Friday, December 20, 2013

Various, but not random

Gentle knitters,
I must do some catch-up here for there's been a lot of traveling in my recent past and scant time to post. Apologies, because as usual Life trumps Writing. However, you may recall my exhortation to knit something on Knit Something Day (the 29th of November) in lieu of mindless consumerist Black Friday bingeing, and several of you sent photos of your post-Thanksgiving Day efforts, which may be enjoyed below.

Joan W. of Weston, MA, knitted this vase from a Classic Elite pattern.

Preparing to reknit the sleeve; a minor adjustment.
Neuroknitter decided to re-knit part of a sweater on Knit Something Day.
She made a sweater a few years ago that she wore so often, the sleeves stretched out because they were too long and "I felt like they were dragging the rest of the sweater off my shoulder."  Her further explanations are the photo captions.

Old and new sleeve (new on top), a minor adjustment.
Unseemly seam.

Voila! A better seam!
Detail:  Brownie, Neuroknitter's invaluable assistant, steadies the garment as N finishes with mattress-stitch seaming.

Susie B., of NYC, finished this gorgeous bobble-decorated sweater for a toddler.  It took her  a year to knit, but she started before the child could walk.

Deborah N. of Providence, RI, designed and finished a cowl "for a beloved niece, in a beloved yarn that is now, maddeningly, no more--Ecologie Wool from Nashua."

I knitted Superbunny, loosely based on this free pattern from Lion Brand Yarn, adding cape, insignia (with E, the initial of the person with whom he now lives), in Vanna's Choice Cotton Ease (the red sweater) and Classic Elite Bamboo (the rest).


Zontee H. of Brooklyn, NY, crocheted this afghan for an ailing friend. What could be more comforting?

and last but not least is this witty sweater from upcoming Rhode Island designer, Casapinka:

You can find Casapinka's designs on her blog, through Ravelry, Etsy, or at Knit One Quilt Two in Barrington, RI.

Well, that's all that showed up in my Inbox on the post-Thanksgiving weekend. My gratitude to those who contributed, and I hope more of you send me images next year. Meanwhile I've been obsessively busy with finishing, socks, and Mr. Max, my new grandson, who arrived on December 3rd. 

Maxwell David, current and future recipient of many handknits.
Having just returned from an emotional introductory meeting in Los Angeles (he cried A LOT), I can assure you only l'amour d'une grande-mère could compel me to fly a 6,000 mile round trip and drive, aided solely by I-phone GPS, the harrowing freeways of that eternally strange city. On the way back, such are the inevitable, expected, and unprotested longueurs of air travel, that I began a top-down sock in the LA airport, and made it to an inch or so past the heel-turn before deplaning in Providence.  

Murray, his person, I, and another passenger shared the bulkhead seat. I chose this seat because I had to race to catch another flight when the plane landed in Baltimore, and I wanted to be up front. And I love dogs. Murray is a good guy, but the arrangement was actually quite cramped.
Plus, on this long flight (and I sat next to Murray, a Golden Doodle therapy pet, but that is another story...of the shaggy dog genre) I could knit only by holding my arms very close to my body or extended before me in a weirdly strained position. Is that knitting dedication or what? 

Alfie did not appreciate my interrupting his nap for a photo shoot of the LAX sock.

Till the next time, may your holiday celebrations be serene, peaceful, and knit-worthy.

Friday, December 6, 2013

You need this book.

Why? Because it's a great concept and compendium.  Billed as "the ultimate yarn crawl," 60 Quick Knits from America's Yarn Shops (Sixth & Spring 2013)--really is just that. Save on gas and Metrocards; be an armchair knitter/traveler and do the crawl from the comfort of your personal knitting nook, wearing whatever you damn well please.

The patterns within--all in Cascade yarns--come from LYS all over the country. Think about it--part of being a yarn store owner involves guiding patrons towards projects within their technical comfort zones, projects that turn out well without a struggle. It takes a good knitter/designer to understand this.

So IMHO it's brilliant that the editors tapped the creative, accumulated wisdom of these knitting gurus and published sixty of their patterns. And Cascade yarns, especially 220 and 220 Superwash, are backbone yarns: high quality, wonderful colors, durable, excellent value. You can't go wrong with this book. Since the idea here is quick knits, the projects are small, but they're the kinds of things you'll make repeatedly: lovely mittens, charming children's and adults' hats, socks, scarves, shawlettes. This is basic good design that's stylish, classic, and useful.

The publisher has kindly made available one giveaway copy. If you'd like it and you live in the U.S. or Canada (sorry, no overseas mail), post a comment on this blog by midnight December 8th telling me why. I'll choose the knitter with the most interesting reason.

Snowflake Mittens, designed by Trish Mitberg of Knitting Bee, Portland, Oregon.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oh, go knit a turkey!

It's hard to believe that three years have passed since I knitted Terrie the Turkey from Susan B. Anderson's wonderful pattern, a free download from Spud and Chloë yarns.  If you compare the photos of my Terrie Turkey--named for a former friend--with the "Tiny Turkey" on the Spud and Chloë page, you'll see that my Terrie is rather overstuffed, or, to use the favored euphemism, "Rubensesque." There are two reasons for this.

Terrie nesting on a bed of lettuce in the greenhouse.
One is that this was the first knitted toy I'd ever made and I went somewhat overboard with the fiberfill. The other is that American poultry breeders favor big-breasted birds. Neighbors of mine in deeply rural Rhode Island raise chickens known as Cornish Crosses. These genetically-engineered blobs are so big-breasted that by six weeks of age they can barely walk because of top-heaviness. (Thus the short, unhappy life of native fowl.) So I guess that Terrie is actually somewhat realistic, insofar as a knitted turkey can be realistic. Also, I didn't knit her feet, which adds to the general impression of instability.

She will, as in past Thanksgivings, be the star of the table's centerpiece.

I'm giving you-all the heads up because there's still time before your feast to make yourself and your loved ones a knitted turkey or even a small flock. You have nothing else to do, right?

Meanwhile, there are a few things I need to get off my chest. In past Novembers, as Thanksgiving approaches, I've gone through a few songs-and-dances about my pet issues at this time of year. The first is Buy Nothing Day, aka Black Friday. I urge all of you knitters and your sisters and your cousins and your aunts to ignore the media-contrived shopping frenzy and turn this into Knit Something Day. If you send me photos of what you're knitting on November 29th, I shall post them on this blog.

I'd also like to remind those of you who live in this area of New England that the annual Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange takes place, both on the State House lawn in Providence and ancillary sites around the state and in Seekonk, MA.  Click here for addresses. If you have a warm coat to donate, drop it off. And if you need a coat, pick one up. No money is exchanged, only good will and positive energy.

So, gentle knitters, here's the drill: knit a turkey, celebrate Thanksgiving, drop off a coat to celebrate Buy Nothing Day, knit something to celebrate Knit Something Day (November 29th) while relaxing in the serenity of your unshopaholic life, and email me photos of your creations, which I shall post on the blog for general admiration. In advance I thank you ever so much for your contributions, and wish you all a lovely holiday and great leftovers, which as we all know, are the best part of the meal.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Finishing the (metaphorical) hat...

That song from Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George has been ear-worming me recently.

So many projects, so little time! Then, in the latest Vogue Knitting (Holiday 2013) there's an interview with Esteemed Knitting Crone Barbara G. Walker who admonishes everyone to finish, finish, finish before starting anything new:  "My most basic advice to other knitters is:  Always finish your project, even if you're dying to start that much more interesting new thing."

Ipse dixit.  Okay, okay.

So I started finishing stuff.  More because of my inner Sondheim than the other guru. Socks, mostly. I don't suffer from SSS (Second Sock Syndrome). I do finish a pair at a time. It's just that I usually have three or four pairs going at once. Maybe I suffer from Sixth Sock Syndrome....

This race to the finish line, it was like wrestling with inner demons. There are about six thousand new projects I want to, I want to, I want to...

But no.  I must finish what I've started, just as BGW says. And, as Sondheim envisions Seurat, there is an appealing romantic driven intensity to the artist in thrall to his creative vision/compulsion.


Left to right, a week's finishing work:  for Caeden (18 months), for Bettina G., for moi, for Ellen (still being finished).
I'm not proud to say that pair #3, faux cables in a beautifully soft Swans Island lilac fingering weight merino took me almost two years.  The central portion of each sock was mostly done during two round-trips on Amtrak from Westerly, RI to Philadelphia, PA--ten hours per trip, in the Quiet Car where talking and all other noisy distractions are verboten.

Was it worth it? No, she said unequivocally. The socks are lovely, but confirmed to me loud and clear that I am not a detail-oriented knitter. Or, put another way, I become hysterical and unpleasant when I have to concentrate on a complicated pattern. So, never again to this pattern.

But at least I finished them....

And when the woman that you wanted goes,
You can say to yourself, "Well, I give what I give."
But the woman who won't wait for you knows
That however you live,
There's a part of you always standing by,
Mapping out the sky,
Finishing a hat...
Starting on a hat...
Finishing a hat...
Look I made a hat...
Where there never was a hat.

(Stephen Sondheim, "Finishing the Hat" from Sunday in the Park with George.)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Hey, what's the Big Idea?

"Books do furnish a room."
                               --Anthony Powell

So maybe you’d like some new knitting books for the holidays, or maybe you’d like to give one to a dearly beloved knitter?  Here are three that recently crossed my desk.  They’re all clever and meritorious, and  I shall rank them in order of technical difficulty.

The easiest, technically, is The Knit Parade, by Rebecca Rymsza (Collins & Brown, 2013). This book’s Big Idea is that you can individualize a generic unisex sweater (crewneck, long sleeves) with graphic intarsia images. Stars, keys, telephone receivers, hearts pierced by lightning, leopard spots—you’ve always dreamed of a sweater decorated with these kinds of motifs, right? Each motif ties in with a pop song—that aspect is way past my realm of consciousness, but perhaps you know a teen-at-heart who’s plugged into this current, and you’re looking to knit her/him something transiently cool and tragically hip. At any rate, the patterns are clean and simple, and offer an encouraging introduction to basic intarsia. Who knew intarsia could be this funky?

Then we have Classic Elite’s Shawls, Wraps & Scarves:  20 Ideas, 3 Ways (Sixth & Spring, 2012). The Big Idea here is, as the title says, multiple garments from a single stitch pattern. Maybe this doesn’t seem earthshaking, but each of the twenty prototype patterns is distinctive, and each is worked up in different yarns to different lengths and different proportions. It’s actually quite magical to see how a master pattern can yield differing results as the variables of yarn, needles, etc. change. The photography is really good, the garments beautiful. This book is my pick of the three, if you want to go with only one. It provides the most bang for the buck, if you think of its contents as really sixty patterns rather than twenty, and in terms of these patterns’ shelf life. They’re classic, elite, and will never go out of style. 

The most interesting of the three is Irish Schreier’s Reversible Knits (Lark, 2013). The Big Idea here is training a knitter to become adept at knitting garments that have no wrong side. It’s an excellent technical primer; there’s a lot of good information about stitch/fabric composition (including a small swatch lexicon that offers painless trialing of the techniques), and about fixing mistakes; and there’s an array of designs, ranked in difficulty from Beginner to Experienced, that combines beauty and technical expansion at every level. This is a book for a dedicated and curious knitter…in fact, I’m probably going to start on one of its patterns very soon!

So there you have it—three very different knitting book possibilities; together they’re fairly representative of what the annual crop of knitting books yields. Attractively designed, interesting to read, gimmicky to varying degrees, and offering solid technical advice, they’re good gifts for any knitter, including you.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Not Knitting New England...

...rather, knitted whimsy outside the only LYS in Melk, Austria (population 5,000), where I was last week.

I once attended a lecture on images of knitting in art, in which the lecturer opined that yarn bombing is a form of graffiti. Sometimes it is, I suppose, especially when the yarn bombers choose particularly noisome shades of acrylic, like neon lime green or Day-Glo pink.

Bicycles are apparently objects ripe for yarn-bombing--cf. the photo on this blog, last spring, of a yarn-bombed bike in Charleston, South Carolina. Perhaps it's the odd angles of the frame in contrast to the roundedness of the wheels that offer so much opportunity to practitioners of this so-called graffiti. Actually, I think in these bicycle examples, "graffiti" is a misnomer. Yarn-bombed bikes provide eye-catching advertising for their charming yarn stores, sort of like the shop-signs of yore that featured images of a merchant's or artisan's specialty.

Zum Wildern Mann, Passau
Anyway, I went inside Melk's LYS, "Frau Wolle," and poked around, and felt very much at home.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Earbud sleeve: a free pattern!

Some weeks ago I walked around New York City noticing how everyone was wearing earbuds, or, if their ears weren't plugged up, they had with artful insouciance slung earbuds and attachments around their necks or stuffed them into breast pockets as if they were spaghetti ascots. Instinctively I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to carry this off, because I am woefully maladroit in the tech-toys department, and deliberately uncool.

Perhaps this explains why it's impossible for me to keep my earbuds from tangling, no matter how carefully I roll them before stowing in a cute book-replica box that had once held a bar of soap. I pondered this a while. It then struck me that I could perhaps knit a cord cover, so that I wouldn't have to spend twenty minutes trying to straighten the buds before using them. (Proof of uncoolness: I use earbuds only to talk to H on my cellphone. This is because he claims to be unable to hear me during cellphone chats if I'm holding the phone near my face.)

I cast six stitches onto a #2 dpn, picked up another #2 dpn and began knitting an I-cord with leftover sock yarn. After an inch I decreased, over two rows, to four stitches, then stuffed the base (the plug) of the earbud wire into the knitted tube. The only thing one needs to keep in mind while knitting an I-cord tube around a wire, is always to bring the yarn around the back of the wire each time a new row begins. Work with a small ball of yarn, too, to keep the process manageable.

I continued to knit until the entire wire was swathed in I-cord up to the fork, where the wire divides to each earbud. At this point I consulted the Knitting Goddess, who advised me to increase to eight stitches, using the K1 M1 increase, then put four stitches onto a holder.

I continued knitting first up the left wire, then, picking up stitches at the fork, up the right wire.  I stopped when I got to the microphone, although you might want to stop earlier, and I cut the yarn, leaving a four-inch tail.  I removed the dpn.  The tail was threaded onto a yarn needle, and the needle drawn through the open loops, the yarn cinched, the tail cut, the end woven into the tube.  The same closure was effected for the left wire.  Et voila!

The next step was to figure out what to call this garment. I thought Earbud Sweater would do, but my pal, Pink Mohair, saw it yesterday and said, "It's not a sweater, it's a COSY." Then Neuroknitter saw it today and spontaneously announced, "It's a SLEEVE--an Earbud Sleeve." Amen to that!

So here it is--an Earbud Sleeve that keeps your wires from tangling! In a world where so little can be controlled, how thrilling is that?!

Photo credit:  R. Grahn

The next "IT" accessory?          Photo credit:  R. Grahn

Sunday, September 15, 2013

September serendipity

This beautiful yarn came into my life recently, sent by Theresa Walker of Great Bay Woolworks. It's loosely plied, undyed, with a silky sheen, and it's 100% New Hampshire-raised wool. The texture is best for outerwear, though the Knitting Goddess thought it would make a great pillow done in a log cabin pattern like last year's afghan. (If I do that, I'll have to add a fourth color, however.) I'm asking you, gentle knitters, for advice. What should I make from three 200-yard skeins of of genuine New England farm-raised wool, that most likely would knit up best on size 5 or 6 needles? Let me know by blog comment or email.

If I use your pattern suggestion, I'll send you a great knitting book from my personal collection of great knitting books!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Kid stuff

Recently completed:  a pair of Portuguese-style baby booties that are quick and adorable, and the pattern is free from the Knitting Daily website.  What's not to like?

Taken with my new camera, an Olympus OM-D-E series.  The stalwart Panasonic Lumix of yore developed problems that led me to conclude I'd outgrown its capabilities.
I used leftovers of Online Supersocke--the grandmère of this baby has a slightly larger pair from the same yarn. Said grandmère's other grandson, now eighteen months, will get a pair of toddler socks from the rest of the remnants. I like to keep things in the family!

Portuguese knitting involves a different method than most Americans employ, and there are interesting video demonstrations to watch. You don't need to use the Portuguese method for this pattern, but it has efficiency and ergonomic advantages that could be useful to anyone who wants to decrease stress on the hands.  Worth having a look, methinks.

And while we are on the topic of knitting for kids, I must share a photo sent by a friend, who saw this little person at the Sterling (Massachusetts) Fair 2013, ongoing this weekend.

Credit:  Margaret Haynes-Lamont

Yes, her beautiful coverall is hand-knitted.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The golden, golden rule

Last week my sister, cousin, and I were in the Amherst, Massachusetts area, poking around the Montague Book Mill--"Books you don't need, in a place you can't find" is its motto--having a lovely day when I came across one of those archetypal bulletin boards that flourish wherever green people congregate.

Perhaps in perusing the above photo, your eyes were seized by the same notice that captured me.

This reminded me that even though it's still August, it's not too early to think about knitting something to contribute to a cold-weather clothing drive, whether it's a hat, scarf, a pair of mittens--or even a kid's sweater, if you're feeling ambitious. I recently researched the history of charitable knitting for an article that's just out in the latest Interweave Knits Holiday Gifts 2013.  It's called "Knitting for Charity:  The Perennial Spirit of Giving" (pages 18-23) and as I worked on the piece,  I found it fascinating to learn that knitting for charity in this country dates to the Revolution (at least the records do--possibly the practice began even earlier). When you knit an item for charitable distribution, you join a great historical continuum of American knitters. That's kind of wonderful, IMHO. 

The article provides a list of databases for charitable knitting, some of which are keyed to specific regions of this country and even the world. If you'd like to donate a knitted something to a charity closer to your home than the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, or that serves a specific population (like veterans, Afghani children, preemies), you can find the perfect match for you on one of these. Anyway, this is a shameless plug: the article is a fount of information, and if you buy the magazine you get a bunch of excellent patterns and articles as well!

The Montague Book Mill is a great place to visit. There's a good café downstairs, and you can have a meal or just a drink--including alcohol--at a table overlooking the Sawmill River. And you can buy a lot of books you don't need, but will thoroughly enjoy.

Charitable knitting works two ways. One is to knit something and give it away. Another is to raise money, through selling knitting or through a related endeavor, like the sale of a pattern or a book of patterns, then donate that money to a cause. Such is the mission of a book (published by Sixth and Spring) that's been around since last year: Knit Red: Stitching for Women's Heart Health, by Laura Zander of the Jimmy Beans Wool company.

You can buy it from Jimmy Beans Wool, or on Amazon, and a portion of the proceeds will go to heart disease research. For the price of the book you get thirty lovely, classic patterns by major designers like Deborah Newton, Nora Gaughan, Ysolda Teague, Nicky Epstein, Tanis Gray, and Martin Storey (to name only a few), plus interesting insights from the designers' biographies, a bunch of heart-healthy recipes, and some practical medical advice. Perhaps if you're too busy to knit something for charity, you'd consider buying the book instead, and contribute to funding medical research?

Well, here's the moral of my disquisition.  Whatever you want to do is fine--just don't knit there, do something! Regardless of the intended recipient, it's the charitable act itself that sends lots of good energy into the world.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What goes around...

Now that I'm a grandma-to-be, I'm recycling the sweaters et alia designed and knitted for Son the First in 1979. Some moth-hole repair is warranted, but all things considered, they're in decent shape.

Catch my posts on KNITTED TOYS on the Lion Brand Blog starting on Monday August 12th! (Yes, I am behind the times, as always....)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Summer reading that lasts all year

Reading Knitologie by Lucy Main Tweet (Glitterati, 2012) is like listening to a thoughtful, interesting  friend who happens to knit really well. Written in a cordial manner that blends personal narrative with lucid directions, it's the kind of book that gives you ideas by the armful, many of which are incidental to the book's principal topic--how to incorporate alphabet letters into handknits--but all of which are absorbing, practicable, and life-enhancing.

For example, some of Ms. Tweet's good ideas are about basic, knitting-worthy colors--she favors blue and white, blue and yellow, certain neutrals--that work well with almost anything and provide a canvas for the imagination. It's a relief to find someone who isn't obsessed with black, tangerine tango, or kelly green.  She also has great ideas about storing yarn oddments and ball bands (in glass jars, so they're visual incentives).

Then there are the clear graphs of letters you can knit, plus a couple of icons, a paw print (inspired by the author's Coton de Tulear) and a heart. While many people could graph their own alphabet, how nice that these are already charted, saving knitters valuable time! Most of the photos show these letters in monochromatic designs, an embossed or damask effect, but a few are in contrasting colors, and those letters really pop. Since some of the patterns are for useful kid items, like scarves, caps, and mittens, I'd prefer to go the CC route, so garments can be quickly identified when rummaging through the nursery school Lost-and-Found box.

The book itself is beautiful, thanks to the teamwork of Ms. Tweet and the book's designer/principal photographer, Sarah Morgan Karp. It says something good about the publishing company--Glitterati--that they'd encourage such close collaboration, and that's one of the reasons the book is distinctive. The layout of letter charts, pages for notes, the patterns themselves which showcase the letters, even a clever integrated ribbon bookmark--all express the care and attention that distinguish a fine book from one that is merely packaged.

One last point--by focusing on the knitting of integrated letters, Knitologie delivers what it promises; that is quite satisfying.  Many knitting books covering a lot of material end up being uneven in content and technical advice.  Knitologie suggests a range of possibilities, offering, as it does, a basic tool kit rather than a project-based format.  Its pattern options, like pillows and mittens, have the dual purpose of teaching a knitter to do the basic work, and making her aware that that she can transfer the technique to her own designs.

P.S.  I almost forgot to mention that Lucy Main Tweet lives in Massachusetts. Hurray, New England!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Flat as a cat on a mat....

Gentle knitters,
Several have inquired about the recent paucity of postings. Two words, my friends: summer heat. Because of this it takes most of my energy to move from one knitting project to another, distributed as they are in various regions of my house. This, despite a/c!  All of us in my bailiwick have been not merely flattened, but rather, squashed.

Flat Cat on Mat #1

Flat Cat on Mat #2
There have been two consecutive heat waves since the Fourth of July, meaning temperatures have been above 90 degrees F for more than three days running. However, if the temperatures are in the high 80s, which they sometimes have also been, and the humidity has been consistently in the jungle range, it feels like a heat wave anyway, even if it's not technically that. New England has been clobbered throughout July by the muggiest of muggy hot weather, the proverbial HHH.

Well, enough of this kvetching...

A frequent topic of knitting lit-rit-choor in the summer months is what one knits when it's hot outside. Since I've already weighed in on that with a recent article ("Stitch and Seed: Summer's Bounties," Knitscene Magazine, Summer 2011, 8-11) I shall say that to the predictable small wearable projects generally favored in this season, I have added stuffed animals. That's because I'll become a grandmama in a few months, and as I saved most of the sweaters I knitted for my own children when they were wee, there's no compelling need to augment the supply for a new grandson who will inherit (and I hope wear) the exact same garments as his father. But hand-knitted stuffies?  Well, that's a brave new world to conquer.

 More on this engaging topic shall be forthcoming, but at the moment I must cease and desist, or melt.

Alfie flees the knitted hedgehog!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Yarn porn

Credit:  Carolyn Morgan

Beauteous hand-dyes recently espied at a farmers' market in Bath, Maine.

Mixed bags discovered at Habu Textiles, NYC. These most interesting yarns include silk-wrapped paper, cashmere and silk blends, cotton and silk blends, and a small cone of metallic something or other.

Molly dubiously assesses coral cashmere and ivory silk purchased at School Products Yarns, NYC.