Tuesday, January 27, 2009

new life


2009 is going to bring some incredible changes to our world - to our big shared world, and to my little personal one as well.

We have a baby Pea on the way.

I can't tell you how much just knowing and feeling this fact has already changed my outlook on the world, myself, and even my knitting (not to mention my diet and sleeping habits). I think these are all things that I'll be sharing with you via the blog, so I wanted to share the big news, and give you a preview of things to come. There will be more knitting of course, and I imagine some exploration of how to be creative and sustainable in raising a little one.

Other things I probably won't be sharing as much about are the very personal things - about my family and the baby itself. Y'all probably already know that this isn't really a personal blog, and that is in part a reflection of my cautious approach to the internet. I feel it now more than ever - and I hope it doesn't disappoint anyone that there won't be any pictures of my uterus or lists of baby names (I know some of you are sighing with relief!).

But there are definitely lots more baby knits in store.

This fall was the first trimester, and I found it very difficult to knit. I could probably count the total stitches I knitted this fall without too much trouble. It seemed that along with all my physical energy, all my creative energy had been diverted to this one, all-consuming purpose. Now that I am comfortably situated in the second trimester, knitting has returned, though I found that I got rusty in my hiatus, and my fingers still seem frustratingly slow.

Nonetheless, I did get started on a teeny sweater made from sock yarn leftovers. I'm making this up as I go along, and I think it will be an easy pattern to share when it's finished, maybe with some matching booties.


So, it's off to the stack of books by my bed, which I seem to fall into by 9:30 every night with great regularity these days. We are counting down to May 31, when the little one is supposed to make an appearance. I have a feeling I need to cram as much knitting and sleeping in now as I can.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

say amen!

My favorite part of the inaugural ceremony today was Reverend Joseph Lowery's wonderful benediction.

I wrote yesterday about how much looking back we've done at our civil rights journey to this day; Lowery's benediction seemed to me to be a look forward, at the world our children might inherit from us, if we rise to the call to be our better selves that rang from his words, and particularly from the words he borrowed from Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Here's the text of his beautiful (and funny) benediction, in case you missed it:

"God of our weary years, god of our silent tears, thou, who has brought us thus far along the way, thou, who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our god, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.

Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand true to thee, oh God, and true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day.

We pray now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration.

He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hands, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations.

Our faith does not shrink though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.

For we know that, Lord, you are able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union.

And while we have sown the seeds of greed -- the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountain top, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together as children, pledging that we won't get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone.

With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen."


LOWERY: Say Amen.


- Reverend Joseph E. Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, delivering the Inaugural Benediction on January 20, 2009.

Monday, January 19, 2009

where we've come from

It is a beautiful coincidence that the inauguration of our nation's first black President happens to coincide with the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr's legacy in the United States. It seems that Americans are doing a great deal of looking back just now at the civil rights journey we have walked together as a nation, at who made this day in history possible.

Usually on the King holiday I post a speech or sermon by Dr. King. (If you are looking for some of his words today, visit the King Institute's web page, or check out one of his wonderful books from the library). Over the summer I read
Strength to Love, as well as the Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr, and found them both incredibly inspiring.

Through that reading I learned a great deal about where Dr. King's roots lie, particularly his guiding principle of social change through non-violence. King was profoundly inspired by the philosophy and political organizing of Gandhi, who led a non-violent movement for independence in India that revolutionized King's thinking about how to achieve freedom in the United States.

So in the spirit of this looking back today, I thought I'd share a few words of the mahatma, Mohandas Gandhi.

"The fact that there are so many men still alive in the world shows that it is based not on the force of arms but on the force of truth or love. Therefore, the greatest and most unimpeachable evidence of the success of this force is to be found in the fact that, in spite of the wars of the world, it still lives on.

"Thousands, indeed tens of thousands, depend for their existence on a very active working of this force. Little quarrels of millions of families in their daily lives disappear before the exercise of this force. Hundreds of nations live in peace. History dies not and cannot take note of this fact. History is really a record of every interruption of the even working of the force of love or of the soul. Two brothers quarrel; one of them repents and re-awakens the love that was lying dormant in him; the two again begin to live in peace; nobody takes note of this. But if the two brothers, through the intervention of solicitors or some other reason take up arms or go to law – which is another form of the exhibition of brute force,their doings would be immediately noticed in the press, they would be the talk of their neighbours and would probably go down to history. And what is true of families and communities is true of nations. There is no reason to believe that there is one law for families and another for nations. History, then, is a record of an interruption of the course of nature. Soul-force, being natural, is not noted in history."

-Mohandas K. Gandhi, from Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule), 1919.

If you haven't seen the film Gandhi, it's a wonderful way to understand the universality of the human struggle for freedom, and the spectacular power of love and non-violence to bring about that freedom. And if (like me) you are a community organizer, you will probably be awe-struck at Gandhi's brilliant campaigns, just as you would be by the genius of King's organizing campaigns from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Voting Rights Act (just as you have been by Barack Obama's meteoric campaign to the White House).

We are at another crossroads on the long, hard road to human freedom. I believe that it's worth studying the philosophies and the methods of those who have led us here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

swapping seeds

seed packets

Sunday night we got together with some gardeney friends to share seeds and ideas for our gardens this year. I am so excited about getting my hands into the dirt, I can hardly wait! Alas, it's still January.

But we had fun and warmed ourselves with mulled cider and cake while we traded seed packets and ideas.

There were lots of offerings: seeds people had saved from their best-producing plants this past year, and 3/4-full seed packets left over from the season. I really liked the lessons that came along with the seeds; hearing about everyone's experiences with different plants was so much more informative than the glossy seed packets that sing out to you from the rack at the garden store, insinuating beautiful bounty.

Everyone had a different way of approaching the swap: PeaceNic had a checklist with her desired vegetables all listed out, so she only had a couple of things left to buy on her list once we were finished. We had already ordered our dream plants from Seed Savers and were looking to round out the garden with some fun items that others had enjoyed. Other folks hadn't really started the garden plans yet, and getting some great gems from the swap was a way to get them going.

I just wish we'd held the swap before we placed our seed orders for the year! I think I would have saved some money... ah well, a lesson for next year. I think seed-swapping in January is going to become a new ritual at our house.

On Saturday we had made a run down to my parents' farm for a load of horse manure, so we were also able to give everyone a party gift for attending: bags of poo. Yummy! Spring, here we come!

Monday, January 05, 2009

knits past and future

2008 knits mosaic
click over to the flickr page for specific project info

The 2008 knit parade! Unfinished projects not included...

These are most of the knitting projects I managed to finish in 2008. I am noticing a strong footwear theme... Here are some of the other statistics I noticed:

10 out of 12 projects were gifts for someone
6 of 12 projects include the color green
5 of 12 projects are for babes
9 of 12 projects are made primarily of wool
6 0f 12 projects were designed by me

What do all these wooly green gifts say about me and my knitting? What lessons should I draw in choosing projects for 2009?

I think my favorite projects, as far as knitting enjoyment, were the Cowgirl Butterfly Astronaut vest, and needle-felting the little carrot onto the Lunch Bag. I also enjoyed much of the Plum Blouse, though it took longer than my standard favorite projects, being grown-up sized and all.

So as for the year ahead... I'm planning on designing plenty more baby and kids' stuff. I also want to knit a Dr. G's Memory Vest for HWWLLB. And I want to experiment some more with sustainable yarns, like Habu Paper Ring and recycled sweaters. I also felt a real lack of toy-knitting in 2008. That must be remedied this year. I'm also totally in love with needle-felting, so I expect it will be popping up on more of my knits in the future.

For those of you who've knitted some of my free patterns, what do you want to see more of this year? I don't write up the patterns for everything I design, since that seems to take more brain-power than the knitting, most times, so I'd love to know what kinds of designs ought to get a front seat on the pattern-writing train. (Front seat on a train? Did that metaphor make any sense?)

I also plan on mixing more metaphors this year, and writing even longer run-on sentences than some of the doozies I wrote last year, if you get my drift, and I know you do, ha ha, so watch out.

I'm excited to see what the rest of you knitters have got in mind for the year ahead. Any special inaugural celebration knits in the works I wonder?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

free pattern FAQ


I decided it was time to make a help page for knitters who have questions about my free patterns. Of course, you can still email me with your specific questions - and I'll be as timely as I can in responding. But chances are, you'll find what you need to know on this page. I hope that some of you find this help page useful! If there's anything else you'd like to see here, please let me know in the comments.

Table of contents

What does this abbreviation mean??
I use standard abbreviations in all my patterns, but this may be one you haven't run across before. Check the Yarn Standards abbreviations guide, or the Knitty abbreviations guide (scroll down).

How do you do a [insert name of technique here]?
My favorite resource for learning a new technique is KnittingHelp.com. The video illustrations are wonderful - the next best thing to having a friend show you how to do it.

Also, if you've been knitting a little while and you know you're going to stick with it, I'd recommend investing in a big, handy book full of knitting techniques. These are easy to find used on the web and in bookstores. There are plenty to choose from, but two I have at my house are the Big Book of Knitting by Katharina Buss, and the Knitter's Handbook, by Montse Stanley. They really come in handy when you're adapting a pattern to your own liking, or when a designer is skimpy on the directions.

Sizing: How do I know which size will fit?

All my designs use standard sizing from the American Craft Yarn Council (sounds very official, doesn't it?). Unless they state otherwise, most designers in the U.S. follow these guidelines, so you should find some consistency among different patterns. To see what the standards are based on, check out this sizing guide.

Which size should I knit for my child who is __ months/years old?

The age-related sizes that I provide are a little bit misleading, since every kid is different and grows at a different rate. Your two year-old might be wearing a 4, while someone else's 4 year-old might swim in a size 3. The sizes are based on standard sizing from the American Craft Yarn Council. The best way to know what size to knit for a baby or child is to measure his or her chest circumference. Add two inches for ease, and that chest size tells you which size sweater to knit. I usually provide the chest measurement in the pattern, but if I've overlooked it (sorry!), check the Craft Yarn Council's sizing guide for babies & children. When in doubt, go up a size! In the mean time, I'm going to go make sure there are chest measurements on all my patterns...

Check out this tutorial I wrote on adapting top-down patterns to fit other sizes.

What size should I knit for me? I am between the sizes you provided.

No body conforms to a standard size. If you happen to be a perfect size medium, count yourself lucky. No matter what the garment, you will most likely need to adapt a knitting pattern to fit you well. The American Craft Yarn Council's sizing guide shows you how to measure yourself to determine your sizing. There are lots of instructions out there about how to adapt patterns to fit you - making the chest larger or smaller, adding darts, shortening or lengthening the sleeves or the sweater length. Check out the instructions in Stitch & Bitch Nation by Debbie Stoller, or Jenna Wilson's wonderful column in Knitty, Thinking Beyond the Pattern. As your knitting progresses, it's important to learn how to adapt patterns to fit well. Nothing's worse than spending months knitting a project that turns out looking like a muu-muu when you put it on.

A related question: Will this style of sweater look good on me?

This is a critically important question that is not so much about knitting, as it is about understanding your body shape and what will flatter it (and what will look awful). I always get depressed when I see someone's project on Ravelry, and they write about all the fun they had knitting a garment, only to find that the style didn't exactly flatter their figure. You can avoid this tragic and all-too-common problem by spending a little time with some fashionistas. The best in the business (I.M.H.O.) are Stacy and Clinton at What Not to Wear. There are some helpful tips on their website, but I adore their book, Dress Your Best: The Complete Guide to Finding the Style that's Right for Your Body. Never knit another clunker!

Quickie Cowl FAQ
The directions for the Modified Lace Rib show only Row 1, Row 2 and Row 4. What the heck do I do on Row 3? How do I "repeat these 4 rows" when there are only three given??Check it out: Row 1 is more than it seems. Row 1 and all WS rows: *K2, P3. Repeat from * to end. K2. "Row 1 and all WS rows" means that on every wrong-side row (in this case, all odd rows), you do the same thing. Row 3 is one of those WS rows.

Which set of directions do I follow? Do I dig right into the Lace directions or follow the second set, ie., First row: K3…. Or do I start with the directions after the CO and then follow the lace pattern? What am I overlooking?

I can't figure out the pattern either. Could you please write it out as Row 1, Row 2, etc. without the separate directions for "modified lace rib" and "knit the Cowl"?

I'm so sorry to torture you. This cowl is so simple, and I had to go and complicate the directions. Here's the quickie answer: You do both at the same time.

This is a standard convention in knitting directions when you're doing a fancy stitch pattern, particularly lace: the fancy stitch pattern is spelled out at the start of the directions. Part of the thinking there is to let you knit a swatch of it and see how it goes, maybe even check your gauge in the stitch pattern, before you try knitting the garment itself. Then, you get to the part of the directions where it says "Cast on..." and you actually start the body of the garment. The directions tell you to "Knit in patt" when it's time to use that fancy stitch pattern. No matter which row of the garment you happen to be knitting when that stitch pattern starts, you start with Row 1 of the stitch pattern and go from there. In this case, you just so happen to start row 1 on row 1.

I know this seems unnecessarily complicated, but it builds character. Also, it's good preparation for making a sweater or some other item with a fancy stitch pattern, when you'll have to use directions like this again. I promise it gets easier.

Organic Guernsey FAQ
These directions are confusing! It says to knit stockinette stitch in the sleeve sections, and seed stitch in the front & back sections. What does this refer to?
The front and back sections of the sweater are knit in seed stitch, and the sleeves are knit in stockinette. When you knit from the top down, your knitting is divided (by markers) into sections that correspond to:
front left panel, left sleeve, back, right sleeve, front right panel
So for this sweater, the stitch pattern through these sections corresponds:
seed stitch, stockinette, seed stitch, stockinette, seed stitch
Just make sure that on the individual stitches before and after each stitch marker (ie, the stitches you are increasing on), always knit them (don’t ever purl them) - even when you're working that section in seed stitch. That will keep everything looking tidy.

Common questions for top-down knitting

(Including the Mossy Jacket, Organic Guernsey and Super-Natural Stripes)
At first, the directions say that on an increase row, 10 st will be increased (9 st if you're knitting the Mossy Jacket). Later it says only 8 st increased. What's up with that?
At first, you are knitting into the front and back of the first stitch, then into the front and back of the stitches before AND after each stitch marker, and knit into the front and back of the last stitch. You do this on every right-side row. This makes the neckline grow to the correct proportions.
Once the sweater is big enough, with the given number of stitches in the back section, you will not increase into the first and last stitch anymore. you’ll just knit them as usual, but continue increasing before and after every stitch marker. At this point your neckline has met in the middle, so you don't need to be increasing there anymore.
Top-down knitting is the greatest! Why isn't every sweater pattern written this way?

I know, right? Sadly, most patterns are written for flat knitting that needs to be sewn up afterwards. Yawn. If you want to try your hand at transforming such patterns to top-down, or if you want to make up your own top-down designs, check out the final word on the matter, Barbara Walker's wonderful book, Knitting from the Top. I just love it! Also, there are some other designers out there who like to work top-down. Check out patterns for grown-ups and kids by Wendy Bernard, and women's garments from the lovely ladies at Zephyr Style.

How-to's and tutorials
Tutorial for top-down knitters: fancy stitch patterns
How to maintain a fancy stitch pattern across the raglan seams while knitting a sweater from the top down.

How to cast on a bazillion stitches
Keeping track when you have a whole lotta stitches to cast on.

Sewing a button very, very securely
The title pretty much says it all. Required reading if you're knitting a baby sweater with buttons.

Tutorial: Never weave in ends again!!
Yes, this is for real. Never. Again.

Sizing up: You can do it!
In which I address how you can go beyond the directions and adapt any top-down pattern to fit.

Looking for more pattern help? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

new day, new year

new year's walk 2

Welcome to a new year.

The sky is brilliant blue today. We took a walk to visit the great blue herons in the swamp near our house and had fun getting bright red noses.

Today I ate lots of tasty leftovers from our New Year's Eve feast with my family, and I think I'll be settling in soon for an afternoon of knitting and listening to music - and perhaps a little cookie baking.

I hope your new year is off to a wonderful start. May it be your best yet.