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 . . .

01 June 2007

Going in circles with your circulars?

Thanks to my SP10, I finally have a super-cool case for my circular needles. Those of you who aren't so fortunate to count her among your pals might want to take a look at this tutorial for making a circular-needle case out of an old hardcover book. Very, very cool!

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29 May 2007

My stash

My SP10 hostess, Kerry, has asked everyone in her group to post a stash photo. Here's mine, arrayed on the futon in our guest room. It's not huge (certainly not compared to some people's stashes...ahem!), but there's more yarn here than I remember owning. Well, that's no entirely accurate: as I unpacked the giant plastic box where I store this stuff, I remembered each ball of yarn as I encountered it, but I couldn't remember all of it without seeing it. Does that make sense? Everything is kept in ziploc bags, mostly so the balls of yarn don't agitate each other and start to unravel and get tangled (yes, the use of ziploc bags here was the result of a Bad Yarn Experience). I thought about it organizing the yarn by type, but then I realized that if I did that I'd have one pile with three sets of sock yarn (I have thus far managed to avoid the Sock Yarn Lust that usually afflicts sock knitters) and a big jumble of Everything Else.

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28 May 2007

Sock update

I did it! Earlier this month, I finished my first pair of socks! I used Simple Stripes from KnitPicks--a yarn that they've discontinued, which is unfortunate because I think it has a beautiful pattern. These were done in the toe-up pattern that my friend Pat taught me. (She is blogless but really ought to get blogging, because she knows a lot about knitting and is a a great photographer. She's knitting a pair of socks each month this year--among other projects--and you can see her progress here.) Aside from a little wonkiness on one heel flap (I somehow picked up ten extra stitches on the first sock, but everything came out perfectly on the second), I think these turned out nicely. Well, except for one thing. Look closely. See the complete and utter lack of ribbing on the top of the sock? Yup. Once I got past the heel, I was so relieved that I just kept knitting merrily along. I should, in my defense, point out that most of this ribless knitting took place among fellow knitters who didn't say a word to me about it. Not that I'm trying to blame them. I just think it's funny that about ten of us failed to notice or realize what I was doing until I had bound off both socks. The socks are a little "slouchier" than ideal. And, as it turns out, they are also a little big for my feet. So, as much as I'd like to keep them for myself (I love this colorway...and they are my first socks), I'll be giving them to someone else. In the meantime, I've started my second pair of socks. And you'll see that no only did I remember the ribbing, but I started it (on the instep only) right after the toe increases. Gotta make up for all that ribbing I left out of the last socks...

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25 May 2007

Market bag madness

Last year, my friend Gina knit a market bag from a free pattern she found online. (She even used the yarn called for in the pattern!) It turned out great, and she has since knit a few more. At the beginning of this month, I got the market-bag itch myself and proceeded to crank out three of these suckers in quick succession, making some slight modifications to the original pattern. The first one, knit in four different colors of leftover dishcloth cotton, ended up with handles that were far too long for my liking. The original pattern called for 20-stitch-long handles. Gina did this on her first bag, and I thought the handles were a bit short. So I decided to extend them...a lot. In a burst of overzealous handle-making I cast on one hundred stitches for each handle. The result doesn't work for me...but turned out to be just right for Katie, to whom I gave the bag (though I left the ends for her to weave in). The second bag I made, the green one on the right here, was knit in Shine Worsted; the third bag, knit from dishcloth cotton, is slightly shorter because I was experimenting with length in an effort to find the right balance between "big enough to be useful at the farmers' market" and "not so big that it bounces off my butt when I walk." Both of these are planned as gifts for swap partners. This is a great pattern and one that's extremely easy to remember. Somewhere between one and a half and two balls of dishcloth cotton is what you'll need for this, so it's by no means an expensive project. And the best part is there's no seaming, grafting, Kitchener stitching, or whatever (though you do have to pick up some stitches around the flat base...).

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19 May 2007

Summer Knitting

The "official" start of summer, Memorial Day weekend, is just a week away. So it's only fitting that I just came across a contest about summer knitting. Ali at Skeins Her Way has asked people to post a list of their summer knitting projects by the end of this month. The winner gets a copy of her new pattern (for an awfully cute-looking tank) and the yarn for it. My own list is fairly modest:
  • Another (my second!) pair of toe-up socks.
  • A Wonderful Wallaby for my daughter.
  • The Artisan Vest in the Green Mountain Spinnery book. (I can't start this one until my friend and knitting guru, Pat, helps me size the pattern down to fit me.)
I'm sure I'll get interested in some other projects along the way and maybe even start some of them. But right now, as the advent of summer nears, this is what's on my plate.

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10 May 2007

Another swap

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across the Knitting Gnome Swap. It's a one-time swap: someone sends you a box in the mail that contains, well, a gnome and some knitting-related goodies. You keep the goodies, give the gnome a tour of your town, write about your adventures (with pictures, ideally!) in your blog, then send the gnome (with knitting-related goodies) to the next person on the list. This sounded like way too much fun, so I signed up right away. The matches have been sent out. I've written to the person "downstream" of me (i.e., the person I'll be sending stuff to), and today I got an e-card from the person who will have the gnome before me. I have no idea when the gnome will be headed my way--the waiting is part of fun!

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08 May 2007

Happy birthday to me

Yupper, today is my birthday--just two days after Sylvia's. Two years ago, when we were anxiously waiting for her to hurry up and get born already, Jan and I were worried that she'd end up sharing my birthday, which also happened to land on Mother's Day that year. Talk about a triple whammy. Fortunately, she arrived two days earlier (one week after her due date), thus ensuring that she gets her very own birthday--which I think is important, since it's awfully nice to have a birthday that's your own special day, don't you think? In addition to the niceness of having family around to celebrate my birthday, I was also fortunate enough to receive several wonderful gifts, many of which were knitting/craft related. Simple Sewing: Patterns and How-To for 24 Fresh and Easy Projects by Lotta Jansdotter and Knitted Flowers by Nicky Epstein now grace my bookshelves, and a tote with seventeen (yes, that's right--seventeen) pockets on the outside alone will insure that I don't lose my crafting supplies. My friends Gina and Todd gave me a Louet kit for handpainting sock yarn. It contains some incredibly soft wool sock yarn (enough for a pair), three different color-coordinated dyes, and--thank goodness--instructions. I am very much looking forward to trying this! Last but not least, my Dutch father-in-law gave me a terrific set of knitting supplies. He doesn't know anything about knitting, so he went to his local yarn store, a place called Charmant that's in the next town over from his, and said, "I want to get something for someone who knits." Fortunately, he was helped by someone who knew what they were doing (though I'm not surprised--I've been to this shop and was very impressed by how knowledgeable the staff were). She guided him toward the spring/summer 2007 issue of Babymode (Phildar No. 465), a set of 3.5mm needles (which is what most of the patterns call for), and twelve balls of a very soft cotton-acrylic blend Dutch yarn that's pretty indistinguishable from Rowan All-Season Cotton. There are lots of great patterns in here. I'm especially looking forward to making the two-toned cardigan with the tomten hood. Unfortunately, all of the written instructions are in Dutch--which I don't read or speak. But I'm hoping that with the help of the pictures and schematics (not to mention Babelfish) I can figure them out!

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22 April 2007

A knitalong for two

Ever since SP9 ended, my spoiler, Lynnette, and I have kept in touch. One thing we discovered is that we're both new to lace knitting--"new" as in "haven't done it before but would really like to." We also discovered that we both have a fondness for dragons. "Hey," we thought, "wouldn't it be fun to do a lace project together?" After a few e-mails back and forth to discuss several possible patterns (the "Heere Be Dragone" shawl was mentioned but quickly determined to be not-a-good-idea-for-a-first-lace-project), we finally settled on the Dragon-Scale Scarf from Heritage Yarns. By coincidence, we both started our scarves at the same time (around Easter weekend), but house-related concerns (and not having the scarf and my camera anywhere near each other whenever I thought to take a picture of the thing) have kept me from posting about it until now. As you can see, I'm nearly two feet into it (I started a new skein at about eighteen inches). I've opted for a heavier yarn than the pattern calls for: I'm using the fabulous Patons SWS that Lynnette gave me, and I love how the scarf is turning out. The pattern's twelve-row repeat isn't difficult but is interesting enough to keep me from getting bored! I doubt that I'll be ready for Heere Be Dragone after this, but maybe one day, after I get a lot more lace knitting under my belt!

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19 April 2007

Speaking of friends...

By happy coincidence, I have reason to write up another "wow, my friends are great" post. In this case, the friend didn't give me much-needed decorating advice but sent me yarn. About two weeks ago, Beth, my roommate from college, called to let me know that her local yarn store was having a mega-sale. Would I like anything? she asked. I was sorely tempted but opted to save my pennies this time. Apparently, she decided to take matters into her own hands: in the mail a few days ago I received a package full of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino. Now, I love this yarn. I've raved about it here before, and Beth and I have had extensive discussions on the subject. And now I have a lot of it. In addition to the four skeins of peach, two skeins of sage green, and two skeins of chocolate brown that Beth sent, I have one skein of chocolate brown (leftover from the cardigan I made for Sylvia) and three skeins of red (from JD). That's twelve whole skeins of this stuff! So what should I do with it? I'd love to hear suggestions! I think it would be fun to use it all in one project (though I suspect the red may be a bit too bright to go with the others). A striped sweater? Some sort of intarsia thingamabob?

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13 April 2007

Just what I needed

My SP10 sent me a note the other telling me to watch the mail for a surprise. In an amazing display of perfect timing, it arrived yesterday--a delightful package of goodies to lift my spirits after a day of home fix-it tasks (including wallpaper removal--ugh). The contents included a woolly little sheep tape measure--just what I needed, 'cause Sylvia likes to "measure" things with my knitting tapes and hide them all over the house. Interestingly, everything she measure is declared to be either "two" or "five." I'm hoping this new tape measure will be a bit more accurate! :) Also included was a package of B'Loonies (you use the enclosed mini-straws to blow tubes of goo into funky balloons!), a package of thyme herbal bath powder (fabulous!), and a bar of verbena soap. This last item is incredibly fragrant--I really wish Blogger had a built-in smell-o-scope or something (scratch-and-sniff blog posts, anyone?) so you could smell it. A cheery note explained the last item in the package: a miniature hank of yarn spun by my SP10 herself! It's so darn cute, too. I love the mushroomy color, and I'm eager to know the story behind this yarn. Thanks, SP10! This really made my day!

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08 April 2007

A birthday Moebius

Last November, I learned how to knit a Moebius using Cat Bordhi's cast-on. The result was a lot longer and thinner than what I expected--not really my style as far as scarves go, but Sylvia loves it, so it's hers now. I knit another Moebius in December as a Christmas gift for my mother-in-law. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of it before I gave it to her, so all I can do here is describe it. I used three balls of KnitPicks Suri Dream (in Atlantic), cast on 80 stitches (160 if you could the top and bottom stitches separately), and knit until I ran out of yarn. The result was a scarf that hung down to my waist, could be worn as a double loop, and was wide enough that one loop could be pulled over the top of the head as an impromptu hood. I was working on that scarf when I had my annual checkup at the satellite office (in my town) for the Birth Center. (The birth center itself is about forty-five minutes from my house.) The midwife who saw me on that day, Nancy, was the same one who'd been with Jan and me when Sylvia was born at the Birth Center in May 2005. She's not a knitter but is new to crocheting, and she was pretty interested in the scarf I was working on. I like her tremendously, and I decided then that I was going to make one for her as a surprise. I ordered the yarn for it now long after, but various other projects have kept me from starting it until this weekend, when Jan, Sylvia, and I visited his mom (who lives three hours away) for a couple of days. I started with 50 (100) stitches and knit for about two inches, but it was turning out much longer than I wanted. I was aiming for a short, fits-around-the-neck thing, so I started over with 35 (70) stitches, which turned out to be perfect. I cast on with #9 needles, knit one row and purled one row, then switched the right needle only to a #11 (keeping a smaller needle on the left, so the yarn would pass over it easier--this is a tip I just learned from my friend Beth, who read it in Bordhi's book). I used one entire skein of KnitPicks Suri Dream Hand-Dyed (in the Falling Leaves color), and the whole thing took only about three or four hours. The large stitches give the scarf an airiness, but the alpaca and wool--along with the width of the scarf--make it warm indeed. I love how this turned out, and I hope Nancy likes it, too! I'm going to put it in the mail to her this week. It will get to her too late for this winter...but just in time for Sylvia's second birthday!

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06 April 2007

A week of knitting

Last night my local knitting ground met at a coffee shop for our first-Tuesday-of-the-month not-at-the-community-center get-together. (On the third Thursday of the month, we are at the community center.) I had finished the heel flaps on both of my toe-up socks, so I was all ready for Pat to help me through the next step: picked up stitches on the sides of the heel flap and making the ninety-degree turn that makes sock knitting so freaky and mysterious. It went quite well...or so I thought. When I came home, I finished up one sock and discovered that I'd picked up about ten more stitches than I should have. Oops. I sent Pat a "oh crap, what do I do now?" e-mail about it this morning, and fortunately she was able to tell me how to fix it by decreasing before I start knitting the round top part. I'll have to be extra-careful when I do the heel on my second sock, now that I know that my subconscious wants to pick up way more stitches than are good for me. These socks aren't going to be a perfectly matched pair...but hey, they are my first real socks, and besides, all of these "idiosyncracies" are what make handknits so charming, right? Right? Yesterday I also finished up the front of the pullover vest I'm knitting for a baby that's due in mid-June. The top part looks kind of weird to me...like a halter top gone bad or something. I'm supposed to block it before seaming, and I'm wondering if blocking will smooth out the profile a bit. But I'm also wondering if I should rip it down to the base of the v and try again, this time modifying the pattern a bit to get wider "straps" up the sides. (I followed the pattern exactly as written this time.) What do you think? Any suggestions?

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01 April 2007

A zig and a zag

Via Craft I found this fun project: Tricia at Bits and Bobbins has posted a "pattern" for a fun and funky zigzag scarf. I say "pattern" because her instructions have a lot of "however you want to do it" flavor to them--which isn't a bad thing, 'cause this project could have a gazillion variations. This looks like a great project for using up odds and ends of stash yarn (which is what Tricia is doing). And if you don't have enough yarn in your stash to get the variety of color and texture that you'd like...well, there's a good reason (as if one is needed!) to do some yarn shopping.

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31 March 2007

More knitting for babies

Since finishing the boatneck sweater for Liza's (May) baby, I've been working on a vest sweater for Megan's (June) baby. The pattern is from Natural Knits for Babies and Moms: Beautiful Designs Using Organic Yarns, by Louisa Harding. (I'm substituting a decidedly nonorganic yarn: KnitPicks Shine Worsted in Terra Cotta. I do love working with this stuff!) It's a fairly simple pattern--nearly all stockinette, with garter-stitch "stripes" at regular intervals. I completed the back last Thursday evening while knitting with two friends at bookstore/cafe, and since then I've already finished one-third of the front.

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29 March 2007

No baaaaaaaad yarn here

Interweave Knits is hosting two events to celebrate their publication of Amy Singer's No Sheep for You: Knit Happy with Cotton, Silk, Linen, Hemp, Bamboo, and Other Delights this month. The first is a No Sheep for You knitalong. The second event is the "No Sheep Secret Pal Skein Swap": each participant sends two skeins of nonwool yarn (one in June and one in July) to his or her pal. I happen to be a huge fan of wool, but for those of you who aren't keen on wool or are allergic to it (or are knitting for non-wool-lovers), this book and these two events might be worth checking out!

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28 March 2007

End-of-winter knitting tidbits

For the last days of this winter (or for next winter, if you're planning ahead), try these knitted pants for little ones. Just in time for Easter (for those of you who celebrate it)--and for anyone who thinks that baby chicks are too darn cute--use this pattern to knit a whole flock of 'em. This random stripe generator gives you an idea of what a stripe pattern will look like before you start your knitting. When I get plastic shopping bags from the grocery store, I return them on my next trip there so they can be recycled. Lately, though, I've been hoarding my bags and cutting them apart to make "yarn" from them. (My plan is to use them to knit--oh, irony!--some sort of market bag out of them.) I made up my own technique for slicing and connecting the bags, but this one is much better. If you find your hands or arms cramping up while you knit, you might want to give these square knitting needles a try. I bet they're also useful for people who are tired of chasing after runaway needles rolling off tables... The Spring 2007 Knitty has a great article on creating your own handpainted yarn. There's some KnitPicks Bare in my stash that's just waiting for me to give it a splash of color... I've used the long-tail cast-on only a couple of times (when a pattern specifically required it), and I've never really cottoned to it. After looking at this video from Knit Like a Man, I may give it another try. Via Craft, these skull-patterned stockings may interest those of you who want to get a jump on your Halloween knitting.

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24 March 2007

SP10 just launched...

...and look what's already happened! A few days ago, my SP10 sent me an e-mail warning me to watch my mail. When yesterday's mail arrived, I could see why: she sent me a package! Yes, that's right--sock yarn! Her accompanying note reads "I love making socks, so I thought I'd encourage your new foray into knitting them as well!" Along with two skeins of Cascade yarns Sassy Stripes superwash (in an oh-so-fun blue-green colorway) she included a great toe-up sock pattern. (Question to my Secret Pal: did you send this pattern because I'm learning toe-up socks now or because it's one you like a lot? Just wondering...) Thank you, SP10!

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21 March 2007

A better boatneck

Three of my friends are pregnant. Babies are due to arrive in May, June, and August. Needless to say, the knitting projects that are occupying my time these days are of the baby-sized variety. Since I ordered the yarn for these projects, one of the three has learned (and announced) that she's having a boy, but the other two babies will remain mysteries until they are born. I chose the same yarn for all three items: KnitPicks Shine Worsted (a machine-washable mostly cotton blend that handles and drapes beautifully) in the Terra Cotta color, which I think would look nice on any baby. For my friend Liza (May), I decided to knit an old favorite that I've made several times before (including twice for my own daughter): the simple boatneck sweater from Baby Knits for Beginners, by Debbie Bliss. For the 6-9 month size (plus the gauge swatch), I ended up using well over three balls of yarn. I made a couple of modifications to the original pattern, including the use of the three-needle bindoff on the shoulders. (I am a huge, huge fan of this technique and use it all the time now. What a great way to get bombproof, neat, tidy, perfectly-lined-up shoulder seams!) Here's what the sweater looked like about a month ago, right before the tendonitis really kicked in and I had to put it away for a while. My wrist is feeling much much better, though, and the problem seems to have gone away (though I still wear the wrist splint during most of the day and all night, just to be cautious). For the past few days, I've felt mended enough to knit and even do some seaming. So I've finished putting together this sweater, and I am mighty pleased with the result. The other modification I made to the pattern was in how I attached the sleeves. Rather than knit the sleeves separately from the bottom up, then sew them into place, I picked up the stitches at the shoulders and knit the sleeves from the top down. This meant I had to reverse engineer the sleeve a bit, figuring out how do the decreases that are usually increases when coming from the other direction. Again, I ended up with a very sturdy, tidy seam. One thing I really like about this pattern is the little bit of garter stitch at the hem and cuffs. This detail isn't busy enough to distract from the sweater as whole (and probably doesn't even get noticed most of the time), but it's a nice little variation from the sea of stockinette stitch around it. I did knit a gauge swatch, but the sweater seems a little big (this always happens to me, even when I dutifully check for gauge...). I'm not worried about it, though. It's intended to fit a child who will be around five or six months old when the cool weather returns, and since Liza and her husband are both very tall people (and their first baby wasn't tiny!), I suspect this baby will need all the extra sweater he or she can get!

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07 March 2007

Spring is here!

At least according to the folks at Knitty: their spring issue is up! So what are you doing still hanging around here?

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05 March 2007

Review: A Guy Who Knits

When I first saw two of Lucinda Guy's books of handknits for children in a catalog, I was utterly charmed--so much so that I bought one of them, Handknits for Kids, sight unseen. Last week, I finally got my hands on its sequel, And So to Bed..., thanks to my local library. Both books are beautifully designed and feature patterns for clothing, blankets, and stuffed toys suitable for ages two to five or thereabouts. The designs for girls are girly, but mostly in a heavy-on-the-pink way and not in a frilly-curlicues way; similarly, the designs for boys are boyish but not obnoxiously so. Handknits for Kids is divided into four "chapters," each defined by a season. Each chapter includes a blanket (one has trucks and cars on it, and one is completely pink, but the other two aren't gendered), a stuffed toy (dog, bird, mouse, cat), and a sweater for a girl; three chapters also include sweaters for boys. The designs are clever and fun--stuff I could actually imagine children wearing (and enjoying!) without looking ridiculous. You can see photos of all the projects in the British version of the book here. (It contains the same projects and has the same design as the American version; only the title and surely some spellings are different.) Look at the Jack Frost Jacket in the last chapter--isn't that adorable? I'm giving serious thought to making one of those for Sylvia...maybe even in the pink that the pattern calls for. (I am not a big fan of lots of pink, so that's saying a lot about how much I like this design.) And So to Bed... is equally charming in its presentation (like Handknits for Kids, all of the illustrations are photographs of the knitted objects against cartoon drawings--there are no photographs of people wearing these handknits). The projects here didn't appeal to me as much, though. They're all bedtime-themed (clever idea!), and include blankets, pajama cases, robes, and cases for hot-water bottles. (All of the projects can be seen here.) But, aside from the Dream Cardigan and the stuffed owl, I had a hard time imagining myself knitting any of this stuff. I should mention that this book is from Rowan and thus features only Rowan yarn. Beautiful stuff, to be sure, but holy cow is it expensive. The Dream Cardigan I mentioned would cost about eighty bucks if I used the yarn that is called for. Ouch. Unless I can score an exceptionally good deal on eBay, when I'm ready to start these projects I'll definitely be substituting other yarns.

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03 March 2007

Anouk completed

I started the Anouk pinafore in January 2006. The bulk of the knitting was accomplished pretty quickly, and a little over two months I had completed the piece--sort of. I'd attached the four side bands as the pattern specified, but the top pair were placed too high up and consequently squeezed Sylvia's little armpits. Since the weather was already turning warm--too warm for a knit pinafore--I put Anouk aside and decided to wait until the following winter to fix it. Well, I finally got around to doing the "repairs." First, I removed the side bands and all of the buttons. (I had thought about replacing the leaf-shaped buttons I'd originally used with some garden-themed pewter ones I'd picked up recently, but the new one were just too heavy for this light fabric.) Then I blocked the pinafore and the side bands. Then I reattached the side bands--just one pair this time--and the buttons. The result? I'm pretty pleased with it (even though the picked-up stitches around the neck--the first time I'd ever done that technique--aren't super tidy). Sylvia really likes it and deemed it banana-eating-worthy attire.

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28 February 2007

Continental knitting

Continental philosophy always gave me a headache in graduate school, but continental knitting is one technique that I've been wanting to learn for a while. From what I hear, it's pretty efficient and can get your stitches moving fast; plus, it's a good idea to know more than one way to knit so you don't get any repetitive stress injuries and have to get your own Phantom. From the Craftsanity podcast comes this great demo on continental knitting. I'm looking forward to giving it a try when I'm able to knit again!

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26 February 2007

SP10 questionnaire

1. What are your favorite yarns to knit with? What fibers do you absolutely not like? I love working with natural fibers, particularly wool. They have a certain "coziness" that most synthetics just can't match. I've had a longstanding prejudice against acrylic, but then my SP10, Lynnette, introduced me to Touch Me. Wow, that is some nice stuff. So now I don't think that all acrylic is evil--just most of it. :) 2. What do you use to store your needles? My Denise needles (obtained last summer) have miraculously managed to stay in their case when they aren't being used. So far, I haven't lost any of the parts (knock on wood!). My straight needles are in a beautiful cloth roll-up case that my friend Gina gave me. My double-pointed needles and my circular needles live in a handmade, felted-wool roll-up case from Nepal, given to me by my good friend Beth. 3. How long have you been knitting, and how did you learn? Would you consider your skill level to be beginner, intermediate, or advanced? I've been knitting for three years. A woman I worked with at the time helped me pick out the needles and yarn for my first project (a scarf, of course!), cast on for me, and showed me the knit stitch. Three skeins of Lamb's Pride Bulky later, I looked up binding off in a book (The Knit Stitch, by Sally Melville) and since then have relied mostly on books and the Internet--and occasionally on knit-knowledgeable friends--for learning other techniques. If you don't count finishing (seaming is the bane of my existence), then I think I'm an intermediate knitter. But if seaming is included . . . .well, then let's say beginner-intermediate. Yeah, that sounds about right. 4. Do you have an Amazon or other online wish list? I do! You can look me up on Amazon. 5. What's your favorite scent (for candles, bath products, etc.)? I'm a big fan of woodsy smells, such as cedar and sage. And I love the Karma line (and pretty much any soap) from Lush. Vanilla, lavender, and citrus are sometimes nice, too. Floral scents are hit or miss: some are fabulous (I'm a longtime fan of the Body Shop's dewberry), but most are just too cloying for me. 6. Do you have a sweet tooth? Favorite candy? Hello? Does good cheese smell bad? Is Tom Baker the best Doctor Who ever? Are ninjas and pirates cool? Is Joss Whedon a genius? The answer is yes, yes, yes! Dark chocolate is up there for me, with pretty much every other kind of chocolate (other than white) a close second. Caramel is lovely, too. Most hard candy doesn't thrill me, and as a vegetarian I avoid gummi-anything and marshmallows (both of which contain gelatin). 7. What other crafts or do-it-yourself things do you like to do? Do you spin? Spinning--'fraid not. One day, perhaps, but not today. I'm craft-minded but don't actually pursue a lot of regular DIY projects. When I'm not tending to Life Responsibilities or knitting, I'm often working on my photography. 8. What kind of music do you like? Can your computer/stereo play MP3s (if your buddy wants to make you a CD)? Keen on (among others): Jane Siberry (now Issa), U2, The Pogues, Argentine tango music (the danceable stuff, not so much Astor Piazzolla's concert pieces), Tom Lehrer, Eddi Reader, Bach's Magnificat, Poi Dog Pondering (before they moved to Chicago), Philip Glass, Anonymous 4, Daniel Lanois, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Kronos Quartet, Ella Fitzgerald, Dar Williams, Emmylou Harris, big band swing Not keen on: rap, heavy metal, country MP3s: no problem! 9. What are your favorite colors? Any colors you just can't stand? I love muted earthy colors--browns, greens, blues, plums, grays. I also like black, robin's egg blue, and red. Pastels have never thrilled me. And white . . . well, I have no objection to it as a color, but I never manage to keep it pristine, so I've sort of given up on it. 10. What is your family situation? Do you have any pets? One husband (who crochets!). One daughter (who will be two years old on May 6). Two cats--one of which is my daughter's best friend, personal maid (i.e., cleaning up the floor under the high chair at mealtime), and favorite huggable purring pillow with claws. 11. Do you wear scarves, hats, mittens, or ponchos? Yes, yes, yes, no. (But not because I am anti-poncho--I just haven't gotten around to making one for myself yet!) 12. What are your favorite items to knit? I love to knit sweaters (see here, here, and here) and hats for my daughter. She's still small, so the objects are finished relatively fast (ah, completion satisfaction!), and I get to experiment with color, shapes, techniques, etc. (I like knitting hats in general, actually.) I've recently ventured into the land of sock knitting, thanks to a friend who's been teaching me and the other members of our local knitting group her fabulous toe-up sock technique. 13. What are you knitting right now? I have a few projects in progress:
  • A sweater for me. (One sleeve to go.)
  • Baby sweaters for three different friends who are having babies this summer.
  • A pair of socks. (I started them at the toes and am up to the gussets now.
14. Do you like to receive handmade gifts? Yes! (Who wouldn't?) 15. Do you prefer straight or circular needles? Bamboo, aluminum, or plastic? I like both straight and circular needles. Wood is far and away my favorite material for needles, with metal a distant second and most plastic not even rating consideration. I do love my Denise needles, but every once in a while I reach for some bamboo ones instead, just because the warmth of wood is incomparable. Haven't tried needles made from birch, rosewood, or other woods yet, but I bet they are sublime. 16. Do you own a yarn winder or swift? Neither, alas, though I am seriously considering building a swift... 17. How old is your oldest UFO? The sweater I'm making for myself (see #13 above) is about a year and a half old. 18. What is your favorite holiday? I like Christmas the best--not because of the gift giving or any religious meaning. There's just something so lovely about a light- and food-filled celebration in the middle of winter, when it's dark and cold out. (If I lived in the Southern Hemisphere, I'd probably like a different holiday more . . . something in June or July, I guess.) 19. Is there anything that you collect? I currently have about two hundred refrigerator magnets from all over the world. I started collecting them years ago while traveling around the USA: they're cheap (don't make a big dent in the travel funds!), they're small (don't take up much room!), and they're everywhere. I still buy them wherever I go and occasionally get additions from my brother or friends, who sometimes pick one up for me if they go somewhere interesting. I like 'em as kitschy and as tacky as possible. 20. Any books, yarns, needles, or patterns out there you are dying to get your hands on? What knitting magazine subscriptions do you have? Books I'd love to add to my knitting library include:
  • Knitted Flowers, by Nicky Epstein
  • Knitting Workshop, by Elizabeth Zimmerman
  • One Skein, by Leigh Radford
  • Wrap Style, by Pam Allen and Ann Budd
  • Rowan Babies, by Kim Hargreaves
  • Pipsqueaks, by Kim Hargreaves
As far as yarns go, I'd love to try some of the yarns made out of nonwool and noncotton natural fibers. I recently received some soy yarn that I'm going to put on needles as soon as I can knit again, and I'd really like to try some of the other alternative-fiber yarns out there, such as bamboo, corn, and seaweed. I'm also eager to try linen yarn and the yarn made from recycled silk saris, both of which look like a lot of fun. I currently subscribe to Interweave Knits, which I adore (even though the patterns tend to call for outrageously expensive yarn). 21. Are there any new techniques you'd like to learn? Intarsia, baby! I got my first taste of it last spring when I made the Anouk pinafore, and I'm eager to try more. I've even bought some bobbins in anticipation of my next intarsia project. I'd also like to try fairisle knitting, though I'm not sure I can carry strands of yarn all over the place without winding up with the Tangle From Hell. 22. Are you a sock knitter? What are your foot measurements? I'm a newbie sock knitter. See #12 above. My shoe size is US 7.5. 23. When is your birthday? (mm/dd) May 8.

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15 February 2007

A (long-)finished object

I ran some errands today, one of which was to my local post office to mail a birthday package to a friend who lives on the other side of the planet (in another hemisphere, even!). Her birthday isn't until next month, but planning in advance lets me avoid the outrageous airmail costs and send stuff by surface mail (which, almost always arrives within two weeks anyway, even though the official estimate is "six to eight weeks"). Among the various items I enclosed was the shawl, which I knit for her some time ago and just haven't been organized enough to send. It's my first--and only, so far--shawl, and I knit it of a synthetic suede yarn that was a lot of fun to work with. In my effort to get as much mileage as possible from the yarn, I started new skeins mid-row--not, as it turns out, the best idea with this yarn, whose woven-in ends are difficult to conceal. So it's not the most polished-looking shawl (in the future, I'll incorporate the ends into the fringe), but I think it looks--and feels--quite nice!

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12 February 2007

The yarn...and some tech talk

 
Well, Blogger is still acting weird and not letting me upload photos. But I found a workaround that enabled me to post a photo of the lovely card and yummy yarn that JD sent me: I used the "Blog This!" button in Picasa. Not my favorite option, 'cause it does odd things to the layout and automatically inserts a Picasa link in my post (a link that you won't see here, since I manually deleted it), but it will do for now. But let me tell you, it is awfully nice to be reunited with my pal Picasa. Since I switched to a Mac last fall, I've been missing it. For the most past, I think the Mac design and OS are vastly superior to what you get on a Windows machine (and this is coming from someone who was a hardcore Windows user until last fall). I'm really quite impressed with almost everything about the Mac...except iPhoto (the photo-management program), which, quite honestly, sucks worse than a Hoover. Well, maybe it's not that bad, but it's nowhere in the same league as Picasa. Since Google hasn't yet developed Picasa for the Mac, I was stuck with iPhoto. But over the last few days I've installed Parallels, which lets me dual-boot my Mac as a Windows machine. So now I can have OSX and Windows XP running at the same time. I needed Windows XP in order to run two very important applications: the Microsoft Office Suite* (I already own a license for the PC version and was not at all inclined to throw down several hundred dollars to get a Mac version) and Picasa. Hello, old friend! *I've been using OpenOffice, which is a great product and an endeavor I wholeheartedly support. (Free! Open source! Multiplatform! Multilingual!) I also use Google Docs and Spreadsheets--formerly Writely--another great (and free!) product. Unfortunately, neither of those applications is completely compatible with the bizarre macros and documents used by one of my Microsoft-loving clients, so the Dark Side chalks up another win as I'm forced to use Microsoft Office. Urgh.

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09 February 2007

Lessen your environmental impact

Recycling, using fluorescent light bulbs, watering your lawn with gray water...there are lots of little things you can do to tread more lightly on the earth. Knitters can use recycled yarn or yarns made from materials that already have a low environmental impact and are quickly renewable (e.g., soy, corn). There's yet another way fiber enthusiasts can be a little nicer to the planet: by using green cell foam for needle felting. Needle felting (which I have yet to try, I admit--though I've read enough about it to get the gist of it) involves stabbing fabric with tiny needles in order to get wool or roving that's on top of the fabric to stick to the fabric. Hmmm. That's an explanation just off the top of my head, and it doesn't seem very clear. Go here instead and read about how to do it. The fabric to be stabbed is placed on a foam pad so you don't damage any surfaces while jabbing it with a needle. Most foam pads are made of polyurethane foam, which is a byproduct of the petroleum industry. The folks at Sticky Wicket Crafts, however, have found a vegetable-based foam to use in their pads--and they aren't more expensive than most conventional foam pads. No petroleum byproducts! Happy happy planet! Hooray! P.S. If you want to make your own needle felting tool and like to play with power tools, check out this tutorial.

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Yarn-related tidbits

I've come across lots of interesting stuff while cruising in the information superhighway over the past few weeks. (Thank goodness Al Gore invented the Internet! Whatever would I do without it?) Rather than try to think of something postworthy to say about each and every one, I'll just list them all here and let you make of them what you will. I'm not a crocheter, but this project has me half-tempted to learn that craft. It's a bag/box shaped like one of those Japanese stone garden statues (of which I have one in my backyard). The author of this pattern filled her box (which she calls a castle bag) with crocheted fairy-tale figures, though I bet amigurumi (look here for a list of free patterns) would be equally at home here. Check out Cat Bordhi's (yes, she of the Moebius scarf fame) instructions for knitting a treehouse. This week's Craft: Pattern Podcast is for the Isabeau Purse, a cute little lace thing that uses only about one skein (~120 yards) of yarn and is the right size for carrying a wallet and cell phone. Have a skein of Koigu that's burning a hole in your stash box? This beret from the Purl Bee might be just the ticket, then. I don't own any books in Barbara Walker's Treasure of Knitting Pattern series. (Gasp! Does that mean I'm not a real knitter? This reminds me of the time in graduate school when a colleague told me I wasn't a real anthropologist because I didn't have any maps on my office walls.) Here's a just-started online project whose goal is to compile color photographs of all the stitch patterns in those books. They're looking for volunteers to create swatches and send in their photos, so if you're interested head on over there! I live nowhere near Santa Clara, where Stitches West 2007 will be taking place later this month. Hearing about this knitting-focused train ride to Stitches West makes me a bit jealous of those who do (like my SP9--how lucky!). What fun! Here is designer Benjamin Cho's take on the knit dress, as unveiled at his Fall 2007 runway show this week in New York. The use of knitting needles here is kind of neat. But those disembodied hands? Kind of creepy. From BBC news comes this article about how a women's hospital in Liverpool is using knitted breasts to help teach new mothers how to breastfeed and express milk. This is a great solution for cash-strapped programs that can't afford more lifelike (and incredibly expensive) model breasts. In the article a hospital rep says that more knitters are needed, but no contact information is provided (and I couldn't find any information at the hospital's website).

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08 February 2007

More gratitude

Last fall, a very generous fellow knitter-blogger, JD, sent me her extra copies of two issues of Interweave Knits. Since then, I've been following her blogs (and she's been chiming here from time to time, too) and admiring her fabulous FOs. In December, she posted in her non-knitting blog a "guess how many holiday cards I'll send out this year" contest. I hazarded a guess of 111 (which turned out to be about double the final tally), but as the only entrant I won. I had completely forgotten about this contest--and wasn't actually expecting to receive a material prize for it--but Monday's mail brought a surprise for me: a box from JD with this lovely card and three skeins of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino in a beautiful red. A few comments:
  • I love love love Baby Cashmerino! I used it for Sylvia's brown cardigan (which has already made one trip through the wash and come out quite nicely) and very much enjoyed working with it. I think I may use these three skeins for something for myself...
  • JD joked about being her holiday card to me being a bit late...but my own cards aren't going out in the mail until tomorrow. I like to think of them as Chinese New Year cards this time around.
  • I'm a few days late in posting my thank-you about this because my Internet connection has been intermittent since Monday. (Comcast blames the super-cold weather we're having here.) Funny how not having access to e-mail and Google Reader has been jarring...it's easy to forget how much I use them. It's sort of like when the power goes out and you find yourself flipping light switches out of habit when you enter a room.
  • Alas, Blogger is misbehaving (again) and won't let me post photos. That's probably a good thing, because if you saw this yarn you'd likely start drooling with envy all over your keyboard, and that's no good for the hardware.
Thanks, again JD!

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05 February 2007

A big thank-you to my SP9

Now that I've completed that editing assignment, it's time for me to tell you all about the amazing package I received from my SP9 a few days ago. Fortunately, Blogger decided to behave today and let me actually upload some photos. Ever since Google made everyone switch to the "new" Blogger a week or so ago, lots of people have been having all sorts of problems with their blogs. Grrrrr. How is it that one day Blogger works just fine, then the next day it acts all weird, then the day after that it's working again? I mean, it seems like it's not broken, but hiccuping or something. I wonder sometimes if some sadist who sits in a windowless room at Google has the job of pushing the "let's screw with people's heads" button that makes Blogger work intermittently. But I digress... As I mentioned the other day, last Wednesday's mail brought a heavy box of goodies from my SP9, Lynette. She sent me a note a few days earlier telling me to expect it, but I was quite taken aback by its contents, since she'd already been so generous with the first package she sent to me a few days before Christmas. Anyway, as soon as this second box arrived, I opened it up (camera in hand, of course!) as Sylvia and Jan looked on. First, there was a layer of yarn: one dark-gray (color 64) skein of Cascade Yarns Pastaza, which is 50% llama and 50% wool (and feels so incredibly soft); and one skein of Noro Big Kureyon in color 20 (brown-gray-stone). I adore both of these colorways and am already brainstorming for ways to combine them (perhaps in a pattern from Hip Knit Hats that Lynette sent me...). As if these two skeins of yarn weren't enough fun already, imagine my glee at discovering four skeins of Patons SWS (in the Natural Navy colorway) in the box. This stuff is 70% wool and 30% soy, and I have been itching to get my hands on some of it ever since I first heard of it. I'm really looking forward to working with this yarn, but I haven't even begun to think about what I'll do with it...any suggestions? What's that, you say? Not enough yarn in the box? Apparently, Lynette thought so, too, because underneath that top layer of yarn she tucked away two more balls of knittable goodness. The first, a ball of Muench Touch Me Due (the "Due" variety is a more tonal version of the regular Touch Me) in copper and gold tones. Now, I should mention here that Lynette and I have chatted a bit about my aversion to acrylic/synthetic yarns. She said there were some pretty good ones out there, and I said I hadn't run across many of them yet. Well, this yarn definitely falls in the "Okay, so it's synthetic...by OH MY DOG it is pretty nice stuff!" category. I may never knit up this ball of yarn. Maybe I'll just keep it in my knitting bag so I can pull it out and stroke it ever once in a while, as though it's a cat that doesn't purr (or throw up on the kitchen floor after eating the Mighty Bites that Sylvia dropped on the floor). The second ball of yarn at the bottom of the box was something entirely unexpected. All of the yarn Lynette sent me was fabulous stuff, but this ball takes the award for Most Unusual Yarn I Have Ever Seen in My Life. It is called Fique, and according to the distributer (check out their site for an amazing collection of unusual yarns), it is a "very sturdy and unusual pineapple fiber from South America, grown in Andean mountains. It is hand-made. Perfect for weaving mats, window covering or knitting & crocheting hats, bags, etc." What am I going to do with this stuff? I have no idea! But I will have fun experimenting with it! My hunch is that it will end up as an accent on a hat or maybe a scarf... Last, but certainly not least, the bottom of the box was covered with non-knittables: a package of German-made Sniff tissues in a fun floral print, a packet of citrus-scented Soak no-rinse wool wash, a big tin of lemon verbena (yum) hand salve from Bonny Doon Farm (just what my winter-dry hands need!), and a bar of Santander dark chocolate--which, I'm amazed to report, actually survived the weekend here without getting eaten by me!--from Colombia. Lying at the very bottom of the box, hidden by all of the other treasures contained therein, was a copy of the new edition of Knitter's Companion, which I have already consulted about half a dozen times in the past few days. Thanks, Lynette, for being such a great secret pal! I feel thoroughly spoiled and will very much enjoy working my way through the yarn and other goodies that you sent. And although I'm sure you didn't plan it, you may be pleased to know that you gave gifts to the rest of my family, too. Sylvia had a blast with the heart-shaped post-it notes that you used to label everything--she especially enjoyed putting them on her dad. And Jan...well, he enjoyed making Sylvia happy by letting her cover him with those post-its. So thanks again from all of us!

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02 February 2007

Nuns on the run

Now here's a story that I never, ever imagined I would be reading today. It's about nuns who are on the lam because their knitting got out of hand. I swear I am not making this up.

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01 February 2007

The end of SP9

The Secret Pal 9 exchange officially ended yesterday. For me, it ended with a bang: I received a second package from my secret pal! Unfortunately, I'm under a work deadline and don't have time to post about the package right now. (I'm editing mathematical copy. Yes, it is mind-numbingly dull. No, my eyes haven't started bleeding yet...but check back after the weekend to see if there's been any change on that.) I took loads of photos and have a big post planned--I'm hoping to get to it within a couple of days. For now, though, I'll just say "Thank you!" to Lynnette, who did a fabulous job spoiling me (and has a terrifically clever name for her blog)!

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30 January 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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25 January 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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21 January 2007

Sock-a-rama

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, tan...it'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 socks...as soon as I finish this pair!

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17 January 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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