Marsha Knits

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Name: Marsha Brofka-Berends
Location: US

Marsha knits . . . and reads and cooks and edits and gardens and hikes and thinks and eats and photographs and sings and writes and travels and plans and hopes and . . .

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Thanks to a friend who was working as a research scientist at HP in Palo Alto and had very good connections in the tech-geek community, I was lucky enough to get a Gmail account shortly after the beta was opened. (This was in the days when you had to be invited by a current Gmail user, and some unscrupulous folks were actually selling Gmail invitations on eBay for scads of money! Gah...) I don't put much stock in Google-as-Big-Brother paranoia (after all, keep in mind that nothing of an especially sensitive nature should be sent via e-mail, regardless of what client you're using) and think that Gmail is in the same category of Great Things as pirate music for kids. I used to be a hardcore Yahoo user but abandoned that account for personal mail once it got all spamified. But I still use it for Internet orders and website registrations, so I check in on it every once in a while.

I popped into Yahoo today and found a link to this amazing video (it has music, so be sure your sound is on):

Yes, that's right: it's a grown-up playing in a sandbox. Obviously, she's moved way beyond the shovel-and-pail techniques employed by toddlers. It's neat to see how one image unpredictably segues into another. I didn't spot an overarching narrative theme here (maybe "Happy, peaceful world"?), though, and the lack of narrative means that something like this won't really keep my interest for long periods of time. (Pretty pictures are nice, but I do want a story that goes somewhere.) The length of this video is just right for me.

Like it? Want to see more? Check out the artist's website.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Utterly brilliant

I do not own a swift or ball winder. Most of the time, I don't really mind winding yarn by hand--there's a meditative quality to it that's missing from most day-to-day activities. Every once in a while, though, creating a tangle or working with laceweight (which goes on forever) makes me wonder if a swift and winder would be good investments. Then I remember that a set of this would set me back about $100--and that's just for the plain vanilla versions, not for something made of exotic wood or handmade by peasant artisans in the French Alps or anything like that.

I just heard about this idea: using Tinker Toys to make a swift. How cool is that? Pretty cool, I say (even without pirates). I think I need to get myself some Tinker Toys...

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Reality-defying cuteness

Lots of knitters have cats. It's almost uncanny how cat-centric the knitting world seems to be. Need proof? Check it out.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Better than sliced bread

Yes, it's that cool.

Jan and I are always on the lookout for "kids music that won't drive parents and other adults insane." I am horrified to admit that my house contains its share of Raffi CDs. Sylvia likes them all right, but she seems to prefer kids music along the lines of They Might Be Giants, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Burl Ives, all of whom have recorded "kids music that won't drive parents and other adults insane--unless said parents and adults can't stand alternative or folk music, of course."

Several months ago, I heard of Captain Bogg and Salty, a band from Portland, Oregon, a kids-music band that sings pirate-themed songs. OH MY DOG (as our friend Gina likes to say). We celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day in this house, so finding music along those lines has been a real treat. Sylvia got one of their CDs for Christmas (after her parents dropped several hints to Santa)--it matches the three different toy pirate ships she has--and we're planning to get the rest for her collection soon.

They even have a music video, which you can check out here. Arrrrrr!

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Sunday, January 21, 2007


Last Thursday my local knitting group had its monthly non-coffee-shop meeting, and one member taught the rest of us how to knit toe-up socks.

I have been looking forward to learning this technique for quite some time. I knit my first one-and-a-half socks last winter using the top-down technique in The Purl Stitch by Sally Melville. Melville's instructions (and accompanying photographs) are usually quite clear and easy to understand, but for some reason the sock section didn't quite "click" with me. For me, at least, it seems that this was something I needed to learn in person, so I could ask questions and work out my trouble spots before they become bad habits.

So here's what I've done so far! I'm using some Simple Stripes yarn from KnitPicks that I bought on clearance last year. I'm really loving the colorway here: brown, mauve,'s right up my alley. As you can see, I'm knitting both socks at the same time. Pat, the person who taught this technique and a walking encyclopedia of knitting knowledge, very strongly suggested that everyone do this--partly to ensure that you don't run out of yarn, partly so you don't forget the little tweaks you do en route but never write down (what I learned in graduate school to call "headnotes"), and partly so you maintain momentum finish a whole pair of socks and don't end up with One Sock Syndrome (or, in my case, One-and-a-Half Socks Syndrome).

As it turns out, another one of the group's walking enclopedias of knitting (we are blessed with several!), Elizabeth, gave out sock yarn to everyone during the meeting. She has one of those yarn stashes that's the stuff of legend and decided to take this opportunity to reduce it a bit (presumably to pave the way for future yarn purchases--heh!). I came home with this lovely ball of predominantly blue-gray-green Opal yarn, which I am looking forward to turning into a pair of soon as I finish this pair!

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Winter knitting

Winter has finally arrived, after battling its way through the unseasonable crazy-warm temperatures we've been having for the last couple of months. If you want to do some cold-weather knitting, but are tired of simple hats and scarves, nervous about thumbs for mittens and gloves, and reluctant to commit to a big sweater, then wrist warmers (a.k.a. fingerless gloves with holes for your thumbs to stick out) might be just the ticket. Here's a handy-dandy page that generates a pattern for you when you type in your wrist circumference, gauge, and needle size. This could be a great way to use up some stash yarn!

And if you're saying to yourself, "Hey! I want to knit more hats! And I have no fear of thumbs!" then this may be the pattern for you.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Booting the booties

A friend of mine recently announced that she's expecting her first child in June. I'll be meeting her for lunch later this week, so last week I thought it might be nice to whip up a pair of baby booties as a congratulations-for-being-pregnant gift. Baby booties have always struck me as extremely impractical and fairly useless, but, gosh, they can be pretty cute. And I've never knit any before, so I figured this was a good time to make my first pair. I used the pattern in Baby Knits for Beginners by Debbie Bliss, though not the yarn (her own, of course) she calls for; instead I substituted a similar weight merino (in a nice coppery-brown color) that I had on hand.

I cast on this sucker four times. That's not a huge deal, because these things are so tiny, but it was annoying. The entire pattern is in seed stitch, and I had some trouble with the "increase one stitch on each end of ever other row" part--my seed stitch kept getting messed up, no matter how careful I was. Each shoe is knit in one piece, so I persevered through the first section, the sole. But when I started shaping the toe and heel, it was pretty obvious that my bootie was not looking like Debbie's bootie (her book has a photo of a completely knit but not yet sewn up bootie). I read her instructions six times, rechecked my work, and looked for errata (none for this pattern). Either I am completely unable to understand her pattern, or the writeup is incorrect and she hasn't fixed it yet.

"That's it," I said. "I'm frogging this." What a relief to put this project behind me. As for my mommy-to-be friend...well, I think I'll just give her a book.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Clowning around

Okay, so it's a jester hat, but a clown hat. But "Jestering around" just doesn't work, clowns aren't identified with particular headgear, and both clowns and jesters are professional entertainers. So it works. Mostly.

I just finished a three-pointed jester hat (mostly of my own design) for my brother. It was done in KnitPicks Yarn of the Andes (Red, Blue Bonnet, and Coal), and size 6 or 7 needles. (I don't remember exactly, and I've been lousy about keeping good knitting notes. Maybe that should be added to my list of resolutions...) It was intended to be a Christmas gift, but I didn't finish it in time. He doesn't know about it (and doesn't read this blog), so it'll be a surprise when he gets it. Since he lives in a Manhattan apartment with a mailbox the size of a package of a airline peanuts (when they bother to give them out--on my last four flights, there was no food at all, not even those lousy peanuts), I'll be sending this to his office, which is a super-corporate high-falutin' place. Ten bucks says he opens the box and puts on the hat right away, just to epater le bourgeois.

Here's Sylvia modeling the finished product. It's a little big on her (natch--she's a baby, after all). She was in a hat-wearing mood and popped Medusa on her head, so I snapped a photo of that, too.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Anyone else out there thinking about joining the "We Call Them Pirates" knitalong? Members of this group are going to knit the We Call Them Pirates Hat (free pattern at Hello Yarn), the matching mittens, or anything else using the We Call Them Pirates motif.

It's a two-color pattern with the yarn carried throughout and would be my first foray into fairisle. This is one technique I've been interested in trying (okay, I'll 'fess up: there's no knitting technique that I'm not interested in trying--except maybe steeks, which scare the crap out of me). And it's a pirate cool is that?

Signups end 15 January, and projects should be completed by 15 March.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mandarin ducklings jumping out of a tree

The title really does say it all. I can't add anything else.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

New Year's resolutions

Resolved: that the federal government implement a comprehensive program to guarantee retirement security for U.S. citizens over age 65.

Oh, wait--that was the National Debate Topic resolution from my senior year of high school. Funny how some things just stick on your head. From high school, the thing I remember best is this NDT topic, which I can rattle off at breakneck-nonstop-breathless speed (as all NDT debating is was never about comprehensibility or cleverness, just about having more evidence cards than your opponent). What I remember best from college is my social security number. To this day, whenever someone asks me for the last four digits of my social security number (one of those verify-your-identity things that insurance companies, mobile-phone carriers, etc., do these days), I have to say the whole thing in my head first.

I generally don't make New Year's resolutions (though this year I am awfully tempted to adopt Mei's approach). I edit my fix-my-life list year-round and don't need a calendar date to tell me when it's time to add more stuff to it. Recently, however, I've thought of a couple things I want to work on, and since the thinking-of-them part coincides roughly with the hangin of a new calendar on the wall, I guess they could be called resolutions of sorts.

1. I want to learn how to use my camera. I've long been interested in photography and have an intuitive sense of it, but I really don't understand how my equipment works. When I was snapping away with my much-beloved Pentax K1000 (an all-metal all-manual workhorse that has been dropped more times than I can count and still works great), I didn't have too many buttons and settings to mess with. I took a few photography classes that emphasized darkroom technique over composition and learned a lot. But I've gone totally digital since then (until I manage to build a darkroom in my basement), and there's a lot to learn. After a few years of using a Kodak point-and-shoot, I got an Olympus SLR last spring (love it!), and for Christmas my brother gave me a flash for it. So now I need to read all the manuals for this stuff (yes, I skipped those in my eagerness to start snapping away) and maybe mess around with some photo-editing software.

2. I want to drink more water. No, I'm not being flip: I've just always been pretty bad at maintaining good self-hydration levels. So I want to remember to drink more.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The jig is up!

Take one U.S. Postal Service requirement that senders include their full names and addresses on all packages with international destinations.

Add an ability to connect the dots.

Stir well.

The result? An SP9 spoilee who's figured out who her pal is.

No, it's not me. (I still don't know who my spoiler is. The only clues I have are that she lives in California and is a fellow vegetarian.) My spoilee, Regg, lives in Singapore, so when I sent her first package back in early November, she quickly found out who I was and managed to track down my blog. (We discussed this via e-mail last month, but I'm just now getting around to blogging about it.) Funny thing is, her knowing who I am doesn't detract from the fun of SP9 at all! I am still having a great time chatting with her about knitting (there are some lovely projects featured on her blog), her upcoming wedding, and lots of other stuff! So pop on over to her blog and say hello!

Friday, January 05, 2007

More holiday treats

Here's an overdue thank you to my friends Gina and Todd, who gave me some very excellent knitting-themed Christmas gifts from Vermont's Green Mountain Spinnery! (I'm not sure why this photo insists on being turned sideways. Either think of it as an artsy photograph or, if that gives you a headache, just tilt your head to get the proper orientation.) I visited Green Mountain Spinnery last August and fell in love with all of their yarns. It was hard to walk out of there with just five skeins of Cotton Comfort (which is being made into a kimono-style sweater for Sylvia right now) and four skeins of Sylvia Spirit--I really wanted to load up the car with everything I could carry. But now I have even more of their yarn to play with--three skeins of Double Twist (Potpourri color)--and The Green Mountain Spinnery Knitting Book to give me lots of ideas!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Irregular knitting

The Irregular Webcomic started on 31 December 2002 and was named because the author, though intending to publish one daily, didn't want to totally bound by that rule. (Interestingly, though, he has missed only two days since April 2003!) Using Lego figures and occasionally roleplaying figures, he manages to skewer pretty much every "geek" genre--pirates, Star Wars, fantasy, Martians, and Harry Potter, among others. (You can see the whole list here and here.) On an interesting side note, the author has also made the comics available in a format for visually impaired people, so screen-reader software can read the text aloud to them. Nice.

Today's installment features knitting and pirates. It's hard to get much cooler than that.

Wait--does this mean that knitting is cool, or that it's so geeky that it's now worthy of the attention of the Irregular Webcomic? Hmmm...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

All done!

Shortly after I started knitting about four years ago, I bought Baby Knits for Beginners by Debbie Bliss. At the time I had no clue that Sylvia would be in my future, but I wanted to knit baby stuff (since it's small) and had plenty of new-parent friends to give it to. My LYS at the time was a fifteen-minute walk from my office, and one day during my lunch break I found five balls of chocolate brown (same dye lot!) Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino for four bucks a ball. I started on a cardigan with seed-stitch edging in Bliss's book, and got as far as the entire back piece (which is a rectangle) and half of one of the front pieces. Then I put this sweater down and got distracted by other projects for a few years...

...until several months ago, when I rediscovered this yarn in one of the many tote-bags-as-project-bags in my closet. I resolved to finish the sweater in time for Sylvia to wear it this winter. I actually finished all of the knitting and seaming back in October, but was nervous about blocking (since I had never blocked anything before) and put it off for another two months. I finally blocked it in mid-December and took it to my local knitting group's monthly non-coffee-house gathering (we meet once a month at a local community center, and once a month at Starbucks) for advice on sewing on the buttons. We discovered that I'd somehow neglected to make a buttonhole for the button at the very top, but everyone at the meeting said not to worry about it: "Toddlers hate having those top buttons closed, anyway!" I sewed on all of the buttons that night, and Sylvia wore the sweater the next day and during our trip to Illinois over Christmas weekend.

Considering that I did not knit a gauge swatch for this (I started it back in my reckless "Gauge swatch? We don't need no stinkin' gauge swatch!" days), it fits pretty well. The sleeves are a bit long, though. One day I will get over my fear of having too-short sleeves and bind them off when I'm supposed to rather than knit several extra "just in case" rows. But for now, her sleeves get rolled up. With luck, the sweater will still fit next year!

I know I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: I love this yarn. I love the colors it comes in, and I love working with it. So far, I've used it for one blanket, one cardigan, and one pullover sweater--all three in baby sizes. One day, I'd like to make something for myself in this yarn. It's not cheap, though, so that would be a pretty decadent project!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Knitting numbers

Last week's issue of Science News Online featured an article about mathematicians who are using knitting and crocheting to depict mathematically complex surfaces.

The images in this article are stunning, though I have to admit that I skimmed the text--math is not my forte. (It's actually in the category of "things that hurt my brain.")

I've more or less gotten the hang of the Moebius scarf (I completed my second one right before Christmas, in time to give as a gift to my mother-in-law...but unfortunately I neglected to get a photo of it before she took it home) and I understand how a Klein bottle works (but haven't dared try to knit one yet), but this other stuff is way beyond me. The article mentions that a book of patterns is due out this spring, though, so maybe that will include explanations that I can understand.