Friday, February 15, 2013

Don't check bags

As I've said before, what good is a blog if you can't bitch impotently about minor inconveniences?

A few weeks ago, Mike and I were flying home from a conference, and to expedite processing at the airport, I checked both of our bags together.  Later, at the gate, they repeatedly announced that they would like to check passenger's bags for free because the flight was full and space in the overhead compartment was limited.  So that was annoying:  I paid for a service they were later offering for free.

Back at work, while I was sorting through my receipts to prepare my reimbursement request, I discovered that when I checked the bags together, I was charged extra for the second bag.  I paid them $60 unnecessarily.

So I submitted a refund request, which they have just denied.

MORAL:  Don't pay to check your bags on United.  They'll probably beg you to let them check them for you for free at the gate.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Thumb Attempt #2

I'm still stewing in disappointment that the Cat Bordhi-inspired afterthought thumb won't work. It was just so clean! The thing I really hate about mittens and gloves is darning all the holes at the base of fingers and thumbs.

Since I need to increase the mitten circumference around the base of the thumb, there are two obvious paths. After knitting the finger portion:
  1. Knit a separate, tip-down thumb and join it at that point, then complete the mitten by decreasing down through the palm to the wrist.
  2. Cast on extra stitches, and continue working down the palm to the wrist. Work the thumb last by picking up held stitches and knitting to the tip.
For the first option, I like the I-cord technique from Handknitting with Meg Swanson. (nonaKnits also has instructions if you can't get your hands on Swanson's book).
  • The thumb circumference is about 33% of the hand circumference. Cast on half the stitches on a DPN.(Example: my mitten is 42 stitches around the hand, so the thumb will be 1/3 of that, or 14 sts; I cast on 7).
  • Work 1 row of I-cord.
  • In the second row of I-cord, K1, then repeat [M1, K1].
  • Work I-cord until thumb is desired length.
  • With a crochet hook, find the first horizontal bar at the tip, twist it into a loop, then chain up the ladders to close the gap in your tube.
At this point, you can pop the finger and thumb pieces on your hand to see where the thumb should join and how many stitches meet up. Put the stitches to be joined on holders; you can graft them closed at the end.

Work a decreasing gusset at the base of the thumb stitches as you work down the palm toward the wrist.

Aside from the I-cord thumb, there's not much I like about this. The grafting is a pain, and there are messy holes to sew up at the end. I think working the thumb last is a better plan.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mittens Miss the Mark

My friends Jeremy and Joshua have identified a significant flaw in my new mitten recipe. I mistook the decreases that I do below the thumb for a thumb gusset. In fact, my mittens are no wider around the base of the thumb than they are around the fingers. Therefore, they do not represent a perfect fit.

A mitten's success or failure depends almost entirely on the thumb. And while this recipe produces a serviceable mitten, it in no way qualifies me for the title of Evil Mitten Genius.

Back into the lab, then. Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Evil Mitten Genius

This blog has been silent for 666 days. Let us not speak of it again.

Every time I knit a sock, I pop it over my fingers to check its progress, and often I think, "I should make more mittens."  Then my attention skitters away.

But now I've gone and promised a pair of mittens for a friend, and it's made me want to develop my own recipe.  I want a customized fit, but little fuss.  As with socks, I want to grab yarn and, without a lot of planning, begin knitting a simple but perfect mitten.

Here's my prototype. (It's a first past. Expect it to change).

(If the first steps mystify you, check out this video demonstration by Cat Bordhi.)
  1. Turkish cast-on 3 and knit 1/2 round.
  2. Knit round with yarn and tail held together.
  3. Knit round working 1 stitch in each loop. (12 sts)
  4. Repeat [M1, K2] for round. (I use KRL for these increases).
  5. Knit 1 round plain. (18sts)
  6. [M1, K3] around.
  7. Knit 2 rounds plain. (24 sts)
  8. [M1, K4].
  9. Knit 3 rounds plain. (30 sts)
Continue in this way until mitten circumference = hand circumference + 10% positive ease.  (Measure hand at the base of the fingers, not including the thumb.  Multiply that by 1.1).

You can knit plain until you get to the crook of the thumb, but Priscilla Gibson-Roberts recommends working some short rows across the back of the hand, spacing them about 4-6 rows apart.  Last fall, I first learned about German short rows (video tutorials here and here), and they're perfect for this purpose.
  • Knit half a round (the half for the back of your hand, if you're keeping track already).
  • Turn, doing the German short row maneuver, and purl back across these stitches.
  • Turn, doing the German short row maneuver again, and knit across the back of the hand, working the crazy turning stitch at the end.
  • Knit across the palm stitches.
  • Work the crazy turning stitch at the start of the back hand stitches.
  • Knit 4-6 rounds.
Repeat until hand is desired length.

Mark for Thumb
I tried a number of top down thumbs, but the joins were messy. Then I decided to borrow a technique from Cat Bordhi's Personal Footprints for Insouciant Sock Knitters and create an "afterthought thumb."

Divide the number of stitches in your mitten circumference by 6.  Those are the number of stitches to mark for your thumb.
  • On the palm side, decide where you're going to want to place the thumb opening.  Priscilla Gibson-Roberts recommends setting it off from the edge 5%, but you're probably safe just making that 1-3 stitches from the side. 
  • Run a short strand of thin, smooth marker yarn through the thumb stitches.
  • Knit 2 rounds.
  • Run a second strand of marker yarn through the stitches at the same place (just 2 rounds further along).
You may find it helpful to place markers one stitch outside marked thumb stitches (so if you marked 7 thumb stitches, place markers 9 stitches apart).
  • Knit to marker (or 1 st before thumb stitches). SYTK (or SSK if you prefer).  Knit up to but not including last thumb sts (or 2 sts before marker). K2TOG.
  • Knit 2-3 plain rounds.
Repeat until your SYTK and K2TOG lines meet (or are 1 st apart).

Work in preferred ribbing to desired length.  Bind off loosely.

Watch Cat Bordhi's video demonstration of this technique.  We're working on fewer stitches, but the method is the same.
  • Slip your needle through the stitches that you marked marked for the thumb.
  • Find the stitch in the middle of the row between your marked rows. Lift it and cut it.
  • Carefully unravel the snipped row, leaving at 1-2 stitches intact on each side.  (Cat Bordhi leaves it in 2 stitches for the sock, but we don't have as many stitches to play with).
  • Join yarn, and knit thumb in the round to desired length.
Close the thumb by working K2TOG around.  Break yarn, thread it through your stitches, then cinch the opening closed.  Work in your ends, and you're finished.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mastermind Resized

If you or your loved ones are not fortunate enough to have medium-sized men's feet, you can now rejoice, because Mastermind Sizing Variations are now available.

Please let me know if you discover errors in the expanded pattern.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Presenting "Mastermind"

All of these changes in the way I make toes, gussets, and heels add up to a new basic sock pattern. I call it Mastermind.

Mastermind walks you through making a medium-sized men's sock. I'm working on padding out the pattern so that you can make larger and smaller socks, but I'm struggling to make those instructions clear and uncluttered. (It's the heel turn; doing that is complicated enough without having to make it work for 5 different sizes).

Anyway, thanks for reading along. I hope you give "Mastermind" a try. Let me know if you run into problems.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Evil Genius Evolves: The Heel

What makes the Evil Genius pattern "mine?"

The general plan came from Widdershins, the toe from Queen Kahuna, the gussets from New Pathways, and the overall fit from Stitch Stud. I just put it all together and stirred in a bit of personality. But I also added stitch markers in the middle of the heel, marking the place in your short rows where you stop, make one, knit one, then wrap and turn. That's it. That's my only real claim to "genius."

And I'm about to throw it away for something better. And easier.

It's the wraps. Everyone hates them, but they seem to be a necessary evil: something needs to be done to close the holes left by the short rows. And then it hit me: what if I used the make one to close the gap?

It's so simple! Instead of adding stitches near the end of each short row, just work short rows and skip the wrapping. In your transition round, where you normally work the wraps together with the wrapped stitch, just pick up a new stitch in the gap.

Before and after shots:

Short rows, no wraps Gaps closed after transition round

The first time I tried it, I couldn't believe it. It was beautiful, smooth, easy, and nearly flawless. I say "nearly" because, as you can see in the picture above right (embiggen), a little hole tends to form at the right-side edge of the heel. It's not unexpected -- a similar hole is a hazard in every sock pattern I've ever encountered -- but I've yet to find an elegant, non-fussy method for avoiding or eliminating it. Any suggestions?

Shoulders of Giants
In my previous post on gussets, I mentioned the role Ted Myatt played in getting me to think about gusset placement and fit. I have to credit Stephen Houghton for pointing me in that direction (as well as so many other fruitful directions). This latest epiphany about the heel was inspired by Tallguy. He patiently explained his ideas to me in email, but it took me nearly 4 years to really get it. Thanks, guys, you are the real geniuses; I'm just an appreciative fan.