Sunday, April 3, 2016

The elephant in the room....

Gentle knitters, I've not been moved to write much over the past month as I've been preoccupied by some knitting problems, namely my right hand which is stricken with tenosynovitis, and a mohair cap-sleeved sweater that is almost finished but has assumed a disturbing shape, even though it's hardly shaped at all. I don't mean to sound cryptic, and perhaps I'll post about this tragicomic garment soon, but right now I question my sanity whenever I look at it.

Why was I on such a mohair kick about a year ago? I bought way too much of it, and still have a lot lying around. Yes, I like its ethereal qualities, its warmth without weight. But it is a bitch to knit, horrible to frog, and after all is said and done, it's slightly scratchy.

The good news, however, is that I'm teaching myself to knit Portuguese style, which is less stressful to my ravaged right hand than the standard American way I've used all my knitting life. Until now.

A while ago I promised to direct you to wonderful free patterns, and then I promptly forgot to do so. Well, check out King Babar!

His pattern is free on Ravelry, one of many gems in the treasury of Rabbit Hole Knits. He and other wonderful animalia are the brainchildren of Sarah Elizabeth Kellner, a creator of toys and whimseys. I love her work. You will recall her Henry's Rabbit design, which I realized in yarn and transported, in early February, to his new home in LA. He was intended to companion my granddaughter Adeline, but Max, her brother, co-opted him. I promised Max I'd make him any animal he desired, whereupon an order was placed for an elephant. Babar will accompany me to LA in July, and presumably then Max will return Rabbit to his sister. (Note to self: do not hold breath.)

I try to knit toys in acrylic yarns. Loyal readers probably know by now how intensely I dislike acrylics, but I also see their utility in the construction of toys and children's garments. Unfortunately acrylic can't really be blocked, and so Babar's regal cloak has a curling hem and his crown is in a permanent state of collapse. I may attempt shoring up the crown with pipe cleaners. If anyone has further suggestions, please feel free to advise me. If you decide to knit your own Babar, you may want to use superwash wool worsted, or something that will drape without curling.

Bumbling around Hartford, Connecticut last week, I discovered two paintings of knitterly interest in the Wadsworth Atheneum, by artists you've never heard of. The Knotted Skein (1870), by Seymour Joseph Guy (American, 1824-1910), depicts a young woman and her boy helper struggling with, yes, a knotted skein. Perhaps this is a metaphor, or perhaps it's an omen of an unhappy relationship (hinted at by the Brahmsian figure lurking behind the young lady?). Or perhaps it's simply a depiction of a knitter dealing with a familiar problem?

The Knotted Skein by Seymour Joseph Guy (1870) 
More cheerful is The Italian Straw Hat (1952), by Peter Blume (American, 1906-1992), a depiction of the artist's studio/bedroom, according to the museum label. Either he was a knitter or had a knitting visitor. And he was mysteriously fixated on the Italian straw hat.

Given the artist's attention to detail, one feels that this painting might just as well have been titled The Blue Chest of Drawers, or even more aptly, The Knitting Basket. But as the poet said, "a rose by any other name...." Altogether I find this a delightful, fiber-filled painting (note the rug, the drapes, the hat, in addition to the basket of yarn), and I enjoy all the non-fibery details too, rendered with such precision.

Thursday, March 3, 2016


A miscellany is a random hodgepodge of things, and knitwear designer (and lawyer) Carol J. Sulcoski's petite volume entitled Knitting Ephemera (recently published by Sixth and Spring) fits the definition well. Be warned: The print is minuscule and packed onto the page, so you may need your magnifiers. And, there is no Table of Contents (there is an Index) or organizing principle, really, other than factoids about knitting (and some about crochet). Disorientation is part of the process, but it's a temporary state, kind of a portal state, really, to render you receptive to the luminous yarn halo of knitting consciousness.

Reading the book is like walking into a messy knitter's house (not yours, of course), that nonetheless feels familiar and comfortable, chaos notwithstanding, because, and only because, you are a heavily-addicted knitter and therefore love anything to do with the craft, and also you have the type of mind that delights in such a random collection of informational tidbits.  You are in Knitterland! To mix metaphors somewhat (actually, a lot), the book is like a recipe collection that someone has put together over the years in a folder, a collection that consists of smeary words scribbled onto index cards, recipes ripped from newspapers, or cut off the backs of food boxes. It is very disjointed but you love fooling around in the kitchen, and you love culinary history, and you love deathless volumes like The Joy of Cooking--so you don't care about its disorganized state--in fact, it feels kind of good. You also enjoy books that mimic the conventions of nineteenth-century and even eighteenth-century publishing, and come with lovely red ribbon markers to hold your place. (Again, like The Joy of Cooking.) If you are such a person, my advice is Go for it!, buy this treasury, and also think about giving Knitting Ephemera to the Knitter Who Has Everything, before someone else does. Or before the volume becomes ephemeral.

I encountered the word "miscellany" as a child, and since I only read it--I think there was a column in Time Magazine of yore entitled "Miscellany"--I thought it was pronounced miss-SELL-a-knee, and for many years I couldn't figure out what it meant. Then, as a graduate student, I encountered Tottel's Miscellany, the first-ever published anthology of poetry in English (1557). Subsequently the term has proved useful.


Perhaps some of you, gentle knitters, convene occasionally with like-minded souls, for social as well as instructive purposes. My cabal, a group of exemplars styled K4TOG, meets as often as manageable for knitting-centric discussion and edification. Thus we inaugurated our 2016 agenda last week....Here you may observe one of us conscientiously winding yarn and conversing with the other knitters, while admirably ignoring the temptations of alcohol.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Worth keeping...

As has happened occasionally in the past, someone just gave me a trove of knitting supplies discovered while cleaning out a house for sale. This present included a large number of aluminum needles, and notes for projects like Christmas stockings and dolls, meticulously written and illustrated.

Pearl Tiffany, the author of this notebook, made her own graph paper! Patterns clipped from newspapers, folded into the envelope above, are dated 1954 (a stellar year, methinks).

I like looking at aluminum needles more than I like knitting with them, but I'll add these to my collection anyway. I love their karma, and I love having knitting hand-me-downs.

Speaking of which, here are sweaters I made around 1983 for my eldest son, then aged three. His brother wore them later on, and now they're going to my grandchildren, who will be able to wear them in a year or so. These were most definitely worth keeping. In a few days they'll accompany me to their new home in California.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Knit your own bunny

Kramer is not thrilled by his companion.

My latest venture into toy knitting was prompted by the discovery of Rabbit Hole Knits. Its doyenne, Sara Elizabeth Kellner, offers many clever, adorable patterns for animals and insects, and most are either free of charge or modestly priced. (Incidentally, if you happen to be attending VK Live in Manhattan this weekend, Ms. Kellner is supposed to be in the Marketplace.)  The bunny I made--Henry's Rabbit, it's called--is a free pattern, is easy to knit and was interesting to do in Lion Brand "Scarfie"--a gradient yarn that in the colorway I chose moved from Easter bunny cream to hare brown. My single modification was to do the tail in Skacel's "Woolie Bullie," an ivory bouclé that gave the tail a satisfying texture.

This little rabbit will travel with me to California soon, to meet my new granddaughter, the person to whom he is dedicated. I think that both Kramer and Molly will be glad to see him depart.

Molly says, "I shall pay him no heed."

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Hello, 2016!

Stoic? Disgusted? Resigned?

Molly's default expression since her well-documented adoption five years past just about sums up my response to the state of our Union and world affairs, except that unlike my semi-depressed pet, I seek consolation in knitting, not Hill's Prescription Diet i/d Digestive Care Chicken Flavor Dry Cat Food. I was horrified to learn yesterday that adult coloring books are now toute la rage, and while I expect they provide the soothing benefits of light repetitive motion and help stressed people offload their anxieties or whatever, I wonder what happens when you go outside the lines? Could that actually make things worse?

At least if you knit away stress, you end up with something warm and fuzzy. Let me now extol the benefits of mindless, (in)terminable knitting:

Behold! Ted and the knitted mohair rectangle.

I am making this fabric on a #9 circular needle, and have almost finished using two balls of Schoppel Wolle Mohair Lady yarn, a nylon-reinforced semi-bouclé in a teal hue that causes innocent bystanders to approach me constantly when I'm knitting in public and gush compliments.  I cast on 110 stitches--that was the hardest part, because the yarn is very thin and extra-difficult to work on a fat needle--knitted a few rows of garter stitch, then began a stockinette. I'll probably knit at least two more balls of this yarn, until I decide it's long enough. That is the pattern. The shawl is somewhat too wide, I think, and in the future I will cast on fewer stitches, perhaps seventy-five or eighty, and I might even go up a needle size to make the fabric even lighter and more luminescent.

As I said, that is the pattern. I profoundly believe in the benefits (myriad) of mindless knitting, and I hope to convince you to experience it for yourself if you're not already with the program. This is the best kind of knitting for traveling or talking, or both, since you don't have to pay attention to anything except which side of the stockinette you're on.

Since the beginning of the year, six days ago, I've come across many knitting articles and blogs whose writers document their resolutions, most of which involve the failure to complete knitting projects in the past, and feeble promises to deliver a wealth of FOs in the future. Gentle knitters, these are boring and empty accountings, and I hope you aren't among the crew who beat themselves up for not getting things finished. If everything in life were neatly finished we would all be machines.

My new year's resolution, the inverse of the everyone's 'I will lose weight' fantasy, but one which made me incredibly happy, is to admit that I completely hate belonging to a gym and that it's a ridiculous waste of my money, time, and mental space. I walk into that den of ugliness, of metallic contraptions and sweaty, slobbily-dressed people glugging their water bottles between and during whatever bloated gizmo they're pounding away at, I see the ubiquitous TVs broadcasting idiotic sporting events, I try to block the hideous pop music with earbuds (encased in a knitted sleeve, of course), I grit my teeth and I do my diligence. To what end? I am no fitter than when I signed up two years ago. That's not the gym's fault--it's mine, in the sense that I find it so disturbing to be there that I avoid it as much as possible. Not a good situation. My contract expires in March, and so--goodbye! I can do my usual fitness things at home--walking with Lola, yoga by Youtube instructor, climbing the many flights of stairs in the house. Amen. And then I will have extra money for yarn.

With this post I've commenced a new blog feature--I'll be regularly linking to Free Patterns I discover or invent (moreso the former) that I hope you'll find inspiring. Some blogs do this fairly regularly, and they have nice alliterative handles, like "Free Pattern Fridays." I can't tie myself to a predictable day like Friday, because I never know when I'm going to sit down and write my little heart out to you, but I do plan to draw your attention to some excellent designs out there that may be accessed gratis. To me it's like foraging for mushrooms, which I have done (and survived, obviously), or better, wild asparagus. I know a place in a nearby conservation area where there's an ancient asparagus patch, the remnant of a long-gone farm, and I diligently monitor it in the spring so as to get the stalks when they're at peak. They are so beautiful and good, and it's such thrilling fun to reap a serendipitous discovery.

Sunrise, Wood River, January 6, 2016. 

Sending out best wishes to you for a good life and good knitting in 2016!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Cowling All Knitters...and a book giveaway!

I recently wrote a mini-article about the stress of holiday knitting, and how we knitters should think about making ourselves something, along with the procession of gifts for others. Then I went back to my holiday to-do list, hypocrite that I am.

My preferred knitted gifts these days are cowls. Done on larger needles, anywhere from size 9 to 15, they go very quickly and are a great way to use stashed yarns. Moreover I've discovered that I actually prefer wearing cowls with much of my heavy outerwear (cold is a way of life in New England!), because they don't lump up inside the jacket and create the Michelin Man look, and they can also be pulled up in the back, if they're sufficiently wide, to serve doubly, as both neck-warmer and hat. When I make a cowl for a friend, I don't feel as if I'm giving something just for the sake of giving, because I actually wear these things myself, plus I have the satisfaction of creating space in my stash for cramming in new purchases. Amen.

So, when a book about cowls crossed my desk recently, I was extremely interested to peruse the patterns, which are plentiful, and dream of future cowl projects.

As my devoted readers will recall, I am particularly fond of "60 Quick" series, published by Sixth and Spring Books. It's not just that there are enough patterns included to make all in the series very reasonable buys, but also that the patterns come from a range of experienced designers, so they're all distinctive and attractive. Moreover, since the designs in this series--whether for cowls, Baby Essentials, Quick Knits, Luxury Knits, etc.--are smallish projects, they offer useful opportunities to learn different stitches, techniques, and so forth, without intimidation. When you knit a cowl that involves beautifully complex cables, it's just not as daunting as doing an Aran sweater. I think of the cowl patterns in this particular book as small canvases that let you trial new techniques, yarns (all the featured yarns are from the Cascade Yarn Company), and stitches.

This beautiful, if unfortunately named design, gives you lots of cable practice without locking you into the months (years?) that a comparably-patterned sweater would entail, and when you're finished you've got this classy hybrid cowl-capelet that's both gorgeous and super-warm. (This is definitely on my to-do list for moi). The cover illustration, similarly offers coin stitch and applied I-cord practice, and looks like it's a lot of fun to work up.

So, not only am I going to recommend this book to you, gentle knitters, but I'm also going to offer a free copy, courtesy of the publisher, to the first reader who correctly identifies the following lines:

...I like a cowl;
I like a prophet of the soul;
And on my heart monastic aisles
Fall like sweet strains or pensive smiles:
Yet not for all his faith can see
Would I that cowléd churchman be.

To enter the contest, which will close on 6 December at midnight, please leave your answer in the comments section of this post, then make sure to check my next post for an announcement of the winner. In some past contests, the person who has won has not responded to my request for contact information, so that the publisher was unable to award the prize.  NB:   If you want the book, and your answer is correct, then please stay tuned.

NB:  We have a winner, Bonney, and a runner-up already, and it's still 6 December.  So, contest closed for the nonce.  Bonney, will you please email me via the button on my profile with the address to which you want the book sent? I need it by tomorrow midnight (12/7), else I move on to the next runner-up.  Happy Chanukah to all.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

What you make of it...

A review copy of Debbie Bliss's latest, The Knitter's Book of Knowledge, arrived at just about when I needed a refresher on how to make buttonholes. How lucky was that?

I was finishing a Barbara Cowl for my friend Barbara, and as often happens when I'm in the middle of a pattern (or recipe), I realized I wanted to change something. The thing about this pattern is that you knit it as a scarf on straight needles, then sew it together. Since no provisional cast-on is required, you're left with a long rectangle that has a short seam, rather than an invisibly grafted-together loop. Had I realized this before I began knitting, rather than plunging right in, as is my s.o.p., I would have done the whole thing differently...but so it went, and there you have it. I needed to finesse the issue of a visible and clunky seam.

The fix was, I decided, to put in some buttonholes near the end, and sew on some matching buttons. That's where this lovely Debbie Bliss book enters the scenario. The book offers four really good methods of buttonholing (plus helpful ancillary information about reinforcing them, etc.), and I followed the instructions for one of them, and it all turned out very well.

Now Barbara can choose to wear her Barbara Cowl as a cowl or a scarf (hurray for versatility!), and she will be none the wiser as to the snafu I encountered.

Often when I receive books to review for this blog, I peruse them, but don't use them--that is, I never take the time to knit up one of the many patterns contained therein (most are pattern books), but merely ascertain from reading them whether or not I could in good conscience recommend them to you, gentle knitters. Those I can't recommend I simply don't review, as I don't feel it's an effective use of my time to write the hard truth about a problematic tome. But those I do recommend, I'm happy to extol, because they have appeal, utility, and durability. The Knitter's Book of Knowledge by knitting guru Debbie Bliss is one of these.

It's not just that I used it, and can verify the clarity of instructions, illustrations, and layout. It's also that it's a great reference work.

Reprinted with permission from The Knitter’s Book of Knowledge © 2015 by Debbie Bliss, Lark Crafts, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by Kim Lightbody. Illustration by Cathy Brear.
And while it's pitched to a wide audience--knitting lessons are contained within (see above), as well as more advanced instructions--that's also part of its beauty. A decades-experienced knitter like moi consulted it and found interesting tips on how to make a better buttonhole and inset pockets (file for future reference). A neophyte will appreciate the sections on yarn suitability, color theory, trouble-shooting, etc., and especially enjoy the way in which processes like casting on and binding off (to mention only two of many) are broken into comprehensible steps. And there's also the fact that it's attractively designed and laid out.

So, in my considered opinion, this is a book worth owning. Or giving. I'm sure you know a knitter who'd enjoy this as a holiday gift.