Monday, December 26, 2005

Holiday Recap

All in all, we had a very mellow and joyous holiday. Santa came, bringing my oldest a pair of Rollerblades, among other things, while the twins got cars, cars and more cars (for Nick) and lots of pink stuff (for Grace).

Here is the upstairs Christmas tree, a labor of love for my husband.

You see, we have two Christmas trees in our house. The one in the family room is "the kids' tree," meaning that the children and I are allowed to decorate it. The living room tree is "Daddy's tree," and he exercises supreme control over it. Tom has a Martha Stewart-type gene which comes out in full force at Christmas time. It is not unusual for him to start a conversation in early November by saying "I have a vision for this year's tree. Two words: Silver organza!" This year's tree was a little less fussy than years past, but quite lovely nonetheless. Yes, you are noticing a slight tilt to one side, but no need to obsess about it.

Speaking of the long-suffering and wonderful husband, Tom really rose to the occasion this year and got me two kick-ass knitting gifts. The first is an autographed copy of Kaffe Fassett's Book of Knitting Patterns. Yes, the very book that my friend Liza recommended a few posts back. Lisa Myers was so aghast that I did not have this book in my knitting library that she insisted Tom get it for me. Thanks, Liza & Lisa (and of course, Tom).

The second was this Lantern Moon basket (in and of itself a wonderful gift) filled with enough Noro Silver Thaw to make a sweater.

Somehow Tom even managed to select the very shade that I'd been ogling at Rosie's ever since the shipment arrived. This shade, of course, doesn't look anything like my photo of it. (And if any of my readers have suggestions on how to improve the lighting on my still life photos, I'd love to hear 'em.) The two colors that jump out are a deep purple and an apple green. I'm going to wind a hank and start swatching tomorrow, but I expect to make a fairly simple pullover so the focus is on the yarn.

In other knitting news, I was able to get a 6-ply sock done all the way down to the gusset decreases between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I'd started it early on Christmas Eve in the hope of having a few spare moments to work on something, and wanting a project that was both mindless to work on and very quick-knitting. It proved to be both, and even though it's what we euphemistically call "OPY" -- "other people's yarn" -- since Rosie's doesn't carry 6-ply sock yarn, what's a girl to do?

It's going to be a busy week since all three kids are off school, so I'll try to post as much as I can, but I suspect I will be rather frazzled. The constant refrain of "Mo-o-m" is already ringing in my ears...

Saturday, December 24, 2005

To all my readers

Wishing you non-tinkled-on toilet seats and other good things of the season.

Merry Whatever!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Books for Newbies

Dear friend, occupational therapist extraordinaire and fellow Pisces Molly asks:

What book might you recommend for me (literally 3 scarves total and I so far only know how to cast-on, do the knit stitch, and cast-off)?

We get asked this question a lot at Rosie's, and fortunately there are many good choices. Most pattern books today seem to devote a section in the front or back to basic instructions, so if you see a book with some designs you like, check to see if there's enough instruction in there for your purposes. You can also check out some of the web sites that offer knitting instruction, although the quality (particularly of the diagrams or photographs) varies. With a ten-second Google search, I came across the Craft Yarn Council's basic directions (though I think the diagrams aren't great); KnittingHelp offers on-line videos; Better Homes and Gardens if you can stand the pop-ups and other ads; and Lion Brand's website also contains directions.

Personally, I like having a book to learn from, and if the book also contains patterns and other helpful information, so much the better. Here's a few that I often recommend:

Kids' Knitting by Melanie Falick. Not just for kids.

Walks you through tools, winding yarn, casting on and so forth, and includes interesting information like how to dye yarn with Kool-Aid and tips for keeping track of your needles. Patterns start with very easy beanbags (you could easily make them larger and turn them into throw pillows), rectangular projects like scarves and afghans, then the book introduces skills like shaping, embroidery, knitting in the round, stitch patterns, felting and finishes with a simple roll-neck sweater. Lots of diagrams and photos, all in color.

How to Knit by Debbie Bliss. I still refer to this book (it just barely missed my top ten list for most helpful books) and I love the way it includes some lovely classic patterns as well as nice big drawings and a mini-stitch library. Beautiful photography, too. Organized in a workshop format, so that you can begin with the first skills and complete 1 or 2 projects in that chapter, then move on to the next topic and practice with the projects in that chapter, and so on.

The Knitting Experience: The Knit Stitch and The Purl Stitch, by Sally Melville. This is a two-book series, one which focuses only on the knit stitch, the second on the purl stitch. Buying two books to learn how to knit may be economically inefficient, but you will get a very thorough grounding from this one-two punch. I seem to encounter two schools of thought on this approach: one is that it's wonderful to not rush into the purl stitch and to be able to learn additional techniques and make attractive items quicker. The second is that it creates a mystique for the purl stitch that is hard to overcome, and why not just learn it and start practicing it right away already. You decide.

Stitch 'N Bitch, by Debbie Stoller.

This book has taught a lot of urban hipsters how to knit. It's a thick book, although unfortunately the majority of it is in black and white which detracts somewhat from the overall quality, making it harder to see clearly pattern details, charts, and diagrams. Thorough directions and extensive, somewhat trendy pattern section aimed at twenty-somethings. If you flinch at cuss words, then this sassy-talking book may not be the one for you. But there's a lot of info packed in its pages and for about $13.95, it's good value.

First Knits by Kate Haxell and Luise Roberts. I don't own this one, but I've heard it's pretty good. I've seen photos of some of the projects, like this shawl

and this bag

which look quite nice, especially for newbie projects. Worth taking a look.

I hope that helps, Mol.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Readers: Forward As Appropriate

A Last-Ditch Plea To Anyone Who Loves a Knitter

Dear Sir or Madam:

The holidays are right around the corner -- well, actually, staring you right in the face -- saying "What have you bought for the knitter that you love this holiday season? Hmm?"

I know that you think -- nay, you know with complete and utter certainty -- that your knitter has all the yarn any human being could ever knit in a lifetime. As well as every accoutrement, book and size needles known to the knitting universe. You already find yarn laying around everywhere, squeezed into all kinds of strange places, surely there isn't room for a single bloody skein more.

You may well be right.

But it's the season of giving, the time to think about what will make others happy, the penultimate gift-giving occasion of the year. You know, Ernie selling his rubber duckie to give Bert a cigar box for his paper clip collection and Bert selling his paper clip collection to give Ernie a new soap dish for his rubber duckie to sit on, and all that crap.

Bestir yourself, swallow your bafflement at this fiber obsession, and get thee to a yarn shop. Just a small gift certificate, a skein or two of lovely yarn (your nice yarn shop employees can guide you -- a skein of Koigu or Colinette is all it takes to spread joy to a knitter's heart), a pair of Lantern Moon rosewood needles, a tape measure shaped like a sheep -- give that knitter something to show that you understand how very much (s)he loves knitting. You could even go on-line and send an e-gift certificate, if you wish; or check your knitter's wish list for knitting-related titles.

Your knitter will love you (even more) for it. You will feel good knowing that you've tapped into the unselfish, thinking of others spirit that the holiday season embodies. Indeed, you may find yourself unwrapping that special fishing lure or new Cuisinart or Home Depot gift certificate or I-Pod Nano upon your next birthday.

And if you play your cards right, you might even end up with a handknit sweater out of the deal.

Or, eh, maybe not.

Ten books of 2005 that I really like

One complaint that the irony-impaired often have about snide and sarcastic writing is how "mean" it all is. I can't give a better explanation of snide than Franklin's recent one (check his archives), but let me throw out there that the reason that I am snide and sarcastic is because I care. You can only get worked up about something if you care about the topic or some aspect of it; otherwise, you'd ignore it.

And because I care (aren't I special?), I do feel it's important to give credit where credit is due. There are a lot of knitting-related things out there that have given me great pleasure the past year, new books and yarns and designers and experiences. So let's start with some of the books released in 2005 that I have really enjoyed.

1. Loop-d-Loop, by Teva Durham. My knitting library consists, roughly, of three kinds of books: (1) books that explain techniques (say, Katharina Buss's Big Book of Knitting); (2) books containing patterns that I someday might make (pattern books by Debbie Bliss or Elsebeth Lavold, for example); and (3) books that give me some kind of inspiration, whether because of their use of color, interesting designs or whatever. Loop de Loop falls primarily into the third category, although I haven't ruled out trying some of the less trendoid, less revealing designs. Look at this wonderful asymmetrical fair isle:

This is not knitting that's fuzzy or fast or simple, to quote (or misquote) frequent flyer Michelene. But it is a pleasure to come across a designer who sees things in a different way, who refreshes and energizes her knitting and thereby inspires me to do the same.

2. Handknit Holidays, by Melanie Falick. I'm a huge Melanie Falick fan (even though she keeps rejecting book proposals from me, which I don't hold against her one bit but God, would it kill her to put one lousy pattern of mine in one of her frickin' books?). Handknit Holidays is a delightful book, one to savor. I love the endpapers that look like holiday wrapping paper, I love the wide variety of projects, I love the photography, I like the mix of well-known and less-well-known designers. And I really love the bohus-inspired sweater by Veronik Avery (who I've heard has a book coming out in 2007 - excellent news).

3. Vintage Socks, by Nancy Bush. Is all this gushing frightening you? Well, put on your hipwaders, because I really, really like Nancy Bush. I love the way she takes inspiration from ethnic and folk knitting, and now, vintage patterns. I love that her books are now spiral-bound. I love that her patterns are technically interesting. I love that she uses fine quality yarns and that her knitting isn't always fast or easy but always lovely.

4. Alter Knits, by Leigh Radford. This is a book that straddles the inspirational category and the pattern category. Gorgeous production values (it's that Melanie Falick again) and beautiful photography. Am I ever going to knit a crepe paper party crown? Nope. But I just might make the cream-colored scarf/wrap, the velvet-trimmed raglan or the mohair sweater. And I like the way the book encourages knitters to be creative, to play with their knitting, to use "mixed media" and to strike out a little on their own.

5. Hats Gloves Scarves by Louisa Harding. A nice collection of accessories, interesting (for the most part) without being so challenging I'll never get around to making them. Here's a nice pair of long gloves

and a colorful fair isle hat:

6. Sensational Socks, by Charlene Schurch. If this is the first sock-knitting book you buy, you might not buy another one for a long time. A wide variety of patterns sized for multiple gauges.

7. The Opinionated Knitter, by Elizabeth Zimmerman. So many people rave about Elizabeth Zimmerman, and this book shows you why. EZ had a way of writing that sounded like she was speaking to you, frank, self-deprecating, amusing. I remember the first time I read "Knitting Without Tears" and feeling a surge of happiness that someone else felt as passionately about knitting as I do. Some of her patterns look a bit dowdy,

and some of the styling details need updating, but her writing is a pleasure. And she knew a hell of a lot about knitting.

8. Wrap Style, by Pam Allen & Ann Budd. Another winner from the Interweave Knits folks. A true sign of a good design book: even though I'm sick to death of ponchos, ponchettes, capelets, shrugs, and any other chopped-off, sleeve-impaired garment, I still enjoy seeing patterns like this:

9. Modular Knits, by Iris Schreier. This book has instructions for all sorts of modular knitting. I'm not sure I'll make any of the patterns, some of which are hideous (or am I swayed by the model's bizarro haircut? and WTF is up with those Mr. Spock eyebrows? do you think she has pointed ears under that hair? but I digress)

and some of which are less than hideous, but I'm interested in playing with some of the techniques and adding them to my knitting arsenal.

10. Museum Quilts, by Kaffe Fassett and Liza Prior Lucy.

I don't quilt, or at least not well, but this book sure makes me want to try. (Maybe when the kids are older...) Regardless of my lack of quilting prowess, this book is inspirational because of its glorious use of color and design. Just leafing through the pages makes we want to play with color and texture. (And if you really want a jones for fabric, go to Liza's website. Yowsa!)

You know, there's still time to send your doofus of a brother or your long-suffering-but-perhaps-not-quite-adequately-appreciative-of-all-you-do spouse out to pick up one or two of these before Christmas or Hannukah or Festivus (for the rest of us) is over...