Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Breaking news: VéVé's got her own line of yarn!

I just got back from accompanying the first-grade on their field trip to the Liberty Bell and Betsy Ross's house, and am exhausted. However, I'm not too exhausted to be able to tell you this exciting news: VéVé is making yarn!

I've knit with it, and I can tell you: it's GORGEOUS yarn. Springy wool with awesome stitch definition and a beautiful palette:

cute little baby sample skeins

It comes in cute little buns like this:

this color is called Loden

Best of all, it will mean lots of new designs from VéVé! (and the project I was working on recently was for VéVé's line, which is thrilling but also scary, because designing a sweater for VéVé is like painting in oils for Van Gogh, you know?)

I don't want to steal her thunder, so I will finish. For now. Before I sign off, I will tell you that if you are a yarn shop owner, you need to order this yarn. And to lovely VéVé, I send this message:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Reader comments

I just realized I hardly ever do this: respond to reader comments. But here goes:

To the lovely crazymonkeycreates, I actually do have an electric skeinwinder. However, I've found that for optimal (tangle-free) operation, as well as quality control purposes, it functions best when I let the yarn feed from the swift through my fingers onto the arms of the winder. Which requires me to hold up my left arm at a weird angle. I'm currently looking around for a second model; the one I have is several years old and I'm hoping that there will be some newer options that have come to the market since I purchased it. (At the time, it was the only affordable one out there.)

To darling Ted and adorable subliminalrabbit, I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, a massage would make a perfect Mother's Day gift, wouldn't it, Tom?

To my sweet hyphenated Carol, one of the many fun things about taking a class at Loop is that there are some gorgeous, gorgeous quilts hung on the wall. In fact, I took some photos before class started of some of them:

Seeing all these wonderful fabrics and quilts has made me very, very tempted to try a small quilting project of my own (a small wall hanging, maybe?). It's all Liza's fault. And Spool's, too.

In the meantime, now that my big deadlines are over, I'm going to challenge myself: can I knit myself a short-sleeved sweater and have it finished to wear at TNNA in June? We shall see...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Carpal winding syndrome?

I just finished reskeining the last of 219 skeins of blue-faced leicester superwash sock yarn for The Loopy Ewe. That's the biggest order I've done so far, and I have some kind of repetitive stress injury to my neck/shoulder -- from operating the skeinwinder -- to prove it. I conveniently had a conversation with Needlegrrl a few weeks ago about the need to put ice (not heat) on inflamed muscles and I have to say, Needlegrrl was completely right. Icing it and taking Advil (thanks to Mindy, who reminded me of its anti-inflammatory properties) have been helping, but I'm glad this order is done so it'll have time to rest. I usually don't work on such a large scale, so it's never been a problem before.

Here are some of the skeins I'll be shipping off:

The top one is Sweetheart Roses (I think it's a bit pinker in real life) and the bottom is Camouflage. There are 15 colorways in all.

In the meantime, I had the pleasure of taking a class with Stefanie Japel, delightful author of Glam Knits: 25 Designs For Luxe Yarns and Fitted Knits: 25 Projects for the Fashionable Knitter (both of which are great books, by the way). Stefanie was friendly, very knowledgeable and super-fun to take a class with, so if you get a chance, I'd recommend her workshops. Plus, look how adorable she is:

That's about all for now, although I've got some exciting news about a pal of mine in the knitting world, so look here for a scoop in coming days. . .

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Today's Ravelry moment

Explore the bewitching world of handknit fem pro. (Please: can we keep the comments free of anything earnest? I'm in a mood.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Blog tour: Ethnic Knitting Exploration, by Donna Druchunas

Today we're a stop on Donna Druchunas's blog tour, celebrating the release of her new book, Ethnic Knitting Exploration: Lithuania, Iceland, and Ireland. In honor of the blog tour, I'm going to do a quick review of the book.

Donna's book is the second in her "Ethnic Knitting" series, a slightly different kind of knitting book designed to arm the knitter with technical information rather than entice her with color photographs. As she explains in the introduction:

While differing in details, ethnic knits share a few common traits. Most are knitted in the round using double-pointed and circular needles. They are knitted without line-by-line instructions or written patterns. Each item is a unique combination of pattern stitches and colors, made using traditional knitting techniques. The stitch patterns are passed on to new knitters by families and friends.

Acoordingly, Ethnic Knitting Exploration focuses on giving the knitter the tools to design her own sweater, loosely based on motifs and techniques used in the focus countries (here, Lithuania, Iceland and Ireland):

Chapter 1 explains three basic sweater shapes, raglan, yoke and saddle-shoulder sweaters, showing how these three shapes differ from the drop-shoulder sweater, and showing general proportions for each shape. Gauge, sizing and ease are also covered briefly.

Chapter 2 covers basic skills that the newer knitter may not know: tips for knitting in the round, how to knit with the "magic loop" method and two circulars, estimating yarn quantities and explaining yarn weights, increases, decreases, various ways to sew seams, short-row techniques, and how to center patterns.

Chapter 3 is inspired by Lithuanian knitting traditions, and begins with an overview of folk traditions in Lithuania. Two techniques are introduced: making striped ribbing, and how to work with multiple colors by stranding yarn. Several traditional borders and motifs are charted, and then you'll find blueprints for three projects: fingerless gloves, and two raglans. (I call them "blueprints" because they aren't set patterns, but rather walk you through creating your own pattern with your own yarn and sizing information, picking the specific charts and motifs yourself.)

Chapters 4 and 5 follow a similar format: Chapter 4 is devoted to Icelandic knitting, and begins with a brief overview of Icelandic knitting traditions; skills covered are how to knit with unspun Icelandic yarn and how to fit patterns on a yoke; several borders and motifs are charted; then blueprints are provided for a capelet, a yoke pullover, and a yoke cardigan. Chapter 5 begins with an overview of Irish knitting traditions, then instructs the reader on cables, bobbles, charting cables and some tips on Aran sweater design; several cable patterns are provided, and then blueprints for a poncho and two aran-style saddle shoulder sweaters.

The last chapter is devoted to issues raised by cardigans: specifically, how to knit them given that they require an opening down the front, making adaptations of some kind necessary if you knit in the round. You'll find a section discussing steeking, how to knit a cardigan back-and-forth in one piece, and tips for working cardigans in pieces and seaming them. Tips on buttonholes and neckbands are provided, too.

There's a lot of information packed into this book, and if you are a relatively inexperienced knitter searching for a nonthreatening way to stretch your wings and learn a bit more about design and ethnic traditions, this book will help walk you through some of the things you need to know. It is not a "pattern" book per se: there are no set patterns to follow line-by-line, and you will have to have some imagination as you won't find photographs of the finished project, since each person's choices will dictate what the finished item looks like. But for someone ready to test the waters of designing their own garments (specifically raglan, yoke and saddle shoulder sweaters), and playing with some ethnic-inspired motifs, or for those who would like to create an heirloom-style sweater that is uniquely theirs, Ethnic Knitting Exploration may be for you!

I'm sure Donna will be checking the comments section today, so if you have any questions for her, leave a comment and I bet she will respond. Tomorrow's stop on the Ethnic Knitting tour: The Fitter Knitter (you may remember Cindy from being a stop on the KSF blog tour -- hi, Cindy!).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cross-cultural bonding

It's funny how even a casual relationship with someone can touch your heart. Last fall, a new family moved into the neighborhood. Their daughter, Antarra, was in one of the twins' first-grade classes. Antarra's grandmother came from India to stay with Antarra's family to help care for Antarra while her parents were at work. Each morning she would bring Antarra to the bus stop and each afternoon would be there to pick her up.

Over the course of the year, Antarra's grandmother became one of us. She didn't speak tons of English, but she could understand more than she could speak. We admired her spunk: just imagine being a 74-year-old woman who picked up and moved halfway across the world for six months, without speaking the language, or knowing anyone except your son's family, in a culture that was very different from your own. She got a kick out of us and our kids. I looked up some Hindi on teh Google and learned how to say "good morning" and "namaste."

Tonight, Antarra's grandmother flies back to New Delhi. We all were very sad at the bus stop, and Antarra's grandmother shed more than a few tears as she watched her granddaughter get on the bus. In the tradition of overzealous knitters everywhere, I knit her a little going away gift:

Cover pattern from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, by Joelle Hoverson, knit in Hand Maiden Silk Maiden.

She seemed to like it and she definitely understood that I had knit it, as she made knitting motions with her hands and said "Very good." (I had consulted with some Indian-American knitters on Ravelry as to what she might like, and they voted for bags and deep colors.)

Safe journey, Antarra's grandmother; we will miss you.

Another word of Hindi that I learned: "dost" = friend.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

No-Bull Book Review: Socks From the Toe Up, by Wendy Johnson

If you've wandered around the knitting blogosphere for any length of time, you've probably run into WendyKnits, the blog of unbelievably prolific knitter (does she EVER sleep?) and cat-lover Wendy Johnson. There's no doubt that Wendy is a kick-ass knitter; look at her finished projects, and you'll see stranded & aran-style masterpieces designed by the likes of Alice Starmore and Dale of Norway, scads of lace, and socks. Lots and lots of socks, many of them Wendy's own designs. Wendy generously offers some of her sock patterns for free, and sells others as individual patterns at fine establishments like The Loopy Ewe.

So it shouldn't be that surprising that Wendy's written a sock book: Socks from the Toe Up: Essential Techniques and Patterns from Wendy Knits, (Pottercraft 2009; MSRP $22.95, $15.61 via the link above)), hot off the presses (Amazon says it's in stock as of this morning). I was extremely pleased to receive a review copy and can tell all of you sock-lovers out there: you're going to want to get a copy ASAP.

I usually knit socks from the cuff-down, mostly out of laziness (I don't need a pattern to do it that way, so it's my default setting). I've knit toe-up socks on occasion, though, and do like the way that they allow you to make the most out of your yardage. Divide the ball in two, one for each sock and knit 'til you run out of yarn.* If you're not sure how far your sock yarn skein will go, this is a very easy way to ensure you don't make the first one too long, thus having only enough yarn to end up with a too-short second sock.

Wendy is a major proponent of toe-up socks, and her book contains over 20 patterns for them, ranging from the basic to the beautifully ornate. So without further ado, let's take a closer look.

The book begins with a one-page introduction, in which Wendy explains how she got addicted to socks, and why she focuses on toe-up socks (a hatred of grafting toes being the chief reason). Next is an excellent technical section (we love those technical sections!) beginning with nuts and bolts for novice sockknitters:
  • a section on tools (e.g. different types of needles, sock blockers);
  • a discussion of kinds of sock yarn;
  • directions on how to measure the foot;
  • the important of gauge as it relates to fit.

She then covers specific knitting skills that even proficient sockknitters might not know but which are necessary (or at least helpful) to know to knit toe-up socks:
  • how to create the toe (including short-rows, figure-eight, a Turkish cast-on, and others);
  • how to knit socks on various types of needles (dpn, two circular, one long circular);
  • different ways to craft the heel (short row, gusset, heel stitch),
  • a selection of bind-offs (the bind-off is critical because it must stretch enough to allow the wearer to put the sock on yet remain snug enough to hold the sock up).

Overall, it's a great compilation of skills that will help the reader craft good-looking and well-fitting socks.

Next we turn to the pattern section. Wendy starts with three basic sock patterns (meaning that these are knit in stockinette rather than any pattern stitch). Sock 1 uses short-row toe and heel; Sock 2 uses a gusset heel (and lets the knitter pick the cast-on); and Sock 3 uses a slip-stich heel (again, letting the knitter pick the cast-on). Each sock is illustrated with several pictures, including close-ups so the knitter knows what the finished sock ought to look like. (My 44-year-old eyes would have liked a darker background for more contrast with the white sock yarn, but we all know I'm as old as dirt and your younger eyes may do just fine.) If you like self-patterning yarns, or if you're new to sockknitting, these plain vanilla socks will be great go-to patterns.

The remaining patterns are divided into four categories: Lace Socks (the largest section, with 12 patterns), Textured Gansey Socks (3), Cabled Socks (2) and Sportweight Socks (3).

You can see that Wendy loves lacy socks. Of the dozen patterns in this section, a few are fairly easy, for the beginner, and then the remainder get progressively more complex, like the On Hold Socks:

and the Riding On The Metro Socks:

From the gansey section, we have the Traditional Gansey Socks:

and from the cable section, these are the delightfully unisex Bavarian Cable socks:

Last, there are three patterns done in sportweight yarn; these will knit up a bit faster, the possible trade-off being that they are also slightly thicker and may not fit into every pair of shoes you own. These are the Serpentine Socks:

The book finishes up with a brief section on Abbreviations and Definitions, contact info for some of the bigger sock yarn manufacturers, and links to on-line help.

Overall, this is a beautiful collection of patterns, with variety, complexity and style. Many of the patterns are unisex, too, which is nice for expanding your pool of potential recipients. I like that there are multiple photos of each sock, including some close-ups; that some patterns are shown in solids while others are shown in nearly-solid handdyes; and I love the extensive technical section in the beginning.

As for the nuts and bolts, Socks from the Toe Up is a paperback, a little bit smaller than 8 1/2 by 11 in size, 128 pages, with color photographs all over the place. All the photographs are shot against white/gray backgrounds, so the colors of the sock yarn really pop. (It's a clever detail that the inset boxes for each pattern are color-coordinated to match the yarn that particular sock is knit in.) If I had to make one suggestion, I would propose using some lighter-colored sock yarns; there are one or two patterns (like the grape-colored pair) in which I found it hard to see the details of the stitch pattern clearly enough. The more complex patterns are charted if you're a chart fan. As far as gauge, the three sportweight patterns are knit at 6.5 sts per inch, while the remainder are mainly 8 sts per inch, with a few at 7.5 sts per inch. Except for one of the basic patterns in the beginning, which is knit on DPNs, the rest of the socks are written for two circular (or magic loop) method. This is easily altered if you prefer DPNs, though. Most patterns are written for at least two sizes, Medium and Large (Medium around 8 or so inches circumference, Large for around 9 inches or so).

So we give two thumbs up (or should I say two big toes up?) for Socks From The Toe Up. In my opinion, there's no such thing as too many good knitting books -- or too many sock books, and this book is sure to provide you with many hours of sockknitting pleasure.

*How do I divide it in half evenly, you ask? One way is to weigh the skein on a postal scale before dividing, then weigh the first ball you're winding off 'til it weighs half of what the whole ball weighed. Or if you have an umbrella swift, count the loops when it's stretched out, and wind off half of them. The book contains an inset discussing the issue in more detail.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A sewing FO

I am hoping to have a book review for you within the next day or so, but in the meantime, feast your eyes on a sewing FO:

Jay McCarroll's Love Birds fabric (from Glorious Color), done in a simple tiered skirt, with some ricrac trim. Little Miss loved it, and proudly wore it all day on Easter.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A question to ponder today

Last year, Elvis asked us if the Easter Bunny and Charcoal chat with each other when the Easter Bunny comes to fill the kids' baskets.

Easter Bunny: Dude, how'd you get this gig? I have to run my ass off filling baskets all over the world, and you just get to sit here and eat hay.

Charcoal: Sistah, please. You only work one night of the year; I have to sustain this level of cuteness 24/7, 365 days a year.

Happy Easter, Passover or whatever you celebrate, from our family to yours.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Shampoo should not smell like motor oil. Even if it is free.

We quickly settled into our hotel (I always let my dear husband make the travel plans; he picks places that I would have ruled out as way too expensive...) and between the indoor pool, the dinner-plate-sized shower head and the room service breakfast (just coffee and one bakery basket; don't want to have to dig into those college funds to pay for breakfast), the kids had the time of their lives.

I have been expounding to Tom my theory that this was a hotel designed by men for men. To wit:
  • the decor is entirely in taupe and brown -- not a splash of color anywhere;
  • everything is rectangular and angular -- no curves;
  • mirrors everywhere (only men are conceited enough to want to watch themselves take a dump)
  • coffee table book devoted to duck decoys
  • proliferation of Sharpie art
(this is a large wall installation that cannot be anything other than a fabric panel scribbled upon with Sharpies)
  • and yes, shampoo that smells like motor oil.
Not complaining, mind you -- it's a very, very luxurious place and we had a blast. (We have been debating whether the newfangled shower without a shower door is also male-centric, my theory being that women feel vulnerable in the shower and like an enclosed space, whereas Tom thinks that Janet Leigh's shower door didn't do her much good.)

I have not been to Washington, D.C. since the early 90s, when I was sent here for some kind of document review back in my lawyer days. It's really fun to see the city through fresh eyes, and through the eyes of my kids.

Day 1 (which was only a half-day after driving and checking in and having lunch) was a trip to one end of the Mall to enjoy the sunshine and see some of the monuments:

The above two shots are the relatively new (2004?) World War II monument. We were a little skeptical of it until we got to it and walked around. By the time we'd read the very moving quotations from that time, seen the battlefield names carved into stone, and looked at the friezes showing the struggles faced by ordinary Americans,

we decided we quite liked it. That is Rosie the Riveter above; yes, I did earnestly search the friezes to see if there were any women knitting socks or helmet liners, but alas, this did not seem to be included anywhere. (I mean, really, is the Charleston more culturally significant to the war effort than knitting? I think not.)

I found the Vietnam War Memorial especially moving. It's interesting to think about how controversial the memorial was considered initially, and how integral a part of the Mall it feels now. Seeing each name etched in the dark wall is incredibly solemn, and seeing other people around you experience it, like the man taking a rubbing here
made me nearly blubber out loud.

Our second day began at the Air & Space Museum

but it was very, very crowded and probably a little too old for the twins. They were more excited about the McDonald's in the museum (sigh):

We then walked the Mall some more, heading toward the Capitol:

and made an unexpected detour into the Botanical Garden that was off to the side near the Capitol. Miss Thang enjoyed posing (here, she is vogueing in the cactus room):

More swimming and a delicious dinner of Thai food helped us recharge.

Today was our last day. We headed over to the Smithsonian again, to the American History Museum. The twins lasted for a while, long enough to see some of the cultural treasures, like the adorable dollhouse:

Kermit the Frog:

and the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, and the Seinfeld puffy shirt, and of course the Steven Colbert portrait:

We circled back to see the White House

(although, sadly, there was no Obama sighting), and then, after our drive home, we were reunited with The Bun:

All in all, a memorable and enjoyable trip, although we are all glad to be home.

A wise man once said

"In America, there are two classes of travel -- first class, and with children." -- Robert Benchley

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Gigantic phallic symbol, anyone?

I guess you know where we are now, eh?

Now in the way of kids everywhere, the Unholy Three have decided it's time to go swimming in the indoor hotel pool. (I told Tom we could just go stay at a hotel in Lower East Bumfuck so long as it had an indoor pool, and the kids wouldn't care...)

More later.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Please, no peeps, peeps

Each year, around this time, I like to help spread the word that although bunnies are truly wonderful pets -- affectionate, and smart, and fun, and interactive, and God, they wrote the book on Teh Cute -- they are NOT wonderful gifts to be given to other people. Now, I suspect that most of my readers do not need to be reminded how bad an idea it is to give baby bunnies or chicks to children at Easter, but in case you were thinking about it: DON'T. Tons of bunnies and chicks end up in animal shelters each year around this time when chuckleheads present them to people who aren't ready or willing to take proper care of them. If you're thinking about adopting a bun, wait until after Easter, and make sure you check out the links at Make Mine Chocolate. They will give you the practical information you need to decide if a bunny will make a good addition to your family.

Linking to Make Mine Chocolate seems to go hand-in-hand with egg-dyeing. Today, the three kids, home from school all week (thwacks head against table)

produced these:

(Well, they dyed them; they didn't lay them.)

There's a road trip in our near future, so my next report will be (internet connection willing) from somewhere else. And upon my return? A brand-new No-Bull Book Review.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Free shipping all month at BBF -- and a very special birthday

Black Bunny Fibers is three years old! To celebrate, get free shipping on all orders of $40 and more by entering the code "3YEARS" at checkout! Woo-hoo! Thank you all for helping me make it this far...

And in other news, let's send out extra-special birthday wishes to Mr. Silver Organza himself, my husband:

He's a special guy, he is. (This photo was taken about 15 years ago, when his birthday fell on Easter -- hence the egg cake) Shockingly, he requested a non-Blingeed photo, so I am obliging him...