Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Josephine Socks

Now available for download: the Josephine Sock pattern.

Knit in BBF CashSoft sock yarn, they would work just as well in any of the fingering-weight BBF yarns (like Superwash Merino Classic, Tight Twist, Plump, Bamberino and so on).

They feature a lace panel set off by vertical lines of textured stitches. To get the maximum impact from the pattern, best to pick a muted multicolor or semi-solid handpaint, or a solid yarn (plenty of which are in stock at the BBF store!).

The model was an absolute joy to work with; I won't identify her unless she wants to "out" herself in the comments. But allow me to say that the camera LOVED her. All the way from her pretty face (which alas you cannot see here) to her beautiful toes.

You can purchase the pattern from my Ravelry shop or via Patternfish; hard copies available soon at the BBF on-line shop.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Don't forget

Tomorrow from 12 to 3 p.m., author Julie Turjoman will be at Loop in Philadelphia, along with a trunk show of items from Brave New Knits, her recent book. I'll be stopping by -- I am very eager to see some of those lovely patterns in real life. And I'll be bringing a restock of Black Bunny yarns, including some of the new base yarn that debuted today, called Plump:


Bewitched (L) & Cornucopia (R)

Costume Party

After Midnight

It's up on the website right now!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The road not taken (with apologies to Robert Frost)

I had occasion yesterday to be in the company of a number of lawyers. Some were people with whom I used to work, back in the days when I was an associate at a large law firm. Others were friends who are still practicing law. The event was (at risk of sounding melodramatic) thrilling: a good friend, someone who I first worked with way back in the (gulp) late 1980s, was sworn in as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the top federal prosecutor for this part of the state.

As I looked around the room, I felt out of place. I had dressed up, and although it felt funny to be wearing a dress, I certainly didn't look out of place. But it felt very odd to be in a courthouse again. It felt very odd to be in a roomful of lawyers again. And it felt very odd to see people who once loomed so large in my daily life now fumbling because they couldn't remember my name.

I had wanted to be a lawyer all through college, and although I didn't particularly love law school, I knew that being in law school was an experience that wasn't anything at like practicing law was. I liked my summer jobs -- some at law firms, some at government agencies -- just fine, and I could do them well. After graduation, I deferred the decision about what to do next by taking a one-year clerkship with a federal judge. At the time, my co-clerk and I would frequently talk about how great being a law clerk was, and what a shame it only lasted a year. And then that year was nearly over, and I had to decide what to do next.

What I really wanted to do was be a federal prosecutor. But it's hard to get those jobs; they're very competitive, especially in a large northeastern city like Philadelphia, and there was no way they'd hire someone who didn't have at least a few years' experience in the legal world. So I accepted the offer I had from the large law firm where I'd worked summers. It was a logical choice: the salary offered me a chance to pay down my student loans while getting some training and experience.

Things didn't work out exactly like that. In the end, two years of big firm practice (read: stress, accounting for every quarter-hour of my time, long hours, little job satisfaction) was enough for me, and I switched to a small law firm with a similar type of legal practice but vastly improved hours and a reduced paycheck. Along the way I got married and then before I knew it, I ended up at home with my kids and stumbling into a second career in the knitting world.

I'll admit it: for just a second yesterday, I felt kind of wistful. I looked around at the suits, at the judges sitting on their dais, at the enthusiastic face of my friend being sworn in to, as he puts it, "fight the good fight." For that second I wondered what if. What if I'd continued to be a lawyer.... what if I'd become a criminal prosecutor instead of a civil litigator ... what if I'd ended up as a judge someday... what if I'd ended up committed to fighting the good fight...

The ceremony was over pretty quickly and we mingled for a bit at a reception. I caught up with some of my ex-colleagues and my lawyer friends, and then we were on our way. On the way home, I had to stop at Loop to pick something up (hey --I really did "have to" stop there; quit snickering!) and I had a chance to check out some of the new yarns, and be around fiber people once more.

I remembered how it felt being one of a dozen people working on a big case for a big company, spending years slogging away on paperwork, getting a trial date set, and then the case settling. I thought about the stress of practicing law when the stakes are high (whether due to the dollar amount involved or the fact that someone's life or liberty was at stake) and the way it used to churn up my guts. I remembered how out-of-place I always felt around gaggles of lawyers; how I wasn't really interested in the things they were (sports; the Wall St. Journal; legal cases; sports) and how hard it could be to make small talk with them, to find a connection.

And then I thought about the smell of lanolin, about the little thrill I get when I pick up a beautiful skein of yarn. I remembered the pride I feel when dyeing yarn and the colors mesh perfectly. I thought about how wonderful it feels when one of my customers takes a skein of yarn I've dyed or a pattern I've written and turns into a beautiful scarf or shawl or pair of socks. I thought about the luxury of being captain of my own ship, of making my own decisions about where I want this little business of mine to go. I thought about the pride I feel when I see my name on the page of an article in Vogue Knitting or the spine of a book. I think about the creativity, how it energizes me, how I feel like I'll never get to try all the things I want to try, knit with all the yarns I want to knit with, turn all the ideas in my head into real garments that are made and worn by real people. I think of the way I feel when I'm at TNNA or a fiber festival or even in a yarn shop: that feeling of belonging, of being around my people. And not least of all, I thought about the luxury of meeting my kids at the bus stop each day, of never having to worry about who'll look after them if they're too sick to go to school, about each story book I read to them and each batch of cookies we baked and each nasty-ass diaper I changed. I wouldn't trade any of it in for a navy-blue suit and matching briefcase. Not one day of it. Every speck of wistfulness was gone.

Maybe my former colleagues don't recognize me when I'm wearing a hand-knit scarf instead of a pantsuit. So what if their eyes glaze over as soon as they hear that I'm no longer practicing law, or if they look around the room for someone "more interesting" to talk to when I say I write knitting patterns for a living and we don't travel very much. Maybe they even say behind my back, as I have been told they do, "what a waste that Carol doesn't practice law anymore."

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Yes, that has made all the difference in the world.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Brave New Knits trunk show & signing

It has just come to my attention that Julie Turjoman, author of Brave New Knits: 26 Projects and Personalities from the Knitting Blogosphere -- see my recent book review here -- will be in Philadelphia on Saturday, September 25th, from 12 to 3 p.m. at Loop. I'm going to do my best to stop by and if you're interested in seeing some of the lovely sample knits -- and pick up an autographed copy of the book -- I suggest you do the same. . .

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Please tell me

that this new ad campaign does not feature two characters that consist of solidified cat urine.

Monday, September 13, 2010

No-Bull Book Review: Brave New Knits, by Julie Turjoman

I have to admit I've been kicking myself ever since I got a review copy of Brave New Knits: 26 Projects and Personalities from the Knitting Blogosphere by Julie Turjoman. I was caught up in something when the call for submissions came due and didn't submit anything. But lucky for us, 26 bloggers and designers did. It's hot off the presses, so let's take an in-depth, No-Bull look at Brave New Knits.

Brave New Knits (Rodale 2010; available as of this writing for $15.63 via the link above), is, in a nutshell, about knitting blogs. A devoted blog-reader and visitor to sites like Ravelry, author Julie Turjoman has collected 26 projects from participants in the on-line knitting world, along with profiles of their creators. You'll recognize many of the most famous names -- Stefanie Japel of Glampyre Knits, Wendy Bernard of Knit and Tonic, Clara Parkes, of Knitter's Review, to name a few -- but you may also find one or two bloggers that you've missed or haven't visited in a while. If you are fascinated with the world of knitting blogs, you'll enjoy reading the profiles describing how these bloggers got started, their knitting background, what they hope to achieve by blogging, and background about their designs.

Sockstravaganza, by Kirsten Kapur

In addition to presenting profiles of her subjects, Turjoman asked each of them to design a project. It's fascinating to see this collection of items, ranging from the small accessory (knitted pins) to full-size sweaters, with a range of styles and techniques presented. (More on the projects in a minute.)

Krookus Cardigan by Mari Muinonen

As for structure, the book begins with a forward by Ravelry's own Jess, followed by an introduction by Turjoman, where she describes how she got hooked on Knitting Blog-land, and why she chose to write this book:

Clearly, blogging has changed knitting, yet knitting has influenced its little corner of the blogosphere in equally potent ways. The knitting community is one of the most fortunate subcultures to benefit from the rise of social networking sites on the Internet. I wondered why no one had assembled the staggering talents of this group in book form. It struck me that the most successful designer-bloggers have compelling personal stories, and that the larger knitting community would love to learn more about them.

The remainder of the book is divided into two sections, the first containing sweaters and other full-size garments, the second devoted to accessories. In the first section, you'll find thirteen profiles and designs, ranging from this lovely cabled sweater-jacket

Jennifer Hagan's Global Knit Coat

to Stefanie Japel's short-sleeved wave-cable pullover.

(It Comes In) Waves Pullover, by Stefanie Japel

All but one of the garments are designed for adult women (there is one child's tunic), and I counted a grand total of 3 short-sleeved pullovers,1 full-length sweater-jacket, 1 vest, 3 short-sleeved cardigans, 1 3/4-length sleeved cardigan, a camisole with ruffles, one long-sleeved jacket-cardigan, and a shrug, in addition to the child's tunic. Interestingly, all but one of the sweaters are knit in the round (at least partially), with only one knit in pieces.

Seaweed Vest, by Angela Hahn

The accessories section contains 13 patterns and profiles, and among my personal favorites are Jared Flood's lace-edged scarf

Jared Flood's Woodsmoke Scarf

the lovely socks with fair isle panel shown on the cover, Wooly Wormhead's cable panel cap,

Lenina Cap, by Woolly Wormhead

and Sean Riley's swirling Helix socks:

Sean Riley's Helix Socks

The breakdown of accessories is as follows: a tam and mitts set, three pairs of socks,

Chutes & Ladders Socks by Chrissy Gardiner

three scarves/neckgear, two hats, one pair of gloves, a blanket, a pin and a shawlette. Most of the accessory projects are likewise designed with women in mind, although a few could be more unisex in nature, depending on taste and the yarn/color used.

Hydrangea Neckwarmer by Anne Hanson

The book is a whopping 240-plus pages, and the vast majority of it is devoted to the profiles and patterns. (There are a few pages in the back with the typical information -- contact information for the designers, abbreviations, explanations of special techniques, and so on.) It's worth mentioning that photography was done by the talented Brooklyn Tweed, Jared Flood. The book is nicely designed, and includes schematics and charts (all black and white except for the sock chart, which is color). It's a paperback, with fold-in book covers, and the size is just right for popping into your knitting bag.

So Brave New Knits gets two thumbs up, one for fans of the knitting blogosphere and one for fans of lovely knitting patterns. Just promise me, Julie, that if there's a sequel, you'll send me another call for submissions, 'kay?

Photographs copyright 2010 by Jared Flood/Brooklyn Tweed.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A new year starts

For me, the new year doesn't start in January; it begins on the first day of school. In these parts, that's usually right around Labor Day. Even through the years when I was working and not following an academic calendar, the real start of the year felt like September, and now that I've got kids in school, that feeling is stronger than ever.

This particular summer seemed long and hot-- lots of sun, too many above-90-degree days and little rain. For the first time in a while, my kids did not have any formal activities during the summer -- no day camps, no sports camps, no mornings at the local art center. I'd love to suggest that this was a high-minded philosophical decision about the value of free time for children, but really, it was just because we needed to save money and that seemed like an obvious way to do it. I think the kids did really enjoy having lots of unstructured time. We did do various things over the summer -- several sleepovers at my mom's, movies, fruit-picking, swimming -- but the kids seemed to revel in being aimless.

Now they are back at school and we're trying to ease into our routine. You'll be pleased to know that a certain someone is very happy that there is some peace and quiet during the days:

Sunday, September 05, 2010

August Book Report

This past month, assisted by a week of vacation, I tackled three books that have been recommended to me numerous times, which left me feeling somewhat virtuous.

First up was The Glass Castle, the bestselling memoir by Jeanette Walls. This was a difficult book for me to read. Walls describes a childhood in which individualism and eccentricity cross over into abuse, neglect and chaos. Rex Walls' alcoholism and eccentricity caused him to lose job after job. Rose Mary Walls fancied herself an artist and although she was certified to teach, refused to do so most of the time -- even when her children were starving and clad in rags -- simply because she didn't want to. The Walls siblings were used to moving in the middle of the night, piling into whatever wreck of a car they had so Mom and Dad could avoid bill collectors, or a bench warrant.

You can already sense my frustration. There are heart-wrenching scenes: kids eating margarine because it's the only thing for dinner and they're starving; a mother who doesn't comfort or stand up for her daughter when a relative tries to sexually abuse her; a father who steals the money his teenage daughters bust their butts earning so he can buy booze; a little girl whose mother resists getting her eyeglasses because that would be mollycoddling weak eyes that should be working harder (the scene where Lori Walls gets her first pair of glasses, and walks around struck by the beauty of the objects she can now see made me want to cry).

But what frustrated me so much about these awful scenes were the needlessness of them all. Rex Walls needed to go to AA and dry out, but if he didn't, Rose Mary Walls was able to teach school and could have supported her children adequately, if not luxuriously, on a teacher's salary if she'd kept working. She had assets she could have sold to provide for her kids -- land in Texas, valuable jewelry -- but refused to for no good reason. The selfishness, the lack of maturity, the refusal to put one's own needs second behind that of one's little children, it all just infuriated me. I had to pick up and put this book down, since reading it in large portions was just too upsetting.

I can't say I enjoyed the book. Walls' childhood was fascinating in that it was so far removed from what most people experience, and I was left with tremendous admiration for her ability to stay focused on getting away from her family and creating her own life. I also admired Walls' generosity of spirit in that she writes her memoir in a matter-of-fact tone, without any whining or self-pity, no small feat given what she experienced. I can't decide if Walls just came to expect so little from her parents that they no longer had the ability to disappoint her, or if she consciously chose to trim her anger and other negative feelings from the book and deal with them privately.

After such a bleak story, I turned to some escapism. First up was The Bee's Kiss by Barbara Cleverly, another Joe Sandilands mystery set in 1920s London. Lots of nightclubs and flappers and British nobles and stiff martinis as Joe Sandilands -- back from India -- solves the murder of a pillar of society who is found dead in her hotel suite.

Bad Boy by Peter Robinson, is the latest entry in his Inspector Banks series of mysteries set in Yorkshire. In this installment, Inspector Banks is away on vacation when the action starts, and his able sidekick Annie Cabot gets to take over. While the case lacked some of the mystery and complexity of past Banks novels, it was still an enjoyable read if you like the characters. This was an Amazon Vine pick that I scored for free.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffennegger was the second book that was recommended to me. It's the story of Henry, a man who travels back and forth in time to different parts of his life. During each episode of time travel, the current Henry meets the Henry of whatever time he's traveled to. Much of the book revolves around Henry's love for his wife Clare. It took me a little while to get drawn into the story; the beginning is a bit jarring and the frequent chronological shifts were hard for me to get used to. Overall,I enjoyed the book more than I expected to, although it was a bit melodramatic and breathless at times. Several of the plot elements were a bit too clever by half, particularly Henry's death and several scenes involving his daughter. I probably would have liked the book more if I'd seen fewer gushing reviews of it. I wasn't terribly impressed with the quality of the writing: the strength of the book lies more in the originality of the plot rather than the skill of the writer.

Dark Mirror by Barry Maitland was another Kolla and Brock mystery set in London. Another enjoyable read for fans of that series.

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker was a book I happened upon and ended up enjoying a lot. The main character is the "chief" (only) police officer of a small rural French community. The village's first murder case is politically charged and complex. Part of the charm of the book was the backdrop of French country life and the unconventional hero Bruno. I will look for the sequel which came out this summer.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. The last book that has been recommended to me; I resisted because I am a bit leery of a lot of fantasy fiction -- so much of it seems like a bad Star Trek episode. This book appeared on Elvis's summer reading list as a possible choice, and after he enjoyed it, I decided to give it a go. I was knocked out by how much I enjoyed it. The story sounds odd -- an orphaned toddler is "adopted" by the residents of a graveyard -- but Gaiman's imagination and skill made this enjoyable and exciting reading. There is a certain timelessness to this book that I think will make it a classic. I might even pick up one of Gaiman's other novels....

Tell me what you're reading in the comments, or share some recommendations with me! I try to respond in the comments when people ask whether I've read something, and I do really enjoy hearing your suggestions.