Sunday, November 28, 2010

Celebrating Thanksgiving and a birthday, too

I had the very best Thanksgiving ever. Ever! But honestly, this happens every year. My family does one thing absolutely right and that one thing is Thanksgiving.

We all love it so much that nearly everyone on my dad's side of the family shows up every year to talk too loud, eat too much, sip some wine, and simply have a terrific time. All this and no presents, too. Just a fine focus on family, celebrating new brides and babies, connecting with cousins, and remembering the others who have gone before us. My favorite part of the whole day was hanging with my Facebook friends AKA my teenaged nephews and cousins. So much fun. Here I am with two of the boys, Cameron and Avery.


This year, my aunts and I collaborated on a special project. Susie, the generous donor, asked me to whip up a design for some aprons. I found this great photo of my grandma cooking Thanksgiving dinner in 1962. Isn't she beautiful? The caption reads: Ruth's Girls - great cooks make great cooks. I created the artwork and got them printed at Zazzle.com.


All of the female family members got one. Here are my cousin Caroline and my aunts, Amy, Susie, and Christa adorned in their aprons.

Thanksgiving Day was also my beloved's birthday. To celebrate his big day, I always make Tom dark chocolate fudge like his mother used to make. I also got him the HBO's The Pacific DVDs (like every other man I know, he's obsessed with World War II) and a book about Ghoulardi, this crazy horror movie host who haunted Ohio television back in the day. Tom seemed pleased with his birthday gifts, but was mostly happy having his cute kid, Michael, join us for Thanksgiving.




Now we trudge on to Christmas. I'm making good progress on Tom's Beagle sweater. It's a very easy knit and beautiful in the Ultra Alpaca. Still, I can't wait until it's finished so I can go back to knitting my fabulous Kathy Zimmerman Early Bird Special Cardigan. I think about this project every day, but I can't do a thing about it until my Christmas knitting is finished.


Sigh... I can't believe this long four-day weekend is almost over. Tomorrow it's back to work and full steam ahead into the holidays. But I am grateful to have had a lovely Thanksgiving. I sure hope you did, too.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A very happy amigurumi Thanksgiving to you

Today we're celebrating Thanksgiving Japanese style. No, we're not having sushi and saki. Instead, we celebrate a vertible smorgasborg of amigurumi. Let's start with an absolutely adorable Indian maiden and her papoose.

Indian Maiden
Now let's add some happy pilgrims. They should be happy because those Indians saved their hungry butts. These look like very well fed pilgrims... they must be my ancestors. :-)
Portly Pilgrims
What's for dinner? No matter what you want to make for your big meal, amigurumi offers a complete menu of culinary options.


Veggie Platter

The Ultimate Turkey
Potato

Corn

Peas
Bread


Apple Pie

Coffee and Tea

Pumpkin Pie
What's missing? Candied sweet potatoes, but I don't like them anyway. And my grandmother's Tidewater Creamed Onions, the main reason I show up for Thanksgiving every year (not true, but those onions are just delicious).

I'll end by telling you two things for which I am grateful. First, I am thankful that my beloved boyfriend, Tom, was born into this world 56 years ago today. Happy birthday, honey - I'm so glad you're here.

Tom cooking Thanksgiving dinner - 2008
And second, I am thankful for YOU. Thank you for showing up and reading my missives no matter how long or silly. I am so grateful to join you in this ultimate online knit-a-long. Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends - and my British one, too.  :-)


  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to knit combination style

People often remark that I knit quickly. I'm no speed demon, but I do think I have a good technique that allows me to knit a lot faster than many knitters I've seen. I used to think that I was a Continental knitter, and in fact that is true. Like other Continental knitters, I knit from yarn that I hold in my left hand.

But unlike Continental knitters, I purl using the Eastern purl technique. Annie Modesitt offers a nice tutorial about Eastern purling, which allows you to quickly purl  by scooping up yarn held with your left hand in the front of your work. This marriage between Continental knitting and Eastern purling is aptly called Combination knitting. I have made a very homespun (that's a nice word for it!) video showing my technique.



If my video doesn't do it for you, check out Annie Modesitt's video. Her hand movements look different from mine; it looks like she still throws her knit stitches and I do not.



The bottom line is that there isn't a right way to knit and purl. Whatever works for you is the right way to knit. So experiment. That's how I came to my particular knitting techniques. I looked for the smallest movements possible to make knit and purl stitches and adapted my technique accordingly. I encourage you to do the same. And as always, practice, practice, practice. In both knitting and in life, it makes all the difference.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Frantic holiday knitting

Loyal blog reader and online gal pal Teresa writes, "I imagine you are knitting away these days, as are we all. I wondered this morning how many knitters around the world were relaxed? LOL All are feverishly clicking away!"

Cute Christmas Ornaments from Mary Maxim

Teresa would be right. Every knitter I know is frantically trying to finish up holiday knitting projects, whether they be decorations or presents. I'm no different.

I'm pleased to have finally finished the Menorah Pillow for my friend, Sharon. I didn't do the knitted back that was called for in the pattern. Instead, I hand-sewed blue velvet as the back, which was a bit tricky. After some trial and error, I pinned the velvet into an 18-inch square, put the front side of the knitted piece and the front side of the velvet together, and then backstitched it on three sides. Then I inserted the pillow form and sewed up the bottom edge. I took my time and it turned out pretty well.


Here are some other considerations about the Menorah Pillow, available in Melanie Falick's Handknit Holidays (a great book, btw):
  • Make sure you check the errata because there are a few problems.
  • When you're knitting the flames, look at the chart very carefully. You'll think you're knitting up from 1 to 7, but you're not. I had to rip them out a few times before I got the flames right.
  • I wish I'd knitted this whole thing at a tighter gauge either using US 6 needles or a yarn that's thicker than the Debbie Bliss Cashmerino. I recently ordered some Knit Picks Capra DK and even though it's designated DK, it's thicker than the Cashmerino and would therefore work better for this project, I think. But one good thing about this project is that it fit an 18x18-inch pillow form perfectly. 
Next up on my holiday hit parade: Tom's sweater. I'm working away and am enjoying the project because I love how Berroco Ultra Alpaca knits up. I can't wait until the back is done so I can block it. I know from experience that it will block beautifully. This is Norah Gaughan's Beagle Pullover, btw.

 
Finally, I wonder how miniature knitter, Althea Crome, is going to top this Christmas sweater. A true genuis, Althea stitched the sweaters for the movie Coraline. I could die and go to heaven if I'd knitted this masterpiece in full size let alone this tiny thing. It is just beautiful.
 

Watch Althea in action. It's amazing to see her use sewing needles and thread to make tiny sweaters. She knits English, btw.


Only 34 days until Christmas! Do you know where your knitted gifts are? Wrapped and ready for the tree? Of stuffed in the bottom of your knitting basket? Better get moving, girl!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Going with the flow

Don't know about you, but I just love it when my knitting projects drift effortlessly downstream hitting nary a rock nor a snag. Doesn't seem to happen very often unfortunately. As an example, two months ago I started a sweater for my boyfriend. A total shipwreck, I restarted it FOUR times until I finally abandoned ship and rowed for shore.


Fortunately, I picked up a new sweater project, one with a brand new sail that has me barreling toward home. In less that a week, I've finished one sleeve and am sailing right along on up the back. It's heavenly, like being on the Chesapeake Bay on a warm, clear summer day.


Given this rhapsodic maritime description, I think I'll call this sweater the HMS Beagle. Alas, that name has already been taken by the ship that carted Charles Darwin to the Galapagos and a reworking of the entire world view. I'm not doing anything as earth-shattering on my little trip, but I like the association anyway; you see, I am making Norah Gaughan's Beagle.

The HMS Beagle
I'm happy thus far with my little adventure and am now confident that I can finish this sweater quickly and move back to my Early Bird Special cardigan. Or make that pair of mitts I want to give to my friend, Elizabeth for Christmas. No matter, when this journey ends, I will be happy to start yet another.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Recycled wool?

Now these are sheep of a completely different color - and wool! Every one is made from old telephone parts. This little flock grazes at the Museum of Communications in Frankfurt.



While I wait

I'm still waiting for Webs to cough up Norah Gaughan Men so I can get started on Tom's Christmas sweater. Did you know there are only 45 knitting days until Christmas? ACKKKK!!!!!!!!

But there's no sense just sitting here tapping my foot. After horsing around with that giant pile of red alpaca for weeks, I finally cast-on for a completely different cardigan, the Coco Classic. This design appeared in the September 2010 issue of Creative Knitting and is also available from ePatternsCentral.


Why this sweater? Because Amy Polcyn designed it using my exact yarn, Plymouth Baby Alpaca Grande. The cardigan is also simple and therefore a fast knit. And it features seed stitch. This is important. After reading about alpaca drooping, I worried that whatever I made would stretch uncontrollably southward. The seed stitch will help the garment keep its shape, as will the basic design. This structured sweater with side seams and set-in sleeves will hopefully keep the garment from becoming a droopy mess.


Before you American knitters start lamenting the difficulty of knitting seed stitch, let me remind you again that it's time to learn Continental. This method makes seed stitch a cinch because it's so easy to move the yarn from the front to the back of the work. I've recently discovered that I am actually a combination knitter, knitting Continentally and purling in the eastern fashion. Watch Annie Modesitt and you'll see how I knit, as well as how easy it is to switch between knitting and purling.


As before, I rewrote the pattern using Sweater Wizard. This time I started with the pattern I used for the Augusta; no sense reinventing the wheel when I know this basic design fits me. I'm making a few mods though, adding a round drop neck, an a-line fit, and an inch of short rows at the hips. I am hoping the short rows will eliminate the sweater riding up on my butt. Regardless, I am very happy with my short rows. I defy you to even find them! I've come a long way since my initial short row attempts.


Finally, I'm going to make the sweater 26 inches long in the front and 27-inches long in the back (thanks to the short rows). According to Amy Herzog, this length will be perfect to me. During her Fit to Flatter class, she told me I was making all my sweaters four to six inches too long. We'll see how this turns out but I hope she's right - that would make a lot less knitting for me.

So what are the chances I can finish this cardigan by Thanksgiving and Tom's pullover by Christmas? Don't know, but I'm going to find out! Stay tuned.

Monday, November 8, 2010

One holiday present down...

Did you know Hanukkah comes early this year? I'm not Jewish but a friend of mind is so I googled the date; I wanted to make sure I had her present finished in time. The Holiday of Lights is being celebrated December 1-9, so this weekend I hustled up and finished Judy's gift, a Menorah pillow from Melanie Falick's Handknit Holidays. I used Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran in cream.


I haven't decided how to do the back. The pattern sports a handknitted back with i-cord buttons, but that seems little overkill to me. I'm contemplating buying some royal blue velveteen, or maybe just knitting a double-moss stitch back that matches the side stitch pattern. Then I could easily crochet the pillow together with a chain stitch. We'll see.

With much shame and chagrin, I have abandoned Tom's John's Sweater. SIGH. Instead, I am going to make the far simpler Beagle pullover; both sweaters were designed by Norah Gaughan. The big difference is that I can get the Beagle done by Christmas; given how many times I've started over, the John's Sweater won't be done until hell freezes over, if then. So the Beagle it is, done up in Berroco Ultra Alpaca in Stone Washed Mix. Tom's eyes match this gray blue perfectly, so he'll look mighty fine. Most of all, he'll have something to open Christmas morning. Whew.


After Tom's sweater, I have one more Christmas present to complete - a pair of simple mitts for my friend, Elizabeth. She asked for them months ago but I figured they'd make a great Christmas gift. I'm going to use the free pattern Susie's Reading Mitts and Debblie Bliss Cashmerino Aran in black. I made a pair of these last year and wear them all the time.


Ebay warns there are 47 days left until Christmas. Better get cracking! So many knitting presents, so little time...

Monday, November 1, 2010

My first Ravelry pattern!

This weekend was all about knitting, knitting, knitting! On Saturday, I spent the day with Kathy Zimmerman designing my Early Bird Cardigan. While I was there, I just HAD to buy some yarn, of course. I picked up some beautiful Berroco Borealis in Vogar #5068.


I then devoted Sunday to designing and knitting a pair of simple mittens. In fact, I designed my very first pattern, knitted an entire pair of mittens, and then wore them while I was walking Moose - all in a single day!



How did I manage such a feat? First off, the mittens are incredibly easy and fast to make in the beautiful super-bulky Borealis.  I literally knit the second mitten in fewer than three hours. It's a simple, classic mitten knitted from the bottom up with a standard thumb gusset.

The yarn makes the mittens. With the 60% acrylic content, I was skeptical that I'd like this yarn, but the 40% wool saves the day. The yarn blends splendid hues together in every colorway. No matter how pretty it looks in a photograph, the Borealis needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. It's very soft and warm, too.


Very excited by my results, I decided to offer my very first pattern on Ravelry for free. So go get yours. The FREE pattern is available here:


I highly recommend the Borealis, but if you've got 100 yards of a super-bulky yarn in your stash, go for it. These mittens would make a terrific holiday gift; with a few hours and a single skein of Borealis, you could give your BFF a treasured present that keeps her warm, too.

If you decide to make my Bodacious Borealis Mitten, please send me pics when you're finished - I'd love to see your results! And as always, if you have questions or need assistance, just send me a message. I'm happy to help.