Wednesday, March 28, 2007


My tooth is fixed, at least for now. The dentist said he was going to give me a crown, and although it wasn't quite what I had imagined,

it'll do. See?*

In a sweet show of sympathy, Charcoal is going to the vet today to get his back teeth filed down. I am told that bunny teeth continue to grow and if the bun doesn't chew on them enough to file them down, they can get overgrown and cause difficulties. Charcoal is doing fine with the front teeth but there are some spots in the back that he's not gnawing with enough. Here's your piece of bunny trivia for the day: bunnies cannot vomit. So if they have veterinary procedures, you don't need to deprive them of food or water beforehand. Back me up on this one, Dr. Mel. (Clearly this is why rabbits are notorious for having so many babies: unlike me, who vomited for 4 months, they don't get morning sickness.)

On the knitting front, progress has been slow. I am mainly working on book stuff (last night I had a dream that they were doing a photo shoot of the garments in the Bahamas and we got free tickets to come and watch. Hah! That's what I get for reading about Anna Nicole Smith's autopsy before going to bed) which I can't show you. My co-authors and I sent out our first wave of finished garments to our editor over the weekend, and I'm extremely nervous about my contribution. I hope she likes them and doesn't regret giving us a contract.

My back-up knitting project is this sweater

done in Koigu Kersti. I'm using a Cabin Fever pattern for a baby sweater, knit in the round from the top down, raglan-style. I got this Kersti ages ago at Rosie's, and there wasn't enough to do something for me, so I figured this was a good use for it. Alert readers may recall that one of my knitting goals for the year was to knit a sweater for the first grandchild of the judge I clerked for, and this is it. Having learned my lesson from prior projects for babies, I am making a large size: 2-3 years.

I've been doing some more dyeing. I've got some really cool wool/nylon sock yarns like these:

and I'm planning to do an update this Friday, March 30th.

*No, of course that's not REALLY my tooth.
Mine's silver.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dental Damn

"Faced with the choice of enduring a bad toothache or going to the dentist, we generally tried to ride out the bad tooth. " -- Joseph Barbera

Remember that list I made last week? Of the things that were indicating how effing old I am? Well, add this one:
4. Today, part of my tooth fell out.

Okay, maybe it was an old filling (which isn't a bad thing, since the Lyme-Nuts are telling me I need to take out all amalgam fillings). Or maybe it was part filling, part tooth. Or maybe I'm turning into a toothless crone before your very eyes. No matter how you look at it, it sucks.

However, at least I am reasonably sure it won't get infected. (A little I've-been-on-antibiotics-for-months humor, there.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: The Natural Knitter, by Barbara Albright

One of my birthday presents was The Natural Knitter: How to Choose, Use, and Knit Natural Fibers from Alpaca to Yak -- a book I'd been anticipating for a while. I'm happy to report that I am not disappointed.

Barbara Albright was a writer of both knitting and cooking books. I say "was" because, sadly, she died last fall of a brain tumor at the age of 51. This was her last knitting book, and it's a shame she missed being able to hold it in her hands and gaze at it, because it's a big and beautiful book, of which she would have been justifiably proud.

The Natural Knitter is a hardcover book, full of lovely color photographs (taken by Alexandra Grablewski), just under two hundred pages, put out by PotterCraft (remember when I told you to watch out for PotterCraft, since they were putting out some good books?). MSRP is $32.50 and you can find it for just over twenty dollars on places like Amazon.

As the title suggests, the theme of the book is natural fiber, both plant- and animal-derived. The book contains technical information about the characteristics of different fibers, including wool, yak, cotton, hemp, silk, and more, as well as a selection of patterns -- about twenty-three or so -- showcasing these fibers. You can tell that this book was lovingly created by people who adore fiber: the book is full of eye-candy shots of both the living things that produce the fiber,

(Okay, he's awfully cute, but he's no Charcoal...)

and of the fiber itself. In fact, there are so many photographs packed into this book, sometimes several to a page, that it looks like the editors had the pleasure of getting more good photographs than they had room for. And cleverly, they managed to sneak in shots like this one, used opposite the table of contents:

As for content, the book begins with an introduction extolling the virtues of natural fibers; discussing what makes a fiber "natural" and "organic"; demonstrating the benefits of going organic; and giving a playful pattern for some little doll-like creatures. The meat of the book begins, though, with the middle sections, organized by type of fiber: first, wool; then other animal-derived fibers; and finally, plant fibers.

The section on wool is first and Albright's enthusiasm for wool comes through loud and clear. The first project, a yoga mat made from Philosopher's Wool, wasn't my cup of tea but the second project, a shetland sweater in neutral colors, with patterning based on the growth of ferns on a North Sea island, is gorgeous.

The next sweater -- a Swedish-inspired stranded sweater by Beth Brown-Reinsel -- is another beaut, knit in Morehouse Merino wool. Other designs in this chapter are a top-down cabled/rib pattern and a child's gansey-style sweater. One feature I particularly like is the book's focus on producers (mainly small) of natural fibers, with an emphasis on those using environmentally-conscious processes. Text boxes throughout the book showcase Morehouse Merino, Hand Jive Knits, Harrisville Designs and other interesting (and perhaps less well-known to some knitters) companies making gorgeous yarns, with descriptions of the company's philosophies and products.

Next are the remaining animal-derived fibers, including camel, angora, mohair, and llama. Information about fiber characteristics start the chapter, and cover less obvious fibers like buffalo and camel. Patterns include a zigazag cable sweater and hat for women by Kathy Zimmerman and a man's textured pullover (both done in llama/wool blends); a scarf in a wool/mohair blend; a fascinating twisted rib pullover by Norah Gaughan in a cashmere/wool blend;

a lovely lace twin set in a qiviut blend;

a baby sweater in an angora blend; and a garter-stitch silk sweater for women, knit side-to-side in pure silk. It's interesting that nearly all the non-wool animal fibers in this section -- except for the silk -- are blended with wool and sometimes another fiber in the yarns used for the patterns. I suppose this helps balance some of the disadvantages of these fibers, like lack of elasticity and memory, with the advantages of wool, but it would have been interesting to see at least a few patterns knit in a pure form of some of these fibers (other than the silk). Likewise, it would have been nice to see a pattern or two using some of the less-readily-available fibers, like, say, buffalo or camel, but I imagine cost and space constraints are always a concern.

The plant section features cotton (a girl's poncho; a cotton chenille robe by Valentina Devine); linen (a fascinating linen yoked sweater, knit in a lace pattern from the neck down by the talented Lidia Karabinich);

a sweater knit in hemp in an unusual stitch pattern using cast-off rows, by Debbie New; and a pineapple-fiber lacy top.

The next section discusses fibers dyed using plant-based extracts, an interesting and not necessarily obvious choice to follow the previous sections. Instructions for a simple dye derived from onion skins start out the chapter (if you don't feel like trying it on yarn, how about doing Easter eggs instead?); followed by a modular hat, socks and gloves combo by the owner of Hand Jive Fibers, whose lovely subtle colors are derived solely from natural dyestuffs (you can find some of their fingering weight yarns at Rosie's); a southwestern-style jacket from La Lana wool/silk; and one of my favorites, an Anna Zilboorg mitten pattern, knit in Snow Star Farms wool.

The last section is called "Natural Next Steps," and seems a little bit of an afterthought. It gives a brief introduction to spinning (including a discussion of crimp) followed by a pattern and instructions for making felt flowers.

Patterns are written for, on average, three or four sizes, and they tend toward larger bust circumferences, so if you're a gal who wears sweaters with a finished bust of less than, say, 38 inches, you're going to have to fiddle with some of these to size them down (although the qiviut twin set and the lace yoke pullover are thankful exceptions, starting at size 32). The accessories are flexible enough to fit most adults, and the men's garments look pretty generously sized. Schematics are included.

Overall, I quite like this book and think it's a worthwhile addition to your knitting library. It's lush, beautifully-photographed and well-produced. The suggested price tag is on the higher side (even though the book contains only 23 or so patterns) but remember, you're getting high production values, lots of photos, and several complex patterns. (Patterns using lace or stranded colorwork take more time to draft and knit than simple stockinette pullovers, and there are several such complex designs in this book.) The selection of patterns is good overall, with a mix of a few simpler items for newer or time-crunched knitters and a few complex ones to challenge knitters. There is also a mix of sweaters and accessories, with a couple of men's and child's patterns thrown in. I especially like the book's focus on providing background information, giving knitters insight into some of the characteristics and advantages/disadvantages of various fibers other than wool, and even fun information about the "personalities" of the animals.

What may appeal most to rabid knitters, however, is something more elemental and emotional: this book was written by someone who clearly loved fiber, and knitting, and fiber animals, someone who had a passion for using natural fibers and organic processes where possible. And this underscores what for me was the saddest aspect of the book: the knowledge that given her untimely death, we won't have any more big, info-packed books like this to look forward to from Barbara Albright.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A sleety birthday

Thank you for all of your good wishes and comments on my birthday. I am now mulling over whether I have crossed the point of no return: to wit,

1. Birthday cake purchased by husband had "Happy Birthday, Mom" written on it. Husband did not get hint when clerk asked him "How old's your mom?"
2. In-laws gave me Target gift card for present. (Let's live it up: free paper towels for everyone!)
3. Twenty-five-year-old sales clerks call me "ma'am" instead of "miss." (Okay, they've been doing that for the past couple of years, but I'm trying to round out my list.)

But that's an existential crisis for another day.

My birthday was, on the whole, a little odd. It started out pretty normally, until the sleet arrived. Or maybe it was freezing rain; it's hard to tell the difference. Frozen precipitation began at around 8 a.m. on Friday and continued nonstop through the day. Sure enough, school let out early, and around five o'clock, when the roads were getting steadily worse and Tom was due to arrive home, I began thinking of birthday cake and presents and a cozy night by the fire. Alas, it was not to be.

I received a phone call shortly thereafter from Tom, who had locked his keys in the car while it was running was scraping his windshield when the car's automatic locks spontaneously went off, thus locking the keys in the car through no fault of his. So I had to pack up the three kids and head out into the sleet to take him the extra keys. (Just to add insult to injury, I was out of gas, so I had to stop at a gas station on the way.) It took us an hour for what ought to have been a 15-minute trip. Even though we were driving an all-wheel-drive, heavy vehicle, we almost got stuck and the roads were treacherous. (Or as the local news station is wont to report breathlessly, "The roads are a CHAMBER OF HORRORS!!")

By the time we got to the client's office where Tom was, we decided he should leave his car (of course, after unlocking it and turning it off) and drive back with us. It took another hour to get home, with the defroster not working and having to stop every so often to deice the wipers.

By the time we got home, we were all stressed out.

I did recover enough to open a few presents (including Last-Minute Fabric Gifts: 30 Hand-Sew, Machine-Sew, and No-Sew Projects and The Natural Knitter: How to Choose, Use, and Knit Natural Fibers from Alpaca to Yak, which will be my next book review) and we did get the aforementioned cake, so all's well that ended well.

I shan't even mention the trip later in the weekend to pick up Tom's car, involving an hour of ice-chipping (Tom with a metal shovel, me with an ice scraper -- take that, Lyme hands!) . . .

In case this entry has not seemed pathetic enough (what can I say? I've been reading Rabbitch and I'm competitive), it's time for today's dime-store psychological insight.

I have been told many times before by a dear friend who's known me since I was twelve that I have a tendency to try to hide my stress from the world, to try to put on a together front even when I'm feeling anything but. (Stop snickering, Tom; I said "from the world.") Lately, I have been feeling anything but together. Part of it is the impact of this Lyme relapse: I'm still fatigued, and headachy, and jointachy. Part of it is stress. So I may be retreating a little inward in coming weeks, until I feel a bit more together. Don't take it personally. (Especially if it takes me a long time to return your phone call or answer your email.)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Holy crap, I'm 42!

But I don't look a day over 41.

Happy birthday wishes are also appropriate if you happen to read the blogs of Chuck Woolery

Erik Estrada

le plus grand comedien francais, Jerry Lewis

Pat Nixon

and/or the former Shah of Iran (who in retrospect, doesn't look like such a bad guy).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

A year ago today

I began my Etsy shop.

I never imagined it would meet with the enthusiasm that you have all shown.

Thank you to everyone who has purchased yarn or spinning fiber from Black Bunny Fibers!

Your support and loyalty mean more to me than you can ever know.

Keep Bunny Hopping -- and keep sending me photos of your finished projects!

I love to see 'em and I live vicariously through your beautiful knitting.

Next update is Saturday, March 17th, with some green sock yarns in honor of St. Patrick's Day.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Yarn preview

Here's a quick preview of some of the sock yarns that will be going up on my Etsy site tomorrow morning:

These are all wool/nylon sock yarn; I've also got some 90% llama/10% shetland laceweight, too.

Friday, March 09, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Knitting Fashions of 1940s

Knitting Fashions of the 1940s: Styles, Patterns and History by Jane Waller (Crowood Press Ltd. 2006) contains exactly what it says it does: updated patterns that were originally published in the 1940s, along with historical background and information about the styles and knitting culture of the time period. I discovered this book just by browsing on-line for new releases on a large internet bookseller's website. (The copyright page states that it was first published in 2006 in Britain but apparently it was only recently released in the U.S.) It's a delightful book -- and I'm surprised that with growing interest in vintage patterns (think Nancy Bush's Knitting Vintage Socks: New Twists on Classic Patterns, or Victorian Lace Today, for example) it hasn't gotten more press.

First the statistics: The book is hardcover and contains 160 pages, loaded with photographs, many of them reproduced from wartime knitting magazines and pattern leaflets, some in color and some black-and-white. In addition, there are reproductions of some magazine illustrations and a cartoon or two to give additional atmosphere. In addition, you'll find over fifty patterns updated for today's knitters to try. Of those fifty patterns (excellent value for a knitting book), my rough count shows they break down into approximately 40-plus women's garments (mainly sweaters, including cardigans, pullovers and twinsets), four men's designs (three vests and a sweater), three unisex designs (depending on taste, you may find a few more), six children's designs (not counting the toys), nine accessories, and three toy patterns. The list price is a steep $39.99 but you can find it for less if you comparison shop, and given the amount of information and patterns, I can't quibble over the list price.

Now let's take a look at content. The book begins with a brief "Knitting Notes" section, which charmed me with its prefatory quote:
the true joy of knitting is only obtained when it becomes a creative craft. The decrees of fashion demand much more than mere utility, so that the knitting art, practised in this way, becomes not merely a pleasing and useful relaxation, but also a genuine means of self-expression.
[quoting Marjorie Tillitson, Knitting Book (1945)]. Waller warns her contemporary audience that knitting fashions of this time were knit using finer-gauge yarns and thinner needles, and although these garments took a little longer to make, they were tailored, featured beautiful stitchwork and other detailing, and remained favorites that were worn over and over again, recompensing the knitter for the extra investment of time. Wise words, Jane Waller.

One of the most valuable features of this book is the historical context it provides. At the very beginning of the book, and before each chapter, Waller reminds us of the social constraints under which 1940s knitters were operating. Women were thinner because there were food shortages and rationing. Women had to make themselves garments because English textile production was focused on providing war supplies and materiel for the men at the front, and because most women had very little money to spend on new fashions or other "extras." Rationing fuel meant cooler temperatures at home, so that warm garments made of sturdy, long-lasting wool were not a luxury. Women of this era tended to know how to knit and sew, and thus could adapt their skills to producing garments for themselves and for the troops. In today's knitting world, full of so many knitters born in the 1970s, 1980s (gasp) or later -- and I ain't hatin, just statin' -- Waller's reminder of what it was like in wartime England gives these patterns extra meaning and resonance.

The remainder of the book is cleverly divided into 7 sections, by subject matter. The first section is "For the Troops," and discusses ways in which knitters provided warm items -- hats, sweaters, gloves, socks -- for the men who were fighting. Look at this charming photograph of a "Shetland lass" teaching a "Tommy" how to knit:

Patterns in this section include a Submarine Jersey, a cabled turtleneck, a cap helmet and a hot water bottle cover. One feature that appears consistently throughout the book is a side-by-side comparison of the original vintage pattern photograph, with the updated item, like this "Women's Service Woollie" (although notwithstanding the name, unless my eyes are misleading me, the contemporary version is shown on a guy):

The next section is devoted to "The Home Front," and features mainly garments for women, including cardigans, twinsets, pullovers and gloves, along with two whimsical toys. Look at the lovely ribbing on this sweater:

How about these hilarious dolls commemorating the service of the Wrens and other women's service units?

Section 3 is "Glamour," and features more festive creations; Section 4 is "Intricate Stitches," showcasing designs with complex patterning like cables and bobbles. Section 5 is entirely devoted to "Fair Isles," although purists will note that this section really is talking about stranded knitting generally as many of the patterns do not use traditional Island motifs. Section 6 is "The Children" and the last section looks forward "Towards the Fifties."

The sizing is very variable in the patterns. Some give only one size ("38-40 inches," for example), while others are sized for a range (e.g., from 38 to 46 inches by increments of two inches). The yarns used are of finer gauges, DK and sport and fingering weight, even a laceweight lingerie set. The styling is very retro and vintage, and if you aren't crazy about this sensibility, well, look before you leap into this purchase. There are no schematics. I haven't knit anything from the book, but a quick browse suggests that these patterns are written in a more concise style than some of their American counterparts. Just an observation -- not a value judgment.

The skill levels for these garments vary, but I would say they tend to the more experienced knitter. While there are some very basic garments, like the Submarine Jersey, without lots of patterning or shaping, many of the garments feature stitch patterns or colorwork, and tailored fit, so if you're looking for mindless TV knitting, not all of these will suit. One charming detail is that each photograph of a current-day design features the name of the individual knitter or knitters who test-knit it. (And any of you out there who've test-knit for a designer will appreciate this individualized bit of recognition, too!)

If some of the garments don't translate as successfully as others:

if some of the models and styling leave a bit to be desired, or

if I may not actually knit every garment in this book (not being a snood kind of gal), well, I'm willing to forgive all that. This is a thorough book, filled with detail and knowledge, chock-full of interesting and complex patterns, packed with color photos and vintage reproductions, featuring garments knit in small gauges (imagine coordinating the knitting of fifty or more garments simultaneously, all knit at finer gauges!). Kudos to Jane Waller. And if you, too, are sick of chunky, funky, boxy, shapeless, knit-'em-in-a-weekend patterns, or if like me, you are fascinated with vintage patterns, you'll want to get yourself a copy of this excellent book.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Tantric Tantrum

Yesterday was not a particularly pleasant day, let's just say. I started out the day with a schlepp to my Lyme doctor (an hour each way; long story). He upped one of my antibiotics and took some blood. This trip fatigued me more than it normally would.

The bright point of my day -- the cream in my Tastykake -- was a quick knitting meet-up with Liz. I've grown extremely fond of Liz in a short time and she's a kick-ass knitter, too. We met and had hot beverages and knit and kibbitzed. Liz is helping me out by test-knitting a pattern that has been through multiple revisions but it's such a cool pattern I think it's worth it. Here's a quick peek at what she did:

Our knitting time was all too short. After I picked up the twins from preschool, and my mother called to tell me she wasn't going to come tomorrow because we were supposed to get a blizzard a volcano was scheduled to erupt hot molten magma all over the Pa. Turnpike they were calling for a few snowflurries, G. decided to have a complete and utter hissyfit. It lasted for two and a half hours.

It was, in fact, a tantric tantrum.

Now rest assured that G. had a perfectly good reason for her snit. Something about her coloring book not being right. I won't bore you with the details of the screaming, the threats, the thrashing, the rending of garments (or the stuff that G. did). Suffice it to say that it was ugly. In the midst of the fury, G. starts grabbing her crotch. Her not being a pop star, I realize this suggests she needs the bathroom and I ask her if she needs to go to the toilet. She says no. I even take her to the bathroom, but she's kicking and screaming and I'm afraid I might smack her head on something she might hit her head on the sink or something.

She comes to find me about fifteen minutes later. (I was locked in my bedroom with my hands over my ears, humming "The Star Spangled Banner" while shouting "I'M NOT LISTENING!")

Dear readers, she had urinated on the floor.

Yep, she had showed me that... um, she wasn't gonna take no orders from no honky bitch about where to ... um, well, I'm sure she showed me something. Please excuse me while I go try to figure out what it was.*

*When daddy came home, she immediately sauntered up to him and asked for all her treasured princess-iana that I had confiscated on the theory that any kid who pisses on the bathroom floor doesn't get to play with cool sparkly shit. Tom asks her why the stuff got taken away, and she puts on an Oscar-winning display of insouciance and ignorance, while managing to suggest by the set of her eyes that it was because Mommy's Paxil needs upping. "Were you acting like a brat?" Daddy guesses. "SHE PISSED ON THE FLOOR!" I shout. My husband, nicknamed (more or less affectionately, depending on the mood I'm in) Clean Boy, has a single reaction: "Oh God, where?!"

Monday, March 05, 2007

What's in the box?

Photos of the contents next post.

I have a finished object to display, which I think of as The Great Pooling Sock:

It's BBF superwash merino, in a skein that ran amok, and although it is pooling dreadfully -- and since this was my mindless knitting, I was too lazy to try to counteract the pooling tendencies -- I really like the colors in it. The base yarn is a delight to knit with. I used US #2s and got around 7 sts to the inch. Please note that I really do actually knit things, and oftentimes the things I knit are even pleasant to look at; but most of what I'm working on now must be kept under wraps 'til next spring.

While at my Rosie's shift Saturday, I was immediately drawn to this:

This is Soft Sea Wool, a new 100% wool fingering-weight yarn by Reynolds. I grabbed the olive color, thinking Tom might want a pair of socks out of it. It looks quite appealing in the skein and best of all, Reynolds has a booklet called "Stepping Out" with a bunch of cute sock patterns in it by Veronik Avery and Mona Schmidt. Anybody who reads this blog regularly knows I have a huge platonic crush on Veronik [sorry, V., I can't figure out accent aigu in html) and love her designs; and Mona regularly has lovely sock patterns featured in Interweave and other fine publications. If you're a sockhead, you'll want to take a look at this booklet. (In fact, Rosie's has the booklet and the wool in stock; hit this link.)

I'm hoping to produce some more meaty blog posts soon, but I'm having a bizarro Lyme relapse and the fatigue is killing me. So bear with me. But hey, at least I don't have ass cancer, right, Rabbitch?*

*Um, I've been instructed by my libel attorney to clarify that Rabbitch does NOT have ass cancer. That I know of.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

February Book Report (slim pickins)

I only got through one book in February -- and I just squeaked it in, finishing it last night. (When my Lyme acts up and I go to sleep at 9 p.m. every night, it's hard to get a lot of reading done. And let's not even talk about knitting.)

As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, which was very kindly sent to me by a faithful reader and test knitter (thanks, Carol!) was heartbreaking, fascinating and infuriating. The subject of the book, David Reimer, suffered a horrible accident as a baby that resulted in a penisectomy. Under the guidance of a Svengali-like psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins, his well-meaning parents had doctors perform a rudimentary sex-change operation and raised him as a girl. David's childhood was every bit as miserable as you might expect, and at age 14, when he learned for the first time what had happened to him, he resolved to switch back and live the remainder of his life as a boy. What is particularly infuriating is that the doctor who spearheaded the course of treatment apparently did not communicate to the parents that this was basically an experimental course of treatment and that the doctor's own scientific "methods" left a whole lot to be desired. In fact, even though Reimer's case could not be considered a success by any standard, the doctor continued to portray it as such, likely leading to more ill-fated surgeries on babies with damaged or ambiguous genitals.

Black Bunny preview

Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's Etsy update. I've got some rovings and a lot of superwash merino sock yarn, as well as a couple of wool/nylon sock yarns.

I'm updating in the morning, so get ready to hit that refresh button.