Thursday, June 24, 2010

(Long overdue) Book Review: 60 Quick Knits by Tanis Gray

I'm a bit overdue on this, but in April, Tanis Gray (formerly of Vogue Knitting/Soho Publishing) released a book called 60 Quick Knits: 20 Hats*20 Scarves*20 Mittens in Cascade 220 (Sixth & Spring Books 2010) (MSRP $17.95; available via the link for $12.21 at the time of the writing). This is such a handy little book that I wanted to get a book review in, even though I'm a teensy bit late.

The concept of the book is brilliant: Cascade 220 is one of the most popular yarns around, regularly at the top of Ravelry's "Most Popular Yarns" ranking and carried in yarn shops all over the country. It's an extremely versatile yarn, knitting at 4.5 to 5 sts per inch, it's well-priced, it's 100-percent wool, and it comes in a gazillion colors -- including variegated and heathers. There's even a superwash version. Tanis has collected 60 patterns that all use Cascade 220. And the patterns are all for scarves, mittens/gloves and hats, some of the most popular items to make, wear and give. So let's take a look inside.

Cabled-Cuff Mittens by Cheryl Murray

60 Quick Knits is a paperback, about 160 pages, full-color. The book contains a brief introduction, telling readers about Cascade 220's background, a one-page "Things to Know" section, containing abbreviations and suchlike, and then jumps right into the patterns. There are twenty patterns for hats, twenty for scarves and twenty for mittens/gloves/gauntlets, and there are no chapters -- just pattern after pattern. One of the nice things about the book is that there is something to tempt just about any knitter. You'll find simple, easy patterns for newbies, like basic stockinette hats and ribbed gauntlets, as well as more complex patterns for adventurous knitters, including cables

Textured Tam by Jacquiline van Dillen

stranded colorwork (see the mittens below), lacy stitches

Leaf Scarf by Mary Beth Temple

slip-stitch patterns, modular knitting

Mitered Scarf by Amy Polcyn

and more. Personal favorites of mine are these colorwork mittens

Spotted Fair Isle Mittens by Cheryl Murray

the simple-but-chic Ribbed Keyhole Scarf

Ribbed Keyhole Scarf by Angela Juergens

and this clever Cable Brim Tam.

Cabled Brim Tam by Therese Chynoweth

Will you vomit copiously if I engage in shameless self-promotion by pointing out that I have two hat patterns included in the collection? One is the Scalloped Edge Beanie

and the other is the Ribbed Pillbox

As with any pattern book, it's all a function of taste. Checking out the photos will give you a sense for whether these patterns work with your taste, although given that you can easily find this book for twelve dollars, it's hard not to beat approximately twenty cents a pattern even if you don't like them all.

In other respects, the book contains exactly what you would expect: mainly one-size patterns (given that items like scarves and hats are so flexible in fit), charts where necessary (black and white charts for textured/cable patterns, color ones for stranded and other colorwork), clear photos of the garments with close-ups of the stitch patterns.

Striped Graduated Scarf by Jean Suzuki

For under twenty bucks (and depending on where you purchase, well under fifteen bucks), 60 Quick Knits gives you a whopping sixty patterns in an extremely versatile yarn (one that is easy to substitute for if for some strange reason, you just used up your last ball of Cascade 220 but have other worsted-weight yarn in your stash), with a variety of styles and techniques, at skill levels ranging from basic to adventurous. How can you beat that? And if you are someone who knits for charity or likes to knit gifts for others, this book would be an excellent way to play around with some new patterns.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I'll be rescheduling for a time closer to fall, probably late August.... sorry for any inconvenience....

Monday, June 21, 2010

TNNA Report

I'm already behind on this -- I planned on posting it days ago, but the week got away from me. Anyway, TNNA was a wonderful weekend. I know I say that every year, but there is something magical about being surrounded by people who really, truly understand one's passionate love of yarn. There's also something exciting about seeing all the goodies that yarn companies and designers and others in the industry have lined up for fall. So here's a quick recap.

As has become tradition, Laura Grutzeck and I traveled together. (Psst: did everyone see Laura's beautiful Essential Cardigan in the new Interweave Knits?

As I mentioned before, we happened to be on the same flight as crochet goddess Kathy Merrick, so the three of us nervous flyers were able to keep each other company. Apart from a teeny bit of turbulence (which nearly caused me to pee my pants), we had smooth flights both ways and only had minor flight delays.

Once we got to the hotel, we were immediately accosted by the Koigu people. There was a talk of a gift for me and I was floored. Visions of Mori danced through my head, fantasies about KPPM mill ends or maybe a special colorway for me....but my gift was totally unexpected and totally perfect: an inflatable man.

(This, my friends, is why I had to travel through airport security -- on the way home -- with an inflatable man in my bag.)

Friday evening, we did the unthinkable: we skipped the fashion show. But it was only so that I could spend some quality time with my girl-crush Veve. We had a lovely dinner with her, Laura and the awesome Robin Melanson, too. So, alas, I cannot report back on the runway show for you. We returned to the hotel to attend the Ravelry party, where there was free Jeni's ice cream and all sorts of mayhem.

adorable Kathy Elkins & me

If you seem to see a pattern of increasing intoxication in those photographs, I'd have to say it's all in your mind. I mean, do any of these lovely people look like they've been drinking?

(Note to self: take translucent powder to TNNA next year.)

Saturday, we hit the show floor bright and early. We kept running into fun people the whole weekend, and ogled lots of new yarn and patterns, which I will tell you about in future blog posts. It seemed to me that there was lots of optimism and enthusiasm for the coming fall/winter season, although I got the feeling that yarn companies perhaps released fewer new yarns and played it a little safe, offering different gauges of already-successful yarns or variations on familiar yarns, rather than taking a lot of risks. Given the concerns about the global economy, this makes sense.

There was plenty of people-spotting,

and you can see how shy I was about asking people if I could take their picture.

It was especially exciting to see the Classic Elite booth with the new St-Denis yarn, Boreale. Here is a placard showing the little girl's tabard that I did for the second magazine:

Of course I spent lots of time ogling the Rowan and Nashua from Westminster Fibers, and hearing all about the new fall yarns and patterns there and elsewhere (Classic Elite has a yummy yarn called Magnolia and Berroco also had some great things). I was well-fed at the market across the street -- and I especially liked the display of Japanese kittehs at the sushi/Thai place

where I conveniently ran into Kristen Rengren (of Vintage Baby Knits fame).

There was all sorts of networking, and hugging, and catching up with friends old and new

the Prime Minister of Patternfish

Hi B.J.!

and eating of unhealthy food

(this was not my breakfast; I'm more of a coffee & bagel type) and the ignoring of certain signs on Mindy's behalf.

So..... that about sums it up. I'll be doing some more book reviews and some fall previews in upcoming posts. Right now, I'm about to take the kids berrypicking (yep, school's out) so I will post again soon.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Things I learned at TNNA this year

1. Flying is much less scary if you take an Atavan first and if you have Kathy Merrick and Laura Grutzeck with you. Likewise, having Kathy Merrick with you is much less scary if you take an Atavan first. (KIDDING!!!!! I love Kathy and she knows it.)

2. Clara Parkes can curse like a sailor in perfectly-accented French.

3. I learned that it is possible to go through airport security with an inflatable man in your bag without raising an eyelash. However, Laura learned if you are rooming with someone who carelessly leaves their deflated inflatable man on the floor and you trip over him in the middle of the night on your way to the bathroom, all hell breaks loose.

4. Kristen Rengren really knows how to grab one's ass.

5. It doesn't seem quite fair that Amy Butler is not only exceptionally talented, but also tall, thin, blonde and gorgeous. And really, really, really nice.

6. Kathy and Steve Elkins are even more adorable in person than they are on their podcast.

7. Jillian Moreno can wield an olive baguette like nobody else.

8. Having a full-body scan at the airport did not make me feel violated at all. This may have been because I was traveling with an inflatable man in my bag and was distracted thinking about being pulled out of the line for a suitcase search ("Officer, it is an inflatable man." "Doesn't everybody travel with an inflatable friend?" "But it wasn't on the TSA list of prohibited items!" "Tom, can you please come to the Super-Max Prison and bail me out?").

9. Grace Anna Farrow has an extremely exciting new project in the works...

10. We have many reasons to envy our Canadian friends, including universal health care AND Kindereggs.

11. Rhichard hugs on both sides so that your hugging experience is orthopedically balanced. And the Koigu yarns are more gorgeous than ever, if that is possible. Swoon....

12. Trisha Malcolm remains a minx. She has the habit of buying me glasses of wine, then pouring them down my throat without mercy, no matter how hard I protest. I love her dearly.

(On a related note, I'd like to apologize to the nice lady from Jimmy Bean's Wool for tipsily and probably incoherently babbling about how great their website is. Heck, consider this a blanket apology to anyone in the Hyatt atrium Friday night who had me drunkenly babbling at them, including Deb Stoller:

13. The sweet potato fries at the Tip Top are quite excellent.

14. Certain people who ruthlessly canceled at the last minute were deeply missed.

15. Every time I think I could not possibly love Ve-ve more, I do.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Various & sundry

A few months ago, we sighted a fox in our neighborhood. We were excited at the rare opportunity to see such a beautiful wild creature closer than we'd seen one before. As the spring came around, the fox seemed less afraid and we began to see him more often. Alas, we got a letter from some neighbors on the street over saying that they'd seen the neighborhood fox acting oddly -- sitting in the middle of the road in the middle of the day,

hanging out on someone's porch (!), and so on. Someone caught a close enough glimpse of the fox to see what looked like the telltale foam around its mouth. Rabies. We haven't seen the fox lately, and the local animal control department thinks it probably died of rabies. Which makes me sad.

The day we heard about the fox the twins spent an hour looking out the window, debating whether the squirrels had rabies because they were "acting funny." I was of the opinion that gorging on fallen birdseed was a perfect appropriate thing for a piggypants squirrel to do and they shouldn't worry about it.

In other news, I'll be heading to Columbus, Ohio, on Friday for TNNA, and I had just barely enough time to sneak one last BBF update in -- today I uploaded twenty skeins of lovely half-merino, half-silk, in a fingering weight, called SoftSilk.



Autumn Breeze

I probably won't get a chance to post for a few days, so look for some quickie updates on Facebook or the full scoop next week.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

May Book Report

Sorry it's been so quiet around here. I always forget how the knitting world jumps into high gear in June in order to be ready for the big seasons of fall and winter. It's unfortunate that this happens to coincide with the end of school for my kids -- things seem to get extra-hectic around this time.

I'll be heading out to TNNA on Friday for the annual "yarn convention," as my family calls it. I hope to run into some of my favorite fiber people there, and I'll try to bring back some previews of what we have to look forward to this fall.

In the meantime, here's my book report for May:

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. This is a book I might not have read but for the fact that I saw a review of it in the New York Times book section, then had the chance to score a free copy from Amazon's Vine program. The book consists of a set of interrelated chapters that are really short stories. Each story/chapter is written about one particular character who is connected to an English-language newspaper being published in Rome. Rachman does an excellent job switching perspectives, while building a cast of interesting and interrelated characters. His sadness at the economic crises now facing print-only newspapers is palpable. Definitely worth a read.

Elegy for April: A Novel by Benjamin Black. I read the first book in this detective series, set in 1950s Dublin. The main character is a medical examiner named Quirke, who grapples his own family dysfunction and alcoholism while stumbling over complex murders. This particular book left me unimpressed; the author was trying to make the book more meditative and more of a character study than a mystery novel per se, but I found it a bit plodding. It was another Vine selection, so at least I had the satisfaction of not having paid for it.

Silvermeadow, by Barry Maitland. I am enjoying the Brock/Kolla detective series, and this installment is set in a huge shopping mall (think Mall of America set in the English countryside). A girl disappears and her body is found in a trash receptacle that originated at the mall. Brock and Kolla get subsumed by the odd and all-encompassing character of the behemoth mall, untangling a mystery that is more complicated than they first suspected.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning: A Novel by Nancy Pickard. Another Vine selection -- but one which I enjoyed and raced through. I first encountered Pickard's writing a while back, in a series of mystery novels that booksellers would probably call "cozies." Later I discovered some of her stand-alone novels, and have enjoyed them. This novel takes place in Pickard's native Kansas, set on a cattle ranch. The main character, Jody, is the daughter of a rancher who was murdered when she was three. As the story opens, the man convicted of her father's murder has been released from prison. His son, now a lawyer, doesn't believe he's guilty of the murder and is trying to figure out who did. A solid & engrossing mystery with a great sense of place.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This book was my Mother's Day gift, and I very much enjoyed it. It's a look at King Henry VIII's court through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. Long, but it never drags. My only nitpick is that I found Mantel's use of antecedents for the pronoun "he" to be maddeningly obtuse. She has the habit of referring to Cromwell simply as "he" or "him," but immediately following paragraphs in which she uses "he" to refer to another character. Otherwise well-written and well-researched, and a darn good read.

Death in the Garden by Elizabeth Ironside. A mystery set in both 1920s and present-day Britain. The main character, Helena, inherits a house from her great-aunt, at which time she discovers that her great-aunt was tried for the murder of her husband and acquitted. She isn't sure whether the great-aunt was guilty of murder and just got lucky with the jury, and before she can comfortably use the house, she decides to find out what really happened -- at least enough to satisfy herself about her great-aunt's guilt or innocence. The first twenty pages or so didn't immediately pull me in, but after that, the story starts to move quickly, shifting back and forth from the current time to the 1920s.

Finding Chandra: A True Washington Murder Mystery by Scott Higham and Sari Hurwitz was based largely on a Washington Post investigative series looking back at the Chandra Levy disappearance. Levy was a Washington, D.C. intern who disappeared, seemingly into thin air, in May 2001. It's hard to remember the pre-9/11 world, but that summer seemed to be nonstop coverage of Levy's disappearance. When reporters discovered that she'd been seeing a married Congressman named Gary Condit, media interest became insatiable, and Condit's shady behavior -- trying to conceal his affair to save his political career and marriage -- just added to the speculation fueling the media circus. Currently, a suspect -- a Salvadoran immigrant who was previously convicted of attacking two joggers in Rock Creek Park -- is awaiting trial for Levy's murder.

Higham & Hurwitz do a good job of piercing through the sensationalism and summarizing the case, with unflinching attention to the missteps of the Washington police and Gary Condit, without which Levy's murder might have been solved sooner. They treat all the characters in the case with a fair bit of compassion and sensitivity. The book leaves you wondering about the effect that the media can have on a high-profile police investigation, as well as the arrogance of politicians who think the ordinary rules don't apply to them.

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer. I thought I couldn't get any more outraged and contemptuous for the administration of George W. Bush, and then I read this book.

Krakauer tells the story of pro football player Pat Tillman, who left the NFL in the midst of a promising career to enlist in the Army Rangers following the 9/11 attacks. The Bush administration was intrigued by Tillman from a public relations standpoint -- NFL standout gives up lucrative career to fight terror! -- but interestingly, Tillman himself was unconvinced that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was necessary and desirable. Tillman was killed by friendly fire in the hills of Afghanistan. This would be a tragic and senseless death under any circumstances, but what makes the story particularly galling is the way that the Bush administration and the upper echelons of the Army hush up the real facts about Tillman's death, instead spinning a made-up story about how Tillman was killed defending US soldiers from an ambush. Particularly disgusting is the manner in which Tillman's family is treated. Seeking to find out what really happened, they are fobbed off, have their spiritual. values mocked and are repeatedly lied to.

The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron, was another Vine selection that I chose because I read a good review of it in the NY Times. The book is set in Maine, and the main character is a game warden, Mike Bowditch, who discovers that his ne'er-do-well father is accused of a double murder. Bowditch knows his father is a petty criminal and a drunk, but just can't believe he's a cold-blooded murderer. He decides to do what he can to uncover the truth and clear his father's name. This was a quick read, with a creative setting and plot, lots of twists and turns, and interesting characters.

That's my book report for May; don't forget to comment and tell me what books you've read lately that you have liked.