Sunday, December 31, 2006

Retrospective: Best Books of 2006

Here they are, in no particular order, condensed to keep my list down to around ten. Okay, eleven. Thank God for books that expand our knitting horizons, look at more advanced stitch patterns and techniques, pay attention to style and fit, and/or inspire us with their bold use of color and design.

1. Arctic Lace, containing lots of detailed info about Arctic culture and knitting, all you ever wanted to know about qiviut (except I still can't spell it), plus some nice lace patterns.

2. Victorian Lace Today, with patterns that are adapted from vintage ones as opposed to being "original," but are still lovely and lace. Let's just keep our fingers crossed XRX's latest isn't filled with technical errors. (It's been known to happen before...)

3. Glorious color and design inspiration. First, Brandon Mably's Knitting with Color, part travelogue, part knitting patterns, all inspirational.

4. .....second (this is chronological order), Knits from a Painter's Palette: Modular Masterpieces in Handpainted Yarns (a.k.a. The Koigu Book). Just seeing beautiful color photos of Koigu and projects knit in Koigu is enough to start me drooling. Be forewarned: the shawl patterns are repeats, there are lots of modular garments and most of the patterns are boxy, but for me, this is a treat to flip through. True yarn porn.

5. Big Girl Knits: Even if you don't like all the patterns (and c'mon, how can you not like the mitten/gloves pattern with four variations in a versatile DK weight, by an up-and-coming designer with an excellent blog), and even if the word "boobies" irks you, the first half of the book is worth its weight in gold for the tips on fit, particularly for plus-sized women.

6. Stitch Dictionaries and suchlike: Knitting Beyond the Edge/Vogue Stitchionary vols 2 & 3. You can't go wrong with stitch dictionaries, and even if you feel you have all or most of the patterns contained therein, the fact that there is a publisher willing to put out this stuff should help newer knitters become more creative and less cookie-cutter.

7 & 8. Cornucopia of cables: Cables Untangled, and Inspired Cable Knits. More patterns that aren't dumbed down and feature intricate and lovely cabling. Untangled also contains a nice mini-cable stitch dictionary and lots of instructional content. Plus, some of the designs in both books DON'T HAVE DROP SHOULDERS!

9. Modern Classics. Exactly what the title promises: classic designs you can make over and over, but with more contemporary styling. Handily organized by yarn weight, with good size ranges and variations within a pattern. Not revolutionary or cutting edge, but damn, it's handy.

10. Andean Folk Knits, by Marcia Lewandowski. Lots of ethnic stranded knitting.

11. Knitting Nature. Creative, interesting, pushing the boundaries.

UPDATE: Thanks to Marilyn for suggesting Janet Szabo's Aran book, and to Kate for pointing out that the older self-published copy with a similar title is NOT in fact, identical. Kate has both and says she will keep both. I stand corrected and I thank you both for pointing this out. I'll have to find a copy of the new one.

There were other good books published this past year, so don't be offended if your favorite didn't make the list: just tell us what it is and why you like it in the comments.

And a happy, healthy and safe New Year's to all my readers. I truly appreciate your support throughout the past year!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Did you get all seven?

Okay, these were the seven that I thought of, but you guys came up with several more that are just as good (or evil, depending on your perspective):

1. Adding [still more] cash to the coffers of the Disney juggernaut.
2. Fun fur trim.
3. Princessy, thereby encouraging further propagation of troublesome female stereotypes.
4. Overuse of Pepto-bismol pink.
5. Duplicate stitch. In embroidery floss, no less.
6. All that intarsia.
7. Knitted skirt = butt sag.

P.S. Happy birthday, Dr. J.!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A little brainteaser for y'all

Okay, this arrived in the mail yesterday. Guess who wants a princess sweater? (If you guessed Tom, that was a good guess, but it's actually Her Nibs.) One day, just before she turned 4, a time bomb went off and G. became enamored of everything pink and princessy. (Trust me: she didn't get it from her mom.)

Here's a little brainteaser for you, my esteemed readers: Name the ways in which this is so, so wrong. I can think of at least seven. Go on, you can do it. Meanwhile, this project-to-be gets added to the queue, evidence of the deep and abiding love only a mother can feel for her child.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

Oh yeah.

That's why I had kids.

P.S. To Stitchy: You don't have kids yet, do you? Because if you have them solely in order to obtain the fruits of their labor, and you aren't, say, the Osmonds, you're in for a sad disillusionment, my friend.

Peculiar Holiday Traditions From Our Family to Yours

1. Stomach flu. Somehow, my kids always seem to contract viruses that involve doing unspeakable things in the toilet in the two weeks preceding Christmas. Somehow, they always manage to give those viruses to me. Somehow my husband always manages to remain unscathed (and not very sympathetic, I might add).

2. Two Christmas trees. I’ve probably talked about this before, but we have two full-size Christmas trees in our house. One, in the family room, is everyone’s tree. The kids help decorate and it is completely un-choreographed. Any ornament that is rated E for everyone can go on, wherever the decorator wants to put it.

(Since the twins like to put, on average, five ornaments per branch, one right on top of one another, this requires massive amounts of forbearance on Tom’s part. We sometimes rearrange ornaments that have “fallen” after the kids are out of the room.) The living room tree is Tom’s baby. He decides how it will be decorated – silver organza ribbon? blue crystal lights? jewel-toned glass beads? – and carries it through. The kids provide limited help, but are closely micromanaged supervised and only touch the unbreakable stuff.

3. Untraditional Christmas Eve “dinner.” We’ve abandoned the whole notion of having some sort of sit-down Christmas Eve dinner. One year, we had margaritas and Mexican food. This year, we’ll probably go with abundant appetizers and finger foods, although I’m lobbying hard for Chinese from my favorite local restaurant.

4. Involuntary commitment to a mental hospital. It seems that we’ve developed a new and heartwarming tradition in recent years, whereby a family member stops taking her meds and ends up in the “hospital” with schizoid psychosis with catatonic and/or paranoid tendencies. The only thing worse than having a family member committed the week before Christmas is when the crazy-ass insurance company lets 'em out a couple of days later, only marginally improved. Note to self: Next year, deck the halls with lots of lithium. And pop a little Prozac in the eggnog for the rest of us.

Liza wants me to post this

Here's one way to have a very merry holiday. I'm not entirely convinced this site is for real, but what the hey. (Besides, I saw through my stat-tracker that someone actually got to my site by searching "XXL boobs." I can't decide whether to be deeply troubled or highly flattered.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Remind me why I had kids again

It's official: I am indisposed. Will post again as soon as the unpleasantness stops.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Retrospective: GKIYH's Worst of 2006 (not hatin'; just statin')

The stomach bug is now working its way through the twins, so I'm going to post while I can and hope that I don't find myself indisposed in the near future...

1. Most Unnecessary Knitting Accessory: Light-up knitting needles. If someone started knitting with them in a movie theatre, I'd dump my popcorn on their head. I mean, what could be more distracting than that? Is knitting in the dark really a necessary or desirable thing? And if you're that into knitting, can't you do it without looking?

2. Not-Another-Disease-Tie-in Award: Pink Denise Interchangeable Needles. Yes, the fight against breast cancer is a worthy cause. But, c'mon, a special version of a specialized type of knitting needle? At over fifty bucks a pop? Feh. I guess I can't help feeling that there's something creepy about using a disease to make money. Runners-up: everything on this page by Mary Maxim.

3. A-Pox-On-All-Your-Houses Award: The fiber content imbroglio. Does Yarn X have the requisite amount of cashmere in it? If it's still a nice yarn, does it matter? What's an honest yarn shop owner to do: sell it and risk being sued, sell it with a disclaimer and risk being sued, or give it away and lose tons of money? Why won't the maker take it back if more than one test shows questionable content? Why did a competitor of the maker send the stuff out for testing anyway? And just whose tests are "right"? How can the ordinary knitter know?

Bad for knitters, bad for the designer whose name is on the label, bad for yarn shop owners, bad for the industry.

4. Worst Knitting Book Title Ever: Never Knit Your Man A Sweater (Unless You've Got the Ring). GKIYH sez: Never Name a Knitting Book Until You Can Think Of One that Doesn't Irk the Shit Out of Prospective Readers.

5. Biggest disappointment, books category. Andean Inspired Knitting by Helen Hamann. I haven't done extensive research into Andean folk knitting traditions, but I'm reasonably sure Andean knitters don't use Fun Fur

made of petrochemical byproducts.

6. WTF Award: Overaccessorized and overtribalized styling of Rowan 39. Surely no one is a bigger Rowan fan than me, but, geez, what were they thinking? Too many geegaws and ridiculous get-ups detract from garments that are otherwise not bad.

7. Most Ridiculous "have to have it" moment: When bidding reached nearly $50 for a skein of Trekking sock yarn on Ebay. Sheesh.

Runners-up: Koigu Miniskeins and Socks-That-Rock frenzies at various fiber festivals. Not that they aren't great yarns, mind you, but are they worth waiting in line for hours to get?

8. Biggest disappointment, yarn category. Berroco's Ultra Alpaca looked great on paper, but not so much in real life. The colors were off and the feel just didn't cut it. I was really hoping this would signal a more interesting turn in their product line and designs, but I guess we'll have to wait a bit longer for that.

Like, forever?

9. So Sad to See You Go Award. Bye-bye, Rowan Yorkshire Tweeds! Sniffle, sniffle. We'll miss you!

Runners-up: Bye, bye Rowan Polar and Noro Big Kureyon. Hello, great bargains on Ebay.

10. Worst Attempt to Bogart a Trademark Award. The SFSE "Stitch N Bitch" donnybrook. On the one hand, a sewing company that never used it; on the other, a hipster publishing powerhouse with more books sold than God. Should either of them really care if there's a group called "Podunk Stitch-N-Bitch"? Should the law recognize as a protected "trademark" a phrase that's been commonly used for over seventy years?

Et vous?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Retrospective: GKIYH's Best of '06

The end of the year is the traditional time to look back and look forward, and even though I resist cliches, I feel myself starting to look back at 2006 through the eyes of a knitter. Lucky youse guys get to partake of my ruminations. Today: the Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat Best of 2006 (not including books. You know me, I'll have to do a separate entry on books.).

The Best of 2006: Non-book edition

1. Destiny Circular Needles, by Lantern Moon. Yep, I love wood needles. Yep, I love the notion that Lantern Moon is one of those fair-trade companies. Yep, I love beautiful knitting accessories. Yep, I love a smooth join on my circulars. So a big thumbs-up for Destiny Circular Needles.

2. RYC Wool-Silk yarn. My favorite blend -- the sheen, drape and silkiness of silk, the elasticity and body of wool -- and a versatile DK weight. Great pattern support, as usual, from the talented Rowan designers. I'd love to see the palette get broadened a bit, maybe lightened up, but this is one nice yarn.

3. Koigu Felting Wool. I haven't sensed a major buzz about this, which shocks me, since who wouldn't want another way to enjoy the great colors of Koigu? When felted, the fabric remains light so you actually could felt a garment in it yet still wear it south of the Arctic Circle. Hats? Mittens? C'mon people, trust me on this one.

4. Lace, lace, lace. All of a sudden, the knitting masses discovered lace. And we all benefited: new lace patterns, new lace books, new laceweight yarns.

5. Soak Wool Wash. I don't know if this is new, or just new to me, but I saw this product at TNNA. It comes in a few different fragrances and all smell great.

6. Etsy. Again, this may have been around before I cottoned on to it, but Etsy is a great and badly-needed alternative to Ebay. The popularity of Ebay led all kinds of scam artists, junk peddlers and corporate sellers to join. Meanwhile, fees steadily increased. Ebay still has its place as a lower-priced alternative to buying new and full-price, but Etsy is superior for craft-related items. By limiting its products to handmade items (or supplies used for handmade items), Etsy keeps it fresh and interesting and ensures that indie crafters are the bulk of the sellers.

7. Smith Island Pattern Factory. Disclosure: the owner is a friend and colleague of mine at Rosie's. Still, you'd be hard-pressed to find nicer or more professional patterns from an indie designer. Several lovely shawls (which we promptly sold out of at Stitches), but also an extremely cute and creative baby jacket,

nice guy socks and an adorable baby blanket. More, please, Courtney!

8. Wild Geese Fibres. Does the world need more small-producer, breed-specific yarns in their natural state? Hell, yeah. Bring 'em on, Barb.

9. The rise of the Podcast. One of the extremely clever ways that the Internet continues to evolve and stay fresh. I'm partial to Knitty D and the City, but Cast On is great, too.

10. Rhinebeck Blogger Bingo. Brainchild of the inimitable Stitchy McYarnpants, illustrated by the prodigiously talented Franklin, Blogger Bingo made Rhinebeck even more fun by facilitating introductions among bloggers and blogreaders. The knitting community, with emphasis on the community. Well done, Stitchy.

11. The rise of the novel fiber. 2006 saw less-widely-known fibers burst onto the shelves of knitting shops. Yak yarn that's soft and sproingy (yes, sproingy, Lisa). Rowan's wonderful wool-soy silk blend, Transitions. Classic Elite's yummy wool-bamboo blend. Not to mention ingeo, sea cellulose, more organic options... it's an embarrassment of riches.

12. Black Bunny Fibers.

What -- you didn't think I was going to shamelessly promote myself? Hah! I've had more fun dyeing my yarns than I ever expected, and I hope you consider them a valuable addition to the virtual knitting marketplace.

I'm sure I've omitted some noteworthy developments in 2006, but I'm also sure my loyal readers will tell me what I missed.....

And a special Philadelphia "yo!" to Carol B-R, who stopped at Rosie's this weekend and had a good long visit with us. I do loves me visits from my blog readers.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Exciting new developments

I just received a large box from Wild Geese Fibres, the new online business of pal and frequent commenter Barb, full of some most excellent fibers to dye. How does alpaca/silk laceweight sound (on the right in the photo below)? (I thought you'd like that.)

From another source, I received half a dozen skeins of silk to dye: yes, pure silk (on the left in the photo). Are you drooling yet?

This week, I am going to try something a little different with the Etsy shop. Instead of putting a few things up in dribs and drabs, I'm going to put a whole bunch of stuff up in one whack, and list the day and time on the announcement box of the shop (next update is Thursday (tonight) around 7 p.m. EST). I often get emails from folks asking when I am going to update, so maybe this system will be easier. Shoot me an email if you have any strong feelings about it.

Now on to the really exciting stuff.

First, a pattern of mine has been accepted into the spring Knitty. Yay Knitty! Yay lovely and charming Amy Singer, fellow bunny-lover!

Second: [drumroll please]

A book contract.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More wool talk: sheep breeds

Thanks to Ted, who suggested that I check out an article by Charlene Schurch in the winter '02 volume of Spin-Off, which talks about how to use up small amounts of yarn to make lengthways scarves. Perfect for when you've produced dribs and drabs of handspun that you aren't sure what to do with.

Reader Soo recommended In Sheep's Clothing, by Nola and Jane Fournier. It's funny: I was going to recommend this book myself because it's one of the few sources that includes detailed discussions of various sheep breeds. I scored a used copy a few years ago after much searching on-line (I didn't want to pay an obscene amount of money but at the time, it was out of print), then shortly after I found a reasonably-priced copy, it was rereleased in an updated edition. You might also be interested in Handspun Treasures from Rare Wools, by Deborah Robson. This is a slim book which also talks about various endangered sheep breeds and shows photos of items made from breed-specific wools.

Here’s a brief description of some different kinds of wool you may encounter, either in yarn or roving/top form. I've put the fiber length and diameter in parentheses after the name so you can get a sense for how hard or easy it is to spin (the longer the fiber, the easier to spin) and how fine it is (the higher the second range of numbers, the finer and probably softer the wool). The ones in bold are ones that I sometimes have in my Etsy shop.

Merino (2.5 to 4 inches; diameter 60 to 70s): Probably the breed most knitters are familiar with is Merino. That's because Merino is one of the most widely available breed-specific fibers. Merino wool is so widely used because Merino sheep produce much of the finest and softest wool available, perfect for next-to-the-skin wear, even for babies and those with sensitive skin. Because merino is such a supersoft wool, it’s often mixed with luxury fibers like silk or cashmere to produce blends that have the advantages of both. Sometimes merino is marked “extra fine” which signifies that the fiber diameter is the smallest available for the breed (and therefore even softer). You’ll pay more for merino than something marked generic "wool," and if it’s superfine quality, there'll be a markup on top of that. There are a lot of superwash merinos on the market, which for many people makes it an even more attractive choice.

Corriedale (3 to 5 inches; diameter 50 to 58s): Another soft and popular wool, first bred in New Zealand by crossing various Leicesters with Merino. I believe that Corriedale blended with Merino is what Manos del Uruguay yarn is made of, but if that's wrong, I'm sure someone will let me know. Corriedale is soft and has good loft. I've spun Corriedale and it's easy for beginners to spin, dyes well and feels good spun up.

Wensleydale (8 to 12 inches; diameter 44 to 50s): A while back, Berroco used to have a few breed-specific yarns, one of which was Wensleydale. (Of course, they discontinued the cool breed-specific yarns in order to bring you more fugly novelty yarn with hoo-di-hoos hanging off it. Is it any wonder I'm bitter? But I think Webs might carry something similar under their own house label.) Wensleydale wool is curly and long and lustrous (it shines almost the way mohair does). It's soft relative to most other longwools, but if you are used to shorter-fiber wools, it may seem hairy to you. On the other hand, because the fibers are longer and coarser, it’ll be very easy to spin, especially for newbie spinners.

Blue-Faced Leicester (3 to 6 inches; diameter 56 to 60s): No, they don’t have blue faces, exactly; instead, their skin has a bluish cast that shows up especially around their heads and faces. BFL sheep are very popular, especially in Britain. BFL is a medium-length wool, soft and fairly fine. It's also a good wool for newbie spinners (one of my faves). As I recall, BFL was the other breed-specific yarn by Berroco. It seems like lately you can find more and more BFL in yarn form, rather than just roving, and it's a great all-purpose yarn.

Romney (4 to 8 inches; diameter 46 to 50s): Very important in New Zealand, this wool is strong but tends to be used either as part of a cross-breed or in sturdier garments or upholstery. It’s got a longer fiber length which makes it excellent for new spinners. Good for outdoor sweaters, rugged socks, and so on, but not so much a next-to-the-skin fiber.

Shetland (2 to 5 inch fibers; diameter 50s – 60s): Shetlands are small, hardy sheep, which is why they survived on the rugged islands north of Britain. Shetlands come in lots of colors (check out the undyed Shetland yarn by Jamieson’s which go from white through all kinds of browns, grays and black). It's a fine wool; not baby soft like merino, but very strong and durable. You can find Shetland wool dyed in nearly every color of the rainbow, since it's the authentic choice for fair isle garments.

Targhee (3 – 5 inch fibers; diameter 58 to 64s): You'll see a lot of Targhees in Montana, which makes sense, since the breed was developed in the US especially for the western American climate. Targhees were bred by crossing Rambouillet, Lincoln and Corriedales. Targhee wool has lots of loft and sproing. It dyes well and is soft. It doesn't seem to be as easy to find breed-specific Targhee wool as some others, but it's worth it if you can. Sweet Grass Wools in Montana (Google it, okay?) sells some.

Cormo(4 to 5 inch fibers; daimeter 58-64s): Cormos were bred in Australia from Corriedales crossed with a kind of merino (get it? the “Cor” is from corriedale and the “m-o” from merino). They have a medium-length fiber, dense and soft, with good elasticity.

Rambouillet (2 – 4 inch fibers; diameter 60 to 80s): Rambouillets were bred in France in the late 1700s from a flock of Spanish merino sheep. So, like merino, Rambo wool is fine and soft (next to the skin soft), with good elasticity and loft.

Columbia (3 to 6 inch fibers; diameter 54 to 62s).: Another breed that was developed in America (the first to be created in America, as a matter of fact), by crossing Lincolns with Rambouillets. The wool is lofty, a little crisp and a good all-around wool choice. I got some undyed Columbia and it'll go up in the Etsy shop soon. It's a nice, soft wool and I think I'm going to order more.

So there you have it. Here's where it gets interesting: my esteemed readers now get to chime in. What are your impressions? What are your favorites? Discuss...

Friday, December 08, 2006

Autumn book report: mystery-o-rama

Okay, well, I really let this one slide, huh? This is October and November combined.

1. The Art of Detection, by Laurie R. King. Latest Kate Martinelli mystery. Didn't engross me.

2. In the Bleak Midwinter, by Julia Spencer-Fleming. A new-to-me mystery series about an Episcopal priest living in Rhinebeck country. Pretty good.

3. Winter's Child, by Margaret Maron. Don't you love when Amazon recommends stuff you actually like reading? This is yet another mystery series involving a North Carolina judge. This is one of the more recent ones, but you don't need to know much of the backstory.

4. The Interpretation of Murder, by Jed Rubenfeld. Early 20th century New York City is the setting for this historical mystery involving Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and others. A bit unlikely (the Hamlet stuff was kind of superfluous) but still enjoyable and the psychological backdrop about Freud's work (e.g. Freud vs. Jung, the public response to Freud's theories, the biology vs. psychology debate) was very interesting.

Note to prospective test knitters

Thank you to everyone who offered to test knit. I am still answering emails -- I got a lot more than I ever expected -- and I don't want to send some generic one to everyone, so if you haven't heard back from me, I apologize and I will email you personally in the coming days.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

It’s that time of year again

You know, the time when radio stations everywhere start playing holiday music. Including the most horrifying Yuletide song ever recorded.

No, not Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey.

I'm talking about "The Christmas Shoes."

I can just picture the jaded songwriters, holed up in a smoky conference room, wracking their brains to compose the most calculatingly-hearttugging, staggeringly vile song ever imagined. (It is so vile that they even made a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie about it.)

"Yeah, well, it's gotta be Christmas time," one songwriter murmurs.

"If it's Christmas, there's got to be a kid," the second songwriter says.

"Shit, dude, if it's Christmas, the kid's gotta be poor," the next guy over adds.

"And of course, if he's poor, he's gotta be looking at something through a store window that he can't afford," the first guy finishes.

"No, no, that's no good," says the token woman songwriter, trying her darndest to out cynicize the cynics while stubbing out her Salem Menthol in an empty pizza box. "He can't be looking for himself. He's looking to buy a present for..."

"HIS MOTHER!" they all chime in.

"What if his mother is, like, dying of cancer?" the new guy wonders, "and she, like, doesn't have, oh, I don't know, shoes?"

He's met with a chorus of boos. "Yeah, right," the first guy says, "that's too sappy and pathetic even for those chicks who watch The Bachelor."

Oh, no, it's not.

It was almost Christmas time, there I stood in another line
Tryin' to buy that last gift or two, not really in the Christmas mood
Standing right in front of me was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing 'round like little boys do
And in his hands he held a pair of shoes
His clothes were worn and old, he was dirty from head to toe
And when it came his time to pay
I couldn't believe what I heard him say
Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Berroco never disappoints. Or do I mean they always disappoint?

Cold toes? Behold the footsie pillow.

It's almost too easy.

Happy 5th Birthday, Twins!

It was buy one/get one free at the Baby Store that day.

And am I ever glad.