Marsha Knits

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Name: Marsha Brofka-Berends
Location: US

Marsha knits . . . and reads and cooks and edits and gardens and hikes and thinks and eats and photographs and sings and writes and travels and plans and hopes and . . .

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Book review: Disillusionment

When I first saw Folk Hats: 32 Knitting Patterns and Tales from Around the World, by Vicki Square, in a yarn catalog, I was very intrigued by the bird-topped hat on the cover I mean, look at it--it's a hat with a blue bird perched on top of it. How cool is that?

This book immediately made its way onto my to-get list. Never mind the fact that I had no idea what the rest of the patterns were like. The book had a hat with a blue bird on top of it. That's all I needed to know.

Then last spring I happened upon another book in Square's Folk Knitting series, Folk Bags: 30 Knitting Patterns and Tales from Around the World, at my local library and brought it home with me. While paging through it, I quickly realized that Square's patterns, though very well written and beautifully thought out, were not the kind of knitting I wanted to do. A few of the bags looked like something I might use, but most of them were, well, a bit too "artsy." They look like knitted adaptations of stuff one might find in an ethnological museum--which is probably what Square intended. But when I knit, I want to create stuff that I (or someone else, if it's a gift) will actually use, not something that's mostly decorative.

So when I finally got my hands on Folk Hats at the library, I was worried that I might be disappointed with it in the same way I was disappointed with Folk Bags. Sigh. And I was.

Most of the hats in this collection are based on hats from different cultures in the world, and these look like knit versions of hats that are often made of materials such as cloth, felt, leather; some of the hats in this book are merely "inspired" by different cultures, and these look like strange creatures. (I'm sorry, but a knitted baseball cap is just wrong. And a knitted samurai kabuto looks silly.) Many of the hats are quite beautiful and look like great fun to create, especially the ones with stunning colorwork or elaborate trims. But most of them don't look particularly wearable--that is, I just can't imagine people actually going out in public with most of these concoctions on their heads.

As for the hat with the blue bird on the top...well, this piece inspired by the headgear worn by the Yoruba of Nigera is still my favorite pattern in the book. Would I knit it? Maybe. Would I wear it? Maybe. Would I buy a book for it? With a limited budget for yarn and book acquisitions--and limited time in which to knit the nine million projects on my to-do list--probably not.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The little guy fights back

When the television show Firefly was canceled in 2003, its fans were upset. (And rightly so, because this was one of the best television shows evah. Seriously.) When the first (and only) season of the series was released on DVD, sales went through the roof and Universal Studios thought, "Hey, we can make more money off of this" and gave the go ahead to Joss Whedon to make Serenity, a feature film set in the Firefly universe. (It had the same characters and was actually a sequel/postscript of sort to the series.)

In advance of the September 2005 theatrical release of Serenity, there were a number of intriguing viral marketing campaigns (including the "R. Tam Sessions"). More importantly, the fan base put its heart into promoting the film. Although Serenity didn't rake in the big bucks at the theater (probably not enough to generate a sequel, I'm afraid), the film enjoyed a phenomenal PR campaign--much of it at no cost to Universal, thanks to legions of loyal fans who spread the word (with Universal's encouragement) and pleaded with everyone they knew to see the film. (In many forums I remember reading pleas from fans that people go see the film on opening weekend, since box-office receipts during those few days are often the only measure studios count when considering whether or not to make sequels. And Firefly fans didn't want to Whedon's tale to end!)

So two days ago I read this piece at Slashdot. Here's the text behind the link:
"What happens when a film studio and a fanbase get into bed? Fans of Joss Whedon's Firefly, and the movie by Universal Studios — Serenity — are not amused. After being encouraged to viral market Serenity, the studio has started legal action against fans (demanding $9000 in retroactive licensing fees in one case and demanding fan promotion stop), and going after Cafepress. The fans response? Retroactively invoice Universal for their services."

Go, Browncoats!

Book review: Interweave Knits: Holiday Gifts

(Technically, this is a magazine review, not a book review. But since this is probably the only magazine I'll be reviewing, I didn't think it worthy of a special heading.)

I've pretty much been drooling nonstop since I first heard about the Interweave Knits holiday knitting issue a few months ago. I started a subscription to IK this past summer (and thanks to JD I have a full year's worth on my shelf) and really like most of the patterns I see in there. (Where I'm skilled enough to knit most of them--or wealthy enough to afford most of the super-pricey suggested yarns--well, that's another story.) I can't quite decide whether or not I'm annoyed that this issue isn't included in the subscription. On the one hand, there are probably lots of people who don't want a full issue devoted to the winter holidays. (These people may not celebrate any winter holidays. Or maybe they have tons of holiday-themed patterns already. Or maybe they just hate Santa Claus.) But on the other hand, I don't quite see how a subscription doesn't include all the magazines published in a given year. Go figure.

I thought about ordering it from the IK website, but in addition to the $7.99 cover price there's an oh-good-grief-are-they-serious? shipping fee of $4.95. So I decided to pick it up from a local bookstore. I should point out that I had a gift card to said bookstore, so this magazine was going to cost me nothing.

It hit the newsstands on 17 October, and today I managed to get my own copy. My first thought was "Hmmm...that's an awfully skimpy magazine." (I haven't done a page count or pulled out the kitchen scale, but this seems to have about half the heft of a regular issue.) I've flipped through it twice, and my second thought is "Hmmm...there's a very high ad-to-content ratio in here." A lot of the content seems to be reprinted from other sources. For example, one of the four Christmas stockings is the Giant Jester Stocking (from an Interweave Press book) that I'm making for Sylvia. Oh well, I guess I can return that book to Beth now...

There are a few things in here that seem fun to knit. Overall, I'm a little disappointed with this issue. I mean, it cost eight bucks. For that amount of dough, I expect more content and less fluff, like several pages on suggested books to buy for new knitters (the ones listed are already known to the vast majority of knitters) and where to get $150 knitting bags. (I'd just like to say that given a choice between a $150 knitting bag and $150 of yarn, I bet most knitters would opt for the yarn. Yes, even those who have a separate room to house their yarn stash. It's not possible to have too much yarn.)

Also, what is the pattern "Crochet Slippers" doing in this issue? Not only is it recycled from the fall/winter 2005 issue of Knitscene (it's #15 on this list of free patterns--which means part of my $7.99 paid for a pattern that was already available for free), but it's crochet. I know that crochet is hot these days, and there's some crossover between the two crafts, but they are not the same. This is not a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, so please keep your crochet out of my knitting!

My final verdict: take a look at this issue before you decide. Make sure there are patterns in here that you really want before you throw down eight bucks for it. I don't necessarily think this is a bad issue...I just don't think it's worth the cover price.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Out of control

In the two days since I posted my review of Mason-Dixon Knitting with a photo of two washcloths I'd knit, I've managed to knit two more washcloths. Here they are, in all their glory: the one on my super-awesome Denise needles (thanks again, Maggi and Bruce!) just needs to be bound off and finished, and the other just needs its ends woven in. As I said before, this is a ridiculously simple--yet quite satisfying--project. As soon as these two are finished, though, I'm hopping off the washcloth bandwagon until I've finished several UFOs.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Book review: Mason-Dixon Knitting

If you've been trolling the knitting blogs these past few months, chances are you've seen more than one blog post in which someone proudly displays a photo of a just-completed "warshcloth" from Mason-Dixon Knitting: The Curious Knitters' Guide: Stories, Patterns, Advice, Opinions, Questions, Answers, Jokes, and Pictures (wow, they managed to work two colons into that title!), by Kay Gardiner and Ann Meador Shayne, authors of the famous blog that spawned this book.

When I saw the first washcloth posts, I thought, "Meh." I just couldn't see what the big deal was. But I kept reading rhapsodic gushing along the lines of "This is the greatest project ever!" and "I can't stop knitting these things!" "I have to see what all the fuss is about," I thought. So I checked out the book from my library.

Let me tell you this: this is a fabulous book. There are lots and lots of fun projects in here. Not a lot of clothing (there's a simple baby kimono in here that looks great), but lots of household-y things like washcloths, afghans, and felted boxes. (Yes, boxes!) There's a pattern for a knitted dragon motif to sew onto the back of a toddler's jean jacket--and I am so doing one of these as soon as I get my hands on some Noro Kureyon. There's a pattern for everyone, and the surrounding text is, well, nice. It's not smarmy or clever or know-it-all or dumbing-down or anything. It's like sitting around with people in your local knitting group and having a nice chat.

I immediately added this book to my to-get list. And then I couldn't stand waiting so I got it.

As for the washcloths . . . yes, I've been bitten by that bug. The pattern calls for Peaches and Creme cotton worsted, but I (and many others in blogland) substituted Sugar and Cream cotton worsted, which is available at my local A.C. Moore for $1.49 a ball (on sale this week for $1.17--I picked up four more balls yesterday!). Each washcloth uses two colors, and you can easily get three or maybe even four washcloths from a pair of yarn balls. I knit this one for my mother-in-law . . .

. . . and then reversed the colors in this one, for my friend Beth. The pattern is ridiculously simple (I had it memorized after the first block of the second color), and one thing I love is that if I put this project down (say, to chase after toddler-Godzilla), when I pick it up I know exactly where I am in the sequence. This is the greatest project ever! I can't stop knitting these things!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Book reviews: The Yarn Girls do it again

The first three knitting books I bought were The Knit Stitch, by Sally Melville; Baby Knits for Beginners, by Debbie Bliss; and The Yarn Girls' Guide to Simple Knitshttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif, by Julie Carles and Jordana Jacobs. I guess you could say these were auspicious purchases, because I've since acquired Melville's two other books in her Knitting Experience series, one more Debbie Bliss book (Cotton Knits for All Seasons, which I found marked down to one dollar on the clearance table at my local Barnes and Noble--it was new and completely unblemished!), and The Yarn Girls' Guide to Kid Knits: Patterns for Babies and Toddlers by Carles and Jacobs. (I'm still working on a sweater from that last book--just half a sleeve to go!)

I recently checked out of the library the Yarn Girls' two most recent offerings: The Yarn Girls' Guide to Beyond the Basics and The Yarn Girls' Guide to Knits for Older Kids: Quick-to-Knit Patterns for Four- to Ten-Year-Olds. (Beyond the Basics was published in late November 2005, and Knits for Older Kids was published just two months ago--how in the world do these two women find time to write, much less design patterns and run a yarn store? They must be some serious multitaskers...or very, very good at delegating...) Both books feature the same layout, design, and chatty text of their predecessors. There's also a lengthy "how to knit" section at the beginning. (I wish authors of anything but "knitting for absolute beginners" books would stop including this sort of material. I dislike having my time--and my money!--spent on something I already know or already have in my "knitting for absolute beginners" books! In Knits for Older Kids this section takes up the first forty-three pages!)

Beyond the Basics left me feeling, well, "meh." The patterns are uninspiring and don't seem that much different from what's in the first Yarn Girls book--or from what's freely available online. I'll pass on this one. (Unless I become filthy stinking rich one day. Then the completist in me will just have to buy this book.)

Knits for Older Kids, on the other hand, looks great. It fills a very small niche: there are a lot of books on baby knits out there, and a lot of books on adult knits, but not much for the post-baby pre-teen set. I like that the patterns look like stuff kids would actually enjoy wearing--and not like stuff that adults enjoy dressing their kids in (e.g., pastels and primary colors with nauseatingly cutesly appliques of ducks and bunnies and trucks and whatnot). This one goes on my to-get list. It'll be several years before my daughter is old enough to wear these designs...which means I have plenty of time to get knitting!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

If a stitch drops in the woods, and there's no one there to see it...

After writing up that post about the yarn recall, I browsed through a few of pages at the Knit With website, and I came across one titled "Services." Yup, that's right: they have staff members who will do all your finishing work. They can even add in professional-looking buttonholes and repair moth holes and do alterations.

The section "Custom Knitting" begins with this sentence: "Have an idea for an ideal sweater but lack either the time or skill to accomplish it? Make The Knit With’s custom knitting service your silent partner in executing the garment of your dreams." Now, in the description of this process, they do mention that measurements are taken of the person for whom the garment is being made. So presumably the recipient is in on the fact that this store is knitting their clothing.

But how often, I wonder, do people commission pieces from the Knit With (I'm sorry--I just cannot bring myself to capitalize the in the middle of the sentence...it looks moronic) and try to pass them off as their own? I bet it happens all the time.

Scandal in the fiber world!

I just read that one week ago (16 October), a yarn recall was issued for six yarns that do not contain the cashmere that their labels claim they do. As far as I can tell the recall is not nationwide (not yet, at least) but is being organized by a Philadelphia-area yarn store, the Knit With, that had the yarns tested by two different scientific labs. (The link above leads to the recall letter and to the documents provided by the labs.)

The yarns in question are Knitting Fever Cashmereno DK, Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran, and Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Baby; these were all found to contain 0% cashmere. Also on the list are three yarns from Noro (Amagi, Cash Iroha, and Lotus), which "at best, have only slightly more than half of the labeled cashmere content" (according to the recall notice).

I'm curious to know why the yarn shop felt the need to have the yarns tested in the first place. I mean, what tipped them off that something was fishy? Do they have staff or clients who have princess-and-the-pea-type sensitivity, so that they can feel a yarn and know what's in it?

I'm not sure how I feel about this whole recall, since I did just finish knitting and seaming a sweater made out of Debbie Bliss cashmerino baby (though I'm still kind of nervous about blocking it and adding the buttons). The yarn I worked with felt very soft and cozy, and to be honest I don't think I would know if it did or didn't contain the whopping 12% cashmere I was expecting. This yarn was purchased three years ago, so maybe it's fine (the recall doesn't list manufacture dates for the yarns in question). Or maybe it's not. I think I'm just not going to worry about it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Book reviews: Holiday knitting, part 2

Knit Mittens!, by Robin Hansen: Let me start by saying that I have never knit a mitten in my life. But some part of me thought, "Hey! Mittens are small! I could make mittens for everyone this year!" Now that thought isn't necessarily a bad idea, but this book is not the way to go. Don't get me wrong--it's a great book with beautiful patterns and clear instructions (which seems the norm for these books that are shaped like their subject matter). But I don't think I'm quite ready to venture into mitten territory--certainly not with a rapidly approaching deadline looming ahead of me. I'll probably add this book to my list, though. Maybe I'll tackle mittens next year...

Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, by Joelle Hoverson: If you're thinking, "I need to knit something as a gift by this afternoon," then you are probably defining "last-minute" a bit too precisely. The patterns here are divided into categories based on how long they take: less than two hours, two to four hours, four to six hours, six to eight hours, and more than eight hours. I happen to be a slow-but-not-glacially-slow knitter, so I suspect it would take me a bit longer than the recommended times to knit the projects in here. Some of the small and quick projects, such as a child's hat or a tea cozy, look just right for using up an odd skein of yarn in the stash. A few of the projects use pricy yarn, such as a cashmere gift bag and a pashmina cowl. But I suppose there's a place for them in a book of gifts--you might really want to spoil someone someday! Eight post-its in this one--it's going on my list.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Book reviews: Holiday knitting, part 1

(And by "holiday" I of course mean "Christmas." What, you mean everyone in the world doesn't make this assumption? Okay, now I bet you're going to tell me that when they hear something like "World Series" most people actually think that should include, well, the entire world and not just the United States. Hmmmm. If I pump my fist into the air and chant "U-S-A! U-S-A!" for a while, will you abandon your attempts at social commentary about American linguistic imperialism and just get on with reading the blog? All right? Agreed.)

(It is funny, actually, to think that when it's used by itself the word holiday really is almost always assumed to refer to Christmas. Why not Halloween? That's a holiday, too! Or how about Labor Day? Heck, if someone put out a book called Holiday Handknits with black-cat motifs, it could be marketed for both Halloween and Labor Day. Hmmm. I wonder what a Wobbly costume would look like...)

Ahem.

So last month, I got this crazy idea that I would knit Christmas gifts for my family. Fortunately, my husband and I have small families, so I'm looking at four parents and two siblings. That seems manageable, right? Ah, but what to knit? I don't want to measure everyone (so sweaters are out), and two years ago (when I'd been knitting for under a year) I distributed handmade scarves to everyone--can't do that again. So I checked out a bunch of holiday-and-gift-themed books from my local library, and here are the results.

Knit Christmas Stockings!, by Gwen Steege: This is a fun, stocking-shaped book with lots of great ideas and very clear instruction. I'm not sure I would want to add this to my collection--there are only so many Christmas stockings a person can use, right? Also, Christmas stockings probably aren't the best kids for any but your own, because Christmas stockings are in the category of "special heirloom-keepsake thingies," which means that parents or grandparents are usually the ones to provide them. I borrowed this book thinking I'd find something to knit for my own daughter, but I ended up choosing a pattern from another book.

Handknit Holidays: Knitting Year-Rond for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice, by Melanie Falick: Eleven post-its in this one. Yup, I'm adding this to my list. Some of the projects (such as a Santa-style hat, tree ornaments, Christmas stockings, and tree skirts) are decidedly Christmas-y. But everything in here connotes sit-by-the-fire-when-it's-cold-outside coziness. I'm particularly intrigued by the Swedish heart-warmer shawl, which I'd love to make for myself.

"Must...have...book..."

Whenever I see ads for books in yarn catalogs or knitting magazines, read about them in other blogs, or see displays in book stores and yarn shops, I start mumbling, "Must...have...book..." This is usually accompanied by a glazed look in the eyes and a rapidly growing puddle of drool at my feet.

You see, I have a condition known as Knitting-Book Envy, which is closely related to Yarn-Stash Enhancement Compulsion and Pattern-Acquisition Disorder. All three of these ailments are quite common--talk to pretty much any knitter, and chances are he or she has one (or all) of these illnesses.

I used to add any knitting book I heard of to my Amazon wish list. But then I ended up with an unwieldly list filled with stuff that I wasn't entirely sure I'd use. So quite a while ago, I developed my preview technique. All you need are a list of books that interest you, a local library with a good book collection (or interlibrary loan program), and a library card. (Yes, it must be your own library card.)

I check out any book that interests me, use post-its to mark the patterns I might actually knit one day, then step back and evaluate. It's amazing how many "Well, it sounded like a good book for me" items transmogrify into "Good grief! I would never knit any of those awful designs" items through this process. It's saved me a lot of money--and kept a lot of shelf space free for the books I really do want.

Friday, October 20, 2006

When worlds collide

I have a toddler.

And Godzilla is very cool.

I think yesterday's Indexed was written just for me.

(Blog update)

(The picture-upload part of Blogger seems to be working for me again. For now, at least. Pop back to last Friday's post to see the early photos of the Christmas stocking, which are now in place.)

Waste not, want not

Here is my first foray into the land of Knitting with Waste Yarn. When I got to the heel of the Christmas stocking, I had to insert a piece of waste yarn through thirty of the sixty stitches. Then I continued on my merry way to the toe (which, as you can tell by the stitch holders, is in its pre-grafting phase in this photo). Then I carefully picked up fifteen stitches on either side of the waste yarn, held my breath, and took out the waste piece. And like magic, there appeared a hole in the middle of the sock--but it's one that I actually wanted!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The good, the bad, and the ugly

The good: As I write this, my local knitting group is meeting . . .

The bad: . . . and I am not there! Why? I've been sick for the last day and a half. It's nothing serious (a bad cold that's likely to run its course in another day or two), but I'm not feeling up to an outing. And I don't want to subject everyone else to my sneezing-hacking-coughing triumverate.

The good: I've nearly finished with the Christmas stocking I've been working on for the past two weeks . . .

The bad: . . . but after I closed its heel I realized that the pre-decrease foot is just way too short.

The good: I haven't closed the toe yet, so it won't be too difficult to undo all those rows and reknit the foot. It's pretty easy and should take me only a few days to finish . . .

The bad: . . . but that's a few more days I have to wait until I get to experience Project Completion Satisfaction! Sigh.

The ugly: Blogger has been misbehaving very badly for the last week and a half. In that time I (and countless others, if the comments in the Blogger help forums are any indication) have been unable to post pictures. I upload them, the HTML appears in my post, but no picture is there either when I preview the post or publish it. I've tried different browsers (Firefox, Safarai, IE) on different platforms (PC, Mac), to no avail. I even tried a complicated workaround that was suggested in the forums (created a Blogger Beta blog, uploaded images there, then copied-and-pasted them into my good ol' vanilla Blogger), and that didn't work either. I've posted in the help forums about this and have even sent into two help tickets to Blogger, but nothing is working yet. A blog without images is . . . well, not my blog. (I know that some people never include pictures, but I'm all about the photos in my land.) I'm hoping this is fixed soon. If anyone out there has suggestions, I'm all ears!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Playing favorites

My SP9 hostess, Shelby, is running a contest for the people in her group. Everyone in her group who posts their choices for this list of favorites gets...well, I don't know what we might get--fame and notoriety, at least!

(You'll see that--once again--I had trouble limiting myself to one response for each category.)

Actor: Johnny Depp
Actress: Katharine Hepburn
Animal: Cat...no, dog...no, cat...
Band: Jane Siberry (yes, she's just one person, but sometimes she sounds like a choir), U2
Book: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, by Terry Tempest Williams
Bubble bath: Anything from Lush
Candy: Lion Bar
Color: Brown, green, red
Drink:Mango lassi, Darjeeling tea
Flower: Peony, Rosa rugosa
Food: Four-cheese pasta (with gorgonzola, parmesan, fontina, and pecorino romano)
Lip balm: Burt's Bees
Lotion: Anything from Lush
Movie: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, My Neighbor Totoro, The Philadelphia Story
Place: Canyonlands National Park; Bandon, Oregon
Song: "It Had to Be You," by Harry Connick Jr.; pretty much anything from When I Was a Boy, by Jane Siberry
TV Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, The Office
Yarn: As long as it's not acrylic or some furry novely yarn, I probably like it!
Vacation spot: Vermont, Oregon, Paris

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Photoshop your knitting

And you thought Photoshop was just for photos!

In her blog, Modeknit/Knitting Heretic, Annie Modesitt presents a short video that explains how she uses Photoshop and a gauge swatch to create a sketch of the final project before she makes it. I think she uses it mostly to flesh out her ideas for her own designs, but I bet it would be very useful for us non-pattern-writing types who want to see what a particular color combination or stitch sequence will look like on an already-written pattern.

(Via the Craft blog.)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Questions (and answers) galore

My SP9 hostess, Shelby, recently posted a list of questions that she's asked her group of SP9 participants to answer. So here goes!

1. Where is your favorite knitting spot?
My favorite perch for knitting is an armless chair in my den. It's covered in dark-brown synthetic suede (cozy!) and is wide enough for me to sit on it cross-legged.

2. If you suddenly could never knit again (shudder), what would you do instead?
I would take all the money I now spend on yarn and use it to build a darkroom in my basement. Pretty much all of my photography is digital these days, and although it provides near-instant gratification and easy sharing of photos, there is something to be said for dodging and burning by hand amid the chemical-scented air of a darkroom.

3. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
I really can't settle on one answer, so let's just assume I won the lottery and could spend a lot of time and money on one big trip.
  • Sydney, Australia: One of my very best friends is a woman named Valerye who has been my pen pal for thirteen and a half years. When we started writing to each other, she lived near Montreal, Canada. But she moved to near Sydney over ten years ago and now has a family there. We still write often--mostly via good old-fashioned snail mail, but also by e-mail--and we've never met.
  • The Lake District: I'd really love to spend a few weeks just walking and exploring this area.
  • Greenland: I can't stand being cold, and I'd probably have a hard time in Greenland as a vegetarian in a fish-and-meat-focused area, but Gretel Ehrlich's This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland inspired me.

4. When you were little, what did you want to do "when you grew up?" Are you doing it?
I was never interested in the doctor-lawyer-engineer triumverate. I entertained a lot of possibilities (artist, musician, writer, veterinarian, archaeologist, smoke jumper), but the one that stuck in my head the most was park ranger.

Am I doing it now? Nope. Instead my life took some unexpected turns (doesn't this happen to all of us?), and now I happily fill my days with freelance editing, knitting, and toddler chasing.

5. What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Um, hello? Does it have lots of fat and sugar in it? Does it fall in the category "ice cream"? Then it's my favorite!

All right, all right--I can be a bit more discerning. Pretty much any Ben & Jerry's flavor is a winner with me, particularly Marsha Marsha Marshmallow (because not only does it have my name--spelled correctly!--in it, but the marshmallows are made without gelatin!), Black and Tan, and Pistachio Pistachio. Yum...

Friday, October 13, 2006

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..."

I've been kicking around the idea of knitting a Christmas stocking for Sylvia, but hadn't really moved beyond thinking about it until I was inspired by my friend Katie, who recently cranked out a beautiful stocking for her daughter in record time. Another friend lent me Christmas Stockings from Interweave Press, and I set out to make the Giant Jester Stocking in it. The yarn arrived last week (Wool of the Andes worsted from KnitPicks), and I'm off and running. You can see here the progress I've made so far. But what's that, gentle reader? You wonder why there are balls of red and green yarn nearby when the stocking's cuff is clearly cream and spruce blue?

Aha! The mystery is solved! This stocking has the cuff, heel, and toe in two colors (alternately striped), and the body in a different two colors (also alternately striped). The cuff is knit in the round on a size 8 24" circular, then you switch to size 7 DPNs, knit a couple of rows with the new colors, then turn the stocking inside out and continue from there.

The original version of this (in the book) has red and light blue for the body and purple and lime green for the cuff, heel, and toe. That's right--lime green. What were the folks at IP smoking when they thought that was a good idea? I think those colors look hideous together, so I've substituted some colors that are a bit more Christmas-y and a great deal less vomit-inducing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Forgiveness

Last week, an armed man walked into an Amish one-room schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvia. He released the grown women and boys, kept the girls hostage, then shot several of them before killing himself. There are additional, more lurid details to this story, but that's the gist of it. This took place in a rural area less than thirty miles from my suburban home, so it's local news around here.

I cannot imagine the grief those families must be enduring right now--both the Amish families as well as the shooter's family. What I find truly amazing is that the day of the shootings, the Amish who had suffered that day had already forgiven the shooter. Not after several days or weeks of mourning, but right away. The Amish have even set up a charitable fund to help the shooter's family.

A year after the September 11 attacks, I heard on NPR a series of interviews with families of people who had died in the towers. Most of them were still angry about what had happened, and I could hear the hardness in their voices. It was as if the hate had become what sustained them through their grief. But a few of them had managed to forgive those responsible for the deaths of their loved ones, and although sadness and loss were still evident in their words, they had found some a peace that yet eluded those who were still angry.

How would I respond in a similar situation? I don't know--I can't know without being in that situation, and I fervently hope I never am. But like most people, I think, I aspire to be a better person than I usually am, so I like to imagine that I would search for that place of forgiveness.

At our church on Sunday, in lieu of a children's story at the beginning of the service, the minister talked--in both words and tone appropriate for the children, who hadn't yet been dismissed to their religious education classes--about what had happened in Lancaster County a few days earlier. His talk was deftly done: he gave enough information for the children to understand that something frightening and terrible had happened to people who live near us, but withheld details that parents might not (or might) wish to share with the children. He concluded by saying, "When you think about the Amish, I want you to think of one thing: they are the people who forgive."

Concidentally, the main sermon--which had been planned several weeks ago--was on the subject of forgiveness. The minister told a story about his childhood in New York City, and how one day, after some tough kid or bully had pushed him into a snowbank, a neighbor picked him up and gave him hot chocolate in her apartment. An elderly French woman, she told him, "You are angry right now, and that's natural. But you have to let it go, because the day has more to give you."

What an amazing sentiment--so simple and so clear. I can't get it out of my head--and that's a very good thing, I think. It's true that when you harbor hatred and resentment and other negative feelings, you don't have room in your heart/head/soul for the good stuff when it comes along. And the good stuff always comes along eventually. That French woman (who was, unknown to the boy until years later, a survivor of the Nazi death camps) and the Amish have figured that out. Hopefully one day the rest of us will, too.

Brilliant

Married to the Sea is a rarity in my world: a site without an RSS feed, yet I still remember to visit it almost daily. It is often absurd, sometimes surreal, and always clever. And, according to a recent "Approval Matrix" in a recent New York Magazine, it is both lowbrow and brilliant. Don't believe me? Take a look at today's offering:


marriedtothesea.com

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"The suspect is wearing a knitted clown-face balaclava..."

Looking for Halloween costume ideas? Planning to rob a bank soon? Want to wear a clown face without going through the rigorous program at clown college? If you answer "yes" to any (or all three...*shudder*) of those questions, then look here (via the Craft blog) for a collection of knitted balaclava patterns from 1965.

I dare you to knit one of these. Come on--I triple dog dare you.

Scaredy cat.

Friday, October 06, 2006

SP9 questionnaire

1. What are your favorite yarns to knit with? What fibers do you absolutely not like?

I love working with natural fibers, particularly wool. They have a certain "coziness" that most synthetics just can't match.

I've really tried to be open minded about acrylic, but I've recently admitted to myself that I just can't stand the stuff. I hear that there's some very nice acrylic out there, but I've decided to abandon the hunt. That said, if my Secret Pal knows of an absolutely mah-velous acrylic and wants to try to convert me, I'll give it a try!

2. What do you use to store your needles?

My Denise needles (obtained just a couple of months ago) have miraculously managed to stay in their case when they aren't being used. I'm hoping to make it to the end of the year without losing any of the parts.

My straight needles are in a beautiful cloth roll-up case that my friend Gina gave me.

My double-pointed needles and my circular needles are . . . well, all over the place. Some of them are in a gallon-sized zip-lock bag, and the rest are scattered among various tote bags and flower vases and desk drawers. This particular organizational scheme really isn't working for me, but I haven't gotten my act together yet to do anything about it.

3. How long have you been knitting, and how did you learn? Would you consider your skill level to be beginner, intermediate, or advanced?

I've been knitting for nearly three years. A woman I worked with at the time helped me pick out the needles and yarn for my first project (a scarf, of course!), cast on for me, and showed me the knit stitch. Three skeins of Lamb's Pride Bulky later, I looked up binding off in a book (The Knit Stitch, by Sally Melville) and since then have relied mostly on books and the Internet--and occasionally on knit-knowledgeable friends--for learning other techniques.

If you don't count finishing (seaming is the bane of my existence), then I think I'm an intermediate knitter. But if seaming is included . . . .well, then let's say beginner-intermediate. Yeah, that sounds about right.

4. Do you have an Amazon or other online wish list?

I do! You can look me up on Amazon.

5. What's your favorite scent (for candles, bath products, etc.)?

I'm a big fan of woodsy smells, such as cedar and sage. Vanilla, lavender, and citrus are sometimes nice, too. Floral scents are hit or miss: some are fabulous (I'm a longtime fan of the Body Shop's dewberry), but most are just too cloying for me.

6. Do you have a sweet tooth? Favorite candy?

Hello? Does good cheese smell bad? Is Tom Baker the best Doctor Who ever? Are ninjas and pirates cool? Is Joss Whedon a genius?

The answer is yes, yes, yes! Dark chocolate is up there for me, with pretty much every other kind of chocolate (other than white) a close second. Caramel is lovely, too. Most hard candy doesn't thrill me, and as a vegetarian I avoid gummi-anything and marshmallows (both of which contain gelatin).

7. What other crafts or do-it-yourself things do you like to do? Do you spin?

Spinning--'fraid not. One day, perhaps, but not today.

I'm craft-minded but don't actually pursue a lot of regular DIY projects. When I'm not tending to Life Responsibilities or knitting, I'm often working on my photography.

8. What kind of music do you like? Can your computer/stereo play MP3s (if your buddy wants to make you a CD)?

Keen on (among others): Jane Siberry (now Issa), U2, The Pogues, Argentine tango music (the danceable stuff, not so much Astor Piazzolla's concert pieces), Tom Lehrer, Eddi Reader, Bach's Magnificat, Poi Dog Pondering (before they moved to Chicago), Philip Glass, Anonymous 4, Daniel Lanois, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Kronos Quartet, Ella Fitzgerald, Dar Williams, Emmylou Harris

Not keen on: rap, heavy metal, country

MP3s: no problem!

9. What are your favorite colors? Any colors you just can't stand?

I love muted earthy colors--browns, greens, blues, plums, grays. I also like black, robin's egg blue, and red.

Pastels have never thrilled me. And white . . . well, I have no objection to it as a color, but I never manage to keep it pristine, so I've sort of given up on it.

10. What is your family situation? Do you have any pets?

One husband (who crochets!). One daughter (seventeen months old today). Two cats--one of which is my daughter's best friend, personal maid (i.e., cleaning up the floor under the high chair at mealtime), and favorite huggable purring pillow with claws.

11. Do you wear scarves, hats, mittens, or ponchos?

Yes, yes, yes, no. (But not because I am anti-poncho--I just haven't gotten around to making one for myself yet!)

12. What are your favorite items to knit?

I love to knit sweaters (see here, here, and here) and hats for my daughter. She's still small, so the objects are finished relatively fast (ah, completion satisfaction!), and I get to experiment with color, shapes, techniques, etc. (I like knitting hats in general, actually.)

I'd really like to get into sock knitting. I knit 1 1/2 socks (my first!) last spring before I got sidetracked by other projects. Now that half sock just stares at me mournfully whenever I open the door to my stash closet. I feel like I need to finish that half sock and find sock closure before I'm allowed to move on to one of the nine million other interesting sock projects out there . . .

13. What are you knitting right now?

I have a few projects in progress:
  • A purple-red-and-green cardigan (using yarn left over from Anouk--I ordered a lot of extra skeins) for my daughter. (Half a sleeve to go!)
  • A Christmas stocking for my daughter. (Just started this one . . .)
  • A sweater for me. (One sleeve to go.)
14. Do you like to receive handmade gifts?

Yes!

15. Do you prefer straight or circular needles? Bamboo, aluminum, or plastic?

I like both straight and circular needles. Wood is far and away my favorite material for needles, with metal a distant second and most plastic not even rating consideration.

16. Do you own a yarn winder or swift?

Neither.

17. How old is your oldest UFO?

The sweater I'm making for myself (see #13 above) is about a year old.

18. What is your favorite holiday?

I like Christmas the best--not because of the gift giving or any religious meaning. There's just something so lovely about a light- and food-filled celebration in the middle of winter, when it's dark and cold out. (If I lived in the Southern Hemisphere, I'd probably like a different holiday more . . . something in June or July, I guess.)

19. Is there anything that you collect?

I currently have about two hundred refrigerator magnets from all over the world. I started collecting them years ago while traveling around the USA: they're cheap (don't make a big dent in the travel funds!), they're small (don't take up much room!), and they're everywhere. I still buy them wherever I go and occasionally get additions from my brother or friends, who sometimes pick one up for me if they go somewhere interesting. I like 'em as kitschy and as tacky as possible.

20. Any books, yarns, needles, or patterns out there you are dying to get your hands on? What knitting magazine subscriptions do you have?

Books I'd love to add to my knitting library include:
  • Knitter's Companion, by Vicki Square
  • Picture Knits, by Betty Barnden
  • Hip Knit Hats, by Cathy Carron
  • Knitted Flowers, by Nicky Epstein
  • And So to Bed, by Lucinda Guy
  • Handknits for Kids, by Lucinda Guy
As far as yarns go, I'd love to try some of the yarns made out of nonwool and noncotton natural fibers: bamboo, corn, and soy. And the yarn made from recycled silk saris looks like it would be fun, too.

I currently subscribe to Interweave Knits, which I adore (even though the patterns tend to call for outrageously expensive yarn).

21. Are there any new techniques you'd like to learn?

Intarsia, baby! I got my first taste of it last spring when I made the Anouk pinafore, and I'm eager to try more. I've even bought some bobbins in anticipation of my next intarsia project.

I'd also like to try fairisle knitting, though I'm not sure I can carry strands of yarn all over the place without winding up with the Tangle From Hell.

22. Are you a sock knitter? What are your foot measurements?

I'm a sort-of sock knitter. Let's say I'm an aspiring sock knitter. (See #12 above.)

My shoe size is US 7.5.

23. When is your birthday? (mm/dd)

May 8.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The brown cardigan is finished!

Well, almost.

When I first wrote about this sweater last March, I had completed the back and almost half of the front. I finished the entire front not long afterwards, and attached to two front pieces to the back using the three-needle bindoff (which worked beautifully. Then I knit the sleeves. "I'm in the home stretch now!" I thoght. And then I realized that the sleeves were too small. I was following the 18M size for this pattern, and somehow--either because my gauge was different in the sleeves than in the body (which is quite possible, as readers of the Yarn Harlot's Knitting Rules already know) or because there was some bizarre error in the pattern--I ended up with sleeves more suited for a six-month-old. Okay, I exaggerate. A nine-month-old, then. Let's just say that Sylvia's arms (which are losing more and more of their baby chub every day, but are still definitely in the "chubby" category) would've looked like stuffed sausages in those things.

I took the sweater to last month's meeting of my local knitting group, hoping that one of the knitting gurus there would be able to advise me on how to salvage the sleeves. No such luck. The general consensus was that I'd have to redo them. (This was accompanied by the suggestion that I turn the too-small sleeves into a funky baby hat. Hmmmm . . . intriguing idea . . . )

Fortunately, sleeves on baby sweaters go lickety-split--yes, even when they are knit on teeny-tiny needles, as these were. (The seed stitch edgings are on 2s, and the bulk of the knitting is done on 3s.) I finished the second sleeve early this week, put the whole thing together Monday evening (seaming = UGH! . . . . although I must admit that in this case my usual distaste for seaming was tempered somewhat by the fact that this Baby Cashmerino yarn is luscious to handle), and wove in the ends Tuesday evening. Today Sylvia and I went out to buy seven buttons for the front closure. I did try to take her opinion into consideration, but since her opinion consisted largely of trying to break the harness on her stroller so she could grab/break/stuff-in-her-mouth/throw the thousands of buttons arrayed before us, I made an executive decision and came home with these. With luck, they'll get attached to the sweater before the end of the weekend.