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 (natch), and as often happens to me 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.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Homage to Harrisville

Some places speak for themselves, so I'll let these photos do the talking. Except I'll say that the 139 mile trip, from New London, Connecticut to Harrisville Designs, in Harrisville, New Hampshire, was both scenic and worthwhile. The day was overcast but not rainy; steely light, foliage gone. We arrived and surveyed the historic mill buildings, exemplars of the Industrial Revolution still manifest in rural New England.

Inside, a warmer world.

Yarns by the cone and skein, looms and loom notions, pattern books, knitting magazines, and knitting notions. Also, a beautiful area to sit and knit.

Mirror, mirror on the wall...
How is it that some yarn shops have so much charisma and others don't? Harrisville Designs is a magnet, one of the nicest yarn venues I've ever encountered. Shop personnel are lovely. And the Harrisville yarns--so utterly distinctive, their colors and textural traits bringing the nineteenth century into the twenty-first.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Mindless knitting

It's my practice to have several ongoing knitting projects, and there's always one I think of as "mindless." This means I can do it automatically, so I can talk to others while knitting, or stop and start it often, as when I'm traveling and have to sit down/get up/embark/disembark/board/deplane, etc., and not worry about losing my place. My place in the knitting, that is.

The Knitting Goddess once observed that all knitting design was nothing more than rectangles and tubes. With this in mind, and knowing well my own limited ability to combine shapes, I decided that my current Mindless Project would be a long rectangle knitted of lace-weight mohair on #9 needles. (I use a circular so I don't worry about dropping stitches when it's packed away.) Said project accompanied me during a recent trip to a shockingly beautiful part of the world called New Mexico. Ultimately the project will become a very lightweight, warm, and lovely shawl/scarf thing.

I'm using Schoppel Mohair Lady yarn, 80% mohair, 20% nylon, in 50 gram balls. One ball yielded about 18" of generously wide shawl, so I'm thinking maybe four or five will do the entire job. The color, teal, is gorgeous; the yarn is not so wonderful to knit, however, even though it looks great. Mohair knitting is not for the faint of heart. It snags and slips, and it's a horror to frog. (At the unfortunate Brandon Mably workshop I attended last winter, I did learn one useful thing--that if you have to frog mohair, put the yarn in the freezer first. Apparently mohair is a very juicy kind of yarn, and freezing will tamp down the cling action.)

So, we had a wonderful week in New Mexico (the usual suspects: Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos), and I met some great fiber people, bought some amazing hand-dyed yarns, and all the while knitted my Mindless Project.

Outside the Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe NM

We came home, unpacked, unpacked, unpacked (translation: still unpacking), I caught up on things, knitted this and that, and suddenly realized I couldn't locate my Mindless Project.

In typical extremist fashion, I ripped through all my usual hiding places, interrogated H whom I trust to know where everything I've lost is (he didn't), replayed endless scenarios of when and what I'd been knitting in the week since our return, and finally decided I'd lost my knitting. I began to mourn it. I had sleepless nights. I considered a fairly reliable but desperate last-ditch tactic--to begin knitting the project all over again. This would once again validate my Theory of Duplicates, which goes thus: If you lose something, buy or create an exact replacement. This guarantees that the original will reappear.  I was very reluctantly screwing up my courage to do this.

But then I noticed a tote bag on top of a shelf in my closet. I opened it, and there was the knitting! 

Calloo, callay, O frabjous day! she chortled in her joy.

It's remarkable how impacted I am by a vast, though somewhat repetitive, cycle of self-created dramas. Most of them are pointless and downright neurotic. At least this one had a good ending, even if it temporarily disproved my concept of mindless knitting .

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Indian Summer

Recently harvested hand-knitted, hand-washed socks line-drying, late afternoon, today.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Knit Your Own Autumn

Why not? There are instructions for knitting your own dog, your own cat, barnyard critters, even knitting the sky.

This came about because I asked my friend--we'll call her Chavvy (NB:  not her real name)--what color she'd like me to knit her a scarf/shawl/birthday present. The response was NO...she had too much of that stuff. (Nothing like blunt honesty, d'acc?) Could I please just knit her a flower, preferably one she could pin onto her clothing?

Hmmmmmmmmm. I checked out patterns and somehow these absolutely didn't ring my chimes. The designs I encountered seemed so, um, tea-potty. So I decided to knit her a pair of mitts and pin a seasonal something onto them. This is the result.

Go on Ravelry and search for "leaves," "acorns," and the like. You will be amazed.

I think I'm celebrating Autumn because my summer was such a drag. I had an unpleasant visit to LA (adult son acting out, grrrrrr), I've been dealing with ongoing hand problems (see last post), and in late August I broke my left foot while standing on a perfectly flat surface, an asphalt driveway, and simply being the klutz that I am.

The good news is that my hand problem has recently diminished, thanks to some awesome medical treatments, and my foot healed fast. And now it is AUTUMN! This is the most beautiful season of all in New England. No wonder I'm knitting oak leaves and acorns. (I may also have a squirrel ancestor.) Note to self: knit an autumnal corsage for thine own adornment.

Gentle knitters, I highly recommend my latest article, in the most recent issue of Interweave Knits Holiday Gifts. It's an inspirational profile of an up-and-coming New England designer, Bronwyn Heffernan (aka Casapinka), whose patterns provide mood-elevating knitting and wearing, and who herself is a paragon exemplar of survival and reinvention. The piece is called "Rescue by Design," and you'll find it on pages 56-58.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Doing the Continental....

Gentle knitters, I'm kinda sorta having a needlecraft crisis.  A repetitive motion disorder (aka traumatic chronic tenosynovitis) is afflicting my dominant (right) hand and I've been ordered to back way off. Ergo I decided to learn Continental style knitting (see mangled mess in above photograph), hoping it will allow me to stay on the road to Knitsville. Continental style is more ergonomic (fewer gestures necessary to make a stitch) and the work happens more in the left hand than the right. Perhaps this will be my salvation.

Continental knitting videos are available gratis on Youtube and  I found the latter more concise than those on Youtube, many of which are Kommandant-style by disciplinarians with a sketchy command of English. (Although they're often unintentionally amusing, especially after a couple of drinks.) I also purchased a Knitting Daily download, Continental Knitting with Biggan Ryd-Dups, which seems, likely, the best of the bunch. Report to follow, sometime....

Perhaps because my own hand is misbehaving, I decided on the best use for the Buddha's Hand fruit that has been growing on my little Buddha's Hand tree, purchased a couple of years ago from Logee's Greenhouses in Danielson, CT.  It was very, very ripe.

Buddha's hand has no pulp; it's all rind. A type of citron, its culinary value is in the rind, which has a bright lemon-orange scent. I couldn't bear to mutilate this extraordinary fruit by skinning it, so the natural and best use seemed to be as the principal and only flavoring in a vodka infusion.

It takes a few days for the magic to work. Could this be the cure...?