The Sweater Workshop," and if you do nothing else, make The Sampler. It will transform your knitting if you will fully complete that ONE project! Your confidence to knit almost anything will be all but limitless, you'll most likely want to take at least one run at one of the Basic Sweater patterns too, but even if you don't, you'll be far less intimidated by other patterns that catch your eye! I know it sounds like hyperbole, but I do not exaggerate about the difference it can make in your skill set and confidence as a knitter.

We continue to expand the library of books in our Book~Shop, but there are already a good list of references for a Core Library, in both knitting and crochet. (I can't tell you how wonderful it is to finally have ONE place to "gather" all my favorite books and resources to share! Blogs are wonderful things for that reason alone!)

In the meantime, do not let anyone put you into a box you do not belong. If you've successfully made anything, you can learn to do everything that interests you as a crafter... (or human being). There is almost always more than one way to do almost anything. All you need are the right resources. Here at Roving StarPoints, that is our "Prime Directive." :-) Let us know if we can help you in any way. If we don't know the answer, and most likely even if we do, we'll direct you to any support resources we can find to help you achieve your goals.

Additional comments viewable @ "Comments on 'Skill Levels'?" from the Knit Picks Community

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gardening & critters don't always mix well...

We have a cat & two dogs. (Or, maybe they have us; it isn't always clear.) They are all more or less the same size, given the dogs are both Pomeranians. Mercy is a little guy, being a toy Pom. Goodness is huge... for a Pom, but small as generic dogs go.
... Goodness & Mercy shall follow me...
... all the days of my life..
... Miss Kitty = 100% "cat"...
We also have raccoon that roam in the night, and a bunch of squirrels that run the "wall" of arbor vitae along the back of our property. I'll not list the army of slugs I hunt at night with a flashlight and salt shaker, but trust me, many of them are of a size to saddle and ride... and name as pets if they weren't such voracious eaters... hence the salt. We have a small vegetable & herb container garden going this year. In addition to the cherry, heirloom, and beefsteak tomatoes, there are lemon cucumbers, tomatillos, sugar snap peas and green beans, carrot & radish... and of course, basil! If I grow nothing else, I grow basil!
There is also a small rectangular box of greens. One-third lettuce, one-third arugula, one-third mustard greens. (The latter entirely AdesinaCat's idea.) The latest sowing of each were going really well and one evening a few days ago, AC thought we'd harvest lettuce for a salad for dinner the next evening. While out slug-hunting the night before I'd also noticed the lettuce was ready for a salad, so I know for certain she wasn't hallucinating about that.
However, when she went out to harvest the next afternoon... the one-third of the box that had been lettuce was demolished! Uprooted, gnawed to the ground, gobbled, gone! I was just as dumbfounded as she was. What on earth had happened only to the lettuce??? My very first thought was slugs. No way. Even we don't have that many slugs! Nor are they that discriminating of taste. The next suspect was raccoon, but I know the lettuce was still there that morning, I'm sure of it. Raccoon are night time marauders. Given how shredded the remains were, we were most suspicious of some kind of critter. The only remaining suspect we could think of, having interrogated potential human snackers, were squirrels. (This photo is after a few days of regrowth... it didn't look this good when first discovered!)
This is our second crop of lettuce. The initial crop was a lot larger, but we'd had issues with "someone" getting into that too. The box had been much closer to the arbor vitae, which means closer to the squirrels and where the raccoon come onto the property, so we'd pretty much assumed they had been the culprits. There was enough left for us to have a salad out of it and we don't mind sharing. However, "sharing" implies everyone gets some, but this latest gobble-event had left practically nothing for the rest of us.
I mumbled something at the time about such things being an inevitable part of the fun of gardening, but I just wish I'd been able to get a picture of it! Sadly, I didn't place my camera near the door, just in case our greens-rustler returned and wasn't scared off by being caught in the act.
We have plans to build a moveable screen around the greens to protect future crops from poachers. A simple frame of some sort with chicken wire top & sides. Just big enough to keep the nibbling to a minimum.
Today, however, I must confess the squirrels were unjustly and inaccurately accused of poaching, and I sincerely apologize to each and every one to whom I lobbed disparaging comments in the days since our lettuce disappeared.
I took the pups out this afternoon for a potty break while I made a cup of delicious Mount Hagen Organic Instant coffee, iced with milk. When my coffee was made, I opened the patio door... curtains are drawn because heat reflects into the dining room area in this heat... to find my sweet, no-longer-so-innocent, black she-pup, clearly not living up to her name "goodness," standing in the greens planter, snacking on mustard greens. Who knew??? Sadly, it didn't occur to me to grab a camera until much later, so you'll have to take my word for it. I did, however, grab a snap of the remains of the day...
There will definitely be crop protection in the near future.
Joy in the journey,
P.S.: in the interest of TMPI (Too Much Perverse Information) I offer for your twisted pleasure, "Perverted cannabalistic hermaphrodites haunt the Pacific Northwest!" You'll never look at a slug in quite the same way again... lol!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Got stash?

Here is a great way to use those bits of yarn from previous projects or balls of yarn you've come by with no pressing purpose: crochet or knit blocks for donation to "Warm Up America Collection." This project is not limited to Lion Brand and there are other ways you can participate in the program. Get all the information from the Warm Up America Foundation. If you are new to knitting &/or crochet, this is an excellent way to play with your new craft, build your skills, and help those in need, all at the same time. :-) Because your blocks will be joined together with the blocks others have made, it is very important that you BLOCK your blocks before turning them in for construction into an afghan. This way, all the blocks will behave properly when washed by the recipient. (If you'd like an alternative way to block your pieces to that described in the article, check out Knit Picks' Blocking Mats. Another option would be these 24" mats that work as well.)
Joy in the Journey,
Elianastar Note: "The Lion Brand Yarn Studio will offer 10% off all yarn, hooks, needles and supplies needed to make the afghan blocks. Just let us know you are knitting or crocheting for Warm Up America. Turn your blocks in by November 30, and when you are finished turning in all your blocks, as a thank you for your good works, you will receive a 20% off coupon for your next purchase at Lion Brand Yarn Studio (limit one coupon per customer, please collect coupon when you are finished with your donation)."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ADHD & lace chart reading

Really simple directions. Both written and charted. Because I'm new to chart reading, I've decided to rely on the chart and only fall back on the written directions if I get lost or confused... or too frustrated. :-)

I can tell when I'm really struggling with ADHD issues when I'm knitting. I think I'm paying really close attention. But, I get to the end of the row and there are too many stitches left. Or not enough to complete the stitch pattern. I tink back and sometimes find what I overlooked or the stitch that got dropped or... and sometimes not.

I've restarted this swatch a half dozen times now. But better to get the flow of the stitch pattern in a swatch and work out the kinks before starting the shawl. Right?

I've been teaching myself to recognize most of the basic symbols in a chart on sight, but this will be the first time I've actually knit from a chart.

Shetland Pi Shawl swatch by WendyKnits
Shetland Pi Shawl Swatch Chart

  • Lesson number one: read completely through the pattern before starting. Check.
  • Lesson number two: carefully count each stitch in each row as you knit the foundation rows and don't just assume that because you started out with the right number of stitches (three times) that there will still be that same number of stitches when you are ready to begin the stitch pattern. Check.
  • Lesson number three: when there are dotted lines separating out a subset of symbols, with words under them, telling you to repeat that set of six stitches 3x... don't ignore them simply because it didn't compute the first five times you kinda sorta noticed they were there but didn't really read them or think about what, exactly, they are telling you to do. Check, check.

The first three runs at the swatch, I somehow ended up with extra stitches at the end of the first chart row. The second three runs I wasn't doing what the pattern told me do. Remember that saying about "assuming"? Yeah.

The last time through, the "Work these 6 sts 3x" finally sunk in. So, I restarted and have successfully knit the first three rows, as instructed, and successfully knit all the stitches, one time through, in the chart.

  • Lesson number four: working the next row after yarn overs (yo) in the previous row, make sure you don't accidentally knit that yarn over together with the knit stitch. Too easy to miss!
  • Lesson number five: everything is "easy" once you've paid sufficient attention to actually do what you thought you did.
  • Lesson number six: if at first you don't succeed, you probably were not paying sufficient attention.

So, now I'm on the seventh attempt and think I've figured it out. I'm nothing if not tenacious! I'll finish up the swatch tonight, and hopefully take pre-blocked photos tomorrow, and some photos of the cakes of yarn I've wound so far to make the shawl, and post them in the next few days.

So. How are you doing?

Joy in the journey!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

To christen our new blog...

... we’ve elected to join a new KAL! We’d love it if you joined us too!

I recently started following the “WendyKnits” blog. August 8th she posted a blog post entitled, “I Have an Idea,” and it struck a cord with me. About to finish knitting the Elizabeth Zimmermann 100th Anniversary Shawl, and wanting to knit another, she’s written up the design for a “fairly easy pi shawl that uses some traditional shetland lace motifs.” She has on hand 1760 yards of fingering weight yarn, and most of that yarn is slated to become this new shawl.

The thing that caught my interest, I think, is that she plans to start a KAL (knit-a-long) wherein she’ll release the pattern in pieces... a little at a time... and offer detailed comments as she knits the project herself.

I confess, I have no idea what a “traditional shetland lace motif” is. So, I did an internet search. From what I can glean, Shetland Lace is the opposite of Eyelet Lace. Eyelet Lace is mostly fabric with holes in it. Shetland Lace appears to be holes with enough fabric to hold the holes together. The most famous example of Shetland Lace is the Wedding Ring Shawl... so fine it can be drawn through a wedding ring upon completion. We’re talking “open” lace, here. Beyond that, I’m at a loss other than to say it is frequently mentioned in the company of Orenburg Lace... which I found to be almost as useful. LOL! They both seem to be beautiful examples of classic lace knitting with lots of patterning and I’m intrigued to see a Pi version.

“Pi,” you ask? What does “pi” mean? Pi is a mathematical term equivalent to 3.14159265, which represents the ratio of any circle’s circumference, (the measurement of the outside of the circle), to its diameter, (the measurement of the circle from one side, across the middle, to the other side; half the circle’s width). If I told you that it is “the same value as the ratio of a circle’s area to the square of its radius,” it would be redundant for you if you already knew what “pi” was... and mean absolutely nothing to you if you didn’t. Suffice it to say... it has something to do with figuring out how to make a circle if you are knitting or crocheting one. The only other thing I know for certain is that the concept of a Pi Shawl was the brain-child of Elizabeth Zimmermann, and is frequently suggested as a “first shawl” project, and can be found in “Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Workshop” book... among other places.

To summarize, this shawl will be an easy, really pretty, open lace, circle shawl. The rest, I’ll have to figure out later, but I’m not gonna let my ignorance undermine my enthusiasm!

If you’ve not knit a lace shawl before, this could be the ideal time to start. Getting a small segment of the pattern at a time will make the entire project less intimidating and overwhelming. Remember, all knitting is simply one stitch after the last... you can do this!

Additionally, you don’t have to start with lace weight yarn... the pattern is designed for fingering weight, but you could use larger needles and sport, or even DK, weight, if you prefer. Come on... live adventurously! Besides all of that, joining in a KAL means you have a place to ask all your questions and have lots of encouragement from others making the same project, including knitters who have done this sort of thing before. I’m not one of those.

This will be my first “pattern” lace shawl project. I’m designing a lace shawl... slowly... now, but I’ve never actually made a complete shawl before and never followed a lace shawl pattern. Because I’ve been collecting lace yarn for four years... a little here, a little there... I’ve got tons of lace weight yarn to use in my stash so I’ve picked out some of that for this project. This Pi Shawl is not a small shawl, so it is very appealing to me to be able to make a good-sized dent in my lace yarn stash! And I figure when I’ve finished this project, I’ll be ready to start either the original Pi Shawl, or maybe one of the EZ 100th Anniversary Shawl versions... and use up more of that lace yarn!

Another plus about this project is that it has five different stitch patterns... each could be a different color yarn if you don’t have enough of one color. I don’t have enough of one color that I want to devote to this project, but I have three colors that should look great together and between them, I should have more than enough. As long as it is all the same weight yarn, complementary colors, and can be washed in a similar way, you’re good to go!

In Wendy’s August 9th post, she talks about yarn and needles for the project. If you don’t already have fingering weight yarn in your stash to begin the project, check out Knit Picks’ fingering weight yarn options for some cost-effective options. One hank of Gloss Fingering supplies 220 yds of 70% Merino & 30% Silk at a cost of $3.99 per hank. Another great option for this project would be KP’s Stroll Tonal: 462 yards per hank @ $9.99 each. However, if you are game for a lace weight yarn, you might consider Shadow Lace at a mere $2.99 per hank of 100% Merino, 440 yards each! This is an incredibly soft, supple, snuggly yarn, in some beautiful heather shades... you’ll love your shawl if you choose this yarn and the price couldn’t be better! You could also explore the options at Little Knits or Elann.

If you need any needles, I highly recommend any Knit Picks needles. I use Nickel Options, for pretty much everything, but you might prefer Harmony Options with lace or fingering yarn for a shawl. I plan to use a 32” cable for this project and may or may not start the project with nickel DPNs. If not, I’ll use the Magic Loop technique to begin the shawl on my circular needles.

If you already have the yarn and needles you need, Wendy has posted the swatch pattern. Everything you need to know to prep to begin the project is already at hand. If you don’t have yarn in your stash to begin, you’ll either need to visit your LYS (local yarn shop) and purchase a sufficient supply of heather, softly varigated, or solid color yarn... or place an order online. If you order online, it’ll be a week to ten days before you can start, but from the posts I’ve seen quite a few who have responded will be doing the same thing and there is no rush on the project, nor is there any penalty if you fall “behind” in any way. Some will knit more slowly than others and some will not be able to begin at the same time the pattern sections are released so don’t let that deter you in any way.

Whatever other choices you make about your yarn for this project remember it is best to use an animal fiber yarn for lace work as blocking opens up the stitches to show them off to their fullest. You can block other fibers, but not as easily.

I will be winding yarn from hanks onto my nostepinne for the next few days, as I’ve got time to spend winding yarn, so I won’t be starting immediately myself. When I’ve got some of my yarn wound, I’ll take a photo of the cakes and post them here for you.

In the meantime, welcome to our blog! There is still lots to do before we are all set up so please excuse the disarray... we are still adding stuff and organizing things. I’ll be importing some earlier posts I’ve done, in time, but for now you can read them at the Knit Picks Community where they currently reside... or wait patiently until I get copies of them over here.

We appreciate your patience and look forward to visiting with you again soon! If you should choose to participate in the Shetland Pi Shawl KAL, please keep us posted on your progress? If we can be any help or encouragement we’d be pleased to support you in anyway we are able! Even if it means directing you to another source of information. :-)

Joy in the journey!

P.S.: If you are interested in the EZ 100th Anniversary Shawl, you can download the pattern free from Ravelry. You have to be a member to access the download, but that’s free too! There are already three versions of this shawl available on Ravelry... all free downloads.

Monday, August 9, 2010

New Beginnings & Old Favorites

Well, our first task will be getting the Book~Shop stocked with links to our favorite books and goodies for those visiting in the future. You'll find resources grouped together by interest & need and if you hang around these parts long, you'll find regular reviews, previews, & viewpoints related to each will eventually be passed along to any who will listen. You may access the store and wander about at your leisure. Stock will regularly change, and delivery is quick once you've made your selection. Most likely you'll find goods of merit & to your liking. :-) Joy in the journey! Elianastar