17 July 2008

in which we discover thumbs

when the weather couldn't decide if it wanted to be warm or cool, and the office as usual was even more indecisive, i made a pair of handwarmers in a weekend. a lazy weekend at the end of may, which fit perfectly with the pattern name - aprilmay. they have a simple eyelet lace pattern that looks kind of wavy.the first mitt i made according to the directions (and used some stash yarn - whoo-hoo!), but the thumb was too tight. through a ravelry search i discovered there are all kinds of thumbs, and this one was a peasant one (or afterthought or any number of other names that i forget now).

you can see how it pulls the rest of the hand material, distorting it. basically a peasant thumb is where you leave a line of stitches somewhere on waste yarn and pick them up later to make the thumb. apparently i have noble thumbs though, because the mitt was pretty uncomfortable. it felt like someone was pinching my thumb.

that ravelry search led me to an awesome group with a thread all about thumbs, in which i learned all thumbs are not created equal. i followed some links to one very helpful blog, knitting in color, with a series of posts on different thumbs (they're listed down on the sidebar). a thumb gusset sounded like the way to go, actually increasing along the side to make room for the thumb. i compared a bunch of free patterns to learn how they made thumb gussets, and then made up the math for my stitch count and gauge. they came out pretty good.

no more distortion! and they were way more comfortable. i must just have fat (meaty?) thumbs, because i had chuck compare the two thumbs, thinking guys have bigger hands and all so he'd prefer the gusset. oddly enough, chuck liked the fit of the peasant thumb better. huh. at least i know for whenever i get around to making him gloves, right?

in making the gussets, i tried to have the increases grow with the pattern - 2 different ways. the second try came out a little better (the lines are cleaner), but after frogging the peasant thumb mitt already, i didn't care enough to take out the first one and redo it.an interesting side effect of the gussets was actually using less yarn. i expected the opposite, but it must be because the afterthought thumb stretches out the hand, so you need more material to have enough length. i knit fewer rows for the main body of the hand with the gussets to get the same length. so not only are gussets more comfortable (for me), they use less yarn! yay! now i just need to make a more utilitarian pair that i can layer over gloves for work.....

16 July 2008

livengood to point hope...and back again

livengood is an old mining town just a couple hours north of fairbanks (and not pronounced "livin' good" but liven like "enliven"). i went there in may for almost a week. people still mine there, and we were doing a little survey. the little we found was historic (technically anything over 50 years old is considered historic archaeology) and mining-related: rusted out cans, a metal box rigged up as a stove or refrigerator (it's covered by sod and goes back a couple feet),and a rotting log cabin,but mostly mining ditches that diverted water. some of them still held water.but the very coolest thing we found (people are always asking what THE coolest artifact i've found is - such a difficult question to answer, but easy this time) was a shovel some miner hung up on a birch branch and never came back for.ingrown shovelanother thing i discovered was a new term - niggerheads. alaska has lots of bogs, and in these boggy areas grow tussocks. basically clumps of grass growing in a kind of mushroom shape above the rest of the ground level. makes for very difficult walking at times, because you don't want to actually walk on them, but between them (where water is usually lurking too). anyway, apparently a common name for them back in the day (and i'm not sure how far back we're talking) was niggerheads. a coworker told me about it while we were hiking through some muskeg, and although i never thought of it before, they could look like dreads. it was funny and appalling at the same time. the term was accepted enough that offical names on US geologic surveys included it, like niggerhead ridge.

this was bad enough to my way of thinking (niggerhead's not exactly a compliment, right?), but after the coworker explains that some politically correct black guy (in the 70s?) got the names changed (and only to blackhead ridge instead, not much of an improvement, i'd rather call it dreadridge), both he and my other coworker express their opinions that they should have stuck to the original niggerhead. um, hello? they said "nigger" wasn't an insult, and referred to mark twain calling huck's slave friend "nigger jim." uh, yeah. i think mark twain was recording southern culture and mocking it, not saying that black people weren't offended by the term. this time i was appalled and not amused. i'd like to see them go shout nigger in the middle of a ghetto and see how many people take kindly to it. there wasn't much i could do but shake my head and let it go.

after a couple projects closer to town, i had a fun adventure 2 weeks ago. i went up to point hope, which is way up north (farthest i've been so far in alaska) and almost in tomorrow.

View Larger Map
(that point farthest south is fairbanks, with livengood just above it. point hope is way out on the edge there, if you zoom in you can see it's just this little spit going off into the ocean.)

i was hoping to somehow (magically) see russia, but the point was fogged in the few days i was there. the point is just a gravel beach built up by the sea over time, and the village moves every 20 years or so.there's not really any soil there. and yet these tiny tundra flowers find niches to grow in, making small clusters barely rising above the ground. i was fascinated by the variety and maxed out the macro function on my camera. most of those came out pretty well. the pebbles in the background of those flowers are maybe half-dollar sized. it's great how nature fits prettiness in wherever it can.

despite being the middle of june, the temps were only in the upper 30s F (2-4 C) and everyone still had their winter coats on. my first glimpse of the arctic ocean (from the ground anyway) looked like this:ice floes that apparently came to town a couple days before i did. they even moved like in the movies, chunks drifting silently in opposite directions on the current swirls. it was mesmerizing, and a bit eerie with only a creak or an occasional drip of the melting ice to break the stillness.

last week we were back in livengood for a dull, and very dusty, survey along one of the wonders of alaska: a gravel highway. the best thing about that trip was being able to stay at the same company camp from before (even though we weren't working for them this time). all the people there are extremely pleasant, and the atmosphere is very positive. plus the cooks are great. the most adventure we had was when we were almost home. we'd just turned off the highway onto farmer's loop in fairbanks, when we heard an odd sound from a rear tire. a sort of rubbing sound - but it couldn't be flat because the truck was still level. that lasted maybe two minutes before the truck suddenly wasn't level anymore. because of this

at least we were back in town. changing a flat on the dalton would not have been fun, what with the gravel and dust and tractor trailers zooming by. well, if you can call an exploded tire a flat. that's what happens when your boss puts an unbalanced camper on the work truck. the tires obviously didn't appreciate it at all.

i worked on a pair of diagonal rib socks for chuck in point hope and the last trip to livengood. the first one was cast on in JFK airport on our way to MA in may. my gauge was a bit tighter than the pattern called for though, and the ribbing was standing out more than the diagonal mock cables, which was not the effect i was going for. so i ended up frogging half a foot, and adding a couple extra stitches to the fake cables. i was much happier with the results. i was working on the heel while waiting for the flight out of point hope, and talking with a couple guys who'd been working there. finally one of them asked if i was making socks for myself (i was impressed he knew what it was, so many people have to ask). after i told him they were for my husband, he said,

"i wish my wife would knit me some socks"

that gave me a nice warm glow. the first sock was finished sunday, and as soon as i cast off and chuck tried it on, he said "i need another one."

sigh. there is no rest for the weary. but rather than leaving (again) this week, i have a reprieve and can actually go to knit night! and do some laundry, and buy some groceries maybe. but probably (still) not bother with the cobwebs.