Friday, December 28, 2007

blogging thoughts and baby knits

Part I: Thoughts on Blogging

I've gotten into a bad blogging cycle. In the beginning, I'd blog about any little thing, from turning a heel to starting a lace pattern. Somehow I've transitioned to where I feel like my posts should be more collected, significant, and well-presented.

The problem is that I rarely manage to be significant and well-presented, so I end up rarely posting. When I do post, it's usually a pithy little thing that I toss out there when I feel like it's been way too long since my last post. I have a whole backlog of FO's and dyeing experiments and book reviews that I'd love to blog about but couldn't find the energy to write up well.

Enough of that, I say! Time to get back to the beginner's mind.

Part II: Baby Gifts

This is a bonnet and booties that I knit for my godmother's daughter, who had a baby girl in the fall. I am so happy with how the set turned out! The bonnet is the Lacy Bonnet from Knitting for Two, trimmed with heart-patterned cloth ribbon. The booties are Saartje's Booties, trimmed with heart buttons. Yarn is Ornaghi 'Merino Kind Superfine,' which is a soft and springy fingering-weight merino.

I tried two other bootie patterns before I met success with Saartje's pattern. It's quick and sweet, and the garter stitch makes the booties stretchy. My only difficulty was with the button loops on the strap-ends. I ended up making an eyelet at the tip (with a yo, k2tog in the middle row), which I then crocheted around. It made for a decorative loop that sets off the buttons.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Congratulations, Isis

Thought you'd all LOVE to know that Isis won fourth place in The Panopticon's Dolores look-alike contest. Here's the winning entry, in all her wool-wigged, sunglassed glory:

The post with all the winners is here. It's fun to see how everyone has reinvented Dolores!

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Here's a peek at a few strange, crafty touches to Christmas at my house:

1. Centerpiece of yarn in a glass bowl

2. Owl tree topper:

(You can see the construction better from the back: I cut out plastic canvas to shape the wings and inner tube, stitched felt around the shapes, stitched a soft head and secured it to the top of the tube, stuffed the body with a bit of wool, and glued on a mess of feathers)

3. Wool doily.

I made this by casting on 12 stitches, knitting one row to join in a circle, and then increasing in 12 sections (first inc row was {yo,k1}, second was {yo,k2} and so forth, with a plain knit row in between each increase row). It doesn't lay flat and has no apparent purpose. But - hey! - it used up an odd partial ball of Ultra Alpaca from my stash.

4. Winter Accessories for the Buddha

We don't want the Buddha to get cold! His hat and scarf were inspired by the statues we saw at a temple in Nara, a number of which had been covered in hand-knits.

LOVE the capelet!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Japanese yarn stores

It's so nice to be home, spending my Saturday morning sleeping in (yay jet lag), drinking Earl Grey tea, and sifting through travel photos.

Fall colors, Kyoto. Very surreal that I spent the last ten days in that landscape and people-scape!

The back story is that Mountain Man had a conference, and I tagged along. The back, back story is that this felt momentous for me because I'd been seriously into Japanese everything (language, food, aesthetics, religion) in college. That side of me gradually faded away as I got drawn into other interests, and it's been ten years since I've been to Japan or spoken Japanese.

Needless to say, my language skills were pitiful, despite active pre-trip remedial study (I read the phrasebook very carefully). But those years of mind-strainingly difficult study haven't all gone to waste: even pitiful Japanese can come in handy for finding yarn! And that's what this post is really about: two fantastic yarn shops.

The first was Avril, in central Kyoto. According to the internets, Avril's yarn is what's sold as Habu in the states. Avril's shop was visually stunning:

and their yarn was just as exceptional. Although luscious colors abounded, I was most taken with the undyed silk yarn that they produced in an incredible array of textures: papery, cottony, slippery, raffia-like, stiff, silky. No closeups, I'm afraid. They're on the left half of the store's cute balcony:

I brought home two 100g skeins of a soft, cottony silk yarn that had been dyed with rosemary. The color is halfway between green tea and tatami mat (lighter and greener than in this photo). So prettily wrapped!

The second amazing shop I found was Masuhisa, in the southernmost shopping arcade in central Nara. They specialize in organic cotton goods, which (if I understood right) they grow on their company's own farms.

They have a gorgous range of colorgrown cottons and plant-dyed silks, but I was most drawn to their soft, pure white, organic cotton. I brought home several 100g skeins of it -- I would've bought more if I could've fit it in my suitcase!

We have some great organic cottons available in the states, but none of them begin to approach the heavenlyness of this yarn. It's much lighter and finer than what we can get here, and it manages to be unbelievably soft without being too loosely spun.

I managed to offset these stash enhancements with some stash-knitting on this trip. But it was all gift knitting ('tis the season for it), so those photos will just have to wait.

Friday, November 16, 2007


When I first saw the Woodins pattern on Knitty, I knew I had to knit it (I find little wood spirits totally captivating). But naturally, I improvised with the pattern and ended up with something slightly different.

I followed the pattern for the woodins themselves pretty closely, just changing yarns (Lamb's Pride Worsted) and needle size (3's - accidentally) and omitting the leaf tail. It was with the log that I went in a different direction.

The pattern calls for you to knit a long cylinder which you felt, fold in half, and stuff. I didn't have enough bark-like wool for the double layers, and anyways, I thought I could simplify by knitting just one stiff layer of thick, scratchy wool (Bartlett's, I think). I knit a shorter cylinder, improvising for the bark pattern, hole, and twig. The log that resulted was aesthetically pleasing but functionally a failure: it wasn't stiff enough to maintain the cylindrical shape. Ah-ha, that's why she has you knit two layers and put stuffing between them!

Amey recommended that I line it with plastic canvas to give it shape, and this is how I ended up salvaging the log. I cut a piece of plastic canvas to fit, covered it with brown fabric, and stitched it in. It took me f-o-r-e-v-e-r because my sewing skills are so rudimentary (so much for saving myself time by only knitting one layer). But I think it came out well in the end.

I'm sending it to a Finnish friend who was my roommate at my Welsh boarding school. We've only been in sporadic touch over the last ten years. But she just had a baby, and I wanted to make something special for her. The woodins pattern seemed like an appropriate gift to celebrate our two years in what was truly a magical, ancient-feeling, wooded place.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

sweater bear

Way back in September, you may remember my saying that I knit up a baby sweater for a cousin of mine. It took me ages to seam up the sleeves, but I think it all came out swell!

It's an improvised pattern, using a bottom-up raglan template and cables inspired by the Bookworm Sweater. The yarn is a soft, heathered worsted wool, and it's knit on size 7 bambo needles.

The only hitch is that it's quite small. I was shooting for a 6 month size but ended up with more of a 3 month size, according to the standard sizing list (that I only discovered AFTER I knit it). And since the baby has already been born, this may only fit for a very, very short time.

That's where the teddy bear comes in. At the suggestion of one of the women in my knitting group (very clever!!) I bought a teddy bear that fits the sweater. So even if the baby has outgrown the sweater, it'll still get some use! And it makes for a darling gift.

This final photo was a smile-inducing outtake from my teddy bear photo shoot. I wanted a snapshot of my kitty cat, who was wandering through the grass, inspecting my activities. But she moves much quicker than my shutter speed. All I got was the crook of her tail, with the teddy bear in the grass behind her.

Friday, November 09, 2007

funny faces

We interrupt this knitting programming to bring you some funny faces, for which our fans have been clamoring.

I've heard cries of "less knitting, more Isis!" and I aim to please. Here she is, trying on her sunglasses for the Dolores look-alike contest (okay, so there's a knitting connection here somewhere):

And I also want to show off my flame-eyes Jack-o-Lantern. I've been promising my family this photo for a week now -- but I kind of like dragging out the Halloween spirit as long as possible.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Monday, November 05, 2007


I feel like I've accumulated a number of things to blog about ... but for today I'll just introduce this little lady, swinging in the grapefruit trees:

Pattern: Little Sitster from The Natural Knitter (see Hob I and Hob II)
Yarn: For the hair, I used some snippets of La Lana Tussah Phat Silk, in medium indigo. For the body, I used Henry's Attic Gaia organic wool that I'd dyed with goldenrod flowers.

This vibrant yellow Hob is like a shot of energy. I have her sitting on the windowsill above my desk, and I smile whenever I catch a glimpse of her. Another thing that's been making me happy lately is persimmons:

Our local market has had a special on these jewel-like fruits, and I've been luxuriating in the pleasure of bringing them home a dozen at a time. I can't wait to plant a persimmon tree in our front yard next spring!

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I've been thinking about the properties of alpaca. It's all inspired by a small hank of worsted alpaca that I bought at Taos for a hat. It's beautiful yarn, almost like a rope at first but melting into a lush, heavy fabric when knitted up.
One of the reasons I love alpaca is that it's no one-trick pony. Spun into laceweight yarn, this hollow fiber can create an etherally light and lofty fabric. Spun into a worsted yarn, it becomes nearly the opposite - dense, drapey - because it doesn't have wool's crimp and spring to hold it up.

The more I think about it, the more I'm reminded of snow: a fresh, dry snow can be so beautifully lofty, but as the snow piles up, it gets compressed into dense drifts. And in keeping with my theme of exploring textures in nature, I've tried to capture this feeling in the hat. I've played around with all kinds of stitch patterns from embossed snowflakes to eyelets to cables of every variety, finally settling on a dense, all-over cable pattern that evokes snowdrifts:
Note: the flare at the bottom just comes from the angle, not the hat shaping! This next one shows the shape better (really, it's just a loose-fitting cap with a bit of ribbing at the bottom), but doesn't quite give you the sense of how luscious and soft the fabric is:
Anyways, I'm afraid I have to reconcile myself to that fact that I don't have enough yarn to finish (those cables really gobble up yarn) and have no way to obtain more. *sigh* So I'm left trying to decide whether to frog it and knit a non-cabled hat on bigger needles, which would probably stretch the yardage enough for me, or whether to add ribbing at the top and wear it as an earwarmer.

In either case, it's clear that I've lost touch with reality, since (hello!) I moved to Arizona and don't need dense, cabled, alpaca headwarmers anymore. It's just that sometimes the yarn talks to you, and you have to listen...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

yarn games

The bonnets are on the backburner. I've had trouble finding the ideal bootie pattern, so now that's on hold as well. Mostly I've been playing around with textures, with the concept of finding nature-inspired patterns that reflect the colors or feel of the fiber.

For example, I've been working with Print O'the Wave in tussah silk singles. I feel like it really captures the glimmer of waves on sand:

And I've been working a Feather and Fan pattern in some of the indigo-dyed wool/tussah blend from La Lana. The scalloped edge reminds me of a stream winding its way through the landscape. I really love this yarn, though their smooth bombyx silk might have been better texturally.

In other yarn-game news, I've devoted far too much energy to finding contests for WiKnit, my new knitting contest blog. I'm pretty excited about what I've found - yarn giveaways on blogs, knitting design contests, knitting photo contests. Please check it out, and please let me know of any contests you run across!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Taos Magic

There are times when life hands you gifts, gifts so beautiful that you wonder what you've done to deserve them and you vow to be a better person for the rest of your life. This is what I felt like last weekend. We were thinking about driving to see a friend's fantastic film - Dalai Lama Renaissance - in the Taos Mountain Film Festival. All resentment about the 9 hour drive evaporated when our friend said these magic words: "By the way, there's a wool festival in the park right next to the film festival."

So we were off to spend the weekend looking at films wool! Here are few images:

good husband carrying off some of my purchases

local emergency service men clustered around a spinner

awe-inspiring plant-dyed yarns from Earth-Arts

The plant-dyed yarns were the surprise treasure of the festival. Although I went absolutely ga ga over all the handspun alpaca that was there, I went all out for the naturally dyed wools. I came home with these beauties:

The weekend wore out my driving stamina and my shopping stamina -- expect a yarn moratorium for a while now. But I'm totally invigorated for learning about the west (Taos is gorgeous!) and for checking out all the fiber arts that are going on here.

Friday, October 05, 2007

baby bonnet marathon

It's been all baby bonnets, all the time here. The pattern: Lacy Bonnet, from Knitting for Two

It started with the one on the far right, knit with super soft worsted wool from the last batch of cochineal dyeing. The knitting went by so quickly that I started the more delicate cream-colored one in the middle. Captivated by clever construction, overwhelming cuteness, and quick knitting, I started the third one, in hot pink ribbon.

Doing three at essentially the same time is a great way to learn about the virtues of different yarns. Each results in a very different garment, and each has its charms. The worsted wool (similar to Cascade 220) makes for a substantial and richly-textured fabric. The fingering-weight wool (Ornaghi 'Merino Kind Superfine') makes for a much lacier, girlier, more delicate fabric. It feels truer to the pattern, but I also miss the substance that comes with the worsted yarn. As for the the ribbon yarn (Moda Dea Ticker Tape), it makes a very stiff fabric on size 5 needles. The feel is neither baby-delicate nor winter-cozy, but it's a nice way to make a denser cap (with wild colors!) for babies in warmer climates who really don't want wool on their head.

I have a lot of finishing left to do. And I'm trying to find a good baby bootie pattern to match (I tried the book's "Delicate Booties" and was sorely disappointed. I think the seed stitch looks clunky, and I resented having a horrible tangle of seven ends to sew in - good picture here). So - yay! - there will be even more baby bonnet pictures to come in the next week.

Monday, October 01, 2007


I've started another blog whose sole purpose is to catalogue knitting blog contests: it's called WiKnit (say it out loud - "win it!")

It's kicked off with a terrific contest from The Jilly Knits. So check it out -- and spread the word -- if you like to enter blog contests or have a contest of your own that you want to publicize.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Knitting across America

This country is beautiful, folks. I still believe that Vermont is the best place on earth, but I truly was enchanted by all the places we drove through. Our route ran through the Adirondacks in upstate New York, into Ontario, across the northern shores of Lake Huron, through Michigan's Upper Peninsula, across the top of Wisconsin and the middle of Minnesota, straight through the North Dakota, cutting across the southeast corner of Montana, down the spine of the Rockies through Wyoming and Utah, and then down into the deserts of Arizona. And here's what I knit (remember, my theme was to finish or re-knit long-languishing projects):

Project 1: Organic Cotton Baby Blanket
The blanket was knitted up when we left, but I'd been procrastinating on all the ends I had to sew in. Here it is, in Hanover, NH just as we started our drive. My Dartmouth readers will appreciate that Baker Tower (in the background) was chiming the alma mater as I took the photo

On the first leg of our journey, I made a matching baby cap. Here it's nestled on moss by the shores of Lake Eaton, in the Adirondacks. This was probably one of the most beautiful campsites of our whole trip. Crisp fall weather, forest trails, a secluded cove for dipping in the cool, fresh water.

I didn't get to the blanket's loose ends until a few days later, on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We had a rainy morning, and I stayed in the tent weaving in the ends. Here's the finished blanket by the shores of Lake Superior.

Project 2: Jaywalker Socks
These socks started out in July as experimental double-knit socks. I'd spent countless hours on it before I realized it was boring and ill-fitting. Here's that damn sock before I frogged it, on the road to the Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario (it was raining out, so no pretty pictures of scenery).

I frogged it and reknit it as a Jaywalker. Here's the first sock, in front of the red rocks of Moab. You might observe that it's a long way from Ontario to Utah. Yes, it took me very, very, unpleasantly long to finish this sock. Also, my macabre side keeps seeing the red splotches as blood splatters. So the second one may never be done.

Project 3: Peppermint Stick Cap
This cap is meant to match a scarf that I made for my sister back in February. It was knit as a small clapotis out of wool yarn (Henry's Attic Licorice Twist) that I'd dyed with cochineal. The hat started of as Interweave's top-down tweed beret, but it looked hideously busy in this marled yarn. And when I'd tried to wing it on my own, it ended up as a gigantic, round mat (diameter=1 foot -- it had been all squished onto a 12" circular, and I hadn't quite realized how huge it was). I hadn't touched it since March, and here's what was like at when I pulled it out of my knitting bag in Wisconsin.

There was no salvaging this monstrosity, so I frogged it and started it again as a simple cap. It was halfway done by the North Dakota badlands. Here's my morning knitting spot behind our campsite in Roosevelt Park. I have to say, both Isis and I were in heaven here. I was happy for the lovely, cold weather, because it meant I could don my Cambridge watchcap. Isis was happy because of all the wild animals that she could see and smell. In fact, when we drove by a bison rubbing up against a tree, she whined to get out of the car to play with it! (Fiber note: I did go back to that spot to see if it left any fur behind; it did not, but I found some later in Yellowstone.)

Anyways, I finished the hat when we were near the North Dakota-Montana border. I have to say that I loved North Dakota. I found the landscape -- the subtle roll of the land, the golden fields, the sculptural hay bales -- totally entrancing. It was so much more beautiful than I ever would have expected.

Project 4: Cabled Baby Sweater
Several years ago, I bought this lovely soft merino yarn. Twice, or maybe thrice, I started a mistake rib scarf. But it wasn't worth all the work that it takes to make a long scarf, and it had been sitting, abandoned, for at least four or five years, untouched. Here is the yarn and partially-knit scarf as they looked in Red Lodge, Montana, when I pulled them out for frogging:

I decided to use the yarn for a baby sweater, loosely based on two that I'd made last year: the child's placket sweater and the bookworm sweater. The cable from the latter is fun and impressive-looking, but I wanted to adapt it to knit in the round, with an open neck. I'd finished the lower body by the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.

The sleeves and neck were finished by the time we got to Phoenix. Here it is, resting in some cacti in our back yard:

I plan to sew up the seams this weekend, and then I'll take it out to one of the mountain preserves to photograph it with a saguaro.

And that's it! With all the scenery to distract me, I guess I didn't manage to knit as much as I'd hoped I would.

But I'm back in business in Phoenix now, and I'll be getting all caught up with everything soon enough!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Loose ends

The winner of the blog contest is....
Sarah Dow! She had excellent ideas for both knitting and car games. I emailed and got them explained, and I hope she doesn't mind if I share them here:
"In the Minister's Cat you have to describe the cat using all the letters of the alphabet (i.e. The minister's cat is an angry cat). You set up a rhythm and if you fall out of rhythm or reuse an adjective then you're out. Horses, Cows, and Cemeteries is best for sideroads. You call out any horses or cows that you see to collect points (1 point for cows, 2 for horses) and if you call a cemetery it wipes out the other player's points. First person to 50 points wins."

And as for my travel knitting: I decided to come up with a theme of finishing up loose ends in my knitting basket. I have a whole bunch of projects - hats, scarves, socks, etc, and I'd like to have them all finished up by the time I get to Arizona. This is what inspired me:

It was one of those hats that I'd started, blindly following a pattern, no swatching, no common sense. Pretty fetching, wouldn't you say?

But perhaps a bit inconvenient if you want to walk and wear a hat at the same time. I unraveled it and started again. In no time at all, it looked like this:

Yarn is Debbie Bliss worsted Alpaca/Silk, needles are 5's for the ribbing and 6's for the hat.