Tuesday, July 25, 2006

rip & redo

From the beginning, I had a bad feeling. I gauge-swatched, I really did. Maybe the light was dim while I was reading the little window in the ruler... whatever the case, shortly after this photo of Delanna was taken, I tried her on again, this time with the critical eye that had somehow eluded me during previous fittings. Too big. WAY too big.

I re-checked the gauge. Guess what? The gauge was 4.5 stitches to the inch - not 5. And you know, I really didn't like how the cast-on edge looked, and the lace panel was a little too narrow, and... so I ripped her all out.

Sometimes the little plastic ball-winder can be your best friend. In the days before I owned this gadget, frogging was so depressing. After an hour of tearing apart a lovely knitted garment, you'd find yourself covered in a shapeless pile of yarn guts, ready to tangle into a million unworkable snarls at the slightest provocation, adding insult to injury. With the ball-winder you can detatch yourself from the destruction, simply turing a little handle and watching the garment simultaneously unraveling and transforming into neat little cakes of raw material, ready to be knitted again.

So anyway, with the help of the ball-winder and moral support from Paloma (who also had a major frogging event recently), Delanna became yarn cakes. Over the weekend I cast on again and as of Tuesday morning I'm almost back to the point where the carnage began. The fit is much better this time, and the design flaws corrected. If she comes out well I'll post the pattern on a Free Pattern Friday some time.

Meanwhile, the big feline haps this week is a new favorite nap spot, A.K.A. HWWLLB's spot on the couch. He must have softened it up.

yarn carnage be damned - it's nap time.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

promises, promises

It was a good run, but in the eleventh hour, the two-month Wardrobe Refashion pledge was smashed like a Kri-Kri dish by a disgruntled cat. I know I haven't mentioned it in a while, but some of you may recall that back at the beginning of June I took the pledge: to buy no new clothes for two months. Make, alter, thrift, sew, recycle, swap - all these methods of clothing acquisition are permitted (and encouraged), but no new retail.

No sweat, I thought. I hate buying things! And it will certainly only help my pocketbook. I threw myself into the challenge. I actually got out the sewing machine and made something. I read the Tease book (while standing in the Crafts aisle at a big box bookstore - why spend money?) and altered a T-shirt that never fit very well.

how i love to rip up a good T-shirt

I started knitting myself a short-sleeve top for the summer - and she's coming along nicely. Meet Delanna:

the top, top down

As July slid toward its close, I thought I was in the clear. Two months with no new clothes? Yawn. Do your worst, Wardrobe Refashionistas!

But then The Vacation started to approach: a backpacking trip in August. Forgetting my thrifty promise, I blithely strolled into the outdoors shop and dropped a pile of dough on three quick-dry, moisture-wicking T-shirts and a pair of underpants whose package proclaims "17 countries. 6 weeks. And one pair of underwear." You can see why I might have been dazzled. Looking at the hideously practical pile now, I realize the incredible weakness of my fiber.

for this I broke a pledge? it's not even from nordstroms!

In fact, it's not even cute. Is there an exception for moisture-wicking? Oh, what a consumer I am. This better be a great vacation.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

best brews of the summer

100 degrees in the shade! Good gracious, I can hardly peel myself off the couch anymore. Everywhere I go, all people can talk about is the weather. At the bakery this morning the nice lady behind the counter reminded me to drink plenty of fluids.

Times like this call for lots of cold beer. In some circles I am known as a "beer snob," especially since graduating college 10 years ago and (thankfully) losing my taste for such delicacies as Milwaulkee's Best (a.k.a. The Beast). I just think of myself as picky. But I sure do love a cold beer. Or a warm beer, if it's October and we're talking oatmeal stout. But it is definitely NOT October, and we are talking cold, refreshing brewskies. So in this vein I would like to present to you my Top Ten list of delicious summer beers. What are yours?

Ten Best Summer Beers
  1. Wolaver's organic Wit Bier (I know I used the IPA in the picture; it's awfully good, too). I went to an organic beer tasting two summers ago, and the Wit Bier was the hands-down crowd favorite.
  2. Hoegaarden - always in a glass, with a slice of lemon.
  3. Negro Modelo - I prefer it with a wedge of lime shoved into the bottle.
  4. Franziskaner Hefe Weizen - again, in a glass with a slice of lemon. Franziskaner is made by Spaten, and is a well-priced German Hefe Weizen that puts all the domestic microbrew versions to shame.
  5. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Is that incredibly boring? I know you all know this one, but on a hot summer day it's hard to beat a Sierra Nevada.
  6. Stoudts Pils. I'm not usually a big drinker of pilsner, but this is one is a treat - small-batch, Old-World style lager from Pennsylvania. This beer is no slouch in a bottle, but if you can find it on tap, you'll thank me.
  7. North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner. Did I say I don't like pilsners? If they're dry and full-bodied but with a light finish, okay I love them. I love this one.
  8. Victory Hop Devil. If you really like hoppy, bitter pale ales (as I do), and maybe you could go for something even hoppier than your standard very hoppy IPA, this is your beer.
  9. Red Stripe lager. This is my light & easy beer of choice for cookouts in 90 degree heat.
  10. Tupper's Hop Pocket ale. Made by Dominion, I haven't seen much of this beer since moving away from Virginia, but this hoppy ale was always one of my favorites. I love it in a frosted mug when the little ice floes scoot across the surface as you drink... aaaah!
So maybe I have a thing for hop-tastic beers. Now that I've shared my snobby beer list with you... what are your favorite summer beers? I am dying to know!

Friday, July 14, 2006

call it progress

Dang it's hot. In the evenings there is really no choice but to crack open a cold beer and get to knitting. At least, that's all I've been able to swing in this hideous, oppressive muggy heat.

I'm moaning about the heat right now maybe a little more than ususal because I was driven from the cool interior of the coffee shop and onto the patio by the ceaseless chattering of a very loud-voiced woman who has absolutely nothing to say worth eavesdropping on. Yet she will NOT SHUT UP. The baristas tried turning up the music really really loud, but her voice has a metallic edge to it that carries above the sound system - it's amazing, really. So here I am mooching wireless on the patio, and it's ninety degrees. Whine!

Anyway, above you see the progress on the little sweater I'm making from the salvaged Knit-o-Graf yarn. I am so terrible at intarsia - you can see all the stitches being pulled this way and that. Does the graphic look like a flower? Does it look like a lotus? It's supposed to be a lotus.

So the lotus baby sweater (I am naming it "Baby Om") is about to take a break, because I've just picked up some yarn for some new projects I'm itching to try (and it's too hot to be knitting with alpaca silk right now anyhow).

This cotton fleece is for a pair of punk rock fingerless gloves - a belated birthday gift for my friend Marge. The color is called "raging purple." Marge is going to rage all night in these things.


And this is for my top-down top:


Once again, my camera has failed to produce anything like the actual color of the item. It's a really soft, washed olive. I really like olive. I could wear it every day (when I'm not wearing black). This is a lovely cotton/silk blend - an all-weather blend for the south (unlike these cotton/wool blends that nutty people who live in places like Greenland or New Hampshire call all-weather).

The yammering girl and her friend have left. I don't think her friend said a single word for an entire hour. I guess it's time for me to quit sweating and swatting mosquitoes and go inside. They could turn down the music now, too.

Monday, July 10, 2006

top, top down

How did it get to be Monday already? At least the weekend involved a lot of knitting. A lot of cooking, a lot of baby-showering, a lot of cleaning up spilled fabric paint, but a lot of knitting too, thank goodness. When I get our camera back from the friend at whose house I left it yesterday (oops), I'll have to post some pictures of the little sweater I'm making with the Knit-o-Graf project salvage. It's coming out quite nicely, if I do say so myself.

So I am really craving to knit myself a little cap-sleeve or short-sleeve summery cottony top. Folks are raving about the Green Gable, and it is really cute, but little birds have told me that the pattern is evil and bad. Any other little birds want to comment? I'm just curious.

Any rate, it doesn't seem so complicated to design my own Gable knock-off. I need to try again at designing another top-down top, especially since Artisokka is posting such nice top-down knitting instructions on her blog. Lesson 1 is up now. I'm sure she must have learned from The Goddess (a.k.a. Barbara Walker), but I like her clean and boiled-down version of the instructions.

The baby shower, by the way, was marvy. My friend Bea is about to have a little girl, so her sister and another friend and I threw a shower for her and her husband yesterday. It was actually a lot of fun! Really good food and punch were the basic ingredients, plus no goofy games like pin-the-dirty-diaper-on-the-daddy or whatever you're supposed to do at these affairs, plus we did a craft project together, so all in all it made for a nice Sunday afternoon.

Bea is looking very beautiful and very pregnant. Her naturally serene demeanor seems to have become even more beatific with the big belly and the glowing cheeks. Whatever those hormones are, they ought to bottle them & put them in skin cream. Actually, they probably already do.

At any rate, they loved the organic baby wrapper & hat (see, I made them for a real baby!) and another knitter made them an incredible pair of bright baby cardis. I wish I had taken a picture, but of course, that sort of thing only ever occurs to me much later.

Among all the delectable treats at the shower Sunday, Bea's sister made this amazing punch. I don't think the recipe is a big secret, so I'm going to share it with you now in case you're having a bash this weekend and need a colorful beverage option. So here it is:

really good punch

Two 2-liter bottles of Ginger Ale
Two 2-liter bottles of Hawaiian punch
Two tubs of lime sherbert

* Refridgerate the drinks overnight before mixing
* If your punch bowl will fit in the freezer, freezing the punch bowl overnight will make for nice cold punch when you mix it up.

Pour the drinks into the punch bowl and stir. Scoop all the sherbert in. Stir again. Voila! You have a tasty hot pink and lime green punch. What could be better? Well, maybe if you added some rum it would be even better. Don't let me limit your horizons.

Friday, July 07, 2006

free pattern friday: organic baby wrapper

This baby wrapper & hat set makes a great new-baby gift. I especially love using organic cotton for newborn items. Blue Sky Alpacas organic cotton is about the softest yarn you've ever felt, and of course it's grown without pesticides and other nasty chemicals - good for the environment and a delicate new baby. The openwork pattern used here is also easy to memorize, so it looks fancy but is simple to work.

I made a little wrapper like this on a whim last year for a friend who had a preemie. Organic cotton seemed like a must for him, and his small size inspired the small blanket. As it turns out, a little wrapper is just the right size to toss in the stroller or the carseat, and as he has grown, he loves to drag it around with him. His mom tells me he enjoys using it to play "peek-a-boo" with his toy monkey.

Size: 0-6 mos.

  • Blue Sky Alpacas organic cotton. 3 skeins sage (MC), 1 skein bone (CC)
  • Size 7 (US) needles for wrapper
  • 16" Size 6 circular needles and Size 6 DPN's for hat
  • Stitch markers in 2 colors
  • Tapestry needle
  • Size G crochet hook
Gauge: approx. 4.5 st/inch (in stockinette stitch)

Openwork pattern (17 st repeat over 4 rows):
Row 1 (RS): Knit all stitches
Rows 2 and 4 (WS): Purl all stitches
Row 3: *[P2 tog 3 times]; [YO, K1 5 times]; YO; [P2 tog 3 times]. Rep from *.

CO 85 st in MC, placing a marker after every 17 st (you will have 4 markers dividing 5 sections). The markers divide up 17-st sections to make the openwork pattern easier to see and knit.

K in openwork pattern. The openwork pattern is a 4-row repeat. You will repeat this 4-row pattern 13 times (for a total of 52 rows) using the main color (MC).

Change to contrast color (CC). Repeat openwork pattern one time (4 rows) to create a narrow stripe of contrasting color.

Change back to main color (MC). Repeat openwork pattern 4 times (16 rows) to create a wider stripe of main color.

Change to contrast color (CC). Repeat openwork pattern one time (4 rows) to create a narrow stripe of contrasting color.

Change back to main color (MC). Repeat openwork pattern 13 times (52 rows) to finish wrapper in MC.

Next RS row: Knit all stitches.
Next WS row: Purl all stitches.
Last RS row: BO loosely.
Weave in ends using tapestry needle.

The top and bottom edges of the wrapper will retain the scalloped shape from the openwork pattern.

Using circular needles, CO 68 st in main color (MC), placing a marker after every 17 st (you will have 3 markers; make sure they're all the same color). Place one more marker of a different color (to mark the start of the rows) and join work to knit in the round, knitting in openwork pattern.

Repeat openwork pattern 4 times (for a total of 16 rows). Change to st st, removing the 3 markers used to divide openwork repeats as you knit along (keep the marker that denotes the start of the rows). Continue knitting in st st until the hat measures about 5 inches from the bottom edge.

Begin decreasing:
Change to DPN's.
Dec row 1: * K2, K2 tog. Repeat from *.
Dec row 2: *K1, K1 tog. Repeat from *.
Row 3: K one round without decreases.
Next row: K 2 tog, repeat to end.
Continue K 2 tog every row until 6 st remain. Using a tapestry needle, pull yarn end through rem 6 st and gently pull tight. Knot on the inside.

Using contrasting color (CC) and crochet hook, crochet a DC border along the bottom edge of the hat. Weave in loose ends.

To size up the hat for a larger baby (6-18 mos size):

Follow the same instructions, but use size 8 needles and a size H crochet hook. Repeat lace pattern 5 times (instead of 4), and do not begin decrease rows until hat measures 6 1/4 inches from bottom edge).

important notice: This is a free pattern and you are welcome to use it for all the non-commercial purposes you like. However, you may not reproduce this pattern to sell, and you may not sell what you make with it. You may donate what you make with it to charity, and you may use it for charity fundraisers only if 100% of the proceeds are donated to the charity (and by charity I don't mean your kid's college fund). Thanks for understanding!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Once upon a time I thought I was going to become the Maven of Knit-o-Graf. I first saw these wacky patterns on VintageKnits.com and quickly became obsessed with owning a copy of the Pixie pattern (at right) and using the graphic to make a stylish yet ironic 1940's retro cardi. Look, they're sitting on toadstools! And look at their little tails... can't you just see those pixies on a grown-up's cardigan, or felted into a sweet purse? Can't you?

I spent weeks on eBay searching for the Pixie pattern, all the while acquiring a decent little collection of Knit-o-Graf patterns that I generally obtained by buying horrible lots of dozens of "vintage" knitting patterns with one or two of these gems among the bunch. In this way I amassed many moldy or torn old knitting patterns, and many that should never have been designed in the first place, let alone pawned off as retro decades later, with or without the ironic wink. But that's another story. The Knit-o-Graf patterns brought me cowboys, crazy argyles, pixies, and all manner of hilarious stuff.

After building up a little bit of a stash of these Knit-o-Graf patterns, I started thinking I would popularize them again and somehow become rich and quit my job to spend my days volunteering, knitting, and tending a lush organic garden (FYI, this dream has not yet come to fruition). Unfortunately I think I started a run on them on eBay. The prices took a big jump, from $1 or $2 a pop to more than $10 each. That's when I decided I had collected enough patterns (the going rate at VintageKnits.com is $8, by the way).

So the idea with these patterns is, there are no 'narrative' instructions like you're used to (ie, cast on 88 stitches, knit in K1P1 rib for 10 rows)... there's none of that. Instead, you just unfold this giant graph, and the sweater pattern is drawn onto it. Not just the graphic, like with an intarsia design, but the whole freaking sweater. This was apparently a popular gimmick in the 1940's and 50's when these patterns were published. There was also a big line of Mary Maxim patterns that use the same graph trick.

I am a visual person, so I assumed this graph-reading stuff would be no problem. There is also the matter of figuring out exactly how much and what kind of yarn is needed, since the yarn they recommend doesn't exist anymore, and the designers helpfully tell you how many ounces rather than how many yards of yarn you will need. Sizing has also changed a lot since the old days. Did you know that a size 2 does not mean it's for a 2-year old? I did not know this.

Once I started getting these brain-teasers untied, I decided it was time to knit a sweater for my friend's adorable two-year old daughter. I chose the wonderfully self-referential 'kittens batting yarn' design and ordered up some lovely fingering weight yarn.

playful kittens. see how they romp with the yarn.

I have mentioned before that I don't really like color knitting. I hate having more than one or two balls of yarn going at the same time. This pattern had me adding balls of yarn like crazy... I couldn't find a realistic way to manage them all. I had dissolved into tears on at least one dozen separate instances before I finally got to this point with six live balls of fingering weight yarn and one hundred and seven impossible tangles, and shoved the whole mess into the closet forever:

frogged july 4, 2006

So one of my holiday weekend projects was to pull this hideous jumble out of the closet, frog the sweater, re-wind the yarn into nice doubled center-pull skeins and use the yummy silk-alpaca yarn for a more realistic project. Now that I've doubled it, the yarn is a nice light worsted weight and all set to make a gift for (yet another) friend's forthcoming baby (it's a fertile world out there).

I think I'll keep the Knit-o-Graf patterns for retro inspiration, especially since one day I'll be able to sell them for a mint on eBay and retire to the countryside to pursue my wildest dreams. You can see most of the rest of the collection on my Flickr page. As for the re-popularizing, I just don't want to inflict that kind of torture on my knitterly sisters and brothers out there. Hopefully this post has fulfilled its public service in dissuading any unsuspecting knitters who might have tried to fool with one of these patterns. If you do try this at home, be sure to have a good bottle of wine at the ready - you're going to need it.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

holiday weekend

We just got back from a camping trip to one of our favorite weekend-fling destinations: Rocky Knob, VA. What could be nicer than a four-day weekend? Day 1: Rest, sleep. Hang out with friends. Day 2: Leave for trip in a leisurely fashion. Hike. Camp. Eat strange foods. Sleep outside. Day 3: Wake up in the woods. Walk. Ogle. Meander homewards through various small mountain towns. Sleep in own bed. Day 4: Rest, sleep. Hang out with friends.

Besides all this relaxation, my personal goal for the car-ride part of the trip was to learn to make a sock toe-up. You can see my progress above. I haven't gotten to the heel yet; I was too busy gaping at interesting scenery to do a lot of knitting on this trip. I am looking forward to learning the "afterthought heel" technique. Have any of y'all tried it?

Of course, the knitting took a back seat to the journeying this time. Rocky Knob is less than 3.5 hours away from here, through beautiful foothill & mountain country, so it's a great destination for a quick camping trip. Once you get there, there's a big, quiet campground for car camping and lots & lots to do. Here's a picture of the trail that leads from the campground up to the Rocky Knob overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It zig-zags in & out of a cow pasture that looks sort of magical with all these funny stones sticking up everywhere. I kept imagining that leprechauns were about to hop out from behind one of them.

Here's one of HWWLLB's sunset photos from the Saddle Overlook, where we were among a handful of goggle-eyed couples snuggling and watching the sunset:


We didn't have too much luck building a roaring fire at our campsite, but considering it's July in Virginia, a roaring fire wasn't really a necessity. We did get it going well enough to make some really tasty s'mores though. In the morning we didn't bother with another fire, so I had to get my cup of tea at the Tuggle's Gap restaurant, before we headed down the Parkway to North Carolina:

the morning light was lovely; this is around 8 AM. to the right, just outside the frame, there are about three dozen harleys lined up waiting to blast the morning silence. but not just yet.

We headed south, past the new Blue Ridge Music Center, and into North Carolina. We had to make a stop in Sparta, where I learned that there's a fiddlers' convention coming up at the end of the month - we may need to go back for that.

After the errand in Sparta we took a detour back up over the Virginia border to visit Galax, home of the very famous annual fiddlers' convention in August. We'd heard there was a "festival" going on there and imagined old-timey music, lots of tasty food and maybe some Virginia wine. When we got there, we found a chintzy-looking traveling carnival, with nothing old-timey or even edible in sight. Not to mention the carnival rides didn't even open til 5 PM, and we were still a good ways from home. To make matters worse, there are clearly evil commies afoot in Galax:

evidence of the coming revolution

You can bet we high-tailed it out of there! (Actually, we were just hungry, but that makes the story less dramatic). From Galax we spent three or four hours meandering eastwards along Route 58, up and down the foothills, and then slowly winding southwards towards home. The cats were ecstatic to see us when we got home. We were ecstatic to sleep in our own bed, and then wake up to yet another glorious day off before this long weekend is over. Hooray!