Thursday, July 27, 2006

Rumors of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

A number of factors have conspired to keep me from blogging much at all lately. I've been mulling over a few things, including a very basic design project and an idea for a blogging experiment. More about those soon (I promise).

In the meantime, though, I thought I'd show off the great stuff my Secret Pal sent me this week. In my mailbox on Tuesday was this delightful box . . .

but what was inside?

In her nice note, my secret pal promised treats for 4 of the 5 senses, and she was right! There's some Cadbury dark chocolate, freesia-scented body splash and lotion, some Rowan cotton tape in a lovely raspberry color, along with a beret pattern! What a great surprise--I can't wait to dig into everything. Thanks, Secret Pal!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Table Is Set

I briefly contemplated not posting about the comedy of errors that is my most recent FO. But, in the interests of serving the public, I present:

Pattern: Placemats and Beaded Napkin Rings from Simple Knits for Sophisticated Living (actually from the 2005 wall calendar based on said book). Note that I actually made a set of 4 napkin rings and 4 placemats, 2 each in the 2 different colors.


For the napkin rings: wire and beads from The Pear Tree (a variety of 6-8 mm glass beads to coordinate with the placemats), napkins from Pier One Imports. For better close-ups of the napkin rings, go here.

For the placemats: Reynolds Morocco (50% cotton, 50% linen) color 71 (left), color 428 (right).

Started: 6/7/06

Finished: 7/12/06

Comments: Where to begin? I guess I'll start with the positives. I loved knitting the napkin rings. They were just such a change from normal knitting (knitting with wire--how cool is that?), and it was fun to see how the random collection of beads came together on the napkin rings. If I were to do these again, though, I would probably add an additional inch in length, which would also require another 12 beads or so per ring. As they are now, they're just a little bit narrow, so getting the napkins into the rings is a bit of a squeeze. But I would definitely do these again--maybe in different shades of red for my own kitchen, or in some other colors with a set of coordinating napkins as a really nice hostess gift.

The placemats, on the other hand--ugh. I bought this yarn almost a year ago on clearance at A Good Yarn. I had had my eye on this pattern for a while, and figured since the price was right on the yarn the pattern called for, I'd pick up enough to make 4 placemats.

The pattern clearly states that one skein is enough for one placemat. My reply? Hah! I knitted to gauge and still ran out of my first skein of yarn a good 4 inches short of the end of the first placemat. I ended up knitting and ripping out the second lace border on that placemat about 3 times, because I kept miscalculating how far back I would need to rip in order to allow for enough yarn to finish the edging.

After I (finally) finished the first placemat and blocked the heck out of it (illustration here) so that it even remotely resembled the finished dimensions from the pattern, I figured I'd be able to get by--just barely. Again--hah! Two of the skeins had even less yarn than the first one, so I actually had to make a some modifications to the bind-off edging of the lace pattern in order to finish it (you can see the difference, but only if you're looking for it) without ripping out the whole darn thing.

Why didn't I just buy more yarn, you ask? Well, I tried. Turns out that the reason the yarn was on clearance last summer was because--that's right--it's been discontinued. I guess that's the downside of having a stash for specific future projects--if you're like me, by the time you actually get around to starting the project, you might end up with an emergency yarn shortage if the yarn is no longer available. The fact that the yarn estimates were so far off was extremely frustrating--I intended this project as an easy, stress-free handmade wedding gift, and it ended up being my most maddening project in recent memory.

That being said, I am happy with how the whole set turned out--the colors are beautiful, and I hope the new bride and groom will use them in good health. I just need to remember to include instructions (and maybe a set of blocking pins), for if and when they ever need to wash the placemats . . .

Friday, July 14, 2006

Pretty Pleased, with a Cherry on Top

After just a little bit of reflection, I figured out what was causing my recent knitting funk: I wasn't choosing projects that force me to think. Socks are convenient, sure, but once you understand the basic concepts, they're really not too demanding (I know, I know, there are super-involved sock patterns out there, but bear with me here). Ditto for the placemats that I just finished. Ditto for Ribby Cardi, which, with the exception of a little bit of shaping, is essentially just miles of ribbing and/or stockinette stitch.

In retrospect, the last project that really made me think the whole time I was working on it was my Olympic sweater. It had cables, it had a pattern repeat that needed to be carried through despite increases and decreases, it had lovely details and relatively complex instructions. Could it be that something along the same lines might jumpstart my knitting again?

I had purchased yarn a while ago, intending to use it for another project, but I've since been scared off given some of the photos of said project appearing in blogland. After a weekend afternoon spent perusing many, many patterns, I finally landed on My Fashionable Life. I've been coveting Jemima for a while now, so I decided to check to see if the prolific Ms. Bell had anything new up her sleeves. Could it be? Her newest pattern, Cherry, has cabling. It has lots of shaping. It is knit to the same gauge as the yarn I already had on hand. Was this the pattern I was looking for?

Apparently so.

I'm thinking of calling this project the Das Boot honorary sweater, since I cast on for this at Knitsmiths on Sunday and then knit the rest of what you see here during the 5+ hours of the uncut version, watched over several evenings this week. I am loving this project! It requires thought (always a good thing), but it's still straightforward enough that I can watch a film with subtitles while knitting it. Isn't it great how the smallest things can completely turn a bad attitude around?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Long Overdue

Hey! My poem was nominated as a finalist in the most recent Amazing Lace challenge. Head on over to the Amazing Lace, check out the other finalists, and vote for your favorite!

Before we return to more current knitting content (there's gotta be some . . . somewhere), I've been very overdue in posting about two yarn stores I visited when I was on vacation in June. I know that I always look for yarn shop reviews when I'm traveling to a new area, so I hope these will help someone planning a future trip.

Near my parents' home in Southern Minnesota is the college town of St. Peter, home of Gustavus Adolphus College. It's also the home of a great natural foods store and deli, and of one of my favorite yarn shops, The Tangled Skein. Unfortunately, they don't have a website, and their location on a side street (217 W. Park Row) means you kind of have to know they're there. This small but cozy shop is definitely worth seeking out, though.

The Tangled Skein has a great selection of Rowan yarns, and a wide variety of other higher-end yarns--they had a beautiful selection of Malabrigo, including some colors I had not seen elsewhere. Their sock yarn selection is worth perusing, as is their collection of books and magazines (they had all the back issues of Rowan's magazine from the last several years, as well as issues of Rebecca). The array of novelty yarns was a bit more than I cared for, and the knitted samples they had on display weren't necessarily to my taste, but there's certainly enough other options to keep knitters busy here. My sister picked up two gorgeous skeins of Araucania's new yarn, Quellon, to make a scarf. I got some self-striping sock yarn. The staff is extremely friendly and approachable (it's Minnesota, of course they're friendly), engaging customers in conversation or letting them browse, depending on the preference of the customer. I look forward to visiting this shop whenever I'm back in Southern Minnesota.

When I visited the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on my trip, I was surprised that there weren't more yarn shops in the area. Apparently the large town of Marquette has a couple of nice shops (we didn't make it down there), but otherwise the area is pretty much lacking in yarn shopping. I actually found one shop by accident, since it's more of a fabric store than a yarn shop. It's called Sew Irresistible Creations, and it's located right on the main drag in Houghton, Michigan (407 Sheldon Ave.).

The store is divided into two halves; one is dedicated to a decent selection of fabrics (I pretty much ignored this section, since we all know I don't sew). The other half is devoted to yarn. The yarn selection was kind of all over the map--primarily low- to mid-range yarns (Plymouth, Lion Brand, etc.), but with a surprisingly good selection of sock yarn. I almost bought yarn to make Germany-flag socks like these, but I resisted. Maybe if I hadn't, the World Cup would have ended up differently--who knows?

The best thing about this store, though, is the way they have the samples on display. Knitted samples, the books or pattern leaflets they come from, and the yarn they're knitted with are all displayed together (or at least in close proximity). Is it just me, or is this a really obvious sales strategy that many yarn shops overlook? It seems like half the time, I'll spot a cute knitted sample, and even if they have the yarn and pattern details on a tag (which isn't always the case), finding the yarn and pattern still involves a scavenger hunt through the store and/or the assistance of one or more store employees. Sew Irresistible made it so much easier for customers to really use those samples to get inspired.

Speaking of inspiration, I'm zipping through my newest project, which, as I suspected, was exactly what I needed to get excited about knitting again. I'll have pictures tomorrow.

Monday, July 10, 2006

An Advertisement for Blocking

If anyone ever needed to be convinced of the near-magical properties of blocking one's knitting, this photo might help do the trick:

On the left you see the "before" picture--a placemat-to-be prior to blocking--looks more like a dishcloth, right? On the right you see the results of a warm bath, some blocking pins, and some serious elbow grease (this was aggressive blocking by necessity--more on that to come in a future post).

It's no secret that I've been frustrated by knitting lately . . . and this set of placemats is a big part of the reason. Again, I'll explain all in a future post, as soon as the last placemat is finished blocking and I can get some pictures of the full ensemble. I'm happy with the results, but the actual knitting was more of a trial than it should have been.

I've also started a new project that I think will help me turn the corner and get excited about knitting again . . . more on that to come.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

It's All Downhill from Here

It always seems like the Fourth of July is the high point of summer. Sure, it's only been a couple of weeks since the summer solstice, but every year it happens--starting with the Fourth of July, the weeks of summer just seem to slip away until before you know it, we're on to Labor Day, changing leaves, and sweater weather.

Well, this year, I'll be ready:

That's right. Ribby Cardi is . . . finally . . . finished. I did wear it--sans zipper--on my June trip to the Upper Peninsula, where sweater weather never really disappears. When I returned, my zipper had arrived, and all I had to do was wait a week for it to be installed (install it myself? You've got to be kidding me.).

Here are the details:

Pattern: Ribby Cardi

Yarn: Elann's Peruvian Highland Wool, color 0408 (Nutmeg Heather) for the sleeves and color 0616 (Redwood) for the body

Zipper: color S854 from Zipperstop

Started: a long, long time ago (you know? I honestly can't remember. I ordered the yarn in November of 2004 . . . )

Finished: 7/3/06

Comments: I'm really happy with how this sweater turned out. The colors look good together, and given how often I used it on my trip last month, I know it's the kind of cardigan I'll be reaching for often on those chilly fall days and late summer evenings. I did change a few things about the pattern, namely adding several inches in length to both the body and the sleeves. I'm quite pleased with the fit (I made the 36" size), even though it's a bit roomier than many of my sweaters, but that offers more flexibility for layering--it would even work as a light jacket. I would definitely make it again, and I'm already toying with the idea of making another one in all charcoal gray.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Independence Day!

Please forgive me for a little digression . . . Now, I know this isn't a political blog, but anyone who knows me knows that I've been a little down in the dumps about where this country's headed for, oh, the past six years or so, and that I've talked seriously about heading to Nova Scotia if a certain Presidential brother wins the White House in 2008 (Canada: Anne of Green Gables, sheep, and socialized medicine--what's not to like?).

So there I was on Saturday, at Tanglewood, after a lovely day of touring one of the most beautiful sections of New England, having a wonderful dinner with friends, and making a short visit to one of the region's premier yarn shops. I was there to see my fellow Minnesotan, Garrison Keillor, and to attend my first ever live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion. The evening was a celebration of all things American--American music, American poetry, Meryl Streep.

The show itself was wonderful--funny and sweet and sad at the same time--but the most amazing moments came after the "official" show was over. Garrison returned to the stage and led us--all of us--in a singalong of "America the Beautiful," "Amazing Grace," and other traditional songs. We didn't all know the words, we didn't all sing in tune, but we all sang, more or less together, these songs that all of us have in common. Seeing this amazing array of Americans--from the wealthy ladies in white slacks just starting their summer season in the Berkshires to teens with dyed hair playing Frisbee on the lawn to men sporting ponytails and handmade "Bow Hunter" belts--singing those songs together gave me an odd kind of hope and an undeniable gratitude for this country's energy, diversity, and resilience.

So, happy Independence Day. I plan to spend the day doing two things most Americans couldn't care less about: reading a novel and watching World Cup soccer. All of us in Boston are hoping the weather holds out for tonight's fireworks celebration. Have a wonderful celebration, wherever you are.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Amazing Lace Challenge #3: Poetry (or, rather, Parody)

Completely lacking in originality, I am forced to resort to parody for my next entry in the Amazing Lace Challenge. With abject apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I present my entry. Actually, I like to think that old Betsy wouldn't mind too much--doesn't it look like she's wearing a fichu of her own in this picture?

How do I knit thee? Let me count the ways.
I knit thee to the depth and breadth and height
My needles reach. Sometimes I knit too tight
Or sometimes loose—my gauge is a disgrace.
I knit thee all my nights and all my days,
At frantic speed, by sun and candle-light.
I knit thee with teeth clenched, as if in spite;
I knit thee till my eyes cross, weep, and glaze.
At times I’ve got the fichu-knitting blues
but I will persevere, for I have faith.
I knit thee though on every row I lose
Or gain a stitch --- I’m growing out of breath . . .
Just look at all these holes! I’m so confused--
I swear, though, I will knit thee—to the death