Archive for October, 2008

Purple Shawl, Done.

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

It’s been a good knitting week over here…I can hardly believe that it was just over a week ago when I started my new purple lace shawl at the knitting retreat. But first let me show you a couple of non-knitting pictures.

A friend of mine e-mailed earlier in the week to ask me if I would be interested in some toys that her girls had grown out of. I said sure, and the next day my girls were the proud owners of this awesome playmobil princess palace!

The thing is freakin’ huge, but oh-so-cool. I think I was at least as excited about it as they are. What little girl would not want this toy? Well, we all love it, and Julie and Sophie managed to play well together for long stretches several times this week, leaving me to get a few rows of knitting in while I watched.

Anyway, the shawl also knit up quickly since it’s a simple lace pattern, in worsted-weight yarn, and it’s not all that huge. Julie seems to think it should be hers, and volunteered to model it for the photos.

Not too bad for a kid who usually refuses to have her picture taken at all.

There were about ten other super-cute supermodel poses, but you get the idea.

Here we have it spread out on the floor. You can see the shoulder-shaping here.

I do think I could have done a little bit more shoulder-shaping, and will definitely try another one soon-ish with that in mind. This is a great way to use up my handspun, since I had only about 350 yards, and was able to use all but the last few yards.

Here’s a close-up of the point. You can see the beads on the awesome picot bind-off that Candace taught us. You can also see the very subtle striping provided by the yarn.

So yay! Shawl for me.

And one last picture. Today at lunch the girls were sitting there eating and I looked over and noticed just how big Sophie is looking lately. So grown up in her blue jeans, sitting there tall on her stool. Where’d my baby go?

Beaded Lace Shawl

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

I’m going to show you my little progress on the beaded lace shawl I started last weekend at the retreat, but first I’ll share this little sisterly moment.

They snuggled up sort of spontaneously under this crocheted ackrilic afghan my maternal grandmother made for me when I was a teenager. I normally don’t allow food on the couch, but they were so cute together I decided not to fight that fight.

Okay, so one of the many chunks of yarn that I’d brought along as possible shawl materials for this retreat was some handspun that I’d made from Louet Northern Lights roving back in August. It doesn’t look like much in this picture, but it adds up to 300 yards and change in DK to worsted weight.

I’d been wondering just what to do with this amount of yarn, as happy as I was with it – it wasn’t all that much, but too much for some small projects, and I hated the idea of either not using it mostly up or needing more than what I have.

As I listened to Candace talk about her shawls, I knew this would be just right. They’re knit from the top down, increasing stitches along the way, so it would be fairly easy to use up just about all the yarn. Plus, she had this design with lots of lacy holes, which helps to stretch the relatively small yardage out bigger. I’m happy with the idea of a smallish shawl that I can wear around to dress up my plain mommy-uniform t-shirts just a bit and add some warmth without the super-coziness of a full sweater.

It doesn’t look like much on the needles right now – of course.

I’ve used less than half of the yarn I have so far, so I’m pretty sure the thing will at least be big enough to reach around my shoulders and allow a shawl-pin closure in front.

Here’s a close up of the stitch pattern, including the nicely spaced sprinkling of beads that Candace suggested. She had us try the crochet-hook method of inserting the beads onto the stitch after it is knit – which I think is perfect for this rate of adding beads only every eight rows.

Two common concerns about adding beads to knitting are the added weight stretching out the fabric, and I think this will be few enough widely enough spaced not to cause a problem; and worrying about the feel of cold beads against skin. It seems to me that by putting the beads on the way I am, and only in a spot above a double decrease, is keeping them mostly to the “right” side of the fabric, which will keep them mostly away from the skin-touching side. Perfect!

I’m hoping to have this one done in just a couple weeks. It’s a fun, fast knit. Next time, some pictures of the fiber I brought home from my weekend!

Two Days of Freedom!

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

It’s finally happening. I’ve run away from home. Sort of.

I’ve run off to a little knitting retreat just for the weekend – all by myself, no husband, no children. This is the first time I’ve been away from my children overnight ever. The only time I’ve been away from Julie is when I gave birth to Sophie. Until now, that is.

Joe came home from work early on Friday so that I could head south to Villa Maria in Frontenac Minnesota to join about 40 other knit-crazed women for a weekend of hanging out in a conference room eating junk food (in between really bad cafeteria meals), learning about lace shawls from the rockin’ Candace Eisner-Strick, buying yarn from each other and from Ann Bosch from Blackberry Ridge mill, and showing off and admiring each others’ knits. But there I go getting ahead of myself.

As soon as Joe arrived, I was ready to pack the car and get the hell out of the house. It only takes about an hour and a half to get down here, and I had about four hours before my check-in time, five hours before Friday’s dinner. So I ran off to the mall and did just a little bit of shopping by myself. I can’t remember the last time I got to just wander around the mall by myself without specific purpose, but on Friday I did take my time looking around at clothes, and I had an actual conversation with a lady at the makeup counter about skin products without feeling rushed.

I headed out of town with plenty of time yet to spare, and blindly followed the Google Maps directions I’d printed out the night before. In the past I’ve found Google’s maps to be pretty darn reliable, but Friday I found myself driving around in eastern Wisconsin, on the opposite side of Lake Pepin from where I needed to be. It’s a good thing it was a nice day, with pretty leaves to look at and plenty of time to get here. I didn’t even really get stressed out about it – I just turned around and got back on track and arrived still in plenty of time for dinner. Hell, I was driving around alone! By myself! With no Raffi on the stereo or children asking me to fetch things they’d thrown onto the car floor.

Here’s a picture of Lake Pepin from the wayside overlook I stopped at to figure out where I was and how to get to where I needed to be.

And here’s a picture of the other side of the road – a big cliff, of the kind I used to see all the time in Missouri, but not so much in Minnesota.

The trees are definitely changing, but I saw a lot of brown and yellow and not as much vibrant orange as I’d have liked.

Finally, I arrived and lugged my giant bags up to my tiny room. Joe was a bit shocked and perhaps horrified by my needing both of our biggest suitcases for my two days away. But honestly, I had to bring a lot of different yarns for my class supplies (which were kind of vague), my entire set of knitting needles, a bunch of yarn I wanted to sell at the rummage sale, plus a few books and magazines just in case I found myself with a block of quiet time.

Oh, and my show-and-tell items, plus a different sweater to wear each day. Not to mention the regular clothes and toiletries.

This place is a decent retreat center, with a nice sunny conference room, and a lovely setting. But it also freaks me out just a bit. It used to be a Catholic girls’ school, and there are still nuns in residence here. There are religious icons and symbols covering most of the surfaces around here, and there is also a church retreat going on this weekend – so lots of loud praying going on at meals and other times. I’m not against any of that, but it is causing me a bit of culture shock.

So dinner last night was abysmal – the worst lasagna I think I’ve ever eaten. Note to self: Bring peanut butter and jelly next time! But we had a fun evening with a gift swap and lots of chatting last night, and this morning dawned to a mostly edible breakfast and on to the great Candace’s class. Here she is showing one of her shawls, and sporting one of her beautiful sweaters.

She has lots of awesome shawl designs.

I love how most of her designs are meant to stay on the shoulders, and are knit with pretty easy shaping from the top down.

Not this one, but it’s beautiful just the same.

In my experience, these retreats are usually all about the socialization and hoping to pick up some good tips along the way. The projects are usually good vehicles for learning these tips, but not ones that I finish up after the class is over. I came to this class expecting more of the same, but I was pleasantly surprised, and I’ve started a shawl that I’m pretty sure I’ll go ahead and crank out till it’s done.

And Candace! My gods, but she is hilarious. She is fun to listen to, but smart and with good ideas. Why have I not known more about this woman before now? I do not know.

Well, we got started on our shawls, and that involved much yarn-winding. Luckily, I’d brought along my swift and winder (I couldn’t decide in advance which yarn I might want to use for a shawl, and I didn’t want to wind up five different giant skeins of yarn that I wasn’t going to use right away). I wasn’t the only one, though, and little ducky had to have been quite dizzy after his morning’s work.

I love these classes, but because I am a little ADD, I had to have two projects in my lap – the class sample piece and a sock to work on while I waited for everyone else to catch up and the instructions to move on.

I’m kind of liking the way my Noro socks are turning out, although I don’t think they are as pretty as the ones from Ravelry that inspired me.

I snagged a picture of the cafeteria right before today’s lunch. Here’s the churchies having their little pre-meal prayer meeting. Again, not judging, but it really made me uncomfortable witnessing this.

I’m a little embarrassed about that level of discomfort. I mean, I’m the one in the Catholic-nun-run retreat center. Still, I found it a little scary for some reason – kind of like I was an interloper and really didn’t have a place here. hm.

But look! This is the view out the front door of the place, and there is a lovely maple straight outside. That’s the fall color I’m looking for.

And here’s a picture of the building. Kind of like a castle.

Candace agreed to pose for a picture with me, and it took about ten shots for both of us to look halfway decent in one. I am horribly unphotogenic, and I find that I have to look away from the camera unless I want to look like a deer in the headlights. So in this picture we are pretending to examine one of her shawls. Really, Candace is grimmacing and wondering when I’m going to be satisfied so we can head off for dinner.

After tonight’s dinner, we had a show-and-tell session, with many fascinating projects shown by all. My new friend Ursula stunned me more than anyone else with this giant coat she knit.

And she happens to be wearing a skirt she knit as well…Here’s the back of that jacket.

It makes my crazy sock yarn blanket look almost sane!

Well, it’s now getting late. A day of knitting can really tire a girl out, and I’m determined to get a second good nights’ sleep, uninterrupted by waking children, and without anyone to steal my covers. Tomorrow there will be a little more knitting before the drive back to the city. Hopefully straight through Minnesota this time.

I’ll have to do a followup post and show you some of the fiber I bought from Ann – lovely handpainted silk! I’ll show you my shawl too, once I’ve knit a bit more of it. Amazing how unproductive knitting time can be when you’re trying to knit lace and carry on three conversations at the same time.

In case you’re wondering, Joe is at home with the girls this weekend, and I think his brother is hanging out with them too. I’m sure they’re eating out every meal and surviving just fine without me. I only wish I could have another day or two away. Maybe next year I can go to SOAR.

Fiber, Fun, Family, FOs, Fwoo!

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Hey, everybodee! I’ve got a whole pile o’pictures for ya. All stuff I’m excited about. I have to say, I feel very sad about the not blogging so much anymore, but I also feel pretty great about always having great stuff to say when I do get around to blogging. Here we go.

First, look at all this amazing yarn I made! I – me – turned a giant ball of silk and merino into a giant pile of something like worsted-weight yarn. Sorry, I’d give you more specific details, but that would entail me getting up off the couch in the middle of my Gilmore Girls DVD and going to look them up. (I am so addicted to old episodes of Gilmore Girls, which I discovered only after the show ended.)

Here’s a close-up. It’s all dry now and marinating in stash. I’ve got enough here for just about any sweater I could imagine wanting to knit.

Oh, look! Julie was excited about the yarn, too.

Changing the subject, we have this tree in our front yard that suddenly decided to produce piles of crazy seed pods this year.

The girls love to play with them, and for a moment it felt like some kind of cool homeschooling moment as we opened the pods together, collectively getting grossed out by the green goo inside the parts that hadn’t dried out yet, then counting the beans and stuff.

And look! We got a cute picture of the girls looking like loving sisters together. It’s potential Christmas card material, even.

Remember that mysterious orange object I was knitting with my lumpy-bumpy first homespun yarn? Well, it turned out kinda cute.

It’s one of Marie Mayhew’s awesome designs, superb in their cuteness and available online and in person at the Yarnery.

Although this is not at all my normal kind of knitting – I love the results, but somehow the process of attaining such cuteness evades me – this pumpkin-orange yarn was just begging to be turned into something felted to hide its quality. It was meant to be, and the girls love it.

Last weekend Joe’s brother Dave came over to hang out with us for a day or so. It is so fun having him in town at the moment – and we’re really hoping the job he’s trying out is going to turn into something permanent so he’ll stay and play Uncle Dave permanently. And he’s good for Joe – the two of them stayed up till the wee hours playing video games together Friday night, so late that Dave crashed on our couch and hung out most of the day with us on Saturday.

He was here at the right time, too – just as I was finishing up a pair of socks. The ugly brown socks which were sized for me but which I didn’t particularly love. I remembered that Dave has feet about the same size as mine, so…

He tried them on and said they fit, and now they’re his! The colors look so much better on his feet than they would have on mine.

And finally, I saved the best for last. Guess who was in town on Sunday?

It was Kay and Ann of Mason-Dixon Knitting! They are so cool. They had some great funny stories to tell, they were so accessible and frienly you wouldn’t believe it. I met Kay briefly before the talk, and she was so sweet. She even knew who I was when I told her my name! She said I was famous because people have told her they’re knitting the “Shelly Kang” blanket. And then afterward, during the signing, they signed copies of both of their books for me and even took a picture with me and the picture from their book that largely inspired my blankie.

I could tell you so much more about the amazing fun, but my laptop battery is about to run out, and I need to get back to my knitting.

Purple Diamond Sweater – Done!

Monday, October 6th, 2008

What a long, strange road it’s been with this sweater. I bought the yarn for it at Meg Swansen’s Knitting Camp in July 2003, just a little more than a month before Julie was born. It aged in the stash closet for more than a year while I dealt with and knit for a colicky newborn, and then in early 2005 I suppose I thought I had my act together enough to tackle a complicated intarsia project.

I know I spent hours drafting out ideas for stitch patterns – at one point I was considering a pattern of overlapping circles to look like fish scales. I still have that one printed out around here somewhere. I took lots of notes, measuring sweaters that fit me well and were about the same thickness and style I was considering. Then I just jumped in and started knitting.

It was slow, arduous. I had even less free time to myself then than I do now – Julie fought sleep so valiantly back then! My brain was addled, and I did make mistakes. At one point I had to rip out a good chunk of a sleeve because (if I recall correctly) it wasn’t wide enough or maybe I had messed up the colors. I’ve blocked it out. After that nightmare, I was fed up, backed up with other projects begging to be knit, and out of confidence in the project. Like so many knitters before me, I gathered up all the yarn and materials, stuck it in a storage box, and shoved it in the back of the stash closet.

For three years that thing taunted me. So many times, I considered just throwing the whole thing in the garbage rather than let my eye fall casually on it sitting there laughing at me even one more time. And then enough was enough, and I buckled down to knit it this summer. After five years, just a few months worth of on-again off-again effort was enough to finish it off.

I mentioned Joe’s less than stellar photography – partly due to his lack of interest in the task, and partly because by the time we try for a photo shoot, I’m in my PJs with my hair pulled back and my glasses on and makeup off. Lucky for us, we had a playdate with our Canadian friends on Friday, and my friend J agreed to help me out.

On the way there, Sophie stopped on the bridge to watch the ducks swimming in the murky creek. While we were hanging out there, a squirrel came and started crossing the bridge. I couldn’t believe how fearless it was – it passed within a few feet of us, and once on the other side hung out and tried to steal food from my backpack.

He’s above Sophie in the picture above, and if you look closely in the shadows at the bottom-right of the one below, you can see that furry bugger headed right past us. Cute, but unnerving!

J is an awesome photographer, and did a great job of getting flattering pictures of both me and the sweater. It was a perfectly cool fall day, just right for a thick sweater in place of a jacket.

When J saw it on me, she exclaimed that the colors look much better in person than they had on the blog. I think this series in natural sunlight do it justice.

From the back:

The shoulder-strap:

The clasps in the front – the yarn shop ladies and I had an hilarous discussion on clasp placement involving way too many instances of the word boobs for my comfort.

And there you have it! I believe I am pleased with this one after all. Oh, and a couple more thoughts.

Somebody asked about blocking in a comment from the last post. Blocking made all the difference in the world on this project. It really smoothed everything out, and the relaxed fabric sort of stretched a bit to actually fit me. I changed my mind about the before-blocking picture. It’s truly awful, so I’m not going to show it. All I did was wash the whole sweater in a sink of lukewarm water with a drop of liquid dish soap, then I wrapped it in a towel to get out the excess water, then smoothed it flat to dry, stretching it into shape just the tiniest bit. So easy, and so worth it!

Also, in case anyone asks – this is my own personal pattern, and I don’t think I’ll be writing this one up. Knitting it was crazy enough. If anyone is just dying for the diamond graph, my arm might be twisted to hand that out.

Next time – well, there are several other things either finished or very nearly finished. Maybe I’ll get some pictures and share one with you in the next few days. I really must start to update more often before I lose all my readers.

Another Week, Much to Show…

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

Wow, people! It’s October already! How did that happen? Well, it’s the alternate Wednesday morning in which I have about an hour and fifteen minutes to myself at home between dropping Sophie off at pre-school, walking home, and walking back to pick her up again. Believe me that I’ve been thinking blog thoughts, but that I have been getting very little free time lately – Sophie’s sleep cycle is still all messed up from the passing of the regular nap, and we are working on teaching her to go to sleep by herself at the appointed time. Except that I’m a total wimp who loves to hold her child as she falls asleep, and I kept back-sliding on that. Only now I’m serious, so maybe you’ll see me around the blog more often. Don’t give up on me!

I have a slog of pictures to share with you, including two finished projects and one very nearly finished and blocking, plus some other good stuff.

The big one first. The ugly blue diamond sweater is done except for the closure. It’s blocking now. I took a couple pictures while I was working on the shoulder straps ’cause it was the first time I’d done them, and I found the structure fascinating. I wasn’t totally thrilled with where the diamond pattern ended, but I guess when you do so little advanced planning you have to take what you get.

From the top:

From the front:

and from the back:

And then the knitting was finished, and I tried it on before blocking. I’m not at all happy with the following picture for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I have to say that I was in my no-makeup evening mode and that Joe is not known for taking flattering pictures of me. Quite the opposite for some reason. But the photo-shoot did serve to remind me exactly why I joined Weight Watchers all those months ago and that I still have an account which I need to start actively using immediately. Because the sweater is on the – uh – snug side.

Now, that was pre-blocked, and I do fully expect the knitting to relax a bit from the wash and spread out. Still, it’s a little small for my current body shape. I’m reconsidering my closure options – I’d been planning to use a clasp or two something like the ones pictured towards the bottom of Schoolhouse Press’ button page. I haven’t bought any yet, and now I’m kind of thinking that if the sweater does stretch out a bit to become closer to wearable, I might choose a zipper instead. It would hold the front of the sweater together and eliminate the unsightly gaps of an over-stretched sweater with buttons. And gods, I must lose some of this weight!

The sweater is drying now. I’ve got a fan on it so maybe by tonight I can try it on again.

Oh! and I didn’t manage to finish writing this post this morning, so now it is evening and I have tried on the sweater and I know how it fits post-blocking and I’m glad I’ve waited to show you a modeled picture because now I am going to save the pre-blocking picture to show you with the final-project picture. The difference is amazing.

Let’s distract ourselves for a moment with a cute-kid picture…

I’m embarrased to admit that I unearthed a turkey from the deep freeze last week. One that I’d bought on sale after Thanksgiving almost a year ago. It was still in fine shape, so I defrosted and baked it last night. It was a small turkey, so not that complicated to deal with – no more than roasting a chicken, just with a longer cook time. By 5:00 last night the girls were starving, and begging for scraps as I carved the meat before Joe came home from work. So I sat them down and let them go at the drumsticks. Joe came in the door and asked what was up with the little barbarians. It made for a yummy dinner even without the marshmallow-sweet potato casserole, and now I have a pile of leftover turkey to figure out what to do with.

On to the other finished objects. Oops – I just realized that I’ve already shown you these socks. But here they are on my feet.

And the yummy Socks That Rock socks are done now too – a super-quick knit, and I’m in love with them.

That’s the Lucy colorway, but it reminds me of chocolate and coffee and perfect-day blue skies. I love having new socks! The only trouble is that now I am dangerously low on my supply of mindless on-the-go knitting. I’ve even resorted to knitting on the ugly blue and brown emergency-knitting socks, which are now almost done.

Top priority for my at-home knitting time is to set up some new mindless knitting. I’ve got one tiny toe started for a Sophie-sock with some of my leftover rainbow handspun…

which is fine, but will hardly get me through even one meeting before I have to turn the heel. I am so conflicted about knitting for my girls. I really want to knit stuff for them, but they are incredibly fickle about their clothes. They tend to pick favorite outfits and refuse to wear anything else. Too often, after begging me for a knit, Julie goes on to not pick it as a favorite. On the other hand, this knitting-only-for-myself business has been kind of fun. I like getting to wear the results of my labor. Still, I’m going to try to get a couple of pairs of socks done for them. I kind of feel that the mindless on-the-go knitting doesn’t count so much against the manifesto, and I’d really like to put that handspun yarn to good use.

Still, by next time I post, you can expect to see a new sock started with this.

Actually, I started it this afternoon. It’s looking great. I saw this project over on Ravelry and knew that I needed to make these socks – especially since I had the exact same yarn in stash and because I can do them as on-the-go knitting. I love the effect!

I’ve also got another ball of yarn selected for super-boring sock knitting, which I’ve split in half all ready to get the stripes started at the same point in the colorway. I’ll dig into that tonight while I watch Iron Man with the hubby if there’s still time after I finish here. Why do blog posts take me so darn long to write?

Oh, look! Here’s a little project that I haven’t fully disclosed yet. That’s the first handspun yarn I did on the spindle.

I’ll give you a hint – it’s not a hat, and it’s going to be silly-cute. This project is completely and totally not my normal kind of knitting. For one, I never knit with yarn this thick or needles this big. It kind of freaks me out and feels like cheating since it eats up the yarn so quickly. Also, I’m knitting from a pattern and – well, you’ll have to wait and see the finished results before I say any more. It’s a small project, it shouldn’t take long.

Poor Rosie is feeling a bit neglected. I haven’t done much spinning in the last week as I focused on finishing up the diamond sweater. I love you, Rosie! We’ll have an evening together soon, I promise!

This project is on my mind as well – I need another at-home thinking project now that the sweater is done. This mess is going to be a new fair-isle hat and a pair of glittens for me to wear this winter. I really should get back to work on that this week too.

There’s also another sweater for me in the wings….

till next time!