Thursday, November 13, 2008

Book 'em, Franklin!

Karen B. and Franklin H.I am in luff with this man's intellect, twisted wit and emotional clarity. Yes, I could gobble him up because he's beyond adorable but that's beside the point. Today is the day for titters, tee-hees, guffaws and outright belly laughs, courtesy of one Franklin Habit.

Franklin continues the book tour in support of his just-released collection of sketches and short essays entitled, "It itches." This is a little book (only 6" x 6") with lots of humor and heart. It perfectly captures the oddities, foibles and sometimes obsessive nature of our fibery pursuits in a way that only Franklin can.

Although this is his first book, Franklin has been making us laugh for some time now as he chronicles the exploits of an imaginary cast of characters, including a saucy sheep named Dolores and Harry, the often gullible skein of yarn. While the book features neither of this well-known duo, there is an amazing thread of fiber humor that keeps you turning the pages. My current favorite is a re-imagining of conversations and thoughts of historic figures as knitters. Marcel DuChamp. A megaphone and boa constrictor. Ha!

I caught up with the author at Chicago's Loopy Yarn. Hopefully, the tour will be in your neck of the woods sometime soon. I know Franklin is in London now and set to cruise back on the QE2. Too bad I'm not travel-sized like Harry :o)

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Running with Knitters!

Colleen, Subway Knitter 9-2008I've been a busy woman lately! Between starting occupational therapy and hobnobbing with the knitterati, I haven't had a moment to myself.

Ha. Who am I kidding? The truth is that I'm slowly trying to get back in the game, reconnecting with friends of the yarnish persuasion and making a few small things, like a baby hat and one (yes, one) toddler-sized fingerless mitt from some yummy fingering weight leftovers. No pattern, just rib, gusset and go.

I did finally meet Colleen, aka Subway Knitter, in recent weeks. We gabbed like fiends over the Sunday buffet at India House. Smart lady with a beautiful smile. I wish that we'd had more time but planes to catch, etc.

The Book Report
Hot off the presses, we have Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne of Mason-Dixon fame "Knitting Outside the Lines". The cross-country book tour hit Chicago this weekend, and I caught up with the FO show and tell at Loopy Yarns. Just one pass through the latest hardcover tome and I've got at least 5 patterns marked. Big plus? They signed one just for me. And the other people standing in line. OK, I may not be special but I do declare (in my best Southern belle imitation), this sophomore effort is worth your time.
Mason-Dixon KnittingPatterns in the book shown here include the Stephen Colbert socks, Dotty, Kiki Mariko.

Franklin and his new book, It ItchesAlso spotted in the crowded two-story store were Mary Neal Meador, Bonne Marie Burns (ChicKnits) and Franklin Habit (The Panopticon) with the first copy of his new baby, "It Itches".

Franklin, beaming like a proud papa, lovingly passed around the new book, delivered late last week after months of intense labor. "It Itches" will be officially launched later this month in upstate New York at Rhinebeck. More tour dates are available here.

This last bit is kinda cool and I rate it as my favorite scene of the night. Here we have Ann Shayne, on her break from the book signing upstairs, shyly asking Franklin for his autograph on the special Loopy Yarn bags he designed.

Franklin signing Ann's bagI do love my knitters! They welcomed me despite my long absences from their midst. I'm just bummed I couldn't make it to YarnCon this year though, on second thought, my wallet is probably grateful.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mail Call and Miscellany

Let's review.
Mea culpa, y'all. I have been remiss in sharing a few of the goodies that arrived at my door over the past few weeks. Let's start with the new books and wind up with a couple of gifts.

Gaughan Vol. 3 and Malabrigo Book One
I'm not sure how, but I was able to find the somewhat elusive Volume 3 of Norah Gaughan's (offsite) design series for Berroco (above, left) shortly after it became available to the public this summer. Just as she's done in other collections, Ms. Gaughan has managed to innovate in a space that has become a little bit too "same this, same that."

Some of my favorites of the 16 designs in Volume 3 include the Eastlake Sweater and the Assemblage cardigan, with its deeply textured collar and cuffs. For me, Strawberry Hill is the one sweater that has me wondering how the heck Gaughan even conceived of this design. It is both structural and fluid, while retaining quite a bit of visual interest. I'll never knit it but snaps to Gaughan for the eye candy and inspiration!

Malabrigo, Book One (above, right) seems to have a different mission altogether. According to Malabrigo's Tobias Feder, designer Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton named each of the 17 designs after Uruguayan cities and towns. While they do not achieve the level of high concept design, the very approachable sweaters, vests and accessories do a decent enough job of showcasing Malabrigo yarns.

Finding publicly sharable photos of the designs has proven a bit difficult, but if you're a Raveler, you're in luck (Ravelry links). Carmelo, the design pictured on the cover, is a heavy favorite within Ravelry. I tend more toward the hat-scarf-mitten combos myself, with Mercedes riding my fave wave. I also like Arapey, the one lace shawl in the book, with its faint arrowhead motif.

One thing I noticed is that almost all of yarns used in Book One are solids or nearly solid. While Malabrigo certainly has a respectable depth in solids, I think some attention might well have been paid to their rich palette of painted multi-color yarns. It's hard to find designs that do justice to handpaints - especially in garments. Perhaps these yarns will show up in a future folio.

I wanted to embrace this book as something special because I'm such a fan of the yarn. Sadly, nothing "blows my hair back." Color me disappointed with the freshman effort.

Treats from a sweetie.
Gifts from a friend!
You know how it goes with this online knitting community. We met in person just last month, though we found our way to friendship through blogging long before then. KnitPastis said something was on the way but gave no hint as to what it might be, except to say that it was handmade.

I opened the pink tissue paper and fell instantly in love with my Amy Butler fabric knitting project bag. I'm totally digging the pale and darker striped blue background with the brownish gold leaf motif scattered here and there. Enough for me? Most definitely. Not for this petite person who believes in having dessert everyday. My "icing" was two balls of Crystal Palace kid merino in a lovely shade of deep pinkish red. Such an unexpected, but completely appreciated, gift to brighten the day.

And then there came a giant thud!
I haven't been making the blog rounds lately. It's not because I've taken a sudden dislike to crafting. Oh, no. The reason is much more self-serving than that. I can't open Bloglines without feeling the pull of temptation.

I don't watch network or cable news, so I subscribe to several national and international sources to fill my news junkie needs. Unfortunately, the nasty business of presidential politics has become too extreme for me, with the lies, accusations and seemingly willful ignorance of too much of the voting public. Lately, I've become so infuriated with each story I read that I have called a halt to its constant consumption.

My thoughts (and my stomach) are churning, churning. I have this low hum of irritability and agitation that is not conducive to my well-being. So instead of reaching for another antacid and a sedative, I think I'd best let sleeping cats lay and stay away from the political cacophony.
Nikita, Sleeping On A Sunny Afternoon
Pax wobiscum

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Smooth Operator

Not too long ago, I needed to make a few swatches of worsted weight yarns. Size 8 US is my usual tool of choice for tasks like this. Although I'm not exactly suffering from a dearth of circular needles, I find the stitch consistency of the straights are key when gauge swatching. If you're dealing with wool or similar fiber, in my opinion aluminum straights seal the deal.

Easy-peasy, right? Unzip needle case, remove my trusty old (as in, had them since childhood) blue size 8s and begin casting on. Except I hit a snag. Literally. Next comes the purple invective and not a little anger as I recall my needle being pressed into service as a plumbing implement by my family. The tip of one of the needles had been scraped against a pipe as my brother tried to retrieve a fallen gasket. Grrr.

Fast-forward to last week's Knitter's Review article on Signature Needles: colorful, customizable aluminum beauties that promised a sleek finish and a lifetime warranty. Momma wants.

Signature Needles
These are size 8 US with the stiletto tip and a bell end cap. The needles are also available with either a middy or blunt tip, as well as two other styles of end caps.

I knit a sample with these babies this morning. Talk about your precision instruments. A little stockinette, a little garter plus a center panel of left and right decreases and yarnovers were no match for these smooth operators. Priced from $28 to $32, they're most definitely spendy, but if straights are your thing I'd say these are worth the investment.

And the next time someone wants to use my tools for unintended purposes, you'd better believe they'll get a resounding, "No Way!" from me.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Review: Silky Wool Showdown

I'm always on the lookout for a good blend of quality, luxury and taste - whether it's my coffee, my clothing or my yarn. The two yarns reviewed here are the latest silk / merino offerings from two yarn companies you already know: Cascade and Malabrigo.

Because of the slippery silk content and my desire to maintain some control of my stitches, I knit both swatches on a size 8 US bamboo circular needle.

Cascade Venezia Worsted

Cascade Venezia Worsted
content: 70% merino / 30% silk; multiple plies
yardage: 219 yards / 100 grams
suggested weight or gauge: 5 sts per inch on size 7 US needles; I got 24 rows and 18 sts over 4 inches on size 8 needles.
care: hand wash in cold water or dry clean
hand: beautiful drape, good stitch definition and smooth to the touch; only drawback is the occasional splitting of the multiple plies or snagging of the resulting fabric if your manicure needs a touch-up.
color: 104, Red Pepper


Malabrigo Silky Merino

Malabrigo Silky Merino
content: 50% merino / 50% silk; single ply
yardage: 150 yards / 50 grams
suggested weight or gauge: dk; I got 24 rows and 20 sts over 4 inches on size 8 needles.
care: hand wash, dry flat
hand: lofty, almost weightless fabric with a subtle sheen and slight halo of the silk very apparent.
color: Indiecita


Which do I like best? In my opinion, the question really becomes one of appropriateness of use. Both yarns produce a soft, light fabric that frankly feels wonderful next to the skin. I would, however, be very careful about using the Malabrigo for anything that might be subject to friction as rubbing and pulling on the yarn caused the silk halo to become even more apparent.

Manos del Uruguay, along with a few other vendors and indie dyers also offer silk blend yarns. Good luck choosing from this embarrassment of riches.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

My Kind Of March Madness

I originally had no intention of committing to any more deadlines, since lately I'm finding them little more than a recipe for failure. Grand plans. Not keeping up. The usual blah-blah. So why in heaven's name did I let friend Rachel persuade me to hop onto another Ravelry knit-along (KAL) bandwagon? This time, it's all about the Malabrigo, baby (Ravelry link).

The Malabrigo Junkies are sponsoring a half-dozen or so KALs, including Knitty's Foliage hat. Since Foliage and I are already acquainted, I expect to comfortably meet the end of March completion date. See? I've already finished one repeat of the leaf pattern past the crown.

Malabrigo Worsted
Malabrigo, "Velvet Grapes" (cat hair at no extra charge)
Could I stop there? No, apparently not. When I saw the Agatha shawl on Wendy Knits, I knew I had the perfect candidate for the job: Malabrigo's latest offering, Silky Merino.

Malabrigo Silky Merino
At first blush, there appears to be more of silk than merino to this yarn, in both the touch and the halo sheen so characteristic to that fiber. The label says 50-50 but it seems to me that the wool serves more as a supporting player. This stuff is smooth, affordable luxury and is available in both solid and variegated colors.

I didn't even know about Silky Merino until I stumbled across it while checking out Manos' silk blends in a nearly identical weight and yardage. I know both companies have their proponents. Anyone who has touched either or both care to weigh in?

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

I, Möbius

One day, during a visit to my local purveyor of yarn, I came across a beautiful top the owner had on display. "That's the Lacy Shoulder Wrap from Cat Bordhi's Treasury of Magical Knitting," she said.

I was intrigued but put off purchasing the book until I'd moved a few WIPs into the finished column. I still have a couple of socks on the needles but really long to do something different, so now is the time for another kind of knitting! I know I'm absolutely late to the party when it comes to the single edge that is möbius, but as a confessed geek, I still find it pretty amazing. I just wish I hadn't wasted the money on that "Magical" book.

Ms. Bordhi rather chattily (and confusingly) explains the difference between a 180 degree twist and a 360 degree twist - surprisingly never calling it that either! I read the magic cast on directions (complete with tiny pictures) at least 4 times but couldn't make heads nor tails of what she was really saying. So I took my troubles to Google and that lead me to Planet Shoup.

Plain and simple, I instantly visualized the half-twist and knit up a sample. I know it worked because I was able to run my finger along the single edge of infinity:

Moebius sample

Alright, so maybe it wasn't a complete waste. I do have the pattern I wanted and the yarn I'm going to use is absolutely sumptuous. It's called Bamboo Silk from the Great Adirondack Yarn Company in the color "Very Berry":

Moebius wrap
Admittedly, there are worse things going on in the world than having needlessly spent money on a book. I'm off to count my blessings now, mkay?

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

From Bavaria, With Love

luftpostHallo meine Freunde! Today it's all about the contents of my Luftpost package - specifically, two newly arrived Bavarian beauties from Wollmeise.

Naturally the 4-ply superwash wool is soft, but that is not what makes Wollmeise so special. Each 380 yd. (350 m) skein is available in nearly 40 different shades. Consider too that you can vary the intensity of that color (bright, medium or dark) and you've got hundreds of customizable possibilities. Toss in Wollmeise owner and dyer Claudia's one-on-one customer service and you've got a winning proposition.

(L) Campari-Orange       (R) Poison Nr. 5
wollmeise sock yarns
At 13 Euro each plus 8 Euro shipping for 1 - 2 skeins, these unique hand-dyed yarns are worthy additions to your collection.

Is your German a bit rusty? Click on the link near the bottom, right labeled 'englisch'. Once you've decided on which color and type of yarn you want (they offer sock, worsted and baby aka lace weight), click 'contact' to send Claudia an email with your request.

By the way, a selection of Wollmeise yarns will soon be available in North America through The Loopy Ewe if you don't want to navigate the Wollmeise website.

In knitting news, I stuck a pin in the map and have set a goal of finishing mates for 2 single socks over the next couple of weeks. After that, Forest Canopy bobs back up to the top. This time, I made note of the last pattern row so as not to repeat The Dance of the Stitches once I resume.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

A First Time For Everything

Like most of us, I appreciate fine craftsmanship and design - especially of those things that are born out of a passion for creative excellence. Thanks to Anne, I am reminded once again that useful can also mean quite beautiful. Witness these circular needles (now available down to size 2 US), made to order by Jenkins Woodworking:

Jenkins Circular Needles
(Top, left: Pink Ivory, size 8 US. Bottom, right: Bloodwood, size 6 US)

They've only just arrived so I've yet to introduce them to yarn. There's a small matter of a pair of socks and a shawl to complete before these babies are pressed into service. Until I do, I am content to marvel at the perfect shaping of the business ends with their smooth joins and pliable cables; to feel the slender, exotic hardwoods of these, the first ever needles made just for me!

"May the work of your hands bring joy" - Ed and Wanda Jenkins

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Ooh La La: IK!

The Summer 2007 Interweave Knits landed in my mailbox today and, boy, are there some sweet numbers inside. There are socks and lace and simple, classic pieces that look perfectly suited for the hot weather ahead. With a few exceptions, there don't appear to be any purposefully strange or complex garments that have sometimes graced knit magazine pages. You know what I mean.

If time (and my body) permitted, I would knit 24 / 7 and forgo sleep to produce my IK picks (photos from Intwerweave preview site):

Josephine Top
Deborah Newton

Wheat-Ear Cable Yoke
Pam Allen

Spiral Boot Socks
Véronik Avery

Notre Dame de Grace Pullover
Véronik Avery

Pipe dreams perhaps, but lovely nonetheless. They'll have to go on the "I want that someday" queue along with selections from Rowan 41 and ChicKnits latest beauty, Nicole. Naturally, I have the perfect yarn for each of them.

Why tease myself with all of these patterns? If I'm going to live "inside my head," I may as well have lovely, inspiring company, n'est pas?

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Pas de Baa Pour Moi

Amy R. SingerOr so wrote Amy Singer in my copy of her new book, "No Sheep For You". A designer and author, Ms. Singer may be best known for her work at the helm of Knitty, an online publication featuring scads of fantastic free patterns and a wealth of information on the fine points of knitting and finishing techniques. Last night, she brought her trunk show to Loopy Yarns in downtown Chicago.

"No Sheep For You" is chock full of patterns for wearables knit from non-wool fibers such as bamboo, hemp, linen, cotton and silk. I admit to being a bit surprised at the variety and beauty of the designs. In this photo, Amy is wearing Tuscany, a lace shawl made from Handmaiden Silken. This will quite likely be the first thing I try my hand at, especially since I happen to have several skeins of SeaSilk in the house!

Nancy's sheep beadsShe shoots sheep
Although this book signing featured "No Sheep For You," ironically a few of the little lambs did show up - in the form of the cutest little handmade glass beads! Nancy Hunt puts torch to glass to produce these one-of-a-kind beads. They were so delightful that I had to get a shot of their little black and cream selves. Nancy has given me permission to show them here, as well as to let you know that she can be reached at TorchWench AT gmail DOT com if you'd like to herd a few for yourself.

Mia bodyA Taste of Mia
Why don't I wrap up this post with news of the latest incarnation of the Mia shrug. Yes, as you see here, I've completed the body of the shrug. Now it's time to turn my attention to the finishing details which, as of this writing, are still up in the air. Beads or no beads? Crochet or knit? Scallops, points or nothing at all? So many choices and so little time as I am hoping to have this complete by Easter so my mom can take a picture of me wearing the ensemble.

As I recall, a few of you decided pictures were in order. Let's see what I can do.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Shine On, Cider Moon

Two friends drawn together by their love of fiber and color, Gail Alsdorf and Jacki Vance-Kuss founded Ohio-based Cider Moon in 2005, quickly expanding from their fabric lines into hand-dyed roving and yarns — even chainmail jewelry.

Cider Moon yarnsTheir yarns have names like Adagio, Champagne, Icicle, Haiku and Whisper, with each representing a particular weight, style and blend. For instance, Adagio is a bulky mohair boucle that knits up on size 13 US needles. In contrast, Haiku is a soft, lovely silk merino destined for use by size 1 US needles. And what do I have above? These are 4 skeins of Glacier, 100% Extrafine DK weight merino, cheek-soft and oh, so squishy:
A. Habanero
B. Prickly Pear
C. June Carter
D. Sweet Potato Pie
Heads up, all you Loopy Groupies: a selection of Cider Moon yarns will also be available through The Loopy Ewe. Way to go, Ohio!

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

They're Here!

As soon as I saw the February 15, 2007 Knitters Review article on Skacel's Addi Turbo Lace needles, I pounced on the one store mentioned in the review expected to have them! Trouble is, so did dozens of other knitters eager to get their hands on the goods. I say "trouble" because I believe that while Yarn Lady understood the pent-up demand, Skacel might still have been a bit tentative.

I called the shop shortly after it opened and was told that at least 40 other people had already left messages. I was also told that the store would initially receive only 20 pairs of needles in each of the available sizes (2.5 - 4.0 mm / 1 - 6 US). This meant I would have to wait for the circulars I ordered. Not a bad thing when it turns out the wait was worth it.

addi lace needles sampleThere were a few things I noted as I knit this lace swatch. For one, the cable is a bit thinner and more pliable than the normal Addi circular. The cable joins are seamless and did not snag the fingering weight yarn. There is a bit of grab to the brass unlike their slick nickel siblings, making the lightweight stitches easier to manage and less prone to slipping off the needles.

Addi tip compareNow, the taper and the points? That's the deal-breaker, isn't it. I compared two size 4 US Addi circulars and the 3 millimeter difference in the taper length will definitely be more to the liking of lace knitters – a bit more wind-up before the pitch. And the tips? You'd be hard pressed to call these "stumpos" as the tip is rounded just enough to avoid puncture wounds, but just right for those "k3tog through the back loop" gymnastics.

I really like these needles, even though one of the two I ordered had a small defect on the tip. Since they're Addis, the shop will replace them without question. Although there may still be a few kinks in the early production run, I believe Addi Turbo Lace circulars should be on every sock and lace knitters wish list. I can't wait until they're more widely available.

(Edited to add) I bought sizes 4 and 6US in the 32" length. I'll probably custom order 20" lengths in smaller sizes at some point for sock duty.

(Edited again) Just found the needles available online at Angelika's.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

The Thrill of Discovery

Today began as any other: feed the boys, put on a pot of coffee, fix some maple and brown sugar oatmeal, pour some juice to gulp down the morning meds. I had no expectation that I would find something delightfully soft, colorful and home grown.

Despite instructions to the contrary, I took a walk along the patchy snow-littered streets. Alone and unaided by steadying hands, I made my way to a brand new yarn store whose existence I'd just learned of this morning. It turns out that I am acquainted with the woman who owns this sweet shop mere minutes away from my home. Nice corner space, tastefully decorated with a selection of the usual high-end suspects: Noro, Debbie Bliss, Claudia Handpaint, Blue Heron.

What pleased me the most was the unexpected handpainted yarn from a Chicago-area company called Dream In Color. I left the store with 3 skeins of their yarn: 2 100% Australian merino worsted weight skeins of Lipstick Lava (# 270) and 1 very generous skein of merino sock yarn in the Wisterious (#240) colorway.

I couldn't wait to get my needles into it. As soon as I got home, I got my swatch on with the worsted (yes, I know my cable is crossed the wrong way, but I don't care):

Dream in Color Yarn - lipstick lavaSubtle color blending of the reds, orange, deep pink and the occasional dot of purple. Nice twist with no splitting of the yarn. Good stitch definition. Big bonus? I found none of the splotching, pooling or striping that can sometimes be problematic with handpainted yarn. This is bad because I need more yarn like...well, you know.

My recommendation? Get your hands on some at your LYS. You won't regret it.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Let's Review

Nicky Epstein Green SweaterYes, the Chicago Bears closed out this terrific season without bringing home the prize. Like our baseball teams say, "Wait 'til next year!"

Moving on. I thought I'd do something a bit different today and review some of the high (and low) points of Nicky Epstein's third book in the series, "Knitting Beyond the Edge". The quick and dirty take on this book? I really liked it from the inspirational design perspective. There are some things that are, at best, impractical and, at worst, shall we say not the best use of good yarn. I know. Eye of the knitting beholder.

Epstein Pink braided cablesAt first, I thought Ms. Epstein would really have to stretch to find material for another book on edgings and embellishments. What I found was not rehashed work from the first two books, but some really original implementations of that work in the cuffs & collars, necklines and edges from this latest tome. The majority of the book's 155 pages is devoted to beautifully photographed cuffs & collars, with corners and necklines occupying second and third place, respectively. Those looking for extensive examination of "closures" (the last title chapter) will be sorely disappointed as this consists primarily of button-band treatments.

Epstein lilac cuff and purple bowsSince one of my goals is to awaken the creative design beast within, I was happy to see quite a few things to enjoy and adapt as takeaways. I've photographed a couple of my faves from the book for this review.

If you're at all uncertain, borrow the book or check it out at a local bookstore before you make the buy decision. That way you'll know if your money will be well spent.

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