Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What I did on my Christmas vacation

Yesterday, despite the woefully freezing Washington winter, Tom took me to the National Museum of the American Indian. We were hoping for more artifacts and antiques, but it was still informative and fun. I searched diligently for evidence of Native American knitting to no avail. But the weaving and the beadwork were to die for.
The only thing I managed to photograph was this stunning piece entitled "Allies in War, Partners in Peace" by Edward Hlavka. This 19.5-foot bronze statue depicts the alliance between the Oneida people and the United States and features General George Washington, Polly Cooper and Oneida Chief Oskanondohna. Truly splendid.

To view a much better photograph of this statue, visit this Smithsonian page.

The most impressive thing of all? The exterior of the building. I'm not usually a big fan of modern architecture but this building simply feels... well... organic. The curves connote water and rolling hills and the stone tiers echo prehistoric rock formations. Just beautiful. A number of Native Americans designed and architected this museum as detailed by
National Museum of the American Indian

Built: 2004
Style: Organic
Project Designer: Douglas Cardinal (Blackfoot) of Ottawa, Canada
Design Architects: GBQC Architects of Philadelphia and Johnpaul Jones (Cherokee/Choctaw)
Project Architects: Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects Ltd. of Seattle and SmithGroup of Washington, D.C., with Lou Weller (Caddo) and the Native American Design Collaborative, and Polshek Partnership Architects of New York City
Design Consultants: Ramona Sakiestewa (Hopi) and Donna House (Navajo/Oneida)
Landscape Architects: Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects Ltd. of Seattle and EDAW Inc. of Alexandria, Va.
Construction: Clark Construction Company of Bethesda, Md. and Table Mountain Rancheria Enterprises Inc (CLARK/TMR)
If you ever find yourself in DC, it's definitely worth a visit - even if you only get to see the exterior. And if you do wander inside, check out the movie in the Rasmusen Theater on the fourth floor. It's truly a unique experience.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Post-Christmas Daze

Ah, how I love the lull that follows Christmas. The world recovers from too much food, too much family, too much alcohol, and too much spending by taking a giant collective SIGH of relief - or exhaustion! At least that's what I do. You won't find me at some crazy post-holiday sale  (although I did buy an adorable mittens ornament on sale this morning from Danforth Pewter) - I'm resting along with the rest of the world. Everything can wait for a week while we all nap and eat leftovers. It's glorious.

I hope you had a merry Christmas - I most certainly did. Tom aka Super Boyfriend outdid himself by giving me a glorious Edwardian sapphire and diamond ring that I absolutely love. It's amazing! He's amazing, too. I love him. What a wonderful man.

After knitting way too many Lusekofte Caps, I whipped myself up a quick pair of mitts that I can use for driving, texting, and picking up dog crap (with a plastic bag, of course). I've always liked Mandy Powers' End of May Mittens, but I really wanted some handwarmers that leave my fingers free. So I followed the pattern until I had completed the second flower and then:
  1. Knitted two rows
  2. Purled one row
  3. Knitted an additional one inch for the hem
  4. Bound off
Then I put thumb stitches on the waste yarn back onto the needle and picked up four or five stitches from the mitten to close the gap. I then followed the same approach to the thumb bind-off as I did for the top of the mitt (K 2 rows, P 1 row, K for one inch, bind off). I hemmed everything and viola! Cute End of May mitts. Best of all, they knitted up quickly - and use an exquisite yarn: Classic Elite's Inca Alpaca in 1146 - Island of the Sun (blue) and 1163 - Morning Glory (pink). The alpaca serves up a delicious halo for veritable fiber feast!

(The End of May Mittens pattern is only $5, but if you're broke, try this similar (but less attractive IMHO)  free pattern: Daisy Mittens.)

Now I have got to get back to the business of making sweaters. I received my knitting machine but have been too busy to even take it out of the box. I want to use it to make the back for Jillian Moreno's Lace Inset Pullover. The next sweater in my queue is Pam Allen's Comfy Cardi which is available in Clara Parkes' The Knitter's Book of Wool. These two projects should keep me busy through long, winter nights - and warm during short, cold days.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bejeweled Popcorn

I whipped up this cute and easy Popcorn Cranberry Garland last night. I've always liked real version but they're a pain to make because the popcorn always disintegrates. So I decided to try my hand at this version.

The pattern, designed by Colleen Sullivan, is available at ePatternsCentral.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy knitty holidays

Every year, I commission my friend and colleague, Gary Cangemi to commemorate my family in a personalized Christmas card. The card's participants vary based on the particulars of my life, but the thing that remains constant is Gary's tremendous talent and gift for fun.

I asked him to spin up a cute knitting-related card this year. He'll never know how close he got to my real life! Most evenings, you will find me pajama-clad and curled up with pets knitting away. My girlfriend, Theresa says this card makes me look frumpy and that I am not frumpy! I don't know... sometimes I'm probably frumpy, like at night when I'm knitting. But who cares? I step it up when I'm rendevousing with my boyfriend, but even he doesn't care about a little frumpiness now and then.

So from my house to yours, I wish you a very warm and wooly holiday!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The case of the mysteriously masculine masthead

Yesterday's mailbox rendered a lovely pre-Christmas surprise: the new issue of Interweave Crochet. Although knitting is my first love - I prefer the look of knit stitches over crochet - I still like to crochet. In fact, I've never met a lacy crocheted tunic I didn't like.

The new Interweave Crochet offers some interesting patterns, especially the Tunisian crochet stitches that look much like knitting. But that's not what I want to discuss today. What caught my eye was the magazine's masthead. Check out the names:
  • Founder: Linda Ligon
  • CEO: Clay B. Hall
  • CFO: Troy Wells
  • VP, Consumer Marketing: Bob Kaslik
  • VP, Production: Trish Faubion
  • VP, Sales & Marketing: Stephen Koenig
  • VP, Technology: T.J. Harty
  • VP, Publisher, Art & Jewelry Group, Yarn Group: David Pyle
  • VP, Publisher, Quilt & Paper Group: John P. Bolton
Now I know there are men who crochet but I've never met one. They might even be urban myths like the alligators living in NYC sewers. Football great Rosie Grier crocheted. And I bet my main man, Jared Flood does, too. But otherwise I'm skeptical.

Don't you think it's strange that a magazine clearly written for women about a traditionally female craft is run almost completely by men? Yes, the production manager is a woman. And the founder. But otherwise it's all dudes.

I concur that companies should hire the best man for the job, so to speak. But I'd love to survey the executive staff at Interweave Crochet and see how many of them actually crochet. What are the odds? Oh, probably as likely as this cat being the size of a German Shepherd, don't you think?

By the way, Interweave Knitting's masthead is the inverse of Interweave Crochet's. ALL of the executive-level positions at that magazine are held by women. Except for the production manager. Unlike at Interweave Crochet, he's a dude.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

OMG, all I do is knit this hat!

I have been under the weather - like completely inundated by clouds, rain, fog, and sleet. But thanks to Dr. Kwon and the Biaxin he gave me, the sun is slowly beginning to shine again. Thank goodness.

I haven't been able to do much during my sickness sabbatical, but I have managed to bat out Lusekofte Caps. All I do is knit this damn hat - over and over again. Why? Because everytime my friends see this cap, they want one! Thus far, I've made four of them and I have another in the queue. Plus I knitted a different fair isle hat from Hats On! for my cousin after she requested a Lusekofte.

I really like the pattern and by now I can do it in my sleep. In fact, I knitted half of one cap last night and hope to finish it tonight or tomorrow. Then I'll cast on for the final cap. If anyone else wants one, they'll have to wait because I simply must knit something else - anything else! Like a sweater for me - one of the six I have planned!

I hope your holiday knitted gifts will be finished, boxed, wrapped, and placed beneath the tree before Santa shows up next week. We can then start knitting for next Christmas - which will come again in an instant. Time flies when you're having lots of fun knitting.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A very, merry pug Christmas

My sister and I don't see eye to eye about much, but we do agree on one thing: pugs rock!

We grew up with Dandy, a much beloved but rather maligned little dog who put up with a lot of abuse by three school-age kids. Most families might worry about a dog biting kids; in my crazy family, we worried about a kid biting the dog! My brother, the baby in the family, harbored great feelings of jealousy; on occassion we'd find him hovering vampirelike over the pug. Poor thing. No wonder he always seemed a bit forlorn.

I adopted Moose in 2002 after learning that my long quest to have children had ended suddenly and sadly in a hysterectomy. Completely distraught, my ob/gyn's nurse told me I had to get a dog. HAD TO. I told her I had cats but she said nope, I needed a dog. So my husband and I picked a just-born pug out online and waited for him to grow up. Moose was the cutest and sweetest little pup I've ever seen. In fact, he still is!

And now my sister, Jill has Jett, a jet-black terror who inspires laughs and smiles from all who meet him. He is the proverbial bundle of energy; my dog takes one look at him, lowers his tail, and collapses in a heap of exhaustion. If my sister could bottle Jett's joie de vivre, she'd be rich - and I'd be her first customer. Jett is something else.

So, using this canine inspiration, I whipped up this little stocking for my sister and her pug. It's my first real pattern and I'm proud of it. I'm going to reknit it (this time as a fawn pug), capture the exact instructions, and publish it as a free pattern on Ravelry. I was hoping I'd get it done before Christmas, but I'm not so sure - it might have to wait until next year. I'm really busy in my real job, plus all the holiday preparations - as I'm sure is the case for you, too, too much crap to do, too little time. But someday soon, there will be a free Ravelry download in homage to my family's love of pugs.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Very disappointed...

The good news: I finished the Norwegian Lusekofte Cap for Michael. It matches his damnable crotch rocket motorcycle so hopefully he'll like it.

Now for the bad news. Afraid is would be a bit too large, I washed the cap in the washing machine. I knitted the hat in Knit Picks Swish Worsted, a yarn I truly like. But despite what the label says, this is definitely not machine-washable wool. The cap came out of the washer a fuzzy, ugly mess. It appears that the red fibers fuzzed up and over the black ones giving it an almost purple cast. I spent an hour this morning with my fabu Gingher scissors cutting off the hideous halo. Ugh.

I also think it lost some body during the wash cycle. The cap now flops around like a marionette. SIGH... how disconcerting to spend hours and hours knitting something only to have it crash and burn in the final descent!

Oh well, he's 17. He'll probably never notice. Either that or he'll never wear it anyway because it's missing that je ne sais quoi teenage coolness I never understand.

It's the thought that counts, right? In the meantime, handwash your Swish! Caveat knitter!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Arwen Slipper Socks for Sharon

As I mentioned a few posts ago, my friend, Sharon gave me a bag of blue yarn that her mother had collected during her 90+ years on this planet. I just finished whipping up a pair of Arwen Slipper Socks using her mom's yarn. I'm hoping this will make a nice and poignant Christmas present to my friend.

The only modification I made was in the finishing of the toe. On the first sock I made, I just ran a strand of yarn through the stitches and tied them off. However, while I was making the second one, I realized that I'd made in error in knitting the toe so I tore out the first toe's sock and reknitted it.

The pattern calls for finishing the toe with the Kitchener stitch, a technique I have yet to master. The problem? I only need to use it occassionally, and always when I'm at the very end of a project and anxious to finish. Getting the Kitchener stitch right requires practice and concentration. It's complicated, or at least it's complicated for me.

So this time, I turned the socks inside out, put the stitches back on two needles, and proceeded to do a three-needle bind-off. The result: a nice, natural finish to the socks.

One final thought: I wonder what Sharon's mom intended to do with all this blue wool? I'm sure after I've kicked the bucket, someone will undoubtedly be standing around saying, "Why in the hell did she buy all this yarn?" My only hope is that they find an appreciative knitter who will make some nice presents with my overabundant stash.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The matter of vegetable matter

"My expensive tweed yarn has straw in it!" my knitting gal pal, Teresa exclaimed. Her pictures prove her point: little "splinters," as she says, are sprinkled throughout her skeins. She posted her issue to the Yahoo Ample Knits group and several people responded that her yarn has VM or vegetable matter.

What in heck is vegetable matter? According to the Bedford Country, PA, Cooperative Extension:
Vegetable matter in wool comes from feed particles as well as burs, seeds, twigs, leaves, and grasses. Vegetable matter is removed from a fleece using a process called scouring. A certain amount of vegetable matter is expected in wool, however, an excessive amount is considered a defect and the wool may be discounted in price.

Several ways to minimize the amount of vegetable matter in wool include the following: removing belly wool, wool on the top of the head and around the cheeks, and removing manure clumps or tags. Carefully feeding sheep to prevent contamination can also decrease the amount of vegetable matter in the wool.
Manure clumps? ACK! I now feel about yarn the way I do about steak: steak doesn't come from a cow - it comes from the Safeway. Therefore, yarn doesn't come from a shit-laden sheep - it comes from the yarn shop!

I thought the vegetable matter problem was unique to Teresa's yarn, but I was wrong. Last night, I swatched some red yarn I bought several months ago in preparation for the Comfy Cardigan in Clara Parkes' new book, The Knitter's Book of Wool. (The pattern is really cute and presents some interesting challenges for upsizing, so watch this space soon to learn more.) The yarn, Briggs and Little Selkirk, should be 100% percent wool. Instead, it's 5% splinters and 95% wool - way too much VM for me. I picked out a bunch of straw as I knitted and still found the swatch littered with crap (no pun intended) after washing and drying. Therefore, I'm going to sell this yarn on eBay and knit the Comfy Cardigan in Berroco Peruvia. I used this for Tom's Ice Scraper Glove and really liked it.

Remember that Lace Inset Pullover I'm supposed to be making? Well, it sits in my knitting basket while I finish Sharon's slippers and Michael's Lusekoft hat. I dread going back to the sweater because knitting that vast field of stockinette for the back is BORING. So this morning, I splurged and bought myself an early Christmas present: a Bond Ultimate Knitting Machine Deluxe. Thank you Joann Fabrics for the 50% off coupon!

My plan: knit the tedious parts of my sweaters using the machine and finish up the interesting parts by hand. I'm hoping I can make the Lace Inset Pullover back and sleeves quickly and just focus on the lace front. Maybe that way I can finish the sweater for my family's Christmas party. Plus hopefully you'll get something out of it, too. I'll get my upsized sweaters done more quickly and share the results and lessons learned. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Michael's Lusekofte Cap

Earlier this year, I made my boyfriend, Tom a Lusekofte Cap from Charlene Schurch's invaluable Hats On! If you want to make a terrific hat for yourself or a loved one, you need this book. Thus far, I've knitted two of its 31 hats, the Lusekofte Cap and the Triple Patterned Watch Cap. I loved how both turned out. I adore Fair Isle knitting anyway, but you just can't beat Charlene's hat patterns. (She's written books on mittens and socks, too but I've never seen them so I can't vouch for their wonderfulness.)

Anyway, when Tom's son, Michael saw his new cap, he wanted one, too but in different colors. He asked for navy blue with gray trim, but that was before he got that damn red and black crotch rocket motorcycle. Thus, he's getting his hat in colors to match The Vehicle I Loathe With All My Being.

I'm making Michael the alternative band offered in the pattern, so it will be a bit different from his Dad's. I'm also going to knit Michael a helmet liner for Christmas that will also be black and red.

I made both Tom and Michael's hats with Knit Picks Swish Worsted. What gorgeous merino yarn! So soft it won't scratch Tom's bald head and warm to boot. I'm going to have to make a sweater out of this great yarn one of these days, especially because besides being pretty, it's so inexpensive, too: only $3.99 for a 110-yard skein, plus you get free shipping from Knit Picks if you buy over $25 in merchandise. You just can't beat it.

I'm really digging Michael's hat; I hope he does, too - although I'm sure he will never use the verb "dig" to describe his happiness with the cap. As usual, I date myself...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

OMG! Jared Flood is coming to DC!

Woo fricking hoo! Jared Flood is coming to Washington! Fibre Space, an Alexandria, VA yarn store, yesterday announced a new knitting retreat, the Designer Scavenger Hunt. According to the website:
Participants will start the day with a luxurious brunch at the (O Street) Mansion and the opportunity to explore the Mansion’s 100 rooms and discover some of its 32 secret doorways. Among its many rooms are four workshops, featuring five spectacular designers: Jared Flood, Catherine Gagnon, Tanis Gray, Wendy Johnson and Courtney Kelley.
The four workshops include:
  1. Photographing your Finished Projects with Jared Flood
  2. Lace and Fair Isle Techniques with Catherine Gagnon and Courtney Kelley
  3. Charted Cables with Tanis Gray
  4. Toe Techniques for Toe Up Socks with Wendy Johnson
The Designer Scavenger Hunt is being held Sunday, January 17, 2010, from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Mansion on O Street: 2020 O St NW, Washington, DC. This event ain't cheap: $275 which includes brunch and participation in the four workshops. However, given all that you get for the money, it's probably a good deal, really.
I really want to see Jared Flood, the author of Made in Brooklyn, a gorgeous potpourri of patterns. Jared is one of those rare designers who creates across all genres: fair isle, cables, hats, coats, mittens, you name it. A devotee of Elizabeth Zimmermann, he understands the intricacies involved in engineering a garment and it shows. I'd rather hear him talk about knitting than photography, but that's his "real" profession. And who knows? Maybe my sweaters would look a lot better if I actually photographed them well.
The rest of the designers attending the event aren't slouches either. Catherine Gagnon designed the beautiful Selbu hat as well as the adorable Heart Yoke Cardigan featured in the Winter issue of Vogue Knitting.

If you asked me to name my top five favorite sweater patterns, the Freyja Sweater would be among them. I adore this fair isle pullover and have every intention of making it someday. Courtney Kelley, the designer, is also one of the participants in the Designer Scavenger Hunt. I'd love to meet her, too.

Tanis Grey has designed for a bevy of knitting magazines, including Vogue Knitting, Knit Simple, Knit.1, and the Debbie Bliss magazines. I love her #28 Market Tote - or at least I love the photograph! (Maybe Jared Flood is right.) She's got a beautiful Nordic sweater in the Winter 2009 issue of Vogue Knitting, too.

I'm not a big sock knitter, but those who are love Wendy Johnson. She's the queen of toe-up socks. These stunning Phoebus Socks remind me of Jared Flood's Grove Mittens - which is probably why I like them!

So let's hope I can get some dough together and rearrange that January weekend so I can attend the Designer Scavenger Hunt. It sounds like quite the fun knitting adventure for which I'm always game.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Half a pair of slipper socks and a bunch of white stockinette stitch

While I should be focusing on finishing the Lace Inset Pullover that I want to wear for Christmas, I'm waylaid by 400 little projects that I plan to give as holiday presents.

Despite my dislike for knitting two of anything, I decided to make a pair of Arwen Slipper Socks for my friend, Sharon. Her mother, well into her ninth decade, died a couple of years ago leaving behind a mountain of yarn. My kind of woman! Sharon kindly gave me the bag of blue yarn - there was apparently a bag of every color of the rainbow. Since then, I've wanted to make her something with her mom's yarn. Hopefully she'll wear these cute Arwen slipper socks and remember her mother fondly - and me, too!

Note that I wimped out and skipped the Kitchener stitch for the toe. I just threaded the yarn tail through the remaining stitches. It works fine - but one of these days, I've got to take the time to figure out grafting.

Hey, check out this photo of the yarn label. Apparently Sharon's mom only paid 77 cents for 200+ yards of worsted wool yarn! Can you imagine? Cascade 220 on a good day costs $7.00 a skein. I'd love to know when she bought this yarn - but this pic provides empirical evidence of the exorbitant inflation rate on wool yarn!

I've got two black and red hats in my queue, both for Michael, my boyfriend's 17-year-old son. One is the Lusekofte Cap by Charlene Schurch, a traditional Norwegian ski hat. It will match the one I made for his dad earlier this year. The other is the helmet liner shown in my previous post. I ought to be able to gut these out in the next couple of weeks.

And just so you can see that I am in my spare time working on the pullover, here's a photo of the mega-boring back which is nothing but miles and miles of stockinette. No wonder I'm distracted by short-term, quick-gain projects! Will I get this done by December 20, the date of my family's Christmas celebration? Hmmm... maybe not. Just in case, I ordered a pretty white blouse from Ulla Popken using my Cyber Monday discount. Better safe than sorry. If worse comes to worst, I'll be wearing the new white sweater in January.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving and more

Happy Thanksgiving! This year, I'm grateful I had such a wonderful celebration with my family. I come from the Dysfunctional Family From Hell (don't we all?), so this isn't always a given. But this year we had a glorious day full of food and fun.

I picked Thanksgiving to debut my Diamond Yoke Cardigan. As always, I was tremendously afraid that my cardigan looked homemade instead of handmade. As it turned out, all the women knew I'd made it because they know I knit, and all the men thought I'd bought it because they don't. Success!

I was also self-conscious about wearing a cardigan that is so form-fitting. I usually wear baggy sweaters with zero shaping, so this tight cardigan felt so... wrong. Who was I to be wearing something that didn't cover everything? But now that I see the pics, what I see are curves. Not just lumps and rolls but curves. Who knew?

So all in all, I'm pleased my new handmade cardigan and my homey Thanksgiving Day. I am grateful both for my whack-job family of origin and my lovely family of choice: my boyfriend, Tom, and his son, Michael. I am richly blessed - and I hope you are, too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Charity Knitting: Helmet Liner

Every few months, I do a bit of charity knitting. I'm always making gifts for people I know; charity knitting allows me to make gifts for people I don't know! Plus it's good for my soul and karma, too.

I worked up this helmet liner after reading about the Packages From Home Helmet Liner Project on Ravelry. Bonnie Long, of Knit Wits, created this ingenious hat that is knitted in one piece without a single seam (Teresa, are you paying attention?). You begin by making an upside-down turtleneck and then dividing the stitches to make the hat. To finish, you pick up stitches around the face opening and knit an inch of ribbing. It is fast and fun. But most of all, it will keep a soldier warm and dry so he or she can protect our country from harm.

Because this project went so well, I'm going to make another one for my boyfriend's 17-year-old son, Michael. This great kid, much to my chagrin and constant harping, just got a motorcycle - one of those obnoxious, super-fast bikes that kids zoom in and out of traffic with, risking the lives and limbs of themselves and other people, too. I HATE THOSE DAMN THINGS. I expressed my views to Tom and Michael and every single one of my friends - to no avail. I guess I'm supposed to learn the lesson of acceptance because nothing I'm going to say or do will change a damn thing. He's got that awful bike. Now all I can do it pray.

Anyway, I'm going to knit Michael a helmet liner out of Knit Picks merino wool - very soft and warm. Tom's only complaint about the military version (which he so kindly models in these pictures) is that the wool is so itchy - but that's what the project requires. Michael's version will be softer and in black and red to match that damnable motorcycle.

I encourage you to support the Packages From Home Helmet Liner Project. Download the free pattern; it only takes 175 yarns of wool yarn in black, brown, tan, olive drab, or charcoal. You know you've got an extra skein in your stash somewhere! Support the troops even if you don't support the war - my sentiments exactly.