Monday, March 29, 2010

Help the knitting industry serve you better

Fill out the trade industry's survey for knitting/crochet customers here.

The survey is anonymous and will not subject you to receive any marketing or promotional stuff. The answers you give will only be reported as part of totals, not individually. If you like, you can also enter into a sweepstakes after filling out the survey for a chance to win one of five $100 gift certificates for a needlework retailer. The survey is also anonymous and won't subject you to spam.

Thank you!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

New roving blend: 75% BFL/25% silk

On Friday morning, I updated the BBF shop with a spectacular new roving blend: 75% blue-faced leicester wool/25% silk.

Lotus: soft dreamy sages and pale blue-green

The batches are around 4 oz. and believe me, when I say that they are so soft and luscious, I am trying really, really hard not to grab one and start spinning it myself.

Firecracker: red, gold, orange and a hint of olive

This week, I'm hoping to dye some more of the Stella Sock, which by accounts is a lovely and soft yarn to work with... and there are some more new bases on the horizon, just to keep things interesting!

Plum Blossom: mauve-wine with some sage

Friday, March 26, 2010

No-Bull Book Review: Toe-Up Socks for Everybody

If you liked Wendy Johnson's first book of toe-up sock patterns, you're going to love her second book, Toe-Up Socks for Every Body: Adventurous Lace, Cables, and Colorwork from Wendy Knits (PotterCraft; MSRP $22.99) which officially went on sale this week. Wendy was kind enough to send me a copy in advance of her visit to Loop in Philadelphia this weekend, so let's give it the No-Bull Book Review treatment.

Toe-Up Socks is a paperback, about 144 pages, full-color (I probably don't have to say that anymore; gone are the days when pattern books were not printed in color), with sturdy fold-in covers. I counted 21 separate patterns in the table of contents, although a few of the patterns have variations that will expand their usefulness (for example, the Wrought Iron Socks come in both knee-high and regular sock form).

The book begins with a one-page introduction, in which Wendy explains how her previous book provided all the basics for beginning toe-up sock knitting, whereas this book is designed, as Wendy puts it, to challenge the knitter to step outside her comfort zone and play with more adventurous techniques. Accordingly, you won't find extensive how-to-knit-socks directions or even plain-vanilla sock patterns; the book assumes you know how to knit a basic toe-up sock and builds from there. There is, however, a section addressing some general toe-up sock information, briefly discussing yarn choice, types of needles, how to read charts, and some tips on how to design your own socks. (There's also an appendix with additional technical info, which I discuss later.)

Rosebud Socks

The patterns are divided into three sections, based on the type of technique explored: lace, cables and colorwork. Each section begins with an introduction to the technique, a handy list of patterns along with their difficulty level (instead of just rating them easy/medium/hard, the ratings also include the specific techniques used in the sock to better help you judge the difficulty), some illustrations of some of the relevant stitches or techniques, and a brief discussion of what types of yarn work best. Very helpful, all of it.

Tiptoe Through the Tulips Socks

Now let's get to the good stuff: the sock patterns.

The first section, Lace Socks, contains seven patterns, including the Rosebud Socks (I believe these are shown on the front cover on the left), the Laurel Socks, the Bouquet Socks, the Crocus Socks, and the Victory Socks.

Victory Socks

All of these are mid-calf socks (the traditional length). The Belle Epoque Socks come in a thigh-high version as well as a kneesock version, and the Dainty Anklets feature a sweet turn-down cuff.

The next section is devoted to cables and twisted stitches; you'll find seven patterns in this section, too. The Heart-to-Heart Socks, Tiptoe Through the Tulips Socks, Manly Aran socks, Diamonds and Cables Socks,

Diamonds & Cables Socks

Bob and Weave Socks, and Basket Case Socks are all mid-calf, and the Wrought Iron Socks come in mid-calf and knee length.

Wrought-Iron Socks

The Colorwork sectioncontains the last seven patterns: Sneaky Argyle Socks, Stjarnblommesocker,


Critter Socks, Sanquhar Socks, Norwegian Rose Socks,

Norwegian Rose Socks

Fair Isle Socks and the Hot Stuff! Socks, which, interestingly enough, were inspired by a similar motif as the Flamethrower Socks from Knitting Socks in Handpainted Yarns. (Simmer down, though, Wendy's socks were knit before KSIHY was released, without her ever having seen it, so this constitutes one of those "great minds think alike" moments.)

Hot Stuff! Socks

As with its predecessor, this book is beautifully made. The photography, by Alexandra Grablewski, is gorgeous, letting the socks take center stage and showing off the details of their stitch patterns. Each sock is shown from multiple angles, with well-lit close-ups to enable the knitter to get a very clear sense of the design details and the way the sock looks overall -- a very important and sometimes overlooked aspect of knitting books. Charts accompany the patterns, in color where necessary.

Dainty Anklets

About the socks themselves: well, obviously, they are all written from the toe-up, for two circular needles. They are all written for fingering weight yarn, shown in solid or nearly-solid yarns, with gauge usually at 8 sts per inch (a few are slightly tighter, at 8.25 or 8.5 sts per inch). Sizing is variable, which makes sense based on the intricate patterning of the socks; often the type of stitch pattern or its repeat will dictate how feasible it is to do multiple sizes and where exactly they fall measurement-wise. (One of the advantages about knitting socks is that they have a bit more flexibility in fit than, say, a sweater.) Two of the socks come in one size (around 8 inches or so circumference); two socks come in a circumference of 5/6/7 inches; one pair comes in a larger 9/10 inch circumference (the Manly Aran Socks); and the rest have two to four sizes given, raning from 6 to 8 or 9 inches circumference.

Last, the book contains an appendix with some additional technical information: an overview of different needle techniques (two circ vs. one long circ vs. dpn); how to do cast-ons (especially important since these will create the toes of the socks); some heel techniques; and bind-offs.

Fair Isle Socks

It doesn't surprise me at all that I give Toe-Up Socks for Every Body two sock-loving thumbs up. It's a lovely book full of gorgeous sock patterns that take advantage of more adventurous techniques, like lace, cable and twisted stitches, and colorwork. It's beautifully photographed and produced. And it's written by an experienced teacher and designer who will be appearing in Philadelphia this very weekend. Yes, you can pick up a copy and get it signed by Wendy Johnson this weekend at Loop! Go here for details.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Amy Butler yarn line from Rowan

Check it out: if you are an Amy Butler fan (she is a fabric designer/quilter), Rowan is introducing a new line of yarns designed by Amy, called Belle Organic. Looks like it comes in two weights, DK and aran, and the yarn is a 50% organic wool/50% organic cotton blend. Yum! (Just don't discontinue regular old Wool-Cotton, hear me, Rowan???) There's a brief blurb on Rowan's website here.

Sneak peek: Vévé's new book!

Go here for a sneak peek at Véronik's new book, Knitting 24/7: 30 Projects to Knit, Wear, and Enjoy, On the Go and Around the Clock -- coming soon!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Parental pride

Forgive me for bragging, but for those of you not on Facebook, I have to tell you about what Elvis did this weekend. This weekend he participated in the countywide spelling bee, the competition that feeds directly into the national one in Washington in June. My kid, who is only in sixth grade, went 28 rounds, sticking it out against seventh- and eighth-graders, many of whom had participated in the competition before.

He spelled all sorts of crazy words correctly, including "tithe" (round 2) and "knish" and "cedilla" and "langlauf" (whatever that is) and he made it all the way to the end. He went toe-to-toe with an eighth-grader and ended up in second place.

I am so proud of him. I am so proud of his intelligence, his guts, his poise and how damn cool he is. Well done, Elvis.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On being Irish

I grew up in a small city in northeastern Pennsylvania. For many years, Wilkes-Barre's major industry was coal mining. It was a dangerous job and if you survived 'til retirement age, you had only a slow, choking death from black lung disease to look forward to. Since the mines consumed the lives of so many men, there was a constant stream of immigrants entering the Wyoming Valley to keep the anthracite flowing.

Most of the immigrants came from Europe. As disaster struck a particular country, hundreds of of its poorest citizens would come to the Wyoming Valley looking for mining jobs. Irishmen, Italians, Poles, Russians, Germans, Czechs, Lithuanians, and many other countries sent huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Immigrants tended to stick together, so that all of the men from one village or region would live in the same neighborhood, maintaining as much of their home culture as they could.

When I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, ethnicity was still felt very strongly in Wilkes-Barre. Kids would ask each other "What are you?" meaning "From which poor European country did your ancestors come?" and the answer would be "Polish!" "Italian!" "Irish!" "Lithuanian" or whatever it happened to be (except for my high school calculus teacher Miss Owens, who if she heard someone ask "What are you" would snap "You're American!"). There was an immediacy and an importance to one's ethnic identity that probably came from being second- or third-generation Americans in a geographically insular place.

My father had a keen sense of his Polishness and even though he had a smidge of German blood in him, he always identified himself as a Polish-American. He was always very proud of his Polish heritage and never hesitated to tell people about the famous Poles who'd contributed to society: Copernicus, Kosciusko, Madame Curie, Chopin. (We were probably the only people on our block to have a framed photograph of Copernicus in our basement rec room. I am not joking.) My mom, whose father's family was Lithuanian, and whose mother's family was a mishmash of things, having not been part of the coal-miner-immigrant waves of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, never seemed to care that much about what she was, although she could tell you she was Pennsylvania Dutch, English and French, as well as Lithuanian. So when my brother and I were asked "What are you?" we usually answered "Polish." When people would go all faux-Irish on St. Patrick's Day and ask me why I wasn't wearing green, I'd say "Because I'm not Irish."

Except now I'm not so sure.

When I started tracing my family's genealogy, I discovered that my grandmother had a grandmother named Susan Kinney. Her father was Daniel Kinney and her mother was Mary Freeman. "Kinney" is a Gaelic name, and is cited as being Scottish, Welsh and/or Irish in origin. "Freeman" could be many things -- German, Anglo-Saxon or an Anglicized version of a French, German or Irish name.

It can be tricky in genealogy to make assumptions about where a family came from based on name alone. (Consider the story, probably a tall tale, of the Jew named Sean Ferguson, allegedly because when asked his name at Ellis Island, the frazzled man answered “Shoyn fargesn," meaning "I've forgotten.") Until I find more information on two people forgotten by history -- Daniel P. Kinney, born around 1814 in New Jersey, and Mary I. Freeman, born around 1822 in Salem Township, PA -- I won't know for sure whether I need to put on an Aran sweater, a kilt or maybe even the red dragon of Wales. Whatever it is, I hope it doesn't clash with my

Polish eagle sweatshirt.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cross one off the knitting bucket list. . .

With two simultaneous deadlines last week, I didn't have much time for blogging. And I don't think I've mentioned here the exciting news that the Spring/Summer Vogue Knitting is out, complete with a sweater I designed inside:

Vogue Knitting Spring/Summer 2010, photo by Paul Amato
Yarn Information: Tahki Yarns/Tahki•Stacy Charles Rain
For sizes: Small (Medium, Large, 1X, 2X)
Amounts: 14 (16,19,20,23) balls in #5 green

I particularly like this issue of VK because it has so much lace and textural stitches. (There's also a lovely cardigan by Kathy Merrick knitted in Rowan KidSilkHaze, yum).

In case you haven't discovered it yet, Vogue has a very cool feature on their website called "VK360". You can watch a video of every garment in the issue, shown against a plain background, with shots from every angle and close-ups of the stitch pattern and design features. If you are someone who has a hard time envisioning items from a magazine in a different context, this feature is a great help. The models are pretty much unstyled -- in many of the videos, you can't even see their faces or hair. So if you find the fashion-forward hair or makeup in many layouts to be distracting, you should check out VK 360. (It plays music during the videos, so if you're taking a sanity break at work, best to turn off the sound.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

CashSock in sweater quantities....

Just updated the BBF shop with a large batch of CashSock -- single skeins in great colors

and some batches of 2 skeins for shawls

and even a couple of batches of 4 or 5 skeins for sweaters and large shawls...

The update is check it out here.

I've been trying to meet some other deadlines, so that's all I got.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Introducing: the Emmett Socks

Another BBF sock pattern debuts: behold the Emmett socks.

To paraphrase a line from a dreadful soap commercial, they are manly, yes, but the ladies will like them, too. They feature a classic cable rib pattern with a lot of stretch. The pattern is sized for unisex adult S/M/L and there is a lot of flexibility in fit due to the ribbing. There is a lot of room in between sizes because of that stretch, which means it will fit feet of many different sizes.

I like these socks a lot because they take advantage of a stitch pattern that is relatively easy to work and to memorize, but create a really good-looking end product that is suitable for men and women. (In case you're wondering, these socks were named after one of my great-grandfathers, who ended up marrying a woman named "Emma" -- isn't that cute?)

You can download the pattern via Patternfish here or via Ravelry here. Hard copies will be available at the BBF on-line shop in time for my next update. (And since it's a huge update of CashSock, you can try it out with a brand-new skein of yarn! I've got lots of great colors, including some spring-ier shades and some richer ones.)

Super shout-out of thanks to Laura Grutzeck, for her awesome photography both here and of Gitte's Socks.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

January & February 2010 Book Report

One of my Christmas presents was a Kindle. I know so many people with Kindles (and now some who have Nooks) who love them, and so my lovely husband sprung for one. It is really fun and convenient, especially if you are a fast reader like me, and can't bear to be without a book you are in the middle of. I don't anticipate giving up print books, though; I like the idea of holding a real book, especially ones I'll want to re-read, too much to ever give up that pleasure. (I also love the way that books smell; they haven't figured out how to imitate that smell with e-books.) However, I have been having fun reading on the Kindle. I especially like the way that you can use it to mark quotes from books that you want to remember, and then the quotes are collated in a separate place for you.

So without further ado, here's what I read the first two months of 2010: some in E-book form, others in paper form.

The Monster in the Box by Ruth Rendell. Advertised as "the last Inspector Wexford novel" in a long and excellent series by Rendell, I found this a bit of a let-down. If you've ever read Curtain-- the last Hercule Poirot mystery (which I believe Agatha Christie held back so it could be published after her death), you may see some vague similarities: Wexford tries to prove that a nasty bit of goods named Eric Targo is an opportunistic serial killer who instigates other people into committing crimes, and who has avoided detection for years. This one was a bit slower than most Wexford books, with less action and a lot of reminiscing. Not bad, but not the series' best.

Woman with Birthmark by Hakan Nesser. A taut thriller/murder mystery involving the death of a series of men who don't seem to have anything in common -- until an astute detective figures out that they all did their compulsory military service together in the 1960s. Inspector Von Veeteren has to figure out which of the men in the unit will be targeted by the killer next, and who is holding a grudge against them. A quick read; spare, suspenseful and well done.

The Blood-Dimmed Tide by Rennie Airth. I read the first and third installments in this mystery series last year, and finally got the chance to read the middle one. Rennie Airth is a good writer but slo-o-w when it comes to putting out sequels; there was a gap of several years between each. His retired detective, turned gentleman farmer, is entangled in the investigation when a local girl is brutally murdered. Investigators determine that a sociopathic serial killer is on the loose...

Closing Time: A Memoir by Joe Queenan. I've liked Joe Queenan's writing for a while, although it's so acerbic that I tend to savor it in small amounts, like spicy food. But I really came to appreciate all that Queenan has accomplished, as a writer and as a man, as I read Closing Time. It's a memoir describing Queenan's childhood and coming-of-age in 1950s & 60s Philadelphia. As a resident of Philly for almost twenty years, I got a kick out of reading about a Philadelphia I never knew (and comparing his recollections with those of my father-in-law, who is a contemporary of Queenan). It just so happened that I read this book shortly after my father's death, and one of the central focuses of the book is Queenan's difficult relationship with his alcoholic father. It was oddly comforting to read about Queenan's experiences and to have that "a-ha!" moment when you realize that you aren't alone in some of the emotions you feel as the child of an alcoholic. If Queenan sounds harsh with regard to his father -- and at times he does -- he had good reason to feel that way; he unflinchingly describes the emotional and physical brutality that he and his sisters suffered at the hands of their father.

Inspired by the ubiquitous discussion of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, I decided to finally read this classic of 20th century literature. I wasn't sure what to expect, having been told by various folks that they loved it, that they hated it, that I was too old for it, that Holden was a "whiny bitch," and just about every other reaction you can imagine. It didn't take long to read it, but I felt ambivalent about the book right up until the end. I easily understood why it was considered groundbreaking, but it wasn't until I was about twenty or thirty pages from the end that something clicked and Holden became real to me. I'm glad I read it, even if it now seems a tinge dated, and I found myself laughing out loud at some parts, underlining lines that I thought were especially good, and occasionally wincing at Holden's painful experiences in the world.

It's time to honor the life of an author who openly despised all of us

Jericho's Fall, by Stephen Carter, was one of the free selections I received from the Amazon Vine program. Carter is a well-regarded law professor at Yale, and, interestingly, writes fiction in his spare time. His earlier books had gotten pretty good reviews, and he's certainly a brilliant guy, so I figured I'd give this one a try. Alas, I hated it. The main character is a woman who travels across the country, to a remote Colorado town, to see her former lover, who has a terminal illness. It was hard for me to suspend my disbelief from the get-go, however. Rebecca's willingness to drop everything in her life (including her young daughter) to return to Colorado is hard to swallow, and she struck me as too much of a Lifetime TV Movie character: strong, beautiful, supposedly brilliant, but not so smart when it comes to jeopardizing her emotional and physical well-being by hanging out with a Svengali-like man from her past. Her lover, the "Jericho" of the title, is a former CIA director and adviser to presidents, and part of the tension in the book is whether he has, in fact, lost his mental faculties due to his terminal illness, whether he was/is insane all along, whether his daughters (who are taking care of him in his final days) are sane, whether operatives from the US or foreign countries are really after him to prevent him from revealing juicy state secrets, etc. etc. I bailed about 100 pages in when picking the book up seemed like a chore more than a pleasure.

Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander, another Amazon freebie, is a very lightweight historical mystery set in Victorian-era Constantinople. The lead character is Lady something-or-other (Emily?) who is on her honeymoon with her hunky husband; said hunky husband has a suitably mysterious career as a sort of spy-slash-detective working for the British government. A half-British, half-Turkish harem girl is murdered, and Lady Emily & her husband are asked to find out who did it. Good beach reading; glamorous locales, lots of silk skirts & horseback rides in the moonlight, a not-terribly-taxing-but-entertaining mystery.

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Tom & I have a friend who is an English professor who has studied Willa Cather extensively, and she was aghast to realize I had never read any of her works. I started out with this book, and was charmed by it. The book is really more of a character study and a study of place, as it follows the career of two missionaries sent to establish a Catholic diocese in the southwest territories during the 1800s. Having lived in Arizona for a year and traveled around a bit in the southwest, I found the descriptions of place to be fascinating. The characters were beautifully drawn, and Cather writes with a direct but lyrical style. I'll definitely read more of Cather; in fact, My Antonia is already in the pile of unread books by my bed.

Still Waters by Nigel McCreary. I was lent this by a friend who also enjoys mysteries and I honestly didn't realize how gruesome some of the details were until I finished the first chapter. (I think I actually yelped aloud on the Stairmaster.) This was an engrossing, if very creepy, read, a decent mystery but not for the faint-hearted. The murderer is an older woman whose M.O.isto befriend lonely elderly women, insinuating herself into their lives, then poisoning them and keeping all their money and property. The main detective is a man suffering from a bizarre neural condition in which he experiences sounds as a kind of taste (synesthesia). He has been out on medical leave because even ambient noise causes him to experience a variety of strange, and sometimes very unpleasant, taste sensations; it sounds weird, but the author does a good job of describing how awful the condition is. The detective returns from medical leave to try to solve this case.

The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas (who's actually a she): We take a break from Scandanavian and British detectives just long enough to try out a French commissaire. Commissaire Adamsberg seems unconventional to his colleagues, but no one can argue with his success rate in solving crimes. In the first of the series (also lent to me by a pal), he is troubled by the strange actions of a mysterious person drawing chalk circles around random objects on Paris sidewalks. No one else in the police force seems very concerned, but Adamsberg is convinced that the circles are a precursor to murder -- and he turns out to be right. Very French, a little quirky, and very enjoyable.

All My Enemies by Barry Maitland. Another good lend from a friend; this is one in a British series featuring detectives Brock and Kolla. Brock and Kolla are called in to solve the murder of a young woman stabbed to death in her home. The detectives try to determine if the murder is part of a larger series of deaths, and connect it -- along with the deaths of at least one other woman -- to an amateur theater group.

That's the round-up for 2010; as always, I enjoy hearing from you, whether it's to give your opinions on any of the books I've read, or to suggest books for me to add to my "to-read" list.

Now I am preparing a very large update for BBF chock-full of CashSock yarn (even a few batches of sweater quantity!!) so I must get back to work.