Wednesday, October 29, 2008

hot morning cuppa


I am fighting off a bit of a cold. Feeling lousy always really makes me appreciate a hot cup of something nice, especially in the morning.

I like my tea piping hot, just barely cooled from the way-too-hot-to-drink stage. On a cold morning, I love to guzzle a whole cup of hot hot milky tea and feel the hot liquid warming me all the way down to my belly. Unfortunately, hot drinks don't stay that way for long in cold weather. Shari's chilly post the other day made me think about all the goofy (perhaps slightly compulsive) tricks I use to try to keep my cuppas hot.

I'm always looking for the most space-aged vacuum-sealed thermos. I always rinse my mug with hot water before I put the tea into it. I never let the tea steep without something covering the top to hold in heat. Usually it's a saucer of milk, because my hope is that the milk will warm a bit too, before I stir it in. When we go camping in cooler weather, I keep my thermos mug inside my coat whenever I'm not drinking from it. Maybe I should start doing that at home, too...

Once, my grandmother gave me this amazing little gadget: a beverage warmer. It's sort of a mini hot-plate that sits on your desk like a coaster and keeps your cup of tea or coffee nice and hot. I don't know what happened to mine, but being reminded of it today... perhaps it's time to order a new one.

Now that the weather is getting serious about it being fall, I am really interested in any other hot beverage strategies that you all have to share. In the mean time, I think it must be time for a cup of tea.

Friday, October 24, 2008

tutorial for top-down knitters: fancy stitch patterns

Not too long ago, I noticed that you don't see too many top-down sweater patterns knitted in stitches other than stockinette, garter stitch, or maybe seed stitch if they're getting fancy. Why don't we ever see a fisherman's rib, or some simple lace in a top-down sweater, for example?

My theory about this is that it seems too hard to keep up the stitch pattern, when you keep increasing stitches along the raglan seams every other row. Hm. I started puzzling over how one would carry the stitch pattern across those pesky ever-growing seams. Could it work? I decided to consult The Oracle (also known as Barbara Walker's classic book Knitting from the Top).

The answer is an emphatic yes, and though I didn't quite understand Walker's explanation, her hints were good, and eventually I found my way. So here's what I learned. You can use this technique to design your own garments, or to adapt an existing pattern for a top-down garment that was written in stockinette stitch, and make it fancy.


There are a couple of important things to know. First of all, you don't actually carry the pattern across the raglan seams. You start the stitch pattern over afresh after each raglan seam. This flash of insight made the whole thing work for me. The rest is just logistics.

But a second, and really important point, choose your stitch pattern carefully. Choose a stitch pattern with relatively few stitches in the repeat. A 14-stitch repeat won't look very good. A 3- to 5-stitch repeat will work just fine.

Let's use a sample pattern and walk through how to do this, step by step. We'll make a simple top-down baby's cardigan, except we're going to dispense with the plain stockinette stitch, and knit it up in a pretty stitch called "elongated rib check."

Elongated Rib Check (multiple of 4 st)
Rows 1-6: * P2, K2; Repeat from * to end.
Rows 7-12: *K2, P2; Repeat from * to end.

Here are the original directions for casting on (these should be familiar if you've ever knitted a top-down cardigan):
Beginning at neck edge with a 24 in. circular needle, cast on 2 st, place marker, cast on 10 st, place marker, cast on 16 st, place marker, cast on 10 st, place marker, cast on 2 st. You will have 40 st.

Odd rows: Kfb, *Knit to 1 st before M, Kfb, slip M. Repeat from * to end, Kfb the final stitch (inc 10 st total).
Even rows: Purl across.

Repeat these two rows until there are 22 st between the back markers.
At the end of this last increase row, cast on to the end of the needle 3 st.
Next row: Purl to end, cast on 3 st to the end of the needle.
Continue increasing as before, except without increasing on the first and last stitch of every row (inc 8 st every odd row).

Here's the step-by-step to transforming this top-down stockinette sweater to a top-down sweater with our chosen stitch pattern:

1. Supplies. You will need lots of stitch markers in 2 different colors (color A and color B).

2. Take notes. Keep notes on how you modify the pattern so that you'll be able to adapt as you go along.

3. Knit a swatch. This is no joke! You need to knit a nice big gauge swatch in order to a) learn the stitch pattern and get comfortable with it; and b) check your gauge, since it is very likely to be different from the sweater's stated gauge in stockinette stitch. You may need to adjust your needle size accordingly.

4. Casting on: As you cast on, you may need to modify the number of stitches in each section in order to accommodate the stitch pattern. Since the stitch pattern in our example is a multiple of 4, each section should contain a multiple of 4 st, plus 2 (one for each increase stitch).

If the front sections are just a stitch or two each, as in our sample pattern, adding too many stitches will mess up your sizing. In this case, you will just ignore those sections for now, and do not begin the stitch pattern until you've knitted enough increase rows that there are enough stitches in the section for one pattern repeat + 2 extra stitches. So for our example:
CO 2, Place marker A, CO 10, place marker A, CO 18, place marker A, CO 10, place marker A, CO 2. You will have 42 st. Make a note of the fact that you modified the instructions to have 2 extra stitches between the back 2 markers.

after casting on - looks just like any old top-down sweater.

5. Knitting in the stitch pattern. As you knit along, you'll start the pattern row over in each section. But you also need to differentiate between the stitches that are used only for increasing, and the stitches that can actually be knit in the stitch pattern. So as you knit row 1, you'll add a second set of markers, Marker B.

Row 1: Kfb, place marker B, Kfb, slip marker A, *Kfb, place marker B, patt to 1 st before next marker A, place marker B, Kfb, slip marker A. Repeat from * to final marker A. Kfb, place marker B, Kfb of last stitch.

Row 2: Purl to marker B, *Purl to marker A, purl to marker B, patt to the next marker B. Repeat from * to final marker B. Purl to end.

after row 1 - 2 sets of stitch markers (A is red; B is blue)

6. Maintaining the pattern as the sweater grows. On every increase row, you'll gain more stockinette stitches in the little sections between marker B and marker A. Once there are enough of them, you can add them to the pattern section by moving the marker. In this case, you will need 5 stockinette stitches (a multiple of 4 + 1). Once there are 5 stitches between marker A and marker B, on the next increase row, carry the stitch pattern through those 4 stockinette stitches, moving the stitch marker 4 places and leaving one stockinette stitch behind for the increase.


7. The front edges. In every top-down sweater, there's a point when you stop increasing on the first and last stitch of every row, and you cast on a few stitches at the needle tips to make the front edges meet, across the low point of the neckline. This is the final part of the sample pattern, above. This is the final adaptation you'll have to make. Our sample pattern says to cast on 3 stitches. You should cast on as many stitches as it takes to complete a pattern repeat, as close to the recommended number as possible.

So if you have, say, 20 stitches in your first and last sections (NOT counting the stockinette stitches between marker B and marker A), you would cast on 4 for a total of 24 stitches, which is a multiple of 4.

If you're making a crew-neck rather than a cardigan, you'd be joining the front edges here. In that case, cast on the correct number of stitches to make the stitch pattern flow correctly from one side to the other when joined, sticking as close to the recommended number of cast-on stitches as you can.

From this point, there's nothing else special that you need to do - just continue the sweater as directed, taking any of your modifications into account when stitch totals are given, and transforming the little growing pockets of stockinette stitch between your markers into fancy-stitch as they pile up.

I know it might sound weird to have these areas of stockinette stitch breaking up your stitch pattern, but in a finished garment you really don't see it. I used this technique in the Plum Blouse that I finished recently - here's a close-up of the shoulder seam. If you were to use a stitch pattern that required a 18-stitch repeat, it would definitely not work. But for stitch patterns that use a 3 to 5-stitch repeat, this is a great way to make a simple top-down design a lot more interesting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

our state fair is a great state fair


Fried dough! Deep-fried pecan pie on a stick! Grown men carrying giant stuffed Tweety-birds! These are the unmistakable signs of the State Fair, which happens every October whether you're ready or not.

I find the noise and the crowds at the fair a bit overwhelming, so most years we don't go, but this year we had a friend visiting from out of town, and being a farm-boy-turned-big-city guy, he needed a trip to the North Carolina State Fair.

Here's a list of all the things we ate, between the three of us:
corn dogs
french fries
hot chocolate
cotton candy
ice cream
apple fritters
hot apple cider
hot pretzels

...and then we came home and ate dinner. I'm not sure how. I still feel a bit queasy thinking about it.

My favorite part, as always, was the livestock barn. Especially the cute baby animals.

this little guy stole my heart

We saw the Grand Champion Steer, the Grand Champion Hog, and the Grand Champion Turkey (who didn't look well at all). The Grand Champion Wool Sheep and the Grant Champion Meat Goat were still to be crowned. There was a giant, giant sow suckling about a dozen little piglets, who all seemed to think that she was both a food source and a trampoline. HWWLLB was taken with the rabbit barn, and kept pointing out which breeds he thought would make particularly good pets for us.

There were oodles of families mobbing the animal barns and ogling the livestock. I always wonder about what parents tell their little kids who ask questions about the cute baby animals. It didn't seem like most people were talking about the fact that these guys were destined to become hamburger. Actually, most of the livestock really didn't look very appetizing at all. Except for that Grand Champion Steer... he did kind of look like a walking prime rib platter. And that's coming from a vegetarian.

Our one mission for the trip was never fulfilled. HWWLLB desperately wanted to try a deep-fried Snickers bar on a stick, and passed up many other deep-fried desserts in a single-minded pursuit of his conquest. Alas, he never found it, and went home having hardly eaten anything deep-fried at all.

On the bright side, we did get some heavenly goat's milk soap from Three Waters Farm, which isn't the same as a deep-fried dessert, but is really good in a different way.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

last chance for summer knits


I finally finished my summer knitting project: Plum!

One year I will get smart and knit summer things in the spring, and fall things in the summer, so that I actually get a chance to wear them when the weather is still appropriate. We're having a warm October day today, perhaps the last for a while, so I grabbed the opportunity to wear this, now that I finally got around to finishing and blocking it.

I love it!

The yarn is Callista, made by, and it's a great summery blend of cotton, linen and rayon. The rayon is a slightly darker, shinier ply wrapped around the softer, earthier cotton/linen blend, so the color has some nice depth and texture to it.


The stitch pattern is a purl-twist that makes it look extra-fancy, though it's really pretty simple. Same goes for the points along the neckline.

I knit this blouse top-down as a way to learn how to maintain a fancy stitch pattern when you're also constantly increasing along the raglan seams. This is something I've always wondered about, and discovered that it was not as complicated as you might think. I'm planning to post a tutorial on it some time soon.


This is probably not a design that I'll be writing up as a pattern, because I was doing a lot of adjusting on the fly and really didn't take good enough notes, unfortunately. I'm really happy with the styling and how it came out overall. I need to enjoy every moment of wearing it today -- it may not come out of the closet again until spring!

Friday, October 03, 2008



It's been years and years since the last time I kept a journal, but I've returned to the practice lately. The blog is kind of like a journal, except so totally public. Some folks can write their deepest feelings on their blogs, but not me. I am much too private about myself for that.

All through high school and college, I always kept a journal, where I mainly kept a running commentary of boy-related drama (there was no actual romantic drama going on, so it took a lot of creativity for me to cultivate as much as I could inside my head). But I also wrote about books I was reading, places I visited, fears, hopes, and drew a lot of pictures.

For my break in August, my co-workers gave me a beautiful journal. I wrote about what I was reading, things I was learning in my daily yoga practice, hopes, fears, and of course, drew a lot of pictures. I had filled it up by the end of the month, so in September, I bought another journal.

My current practice is to write in it every night before going to bed. Sometimes I have something to get off my chest and write for pages and pages, but other nights I'm too tired to string a coherent sentence together. Either way though, I always make a list. My nightly ritual is to make a list of five things I'm grateful for. It's interesting how much it changes from night to night, and how many things repeat over and over.

Here's my gratitude list for this morning:
  1. hot tea on a cold morning
  2. knitting with wool again
  3. close friends
  4. health
  5. the joy of friday morning, with the wide horizon of potential stretching out in front of you before the weekend.