Friday, September 28, 2007

Victory is mine

I have single-handedly vanquished the outdated Berroco Chick with the dangly 80s earrings (if you don't remember that post, check the archives for November 2005).

This is one of the new Berroco chicks (Millenium edition):

God, I love Norah Gaughan.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Catch up: Garden State Sheep festival

I'm a little overdue, but here are some photos from the Garden State Sheep festival that I took the kids to two weeks ago.

Just as we walked toward the gate, we were treated to an exhibition of sheep-herding skills. It didn't look intentional, because a few sheep seemed to sneak out of the festival grounds and head onto the gravel road leading to the parking lot and the highway where they could easily have been hit by a car. Shortly thereafter, two dogs came running hellbent

and rounded the sheep up in front of us. At one point, a sneaky straggler sheep tried to avoid the herding dog and ran toward us. We stood very still and we could have touched the sheep as it ran past, then the dog as it herded the sheep around us.

It was much more sedate after that and we saw farm animals

and the obligatory sheep shearing (it must be a testament to my regular attendance at sheep shows, because this used to fascinate me and now it seems almost jejune)

and we saw some gorgeous alpacas and llamas, including a white one

and a black one in the same pen (Ebony and Ivory?):

This is a very small festival, but it's charming and good for smaller children. My kids are getting a bit old for it, especially Elvis, but I'm thinking about getting a table there next year as a vendor and selling Black Bunny yarns.

In other news, it's been pretty quiet here. I'm knitting and dyeing and trying to pick up the slack given Tom's very busy work schedule right now. We are doing some edits to the book manuscript, and still on track for a June 2008 release date. (I've been told to hold off on giving you details about the book for now, but as soon as the publicist okays it, I'll give you the scoop.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

I lerve Kaffe.

Lookit how cute this sock is:

Friday, September 21, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: The Twisted Sisters Knit Sweaters

After the success of their dyeing/handspinning/sockknitting book of five years ago, the "Twisted Sisters” -- a group of handspinners that originated in Portland -- are back with The Twisted Sisters Knit Sweaters: A Knit-to-Fit Workshop(Interweave Press 2007; MSRP $24.95, currently $16.47 by clicking on this link). The Twisted Sisters' first book showed, in glorious color photography, their methods of dyeing fiber, spinning it via spindle or wheel, then knitting the resulting yarn into socks. Their follow-up book tackles the more difficult problem presented by using one’s handspun yarn to knit sweaters.

The Twisted Sisters Knit Sweaters is not a traditionally-styled pattern book, and you’d best know that going in. This is not the kind of book where you flip to the pattern section, find your favorite, figure out what commercial yarn you’re going to use and immediately cast on. If you’re looking for such a book, and want a very straightforward, you-follow-the-pattern-exactly-as-written experience, you’ll be disappointed. Very disappointed, since there isn’t a single complete “pattern” in the book in the way we usually think of them.

That's not to say it isn't a good book, though. The aim of the book is more ambitious, and is best explained by the fact that the group who inspired it consist of spinners (extremely talented spinners by the look of the yarns) who want to knit beautiful garments with the yarn they've created. As Vogel explains in the Introduction:

[A]s handspinners, most of us had to adapt either our yarn to fit a pattern or the pattern to fit our yarn. So we agreed to meet this challenge. Knit an original sweater by altering a basic drop-shoulder pullover – expand, shrink, shape, and decorate it to meet your practical requirements and express your personal style.

You’ll learn several important things about the book from these sentences: the main goal is to allow a handspinner to adapt handspun yarn for knitting into a sweater; the basic sweater style is a drop-shoulder pullover (although variations are included, which I’ll get to later); and the sweater that you knit will be custom-tailored to meet your measurements. And the book admirably arms the reader with the information required to do those three things. Looking at it chapter by chapter:

The first chapter of the book is called “Yarn and Fabric,” and it discusses some of the basics that any knitter will benefit from knowing: yarn weight (including the Craft Yarn Council’s new system for standardizing (ha!) yarn weight, wraps per inch and gauge); a discussion of drape; a brief section on knitting with variegated yarns; and a section on calculating yardage. Especially helpful is a chart which lists the traditional yarn weight names (e.g. worsted), yards per pound, wraps per inch, gauge, and a comparison of the kind of fabric the yarn will make when knit at regular, tighter-than-normal and looser-than-normal gauges. Very experienced knitters may know all or most of this; less experienced knitters should find this information extremely helpful if they haven’t encountered it before.

The next chapter introduces the “Knitter Fitter System,” which is basically consists of (1) a list of important measurements (“Fitter List”) and (2) a general guideline or map (including schematic) for the sweater (“Sweater Map”). This chapter is brief, the meat of it contained in the two pages of the Knitter Fitter System. (There is also a brief discussion of ease.)

Chapters 3 and 4 walk the reader through the construction of sweaters, first up/down, and then side-to-side, using a basic crewneck pullover pattern with drop shoulders as the example. These chapters tell you how to calculate some of the measurements you’ll need to knit your custom sweater, with charts and diagrams. Chapter 5 covers variations on the crewneck: making it a cardigan, different necklines, different sleeve configurations (so if you hate drop sleeves, you can check out the sleeve and shoulder variants) and edgings. Tips – like using selvedge stitches or how to incorporate stitch patterns – are sprinkled throughout these chapters. There’s a lot of valuable information packed into these chapters, even though they fill only about 30 pages.

The remainder of the book is devoted to the Twisted Sisters’ projects. Ten specific projects are shown in detail, each with color photos, designer notes and description, a completed Fitter List and Sweater Map, along with a general list of steps in knitting the sweater. These are intended to illustrate some of the ways that you can tweak the basic sweater to meet your own individual taste and needs – for example, knitting a turtleneck in one piece from back hem up to the shoulders and down the front, or adding all-over cables,

or by working from cutt to cuff with a v-neck and added length. They aren’t really intended to provide you with a written-out pattern for the sweater so you can duplicate it – unless you just so happen to be the same size as the original maker (although even if you are, many of the yarns used are handspun or handdyed, so cookie-cutter knitters may well be out of luck).

Last, a “Gallery of Inspiration” shows photographs of additional sweaters (photographed flat rather than on models) to show even more variants.

In terms of the basics, the book has all the quality that one would associate with Interweave Press: lots of color photographs: plenty of charts, tables, drawings and schematics; good technical information; a glossary of techniques used, nice photography; quality paper; easy to read type and sufficient white space on the pages. The book is paperback, about 144 pages, with color throughout. Many of my usual benchmarks just aren’t applicable here: for example, since the goal is for the knitter to create her own custom-sized sweater, there are no size ranges and the potential for sizing is really limitless so long as you are willing to do the math. All the garments shown are for women and kids, but theoretically there’d be no reason why you couldn’t apply this fitting information to men. The photography is clear and pleasant but this really isn’t a book that relies on extensive fashion photography to set a mood – it’s much more pragmatic in nature (and I don’t mean that as a criticism, simply a reflection of this book’s unique approach).

So…. how to tell if you should buy this book?

If you have trouble finding patterns that fit you well, or are in a size that isn’t often covered by commercial patterns; if you would like to know how to create your own designs but aren’t sure where or how to begin; if you are a spinner who’d like some ideas for how to use your handspun in creating sweaters or even just to get some inspiration from what other spinners have done; if you are a new knitter and/or don’t feel you adequately understand sweater construction or the math that goes into calculating a pattern; then I think you are likely to benefit greatly from reading and using this book.

On the other hand, if you are a very experienced knitter, if you already have several comprehensive books in your knitting library that cover sweater construction and design, if boxier garments with variegated or multiple colors/textures of yarns don’t appeal to you, or if you simply don’t want to mess around with creating your own designs, then you might want to take a pass. Twisted Sisters Knit Sweaters is an excellent book, full of helpful information, but their approach – while informative and valuable – won’t be everyone's cup of tea.

If I could only use the Vulcan mind meld to figure out how to spin like that...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Just stop it. I mean it.

Haven't we had enough of O.J.? I know I have.

I mean, if the poor man interrupted his ceaseless ten-year search for the real killers of his ex-wife and her friend in order to repossess some stolen items (no doubt so that he could sell them and give the proceeds to the Goldman and Brown families to satisfy their multimillion-dollar civil judgment against him, which he thus far has not given a cent toward despite his tireless attempts to find gainful employment so that he can pay them), then ought we not let the Nevada justice system handle the controversy? Without having his face plastered all over the media?

Would it kill the media (pun intended) to just ignore the guy?

Knitting progress

Geez, in just one day I got something like 15 messages on Ravelry! Cool.

There has been some knitting progress here. After seeing N. gleefully wearing an old pair of Opal Tiger socks I made for James

I cast on another pair for him in one of the Kaffe Fassett colors of Regia. This one is called Carribean (number 4261) and it's full of turquoise/cobalt blues, bright greens, with some rust and brown to provide contrast.

Over the weekend, I finished knitting the pieces of the little skirt for G., and I bought buttons so today I'm blocking it. I used a new yarn from Reynolds called Cottontail, and really liked it a lot. It's a blend of cotton and acrylic, but feels very cotton-y and knits easily. A little strand-y, like all cottons, no big deal though. And at five or six bucks a ball, it's nicely priced. I hope to have a photo of the finished skirt soon.

I also have been making slow but fairly steady progress on a cardigan for me. I'm using Frog Tree Pima Silk from my stash, and it's a beautifully soft, drapey yarn. I'm nearly halfway up the back. It's very plain, almost all stockinette, but that's okay. I'm in the mood for some low-key knitting after the summer full of excitement.

Black Bunny update

I'm planning a Black Bunny update on Friday. I've got this batch of wool/nylon (the one with the tighter twist):

as well as some superwash merino, a few batches of Finn wool from Canada, and some more of the alpaca blend sock yarn (also from Canada). Three batches of roving, too. In the meantime, I'm working on some more pure silk as well as some laceweight. I'm also playing with a new yarn, and I'll let you know if it works out.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On Ravelry

If you haven't said hello to me on Ravelry, my name is BlackBunny. I have heard a lot of buzz about Ravelry, some highly complimentary, some indifferent, but for me, it's addictive. Here are the ways that I am finding Ravelry extremely helpful:
  1. I've got mental lists of projects I've been meaning to try for ages. Some are very specific patterns, others are yarns I want to play with, and some are just vague ideas that I ought to knit something for a particular person. I like the fact that I can keep a running list of my project ideas in the Queue to supplement my failing memory.
  2. I find the searching method, combined with the quantity of input from users, to be fascinating. Patterns can produce wildly varying results depending on the yarn used and the skills and creativity of the maker. I love being able to see many different versions of a sweater, done in different fibers, yarns and styles. It fascinates me the way that seeing multiple paintings of the same theme (e.g. Monet's haystacks) fascinates me. I was looking for a sweater to make for one of the twins, and it was fun to search through different options -- and I was ultimately convinced to try a pattern that I hadn't noticed before.
  3. I find it incredibly motivating to be able to go the current project list and update it as I make progress on a project. This is a personal thing, I'm sure, but being able to add photos and see how the project goes from balls of yarn to a half-knit back, to all the pieces to the finished project, helps me get through the stretches where I'm sort of bored and tempted to try something new. I love being able to up the percentage as I get more done.

I think Ravelry may prove to be helpful in other ways as time goes on. For example, I think that if you check it before you start a pattern, you might find information that will help you -- like a link to errata, or a note that the sleeves are on the short side, or something that might save you some work. This will depend on whether people keep using it and keep inputting information over time.

As a designer, I would love to see Ravelry set up some kind of PDF-sales system whereby I could use Ravelry to sell PDFs of patterns. (One of my on-going projects is to start selling my own patterns via PDF and hard copy.) Certainly as a marketing tool, Ravelry is extremely worthwhile: you get lots of exposure by having your patterns entered in there and it's nice to see that a lot of designers and publishing entities are allowing photographs of their designs to be used. Ditto for Black Bunny yarns: I hope that anyone who hasn't tried BBF yarns but is considering it will page through the photos of projects on Ravelry because people have knit some beautiful things. (By the way, I'm hoping for an update later this week.)

I initially thought that I might find the Stash and Books organizing functions to be helpful, and to some extent, they are -- but, quite honestly, since I have massive (and I do mean MASSIVE) amounts of yarn and books, it'd take an awfully long time for me to input all the stuff I have.* I've put a lot of my books and some of my stash in, and I'm going to try to continue to enter it on an on-going basis, but I'm not going to attempt to put every last skein in.

*I' ve already gotten one email from someone commenting on how many books I have. To the commenter: you should see my house!

Monday, September 17, 2007

The best laid plans....

So I had to (sniffle, sniffle) own the fact that I wasn't going to make it to FibreFest North this year. (Insert frowny-face emoticon here.) It was logistics that doomed me -- Wiarton is so damn far from me -- and my transportation plans fell through. It truly sucks that I won't be getting to spend time with Ted, or meet Mona, or get to say G-day to M-H, or get a big bear hug from Lars, or take a jacuzzi with the Knitting Curmudgeon.

I was especially looking forward to the jacuzzi part.

But as God as my witness, I AM going to Rhinebeck, and I am going to Stitches East. I've got hotel rooms booked for both, I've got wicked cool traveling companions lined up, and both events are within driving distance. See you there. Especially YOU, Anonymous L**** of the Blogless (for now) Knitterati.

Closer to home

My weekend plans took a little U-turn, too. I had planned to take Elvis to the Garden State Sheep Breeders festival on Saturday, which isn't too far from here -- and has the distinction of being the fiber festival where we were enticed to consider getting a pet bunny. Just as I returned from bringing Li'l Miss home from her first ballet lesson (gulp)

I was met at the door by Tom, briefcase and laptop in hand. Going into the office at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Feh. So the kids and I went to N.'s soccer game instead.

Which led to way too many encounters with Malibu Barbie moms (orange vinyl skin and white-yellow hair that never occurs in nature, at least not with black eyebrows), and their jocky stockbroker husbands (nearly always named "Jack," with ironed polo shirts and decidedly firm handshakes). Double feh.

So we had to postpone our trip to the sheep show 'til Sunday. I'm still trying to load some photos from there (I'm thinking my USB cable is on the fritz) and I'll try to post them tomorrow.

How could I have forgotten?

Crapola. I completely forgot Kristin Knits, Kristin Nicholas' new book which is coming out soon -- maybe around mid-October? Kristin has an exquisite eye for color and I've got some of her other books, like Kids' Embroidery: Projects for Kids of All Ages which is a great one (even though I haven't done that kind of stitchery in years). (I think I might add Colorful Stitchery
to my Christmas wish list -- hint, hint, Tom.) Rumor has it that there is a bitchin' interview of her in a forthcoming IK but I don't want to steal the author's thunder so I'll just tease you. Anyway, I've met Kristin briefly and she is extremely warm, down-to-earth and friendly, and add to that her multi-faceted talents and devotion to family, and you've got the kind of knitting designer I want to support whole-heartedly. So I'm sorry I forgot to put that one on the list and thanks for reminding me...

Friday, September 14, 2007

When good things happen to nice people.

I have a lovely friend who I have known over fifteen years. The last decade and a half have been eventful for both of us, but we've stayed good friends throughout it all, and whenever we get together, we thoroughly enjoy each other's company. She married an absolutely wonderful guy and the four of us get along together, too -- which, when you're married, is always a good thing, because it kind of sucks when one person's spouse hates the other person. (You know, the way that Bridget's husband hates me?)

Because her employer was bought out by a bigger company in the same field, she recently ended up with no job. (Or as the delightful Brits put it, she was "made redundant.") Due to some savvy stock options, though, she had the luxury of being able to look for a job at her leisure. In fact, she spent a good part of the spring supervising the installation of the most beautiful, ginormous swimming pool (with jacuzzi, natch) I've ever seen.

Here is N., overlooking the splendor. (Yes, that is a cabana with outdoor kitchen at the other end.) And believe me when I say that there is nobody in the world who deserves this good fortune more than my friend. She is an extremely special person: kind, warm, thoughtful, generous, funny, fun...I could go on but the snarkier among you are already about to retch so I won't.

We spent last Sunday around the pool, catching up, watching the kids swim, lolling in the jacuzzi, trading gossip and laughing.

And trying to make friends with Kitty McMeowypants here.

There isn't a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fall Book Preview

Earlier this week, it was ninety-five degrees and as humid as an armpit in my neck of the woods, but the weather has, thankfully, turned more comfortable, with just the tiniest hint of fall in the air. So let's dream longingly of cooler seasons as we take a quick peek at some of the books to be published this fall.

New Offerings from Old Favorites

Kaffe Fassett (say "Kafe FASS-itt" -- NOT "coffee faucet") releases Kaffe Knits Again: 24 Original Designs Updated for Today's Knitters (Potter Craft; due early October), in which he revisits some of his most popular patterns, updating them in current yarns. (He'll be signing books at Stitches, I believe.) Kaffe also has a new quilting book out in October, Kaffe Fassett's Quilts in the Sun: 20 Designs from Rowan for Patchwork and Quilting, which also features designs from elite quilting designers such as Liza Prior Lucy. (If you've ever toyed with the idea of quilting, go to Liza's website and take a peek at her gorgeous fabrics...)

Another designer who frequently designs patterns for Rowan is the prolific and talented Martin Storey. Knitting for Him: 27 Classic Projects to Keep Him Warm (Taunton; expected release September 25) aims to provide more options for knitting for the guys in your life, with that classic Rowan sense of style. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this book contains new designs rather than a repeat of garments that have previously appeared in other Rowan publications sinceI like Martin Storey's designs a lot and probably already have most of his previously-published designs for Rowan.

Rowan alum Louisa Harding -- who has been designing her own yarns and pattern booklets, too -- has written a book full of small projects called Knitting Little Luxuries: Beautiful Accessories to Knit (Interweave Press; early November). This book promises quick projects for accessories and other items that require a minimum amount of yarn.

Fiona Ellis, who released an interesting book on cables last year, follows up with Inspired Fair Isle Knits: 20 Creative Designs Inspired by the Elements (PotterCraft; early October). The book description sounds intriguing:

Using unconventional placement of Fair Isle patterning, such as at the cuff or shoulder, and asymmetrical or striped color placement, Ellis creates a wide
variety of moods, movements, and graphic impact. And Inspired Fair Isle Knits isn’t just about Fair Isle knitting; it combines the basic method with other knitting techniques such as cables, lace patterning, felting, and even pleats.

And my longtime favorite Debbie Bliss just released another book of baby knits, called Essential Baby: Over 20 Handknits to Take Your Baby from First Days to First Steps (Trafalgar Square; already available). I'll probably pass on this one, since I've got tons of baby patterns and my kids are getting too big for this size range, although I'm sure it's lovely, as Debbie Bliss's books always are.

Interweave Press

In addition to Louisa Harding's new book, our friends at Interweave -- always a source of excellent knitting and crochet books -- have just released The Best of Interweave Knits: Our Favorite Designs from the First Ten Years. As you may have guessed, it's a compilation of the best-loved patterns from past ten years of Interweave Knits magazines. If you've got all your back issues, then you may not want to spring for it, but if you're like me and your magazines get all dog-eared, it might be nice to have a beautifully-bound book version of the best of the best. This one is already on sale at some places and should be at your local yarn shop or bookstore soon, if it isn't already.

Kim Werker -- new editor of Interweave Crochet -- has written Crochet Me: Designs to Fuel the Crochet Revolution (expected October 28). I met Kim at a booksigning last year and although I found it hard to believe she's only been crocheting a few years, she is so cute and nice that I found it easy to get over my hook envy. (Plus she's pals with Shannon Okey, who's always fun to hang with.)

Bag Style: Innovative to Traditional, 22 Inspirational Handbags, Totes, and Carry-alls to Knit and Crochet, edited by Pam Allen, is the next installment in Interweave's beloved Style series, and Folk Style: Innovative Designs to Knit, Including Sweaters, Hats, Scarves, Gloves and More came out a few weeks ago, edited by color-savvy Mags Kandis (the owner and founder of Mission Falls yarns).

All Toilet-Paper Cozies, All the Time

On the (ahem)more eclectic side, a book devoted entirely to toilet paper roll cozies is slated for release this fall, Toilet Roll Covers, along with a prequel (?) Tea Cozies.

I Guess You Can't Trademark Titles

You might think that Interweave's super-strong "Fill in the Blank" Style series -- e.g. Lace Style, Scarf Style, Bag Style -- would have put the kibosh on another publisher starting a knitting/crochet series with Style in the title. However, Martingale is releasing "Stitch Style, Mittens" and "Stitch Style, Socks". Each is a compilation of knit and crochet designs having to do with mittens and socks, respectively. I'll leave it to you to debate whether that is a blatant attempt to trade off the popularity of Interweave's series or simply a coincidence.

In addition

you'll find the following titles, fellow knitting-book lovers:

I'm sure there are some more titles that I missed, but this will give you a flavor for some of this fall's offerings. We live in good times for knitters: the fact that there are a lot of new knitting books coming out on a such a regular basis is a great sign for the continuing vitality of the craft.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I had planned to post about something today -- something knitting-related, even -- but when I realized it was the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I felt constrained. It felt odd to me to pretend that I hadn't noticed the date or thought about its significance. But I wasn't sure what I had to say about 9/11 that hadn't already been said -- or that needed to be said here and now. Maybe, six years later, people need to feel that they are moving on, that they want to at least create the illusion that they are putting this horrific event into the past by remembering it quietly. And when patriotism, or the outward apperance of it, becomes a pawn in a power grab by the right wing, well, I don't want to join in.

So today, I'll quietly think about the handful of people I knew who died in the attacks. I'll remember all the folks I know who were near misses and be thankful they survived. I'll feel gratitude for those who served and are still serving the public interest.

That's all for today.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The most wonderful time of the year

The first week of the new school year draws to a close. The twins began kindergarten, each in their own class, and of course are most excited by the opportunity to ride the bus. Elvis started fourth grade. In case you are wondering if I am wistful at sending the youngest off to school, I say "No wist here." I'm ready. And if you really feel tempted to ask me what I am going to do "with all that time," you can bite me.

In the meantime, in a Rabbitch-like development, we have two broken toilets and an oven that won't stop beeping. It's all Mel's fault: clearly putting Black Bunny Yarn next to Rabbitch's is like the combination of matter and anti-matter on old Star Trek episodes.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Shore Shots: The Faux-Artsy Phase

Our time at the shore -- although, sadly, interrupted a little bit by some work obligations -- was a wonderful family time. We made a lot of good memories. I took a lot of photos, so here for your perusal is a selection:

The sky, taken from the beach

Egrets (I think) in the protected area

A welcoming bear

View from the beach chair, looking upward

Charming yellow house

Cape May Lighthouse

Lighthouse stairs, looking upward

Tom relaxes

Close-up of gingerbread trim from Victorian house

Taken from our spot on the beach

Only you can prevent forest fires

Hey - what's a camel doing on the Jersey shore?