Friday, July 31, 2009

Where did this week month go?

Shocking that tomorrow is the first day of August, no?

I meant to blog much more this week, but was overtaken by various and sundry. The biggest timesuck was finishing the second half of my Sock Summit yarns, which are shipping out to Portland today. I mentioned earlier in the month that Kathy Elkins offered to sell BBF yarn at the WEBS booth for me since I just couldn't swing the cash for a plane ticket right now (not to mention the logistics of trying to ship yarn and the other things I'd need to set up a booth all the way across the country...). If all goes well and UPS does its job with the remaining boxes, WEBS will have 15 colorways of Superwash Merino Classic to sell -- including the colorways that I entered in the Ravelry Dye for Glory contest. (Voting is still open so if you feel inclined to vote for BBF, please do so before 11:59 p.m. August 1st!)

In addition to Mary Cassatt:

(entered in the Watercolors category), and the other watercolor-like colorway I did, City of Roses:

you'll find the nearly solids Betsy Ross (entered in the Out-of-the-Box category, since I don't use only black to create the subtle color variations):

and Kathy's Cape (inspired by Kathy Elkins' vacation photos!):

Kathy will also have a bunch of the sample socks from the book on display, so if you are in Portland, you lucky thing, stop by!

Another exciting thing that happened this week was receiving a copy of the new Knit Simple magazine, and turning to the very last page, to see my essay published there! Grab a copy.

Despite all of these yarn-y things going on, I still had 3 kids to entertain. Luckily, my mom came for a quick visit and helped immensely by playing endless games of Monopoly and Operation. (I was aghast to discover that the new Operation does not merely buzz when you touch the edges to take out the wrenched ankle, but now has all sorts of annoying sound effects to drive one's parents crazy. Feh.)

We did the ever-popular fruit-picking expedition on Wednesday; here are the kids in the hayride out to the peach orchard:

The peaches were huge -- the size of baseballs.

We also picked some amazing blackberries, which were also incredibly large and sweet:

and even a dozen ears of sweet corn, right off the stalk:

My mother hates having her picture taken and always wears an American-Gothic-like expression in photos, even though she doesn't have a mean bone in her body

I still have some catching up to do on the blog (I haven't forgotten that I owe you a book review) so I'll try to catch up next week. Have a great weekend, everybody.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I support the Yarn Harlot.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, go read this entry. I do not want to throw a bucket of kerosene onto the flames, so let me just say, plain and simple, I support the Yarn Harlot. She has the right to say whatever she wants on her blog and she is a shining example to all of us how taking the high road -- being civil and kind, in addition to all the other things she is, like funny and smart -- is the way to go. (And I know that I fall short of her standard sometimes, since I am way too fond of going for the cheap laugh.)

Please don't link to any other blogs in the comments or name any names, but if you too support the Yarn Harlot, stop by her blog and leave a nice supportive comment.

The internet has the capacity to do amazing things, to bring people together, to foster the sharing of knowledge, to nudge our creativity, to create links where none would otherwise have existed. But, alas, like everything else in life, it also has the capacity for harm. Today, I'm standing up for someone who is an inspiration to all bloggers: she blogs regularly and impeccably, she has parlayed a love of knitting into a successful career, she has helped create all sorts of connections within the crafting community, and she has done so much to further the craft that we all love. You may not always agree with what she writes (or you may!), you may not read her regularly (or you may!), but you have to respect her. She has earned that, and more.

I support the Yarn Harlot.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

While I'm away....

Let it not be said that I ever refused the delightful Anne Marie in Philly any reasonable request:

Bunnypants is enjoying himself quite well, thank-you-very-much.

If you're in the mood to see some fabulous knitwear, try this link. The designs from the new St-Denis Magazine are up on Ravelry and as usual, VĂ©ronik has outdone herself. Take a peek!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Smiles, everyone!

the dunes

on the beach

after lunch

big sky

Sunday, July 19, 2009

All is well

Before I left for the beach, I finished this:

a bag from Seams to Me by Anna Maria Horner.

We are now settled in and about to head off to the beach. It's time to stop and smell the flowers.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Going to Sock Summit?

This week, well, actually the last few, have flown by. I've been trying to get a lot of dyeing done before our first week in Cape May. In the last 3 weeks, I've produced shipments for two yarn clubs:

a Yarn Club offering

two sock clubs with a third drying right now:

a Sock Club offering

a batch of merino/tencel sock yarn that's going to Loop in a few days (just in time to welcome WendyKnits, who'll be signing her wonderful toes-up book and teaching some classes):

and a ginormous batch of sock yarn

that will be sold at the Sock Summit. Kathy Elkins of WEBS asked if I had arranged for anyone to sell my yarn there, since I'm not able to go, and I happily took her up on her offer. I shipped out eight colorways yesterday, and I'll be sending 7 more before the end of the month. So if you go to Portland, please stop by the WEBS booth and tell Kathy and Steve thanks! (You should also stop to see the joint Wild Geese Fibres/Rabbitch booth, a.k.a. Bon Vendor/Bad Vendor (little Canadian cinematic humor there) because in addition to lovely yarn, they are two hilarious and awfully nice people to meet.)

Now it's time to pack up three kids and bunny rabbit for our first week Downa Shore...

Monday, July 13, 2009

How time flies

It doesn't seem that long ago that my nephew was born. But it's been over 18 years, because he graduated from high school in June. I went up to northeast PA this weekend to attend his graduation party. Has it been that long since he looked like this?

Apparently so, for now he looks like this:

He'll be attending Shippensburg University this fall on a baseball scholarship, so I'm looking forward to following his college ball-playing career and sending him care packages.

I had a good visit with my family. My mom was very happy to see her grandkids, and even my father mustered up a bit of grandfatherly elan:

(That's as good as it gets, gentle readers. And I cropped out the unbuckled pants and the beer belly just for youse.)

My brother was in that I-just-spent-the-last-week-getting-ready-for-this-party-in-my-backyard-and-now-I'm-too-exhausted-to-enjoy-it mode, but rallied in order to tend bar:

My sister-in-law had built a minishrine in honor of my nephew (that is the graduate himself looking at it):

Little Miss, who always feels pretty, posed with one of my namesakes, my aunt Carol:

and Tom, who also always feels pretty, posed with my other namesake, my aunt Jean:

I consumed halushki and golombki (sp?) but, alas, no kielbasi. I had some lovely catching up with my brother's high school pals and although they may have been lying through their teeth, it was still nice to hear people tell me I don't look my age.

One thing that freaks me out about these parties is that I keenly feel the loss of some of my relatives who have passed away. When I was a kid, my family went to parties that were full of my extended family (mainly on my dad's side, but occasionally on my mom's, too) several times a year. There was always somebody getting married, or celebrating their First Communion or Confirmation, or graduating from high school, and if there wasn't any official occasion, sometimes someone would just throw a party for Memorial Day for the hell of it. There was always an old guard of Polacks sitting at a card table playing pinochle, grabbing kids as they walked by to give them an empty beer pitcher and to tell the "little bastards" to go fill it. My grandmother -- if she weren't reneging at cards -- would be predicting her imminent demise or making obscene hand gestures in order to discourage anyone from taking her photo. Stories would be swapped, photos examined, tons of food and beer would be consumed.

Alas, the old guard is now gone. My grandmother was one of the last to go; but before her, cousin Bertha, great-uncle Frank (Tom always says that if you can't remember one of my male relative's names, try "Frank" -- you at least have a 50-50 shot of getting it right), my cousin Francie (people used to comment on her voluminous chest, but that was only because God had to make enough room for her gigantic heart), and more recently, my great-aunt Josephine, a.k.a. Cioci Joe. In some ways, it just doesn't seem right to be at a family party with so many of the old guard gone.

Granted, there are new family members to smile at, like my adorable cousin (first cousin once removed, I think) Brock:

At least Hildy is still with us, and in fine form, she managed to honor the old guard in the manner which they would have found most meaningful:

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Fall preview: Berroco

I've come full circle when it comes to Berroco. Way back about ten (or more??) years ago, they used to have single-breed, all-wool yarns that I really liked; one was called "Wensleydale Longwool" and the other was some kind of Leicester. Then it seemed they started shifting focus to novelty yarns, the bumpy and the shiny and the bling-y, and I lost interest. (We won't even talk about the Berroco Chick.) Then Berroco did the smartest thing they've ever done -- they hired Norah Gaughan. (Whatever they're paying you, Norah, it should be MORE...)

Now I'm in love with Berroco again and completely transfixed seeing what kind of wonderful pattern booklets and yarns -- especially the all-natural fiber yarns like Pure Merino and Palace -- they come out with.

At TNNA, the lovely Cirilia Rose (formerly of WEBS), who now works at Berroco, showed us some of the new yarns and patterns coming this fall. Berroco definitely has gotten the message that the economy stinks and is offering yarns that feature good price points relative to yardage, which should make thrifty knitters happy. At the top of the list was Vintage Wool, a worsted-ish-weight blend of wool/nylon/acrylic that truly, really doesn't feel like it has 55% synthetic in it. (And I'm sensitive to these things!) The colors were nice, the hand was good and it's machine wash -- and a super price point, about six bucks for over 200 yds. (Good for kids' knits, with that machine wash thing, and some good fun colors.) Another new yarn is called Blackstone Tweed, 4.5 sts per inch, with a unique (for tweed) blend of 65% wool/25% superfine mohair/10% angora. Lustra is a 50/50 blend of wool and tencel, with sheen and a soft, single-ply construction -- another great price point, at $9 for about 200 yds of aran-weight yarn. Finally, Sundae is a bulky (around 2.5 sts to the inch) blend of 50% wool/50% acrylic, with plies of various colors, most of them on the conservative side. Another relative bargain at $9 for 62 yds, which is pretty good for yarn this bulky. In their existing lines, the popular acrylic/nylon blend, Comfort, now comes in heathered shades, and the lovely Pure Merino now comes in a "chine" or marled look.

I always find myself especially keen to see the patterns that Norah and her talented design staff cook up. Yes, there will be Norah Gaughan No. 5 and it looks like it won't disappoint, but I was also pleased to see a separate collection by Norah just for men. There was a cute pattern booklet for little girls featuring Comfort, and a great collection by Cirilia for tweeners, that hard-to-fit age when girls don't want "babyish" stuff but their moms don't want them wearing Brittney Spears/cleavage-hanging-out stuff either. That book features Vintage Wool and I certainly intend to get a copy for Miss Thang. (If she won't wear any of the patterns, I can roll it up and use it as a stick to defend myself....) There are also 3 other booklets devoted to the new yarns, one each for Blackstone Tweed, Sundae and Lustra.

So... get ready for lots of new lovelies from your friends at Berroco. It looks like the Berroco website has already started to feature teasers of some of the new yarns and patterns.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Book report: end of May/June

You can see as the year wears on, my highfalutin' books give way to quick-reading mysteries and other such escapism. Here's the latest batch I've read:

The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine. Barbara Vine is the pen name of British mystery writer Ruth Rendell, who is one of the most prolific yet consistently good mystery/thriller writers out there. The novels she writes as Ruth Rendell are more traditional mysteries, usually featuring an English police inspector named Wexford. The books she writes Barbara Vine tend to be stand-alone, and I think are a bit creepier. What is remarkable to me is the way Vine/Rendell manages to write suspenseful and creepy thrillers without very much blood and guts. Instead she has a way of getting into the head of characters who seem very normal on the outside; she then peels away the outer, normal layers to show you the twisted psyche inside, or in some cases, shows how a character flaw or twist of fate turns a law-abiding citizen into a criminal. The Birthday Present concerns a handsome Member of Parliament who at the beginning of the book is guilty of only adultery. But by the end of the novel, his life is in ruins.

The Crazy School by Cornelia Read. I read Read's first Madeline Dare mystery last year, and liked it, so when I found the sequel at the library, I grabbed it. Dare is a recovering debutante who, in this book, finds herself teaching troubled high school students at a residential school led by a controversial, charismatic leader. When two students die after drinking poisoned punch at a school party, Dare jumps right in to find justice for them.

Faithful reader Kris suggested Mistress of the Art of Death by Arianna Franklin -- and I really enjoyed it. I had to skim some of the more squeamish scenes, but a very engrossing mystery set in 12th century Cambridge. I liked the historical tie-ins, the good characterization and the twist at the end.

What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris is the first in a series of novels set in Regency England. A nobleman is accused of murdering an actress and has to find the real killer to clear his name. Okay, not great.

A Matter of Justice by Charles Todd is the latest in a series of mysteries written by a mother-and-son writing team. Their protagonist, Ian Rutledge, is a veteran of World War I who carries lingering emotional scars from his experiences in the trenches. He struggles with his own ghosts, while trying to solve this convoluted mystery of a prominent investment adviser found murdered and strung up at his country home. This one wasn't as good as some of the previous ones, but still well done.

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. This is one of only a few non-mystery/thrillers I read. When the narrator tells you on the very first page that she's a big fat liar, you kind of expect there to be some plot twists, but I sure didn't expect the gigantic and convoluted twist that came at the end. The book isn't about lace knitting, but what sounds like a form of tatting from the colonial era, and the lace is really secondary to the characters and what happens to them. The book is set in modern-day Salem, Massachusetts, and the author's description of how the town has capitalized on its connection with witchcraft is interesting and amusing.

No Graves As Yet by Anne Perry was recommended by a GKIYH reader. I read this when I was recovering from some virus, and I can't tell if it was the fact that I wasn't feeling as clear-headed as usual or if it just wasn't my cup o' tea. It wasn't awful, but it seemed very slow, with way too much conversation and not a lot of action.

The Serpent's Tale by Arianna Franklin is the sequel to Mistress of the Art of Death and I very much enjoyed this one. I like the way the author blends history -- in this case, the death of King Henry II's mistress and the friction between Henry and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine -- with the fictional characters and the mystery they are trying to solve.

Finally, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, was one I started -- a non-mystery even -- and just couldn't get into, so I abandoned it. I don't know if you've ever heard people say that you should subtract your age from 100, and the number you get is the number of pages you should read in a book before giving up on it. I'm 44, so I'm supposed to give a book 56 pages before bailing, but I can tell you I didn't get that far in this one (more like 20 or 25). The book is set in post-WWII England, and is written in the form of a series of letters from an author to various people in her life. I found it just too cutesy-poo and self-conscious to get into it, so I gave it up.

To Laura -- I have read some of the Maisie Dobbs books and liked them, but there's probably a few more out there that are new since I last looked at the series -- thanks for reminding me!

As always, I love talking books so if you've got any recommendations, please leave 'em in the comments...

Monday, July 06, 2009

Blog Tour: Vintage Baby Knits, by Kristen Rengren

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the lovely book, Vintage Baby Knits: More Than 40 Heirloom Patterns from the 1920s to the 1950s, by Kristen Rengren, brought to you by the creative geniuses at Stewart Tabori & Chang. If you missed the book review, you can find it here). Today I'm pleased to be a stop on the Vintage Baby Knits blog tour. Kristen Rengren -- fresh off her gropefest interview with Dolores at The Panopticon, stops by to talk about yarn.

Welcome to Go Knit In Your Hat, Kristen! Let's get right down to the yarn talk, okay? First question: How did you decide what yarns to use? Were you trying to replicate the yarns the patterns were originally knit in?

Thanks, Carol! I didn’t take a total purist stance on yarns, but I did want to preserve as much of the original look of the patterns, so that played an element in yarn choices. There were a few decisions along those lines that turned out to be important:

Knitters did have a few choices in terms of material, but for the most part, they chose wool. Starting in the 1920s, cotton fell out of fashion for garments and was really only used to knit household items like slippers or doilies. During the late 1940s and 50s, some nylon and some early forms of acrylic started to appear, and in the late 50s cotton started to make a comeback for baby garments. Patterns were also occasionally published featuring silk and angora, despite the fact that these fibers were very expensive for the average knitter. But most knitters depended on the dizzying array of wool yarns on the market – hence the decision to make most of the projects in the book out of wool as well. (I did make a few exceptions – for instance the Jasper Diamond Hoodie is knitted out of a bamboo blend – but my logic was that if our predecessors could have gotten their mitts on something as lovely as bamboo, they surely would have.)

One of the most important factors was choosing yarns that could achieve the fine gauge that so many vintage patterns depended upon. Before the 1960s, most knitters were accustomed to knitting whole garments with sock yarn and size 2 or 3 needles, for babies and adults alike. Most yarns were manufactured in fingering or sport weight. While there were many projects out there that called for DK-weight yarn (which used to, confusingly, be called Knitting Worsted), they tended to be reserved for either outdoor sportswear or for beginner projects where the knitter’s attention span was assumed to be low. Anything using a size 5 or larger needle was usually called a Jiffy Knit or a Quick Knit project. While I was writing the book, I didn’t want to have a book of projects knit exclusively in fingering weight, so I tried to find patterns with which a diverse range of yarns could be used. But most of the projects did end up being made from fingering and sport weight yarns. I tell people that knitting a baby sweater is like knitting a pair and a half to two pairs of socks - relatively painless once you get over any fear of small needles.

What about color choices?

Handpainted yarn as we know it basically didn’t exist yet. Machine-dyed variegated yarns were out there, but they were rarely used in comparison to solid color, tweed, or heathered wool. Where patterns were published for machine-dyed or “space dyed” yarns, they tended to be extremely simple garments in stockinette stitch in order to show off the novelty of the yarn, which is why none of them made it into this book – such patterns just wouldn’t have held the interest of the modern knitter.

I get asked a lot of questions about the palette I used. Most of the projects, of course, were photographed in black and white in the original pattern books, and very little information was given about color choices in the patterns. I did do some research into the colors that might have been popular for babies in that era – but while there was some information available on color trends in women’s fashion, I found precious little data on the subject of baby clothes. And in some cases (such as the trend of pink for boys and blue for girls in the first part of the century) tastes had changed enough so that I didn’t think I could get away with some of the color choices originally chosen by the designer. So I based my color choices in part on that research , but mostly picked colors that pleased me and that went together reasonably well.

One thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that in the first half of the 20th century, there were tremendous advances in the dyes that were available, and color palettes were far less limited than we might think. Another interesting note about color has to do with wartime knitting. During World War II, when yarn was rationed and chemical plants that made dyes were retooled to make munitions instead, knitters found themselves unable to get the dazzling array of colors that they had become accustomed to in the 1920s and 1930s. Knitters had to make do with brightly colored scraps of leftover yarn and even old yarn from unpicked old sweaters, combined with the more drab military colors typically available with ration cards. Turning necessity into opportunity, resourceful knitters embraced stripes, fair isle, and other colorwork. Unexpected color combinations became a bold fashion statement, and their popularity lasted right up through the end of wool rationing.

What else was different about yarns used in the originals vs. today’s yarns?

I’ve gotten to look at a lot of vintage yarn, and a few vintage projects – and while some of the yarns used from the 1920s to the 1950s were comparatively soft, knitters in the 1920s – 1950s just didn’t have the kind of soft, short-stapled fibers to which we have become so accustomed. While 19-micron-count merino is commonplace today, it would have been an inexplicable wonder to yesterday’s knitter. Also, I still can’t figure out how, but yarn seems to have been lighter. The average baby sweater pattern from, say, the 1940s called for half as much vintage wool as it generally took for me to knit the same pattern using modern wool. Given that most yarn is spun using the same antiquated milling equipment that was used in the 1930s and 40s, I am not really sure what the difference is. Actually if your readers have any speculation on this, I’d love to hear it.

What were your favorite yarns you knit with?

There isn’t really a yarn in the book that I didn’t enjoy working with. If you look through the book, you’ll see that many of the designs are knit with sock yarn. It’s soft, it’s springy, and it tends to have a smooth surface and a tight twist that was similar to that of many vintage yarns. And it has the advantage of being very hard-wearing. That said, some of the loftier, softer yarns were especially pleasurable to knit with. The tiny flecks of color and the beautiful muted palette are just perfect for vintage knits. Pear Tree Merino is one of my favorites. The Jackie Cabled Set and the Louise cardigan are made out of Pear Tree. I also really enjoyed working with Sheep Shop Sheep Three. While it wasn’t a traditional choice – it’s a silk/wool blend, and a sport/DK weight at that – it was really lovely to work with, and the finished Bunny Blanket has such a nice hand. I’m sure I’ll be doing projects in both those yarns again.

Okay, normally, this is the place where I'd abuse you for not using any Black Bunny Fibers yarns in your lovely book, but since you are such a sweetheart, I will skip over that part, as long as you promise to use some in your next book.

It's a deal.

Here's fun news: if you go here, you can enter a drawing to win a free copy of the book, courtesy of the lovely folks at Stewart Tabori & Chang. For a list of the upcoming blog tour stops, go here. (Wednesday's stop is Sheep in the City.) Last, but not least, you can visit Kristen at her blog here. Thanks, Kristen!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy 4th!

I believe America's best days are ahead of us because I believe that the future belongs to freedom, not to fear.
-- John Kerry

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Happy Canada day

to mes amis canadiens. In your honor, I watched Bon Cop Bad Cop this past weekend.

Now please to look at the pretty pictures: