Saturday, August 30, 2008

Itteh Bitteh Kitteh Sweateh

If you read Mindy's blog, you know that there are very few people in the world who love animals more than she does. And you also know that she has a soft spot for animals who need extra care. So Mindy recently brought home a little kitten with a parasitic infection who likely would not have made it had she not brought it home from the crapful pet store in which it was living.

Mindy knows that whenever she wants to adopt another critter, all she has to do is email me and ask me if she should and I will tell her to go for it, because (and it's the God's truth) any animal that is lucky enough to be adopted by Mindy will live a better life than it could almost anywhere else. So I egged her on to bring home this kitten, this itteh bitteh kitteh, and out of gratitude (or revenge?) she named it "C.J." (My middle name is Jean.)

Now I feel a proprietary interest in this kitteh. The kitteh needs to be kept extra warm while it recovers and so in an attempt to procrastinate from redoing the buttonhole band on my second sweater for KnitScene, I knit this:

An itteh bitteh kitteh sweateh.

Because I piteh the itteh bitteh kitteh. And I don't want the itteh bitteh kitteh to feel shitteh.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Feeling proud

I am a Democrat and I've never been prouder.

This week, I watched as Hillary Clinton was officially entered into the books as the woman who has come closest to the American presidency, the first serious woman candidate of a major political party. If you think we haven't come that far where sexism is concerned, you might remember the tone of the dialogue years ago, when Geraldine Ferraro was selected as the VP pick for Mondale. (Comments like "I don't want someone with PMS to be second in line to the nuclear button" -- and worse -- were commonplace.) But Senator Clinton was taken seriously as a candidate because she had the credentials.* And I am proud of that and I am proud that my party was able to smash that glass ceiling. Or at least bash a very large crack in it.

I also watched last night as Barack Obama was officially named the Democratic nominee for president. I've made no secret of my admiration for Obama, but even if he's not your first choice, please celebrate with me that our country, or at least one major political party, has nominated a person of color for president. Less than two centuries ago, people of color were officially considered less than human (3/5 of a human, to be precise), pieces of property, disposable things rather than human beings with rights and dignity. (By the way, women were also considered chattel, without equal rights to men and they had to wait fifty more years to get the vote and an extra ten years for their civil rights movement. But I digress.) Last night, we saw a barrier break open and I will tell you that it brought tears to my eyes.

There's still a lot of nastyness out there -- racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on -- but today I'm basking in the glow of a dream at least partially realized:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

P.S. Last chance to donate to the Knitters for Obama raffle (win BBF yarn! a copy of Susanna Lewis' out-of-print lace book! a complete set of Gardiner Yarn Works or French Girl patterns! and more...). Details here.

*I know that there was sexism going around during the primary season, so please do not fill up the comments with a discussion thereof, or a rehashing of old grievances about the primary. Today I'm all about looking forward.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A real live FO

I can finally show you a project I worked on this past spring. As part of Ted's Fiber to Scarf Exchange, I received a mass of Louet Northern Lights top in the mail from a mystery sender. Made of 100% wool and space-dyed, the colorway was called "Marmalade": golden yellow, dusky orange and sage. Part of the fun was not knowing who sent me the fiber and being given purposely vague instructions (unisex scarf).

You have probably heard me say that I'm still a fairly new spinner and when I spin, I need to let the yarn take me where it wants to go (generally it wants to go in the thicker direction) rather than to decide "I'm going to spin a four-ply DK and knit X pattern with it" ahead of time. I was delighted to find that his wool spun very easily. The spinning was fast and enjoyable, and made me feel like a much more experienced spinner than I am, with fairly consistent and smooth singles.

Here's a photo of the singles on the bobbin:

and here is what it looked like after being plied:

and after setting the twist:

and after putting it into a ball:

I ended up with a yarn around chunky weight without major variations between thick and thin. I chose the Irish Hiking Scarf pattern by Hello Yarn, making one modification: I omitted one of the cables, so that my finished scarf had two instead of three. I needed to do that given that my handspun was thicker than the worsted weight yarn called for by the pattern.

I really enjoyed this pattern. It was fun and easy to memorize but gave a very professional looking result:

It was especially satisfying for me to do the whole thing, beginning to end, from spinning to selecting a pattern, to knitting the scarf, and to be pleased with the way the yarn came out and the way the yarn looked knit into the pattern.

I was highly amused to see that the recipient of my scarf was (drumroll, please) Ted himself. I suspect he assigned me to himself in case I blew the deadline. Which I did, but mostly because I couldn't find my blocking wires and didn't want to send the finished scarf unblocked. I hope he will forgive my tardiness. It took me a little while to get over the notion of sending my beginner's stuff to someone who spins as exquisitely as Ted, but since I consider him a friend and an absolutely wonderful person, I gave up obsessing over it.

You can see some of the other finished scarves (including the gorgeous one I got from Katherine) at Ted's summary page here. (He has a few more to add, I think, in addition to mine, but I know he's been on vacation and had some computer mishaps so check back in a little while to see the rest.)

All in all, I heartily enjoyed participating in this project and would gladly do so again. I felt a great sense of satisfaction at having done a project from beginning to end and also felt that it was a good way to appreciate how much my spinning has improved over time. A huge thank-you to Ted for doing all the thankless work of collecting roving, mailing it out and keeping us all on track.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I thought I saw

my dear friend Kathy Merrick today in downtown Cape May

but I was mistaken.

(Hey, Kath, are we going to see any more of your beauteous cro-shay designs in Interweave Crochet this fall, I hope?)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Images from the seventh circle of hell

For me, going to the boardwalk at Wildwood is the seventh circle of hell. Even though I usually enjoy doing kid stuff, the combination of heat; icky overpriced food; annoying overpriced carnival games; and vertigo-inducing rides is enough to make me crazy. So I entertained myself by taking the campiest photos I could. Fortunately there was lots to pick from.

Lemonade from lemons, indeed.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Look who learned to knit!

Nope, not Charcoal.

I couldn't be prouder.

P.S. Extra points for anyone who can guess what yarn it is. . .

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cinderella gets busted

Please don't tell my six year-old daughter, but yesterday, Cinderella, Tinkerbell and a few other of her no-good gangsta beeyatches got arrested. What's the world coming to?

In other news, I have two finished objects: one is the KnitScene sweater, which I can't show you, but the other is the baby sweater for a baby shower that I didn't attend:

It's a Louisa Harding pattern from her book Natural Knits for Babies and Moms: Beautiful Designs Using Organic Yarns (which is rapidly becoming my go-to baby pattern book for shower gifts because the patterns are quick, easy and cute in a way that would appeal to a lot of different tastes), knit in Plymouth Encore (you can't beat it for machine-washable kid knits).

We're leaving for our second week at the shore this weekend (we're the champions of the non-consecutive weeks), so you'll be getting some beachy updates during the coming week. But when I get back, it's going to be fall, fall, fall. Book reviews, yarn previews, all that fun stuff. Plus the dye pots are going to roar back to life with some new yarns and new fibers.

Now I've got to go meet the exterminator to deal with some kind of bee or yellowjacket infestation. In our kitchen, no less. It's been freakin' Wild Kingdom here as I've spent more up-close-and-personal time with the insect world than I care to ever again.

It's no wonder I'm in a mood...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In a mood

This is the time of year when everyone in my house gets in A Mood.

I think it's partly because the novelty of the summer has worn off, and partly because the organized activities are coming to a close. But there's also something about this time of the summer. The summer feels used up. The flowers in the windowboxes are straggly and leggy. The grass isn't growing as fast. You can just start to see how the days are getting shorter. There isn't as much traffic -- lots of people are away -- and usual routines are put on hold (i.e., no piano lessons 'til September). It's a waiting game. We know the summer's rapidly drawing to a close and in a way, we're ready for it to end.

I'm sure my personal mood has also been affected by the family stressors I wrote about last month. I've definitely sensed a drawing inward in myself, a desire to be alone (hah! at a time when the kids are around more than ever!), and a desire to lose myself in reading and knitting. I've got emails to answer (so many), calls to return, projects to finish. One of the cruel ironies of the design world is that the big push for finishing spring projects happens at the time of year when the kids are lounging around the house, sick of their usual activities but not yet in school.

So this week I'll try to muster up some initiative to finish this:

A baby sweater for a shower I didn't get to (it's actually a very pretty shade of blue, but you can't tell because I took the photo in less than stellar lighting).

And I will show Charcoal his new bowl, which was on the clearance rack at Target:

Doesn't every bunny need a bowl with carrots around the outside? I may just fill it up with Ben & Jerry's Brownie Batter and try it out before I give it to him, though. You know, just to make sure the bowl works properly . . .

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Catch-up Book Report

I spent the last week reviewing page proofs for Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn and it's very exciting to see it so close to final form! However, as you can see, my blogging has dropped off a little, so today I'm starting to play catch-up. I noticed that I hadn't done a book report since March or April or something, so here goes. (Remember, I'm a freakishly fast reader, and this report covers over three months. . .)

When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris. I love David Sedaris, and there were many moments in his latest book where I laughed uproariously. I took this on vacation with me, and Tom kept asking me what was so funny, and I ended up reading passages of the book out loud to him, causing us both to crack up. My only quibble is that the last quarter of the book is written as a kind of impressionistic journal chronicling Sedaris' battle to quit smoking. While I appreciate how difficult that is, this portion of the book didn't seem to fit with the rest of it, and, quite honestly, wasn't as funny. But I still wouldn't miss a David Sedaris book for anything in the world.

You know how I love my murder mysteries, so there were quite a few of those, including Not in the Flesh, Ruth Rendell's latest Inspector Wexford mystery. This wasn't her best novel, or even her best Wexford novel, but even an okay Ruth Rendell is better than most of the crap out there.

I discovered Tana French when I found In the Woods in the library's new books section. Set in Dublin, this is a story within a story, told by a police detective investigating the death of a young girl. However, the detective has his own personal agenda, as he, along with two friends, were kidnapped at the age of twelve in the same woods in which the young girl's body was found. He's got to fight his own demons as well as try to solve the present-day mystery. This one doesn't have an ending that neatly ties everything up in a bow, but I found that to suit the book's theme of the frailty and mutability of memory. I followed it up with French's follow-up, The Likeness, which features the In The Woods detective's former partner, as she gets involved in a murder case. It seems the murder victim looks exactly like her, and so the police pretend the victim lived, and send the lookalike detective "undercover" to impersonate the victim to try to figure out who the murderer might be. Once you get past how ridiculously improbable this kind of identity-switching is, the book is filled with tension and emotional intrigue, and I enjoyed it very much.

Also on the new books shelf (we've got a good library! and I swear they read the NY Times Magazine Book Review section when they add new books) were I Shall Not Want, by Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Where Memories Lie, by Deborah Crombie, the latest mysteries in two series that I have been reading. The Spencer-Fleming was much more vivid and suspenseful than the Crombie, which disappointed me a bit. Also in the new mystery section was Black Seconds, another dark, spare Scandinavian mystery by Karin Fossum. I liked this one and it was a fairly quick, suspenseful read.

In the political realm, I read The Real McCain: Why Conservatives Don't Trust Him and Why Independents Shouldn't and I urge anyone who thinks they might vote for McCain, or who still believes that he is a "maverick" who thinks for himself and is full of refreshing candor (i.e., "straight talk") to read this book -- it's short -- or if you prefer, to take a good hard look at McCain's political positions over the years. McCain has flipflopped a staggering number of times on a spectrum of issues that are important to me: military intervention in other countries, abortion, ethics legislation, gay rights, campaign reform, and on and on. The Real McCain is written by someone who once donated to McCain's 2000 presidential campaign but became disillusioned by seeing his political opportunism. If you feel this book is too partisan, then do some objective research yourself. You just might be surprised at what you find.

I balked for a long time before trying the Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon. After numerous people recommended them, I tried Outlander and the first sequel (which are huge!) and enjoyed them way more than I ever thought I would. I don't read much science fiction, and I mistakenly thought this series was more science fiction-y than it is (it really isn't at all, except for the time travel thing); instead, it is a weird blend of time travel and historical fiction, with a bit of romance novel thrown in. Since I'd been reading a lot of historical fiction, I gave these books a go and found them oddly compelling.

Let's see, what else did I read?

I'm about to finish My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier, which is quite an excellent Gothic-style mystery. DuMaurier is best known for Rebecca which is a great book if you've never read it. My Cousin Rachel is about a man whose beloved uncle meets and marries a distant cousin while abroad. The uncle dies abruptly in Italy, and his widow comes to visit the nephew. The story is told from the point of view of the nephew, who is attracted to the widow in a kind of Mrs. Robinson way, yet he grapples with his ongoing suspicions about her motives -- is she a fortune-hunter? did she cheat on his uncle? did she murder his uncle? Very well done and if it hasn't been made into a movie already, it should be.

So there you have it: my summer reading list. And with another couple of weeks left in August, I'm sure I'll add a few more to it. If you've read anything good lately, leave a comment -- I'm always looking for new authors to try.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

No-Bull Book Review: Knitting New Mittens and Gloves by Robin Melanson

Think of the challenge facing poor Robin Melanson. People have been knitting mittens and gloves for hundreds (thousands?) of years. In the past year, at least three books with "mittens" in the title have been released. And the design of handgear is largely constrained by the odd shape of the human hand: narrow at the wrist, abruptly widening for the palm, thumb sticking out on one side, fingers of different lengths. How do you reinvent the mitten or glove when faced with such challenges?

Luckily, Robin was up to the task, as you'll see in today's No Bull Book Review of Knitting New Mittens and Gloves: Warm and Adorn Your Hands in 28 Innovative Ways (Stewart Tabori & Chang 2008).

Knitting New Mittens & Gloves is part of a series of books seeking to put a different spin on a traditional genre of knitwear. (Knitting New Scarves: 27 Distinctly Modern Designs, released last year, was the first.) The books are on the smaller side and paperback (most STC books are quite a bit bigger and hardcover), a good size and weight for slipping into a knitting bag without being so small that they restrict content. MSRP is $21.95 but you can score it for just under fifteen bucks at the time of this writing by clicking on the link above.

Melanson grew up in Canada and credits harsh North Atlantic winters for her love of gloves and mittens -- a necessity when you live on the coast. She has filled the book with 27 or so patterns for mittens, gloves, fingerless gloves and armwarmers -- basically every possible permutation that will fit on a human hand or arm. For the statisticians among you, I counted 2 pair of armwarmers (meaning tubes that fit on the arm without extending onto the wrist and hand); 1 handwarmer (something more than a tube but less than a mitten); 6 gloves; 9 mittens (one of them is a "flip-top" style, to make it easy to do things like use keys without taking the whole thing off); and 10 fingerless styles, plus two additional fingerless versions that are given as variations on a regular mitten or glove design. Sorry, crocheters: all the designs are knitted.

Gauges are all over the map: the thickest yarn I saw knit at just under 3 sts per inch, and there are a few patterns using fingering weight in the 7 to 8 sts per inch range; you'll find several patterns knitting at 5 sts per inch and several more at 5.5 per inch, but there's something for just about any yarn in your stash. Melanson doesn't stick to traditional pure wool, either; you'll find lots of wools, of course, but also cotton, a silk/viscose blend, silk/seacell, alpaca blends, mohair blends, and so on. Some of the yarns are crunchy or tweedy in texture, while others are variegated, fuzzy, or thick-n-thin. Melanson does a good job of matching the various types of yarn to the patterns, keeping in mind the texture, fuzziness, elasticity, and so on. Considering that mittens and gloves don't take much in the way of yardage, there are plenty of patterns here to help blow through some of those orphaned skeins in your stash.

So what are the patterns like?

Well, just as Melanson includes lots of fibers and gauges, she also includes lots of different styles. You'll find traditional styles, like this classic pair of gloves, worked in Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift, with a fair isle stranded design at the wrist. Melanson was inspired by Celtic motifs in creating the band, which she describes as resembling a golden bracelet on the wrist (she has a degree in Celtic studies, and its influence can be seen in many of her designs).

These Norwegian mittens are also inspired by traditional stranded work and have a traditional shape, but the dash of electric lime gives them a modern spin (and if you don't like modern spins, or electric lime, easy enough to pick a different color for that design element).

If you are looking for less traditional, you'll have choices, too:

These mittens, called "Sheltie," at first glance seem odd: why wear mittens that are more holes than fabric? But take a closer look, and you'll find a soft, mohair layer underneath (it's white, and maybe a different-colored background in the photo would help make this more clear). The two layers help to insulate the hands more, in addition to creating a funky mesh look. Not my usual style, but clever and looks great. I'm having fun imagining all sorts of color combinations, too (a really bright mohair underlayer with a neutral overlay? a solid color underlayer with a multi overlay?).

Again, this doesn't happen to be my personal style, but these gloves, called "Blackthorn" after the tree that produces sloe berries (sloe gin, anyone?), invoke a Robin Hood kind of feel, with the lacing on the back of the hand.

These armwarmers combine a Latvian-type braid as edging with motifs inspired by medieval tapestries.

And there are plenty more good-looking patterns, like these gloves with a ruffled cuff

these striking cream gloves, with a long cuff to show off the German twisted stitch pattern:

beaded fingerless gloves, using Mountain Colors Bearfoot yarn (anybody wanna make 'em in some Black Bunny?)

and these mittens featuring cables and bobbles:

I especially like that most of the patterns involve something more than just a plain pair of mittens -- e.g., stranded design, beading, cables, traveling stitches -- to make them more challenging and more interesting.

As far as the production quality, this is a paperback book, with around 144 pages. It is color throughout, including all color photos (lovely work by Tyllie Barbosa) and color charts for the stranded knitting. Each mitten or glove is shown in a full-page photo to give an overview of its appearance, and most patterns also include a close-up of a specific design element. (And several of the patterns are shown in different variations, i.e., a long cuff and a short cuff, using different colors and yarns, to give you a feel for how you might want to individualize them.) Personally, I found the pattern type to be a wee bit small for me; however, I am not too proud to admit that this may be a function of forty-plus-year-old eyes. There are no schematics since they are mittens/gloves/armwarmers. Sizing varies; more than half are written for one size, an average woman's hand (around 7.5 to 8 inches circumference). Two are written for a wide range of sizes from child through men's. The rest are given in various permutations of two or three sizes (e.g. small child, medium child, woman; or women's small/women's medium-large).

It's also worth noting that no pages are wasted on how-to-knit instructions. The back, however, features some material that might be helpful to newer knitters who know the basics but will appreciate tips on how to select yarns; types of needles; beading basics; blocking (something we don't always think of for accessories like mittens); some alternate cast-ons; embroidery basics; how to make I-cord; and so on. I especially liked the index to projects by yarn weight. If you've got some, say, DK-weight yarn in your stash, one glance and you can figure out which patterns are written for that gauge.

So I give a mitten-covered thumbs-up to Knitting New Mittens and Gloves. It's a nice blend of the classic and the funky, it features interesting and sometimes challenging designs, and it will help you burn through your stash while having a lot of fun. (And if you like to knit holiday gifts, I'm thinking you could check a lot of different folks off your list with the variety and quantity of patterns in this book.) When you consider you are getting over 25 patterns, plus variations, for less than fifteen bucks, I'd say it's a bargain.

And speaking of bargains, it has come to my attention that Stewart, Tabori and Chang, the publisher of Knitting New Mittens and Gloves, is offering a free mitten pattern from the book here. The Alternating Current Mittens are knit in a bulky yarn, in both mitten and fingerless form, and STC is suggesting that if you download the pattern, you might consider making an extra pair for a person in need. (In fact, if you are so inclined, you can mail them to me and I will add them to our knitting for homeless vets charity drive that is still on-going.)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Cool raffle

You may have noticed the little icon over at the right sidebar, telling about a raffle for the benefit of the Barack Obama campaign. (By the way, if I haven't changed it yet, the deadline goes until the end of August rather than ending this week.) There are some wonderful prizes that you can win, including a copy of Knit So Fine (personally autographed) along with a skein of BBF laceweight yarn sufficient to make the gorgeous lace stole therein; a selection of spinning fiber from Black Bunny Fibers; and a bunch of non-BBF but still pretty awesome prizes, including:
  • a copy of the very rare Knitting Lace book, by Susanna Lewis;
  • gift certificates to various on-line vendors, including BBF, Sonny & Shear, and Wool & Co.;
  • all sorts of handknit lovelies, like a Clapotis;
  • lots of different wonderful yarns, like 10 skeins of Opal sock yarn (!); Socks That Rock sockyarn; handspun yarns; and more;
  • great pattern packs, like a dozen patterns of your choice from Gardiner Yarn Works, and the entire line of French Girl patterns (yep, all 27 of them).
If you would like to enter the drawing for these fabulous prizes, here's how: you make a donation to the Obama campaign using this link here. Note: you've got to use this link to be eligible. (The form will say "This contribution will be credited to Knitters for Obama Fundraising Goal" if you are in the right place.) You will get a confirmation email when your contribution is processed; forward that email to obamaknittersatgmailDAHTcom. You get one "ticket" for each five dollars you donate and you specify which prize you want each ticket to count for. (For example, if you donated $25, you get five "tickets" or chances, so you could put 3 chances on Prize 7 and 2 on Prize 14, or all 5 on Prize 1, or whatever.) A full list of prizes is here on Ravelry.

Since today is Obama's birthday, you might wish to make a donation in his honor. (Or perhaps you'd like to make a donation in honor of Jeff Gordon, Percy Shelley, Louis Armstrong or Roger Clemens, who were also born on this day. You know how much I love random celebrity birthdays.)

If you feel, as I do, that it's time to make a big change in Washington; that we need a president who is smart, knowledgeable, articulate, has common sense and believes in transparency in government; if you think it's long past time we get our soldiers out of Iraq and start fighting the real war on terror; if you are sick of people ignoring the Constitution and using fear to manipulate us into giving them power; if you think it's time the US becomes a real leader rather than a laughingstock led by a moron and his power-hungry and greedy henchmen; if you don't want a president who brags about being unable to use a computer or who calls his wife a word I won't use on this blog or who jokes about gorillas raping women or who changes his position more often than he changes his underwear; then I urge you to put your money where your mouth is and donate.

I know that political issues can be controversial, so I'm trying not to overdo it on what is mainly a knitting blog. But I am very concerned about the future of our country and honestly believe that Obama is the vastly superior choice come November. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

An exciting new development

Go to Twist Collective right now. It's a gorgeous, and I do mean GORGEOUS, new on-line knitting 'zine, from an extremely talented group of knitting designers. My Ravelry queue is going to be bursting at the seams -- but at the top of the list are Wisteria and Aspen.

Life is good.