Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Random Thoughts: Grading and Knitting

In the USA, people use sugar cubes. In China people use sugar rock candy.

I don't like knitting lace because I don't know how to fix it when I mess up. I was 1/3rd done with a snowflake sock and decided to pull it out.

Currently I am knitting a plain sock with a decorative ribbed length wise stripe; however, I am getting ugly ladders where the 3 needles meet each other. Because it is ugly, I have learned a new technique where you tug on the second stitch after the needle change to tighten up the first stitch at that joint.

The current sock has been troublesome because I am knitting it as a present. I feel it needs to be almost perfect for it to be wearable. I on the other hand tend to wear my own knitted goods even if they are not the most perfect, but as a gift if the finished product isn't good, it will sit in a drawer. I have pulled it out 5 times already, attempting different decorative patterns and have tried a recently learned technique called the short row heel. My first attempts have been very very holey.

I am also grading. Here is my current dilemma. In China a grade of 60 is passing. Out of my 120 students the highest grade has been a 98 and the lowest is a 45 with an average of 80. Four out of 128 students have failing grades. I hate failing students. I don't mind scaling but with a high grade of 98 what is the best way to scale? What to do? Maybe I just have to come to terms with the idea that some of my students will fail.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My First Sweater: The Neck

The pattern I am using is a fill in the blank pattern with very few instructions and is a top down, knit in the round sweater pattern.

The pattern is called The Incredible, Custom-fit Raglan Sweater by Pamela Costello.

I am not exactly sure if it is a good pattern for a first sweater because it doesn't really give you many specific details like how to finish the edges. At this time with about 10 rows on my needles, I feel like the pattern will give me the bulk of the sweater but the rest, the fine details, not so sure about. Since I don't have a knitting mentor, it is a little difficult figuring out the fine details with my limited experience.

For example, currently my collar is rolling up. What if I wanted a collar that was ribbed? How do I do that? When do I do that?

Also, I am trusting the blanks and the math. I am not sure what the final measurements of this sweater is going to be. It is a mystery. Will it be too small? Will it be too big? Will it be just right?

Here are the starting measurements for the neck which will be changed if the sweater fits funny. I am not afraid of ripping out a project that I have been working on for days. I want a wearable piece of clothing.

Needle: US 5
Gauge: 5.83 st/in
Neck-size 15"
Total neck stitches 88

The neck is a bit complicated and at first I didn't understand the instructions that you begin knitting back and forth and not in the round. It was my first rip out.

I am also hoping that I understood correctly that the increases only happen on the knit side which I am assuming is the right side of the fabric. I am also assuming that after casting on the center front stitches, I should start knitting in the round.

Also, there are several types of ways to increase. Which way is best for a raglan sweater? Does it matter? I am currently using the knit two stitches in one stitch increase instead of a yarn over increase.

Stay tuned for more updates on how this sweater is going and how often I rip it out and change something.

Which needles to pack?

I will be living out of a bag for a month or so.

I do not like packing for winter travel. Winter clothes take up so much space!

How many tops?
I am bringing one super bulky sweater because it is a good fit and shape to copy for a sweater I will be knitting.

How many pairs of pants?

In winter because of the layers one does not have to wash clothes as much. Just need to wash all of the long underwear.

Also, which knitting supplies do I need to bring? What are the minimal number of needles?

Well what kind of projects might I do on this trip?
1. Raglan Sweater (circular needles)
2. Socks (DPN size 0 and 1)
3. Hats (DPN and circular size 8?)
4. Scarves (DPN size 10)

If you were going to be away from your knitting supplies for a month, which needles would you bring?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Weekend Errands

Yesterday I spent all day learning how to knit a different heel, a short row heel that is. It is always fun learning something new and the nice thing about knitting is one can see the progress.

Today I washed my backpack from Africa and the water turned dark red with all of the dust from Africa.

Then I went out.

I tried on 10 pairs of pants and either they were too baggy, too tight, too decorative with ribbons and pointless pockets, or too expensive. It was a 70% off sale though. So instead I bought a really cool jacket for $10.

Then I went to my usual barber with a desire to chop it all off, but the main guy wasn't there. No one wanted to try to cut my hair into the unique non-Chinese style pictured in the photographs I brought. Maybe fate is telling me, "Don't cut your hair short."

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Twiddling my Thumbs

This week has been a week of sitting, waiting for my students to take their final. It feels like the rest of the volunteers are finished and on holiday already. Even my students say their friends in other cities are already back home for the winter break. My finals will be next Monday, my sitemate's next Wednesday and the last final for the students will be on the 19th of January. We will then have a month off and school will start the 1st of March.

What does one do in a city while one waits?

1. Go to a bakery and do sudoku and crossword puzzles, not me personally since I don't really like doing puzzles but go with the puzzle doer and hang out.
2. Go to BBQ and eat sticks of lamb and chicken wings using free plastic gloves provided to protect your hands from the grease.
3. Buy more yarn and knit scarves. Start knitting socks with a friend's huge yarn stash.
4. Plan winter break travel to Yunnan and Lijiang.
5. Cook lentil, potato, pork soup.
6. Have a Tree House worker party for students and play Steal the Present (White Elephant).
7. Watch anything by Neil Gaiman.
8. Get a massage where the next day your whole back is tender. What does that mean? During the massage it felt great. After the massage, I felt pain.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


Since I don't post many pictures nor take pictures other than knitting, I thought you might enjoy this link that an RPCV (returned Peace Corps volunteer) recently suggested.

Why do I only take pictures of knitting? Well, my camera is finicky and I have to fiddle around with the lens which is easy to do in a house with a knitted good that just sits there. Taking pictures out in the real world is nearly impossible with my broken camera.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Wacky Colors

Using a simple sock pattern by Kim Goddard, I have wiped out my yarn stash except for two balls of beautiful Noro sent to me by a friend and 8 balls of blue to be made into a sweater.

Knitting fair isle socks makes for some crazy looking socks, socks that you would never ever see in a department store. I love how they fit though and how they are super warm. I love knitting them.

But they sure are a bit wacky.

I am not sure I like knitting fair isle because after finishing the toe, I have to turn the sock inside out and sew 30 freaking yarn ends. That is annoying. Experienced knitters, any advice? Do I just have to suck it up or is there a secret shortcut? Help me out.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Learning to Knit & Learning to Live in China

I have bought the yarn for my first sweater.

It is blue. I bought 1.5 jin which is 750 grams for a total of 60 RMB ($10). The saleswoman said 500 grams would me enough, but the store only had 750 grams of this particular color so I bought too much fearing the need to knit two more inches and the store running out of that color. It is better to be safe than sorry.

When I told the woman I was knitting my first sweater, she asked, "blah or blah?"

I knew she was asking what type of yarn for what type of sweater but I just couldn't understand the new vocabulary. She pointed me to two types of yarn. Preferring to make a lighter sweater than a heavier one, I was finally able to find the right combination of vocabulary words to convey my desire, "Well if it isn't too cold, which yarn is best?"

As I was handing the woman my 100 RMB bill, she said, "Last year your Chinese was terrible. This year it is better."


As I was walking home, I realized how this year has been a long process of learning: lots of trial and error, lots of mistakes, lots of failed attempts at trying to communicate, lots of patience mixed with frustration, lots of lessons on how to face failure and try again.

I remember sitting on my couch with 4 double pointed aluminum needles in my hand reading a book that said bend the needles into a circle. The needles didn't feel very sturdy and I thought well I guess they might be bendable. So I took one straight needle and bent it into an L. I quickly realized physically bending a straight knitting needle was not what the book meant. I sat there looking at my four bent needles unable to knit with them thinking, "That's just great. Tonight's attempt at learning how to knit in the round has been put to rest until I can go out and buy some new needles."

I remember looking and looking for yarn that would felt, buying large amounts, knitting huge bags, only to end up with a finished un-felted stretched out product. I would spend frustrated moments trying to explain to the saleswoman that I wanted 100% wool that when washed in hot water gets smaller. She would point. I would choose a color and then would spend hours knitting a bag that would not felt. I'd go back to the store and try again and again and again making my stash larger and larger with wool that would not felt. Finally, I had to learn to give up my independent ways and just ask a Chinese student to come and help. By then I had also learned to buy the smallest ball and test it. Et voila, after what seemed like a thousand attempts I had found yarn that would felt.

I remember buying yarn for a shawl in the fluorescent store lights and ending up with an ugly color that was unwearable in the sunlight.

Today's yarn buying for my first sweater was like making an A on a pop quiz.

1. I was able to communicate and get the right yarn.
2. I took the yarn out into the sunlight to see the real color.
3. I bought more than enough yarn to finish a sweater. (I hope.)
4. I was able to trust the experienced saleswoman with whom I have been having ongoing communication lessons and battles through my knitting experiments.

Learning how to knit and buy yarn in China has been an education in more ways than just learning how to form fabric from string.

Just another day

Today has just been another day.

I drank a nescafe mix adding chocolate and more instant coffee, eating Xian hostel's Christmas cookies.

I typed up a roster of 120 students and calculated their 30% participation grades that included grades for a notebook and a presentation. I am waiting for them to take their finals next Monday.

I started another sock. My yarn is running really low. I have no full balls and therefore will be knitting a very colorful sock with the yarn I have left.

I washed clothes and mopped the floor.

I am irked that my brown heavy corduroy pants bought last year have two holes poking through the back pockets. But hey since it is cold and I am always wearing long underwear I guess the holes don't really matter. It does make me feel a bit grungy though and the holes will probably only get bigger as I trek around China during the winter break. It is better to totally wear through clothes, getting one's money's worth. They were $20 and I am just irked that they were so expensive and already falling apart.

I also bought a plane ticket. Instead of going to Harbin, now I will be traveling to Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces. The student who is doing post graduate school in Harbin will be going home for Spring Festival, so I won't be traveling to that freezing cold place.

What is planned for the rest of the day?
  • letter writing and thank you cards
  • yarn shopping
  • stopping by the English department to pick up DVDs for my class tomorrow and cassette tapes to record the final on
  • making photocopies of PC paperwork
  • cooking an omelet with cheese that some friends bought in Xian and gave to me

Monday, January 04, 2010


Blogging has been at a standstill because a whirlwind week full of shopping, eating, and touring my city and Xian occurred as friends from the US and Taiwan whom I had met in Africa came to visit filling my apartment with laughter and joy, allowing me to also glimpse into the window of the future, life in the USA.

Beautiful Memories of the Week

1) Getting to have special moments with each person whether it be knitting together, taking a hike down and up a valley, sharing stories before falling asleep, or having an interested person ask questions about tiny details about my life in China was really warming to the heart.

2) Events that could have been full of anger and unhappiness like waiting in a freezing airport for two hours for a late plane that would only take 30 minutes to fly to Xian or riding a bumpy 3.5 hour bus ride after eating food at the railway station were instead turned into hours of laughter, funny observations and good stories.

3) Realizing that my Chinese has become more confident and has improved over the year as I was the tour guide and translator was wow, made me feel happy.

My guests were wonderfully easy to entertain, feed, and house. They brought kindness, laughter, and compassion into visiting China. They were extremely grateful and all I can do to show my own gratitude is to say Thank You.