Thursday, January 31, 2008

We interrupt this political discussion for breaking news

Rowan 43 is here! The jolly UPS man just brought it. As soon as I'm done salivating, I'll give you the full report. But if you're a subscriber, take heart: it's on the way!

My two cents

I am no Ted Kennedy (I always report traffic accidents promptly) or New York Times (I will provide the news that isn’t fit to print), but for what it's worth, I've decided to talk about the U.S. presidential race. You know that I'm interested in politics; you also know that I am (ahem) highly opinionated. I like to think that my opinions tend to have a basis in logic and fact; I also know that my opinions also take into account my, for lack of a better phrase, gut instinct. If you don't care about US presidential politics, or you don't particularly care what I think about US presidential politics, you can just skip over this one; I won't be offended.

I had been supporting John Edwards all last year. Yesterday, however, Edwards withdrew from the race. Since the first democratic primary of this election season, when Edwards’ numbers were on the low side, I've been watching Obama and Clinton carefully, figuring that I might have to transfer my allegiance to one of them should Edwards drop out of the race. After the events of the past week or so, the time is here.

I endorse Barack Obama for President.

I look around at this country. I hear talk of blue states and red states, of voting blocs -- the black vote, the hispanic vote, the christian right, the senior citizens' vote -- and I see a country being destroyed by its divisions. I look at Washington and I see fear-mongerers trying to scare us into relinquishing our constitution and our values so that they might obtain more money and more power over us. I look at the staggering economy and I see a nation drowning in debt to pay for a war that we didn't need to fight, our president dangling puny income tax refunds in front of us while borrowing money from China to pay for tax breaks for corporations and the richest of the rich. I see one of the wealthiest countries in the world, where millions of people don’t have health insurance. I see a Democratic-led Congress, but by the slimmest of majorities, too afraid they'll lose power to take a stand on many of the important issues that need to be addressed.

And I look at the two front-runners in the Democratic primaries. I see two intelligent candidates, both relatively new legislators, with positions on most issues that aren't tremendously different. Either is capable and smart enough to do the job; neither has a tremendous amount of experience to draw on. Both candidates have the advantage of being a potential "first": first woman or African-American President; both have the corresponding drawback of possibly tapping into irrational prejudice. How to decide between the two?

I can point to some specific differences: I like that Obama has opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning, and I don't like that Clinton has yet to categorically state that her vote in favor of invading Iraq was a mistake. I like that Obama has refused to take money from lobbyists and I don't like that Clinton still does. I like that Obama or his surrogates have never played the gender card, and I don't like that Mr. and Mrs. Clinton have, directly and indirectly, used race to try to gain political advantage in these primaries. I don't like political dynasties -- the Bush double-whammy is proof positive of why not -- and I don't like the intimation that Hillary Clinton somehow deserves payback because her husband and his political enemies put her through the wringer or because it’s “her turn.”

But really, the most important reason that I've come to support Barack Obama is not any of the above. My head tells me there isn't that much of a difference between the positions of the candidates; but my heart tells me there is a big difference. I listen to Obama describe the problems that our country faces:

We are up against the belief that it's ok for lobbyists to dominate our government - that they are just part of the system in Washington. But we know that the undue influence of lobbyists is part of the problem, and this election is our chance to say that we're not going to let them stand in our way anymore.

We are up against the conventional thinking that says your ability to lead as President comes from longevity in Washington or proximity to the White House. But we know that real leadership is about candor, and judgment, and the ability to rally Americans from all walks of life around a common purpose - a higher purpose.

We are up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause politicians to demonize their opponents instead of coming together to make college affordable or energy cleaner; it's the kind of partisanship where you're not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea - even if it's one you never agreed with. That kind of politics is bad for our party, it's bad for our country, and this is our chance to end it once and for all.

We are up against the idea that it's acceptable to say anything and do anything to win an election. We know that this is exactly what's wrong with our politics; this is why people don't believe what their leaders say anymore; this is why they tune out. And this election is our chance to give the American people a reason to believe again.
It's corny and hokey and earnest, but I want a reason to believe again.

I want a candidate who is capable of bringing us past the divisions that are fracturing our society – and Obama has consistently delivered that kind of message during the campaign.

I want a candidate who isn’t so desperate to win that he’ll say anything or do anything to get there. Obama has refused to let the Clintons and their race-baiting change his message or his tactics, even when the Clintons have tried to marginalize him as “the black candidate.”

I want a candidate who can get people – people of all ages, backgrounds, walks of life – excited about leadership and inspire them to make positive societal change. I see that in Obama’s supporters.

I want a candidate who has the real-world ability to work with politicians from all parties to try to get something done, without important legislation getting stalled by sound bites or pork or extremists. I don’t think Hillary Clinton will be able to do that effectively.

I want a candidate whose nomination won’t serve as a rallying call for the crazy conservatives (and Hillary’s certainly will, calling into question her ability to actually get elected) and I want a First Spouse (brace yourself; this one’s harsh) who isn’t a convicted perjurer who can't keep his pants zipped.

I want a candidate who believes this:

make no mistake: the choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It's not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white. It's about the past versus the future.

It's about whether we're going to seize this moment to write the next great American story. So someday we can tell our children that this was the time when we healed our nation. This was the time when we repaired our world. And this was the time when we renewed the America that has led generations of weary travelers from all over the world to find opportunity, and liberty, and hope on our doorstep.

If you are so inclined, donate here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Is this for real?

From, Knock Down Knits: 30 Projects from the Roller Derby Track, by Toni Carr, scheduled release date July 21, 2008. Sez the book description:
Roller derby is experiencing a humungous resurgence, and roller derby–inspired patterns are popping up all over the coolest crafting sites, the hottest knitting magazines, and popular knitting and crafting television shows. This will be the only book to feature knitting patterns designed, knit, and modeled by a roller derby team.
Sadly, I was unable to locate any press photos as of this writing.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Busy weekend

Whew. After baring my soul in the last post (and thank you for your comments), today's post is going to seem a little bland. Ah well, there's always some yarn pr0n at the end to spice things up.

Today I'm recovering from an extremely eventful weekend. It began Friday evening, when the whole family had dinner with the judge for whom I clerked, many years ago. The judge is an amazing woman, one of the smartest and most capable people I know, with a finely-honed sense of justice and a remarkable ability to achieve consensus on a fractured appellate court. She's also quite a character. I had not seen her for a few years because of her schedule; however, she recently handed off most of her administrative duties to the next judge in line, and is getting a chance to do some things other than hearing appeals and wrangling disputes about the administration of the court. It was great to see her again and to catch up on the gossip.

The next morning, I drove up to my parents' house, with Elvis riding shotgun (and vibrating from excitement). My oldest kid has an extremely close relationship with his Nana and has been anticipating a sleepover there for a while. The drive is fairly quick -- Wilkes-Barre is ninety miles and fifty years away, as my husband likes to say -- and we had a jam-packed twenty-four hours there.

We began with a visit to my aunt, where we met the inimitable Minnie Mae:

She makes the weirdest sounds of any dog I have ever met: growls, yelps, a noise in throat that sounded like purring...I never knew a dog could make that many sounds.

After lunch, we took in my twelve-year-old nephew's basketball game:

It was very exciting and this was the final score:

(Mikey's team won.) Mikey is an excellent player and scored several baskets and foul shots.

My parents took us to dinner at 5:00 o'clock sharp like the good senior citizens they are. We hung out at the homestead after dinner, at which point I cast on for a new project. The next morning, we hit the dreaded Chuck E. Cheese. At nine o'clock on a Sunday morning, it was just us and a couple of athiests, so we had the Skee-Ball to ourselves.

You haven't lived until you have heard a bizarre six-foot-tall animatronic mouse singing a Patsy Cline song at nine in the morning. ("Crazy," if you must know.) I had a chance to knit a few rounds on my new project, which I will talk about in a future post, once I get more to show you, but it's from Veronik's book and it's in Classic Elite Wool Bam Boo, which I think may become one of my all-time favorite yarns.

We had a teary good-bye,

(Tom cracked up at the family resemblance he discerned in the above photo) but Nana promised to come visit in two weeks, so we drove back home. When we got back, I found that G. was wearing her new sweater that I finally sewed the buttons on. She looks adorable, as she usually does.

After kvelling, I began preparing today's Etsy update. It's a big one, with lots of superwash merino sock

and some more bamboo/merino sock

and even a couple of skeins of merino/silk sock that I found in the inventory, so if you're on-line around two p.m. EST, stop by Etsy.

For those of you who are strangely obsessed with knitting in public, I leave you with this souvenir, photographic proof that I did indeed knit my sweater in Chuck E. Cheese's.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Tribute to a Diva

I had a dream last night about Tom and I moving into the first apartment we shared, the year we got married. Part of the dream was semi-incoherent flashes of a cat. I know that this is a subconscious reference to my cat Beulah. The dream stayed with me, and so today I will tell you about The Beu.

When I started my second year at law school, I lived in an apartment that was a little ways from campus, but allowed cats. Upon starting school in August, I immediately set out for the local animal shelter. I came home with Bradley (that was his slave name, selected by the people at the shelter), an adorable moppet of a kitten with fluffy brown fur and a playful personality. There was a whole litter of these brown and tawny kittehs, with Maine Coon Cat in their blood, and I fell in love on the spot. By the end of that weekend, I realized that I was going to be spending a lot of time at the library and I decided to bring home one of Bradley's siblings.

By the time I got back to the shelter, only one of Bradley's littermates was left. She had been named "Heather" (is this the silliest name for a cat?! It's a perfectly nice name for a woman, but I simply cannot countenance names like that for a cat. I mean, what's next? A cat named "Tiffany"? a hamster named "Jaden"? but I digress). Heather was the runt of the litter and was skittish. I remember vacillating between this obviously nervous cat and another kitten from a different litter, a more confident tortie. However, I guess I'm just a softie at heart and I couldn't bear to separate the littermates, so I took Heather home. In the interests of alliteration, I renamed her Beulah.

Beulah was a somewhat difficult cat to love in the beginning. She suffered from comparison to Bradley: he was a confident, friendly cat, big (almost 16 pounds when full grown) and playful. Beulah was skittish, nervous, scrawny and clingy. Bradley pushed her around and stole her food. As time went by, she developed a spraying problem. If you've ever tried to get your apartment to stop smelling like cat pee, or had to forfeit your security deposit because of feline urine stains, you will sympathize. None of the vets who examined Beulah could find a physical cause for the spraying problem, so I struggled with various behavioral modification attempts. After I moved to Philadelphia, I found help at the Behavioral Medicine Clinic of the University of Pennsylvania. That's a whole 'nother story, but suffice it to say that Beulah thrived on her new anti-anxiety medication and it basically eliminated her, um, elimination problem.

When Bradley was almost seven, he suffered from a sudden and acute case of renal failure. One day he seemed fine; the next he was laying on my bed in distress. A day later, I had to make the decision to euthanize him. I was heartbroken.

From then on, it was just Beulah and me. I wondered how she'd get along on her own. I wondered if she'd pine away from loneliness. I didn't have the heart to get a kitten to join her, and I didn't think she'd like it anyway, being that she was an anxious pee-cat (as we affectionately called her). I was worried her anxiety might get worse now that she was alone all day when I was at work.

I needn't have worried. Beulah thrived without Bradley. She quickly went from being a somewhat insecure and anxious cat to a full-fledged diva. She gained a little weight and began to enjoy her food. (One of her dirty little secrets was the time we found her sitting on the kitchen table, licking the butter from the butter dish. She'd managed to lick a deep hollow in the stick of butter before we saw her.) She became assertive, mewing with annoyance when she wanted something. She began sleeping at the top of my bed, hogging the pillow. She went from being an anxious pee-cat to being The Beu.

I can't tell you how much I came to love that cat. She was with me for over sixteen years. I had known her longer than I'd known my husband (indeed, the only non-negotiable aspect of our relationship was that the cats stayed). She was the one constant thing during those eventful, often stressful years when I went from being a kid to being an adult. She was there with me as I finished law school, when I moved to Phoenix to be a law clerk for a year, during the exhausting years when I was a young attorney in Philadelphia, then stood by me when I was a newlywed, a new mom, an old mom of new twins. She was loyal and loving, faithful and true. Tom used to say that all she needed to come into her own was to throw off the patriarchy and now that she wasn't being oppressed by her brother, she was a new cat. There was probably more than a grain of truth to this theory.

Here's what The Beu looked like in her glory.

As you can see, she loved to pose for the camera. When she slept on the pillow next to me at night, she would humor me and let me hold her pawsie. She liked to play with those feathers on a stick that they have for cats but wasn't that interested in balls or catnip. She loved to play Sheet Game, in which we would dance our fingers under the bedsheet and she would pretend to ignore it, then suddenly pounce. She would just barely sink her teeth into the sheet to let us know that she wasn't fooled, and she knew it was us. She loved to jump into a clothesbasket or a box or a wicker basket, and she loved chasing ribbons and wrapping herself up in them.

When she washed herself, we would make slurping noises at her and she would give us dirty looks, then continue washing. We often sang to her, replacing the word "you" with "Beu." (I.e., "You are the sunshine of my life" became "Beu are the sunshine of my life."). She loved "mew-mew-mew," which involved gently scratching just above her lips. (We found out that the vast majority of cats of our acquaintance loved mew-mew-mew. We decided if we ever moved into a townhouse, we would name it "Mew Mew Mews.") She would sit a certain way and look like the Sphinx (or as we called her, "Sphinxie").

Living with a diva wasn't without its challenges. Tom was allergic and valiantly underwent allergy shots. Her spraying continued to be an off-again/on-again issue over the years. At around ten years of age, she developed a strange weakness in her hind legs. She began slipping and falling, and had trouble jumping up on things or climbing steps. She had extensive tests at Penn (including a kitty-CAT scan) and the vets couldn't find an organic cause for the weakness. So we lived with it, carrying her up the stairs or lifting her onto the bed when she needed it. She developed inflammatory bowel disease, but thankfully we were able to control that with a dramatic change of diet. Then her kidneys started to give out, and for the last year or so of her life, I had to give her subcutaneous fluids to help flush out the wastes.We had to train three little kids to pet the kitty gently and to leave her alone when she wasn't in the mood. But notwithstanding all that, we loved her very much and she was always our Beu.

One day, a few months before her seventeenth birthday (Beu was a Taurus), The Beu became gravely ill. I don't think I want to rehash the details, except that she did come home from the vet and I got to hold her in my lap and pet her that night, and the next day she was gone. I'm glad she got to go at her own time, in her own home.

It's been several years and I still miss her dreadfully. For a while I would think that I saw her darting around the house or that I heard her meow. A Rosie's coworker told me that that was her ghost trying to comfort me. Now I don't think I see her around the house and in a way, that's worse. It makes me feel like I'm losing her.

I'll never forget The Beu and I'll never stop missing her. I learned so much from her (don't worry, Tom; one of the things I did NOT learn from her is that the way to enjoy one's middle age is to get rid of the man in your life). I learned that you can be the runt of the litter on the outside and a full-fledged diva on the inside. I learned that Tom was The One when I saw how he treated my cats the first Christmas we dated: when I asked him to feed my cats while I was at my parents', I came home to find that he'd brought them a can of tuna because he thought they deserved a special meal on Christmas Day. I learned that some people view pets as disposable commodities (they were generally the ones who said "If she was my cat and pissed on the floor, I'd get rid of her") and for others, they are truly family members; and that I am one of the latter. And I learned that even though family members get feeble and high-maintenance, it's important to stick with them, because once they're gone you can never get them back.

Rest in peace, Beu.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


One of the most gratifying things about BBF has been the chance to see what people do with the yarns and fibers that I dye for them. For example, we all know Mindy, regular commenter here, and she has done all sorts of wonderful things with her massive stash of BBF yarn and fibers, such as this lovely skein of handspun

which is presently for sale on her Etsy site. Here are some pix of two other skeins she did which I believe have already sold.

Recently I discovered Pauline -- or should I say "Pauline discovered me"? -- who sells handspun yarn on Etsy, including some BBF rovings already spun up. She graciously gave me permission to show you some of her handspuns, although I have to warn you that these particular skeins are already sold.

Speaking of roving, here's what my living room looked like for the last few days:

The first shipment of the BBF Fiber Club is in the process of going out the door. The fiber I used is unbelievably fluffy and lofty, so it's going out in stages. Again, I get nervous when I ship stuff out; this yarn is from a family-run farm and not something super-processed by a big wholesaler, so I hope everyone likes it. I'll keep you posted...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Earnest alert

"I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.

I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsom in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today's motor bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.

I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. . . .

I still believe that we shall overcome."

-- MLK Jr. (1964)

Friday, January 18, 2008

No-Bull Book Reviewtm Twofer: Stitch Style Socks & Stitch Style Mittens

Don't forget to stop by the Black Bunny Fibers update today at 2 p.m. EST. Until then, please enjoy the following book review:

I will confess that I think it’s quite the coincidence that another publishing company has come up with a series of knitting books featuring the word “Style” in the title, after Interweave Press’s phenomenally popular “Style” series (see, e.g., Lace Style and Scarf Style ). Craft books, “style” in the title, devoted to one general category of knitting/crochet, multicontributors. Yep, very coincidental.

However, I am ready to cast aside this cynicism and with an open mind, road test Stitch Style Socks: Twenty Fashion Knit and Crochet Styles and Stitch Style, Mittens: Twenty Fashion Knit and Crochet Styles (both Martingale Press 2008), subjecting them to the rigors of the patented No-Bull Book Reviewtm .

Let’s begin with the externals. We’ve got two paperbacks, each about seven inches square, each just under one hundred pages. MSRP for each is $17.95 (available for $12.21 by clicking on the links above). Each features twenty patterns to knit and crochet. Each is full color, with lots of photographs throughout. Each features a fold-out flyleaf in lieu of a dust jacket. The books are designed, like the Vogue On-The-Go series, to be a convenient size for carrying around in a knitting (or crochet) bag.

The Introduction to Mittens tells us breathlessly: “From trendy teenage girls to thirtysomething professionals, everyone is hand stitching these days.” Striving vigorously to maintain my open mind, I will refrain from commenting on a definition of “everybody” that goes all the way from age 13 to 39. The introduction goes on to promise “a collection of contemporary and urban projects that’ll keep you constantly inspired and motivated!” with “memorable styles inspired by everything from catwalks to street fashion.” These designs, the Introduction assures us, have been created “by young urban knitters and trendsetters with a penchant for craft.” Once again, I will refrain from questioning whether trend-apathetic knitters who are not young and urban might also have something to contribute. Open mind, open mind.*

The book contains exactly twenty patterns for handgear. I say “handgear,” because there are more variations on the traditional mitten included in this collection than there are regular mittens. You'll find gloves with fingers, gloves without fingers, wristwarmers, armwarmers, gauntlets, even two muffs.

(Please don’t ask me to tell you the precise difference between wristwarmers, fingerless gloves, armwarmers and gauntlets. Not to mention pulsewarmers. As best as I can tell, they are all just tubes for your lower arms, with or without fingerholes.).**

The book is not divided into sections, so here's a quick walk-through of what you'll find (including the name of the designer, so you can see if any of your favorites are included):
  • mittens with a polka-dot pattern done via stranded colorwork (Judy Furlong);

  • wristwarmers with a slip-stitch color pattern (Jennifer Appleby);

  • textured elbow-length gloves; they're the gold ones in the photo above the cabled muff (Malgosia Dzik-Holden);

  • crocheted gauntlets with crocheted rose buttons at the wrist (Claire Garland);

  • openwork fingerless gloves (kind of defeats the purpose of gloves, no?) (Carol Meldrum):

  • mittens with sequins on the cuffs (Melissa Halvorsen);

  • long wristwarmers with an eyelet pattern (Lynne Serpe);

  • long armwarmers with satin ribbons threaded through them (Sue Bradley);
  • striped mittens (Katherine Hunt);

  • lacy black fingerless gloves suitable for more formal attire (also Furlong);

  • colorful fair isle-style wrist warmers, the cover photo (knit in aran-weight yarn; Gabrielle Carter);

  • a striped muff with a cord to hold it around your neck (Sophie Britten);

  • “flip-top” mittens done in crochet (Carol Meldrum); forgive me, but these look to me like fancy oven mitts;

  • long mittens with a cable motif on the back (another by Hunt);

  • long gloves knit with cuffs that have accordion-style pleating (Gryphon Perkins);

  • mittens with knitted ribbon bows (another by Britten);

  • flip mittens with a scallop motif (Carter);

  • wrist warmers with a clock motif done in intarsia on the back, shown below (Bradley);

  • mittens with stranded colorwork, starting with one color at the cuff and finishing with the other color at the top of the hand (a third by Meldrum);


  • a white cabled muff (above), very long and skinny (Kimberly Cherubin).

The Introduction to Socks tells us breathlessly, “From trendy teenage girls to thirtysomething professionals, everyone is hand stitching these days.” Hey! The Introduction to Socks is exactly the same as the Introduction to Mittens (except the word “Socks” is substituted for “Mittens”). Points will be deducted for the cut and paste job.

Once again, there are no sub-chapters dividing up the patterns, so here is a summary description of each pattern, along with designer name:
  • “socks” (they are really more like slippers) styled like Mary Jane shoes (Tanis Gray);

  • slippers with intarsia fleur-de-lis patterning (Alison Dupernex);

  • striped socks that also feature a checkerboard pattern around the cuff (Lynn Serpe);

  • socks with stranded colorwork featuring a skull motif (Stephanie Mrse); even though I think skull motifs are so commonplace in knitting as to no longer be very subversive, I like these;

  • anklets featuring contrast toe and heel and stranded colorwork hearts around the cuff (Mrse again);

  • socks featuring a houndstooth pattern done in stranded colorwork, the cover photo (Judy Furlong);

  • socks with a textured patern and some embellishment in the form of knitted flowers and leaves, and beads (Simona Merchant-Dest);

  • leg warmers with multicolored beads (Sue Bradley);

  • lace socks with twisted ties at the cuff (Merchant-Dest);

  • socks with satin ribbon threaded vertically (Ellen Mallett);

  • socks with unusual circular appliqu├ęs and a heel flap sewn on at the end (P.D. Cagliastro);

  • slippers with a crown colorwork motif, and sequins used to look like jewels (Bradley);

  • cabled legwarmers (Gray);

  • intarsia floral socks (Sasha Kagan, and classic lovely Kagan at that);

  • flip-flop socks with split toe (Kate Buchanan);

  • socks with slouchy (seriously slouchy) tops (Karen Garlinghouse);

  • crocheted socks done in pure silk, with bead accents and a daisy-style motif (Garland again);

  • thigh-highs knit in pure silk with contrasting trim (Malgosia Dzik-Holden);

  • another pair of slippers with all kinds of er, stuff on them (Bradley); and

  • knee-high “kilt socks” (Sian Luyken).

I did question some of the stylistic or design choices that were made in both books. For example, crocheted socks done in pure silk? Worsted-weight cotton for footwear? I would probably substitute yarns were I to make most of the patterns. Indeed, it struck me as exceedingly odd that a book devoted to sock patterns contains not a single pattern using regular sock yarn. I'm not one of those folks who thinks that socks can't ever be knit in anything other than sock yarn, mind you, but this just seems weird to me. The cynic in me cannot be repressed anymore; I suspect the folks behind this book were underestimating their audience, thinking that young knitters wouldn't want to knit things in 7 or 8 to an inch sock yarns. (I suspect they are wrong.)

If your budget is a constraint for you, and you want to make some of these patterns, you may need to substitute yarns. For example, one sock pattern calls for 10 balls of Rowan Wool-Cotton. Wool-Cotton is one of my favorite all-time yarns; however, 10 balls will set you back approximately a hundred bucks. Pretty expensive socks. You'll want to use scraps of yarn you already have, or look for a more economical alternative. Similarly, the thigh-high stockings are knit in Bliss Pure Silk, at $14 a skein; the pattern calls for 7 skeins.

I also have issues with the way the items were photographed. Put simply, there just aren't enough close-up shots. Most of these patterns feature some sort of patterning, whether an intarsia motif, a stitch pattern or embellishment, yet the photographs are mostly shot from far away. (The better to get long skinny model legs in?) I can understand some faraway shots for stylistic purposes, but knitters need good close-up view of the garments they are making, and this is especially easy to do when they are smaller items like socks and mittens. Likewise, some items aren't shown in their entirety. For example, the thigh-high stockings are shown twice from the back, in nearly identical shots, but not at all from the front.

Maybe the front is plain, but it would be nice to see what it looks like, if for no other reason than to get a better feel for whether you'd want to make them or not. Finally, several items are knit in dark-colored yarns, making it difficult to see any design details or finished stitchwork.

The photography doesn't compensate for this in any way.

There is a concise how-to-knit and how-to-crochet section in the back. However, the Sock book does not explain how to use double-pointed needles, a conspicuous omission, since nearly all of the patterns require them. Instead of including "how to knit" instructions, Martingale would have done better to include a section on how to knit a sock, including DPN instruction, since I think it would be tough for a rank beginner to start with this book.

When it comes to aesthetics, you may have already guessed that not many of the patterns in either book are to my taste. I already have more gauntlet and wrist warmer patterns than I am ever likely to knit in this lifetime, and my taste in mittens and gloves runs more to ethnic and folk-style patterns, like those found in Folk Mittens(an oldie but goodie). Similarly, my taste in socks runs to the more traditional: give me an Ann Budd or Nancy Bush pattern any day, rather than the socks-with-a-gimmick

that seem to fill most of these pages. But what matters is what you think of them, and between my descriptions, the names of the contributing designers, and the photographs, you should get a feel for whether you will like the patterns in the book more than I do. (Because, shockingly, I am forced to conclude that it's not always about me.)

For those who are statistically inclined, allow me to provide you with some figures:

Number of Knitted vs. Crocheted Patterns:
Mittens: 18 knit; 2 crocheted
Socks: 19 knit; 1 crocheted

Gauges/Yarn weights:
Mittens (most use the yarns at the suggested gauge so I've combined them):3 patterns in fingering weight; 0 patterns in sportweight; 4 patterns in DK weight; 2 patterns in worsted weight; 7 patterns in aran weight; 4 patterns in yarns with fewer than 4 sts per inch

Socks (some knit the yarn at a gauge tighter than the ball band recommends):

Gauges: 1 pattern at 8+ sts per inch; 4 at 7 sts per inch; 7 knit at 6 sts per inch; 2 patterns knit a 5.5 sts per inch; 1 at 5 sts per inch; 3 at 4.5 sts per inch; 1 pattern in superchunky yarn (and one crochet pattern).

Yarn weights: 4 in fingering weight yarn; 10 in DK-weight yarn; 1 in worsted weight yarn; 4 in aran; 1 in superchunky.

Techniques used (this is a ballpark; some use more than one technique while others use mostly stockinette so the totals are less than 20):

Stranded colorwork - 3
Intarsia - 1
Cabling - 2
Beading/sequins - 1
Textured stitch - 1
Lace patterning (using the term "lace" very loosely, to include simple eyelets) - 4
Slip stitch pattern - 1

Stranded colorwork: 6 patterns
Intarsia - 2
Cabling - 1
Textured stitchwork - 2
Lace patterning -- 3 (includes simple eyelets)

Sizing is variable and is one size fits most -- or maybe I should say one size will fit some. The socks are designed for a "woman's size 6-9" and the mittens are all over the map, with changing widths and lengths. It's hard to tell how variable the sizing is since, for example, many of the handgear patterns are fingerless or are meant to extend well up to the elbow. I suspect that some of the patterns are on the smaller side, though, so check the measurements if that's a concern for you.

Giving credit where credit is due, I will say that I found these books more aesthetically appealing than I have found most Martingale titles. Model choice and styling were much more pleasing to me than past books, apart from the photography criticisms mentioned above. The layout of the books is fine; charts are included where necessary (in color where appropriate) and the patterns appear to have everything that a pattern ought to have. These are not terribly expensive books, if you buy them discounted and consider that they each contain twenty patterns ($12 divided by twenty is about sixty cents a pattern).

So there you have it. If you're looking for sock or mitten patterns that are not folk-inspired, that feature lots of colorwork, and/or that have less typical design features (say, an intarsia clock),

you may find that sixty cents a pattern isn't a bad deal for these books.

As the cynic in me rises to the surface once again, I can just imagine the powers-that-be in Creative saying "I want patterns that aren't the same old lace or scandinavian colorwork! Something different! Something hip and trendy and cute! Not your grandmother's mittens or socks!"

The only problem for me is that I like my grandmother's mittens and socks.

*In the interests of truth in advertising, and without naming names, I feel obliged to point out that at least one of the designers involved in the two books is verifiably over the age of 40. Just goes to show you that us senior citizens in our 40s and 50s still have something to contribute...

**Rabbitch, please stop snickering. I know I said "muff" and "fingerhole" in the same paragraph, and I know you've only had about four hours of sleep in the last week, but please, dude, get a grip.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas...

I'm almost done with my next book review (it's a twofer) and will try to get it up tomorrow. In the meantime, feast your eyes on some selections from tomorrow's Etsy shop update:

This is a new-to-the-Etsy shop yarn, Superwash DK, which is the same yarn I used to make Courtney's baby jacket:

It's the same base as my Superwash Sock: 100% merino, nice twist, great stitch definition, and having finished a little sweater in it, I can tell you it's a pleasure to knit with.

I've also been working on a bamboo blend for the Etsy shop. This is NOT the same yarn that the BBF Sock Club just got: it's a different blend from a different vendor. It really does look and feel quite different, and I suspect it will knit to a slightly heavier gauge (i.e. 7 to an inch instead of 7.5 to 8). It's fifty percent merino and fifty percent bamboo. I've only got a few skeins ready for tomorrow

but I'm hoping to have more in next week's update. Nice sheen from the bamboo! Superwash, too. (The one up top is shades of brown, more complex than it looks in the photo.)

While I'm catching up, I've got my December Book Report for my bibliophiles:

  1. Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited by Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein. Imagine you are an adoptee in your mid-thirties. Imagine you contact the agency that handled your adoption to get medical information about your birth parents. Imagine that a few days later, you get a call from the agency telling you that you have an identical twin who was adopted by another family in another part of the country. This is a memoir written by a pair of twins to whom this actually happened. It's a fascinating story, quick to read, in memoir form; it's also infuriating to read how blithely the adoption agency made human guinea pigs of these infants, separating more than one pair of identical twins in order to do a nature vs. nurture study.
  2. Never Enough by Joe McGinniss. McGinniss is best known for Fatal Vision, his somewhat controversial book about a former Green Beret and medical doctor who was convicted of killing his pregnant wife and two young daughters. The controversy surrounded both the defendant's guilt based on mainly circumstantial evidence, and McGinniss's role in befriending the defendant only to write a book concluding that the defendant was guilty of murder. McGinniss's latest book concerns the murder of a Hong Kong investment banker by his wife. I was fascinated by the description of this couple's world, living as wealthy young expats in Hong Kong, but since there was never any serious doubt as to who did it, the case was less compelling than those covered in some of McGinniss's earlier books. (Part of what was so gripping about earlier books was the dawning discovery by one family member that another family member may have committed murder in light of less-than-conclusive evidence about what actually happened.) While reading the book, I found out that I went to college with the murder victim; I don't recall meeting him, although I think he may have dated someone on my freshman floor. Weird and sad.
I started a couple other books and ended up abandoning them; I think the hubbub of the holidays made it harder to get into books for me.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Making progress

Here is a photo of the new BBF skein label:

Looks great, eh? Thanks, M. Habit.

And then I filled these

with these

so the first shipment of the Sock Club could get on its way.