30 December 2009

Knitted Buttercup in the Round

Jolie’s recipe for Nicky Epstein’s Knitted Buttercup

This is a significant variation of the flower on page 22 of Knitted Flowers (New York: Sixth&Spring Books, 2006). The changes:
  • specified cast on
  • in the round not back and forth with seam
  • centered and straight rather than slanted decreases
  • threaded center rather than bound-off center
  • bead instead of french knot
  • felted instead of not felted
Nicky's design is probably easier for the novice knitter to execute, certainly less fussy on the decreases. If you have the book, try both her approach and mine and see what you think.

Use size 9mm/US 13 needles
Samples made with Cascade 220, color 8555 (black)
Yarn held double throughout
Each flower uses about 6-7 grams/13¼-15½ yards

Makes a 7-petal flower
Flower is worked in the round on double-pointed needles, two-circulars, or a magic loop.

Special techniques:
dec 5 into 1 (worked over a group of 5 stitches)= slip first stitch knitwise, slip second stitch knitwise, knit third stitch (middle stitch of the group); place middle stitch back on left needle and pass fourth stitch over middle stitch, slip middle stitch to right needle and pass second stitch over middle stitch, slip middle stitch to left needle and pass fifth stitch over middle stitch, slip middle stitch to right needle and pass first stitch over middle stitch. Adjust tension of middle stitch before proceeding.

centered double dec (worked over a group of 3 stitches) = slip first two stitches together knitwise, knit third stitch, pass first two stitches over.

Using crochet cast-on, cast-on 43 stitches.
Round 1: Knit first & last stitch of the cast-on together to join. Knit all remaining stitches in the round. (42 stitches total)
Round 2: *k1, yo, dec 5 into 1, yo; repeat from * across round. (28 stitches total)
Round 3: *k1, centered double dec; repeat from * across round. (14 stitches total)
Round 4: *k2tog; repeat across round. (7 stitches total)
To end: Break yarn. Thread yarn end into blunt needle. Run end through all 7 stitches. Pull tight. Run through all 7 stitches again. Run through first three or four of the seven. (Yarn has circled the 7 final stitches 2½ times.) Plunge end to back of work.

Thread needle with yarn end from cast-on. Weave end through stitches on back of work. Try to have end come out near center of flower.

You should end up with both yarn tails on the back and near the center of the flower. This is handy if you wish to use them to attach your flower to something.

My flowers were about 3½ inches across before felting and 2¾ inches after felting.

If you want to experiment with more or fewer petals, cast on 6 stitches per petal, plus one extra to join.

Add beads or knots in contrasting color to create centers. I used wooden beads from the local big box craft store.

29 December 2009

More Making Do and Mending

In the process of chaos control this autumn, I did look around at items that needed a little love. Actually, I looked around to see what needed to be tossed or donated, and what needed just a little bit of my time. This Lantern Moon bag needed a little attention. I bought it some years back at Purly Gates. I liked it a lot, but the bamboo fractured on one side. (Another bag in the shop had the same problem.) This is a wonderful project bag for a small project, but it has also been a fabulous handbag. So I didn't want to throw it out.

The solution? Nicky Epstein to the rescue! I pulled out the copy of Knitted Flowers and began to browse. I decided that a few black felted flowers, artistically placed, could be just the thing to save this cute bag from the trash.

While I do like Knitted Flowers, I have to admit that this book is not without its flaws. There are no diagrams, just pictures of finished flowers. This means that you may be surprised when knitting the Five-Star Flower (page 100) that is featured on the cover and the directions have you making yarn-overs. You discover later that you thread the row of yarn-overs and pull tight. So you don't always have a clear sense of what shape you are making.

And while the pictures are nice, sometimes they are done so artistically and with such a shallow depth of field that flowers are blurry. A particular example is page 57, with the five versions of the Stellata Thistle. Three of the five versions are blurry in the photograph and two of those are cropped. Fortunately, it doesn't take long to knit up any of these items, so you can always knit and see what you get. Also be aware that many of these are knit back and forth on straight needles and then seamed.
I personally prefer to knit circular shapes in the round. If you are an inventive knitter, you can rewrite the patterns you like to match your needs.

For this project, I chose the Buttercup from pages 22-23. I re-wrote the pattern for knitting in the round. You can find it here. Basically, I used two strands and large needles to make a plain black flower. Because I planned to felt it, I worked it larger, looser, and more open. Oddly enough, knitting felts better if you make it looser and more open.

I'm purposely showing the finished flower at a different but proportional size. The unfelted flower was about 3.5 inches across. But the finished felted flower shrank to about 2.75 inches across. So my flowers are a little less than 80% (4/5ths) of their original size. By the way, I felted them simply by throwing them through the laundry with the regular load of wash. I did have a little trouble getting the felting started because I was using cold water. After allowing them to dry overnight, I used black sewing thread to attach the wooden beads from the local big box craft store. These beads were probably from JoAnn Etc. I've had them in my stash for several years. I don't know if you can still get them, but I'm sure you could find something similar. I attached the flowers to the bag using a hot melt glue gun. I was very generous with the glue, both to keep the flowers in place but also to keep the bamboo bag from continuing to fray apart.

I must admit -- I'm very pleased with the final product. I haven't used the bag yet, so experience will tell whether this fix is durable enough for use in the real world.

25 December 2009

A Merry Alpaca Yule

The Cuddly Hubby gave me some alpaca fiber for Christmas. This batt is rather interesting in that it appears to have color but doesn't. The alpaca fiber is white. But it appears to be pale blue and pale pink because it has been carded with blue and pink angelina fibers. Angelina is a rather Christmas-appropriate fiber, as it is basically tinsel, just on a thinner scale.

After reading Deb Menz's wonderful book Color in Spinning -- thank you to JennaB the Yarn Pimp for lending me her copy -- I need to spend some time considering how I divide this batt. I also need to consider whether I want a single, double, or triple-ply yarn. In this case, multiple plies might allow me to create some interesting color variations. Plying pink on pink will produce pink, but plying pink on white should produce a paler pink. And I need to see if the pink and blue will blend visually to produce purple. Also, I need to think about how long I would like the color changes to be. Do I want stripes or do I want a mottled effect?

On the plus side, so far I'm spinning for the enjoyment of what happens rather than to create something I want but can't buy. So I'm not even sure what I want this to be when I knit it up. A hat? A scarf? Mittens or gloves? It is lovely baby colors, but I am thinking that an 85% alpaca 15% angelina blend is probably not baby-proof wash & wear. Then again, this might become another amigurumi. An alpaca teddy bear would probably be just the thing to hug.

12 December 2009

Odd Gifts for Knitters

Last year, I had a post similar to this. As it is the giving season again, here is another post on some unusual gift choices for the knitter who already has everything.

While I'm at it, let's just make sure that we know what "everything" is. In this case, "everything" means the knitter has a pleasingly generous stash, favorite needles in the full run of sizes, needle cases, bags, notions, all the best books, subscriptions to good knitting magazines, and dvds featuring Lucy Neatby and Elizabeth Zimmermann. In other words, you've run out of the obvious things to purchase.

Page Points:
Levenger recently redesigned and renamed these Page Nibs. They are thin clip-on bookmarks that you can leave in the book. They are perfect for marking interesting patterns in your knitting books. Some clever soul ought to include a sample with any purchase of a Barbara Walker stitch treasury, so that you can mark interesting things as you thumb through for that other stitch pattern you know you saw in here somewhere. (See picture above of my own personal "marked up" copy.)

Couch Cover:
I bought one of the these because the blue-gray couch in the living room did not coordinate with the rest of the decor. It turns out that not only is this a slick way to freshen up a room, but a couch cover prevents anything from falling in between the cracks in the seat cushions. If your couch monster is a regular consumer of stitch markers or double-pointed needles, a cover may be just the thing to muzzle its appetite.

Color Consulting:
My mother and sister bought me this about 20 years ago and it continues to be a gift that gives. I sat down with a professional color consultant who figured out my colors and and showed me how to use that information. (For those of you wondering, I am a "contrasting lustrous summer," which means that intense cool colors are my friends.) Especially if you are buying for someone who knits for herself/himself, knowing that you should buy the hot pink and not the tangerine orange cashmere is important. Those of you on Ravelry can see that my color card and my stash match pretty well.

Spill-proof Thermal Travel Mug:
This is something that almost anyone could use. It is nice to keep hot drinks warm and cold drinks cool. And it is nice to have a mug that cannot be spilled on your knitting or your friends' knitting. I am on my third mug. I started with a now discontinued Brookstone model. After that broke, I moved on to a Starbucks mug. I broke that a couple weeks ago, and have replaced it with the Highwave JOEmo XL, which you can find at Hammacher Schlemmer or Amazon. I have purchased some plastic mugs, but they always seem to leak, so do be sure to test any spill-proof claims over the kitchen sink. Also, I use an instant-read thermometer to check temperature. The really good thermal mugs prevent your beverage from cooling, which means you can't just wait for the tea or coffee to cool off. A thermometer can protect your tongue and taste buds from scalding.

Business Card Holder:
Nancy Barke of both Atlanta Knitting Guild and North Georgia Knitting Guild showed me a business card case with a knitting design on it. It and other cool things are available at Kyle Designs. There are also eyeglass cases, lanyards, barrettes, and many different size boxes that could be perfect for keeping knitting notions in your bag. I am wondering if the pencil or cigar cases would work for wooden sock needles?

Audio books:
If you are a knitter who enjoys reading, you may have discovered that knitting and reading are not the easiest things to do simultaneously. There are several options. Straight-up audio books on cd are a simple choice. David Reidy of Sticks and Strings podcast has recommended both Audible and the Amazon Kindle. Brenda Dayne of Cast-on podcast also recommends Audible. I started an Audible subscription this summer and have enjoyed it very much. It has been about the only way I can keep up with our knit lit group. Or course, this works best if you have an iPod or other mp3 player. You can listen while you knit even if you are a novice and need to watch every stitch lest it morph and lead your project to the frog pond. If the Kindle is more your style, then you have to be technically proficient enough to look away from your knitting. The Kindle does have an experimental reading aloud feature, but not all books for the Kindle will function with this feature. I have had some luck reading from a normal book while knitting stockinette mindlessly in the round. David Reidy has bought and tried out a Kindle. He pointed out that you can change the font size on the Kindle to make it quite large, so that if you look back and forth between your knitting and your book, you can find your place easily as you read.

Storage Organization:
Since "Get Organized" is a common new year resolution, why not help someone get a jump on the chaos? In the Atlanta area, we are lucky to have Ikea, the Container Store, Bed Bath & Beyond and the like. My stash is kept in a series of graduated woven baskets from Hobby Lobby. Or you could try a ClosetMaid cubby system from Target or Lowe's. Lots of possibilities to keep all that stash safe and ready for action. In the picture at left, you can see a number of hand-knitted items neatly put away in the closet using Ikea Skubb organizers. As you can see, I'm using the shoe cubbies for small items like scarves and mittens, and the sweater cubbies for larger items like bags and shawls.

Spring-loaded shower curtain rod:
If you wash yarn, an extra shower curtain rod can be a very handy thing. I have a spare rod installed well above the shower head in the guest bathroom. I'm not afraid to frog and reuse yarn, and it is nice to be able to hang it up, let it drip into the tub below, and forget about it. If you install two or three rods, you'll even have enough support to drip dry a sweater or shawl. And if you hang them high enough, you don't have to take them down to use the shower. These can be found at most hardware or big box home improvement stores.

Have a very happy gift-giving season everyone!

21 November 2009

Where are you taking this . . . thing?

The Thing in question is not a Wookiee. In this case, the Thing is a mahogany African bar. The Cuddly Hubby's family lived in Ghana for two years in the mid-1970s. They brought back a lot of indigenous household goods. A few years ago, the Cuddly Hubby's dad and step mom were redecorating and some items just didn't fit in their home anymore. One of these was the bar. As you can see from the photo, it is not a small object. Furthermore, the bar had been in the basement family room and used as a plant stand for quite some time. It had not been oiled every year. And there were water stains in the top where the plants had been set. The Cuddly Hubby's sister didn't want it, and the Cuddly Hubby didn't want it to fall out of the family, so he agreed that it could be sent out here. Marriage involves compromise, and this was one of those moments for me.

The bar then spent several months wrapped up on a trailer waiting to be towed from Washington state to Georgia. Finally, the Very Talented Aunt and Uncle were making a trek out this way to bring items to their newly-wed and expectant daughter, and they were able to bring the trailer. So the Thing came to take up too much space on the back porch.

And it stayed on the back porch for a couple years. Not oiled. Not entirely protected from the elements. Finally, I got out there and took a look at it. One of the carved panels had come off. The other was loose. The plain panel in the center was loose. Both of the carved side panels had gouges in them where ropes had rubbed against them in transit. The top had big ugly dark rings from the plants. The large center shelf was warped. Ugh!

And then, I got an idea. What if I took all the panels off? What if I turned the drawers around, so they slide out on the front side instead of the back? What if I pushed the whole thing up against a wall, as if it were a sideboard? What if the carved panels were hinged like a cabinet?

Sometime in 2007 I began sanding the thing using a finishing sander borrowed from the Bard, who uses it for his model airplanes. I got a little done. Then in the spring of 2008, I made a real concerted effort to get at it. I still have some work to do on the two small drawers. (They are hidden inside the left panel.) And the center shelf still needs to be straightened and sanded (hence the cloth covering it), but at least the bulk of it is done. Early in 2009, I was able to hire the husband of one of the ladies in the guild to come over and hang the carved side panels. They are slightly warped, so it was really good to have a professional who has a lot of experience do this. There are moments where expertise is worth every penny, and this was certainly one of those.

This has been a tough year economically for so many people. In light of this, Brenda Dayne of Cast-On podcast did a series with the theme "Make Do and Mend." The Thing has turned out to be a great example of that. It took a lot of work. And a whole lot of sandpaper. Thank goodness sandpaper is relatively inexpensive. But the Thing has become an opportunity. It is now storing media -- some of our favorite videos and books. (Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings are all hidden behind the carvings.) And it has becoming an opportunity to display some African items. The red and black cloths are from Ghana as are the musical instruments. I sanded the top so smoothly you could do physics experiments on it. And some of the mahogany dust generated from all the sanding was put to good use by both Scenter, who wanted it as a reference scent, and the Bard, who can use the dust to patch model airplanes.

A couple other items to mention in the picture. I believe the little throw rug is also from Ghana. At minimum, it was amongst some items that came from the Cuddly Hubby's family. The dragon scroll picture also has a "Make Do and Mend" story. It was a poster given to me by a colleague the year I taught at Bauder College. She was de-cluttering, had a stack of good-quality art posters, and asked if I (the art history teacher) would like this detail from a Chinese scroll. I cropped off the section that advertised "Boston Museum of Fine Arts" and went to the big box store to find a plain black frame of the proper proportions. I came home and discovered that the poster was the right width but it was now a little too short. My cropping had been a bit too zealous. So I returned to the big box store and purchased some narrow red ribbon. I affixed the ribbon at top and bottom to add just a little more height. It wasn't until I had the whole thing framed and on the wall and was admiring it that I realized a real scroll painting would be likely to have a narrow fabric border. Furthermore, since this is only part of the complete scroll, there is no border to the left or right, thus implying the existence of more image in both directions. In solving the cropping problem, I had inadvertently given the image exactly what it needed!

Sometimes what we need is not only closer than we think, it isn't even all that expensive.

20 November 2009

A Class with Joan Shrouder

This autumn has turned out to be a rather busy season, mostly full of cleaning and organizing and not nearly enough raw knitting. Part of the cleaning and organizing involved looking around at what was on the needles. There were definitely projects that were only a few hours shy of completion. One of them was this little sweater. This was the project for Joan Shrouder's "Set-in Sleeves Simplified" class, which I took at STITCHES South back in April. Happily, Joan will be at STITCHES South 2010 and will be teaching this class all day Sunday.

The homework for class involved knitting the bottom rectangle of the cardigan. Because I've become enamoured of it, I used Elizabeth Zimmermann and Meg Swansen's method for a tubular cast-on. I arrived in class with an inch of 1x1 ribbing and several inches of plain stockinette. Over the course of the 6-hour class, Joan shows you how to shape the armhole and neck. Since the sweater is small, there is time to knit it in class. Then she demonstrates how to pick up for the sleeves. Joan uses a rather interesting technique in which she purls up rather than knits up the sleeve stitches. As you can see, the result is a sleeve that truly looks set-in.

Joan is knitting in the Zimmermann tradition, as she works the sleeve decreases on the top rather than the underside of the sleeve. As you can see from the top photo, the outstretched sleeves are longer on top than on bottom. If you hold your arms at your side, you want the longer line to run along the outside/topside. If it runs along the inside/underside, you can end up with a lot of bulk at the underarm. I completed the sleeves with a little 1x1 ribbing and the matching tubular bind-off. (Incidentally, I would be tempted now to use Jeny Staiman's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off.)

To finish it out, I purled up button band and neck stitches, worked a little more 1x1 ribbing with a few yarn-over, k2tog buttonholes, and finished with more tubular bind-off. A little blocking, a little weaving in ends, and a few buttons brought the project to a close. Incidentally, I plied a strand of lavender sewing thread with the yarn before attaching the buttons. My hope is that the thread will add just a little more strength to keep those buttons where they belong.

The whole project took almost exactly 1.5 skeins of Cascade 220 Superwash Paints. This lovely colorway, #9860, is really perfect for springtime or children. And with about 100 yards left, there is probably enough for matching accessories, should the inclination strike me. With everything else I want to knit right now, it probably won't.

As a last tidbit, I'm including here a video of how I worked increases after the purl-up row. Since Joan works the same slipped-stitch edging that I like, if you pick-up in every stitch you'll be a little short in stockinette. Depending on the reference source and the individual knitter, you should pick up something like 3 stitches for every 4 rows, or 4 stitches for every 5 rows in stockinette. A slipped-stitch edging means you have 1 stitch for every 2 rows. This is perfect for garter stitch but too few stitches for stockinette. (Quick math example: if you have 100 stitches along the edge and want to pick up 3 for 4, you'll pick up about 75 stitches. 1 for 2 is only 50 stitches, so you'd be 25 stitches short.) To prevent your new sleeve from binding tightly at the armhole, purl up one stitch for each edge stitch, then increase up to the needed total on the first row. There was considerable discussion in class about which increase to use. I stumbled across a very slick and virtually invisible way to do so in this particular circumstance, and the video will show you how. Enjoy!

30 October 2009

A Day in the Garden

For various reasons, I really needed to have a good day yesterday. And as the Henry Moore exhibition and the Scarecrows in the Garden wrap up this weekend, I thought Thursday would be a good day to get myself down to Piedmont Park. So that's what I did.

I got down there about 10 AM, late enough to avoid the morning traffic. For those of you not in the Atlanta area, there is major construction in midtown where the 14th street exit used to be and will someday be again. Consequently, driving in midtown is not for the easily flustered. Half of what you knew about navigating no longer applies. And the Cuddly Hubby was away on a business trip, so the Garmin was with him. I read the maps and took the back way in on North Avenue, left turn onto Piedmont and on up to the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

The scarecrows never fail to delight. It is always worth the hassle to go into the city to see them. I know that citizens of New York and Los Angeles like to think of themselves as the most creative people in the Unites States, but between Dragon*Con and the Scarecrows in the Garden, I can show a lot of proof that Atlanta is full of clever and creative minds. There were plenty of good/bad? puns in the scarecrow names. One entry had several crow-themed dvds, such as Dra-crow-la. Another featured Julia Child making Crow-kill St. Jacques. Several schools had entries, including a large (8 foot? 10 foot?) dragon made from flattened soda pop cans. Many, many scarecrows incorporated recycled materials. One scarecrow had a wheelbarrow full of "flowers" made from plastic water bottles and aluminum cans that had been cut up with tin snips. Atlanta Knitting Guild had a scarecrow a couple years ago. I like to think that "Oz" may not be in Atlanta anymore, but he is certainly not forgotten. (Oz now "lives" at the American Textile History Museum.) Not forgotten when there are entries like Ba Ba Ba:
This scare-sheep was created by the Visitor Services Team at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The head is made from wrapped yarn. The sheep sports a knitted beret and a knitted scarf. It is surprising, too, how well the knitting holds up out of doors for a month. Several scarecrows that used papier-maché had not fared well during this abnormally wet October.

I also liked this entry for how well the robe was decorated:
My apologies to whoever entered it, as I forgot to record the name. I do recall it was one of the local schools. I very much like the play of shape on this robe, as well as the contrast in value between the more open center and the darker stripes on the sleeves. And these is something very late-Matisse-like about it. Nice use of positive and negative shapes, too.

And speaking of using positive and negative shapes, the Henry Moore sculptures were definitely worth a look as well. My favorite of the exhibition is Large Two Forms, which is displayed over by the aquatic plant pond. I didn't take a picture of it because it is far too complex for that. This is a truly three-dimensional sculpture, very different from every side and even at different distances. You would have to shoot video to even begin to get a sense of why this is a strong work of art. I think it is among the best sculptures I've ever seen, certainly among the best at fully exploiting the three-dimensional nature of sculpture.

I stayed until about 1 PM, then headed out of the city. I know better than to wait until after 3 PM, which is when the evening rush begins. (On Fridays, it begins at noon.) If you go to the garden, do be aware that the new parking deck is very convenient at a price. It cost me nearly $7 to park for about three hours. On the other hand, the Atlanta Botanical Garden continues to grow as a wonderful Atlanta amenity. I initially became a member for the orchids, which I still adore. The Japanese Garden is also a favorite of mine. But there are many other wonderful settings including a rose garden, a bog garden (carnivorous plants!), and the conservatory. Next year Atlanta Botanical Garden plans to open an edible plant garden, a cascades garden, and a canopy walk through the Storza woods. I am thinking a canopy walk in the autumn colors would be a real treat, indeed!

23 October 2009

The First Skein

The first skein on the spinning wheel is completed. I followed Jenna's recommendation and started off with a 4-ounce roving of Blueface Leister from Gale's Art. Gale is a local dyer and member of Atlanta Knitting Guild. Plus, her work is just dang gone fine. You don't have to twist my arm to get me to buy her rovings. The colorway is deep blue sea, which is a nice analogous colorway of blue-greens, blues, cool purple, and a little warm green the color of kelp. The roving is also a chocolate swirl roving, which means that it incorporates both white and black wool. Although the black wool does dull the colors a little, it also adds a richness of tone that makes the final yarn more interesting and worth the effort.

I followed advice from both Jenna the Yarn Pimp and Lydia the Spinning Goddess. Lydia reminded me that I should breath every half hour or so, as I was tense at learning the new skill. I also followed this advice by spinning only a little at a time, for just an hour or until that particular segment of the roving was completed. I figured that spinning a little at a time over several days would be as good and maybe better than trying to spin a whole lot all at once.

Jenna helped me pick out the roving. Then she showed me how to split it up. In this case, I divided it longways (vertically, as opposed to crosswise) into eight parts. If I planned to spin a three-ply yarn, then I would have divided it into three, six, or nine parts. So beginners, before you start dividing roving, decide how many plys you want in the final yarn.

Picture at left is six of the eight small rovings. After dividing the main roving into eight parts, each piece was gently wound up into a ball.

Jenna also told me to predraft. Predrafting is gently tugging on the roving or batt to thin it out. This makes it easier to spin, as you draft less at the wheel. Don't predraft too much, as you do need to draft a little as you spin. For a new spinner, predrafting keeps your hands from being overwhelmed by having too much to do with too much fiber. Predrafting and dividing also have an effect on color. If I had divided the roving only into two instead of into eighths and predrafted it to the same thickness, each stripe of color would have appeared in the final yarn for a much greater distance. Or I could have predrafted half the yarn to have long color changes, but divided the other half and predrafted to have shorter changes. This would produce a lot of mixing between colors in the final yarn. There are choices about how the colors in the final yarn will behave, and you make those decisions as you divide and predraft.

Picture at left: a predrafted roving. Notice how thin and ephemeral it appears when compared to the previous picture. Since I did not spin all four ounces on one day, I stored the small rovings in the previous stage -- divided and rolled into balls but not predrafted. I didn't predraft a small roving until I was ready to spin it. Because I was learning, it took me about 60-90 minutes to predraft and spin one small roving. So my overall process was divide roving, roll small rovings into balls, predraft one small roving, spin it, come back another day, predraft another small roving, spin it, repeat as needed.

The direction in which you feed each small roving also affects the color. This particular roving had blue at the "top" end and purple at the "bottom" end, so each of the eight small rovings had a blue end and a purple end. Since I was producing a two-ply yarn, I decided to spin four small rovings onto one bobbin and the other four onto another bobbin. Again, I made a decision about color. I could have started all four small rovings at the blue "top" end, spinning all of them beginning with blue, proceeding through the color changes, and ending with purple. Instead, I started roving #1 at the blue end. This meant that roving #1 ended at purple. Now I turned roving #2 around and began with the purple "bottom" end. Roving #3 began again at blue. Roving #4 began at purple. In this way, I alternated the color progression. I spun rovings #5 through #8 the same way. I could have mixed things up further by spinning purple, blue, purple, blue, but I was concerned that in the plying stage I would get too much color mixing and dull the colors to an uninteresting point.

I now had two bobbins, both with colors spun in the same direction. (In the picture, the first bobbin is on the left, the second on the right.) Next I put them on the lazy kate and plied them together onto one bobbin. Because they were both spun in the same color progression, I expected to get a lot of plain area in which the same color plied with itself but also some more interesting areas where two different colors plied together. As a new spinner, my two bobbins didn't come out even. That was hardly surprising. But the colors in the skein did come out as planned. I got a nice mix of plain areas and multi-colored areas.

The major downside of this first skein is that the plying is very uneven. Some areas plied together nicely, and others are very, very loose. Jenna had suggested getting a rhythm -- a certain number of treadles per arm length. I thought I had a consistent rhythm, but I think I didn't put in enough twist. So I have more to learn with the "easy" plying part of the process. After it was all plied, I adjusted my standing swift to the "two-yard" position and wound the new yarn off the bobbin into a skein. I threw a couple of ties around the skein. Then I put the yarn in my nice large aluminum steaming pot and let the yarn steam for 5-10 minutes to set the twist. Although I'm not happy with my plying skills, Jenna did point out that my finished yarn is balanced. And from the number of rounds on the swift, I think I got a little over 100 yards. It does have a nice fluffy, scrunchable texture.

And a side note about something else I learned: Do not wear velvet skirts while you spin. The delicate predrafted roving tends to get caught on the surface of the skirt. The smooth silk skirts work much better at the wheel because the roving will not catch.

And Jenna, being the yarn and spinning pimp that she is, then loaned me a copy of Deb Menz's book Color in Spinning. If you are wondering why oh why would anybody want to spend this kind of time and effort when there are so many great yarns you can just buy, read Deb's book. She shows how you can spend even more time on the preparation of the fiber, but how that can pay off in fabulous color harmonies and complex relationships that you won't find on the store shelves.

19 October 2009

The Bed is Crowded Again

On the second of July, two furry critters came to our house to foster. I've been referring to them as "Bruce's cats" because that's who they were. Jenna the Yarn Pimp just smiles at me and reminds me that they aren't Bruce's cats anymore.

Patty, Bruce's sister, has not yet made a final decision. But the boys have been here for more than 100 days. For the first month, they hid in the basement. From Brûlée's clever choice of hiding spots, I could tell he was the criminal mastermind. Vincent just looks good on the wanted posters. Brûlée tended to hide on the bottom shelf of the holiday decorations or on a three-quarter-filled shelf of books. He would lurk behind the Star Wars novels, and then come out to have his nose and forehead rubbed if he deemed it safe enough. Vincent would cower in the corner, figuring that with his dark fur, he would just blend in and become invisible. He doesn't so much blend in as resemble a cat-shaped quantum singularity -- a vaguely cat-shaped darkness. I referred to him as the special-ops ninja. And when he ran from cover to cover, he slinked across the floor with his tail low in very good imitation of an alien face hugger.

After the Wisconsin trip, a dear friend gave me a Feliway diffuser. I set that up in the kitchen. I moved the food bowl up the stairs every couple days until the cats had to go through the pet door and into the kitchen if they wanted to eat. Brûlée started coming upstairs and tentatively exploring. Vincent continued to hide. But Vincent is a very food-oriented animal, particularly when it comes to tuna fish. Every couple days, I would leave a plate of tuna somewhere on the kitchen floor. It would mysteriously clean itself!

Brûlée and I hit it off pretty well. He isn't Copernicus, but he could be a first or second cousin. His coloring is similar but not identical. He is just a little more stocky and his eyes are just a little more widely-spaced, but it is easy to mistake him for The Dude. He has the athleticism, intelligence, and curiosity that I loved about Copernicus, although he is not interested in acquiring minions or developing his own cult. And he has a beautiful, soft, thick, scrumptious coat. As Brûlée becomes more and more comfortable with us, he is less and less worried about getting in trouble. He freely explores. He freely demonstrates his skills both in athletics and in the deadly arts. And he freely attacks the plant in the living room. I don't know what that plant said or did to Brûlée, but it had better make amends soon. Brûlée also hates avian miscreants, and is very good at tearing feathers out of the cat toys. And he loves dangly cat toys. I may need to make something with fringe just so he can attack it.

By September, Brûlée was no longer living in the basement. He was hanging out upstairs and even sleeping in the bedroom. He was waking us up in the morning and sometimes sleeping in bed with us at night. And he was doing this adorable bit where he walks over and then rolls sideways on the floor as an invitation to have his cheeks, nose, and forehead scratched. (In airplane terms, he loses roll control.) Vincent was wondering about his buddy's absence, and began to appear upstairs more and more, always with a very tentative posture and always disappearing down the cat door at the first unfamiliar sound. While he was living in the basement, I had put a fleece blanket in his favorite corner. I didn't want him sleeping on the cold floor all the time. When the flooding occurred, we got a little bit of water in our basement. The blanket got wet, so I ran it through the washer and dryer, then folded it and left it on top of the washer along with some dirty laundry that was waiting for a full load. I discovered Vincent a few days later, sleeping on as much of the blanket as he could uncover. Poor thing! And neither cat claimed either Sophia's pet bed or Copernicus' hidey-hole. So I moved the pet bed to the studio, where it affords a nice view of the bird feeder. And I put the fleece blanket over the pet bed. Vincent quickly figured out this was a special place meant for him.

So between the fleece blanket and the tuna fish, Vincent decided that maybe he wasn't in a prisoner of war camp after all. Neither cat reminds me of Sophia, with her what's-in-it-for-me attitude. Vincent reminds me of Figgy, a Himalayan cat that belonged to my mother for seventeen years. Figgy was a delicate little sweet fluff ball, but not very bright. Like the song from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, all she was was lovely. Vincent has a higher intelligence than Figgy, but he is basically just a big sweet lovely fluff ball. He will come up and press his rather pointy nose against your hand in an attempt to get you to pet him. And then he looks up with his sweet pointy face and bright little eyes like a Muppet. I believe Bruce acquired him on the vet trip when Brûlée was still a kitten. I'm sure that Vincent was little more than a puffball of a tribble. But Vincent is also pretty good about commands and gestures. He knows "come" as a gesture, as well as "hop down" and "hop up." But he does not seem to understand the commands as well if they are only verbal -- he needs the gesture to complete the cue.

Vincent has become "The Big Vince," "da Vincy," "Mr. Black Velvet," "The Big Black Love Machine," or simply "The Blob." Brûlée is the "Sweet Boy" or "Mr. Chaos" or "the Red Paws of Trouble."

And so, over the course of three months, our home is reaching a new normal that in some important ways resembles the old. I still miss Copernicus and Sophia. But now I find that Brûlée and Vincent seem to be where I am. If I sit on the couch to knit, I am quickly greeted. Vincent has taken to sleeping on my end of the couch. One night he was almost in my lap before I had finished getting comfortable, he was so eager to cuddle. Brûlée seems a little jealous at times, so I need to keep reminding him that he's a fine fellow. Sometimes he'll be next to me on the couch, but other times he is in gargoyle position on the bar, which affords him a predator's-eye view of the living room. And in the past week, Vincent has finally started joining us upstairs at bedtime. So just as the chilly autumn weather begins, our bed is warm and crowded again.

15 October 2009

Opening a New Door

At the beginning of October, Cuddly Hubby and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. And the gift I got will count through our anniversary, Yuletide, Valentine's day, and my birthday in the spring.

The box still had the paperwork on the outside indicating where it passed through customs. The paperwork identifies the place of origin as Tauranga, New Zealand, and the value is listed in NZ$. The blue label in the upper right indicates it came by air rather than cargo freighter. The big white "ATL" label further indicates the shipment came into the country at LAX and then arrived at ATL on the 4th of August. I can't help wondering about the interesting things customs officials must see on the job. For some reason, I get misty-eyed thinking about the distance this package traveled, crossing from eastern to western hemisphere and southern to northern hemisphere on its way to my home, leaving winter in New Zealand for high summer in Atlanta. And it sat quietly in the back room of The Whole Nine Yarns for a couple months before the gift-giving occasion arrived.

Of course, when I opened the box, what I saw was this:

And then the next layer was this:

After an afternoon of slowly and carefully following the instructions -- good ones, but I'd have been comfortable with more diagrams -- it looks like this:

Yes, that's a Majacraft Rose. Someplace with more sheep that people is likely to be just the place to find a fine spinning wheel. Several friends, including Jenna the Yarn Pimp, have been encouraging me down this path. I'm truly not sure what I'm going to spin on this, but I have heard many knitters speak of how understanding yarn through spinning has made them better knitters. So a certain amount of this I am doing on faith that it will make me a better designer. And although there are a number of more budget-friendly wheels available, I wanted something well made and versatile. And this one is just that. It is very well-made and well-balanced. It comes with two different flyers, two different whorls, four bobbins, and a lazy kate. It is a double-treadle design with scotch tension. And it folds and has an integrated handle to make it easy to transport.

I'm starting off with 4oz of Blueface Leister from local dyer Gale Evans of Gale's Art. Jenna helped me pick it out on Monday "spin night" at the shop. Lydia, who is a fabulous teacher, helped me get going. And the other spinners were all very encouraging. Pictures to follow later, I am sure.

06 October 2009


Last Friday I took an all-day workshop with Candace Eisner Strick. The workshop was sponsored by Atlanta Knitting Guild. One of my favorite things about the guild is the superstars the guild invites once or twice a year to come visit and teach workshops. Candace also teaches at STITCHES. She was here for STITCHES South 2009 and she will be back again for STITCHES South 2010. Alas, she won't be teaching Strickmuster (Austrian traveling stitches) at STITCHES South 2010. She is teaching The Art of Knitting Backwards, Thumbing the Purl, Tradition!, The Ripple Effect, Kumihimo, and 2 by 2. And she did show us a little of Thumbing the Purl. If you knit Continental, seriously consider that class.

I already have in my library the three Lisl Fanderl Bäuerliches Stricken books. I think I bought them at Main Street Yarns in Watkinsville sometime during the past five years. Not sure. At any rate, they are apparently now out of print and hard to find so I am all the more fortunate to have splurged on them when I did. Yes, they are all in German. But they have charts! (At this point, I am wondering what it says about my knitting obsession that I have knitting books in German and Japanese. At least I've studied German in both high school and college.)

Candace's class has been a big help because now I have some idea what those charts are telling me to do. Often they are telling me to do two things at once. One is to twist the knitted stitches by working them through the back of the loop. The other is to cross stitches over each other. The Austrian way of working these is to twist all the stitches the same way, whether they are traveling left or right. Candace taught us how to twist one way for the left and a different way for the right. This makes the charts a wee bit more challenging to work, but it also produces beautifully symmetrical and mirrored designs. If you are comfortable working make 1 left and make 1 right, you should be able to catch on to this technique. If you aren't yet familiar with that sort of mirroring, the process may be a bit daunting.

Not only was Candace's class great fun, but she had many, many samples that she passed around the room. The class was worth it for the eye candy alone. These are really beautiful designs and a lovely technique. I could see some sort of Lord of the Rings elvish socks knit with this technique, as it allows for rather delicate intertwining of motifs.

And one last thing about the swatch -- you'll notice it is on double-pointed needles. Candace has you put the same number of stitches on all three needles. In this way, you are knitting each pattern row three times or, as she says, you have three chances to practice and make it work. I thought this was a rather novel and clever way to teach a technique. Also, while it does not violate the laws of physics to work these stitches back and forth, they are challenging enough in the round without further complicating the matter.

05 October 2009

The Panda Fanatic Goes Ape

Those of you who know me well know that I have passions other than knitting. Pandas is one of those. I love pandas. Our local pair, Lun Lun and Yang Yang, do not look alike to me. I can often tell the difference between them in photographs. I haven't spent enough time around Mei Lan or Xi Lan, but they're good cubs, too.

If you live in Atlanta, then you may have heard talk about the zoo's latest fundraising effort. Cuddly Hubby and I already gave, rather generously, back in the summer. I'm almost sorry we did then, because now the zoo is running a charity auction. So I've been over on that site today, looking at all the great panda-fanatic goodies that I'd be bidding on if we hadn't already given. They include:
a photo diary of Mei Lan
commemorative silk embroidery
commemorative banners
a behind the scenes tour for four
Xi Lan paw prints
a tower of chocolaty goodies

And there are some things that just warm your heart. Two children -- local? I don't know -- have taken the time to create a pretty good origami mother and cub panda pair.

Or an only-in-Atlanta item, commemorative Coca-Cola bottles. If you live here, the connection of Coca-Cola to anything Atlanta makes sense.

There are also numerous packages of tickets to various Atlanta attractions. Hey, if you're going to visit them anyway, might as well make your money count twice.

And there are zoo-specific special items, like Keeper for a Day packages; animal encounters with elephants, giraffes, or rhinoceros; or elephant art. (I'd be more interested in the elephant paintings were it not that I already have some ZooAtlanta animal art in my living room. Thanks, Onyx!) I can tell you from my docent experiences, the behind-the-scenes encounters with the animals are great experiences.

As time moves us towards the end of 2009, we also move towards the traditional giving season. The auction is open until 31 October. If you like having pandas in Atlanta, I hope you'll be able to contribute at least a little to the effort to keep Lun Lun and Yang Yang here for another five years. After all, these wonderful first ten years have gone by all too quickly.

29 September 2009

A Weekend of Insouciant Knitting Nirvana

Cat Bordhi taught two workshops at The Whole Nine Yarns over the weekend. Of course, I and my undivided attention were there. For the non-knitters who read this blog (the knitters already know this) Cat's second book in her current sock series releases this week.This title has been on my wish list for more than a year. You'll recall from the Interlocking Leaves socks last spring that I really enjoyed foxglove architecture from New Pathways for Sock Knitters. I think I might still prefer that architecture over Personal Footprints, but both certainly have their merits.

In the Saturday workshop, we made a personal footprints discovery sock. This is basically what's in the book, but it was so very nice to have Cat on hand. Especially if you do not knit socks very often (raise my hand), it is nice to have someone who has knit many, many socks to help you with fit. I also suspect that only podiatrists have thought about or looked at as many different feet as Cat. As you'll see in the book, you make an accurate (no cheating!) cut-out of your foot. Then you knit a toe-up sock, marking lines on your cardboard cut-out as you work. The cut-out becomes a pattern. Some lines remind you when to increase. One line reminds you where to insert the lifelines for the leg insertion. And a line near the back reminds you where to begin your heel decreases. If you are someone who knits socks obsessively, you can use this method to produce a very easy, compact pattern that you can take with you.

My discovery sock, knit on a size 4mm Addi with Cascade 220 Heathers yarn.

What is really brilliant about these socks is the leg opening. If you read the previous paragraph carefully, you'll have wondered about the "lifelines for leg insertion." Huh? If you read Twist Collective, then you'll recall the Houdini Socks Cat submitted for the premiere issue in Fall 2008. The Houdini socks are a simplified version of the Personal Footprints architecture. Knit a tube with a toe and a heel. Then snip a stitch in the middle of where the leg opening should appear, unravel about half a row, and pick up around the opening to form the leg. This method produces an interesting intersection near the ankle that Cat calls the "star." Furthermore, Cat's method for picking up around the afterthought opening without getting weird holes at the corner works. Really. Try it. And if you decide to knit the jester tentacles bag from the Second Treasury of Magical Knitting, you now will know a better way of making the tentacles.

A few more observations:
It is very easy to carry patterns up the instep and then up the leg with these socks.

It is very easy to fold these socks for storage, as they fold into flat footprint shapes. Cat did warn us that socks of this architecture do not fit sock blockers well. They do fit feet well.

This type of sock architecture works well for ankle socks, those cute little socks that only cover your foot and do not, in fact, cover your ankles. When I was young, they often had a small pom pom on the back and were worn with tennis outfits. Even now, I think they are most often associated with sports wear. If you want to go legless with your socks, you could work just a round or two after the leg opening and bind off.

The toe beginning is interesting as well. In particular, the first round is worked with both the yarn and the tail so that you double your stitches easily. Keep this in mind for other projects, such as circular shawls. I've done increases this way before with two-color double knitting or Fair Isle (just work two stitches in the same stitch, one with each color of yarn), but I had never thought of using the tail yarn on the first round to double stitches. Duh!

And even if you have read this quarter's Knitty, you will want Cat's book so that you can have directions for Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off in your library. During Saturday's workshop I was sitting next to Ginny, who is our resident sock-yarn hoarder and sock knitter. Ginny whispered to me that she doesn't like toe-up socks because she can never find a bind off that is loose and stretchy enough and that looks nice both on and off the foot. I know Ginny is not the only person who has encountered this problem. And an hour or two later, Cat demonstrated this wonderful technique that perfectly meets the requirements. She also tells us that Jeny Staiman has a cast-on to match it. Cat went so far as to say that Jeny is at the same level of brilliance as Debbie New. So now I'm desperately coveting Jeny's first book, and I have no idea what it is and when it will be printed. I just know I want it now!

Oh, and Cat has already seen Lynne Barr's new Reversible Knitting book. Twist the knife, er knitting needle, why don't you? At least it comes out this week. (Pant, hyperventilate, pant.)

Sunday's workshop involved creativity and generating new ideas. In the first exercise, Connie and I worked together to design adorable Indian (as in Wild West) toddler pants that grow as the child grows. I hope Connie will knit them, as it was mostly her design and a very good one at that. Jan Stephens also came up with enough ideas for a book, but then promptly said she wasn't going to write it! In another exercise, Ginny and Heather invented not just people but entire family trees. I am so sorry nobody taped this. Heather, if you need money to put your twins through school, we can lock you and Ginny somewhere so you two can write Edward Gorey-style books. Hilarious!

In yet another exercise, we generated ideas by thinking about what we do every day. Some of mine:
clean cat box => knit a wire scoop
microwave food => knit a food-safe doily splatter cover
make face @ stupid computer "Denethor" => knit a brick

This generated more conversation. Another participant makes coffee every morning. She composts her coffee grounds, but she was thinking it would be nice to have reusable knitted coffee filters. So the next thing you know, we are having a group discussion about which yarns would be food safe and at what temperatures. Dare I contact a yarn company and ask why this important information is not standard on all yarn labels?

I also felt that the knitted brick might not be quite the right item to throw at Denethor the PC. In this group discussion, a knitted grenade was mentioned as a possibility. I think that would certainly be a fun knit, as it would give you a chance to play with strong texture contrasts of knits and purls. I'm just hoping Homeland Security wouldn't come knocking after viewing your Ravelry project page. I think I then suggested knitting a Mac, but then Jenna came up with the perfect solution: Intimidate a PC by knitting a Mac doll based on the "I'm a Mac and I'm a PC" commercials. Jenna, you are a genius!

I've had a class with Cat before, so I already knew she was a wonderful teacher. But let me just remind everybody again -- this is someone who used to teach elementary and middle school children and it shows in that she is a very good teacher. Do not fail to treat yourself to at least one workshop with her even if, like me, you are not a sock knitter.

24 September 2009


Sometimes a technique gets a bad reputation. Intarsia is an example. A lot of knitters will not even try it, as they've already heard the horror stories. There are reasons not to love intarsia. It can sometimes be uneven. There are lots of loose strings during the knitting and lots of ends to weave in. And it can require a lot of concentration. Of course, this is mostly true if you are making complex picture knitting. But intarsia can be used to get some very nice decorative results without getting too complicated.

Several years ago I wanted to knit a ruana. I was initially inspired by the one in Cheryl Oberle's Folk Shawls book. At the time, I had a nice stash of Reynolds Fusion and was looking for an excuse to play with it. Reynolds had a pamphlet of four different scarf patterns, and that was an inspirational starting point. So I started with that, and knit a truncated diamond shape with diamond patterns. I taught that pattern once as a class. And I've worn this ruana again and again, to the point that today it has begun to felt a little bit. I didn't do any decreases or shaping around the neck. The fabric is open enough and flexible enough that it has acquired the proper shape over time just through being worn.

I knit a second version of the ruana, in which the diamonds became ogees. Again, I used Fusion, but in a neutral colorway that reminded me of undyed animal fiber. That shawl was donated appropriately to the ZooAtlanta Beastly Feast silent auction. I was almost sorry to donate it, because it turned out so lovely. The ogee shapes were graceful and flattering. And because the edge of the garment follows the ogee shape, those edges drape in a flattering manner. But then, Fusion was discontinued. It was a good yarn with some good design possibilities, but it hadn't attracted the sort of pattern support it needed. For example, one of the commercial patterns was for a sweater with a circular tie-dye motif in the center. (If you want to see this, search Fusion projects on Ravelry.) The motif itself was pretty, but let's face it, a target on the tummy is flattering on very few figures.

So during STITCHES South, I wore the ruana. With all the yarn vendors, I made it my mission to find a substitute for Fusion. Debi Light from The Whole Nine Yarns had even looked for me at one of the TNNA shows, without finding a perfect substitute. So I was most surprised and delighted when a Nashua representative brought Geologie to my attention. I had initially passed on it because Geologie doesn't have the long color changes of Fusion. But it is similar in both composition and recommended needle size/gauge. Using a variety of colorways produced a rather fine result. I had six skeins to work with rather than the ten I'd need for a ruana, so I made this oddly-shaped shawl instead. I am happy to show off how lovely this yarn can be. The colors are subtle and complex, almost like an Impressionist painting. And the jewel tones are quite rich. Something about the color combination and the ogees made me think of an Arabian night, so I named this pattern Scheherazade. There are some other colorways that are more neutral, almost like layered sandstone. I'm hoping to make another ogee ruana using those colors.

I'll be teaching this project as a class in November. Whether worked as a scarf, shawl, or ruana, the pattern is worked in long strips that are joined together by intarsia. I've worked out some "graph" paper that participants can use to plan the final shape of their projects. This is a pattern that I hope will someday be available commercially. But for now, I'm happy to share the pictures (and share the pattern if you take the class). And I hope the pictures will inspire others to design with Geologie.

14 September 2009

Spectacular 14 Scarf

Of course, I did take some knitting with me on the Wisconsin vacation. Had to have that! And it was so nice being on a road trip vacation with the Cuddly Hubby, as he could drive and I could knit. (I may be passionate about knitting, but I do not recommend knitting and driving at the same time. Sometimes, you just have to be patient, Grasshopper.) You'll recall I had been experimenting with some brioche/shaker/Estonian patent stitches. This project evolved out of the net stitch that I showed in the video on 17 July. I was looking for an excuse to try the technique in a project. And this particular project also served a practical purpose.

The Whole Nine Yarns had been to the TNNA market in June and purchased several "skeins" of Spectacular 14 from Bjorn of Hand Painted Knitting Yarns. Part of what makes this yarn unique is that it is already cut into long lengths, rather than flowing continuously from a skein. The colors are beautiful -- complex and interesting. And the yarn is sold in strands -- about $15 for ten strands. The yarn was purchased for the shop with the idea that ten strands could make a project. This would be good for holiday gift giving. Well, upon further experimentation, ten strands didn't really work. Hmmm. And of course, a lot of knitters weren't sure what to do with already cut up yarn. So, we needed a project that would show off this yarn and get people to start thinking about how they could use it creatively.

The net pattern stitch turned out to be an excellent choice. Although it looks as if I've used Spectacular 14 on every-other row, I've actually used it only on every fourth row. So the pattern turns out to be an excellent "hamburger helper" for knitters. Even with that, I needed twenty strands rather than ten to produce a reasonable width of scarf. The total cost of the scarf, including strands and background yarn, is around $50. And the cut strands were functional, because they produced a self-fringe.

For the background part of the scarf, I used about 1.5 skeins of Cascade 220 in color 9338, which is a complex heathered grey-green. Jenna, Caryn, and I spent a lot of time talking about which color to use with the Spectacular 14. The green worked okay, but this would also be interesting with a light mocha brown or possibly oatmeal. We were looking for something that would coordinate with Spectacular 14 without stealing the limelight. Walking around with ten strands and holding it up to the wall of yarn gave me a greater appreciation for how unusual the color combinations are in this yarn. And as you can see, the back of the scarf, while different from the front, is still very interesting with a Swiss dot pattern.

In September, I taught this technique and this specific project as a class. It was exciting to get other people involved and to get the knit one more below technique out into the world. I'm looking forward to seeing what the students accomplish, as it is always interesting to see how other people put color and texture together. And we've put it on the schedule again at the beginning of December. If you happen to be in the shop anytime soon, you should be able to find the Spectacular 14 scarf hanging around. Feel free to give it a look.

12 August 2009

Wisconsin Stash

I did mention that we visited some local yarn shops while in Wisconsin. In these economically tough times, I know many people are bargain shopping at the big box stores. Still, if you can afford to, I definitely encourage you to support your local yarn shops. These are the people who will be there to help you figure out a pattern, who schedule classes and workshops and book signings, who will order just the right color when it is out of stock. And let's face it, you can't perfectly check yarn softness or match colors with an outfit without having the yarn in person.

In Fish Creek I visited Red Sock Yarns. This is a relatively new shop but the owner has already made some wonderful and smart choices. In addition to a nice selection of good yarns, she has a sitting area for knitters or non-knitters who need to wait. Here I bought six skeins of elsebeth lavold Hempathy in a lovely spring green shade. My thought is to make a top to go with a certain silk skirt. I'd been looking for an excuse to buy some of this, anyway. I am thinking of maybe a summer shell with some lace or openwork details.

Up the street a little farther was the Interfibers summer studio. There were some really beautiful woven wall hangings. I'd love to come up with some clever ideas for knitted artwork for the local annual South Cobb Arts Alliance member show. Seeing this work was good motivation and inspiration. There was also some nice handwoven clothing. And there was just a little yarn, so I purchased a couple skeins of New England Shetland. I later saw more of this in some of the other shops I visited. It isn't something you are likely to find easily in Atlanta, but is obviously well-suited for traditional Northern Fair Isle knitting. And the contrast between this pretty blue (which has a subtle heather to it) and this golden yellow is just delightful.

As we headed down out of Door County we also stopped in Sturgeon Bay at Spin. This is another good yarn shop -- friendly people and a good selection. I bought a skein of Noro Silk Garden sock yarn that will probably become a test sample. And they had a thorough selection of books. I purchased Wire Knits by Heather Kingsley-Heath and Pet Projects by Sally Muir & Joanna Osborne. Wire Knits has lots of interesting knitted and beaded projects. The book has the expected jewelry projects, but it also has several variations of wire knitted flowers, a wire ruffle as a barrette, wire knitted collars, and even a spiral scarf. Some of these small projects would be very nice gift projects for the holiday season.

Pet Projects is similarly clever. Yes, it has dog coats and cat beds. In fact, it has a dang fine pet beanbag that would be an excellent stash buster project. But it also has a carrot curtain (for a rabbit), a water lily (for the goldfish/koi pond), a horse blanket, a hamster house, a parakeet blanket, a tortoise hibernation tent, and a wire bird feeder. There is a rosette pattern that is useful for anyone who needs a blue ribbon. (Could you imagine a knitting contest with knitted 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-place ribbons?) And toward the back is a chapter of knitted pets -- larger scale amigurumi. Those choices include a fox terrier, a ferret, a guinea pig (perfect for the research scientist in your life), and a nicely-textured tortoise. I think I was seduced into both of these purchases by the sheer cleverness of the authors. And be aware that Pet Projects has several charts that might be adaptable to other circumstances. For example, I think the baroque cat cushion would make a mighty fine cushion for the humans, or maybe a stylish starting point for a handbag.

When we got down to the Madison area, I found two more shops of interest. I visited Lakeside Fibers which is in Madison and right on the lake. It also has an adjoining cafe, so you can knit and enjoy a proper cup of coffee. I bought Knitting Art by Karen Searle. The profiles included some knitters I'd heard of, such as Kathryn Alexander and Debbie New, but the other sixteen are new to me. If you are looking to "think outside the box," this book will definitely take you in that direction. No boxes here. I also bought a skein of Filatura di Crosa Timo. I've been looking for a flame-colored ribbon yarn that might make a good antenna ornament. I'd even looked in the STITCHES South market back in April. So I was happy to find this. Now I need to decide if I should knit something, or if I should just tie on the ribbons.

The last place I visited was in Verona, just to the west of Madison. The Sow's Ear is another first-rate yarn shop, and it is also combined with a coffee shop. In fact, there was a nice group of knitters sitting at a table and just knitting away. They immediately made me just a little homesick for my own local knit night. One of the ladies was nearing the end of the second sleeve and almost ready to steek a gorgeous Fair Isle sweater. If we'd had more time, I would have been tempted to pull up a chair and wait for the excitement. The shop ladies were also very nice, and one of them helped me order Making Mathematics with Needlework and Knitted Lace Designs of Herbert Niebling directly from Schoolhouse Press. I also bought a skein of Poems Sock yarn and a Sow's Ear commuter cup. (The cup was to keep Cuddly Hubby from spilling any diet Coke in my zippy sippy.) I'm not sure why I don't see Poems in more stores here in Atlanta, as is it made by Universal Yarns, who are located just up the expressway in North Carolina. I'm looking forward to playing with it, as I think it will make a good alternative to Noro Silk Garden Sock. The colors are pretty and the superwash wool seems to me to be softer and loftier than Silk Garden Sock.

Hmmm. I guess now it makes more sense why I'm not doing the Atlanta-area shop hop this year. I think I made my own Wisconsin shop hop.