Archive for January, 2010


Thursday, January 28th, 2010

I just jammed the second-smallest toe on my left foot doing a flip-turn while swimming today, and it is rapidly turning purple. Yuck.

I promise, this is not going to become a workout blog. Really. But hey, did you catch the part of that last sentence where I told you I did a flip-turn while swimming today? I’m getting to the point where I’m almost good at them. And when I nail one, it feels great. Half a third of the time, though, I chicken out and flip when I’m not quite close enough to the wall, and then I feel like a jackass. Today’s accident was one of those, and I pushed off the wall with just my toes and YOW!

But when I nail a flip-turn, I get to pretend that I’m one of those Olympic swimmers that you see flipping and turning with the underwater cameras and they look so cool. Please, gods, may no one ever film me doing a flip-turn with an underwater camera!

Meanwhile, I do have some knitting content to put up, as soon as I block the thingie in question and get a photo of me wearing it. This whole back-to-blogging thing is seriously cutting into my crafting time.

Swimmin’ Fools

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Our family seems to be overtaken by the swimming craze. The girls continue their once-a-week lessons, I swim laps for an hour twice a week with an awesome group of people at the gym, and most weekends the whole family ends up in the pool at the gym for some play time. It’s all pools, all the time around here.

This last weekend, the girls were in their first swim meet, of all things. The swim school was holding a “Fun Meet” and the girls were all over it. Unfortunately, I had a previous engagement, but Joe took them, and it sounds like they had a good time.

I love these looks before their heats. They look just like the Olympic athletes sitting there psyching themselves up before their show.

Is that a beach towel or a teddy bear?

Sophie’s turn was first. She had just one pool length to swim.

Julie swam in a later heat, with four lengths. Both of the girls are doing well in their lessons, and Julie really can actually swim. Sophie’s getting there.

I got home just in time to chat with them a bit before bed, and they were all pumped up to show off their ribbons. Sophie told the story this way…”First I won, and then Julie won.” They were so proud of themselves. Earlier, Joe had texted me to let me know that they’d enjoy themselves, and that they’d both come in last in their heats. By a lot. This is the kind of competition I want my kids in.

Moving on to me…

Remember that embarrassing photo I showed you back at the end of September? Don’t worry, I’ll refresh your memory.

That was kind of the before picture. I was so excited to be swimming with this awesome new group, feeling the swimmin’ super-hero vibe. I’m still feeling it. I love how strong I feel in the water. I love feeling like I belong there, like I’m doing the right thing for myself a couple times a week. It’s even better now that I finally kicked the cold that was dragging me down for about three months there.

So here’s the first update. I know you all probably can’t see much difference. I know I can barely see the difference, knowing where to look and everything. But it’s so there. My arm-flaps are pretty much gone. Now I’m all toned and can show off actual muscle. I can’t wait for tank top season! My core body strength actually exists now. Most importantly, I no longer constantly worry about getting fatter and fatter and more and more atrophied.

I know, I have a long way to go. Wanna see my dream-goal picture?

That’s me back in 1996 or 1997, back during the five minutes when I was in the best shape of my life. I love my life right now about a million times more, and I’m okay with my body right now too. But that photo? It’s pretty good motivation not to go stuff my face. Except I did have that chocolate cake last night, and it was awesome.

Happy Braftday

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Today is, apparently, my Braftday. Julie has been writing more and more
lately, and she surprised me with this birthday message.

Julie is six and in Kindergarten, so her writing skills are actually
pretty impressive. I love sorting through her papers that she brings
home from school, especially when her teacher has her write a sentence
with the sight words the rest of the class is practicing. It is so much
fun deciphering her creative spelling to reveal her thoughts.

We will be heading out as a family for a casual dinner that I will not
have to cook, and some dessert that I will not have baked for myself,
hopefully chocolate cake!

Thanks to all the friends and family who have already sent e-mails,
texts and Facebook messages. Oh, the wonders of modern connectivity!


Monday, January 25th, 2010

Hi, just popping in with the current socks in progress. I’ve always got a pair (or two…or three…) of plain socks on the needles. They are necessary on-the-go and emergency knitting. Every knitter should have some easy, plain knitting available to grab at an instant’s notice to take along for situations where they will be riding passenger in a car, waiting for more than a couple minutes, sitting in a meeting, or chatting casually with friends.

Socks for me, with no specific deadline, knitknitknitknitknit. The fact that I get to wear them when they are done is mostly a bonus.

This pair is sport-weight self-striping Opal. I love this yarn. It is warm, hard-wearing, and knits up fast. This particular colorway makes me pretty happy as well.

There is a small story behind this ball of yarn, and some of its friend that are currently sitting on the shelf in my office. A few months back, and nice lady from the distributar of Opalgarn in Sweden e-mailed to ask permission to translate the blankie pattern into Swedish. I said you bet, just please could you include my name and maybe a link to my website with whatever you publish, and thank you very much! She said, no problem, and would you like to pick out a kilogram of sock yarn as a thank you gift for the pattern.

I was like a kid in a candy store. It took me a few days of clicking through their website to decide what I wanted. That’s like 8-10 pairs of socks, depending on whether you want fingering or sport weight. Eventually, I decided, and before I knew it there was a box with a kilo of sock yarn on my doorstep. I could hardly believe it! So, thanks, ├ůsa! Thanks for sharing my blankie pattern with all your customers in Sweden, and thanks for your generous gift of sock yarn. I love every single skein of it.

Crochet? No, Not Me!

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Okay, so maybe yes, I just finished showing off my newly crocheted pop-top bags. Ahem. But really. I’m not a crocheter. No, really! I’m a *Knitter*. With a capital K. Yeah, because the last time I tried to explain the difference between people who occasionally dabble in knitting and capital-K Knitters, I managed to piss a bunch of people off. And the difference (in my mind at least) is the capital-K Knitters do it a heck of a lot more, and they think about what they are doing and want to continually do it better.

But back to not crocheting. I’ll admit, I knew how to crochet before I knew how to knit. Long, long before I knew how to knit. I took a little after-school class when I was about 8 and learned how to crochet from a teacher. My crochet career consisted of one hot-pink tote bag, then later – in my 20s – an ugly red scarf, and then a halfway decent afghan for my then-future in-laws right before I learned to knit. Whew!

But I’m a Knitter. Not a crocheter. suuuure. Except. I work with this really cool, smart, super-productive lady named Teresa at the yarn shop, and I see her around, and she’s pretty quiet in my limited experience but really nice, and knows a LOT. She not only knits, but also weaves and crochets. And she teaches and writes patterns for all these things. We’ve briefly chatted about knit versus crochet now and again over the years, and a while back I dragged in my pop-top tote bag and showed it to her, all proud of myself for implementing a crochet hook in another pursuit besides corralling runaway (knit) stitches. Yay, me!

And I mentioned that I thought granny squares were kinda cool, but had never tried one. So Teresa pointed out the lovely sample blanket hanging up on the wall, a giant granny square for which she’d written a pattern. It was cool looking, and she said it was easy. And then she did this awesome thing where she pulled out a copy of the pattern and GAVE it to me. She sent me off in the world with my very own copy. That was a pretty cool thing, and she acted like it was no big deal.

Well, I happened to have a pregnant friend (she’s not pregnant any more – this happened a while back, and now I have a new-mom friend with a super-cute new daughter). This friend is a long-time participant in a casual group of friends who get together for what we like to call Knitting Night, but is really just a chance for us to sit around gossiping, eating, and catching up, with the occasional knitting content. Most of the knitters in the group knit only when knitting night comes around every couple months. They are most definitely not capital-K knitters, and none of us has a problem with that.

Anyway, this particular friend needed a blanket for her new baby. Or, at least I assumed she would. I dug around in my stash, found some baby-colored merino I’d spun up, and sat down with Teresa’s pattern. Not very long later, this is what I produced…

Pretty cute, if I do say so myself! Except, I didn’t actually make the books. I just bought those to go with the present, because every new baby should have some board books around for when they are ready (and they are usually ready before you know it). I chose some of my favorites from the early days with Julie, and then Sophie – Good Dog Carl, The Snowy Day, Time for Bed, and Big Red Barn. I’ve always been picky about what I’ll read to my kids. There are so many good books available out there, but there are a lot of really crappy ones, too. These four are all a joy to read, even when you’re reading them for the hundredth time. Good Dog Carl doesn’t have many words – it’s mostly pictures, and you have to make up the words yourself (and it’s kind of creepy, too, but kids love it because the dog and the baby are getting away with a LOT and having fun), but the other three all have that wonderful rhythm and flow that only really good children’s books bring. And the pictures are nice, too.

So anyway, the blanket was finished in the blink of an eye between iterations of the spiral sweaters. One nice thing about a giant granny square is that you can just keep going until you run out of yarn, and that’s what I did. Somehow, I don’t think I’ve quite got granny squares out of my system.

I pulled out my stash of wool/cotton/nylon blend sock yarn and started making a pile of smaller squares. They are so easy to pick up and work on here and there – mostly when I’m finished eating my dinner and the girls are still picking and theirs. I have no plan with these, really. I am just picking up whatever ball strikes my fancy, and sometimes mixing in several yarns, sometimes sticking with just the one I started with. I don’t know how big this thing will be, and I’m trying very hard not to think about the issue of some day joining them all together (yikes!).

Much of the yarn in that little bin is left from the inundation from generous knitters everywhere at the beginning of the mitered square blankie project. I promised a good home to all that yarn, and that it would be put to use by someone. I’ve felt only a tiny bit guilty about holding on to this little stash of oddballs, because I’ve had more requests than I can count from other blankie knitters for bits and pieces. But this stuff has a different texture than the wool/nylon blends, and I knew that I would get around to using it.

Joe mentioned a while ago that he doesn’t like the throw blanket we have in the living room – it’s one that my maternal grandmother crocheted for me when I was a teenager, and it is made of cheap acrylic, so it’s got that squeaky plastic feeling to it. I keep it because of the sentimental value, of course. I know, you’re thinking “where’s THE Blankie then?” Well, it’s still on its world tour display at the yarn shop. It gets a lot of attention there, and is probably safer than it would be on the back of my couch. It will come home eventually. Who knows whether I’ll finish the crochet thingie before that happens, or whether Joe will be satisfied with either of them when they finally land on the back of the couch.

I guess maybe I do crochet, a little bit. Now and then…but I’m really a Knitter.

Spinning Catch-Up Report

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

I came to the computer today to report on a fairly large pile of fingering-weight 4-ply that I just finished spinning last week, and as I flipped through my little notebook of spinning projects I realized that I’ve been keeping quite a few bits of business out of the spotlight. Oh, and as I typed that last sentence, I realized that I probably should post about my spinning notebook at some point, but since the photos are all uploaded and ready to go, that is not going to happen today.

Instead you may feast your eyes on some luscious handspun and be satisfied with that. First, I took a pile of BFL roving from Spunky Eclectic in the Zodiac Light colorway – sorry, no before pictures, I’m afraid. Will try to do better in the future. I’m not exactly sure how much I started with. It was really nice roving, very soft, fluffy and draftable, so don’t think that any waste I had was because of problems with that. Somehow, I’m pretty sure I had a pound of the stuff, but when I weighed all the finished skeins it came out to only around 13 ounces. There were some leftover singles, I know I found a few fluffs of roving here and there after the fact, and – well, somehow a good three ounces disappeared on me somewhere.

Still, I have a very nice pile of yarn, and this project was quite a long one – a good three months’ worth of spinning, as the singles were frog-hair thin. So thin that I struggled with getting the wheel to spin fast enough to satisfy my drafting speed. So thin, in fact, that I decided to go with a four-ply instead of three. I’m thinking of knitting a sweater with this yarn, because a large shawl wouldn’t really do me much good, at least not at the moment and not in this colorway. The original roving had some mauve-y pink, black, gray, and tawny undyed parts. I like the way it made a very subtle stripey variegation when done. With 1550 yards, it should be plenty of yarn for a sweater, and I have a design in mind for it – not my own, but an EZ one I’ve had my eye on for years.

Daisy Cat loves checking out my yarn, by the way. If she is anywhere nearby when I plop a pile of skeins down, she makes a bee-line for it, making it nearly impossible to get a picture without some part of her in it. Sweet old thing – I can’t begrudge her any attention now that her best friend Harry is gone.

Next up, some yarn I spun up right after the lace weight was finished. I bought the wool for this crazy stuff at SOAR, from Velma of Colorbomb Creations. She sells these grab-bags of fiber in Hot and Cold colorways, with all kinds of different bits and bobs of locks, roving, cloud, nebs, you name it. When I saw her stuff, I knew immediately that I needed some of it. Crap! I was sure I’d taken a better picture of the wool, but all I have is this blurry one from my phone at SOAR, with Velma, who is hilarious and fun. Go check out her etsy shop to see them more clearly.

I bought one of each colorway, and then I waited patiently till the other project was finished before starting this one. Unlike with knitting, I feel a need to be project-monogamous with the spinning. I have a hard enough time deciding which project to work on first as it is.

Anyway, there was a lot of staring over my shoulder at the Smorgasbombs on the shelf as I finished up that very long project. When I finally set aside the Rose wheel and pulled down my Earl Oman wheel to whip this up, it was only a few days’ worth of spinning. I had some mill ends laying around from Blackberry Ridge, so I spun those in while I was at it.

I spun chunkier, bumpier, messier singles this time, and plied them as two-ply for a funky thick-and thin yarn.

My plan is to knit something – probably a scarf/hat/mitten set – using stripes of the two colorways, sort of like what people have been doing with the Noro yarns of late. This pile totals about 600 yards, so I might even be able to do sets for both of the girls. Or something. It will be kooky and delicious.

Moving on, here is a little project from June and July. I started with four ounces of superwash merino batts from Spunky Eclectic – I’d gone a little crazy ordering from her back in March. This is the Baby Rainbows colorway of her Heathered Sock Batts. I came out with a pretty true 3-ply fingering weight yarn, and 477 yards of it. This will probably be my next sock project.

We’ve got a couple more to go. I really have been holding out on y’all. This yarn started as two tops from Cloudlover 69. I’d bought from her before, and was very excited to meet her at Shepherd’s Harvest last May. She dyes up some beautiful colorways, and her wool is always soft and draftable. I chose a Merino Wool top in her Sangria colorway, and a Falkland wool top in her Brass Petals colorway. I spun each top separately, then plied the singles together.

It is yummy-soft and squishable. I think I’d call this about sport or DK weight, and there are 1090 yards of yum here. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it just yet. Here’s a closer look…

I really love this next one. I started with two handdyed tops from Vines on etsy, a blend of superwash wool with 25% mohair and 15% nylon, 8 ounces total. She dyed them in a progressive rainbow along the length of the tops, so spinning them straight through and navajo-plying the singles gave me two skeins of long-repeat self-striping goodness.

I haven’t figured out exactly what to do with this batch either. There are a little over 600 yards here, and it’s somewhere between DK and worsted weight. I think it would be fun to do some kind of faux isle project with this – using this for the foreground and a solid color for the background. Maybe a yoke sweater.

And, finally. I bought a big 8-ounce top from Frabjous Fibers at Shepherd’s Harvest in May, and spun it in early September into a 3-ply, again somewhere around sport weight-ish. There’s almost 600 yards here, and I have *no* idea what to do with it. It’s lovely BFL, very soft and squishy. For now, it’s nice to just look at and pet till it speaks to me.

A closeup with flash – the top picture is more accurate for color, but the flash allows you to see the pretty barberpoling.

Lastly, a cute-kid picture that was on the camera with the yarn shots. Cousin K came over to play on Monday when they were all off school for Martin Luther King day. Sophie made a smile out of her sliced apple, and before I knew it they were all doing it. You can see Julie’s been wearing her sweater. She wore it again today, and still seems pretty happy with it.

Whew! It feels good to get all that off my chest. In the future, I really must remember to take pictures of the roving before I dive into it. By the way, most of these yarns would be available for sale if someone wants them badly enough. I charge twice what I paid for the wool, so if you’re seriously interested, e-mail me and I’ll give you a price. shellyk at shellykang dot com. Don’t ask in the comments, because I don’t get your e-mail address when you comment even if you’ve typed it into the form.

Burning Questions and the Other Bag

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

What a warm welcome back to blogging you all have given me! Thank you for your comments and questions. So far I’ve sent out around 20 copies of the spiral sweater pattern, and I think I’m caught up with the requests. I’ll continue giving it out for free for a couple more days, since I’ve posted on the Ravelry group to get it and hopefully all the KAL-ers have seen the heads up by then. After that, it will go up for sale on Ravelry downloads and at the store where I work. I can’t wait to see photos of your finished sweaters!

Boots – I’ve had a question or two about the boots I was wearing in my Christmas wrap-up post. I bought them right before Christmas because my old UGGs were about 10 years old, and no longer fit my feet. Before kids, I wore a size 10 1/2, now I need a size 12! I finally went through the house last summer and threw away all the too-small shoes, and my feet are much happier now.

Anyway, the new boots are Sorels, and so far I’m very happy with them. They are great for slipping on and off – I don’t actually have to untie and retie the laces to get them on and off, which is good when you’re trying to herd a couple of cats children out the door. The waterproof bottoms are also great when sloshing through filthy slush in parking lots on days when the temps rise to near-freezing. They are pretty warm and cozy on my feet, although not quite as luxurious as UGGs. You can order them at Zappos, although I think for some reason I ordered mine from the Nordstrom website.

Do you know how hard it is to find good shoes in size 12 womens?!? Most brands do not even go up that high. It can be very frustrating. I tried to buy boots locally at a store nearby that carries some larger sizes. The idiot salesguy actually tried to convince me that I would be okay in an 11. Um, no. If I wanted boots that hurt my feet, I would stick with my 10-year-old Uggs (which were actually in pretty good shape because I only wore them when I really needed to.)

Julie’s Haircut
I was surprised by the huge interest in Julie’s new haircut. It’s hardly new to us any more – she’s had it since maybe late September or early October. No, Sophie did not get at her with the scissors. We cut it short because Julie has a sensitive little scalp and brushing her hair was like sheer torture. Also, she was not willing to let me help her pull it back, so it was always in her face. Her longer hair was always a mess and I could never see her sweet smile.

So we decided to go for a little pixie cut. Actually, she wanted a haircut to look like the main character in My Neighbor Totoro.

We took the video with us to the salon, and the nice lady did a good job giving us what we wanted. The nice thing about this haircut is that even when it is incredibly messy, it still looks cute, and I can always see her beautiful little face. It also saves us from a lot of grief in the mornings.

And now, for another bag story, which is really from September. This is another one of those cases where I was busy doing, and not so much busy writing. I was cleaning out my closet a bit, getting ready for fall, and realized that I had a couple sweaters that I was never going to wear again. I came thisclose to shoving them in the bag for the local charity pickup, but then I realized I could put them to better use myself.

I’d been wanting to try the Shibouri techniques I’ve been reading about for the last few years, and this was my chance to do it without knitting something up special for the purpose. I looked around the house, and found the perfect materials just waiting for the purpose. The girls have a big jar of pop beads, and we had a bunch of those tiny hair binders left over from the baby days.

Using the pop beads worked really well both for the functional Shibouri resist factor, but also because it meant that the girls could hang out with me and play, so we all felt like we were doing it together.

Here’s my work early on – I’d cut up the sweater and was tying the beads into the orange stripe along the bottom, holding them in with the little rubber bands.

Sophie thought the ribbed collar of one of the other sweaters made a great headband.

Julie decided she wanted to do Shibouri too, so I gave her a piece from a dark gray sweater, and she tied in a bunch of beads sort of randomly. – and see? This is an example of how I could never see her face when she had longer hair. Only usually it was worse.

Here’s my piece once I had all the beads in place…

While I was at it, I dug through my stash and found this old, unfinished Christmas stocking, which I had started and then decided I hated. It went into the wash with everything else.

I also had a bunch of leftover shetland wool yarn, which was easily machine knit up into long, scarf-like swatches, and I put some beads into those as well. It’s nice that the pop beads come in different sizes and shapes.

I actually had three sweaters to cut up – this light gray one is from when I was about 13. It was oversized back then, and a little small for me now. Still a nice sweater, just a little dated with the colors. I cut all the seams away and threw it in the wash.

Here’s Julie’s piece pre-wash. Like I said – totally random beads. But she enjoyed participating in it.

Here’s the big picture pre-washing.

All along, I had told the girls that I was going to sew these pieces together to make a bag, so of course Julie wanted a bag of her own. I know that this is a sad, sad looking bag, but I let her pick out the ribbon to go on the handle, and she was proud of it.

Very, very proud of it…

Especially since I let her help with the sewing. Yeah, and of course Sophie needed a bag too at that point, even though she had not done any shibouri-ing. I didn’t really want to sacrifice any more of my felted pieces, so I dug out some cheap store-bought felt and threw this together for her.

I know I’ve mentioned that I have a tenuous relationship with my sewing machine, at best. I know the bag looks a little wonky. But I was definitely going for eclectic, which is wonky’s first cousin, so maybe it’s okay.

And hey! I always wanted the chance to sew some ric rac on something, and this project allowed me a chance to indulge. Here’s what it looks like with the wheel inside…

Yeah, I even figured out how to make little buckle straps. Whee! The backpack straps were a major pain since my sewing machine didn’t want to sew through that webbing Idonotknowwhy. I sewed them on by hand, which is functional if not exactly lovely, except that I also made them a bit shorter than they should be because I was afraid of making them too long. Sigh.

Once it was all whipped up, I bought a bunch of thick foam and cut sheets to fit between the lining and the outside layers to help pad the soft wood from bumps. I used some canvas for the lining because the felted knitting would have been to stretchy and weak. It’s the brick red color you see on some of the outside blocks – I didn’t have quite enough felt to do all the outside, and I was going for wonky eclectic anyway, right?

This bag did not get nearly as many impressed comments at SOAR as the pop-tab tote bag did, but it does put the fun in functional.

A Resounding Success

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Hey, now that I’m hanging around typing in my blogger window again, guess what? I found this picture post I started right after Christmas and never finished because I was exhausted and tired of thinking about Christmas. Still, it’s all here. I might as well put it on out there for you all to see now that the post-holiday fatigue is over…

I totally owe y’all a giant picture-dump post, and what a better time to document some of the happy goings-on around here than right after the big bang of holiday madness is complete. I just finished cooking, serving, and cleaning up after a dinner party of 15, and am sitting here on the couch, exhausted, next to my husband and feeling fine. But we’ll have to back up a bit to deal with a tiny portion of the photo backlog just downloaded from my camera.

Let’s see…some time during Thanksgiving week, my friend Liz who I used to work with back when I was pregnant with Julie came over and hung out with us for a morning. She brought two undecorated gingerbread houses that she had made from scratch and a pile of candies and royal icing for the girls to decorate them with.

Liz is pretty cool that way. I hadn’t seen her for like a year or so, and we had a lot of fun hanging out with her. The houses are still sitting on top of my refrigerator, and I’ll have to sneak them out to the trash in a few more days, but we loved them while they lasted. I miss working with Liz – she’s crafty and fun and really laid back. Probably one of the best co-workers I’ve ever had. The girls were fiercely independent in their decorating. They didn’t want much advice, and they certainly did not want me touching their creations.

Okay, that scene happened on some random weekend morning. We love lounging around in our jammies, and the girls are constantly climbing all over me. We are a snuggly bunch, and yes, there’s the basket of knitting sitting where it almost always sits on the couch. That’s the sample sweater currently overdue at the store. It’s done now, just waiting for me to finalize the pattern so I can deliver the whole mess at once. I think I’m going to scrape out a few hours while Joe is on vacation in the next few days to git ‘er done. And that means I’ll be able to finally put out the last installment of the knit-along for all you patient souls out there waiting for it. (Note: yes, this part really was written while I was still working on that last part of the spiral sweater pattern!)

The day we decorated the tree, Sophie found this pair of reindeer antlers in one of the boxes of decorations. She spent the next week walking around on all fours in her reindeer persona. Hilarity ensued.

We made cut-out sugar cookies. Julie has finally figured out the concept of cutting out cookies as close to each other as possible, while Sophie still thinks it’s best to stick her cutter right in the middle of the remaining available space.

The next day we spent a couple hours decorating them with royal icing and about five kinds of sprinkles. I could not believe how well the girls did with this activity. I’d been dreading it a bit, to be honest. But they stuck with it. They listened to my instructions, they really focused on what they were doing. Julie made some awesome-looking cookies, and Sophie – well, she was nothing if not enthusiastic. I had to keep stopping her from flooding the cookies with giant blobs of icing, but she was good about spreading it out and dumping sugar crystals on them. We had fun, and they were quite proud of their creations.

Sophie’s favorite color is purple, and unfortunately our purple icing came out a little dark, but that didn’t stop her from making some awesome purple reindeer, snowmen, stars, and everything else. Julie’s favorite is pink, but she used all of the colors at one point or another.

Yeah, more tackling mommy. Sophie’s been hanging out in dance clothes a lot lately, when she’s not in her jammies or required to wear regular clothes.

Last week we took Joe’s brother and his fiance out for fondue at the Melting Pot. It was the girls’ first time there, and they did pretty well. Sophie didn’t eat much until we got to the dessert course, and I didn’t push it because she was otherwise on best behavior. We made a nice group…

Sophie was reeeeally tired at this point, but she hung in there. The kid is in between growth spurts at the moment, and she’s refusing to eat a lot of regular foods. When we’re at home and it’s not a holiday or party, I make it simple – either eat what I’m serving, or don’t eat. I think she’s just not all that hungry, because she’ll simply not eat sometimes. It’s a little frustrating, but I know she’s not starving, and it’s not exactly like I’m serving her weird or non-delicious stuff. One of the nice things about second kids is that it’s a lot easier to take these little glitches as they come.

Man, I look really happy in that picture. I was really happy in that moment. I love fondue, and especially the dessert part. Then again, I’ve been having lots of really happy moments lately. Knock on wood, ’cause life is pretty good right now.

We’ve had quite a bit of snow this week, and it’s still snowing right now as I type. Yesterday, I thought the snow was going to be sticky enough for a snowman, but it was just a little too dry. Instead, the girls made snow angels and played in the yard while Joe and I cleared the paths.

And then we went sledding! We only lasted through a few runs, as the hill was steep and the children have short little legs. But it was another one of those honestly fun simple moments.

Sophie had fun too, even though she kept ending up with a face full of snow at the end of each run.

We had a quiet Christmas Eve last night, and that was just fine. I had prep work to do for the party today, and I was tired from my morning workout at the gym, the shoveling and sledding, and the pre-Christmas cooking. The girls did their best to fall asleep quickly so Santa could come, and Sophie woke up once around 2 a.m. to ask whether Santa had come yet.

By 7:30, they were both awake and downstairs gazing at their stockings.

Alright, and this is the point at which I petered out from sheer exhaustion. I guess I was writing this on Christmas night. What was I thinking? But yeah, Julie’s favorite present was this set of PowerPuff girl dolls. She’s a bit obsessed with the old show, long story on how that happened, but it comes down to she came across some old Powerpuff girls stuff I had around from when the show was popular before she was even born, and now she makes up her own stories about Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup and talks about them all the time. You can see Sophie playing in the background with the new Legos Santa brought. We’ve had that Lego table since Julie was a baby, and Santa thoughtfully switched out the top from Duplo-sized to the smaller Lego size when he brought the new bricks.

Sophie hammed it up for me while I snapped a photo of some of the other loot that came in her stocking.

Oh, yeah. Julie got her first Barbie dolls this year, too. We did our best to find ones that looked the most like our girls and the least – well, my brother-in-law bought one for her, and I’d told him what my conditions were, and the way he described it later was “not too ho’d out”. Yeah, most Barbies do look a little bit like street walkers. We found one that was wearing scuba gear and he found one that was wearing a three musketeers costume.

Joe got a copy of DJ Hero, which he was thrilled with. I got him the special-edition DJ Shadow one, which made him squee like a little girl.

I got a bunch of great stuff, including new lap-swimming gear that I basically picked out for myself, plus some cool little surprises from Joe. He got me a doo-hickey that lets me use my MP3 player with the mini-van’s car stereo. Yay!

We had the extended family over Christmas night for dinner and gifts and games. I feel like I’ve finally gotten the game down for feeding the big group and fitting in the kitchen duties with the Christmas fun. I had a great time, and I think everyone else did too.

We changed up our gift-giving game a bit, to involve silly stunts every time someone opened a present. My MIL got stuck with one of the silliest, which was to put Pocky in your mouth Walrus-style and let us take her picture.

Yeah, we had to explain that the Pocky was supposed to point down, but I liked the upward-pointing picture better. You can see the laughter on Joe’s and Sarah’s faces in the background, and MIL was a very good sport about it. I’m not sure if she knows the whole internet was watching…

And that is the holiday picture-post, less than a month late for you!

Spiral Sweater KAL Finale!

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Let’s review the story of Shelly’s Spiral Sweater so far…It all started out last June. June! Really?! I can’t believe it’s been that long. Soooo sorry for letting it drag on this way. Freakin’ June. Sheesh.

Anyway, I came up with this totally new-to-me idea for constructing a sweater. A way to show off some handspun yarn I’d worked up. I was pretty excited about it from day one. So excited that I cranked that first one out pretty quickly. So excited that I ran outside the moment it was finished and forced my nice neighbor to take my picture quick so I could show it off to the world. You can even see there is still a stitch marker and an unwoven end hanging down at the bottom. And I’m sweating like a pig in that picture because it was way too hot outside to be wearing a handknit sweater.

And apparently my excitement rubbed off a bit, because a few people expressed an interest in knitting a sweater like it, and I decided a knit-along would be fun. I scrounged through my stash and found some yarn for a second sweater, and wrote up a post full of tips on what kind of yarn to buy and how much. So far so good.

Next, we jumped right in with the beginning of the spiral, which doubled as a gauge swatch. I started that second sweater with a different stitch pattern than the first, and handed out charts for both. I was just wearing that second sweater today. I love that bobbly stitch pattern, especially in the fingering weight yarn.

The next post was a little scary, maybe. There was some blocking, some measuring, and even the dreaded math. But it was simple math, and there was a sleepy cat thrown in for good measure, so some of you held with me and kept the momentum going.

Meanwhile, there were lots of good questions and answers going on over at Ravelry.

It takes a lot more time to crank out a sweater in teeny tiny stitches on fingering weight yarn than it does a worsted-weight sweater. Especially when there are bobbles involved where none were before. But I was knitting obsessively, and it wasn’t too long before I had another post up getting through the math on the sleeves.

And then things started to loose steam a bit. A few weeks went by without another KAL post. I was sneaking along on a secret gifty project – well, maybe two. I know there was a pair of socks and a baby blanket somewhere along the way. Maybe I’ll get around to blogging those eventually. Finally, I put together a pretty good description of how to pick up the stitches for the yoke, how to set up the underarm stitches and markers for the joins.

And then – then I freakin’ left you hanging! Yikes! Partly because it felt a bit overwhelming to explain the three or four things that need to happen all at once to make the yoke happen. It’s a lot easier to knit them than it is to write them down. And figuring just how much detail is enough, and yadda yadda. Eventually, I decided to get serious and just write it up as an honest-to-goodness pattern so that the effort could double as a class-teaching tool.

So I kind of dropped everything to knit up a third sweater – one made out of yarn from my lovely LYS so that they can hang it up as a shop model. Only really, that was the fourth sweater because I knit one for Sophie that I never told you about. I better back up.

Some time over the summer, I heard about a design contest that a big yarn company was holding for their sock yarns. I was feeling so stupid-excited about my little idea that I thought “why not?” and I went and bought a pile of sparkly sock yarn and made a Sophie-sized sweater. I think it is super-cute. Especially on Sophie.

I used another new stitch pattern for the lace, and I figured that it would count as an unpublished design since I certainly hadn’t published it in a child’s size and I’d changed it up with the stitch pattern and the yarns.

Well, Sophie was thrilled with the sweater. Still is, although she hadn’t gotten to wear it much till last week because when it came back from the contest she only had it for a few weeks before I snuck it off to the yarn shop to serve as a model till the real shop model was done. The contest was a wash. I got a nice form letter back saying they had lots of lovely designs and it was very hard to choose, yadda yadda. I also got the fall line of pattern pamphlets from the company, and I can’t complain. You throw the dice, you take your chance…maybe next time, right?

Okay, and then at some point I finished the green and yellow sweater. I really wasn’t all that thrilled with the neckline. I’m still not entirely thrilled with it, and that was another one of the things that held me back from finishing the KAL. I wanted a third go at the neckline before I told a bunch of strangers on the internet how to do it.

The good news, looking at this picture, is that I’ve lost a couple pounds and gained more tone from swimming since then – the tummy bulge is definitely getting smaller. Because I know you all were just dying to hear about that, right?

Alright, and at some point Julie was starting to feel pretty down-and-out about everyone else getting handknit sweaters but not her. I knew she’d want a cardigan, and also there had been some discussion early on about what a cardigan version of this sweater would look like. As much as I love steeks, I still stand by my claim that a steeked version of this would be a bad, bad thing. Mostly because the spiral shape would make the thing hang all wonky, and the button band would break up the lines of the spiral making it pointless anyway.

I dug around in my stash and found a pile of pink Malabrigo-like yarn left from the closing of a LYS a few years ago – they’d tried to sell a line of their own yarns, and unfortunately it dragged them down. Julie is a pink-crazy girlie-girl, so I started this sweater for her. And then she started talking about wanting me to knit her a PowerPuff Girls dress (she’s a bit obsessed with the PowerPuff Girls – long story).

So I added a black stripe a la Blossom. She loves it and wears it a lot. But she did get tired of posing for me pretty quickly.

Oh, hai! Also, that was my first time sewing a zipper into a sweater. It wasn’t hard at all, although my first try with the sewing machine went completely wrong. I ended up sewing it in by hand, and it worked fine.

And finally, the shop model, made from Mochi Plus yarn. I think it turned out really well. It’s in a smaller size, so I had to ask my model-thin friend V to come over and try it on.

I used the original stitch pattern for this one, and modified the neckline so that I’m now quite happy with it.

And that is how I ended up knitting five spiral sweaters in six months without managing to finish the knit-along over here on the blog. And I know some of you are sitting at your computers reading this and thinking “I know! Hand over the rest of the instructions already, you jerk!” And you have every.single.right. in the world to be royally pissed at me right now.

So here’s the deal. I’m going to e-mail y’all a .pdf of the finished pattern. Those of you who’ve been playing along from months and months ago. Do me a favor and send me an e-mail from the account where you want your .pdf sent. I’m going to go post this on Ravelry too, so hopefully I’ll catch everybody. I’ll tell you what – this is a new, untested by anyone else but me pattern, so if you want to knit one up, go ahead and send me an e-mail in the next week or so and I’ll get you a copy as well. All I ask is that you let me know if you find any problems with it. That’s the first way I’m going to try and make it up to my KAL-ers.

Secondly, anyone who is willing to e-mail me a picture of their finished project and allow me to post about it, and/or put their finished project up on Ravelry within the next month or so is getting a prize package from my very own stash. I will put together something special for each person based on a little questionnaire that I send you. I have a very large stash with a lot of nice stuff. I owe you all for not burning me in effigy. Packages may include things like sock yarn, spinning fiber, possibly some of my handspun, copies of my other patterns, little knitting notions, maybe a book, who knows what else. It will be a nice surprise, I promise.

Oh! And the yarn store is letting me teach a class on this. It’s going to be on Wednesday evenings starting March 3. This sweater is a great way to try lace for the first time since you’re knitting only a narrow strip back and forth and it’s easy to keep track of the pattern, and ripping back is almost painless if necessary. The worsted weight version knits up quickly, and it’s a great exercise in understanding how a raglan sweater works. It’s super-customizable and can be flattering on most body types. And I make cookies for my students.

Pop Tabs

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Hi, friends. I know I’ve probably lost a lot of readers over the last few months, with the lack of posting. I’ve got so much to catch up on, so much to share with those of you still here and with the world. I’ve been busy enjoying my daily life, indulging in a creative spurt that just wouldn’t stop. I’ve had many thoughts every day about what to say on my blog, and then every evening it seems that one of many crafty or family or even job-related things seemed more important or fun.

Well. The need to blog has started to reassert itself. I’ve re-realized how important this little record of everyday life is to me. I know that if I can just jump back in and write every day, more or less, then the habit will sink back in and I will get my groove back. I miss you all, so give me another chance, and I will do my best to entertain you a little more often.

I owe an especial apology to the people who started that spiral sweater knit-along with me. You are not forgotten! I’ve just finished up a real-world pattern for it, and I have something special in store for all of you who are waiting for the knit-along finale. I promise a big post on it by the end of the weekend. You are not going to believe the spiral madness I’ve been up to. Meanwhile, I’m going to share another design project that I’m pretty excited about.

Back in October, I teased you all with a blurry picture of a couple of bags sitting on airport chairs, headed home with me from SOAR. Here’s a better picture of the one I’m talking about tonight…

I love this bag. LOVE this bag. It is so much fun to carry, and honestly it was kind of fun to make. I took this bag with me on my trip to Oregon for SOAR, and got compliments on in non-stop from the moment I walked up to the Starbucks barista at 6 a.m the first morning at the airport till the moment I climbed in the cab on my way home and the cabbie did a double-take on it. Not to mention the fiber-groupies at SOAR who couldn’t stop fondling it and oohing and ahhing over it. It was a great conversation opener, and people would drag their friends over to me at meals to “show them that bag they were telling them about”.

Let’s take a closer look…

Yes, it is made out of recycled pop tabs. The little things that open beverage cans. I crocheted them together, then lined it with a double-sided fabric tote bag, which was not nearly as difficult to make as I’d expected given my stand-offish relationship with my sewing machine ever since that wild experience with the slipcovers back in 2002. The yarn is some Lion Brand stuff, of all things – it’s their wool/stainless steel laceweight, which I had laying around, and which was a great color match, but not so great in the durability factor. I’ve had to repair it twice since I made it, but live and learn, the next bag(s) are and will be made of more durable yarns. More about that in a minute.

First, here’s a look at the inside. I love this fabric. The inside of the bag is this cute print, and there are even some pockets. It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but the outside of the lining is a solid-color canvas in a brick red. I wanted the extra thickness to help support the weight of the slinky pop-tabs, and also the solid color looks much better peeping through the tabs than a print would.

Okay, and I have to note here that while the actual doing of this project, the size, the shape, the figuring out how to put it all together came straight from my head, I had some awesome inspiration. There is an awesome cooperative from Brazil called Escama Studio that makes similar bags. Go look – you can buy them online, and they are made by artisans who would not otherwise have jobs in the local economy there. The stories are moving, and the bags are beautiful. I’d long admired their bags, and would have like to buy one, but for two reasons. Most of their bags are a bit smaller, and also they’re a bit pricey. Now, I mean, I think they’re worth every penny – especially after having made a couple myself and knowing how much work goes into them. But I really wanted to make one myself for the experience of it, and also so that I could say that I made it myself if someone asked.

Then, one day, I was at a neighbor’s house (Hi, Megan!) and noticed a giant Ziploc bag of pop tabs on her kitchen counter. She’s involved with our local schools, helping to sort out the trash-to-change program donations – you know, the soup can labels and the box tops for education and the milk container caps that all add up to big bucks for the extras at our schools. Someone kept donating these pop tabs, thinking that the schools could benefit from them, when really it is the Ronald McDonald House charities that wants them.

Well, the lovely Megan just laughed at me when she saw my eyes bug out over that bag of pop tabs. She said yes, I could have them, as long as I promised to make a donation to some charity in return. No problem! We don’t drink a lot of soda around here, and what beer we drink comes in bottles, so it would have taken me about a year well over a year to collect enough tabs for a bag that size. Trust me when I say that Megan was not laughing when she saw the finished bag. She was practically passed out on the floor in disbelief with how cool it is.

Alright, so the story’s not over. I knew after my trip and all the fiberistas flipping out over the prototype that I was not the only fiber-crazed individual ready to knit crochet a bag out of recycled aluminum. I ran off to my LYS and begged my bosses there to let me offer a class on the subject. They were a little dubious at first, especially with the issue of where on earth we would get all those pop tabs necessary to supply the students. But they realized that I wasn’t going to give up on this particular brand of crazy, and agreed to give it a try. I spent a couple weeks whipping up this little beauty:

A much smaller bag, small enough for students to get the work done between classes, small enough to require a lot less carbonated-beverage consumption to get from point A to point B. This one is crocheted with Euroflax linen yarn, which is super strong and also comes in lots of pretty colors. I even crocheted the lining so that my students won’t have to make friends with a sewing machine if they don’t want to, although they will have to install a zipper, which is much less scary than I, as a zipper installing virgin had imagined.

Here’s the brief rush-call-to-action. If you want to make your very own bag, the class does still have a few openings. It’s on Thursdays, starting January 21, and continuing on February 4 and 18 from 6-8:30 at The Yarnery in St. Paul.

But what, you might ask, did I end up doing about the pop tab supply? Oh, that is a fun story all its own. I simply called up the nice lady in charge of pop tab collections at the local Ronald McDonald House charities in town. I told her what I was up to and asked if I could a)donate some money to pay back for the tabs I’d redirected from the donation stream in the first place and b)buy a bunch more tabs. Turns out the market price for pop tab aluminum is pretty low right now, so the nice lady was thrilled to help me fill up the back of my minivan with just about as many pop tabs as I wanted. She also hinted strongly that she’d like me to crochet another bag for their Spring fundraising auction, and I hinted strongly that I could probably do that. Here’s the stash of unprocessed tabs – that green tub and the box and bags on top of it are completely full of tabs, and there is another huge pile on the other side of the room of kits all ready to go – washed, sorted, crazy sharp edges bent down or removed.

I’ve put together a very nice tutorial-style pattern for the small zippered clutch, and will probably be putting up some kits on etsy soon (once the class has gone and my students have had first crack at the available kits).

And that is the story of the pop tab bags so far. I’m off to start typing up a spiral sweater post to hopefully make it worth the wait. Meanwhile, hey! I know the knit-blogosphere has been dwindling all around. People are busy on Twitter and Ravelry and probably suffering the same kind of blogger fatigue that I’m trying to recover from. Let’s all go leave a nice comment on our favorite bloggers’ posts, give them some good feedback to keep them motivated. Thanks for sticking with me.