Archive for February, 2010

An Evening With Annemore

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Last night I had the opportunity to take a class with Annemore Sundbo, from Setesdal, Norway. I’ve been an admirer of hers since her first book, Everyday Knitting: Treasures from a Ragpile came out in 2001. It’s an amazing book of history of the sweater tradition in her specific region of Norway. It sounds kind of dry saying it that way, but the book is pure eye candy and is filled with amazing photos of sweaters literally dug out of a pile of rags meant to be recycled.

Well, when I heard that the Yarnery was bringing her in to teach a class, I signed up immediately. I just wanted to hear her stories, see what she had to say in person, yadda yadda. I’ve never done much embroidery (aside from a few early forays into cross stitch), let alone considered working the fancy decoration on traditional Norwegian sweaters. Actually, I didn’t really realize that the trim on those fancy sweaters was hand-sewn embroidery – I guess I just thought it was fancy ribbon. D’oh. Still, I figured I’d take whatever class she was offering and go with the flow.

It was well worth it – I’m so used to being the expert teacher, it’s good to be the abject newby again. Not to mention that Annemore was very nice, and had some funny stories and new insight to offer.

First, let me show you what we worked on…It’s just a little pincushion design, but it was just the right size project for the time allowed. She started us off with little felted flannel squares, and some waste canvas to stitch on. We basted the canvas down, then started embroidering red triangles. This embroidery is a free-form art, and each piece is meant to be unique, but there are some strict rules. You have to start with the red triangles, and you have to two two reds for every third other-color triangle. Apparently the red stands for love.

I sat next to my friend and co-worker Peggy, who has done embroidery before. Her work was faster and a little neater than mine.

Annemore brought several beautiful samples with her, as inspiration…

Mostly samplers at different stages of completion, but really rich in variety and beautifully worked.

Apparently the little old ladies of Setesdal are very picky about the stitches and will not hesitate to tell someone that their stitches are not small enough, or not right altogether. Annemore said that one of her neighbors looked at a sweater she had copied from one of the originals dug out of the rag pile, and that the neighbor told her she’d done it wrong. When Annemore said, no, I copied it stitch for stitch from this sweater from 1869, the woman said “Well, they didn’t know the right way to do it back then.” It sounds very familiar to knitting culture I’ve seen much closer to home.

I got the obligatory visiting-knitting-celebrity picture with her (and in my spiral sweater to boot!)

Once we’d finished the triangles, we did an outline with stem stitch around the square, then a second time round the square – both in red. We took out the waste canvas, and then added in some more decoration. Mine still isn’t entirely done, but I can’t quite believe how pretty it is – mine’s the one on the bottom right – and how all of them are beautiful in their own unique way despite the similarities.

I’m considering possibly doing some embroidery for the sweater I just started, even though it is not going to be a traditional Norwegian style. We’ll see if I have the patience for it at the end of that project.

Oh! and one more tidbit about traditional Norwegian sweaters. I was asking Annemore about what technique is traditionally used for securing steeks in these sweaters, and she pointed out to me that mostly the bodies of them are machine knit – the people don’t want to spend the time hand knitting them, so they are worked in separate panels – usually a front and a back, and sometimes with separate side panels. A girl might get a traditional outfit for her confirmation, and then add in side panels if her size changes as she grows older.

Okay – hopefully I have time for a couple more round on the new sweater before I head off to bed!

Lazy Sunday

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

The girls and I are cuddled on the couch watching the Olympic ski-cross after a late start this morning, followed by a heaping pile of french toast, the reading of the Sunday paper and simultaneous Polly Pocket play party. We’re all still in our pajamas, but we’ll get dressed in a while to head to the gym for a splash in the pool.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d share a few pictures from the week…

Julie continues her obsession with the PowerPuff girls. This is just a portion of the pictures she’s produced in the last several days. Some of these are pictures of people she knows as they would look if they were PowerPuff girls.

Julie lost a third tooth on Thursday. The tooth fairy made another visit to our house, leaving behind a special note along with the cash. A survey of moms I know led to the conclusion that kids these days are getting a dollar for each year of age when they lose the tooth. I think I got a quarter for mine! The notes are new to our family in this generation – our love for all things fairy around here must have attracted special attention.

Last night’s dinner was my version of bibimbahp – rice, bite-sized pieces of marinated beef, spinach seasoned with sesame oil, sesame seeds, and vinegar, stir-fried julienne of carrots, and fried eggs artfully arranged in a bowl for serving, then doused with gochujang vinegared chile paste sauce and mixed together for eating. It is easier to make than it sounds, tastes reeeeally good, and is fairly healthy. Best of all, the whole family loves it and eats the whole mess without complaining – veggies, meat, and all.

Daisy cat joined us for a good portion of the meal. She just sat there on her chair and watched us eat for a while. Ever since Harry passed, she’s gotten more and more brazen about meowing for food, and sometimes jumping on the table or countertops to see what she can find when she thinks no one will notice. She especially loves drinking out of abandoned water glasses, which means that we don’t leave them around as much, or at least make sure not to drink out of any we’ve ignored for long.

In crafty news, my sweater creeps slowly forward. Really slowly. As in, I love the way it’s looking, but there’s hardly enough knit yet to show off. All those teeny stitches means it takes about half an hour to finish just one teeny round. At least while watching Olympic coverage, that is.

I finished a pair of socks, but they aren’t blocked yet. I’ll show them off some time this week – my BIL Dave asked me to donate something to a charity auction his non-profit is hosting next month, and I sort of promised them to him. But  I also warned him that if the price didn’t go high enough to satisfy me, I was going to buy them back. I mean, hello – the yarn alone is worth $20 and that’s not even counting the maybe 10-15 hours I put into them.

The next pop-tab bag is done as far as the crochet part, and I picked up the fabric I special-ordered for lining it, so I’ll probably be working on that some time this week as well. There has been spinning too – one new yarn is waiting to be washed, and another pile of roving is almost turned into singles. It’s going to be another busy week around here, but for now I’m going to read the comics to my kids and cheer on the athletes.

Rustica, Knitting

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Last week, the swimmers took to the knitting like, uh, fish to water. Hahaha. Really, they did pretty well. And then some more people expressed interest in joining us. There was no question of whether we’d have another meeting this week. One of our members is allergic to cats, so we decided to choose another place besides my cat-infested living room. Coffee shops tend to be good places for knitting groups to meet, and a new-ish local spot came to my mind. Here’s today’s group at a big table right in the middle of the well-lit, open room.

Pretty much everyone managed a solid understanding of the cast on, knit and purl business, so our next meeting will involve starting some mittens. I feel so lucky to be teaching this enthusiastic group, and to be paying back a little bit of the support I’ve gotten in the swim club over the last few months. I know I’ve learned a lot in the pool – one of my friends was telling me how awesome I looked doing the butterfly on Tuesday, and I was all “Yeah, thanks!” And then one of the real athlete people turned and asked “With or without fins?” and I was all casually “Without.” Yay!

But back to the coffee shop/bakery business. Let me just say right now that I am in no way being reimbursed for what I’m about to say. I’m excited about this restaurant opening nearby, and would like to put a good word out for it because I want it to thrive. I’m a huge sucker for a really good pastry, especially with a really good cup of coffee. I’m also pretty darn picky about what I mean by really good, and this stuff qualifies for sure!

They do have yummy cookies, plus pastries of the flaky, buttery croissant and brioche varieties. mmm…. And lemon tarts and chocolate cakes for the slightly more special occasions….

A nice selection of artisan breads and rolls for those who prefer savory to sweet…

Just look at this beautiful loaf of bread! I wants!

The first time I went in this place was a few weeks ago on a weekday afternoon when I was out running errands while the girls were in school. I picked up a flaky thingie called Kouign Amann, which is apparently a traditionally french treat, and is a little crunchy on the outside, tender-chewy in the middle and just the right sort of sweet. I ordered a small coffee with it, and was surprised that I got to pick out a coffee from a little menu, then watch the barista grind beans just for me and brew a tiny little cupful of coffee just for me. It was nice.

They do soup and sandwiches, too. I haven’t quite gotten around to trying those yet.

Let’s have one last look at the chocolate cakes…mmm…

The staff was really nice today when I walked in and asked if we could take over their big table for a couple hours. Today I had a shortbread cookie with chocolate chips, and a fizzy water that they bottle themselves. It was good, although the cookie was rich enough that I managed not to eat the whole thing – I’m still trying to keep my sugar portions under control!

Alright, I hope I’ve tempted a few of you locals to go support my new favorite cafe/bakery – Rustica. It’s sandwiched between Punch and Barnes and Noble in that strip mall over sort of by where Lake Street splits from Highway 7 when you’re headed west. It’s just north of the strip mall where Chipotle and Whole foods are across from Lake Calhoun.

Catching up on the last of the Valentine’s Day celebration, I made chocolate-covered strawberries for the girls (okay, for me too!)

These are so easy – wash the strawberries, dry them well, melt chocolate chips in the microwave, dip the berries and lay on wax paper to cool in the fridge.

Trust me, they were good. The girls were very excited to surprise Daddy with cards we’d picked out a week before.

Simple and sweet. My own knitting continues here on the couch in front of the Olympics. I had a false start on the sweater and ripped back everything I showed in my Olympic picture the other night – I’ll have an update on the revised version in a day or two.

Saturday Pileup

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

As usual, I have a bunch of bits and pieces to throw at the blog this Saturday morning. I got a new camera this week. A fancy new camera, indeed. It’s a Canon Rebel Xsi – my first official DSLR. I was sick of trying to catch shots of the girls doing cute things and having my stupid Elph catch the moment just *after* they did the cute thing. The final straw was Sophie’s birthday party at the bowling alley last weekend. Low-light situations seem to be the worst, and I had a hard time catching the action moments. This new camera seems to be better, and I think it will take better pictures of my knitting stuff too. In fact, I think I may be able to claim it as a deduction on my taxes towards my knitting business. We’ll see.

This is a small thing, but it makes me very happy. I finally bought a set of hooks to hang some of my bag collection on. They’d been hanging on the doorknob behind my office door, and that was a bad thing as they kept falling down, and the corner where the door opens is pretty small anyway, so it made coming through with large things like laundry baskets and giant boxes of pop tabs more awkward.

They look a lot better hanging on the wall as decoration. Unfortunately, I’m running out of wall space in here. It’s all covered in bookcases, hanging yarn, fiber-related tools and pictures, and general miscellanea. Ahem.

I found myself a brand new group of wanna-be knitters to teach. The group that I’ve been swimming with is really nice, and a few of them expressed an interest (ranging from slight curiosity to avid pleading) in learning to knit. I had them over on Thursday while the girls were both in school, and we made a beginning. They all learned how to cast on, and I think knit. Next time they will hopefully learn to purl and perhaps start some mittens.

They all look so diligent. One lady just had toe surgery “because she just couldn’t run another marathon on this toe!” and that was part of the impetus to start them knitting – to give her something to do while sitting with her foot up.

I know you are all sick of hearing how much my family loves swimming lately, but I had to take the new camera to the pool on Friday. It was the perfect opportunity to test shooting speed.

I got some good shots, and I was pleased with how the camera worked. These pictures look nice and bright, but I  know from experience with my old camera that the lighting in the pool is really not that great, so I appreciate the new one all the more. I even managed to catch the moment when Julie jumped in and made a huge splash. I feel sorry for their teachers sometimes, with the way my girls splash in with such enthusiasm. The poor teachers are always getting an eyefull of water.

Both girls had Valentine’s parties at school this week. Both took in cards for their friends and both came home with piles of loot.

Actuall, Sophie’s teacher requested that we just send in cards and not all the other junque that tends to accompany valentines these days. I much prefer that, as it limits the amount of crappy sugar and useless gizmos entering our house. The kindergarten variety of valentines fell to the other end of the spectrum. We did not send in any junque – just the cards, thankyouverymuch.

And finally, the Olympics. The knitting-crazy among my readers already know all about the Ravolympics and the KnitOlympics. The rest of you will just have to puzzle in amusement or walk away. I’ve been trying to decide all month whether and how to participate in these events. I finally decided to participate sort of as an exibition sport. I’m not going for a medal, I’m just going to see how well I can do personally. I know there is no way I will finish this project by the time the torch goes out, but I will do my best to focus on just this one item during the games, and I did start it while watching the opening ceremonies.

Really, who could wait for the actual lighting of the torch to start knitting? Not me!

I’m off to take a shower, run to the yarn shop, and then get ready for a date with my husband this evening. I can hardly believe it that my darling, stoic husband came up with the idea, arranged for his parents to watch the girls, and set up the reservation all on his own. But he did. We’re going to a new-ish restaurant in town, and it should be nice to have a real dinner out with just the two of us. Happy VD!


Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

What to knit next? That’s the big question rattling around in my brain. Mostly, I feel called to knit another sweater. I’ve gotten kind of used to wearing handknit sweaters after having indulged in knitting for myself more over the last couple years.

Here’s swatch number one. This is some of that giant pile of fingering-weight four-ply I spun up not long ago.

I’d really like to whip this up into a sweater, but with only 1500-odd yards of this yarn, I’m going to have to make it stretch if I want a sweater out of it. I’m swatching up a lace pattern I like, and mulling my options over. I know this would be plenty of yarn for a nice-size shawl, but I know I’d get a lot more wear out of a sweater than a shawl, no matter how nice.

Here’s option number two.

Sitting here looking at these pictures, this option is looking a lot more viable. The green yarn is leftovers from my Kauni spiral sweater. I happen to have a whole other pile of the stuff, in the rainbow colorway. The tan yarn is some alpaca that I bought at Shepherd’s Harvest last spring and spun up. I think it will tone down the crazy rainbow-bright vibe nicely. The bottom half of the swatch is with a bigger needle, and a bit loosey-goosey. The top half is just right gauge-wise, and I like the reversal of colors in the top half versus the bottom.

This project is going to take a little while, and it’s not exactly mindless knitting. I think a simple project on the side would make sense. So maybe both at once? I dunno.

More Pop Tabs

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

I find myself still pondering my next move on the knitting front, although I’ve been working up some swatches, and my next step tonight is to chart out a couple lace patterns for another swatch.

For now, though, I’ve been spending my free time crocheting more pop tabs when I’m not enthralled with the spinning.

The thing about this little hobby is that once you understand how to crochet the little buggers together, you can make a bag of pretty much any size and shape. Especially if the shape is somewhat boxy. In this case, I’m copying the size and shape of a specific bag, and I’ll show you that later once the thing is closer to done.

You have to use a little imagination and have a lot of faith that really this might turn into something worth having.

Yeah, still doesn’t look like much, but you can start to see a deconstructed box, right? I have made a few more pieces and joined them together since these photos were taken. It still takes quite a bit of imagination, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to turn out okay now.

I think I learned a few things from the first two bags. This one is going to get more structural support to keep it from sagging. It’s also going to have some kick-ass fabric lining. I took a trip to the local big-box fabric store a while back.

Which leads to a funny anecdote:

Me: I’m headed out to the fabric store now.

Joe: So, how long do you think it’s going to take? An hour maybe?

Me: Uh, I guess it depends on how busy the store is?

This is funny because the fabric store is a good 15-20 minutes away. It was a Saturday, so I knew the store would be busy. Also, I had a magical picture of the fabric I wanted in my head, and it took me three wanders around the store and another half hour pawing through the special order fabrics to find the closest possible match. Plus, I was enjoying the first free moments by myself outside the house in a while, so I was not going to rush. I spent some time browsing the yarn aisle, picking out sewing notions, and dilly-dallying in general.

I ended up ordering some really cool fabric that I had to pay for in advance and wait at least two weeks to get, but when it eventually arrives, I’m going to have a one-of-a kind bag that will hopefully be really neat and upcycled and all that rather than just tacky trailer trash.

So there you go.

Happy Birthday, Baby!

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Today Sophie is Four. Four! 4?!? My baby, my sweet child, my cuddly little puppy. (“Don’t Call Me Puppy!”)

I started calling Sophie “Puppy” sometimes when she gives me the sad, pouty hangdog look that she is so good at when she doesn’t get what she wants. She hates it, of course, but loves it when I call her “Baby”. Sophie loves hanging out in her fuzzy footie pajamas and being cuddled like a baby. Such is the fate of the last child – she has the luxury of clinging to babyhood a bit longer.

Of course, there have been some arguments lately about four-year-olds being big enough to walk on their own two feet as we head to the from pre-school after a tiring two hours. Sophie has ever been my mostly laid-back and smiling child, but she’s developed the other side of that coin over the last year as well, and can be a little stinker when she likes. She was much slower to talk than Julie, and still has the accent of  a toddler, gradually disappearing as she learns to combine consonants. I believe Sophie’s going to be a smart little cookie in her own right.

Sophie chose to have her birthday party at the bowling alley again this year, and it was a fine time. I made her pink strawberry cupcakes with pink frosting and sprinkles because that was exactly what she wanted. (Of course, I made a pile of yummy chocolate cakes as well, because I needed them!)

She seemed so happy and grown-up blowing out her four candles, eating her strawberry ice cream, and hardly touching her cupcake – she ate one bite of it when I offered to help her fork it up before clearing it away from the table after she’d had her fill and it was time for presents.

Watching small children bowl is always entertaining. I didn’t bowl at all because I was busy arranging things, welcoming guests, taking photos and playing hostess. Fine by me. Look at my two girls -

hanging out together. This hugging scene is not an uncommon one. They truly love each other, and play well together about 90% of the time. Sophie’s learning to assert herself, so of course there are disagreements, but that’s to be expected.

Julie seems to have outgrown the little-kid bowling ramp. See what I mean about small children bowling?

And she did this victorious hands-up gesture every time the ball went down the alley, whether it knocked a pin down or not. You can see Joe getting ready to bowl in the background here.

Most of the kids from Sophie’s pre-school class were at the party, plus our family and all the parents. It was a good-sized crowd. There were no tears, as far as I saw and lots of happy.

Sophie wanted one thing for her birthday, and she got it in full – her first Barbie doll so she could play on an even field with big sister.

Later that afternoon, Barbie loaded up her convertible with lots of her stuff and a dog, and they went for a ride around the living room.

I love you, my sweet girl. Every moment.

Hello, World!

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Whew! I just had a stressful day. Mostly self-imposed. Well, mostly because I decided to jump in with both feet and migrate my blog platform over to WordPress today. I think I did it, mostly. There are still a few loose ends to tie up – I need to put some links back up in the sidebar about the blankie and other stuff. It looks pretty nice and fresh over there at the moment.

I’d been using Blogger since I first started this ole thang back in 2004, and while I’m sure Blogger was neither the end-all nor the be-all, it was working pretty well for my simple needs. I had started off with my own domain name and hosting because I’m a control freak like that, and I had changed hosting services along the way once or twice as my audience grew and spiked. At one point we were hosting the site on a server in our own basement, which worked fine until I got linked by the Yarn Harlot and the poor thing shut down, curled up and died. (or maybe my husband just got tired of dealing with my internet shenanigans and made it clear he didn’t want to be in charge of the gear-grinding monkeys any more).

Seriously, though. I haven’t had to deal much with the background workings of the blog until Blogger announced recently that they’re not going to support FTP users any more – that’s people like me who don’t want their hosting or their URLs. Gulp. Luckily, DreamHost, who hosts my site, supports WordPress, and it turned out that the migration was fairly easy. Once I got over my stage fright and fear that I would manage to lose every word and photo from the last six years, along with all of my readers and – well. I knew I had to bite the bullet and do the switch as soon as possible so that I could stop worrying.

Whew! Boooring, I know. I hope to finish cleaning up my mess this weekend, between baking cupcakes for Sophie’s birthday (my baby’s going to be four! Yikes!) and the party and regular family stuff.

Meanwhile, I’ll treat you to a couple of knitting photos to tide you over.

Megan's Socks

These are the socks I made for one of my lovely neighbors in November. I handed them off to her without taking a picture, and a few weeks ago I mentioned that I would love to run across the street and snap one the next time she had them on and it was convenient. Last weekend it worked out, and it made me happy to see that I am not the only one who hangs out in her comfy jammies till noon or later on the weekends. Megan’s favorite color is red, and she seems pretty happy with the socks.

Okay, and forgive me while I play around with photo size and settings – until now I’ve always used Photoshop to resize my pictures in a batch and then loaded them up on the server and type in the links myself…while I’m using this new platform, I may actually learn to let go of the control a bit and let the software do its job…

You’ve seen this sweater already, but I’d been unhappy with the neckline on it to the point of not wearing it much at all. It was too wide and just plain wonky. I finally realized how stupid it was to hide it in the back of my closet when it would only take a couple/few hours of ripping and re-knitting to make it right. I still wouldn’t call it perfect, but it is much better, and certainly wearable as it is now. That’s also a lovely shot of me with no makeup, having just changed out of my comfy jammies on Sunday afternoon in time to run the family over to the pool at the gym. Meh. Look at the sweater, not at my face, mmmkay?

Oh, and here’s what the sweater looked like before the new neckline.

Green Spiral Sweater Before

There definitely needs to be more knitting going on around here. I was so focused on those spiral sweaters for so long, I’m at a bit of a loss now that I’m done with them for a while. I have been swatching and tossing ideas around in my head. Things have to percolate for a while before I can commit to a sweater-size project, you know. Meanwhile, I’ve been playing around with the pop tabs again, and I’ll show you the progress on that new project in a day or two.