November 27, 2005

MIX IT UP A LITTLE

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Yesterday my girls had their annual holiday portrait taken. In the last few years, we've added some of the pets to the portrait -- last year and the year before, the horses; the year before that, the dog; the year before that, the new kitten. This year was Stormy's turn. When we got home from the photography studio, we discovered that Scott had put up the Christmas tree. So the girls and cat posed one more time, and I took this photo. Can you tell they love to get their picture taken?

Also anticipating Christmas is a woman I met last week, a woman who described herself as an "intermediate knitter." She wanted to knit Christmas stockings -- specifically, to knit them and felt them -- for herself and the new man in her life. (My recollection is that she'd never knit socks before.) I liked this idea of doing something new and memorable, something this personal, for their first Christmas together.

So I've been mulling over this project. The design needed to be simple, in keeping not only with her knitting skills, but also with the amount of time available to knit between now and Christmas Eve. But even as the design is simple, it should still be interesting. Simple-but-interesting said to me stripes (and eliminated Fair Isle or intarsia), with some felted embellishment added.

Here's what I've come up with so far:

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I'm using Jamieson's Soft Shetland and Jamieson's Shetland Heather Aran. (Different names, same Shetland worsted weight wool.) The main color is Pine and the accent colors are Purple Heather and Pippin. You see that little loop of spare, Pine-colored yarn to the right of the stocking? That's the 3' 10" of yarn that I had left over from the one single skein of Pine that I used in knitting this sock.

I started this stocking on Wednesday, and finished off the toe just this morning, so I've met that criterion that the design be quick to knit. (The project might have come together even more quickly, if only I had remembered to pack my Purple Heather yarn with me for the drive to my sister's house on Thanksgiving. I'd counted on getting quite a bit of knitting done that day, but sabotaged myself by leaving the Purple Heather at home on the coffee table.)

I know that I've read from time to time on the knitting lists about people who designed something "on the needles" -- they just cast on and made it up as they went along. Whenever I read one of these messages, I always thought, "Oh, I could never do that." Well, guess what? Here I am, doing just that. No gauge swatch, no sketch, just casting on and knitting away. I've knitted enough socks that I could knit the leg, work the heel flap, and turn the heel, all without needing to refer to any resource. And I knew that a Purple Heather heel would look cool on a green sock.

The toe, however, required more experimentation. Initially I'd thought I'd knit a Purple Heather toe, to match the heel. And just in case Santa wants to put a lump of coal, or an orange, or even an autographed Mariners baseball into the toe of the stocking, a round toe would be better than a flat one. (Now, I've never gotten a lump of coal, but one year Santa did put in my stocking a baseball autographed by Lou Pinella, manager of the Mariners at that time. But, thinking back on this year's season and last year's, perhaps getting a Mariners baseball in your stocking nowadays is worse than getting a lump of coal.)

I remembered that the new Nancy Bush book describes 6 different types of toe construction, so I pulled out Knitting Vintage Socks for reference. And there I found directions for the "French toe," which was both rounded and most amenable to the number of stitches I had on my needles.

I tried a Purple Heather toe last evening. My family's reaction:

Allegra: You should use the light green. Mix it up a little.

Scott: The sock is getting kind of dark.

I felt some resistance to knitting a purple heel and a light green toe. Usually heels and toes match, don't they? I had to look through the book Socks, Socks, Socks and reassure myself that this sort of thing has been done before. Then I ripped out the purple toe and knitted a light green one.

In the process of knitting the light green one, I realized what was obvious all along -- that the number of rows needed to completely decrease the toe would work into the existing pattern of stripes. That then would give me a set of three stripes on the foot, which is cuter (and more visually balanced) than a set of two stripes and a contrasting toe.

So I ripped out the light green toe and re-knitted the toe using the stripe sequence. I was holding my breath because I had, at that point, only 3-4 yards of Pine left, and I was unsure whether that would be enough to complete the toe. But, fortunately, I can breathe again.

At the moment, the sock measures 8 inches wide at the leg, and 20 inches long from cuff to tip of the toe. Next steps: To finish up the knitted poinsettia that I'll use to embellish the stocking. Then, to felt the stocking.

And, finally, my plan is to make this pattern available at the Two Swans site.

What to do with a 3' 10" string of leftover yarn? Use it as a cat attractant:

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Posted by Karen at 03:54 PM | Comments (8)

November 25, 2005

TWO SWANS IS TWO!

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Two Swans Yarns opened its doors the day after Thanksgiving in 2003. "Opened its doors"? That's a euphemistic way of saying that the original website went live that day. Then, as now, Two Swans Yarns can be found only online.

Since that time, Two Swans has grown slowly and steadily. Thanks, everyone, I very much appreciate your support! Changes this year: The new, bigger and more powerful website went live. This site is both easier to use and has some cool features (such as rewards points you can accumulate, then cash in toward your order). (Since I'm not a techy person, redesigning the site has been a major learning curve for me, and of course, I had much help.) In addition to the new-and-improved site, Two Swans added new products this year: patterns from Fiber Trends, magazines from Rowan and Interweave, RYC yarns, British Breeds Guernsey yarns, to name just a few. As always, I retain the commitment to carrying traditional yarns, especially the yarns for Fair Isle knitting.

For me, personally, the best part has been getting to know my customers, and particularly the friendships I've developed with many of you. I'm really having fun with Two Swans now; some days I feel just like a kid playing store.

Goals for the coming year? Publishing an e-newsletter. Expanding the inventory of high-quality knitting needles and accessories. And -- what else? -- more yarn!

Posted by Karen at 12:11 PM | Comments (6)

November 21, 2005

DIGNITY

Just so I can hold up my head with dignity at the Ferals meeting tonight, over the weekend I began the Floral Fair Isle gloves. If I've indulged my startitis at the same time, who can blame me?

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I've chosen to replace the corrugated rib at the cuff with a solid ribbing. I think the result appears less busy. The dark blue color is Knight, a Yorkshire Tweed 4-ply color. I love deep indigo blues, and this one is enlivened with little flecks of red, green, and golden brown -- I about can't take my eyes off it, it is so deep and complex. The medium shade of blue is Oceanic, another color in the Yorkshire Tweed 4-ply line. The light blue is Skye, one of the Rowan Scottish Tweed colors. (I've knitted only two rounds so far with the light blue so it is right at the top of the needles, not outstandingly visible in this photo.)

The Floral Fair Isle gloves are the current knit-along project for the Feral Knitters, and the free pattern can be downloaded from the Interweave.com website.

Posted by Karen at 01:53 PM | Comments (4)

November 17, 2005

The Year of Magical Thinking

Last week, Jennie and I went to a reading sponsored by the Elliott Bay Book Co and the Seattle Public Library. The reading was by Joan Didion, and she read an excerpt from her memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking.

The reading was packed. We got to the library at least an hour early, and we weren't anywhere near the front of the line. The auditorium in the downtown branch of the public library holds 200-plus people; there were probably 300 people there that night. Even arriving an hour early, the best seats that Jennie and I could get were clear up in the nosebleed section. While waiting in line, I worked on some ribbing for a sweater I've recently started and that I'd brought along with me in my purse to keep me occupied during the wait, and chatted with Joy from knitting guild, who coincidentally was also at the reading that night; she and Jennie and I noticed another woman in line who was knitting on a gigantically long scarf. (Although Jennie's still working on her striped scarf, she did not bring any knitting with her that night.)

I bought Joan Didion's book that night and finished reading it over the weekend. It's a memoir of her year immediately following her husband's sudden death from a heart attack, a year in which her adult daughter was several times in the hospital and on life support due to bacterial infections. The premise of the book is that Joan introspects about her mental state -- the "magical thinking" she experienced because of her grief. At times she wondered if she might have been able to save John at the time of the heart attack; at times she's in denial of his death and thinks that he might come back. It's a very honest account.

I found it a very compelling read. I also found it a little confusing in places and hard to follow at times. If the book is an examination of her mental state in the year immediately following John's death -- and she wrote the book in one year -- then that confusion I experienced as a reader no doubt is similar to the confusion Joan experienced at times, and perhaps also the result of the book being written so quickly. Overall, though, this was a very powerful book, and I could neither get her literary voice out of my head nor put the book down.

Today I heard on the news that Joan Didion has won the National Book Award for The Year of Magical Thinking. She certainly deserves it.

Knitting notes: While I have a severe case of startitis, I've been treating the symptoms by only looking at pretty yarns (well, and there is that sweater whose ribbing I was working on while waiting in line at the reading), and by focusing on this project every day:

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This is a vest I'm designing from Jamieson's Shetland Double Knitting. It's the vest I'm designing for Level II of the TKGA master knitter program.

Posted by Karen at 03:51 PM | Comments (10)

November 11, 2005

RECENT ADVENTURES WITH FIBER

My blogging is still behind the times, but here are a few more photos that document my recent adventures with fiber.

The most amazing thing about the trip to San Antonio was that I finished not only the Wrapped in Tradition Poncho, but also the Friday Harbor socks. Scott said, "I've never been on a trip where so much knitting got finished!"

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Friday Harbor Socks, from the book by Nancy Bush, Knitting on the Road. Click here for notes on how I modified the pattern.
Yarn: Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sport, color Island Blue, slightly more than 1 hank
Needles: Size US 3
Started September 4; completed October 30.

You see that ball of yarn at the right of the photo? That's how much yarn I had left over. Amazing! I had a customer who made two complete pairs of socks from three hanks of Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sport. (She used different patterns entirely from the Friday Harbor pattern.) So the whole time I was knitting these socks, I was wondering whether I'd manage to squeak out one whole pair from only one hank of yarn. It was very, very close! I fell short of yarn with only about 2 inches left to knit on sock #2. What to do with almost one whole hank of Sport left over? Knit a pair of children's socks to donate to the Dulaan Project, of course.

And last week on Tuesday, Feralite Norma came over to give me a lesson on drop spindle spinning:

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I felt embarrassed that there was no heat in the house (you'll recall that the furnace went out), but Norma was perfectly lovely about it and claimed not to mind at all. She gave me an Ashford top-whorl spindle and a bag of Romney roving to practice with. We spent half the day spinning, and eating, and looking at knitting patterns, and talking about Level II of the Master Knitter Program (Norma being on this level, too), and spinning and eating some more -- we had a great time.

At the end of the day, here's what I'd spun:

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Norma was right in thinking that this top-whorl Ashford spindle was much easier to use than the Schacht bottom-whorl spindle that I bought at Black Sheep Gathering. The Ashford has a nice, sturdy hook, and it is lighter in weight so that it doesn't break off my poor little strand of yarn-in-progress.

I'm learning all of this with an eye to spinning those seven pounds of Corriedale fleece that I bought at Black Sheep Gathering. Today I'm going to go pick up a Louet spinning wheel that a friend is lending me.

Posted by Karen at 11:15 AM | Comments (4)

November 09, 2005

"WHAT IS IT ABOUT FABRIC THAT YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND?"

The Feral Knitters are doing a knit-along of the Floral Fair Isle gloves (a pattern that's available for free from Interweave.com). So Monday night, Devorah and June modeled for us their progress on their respective gloves:

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Here's a close-up:

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June's glove at left in Spindrift, Devorah's glove at right in Harrisville jumper weight.

You can see that we have the creative license to interpret the pattern in our own colors. Devorah even changed the stitch pattern on the cuff -- and those wee flowers are cute!

Now I am going to have get my gloves started. Really and truly.

But not before I recap for you more highlights from San Antonio:

The purpose of our trip was so that Scott (whose business is manufacturing awnings, yurts, tents, banners, bags, etc.) could attend the industrial fabrics convention and trade show. Last year, this show was held in Pittsburgh; coincidentally last year I had bought my first loom and had taken two weaving classes. So last year, from time to time Scott dropped into conversation with suppliers and other business associates, "She bought a loom, can you believe it? She's learning to weave!" He was teasing me, of course, about the irony of hand-weaving cloth when he buys yards upon yards of industrial fabric from commercial mills. Well, I got tired of being teased. And I realized that the businessmen and women hearing these remarks all appreciate fabric, no matter where it's from. (You know the "knitter's handshake?" Well, at these conventions, people will come up to each other and finger each other's clothing, and declare, "That's a nice shirt!") So when we got back home last year, I sat him down and told him that I didn't appreciate the teasing, and demanded, "What is it about fabric that you don't understand?!"

Now, fast-forward to this year, and the convention in San Antonio. Where last I left off, we were just departing for our Western night dinner. This was a dinner hosted by a fabric supplier. The dinner was held at a ranch outside of San Antonio, and we had various entertainments to keep us occupied before dinner:

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Scott pets an armadillo. Scott says, "Chicks dig bolo ties."

After dinner, the fabric supply company put on a fashion show. To my knowledge, nothing like this has been done before -- these dinners are usually very staid and even semi-formal. This was wild!

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The show opened with a parade of serapes made from awning fabrics. This one is being modeled by one of the fabric supply company's sales reps. The serapes showcased the oldest, most traditional awning stripe colorways made by the company.

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After serapes, lots of men's garments made from awning and technical fabrics were shown: chaps with coordinating vests, and dusters. This is one of the vice presidents lassoing one of the other head honchos of the company.

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The saloon girls are wearing the latest and brightest colorways in awning fabrics.

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The schoolmarm wears a dress made from awning fabric.

This fashion show was highly entertaining. It was a memorable way to show off the product, and also to introduce the company's staff to their customers.

Saturday morning I went through a little side exhibit at the convention, which featured artistic uses of technical fabrics. Here is where I saw and photographed the knotted chair -- and probably just at the same moment that I was in San Antonio taking a picture of this chair, my friend Abby was taking a picture of this chair's counterpart, at MOMA in New York city. Yarn lovers are drawn to yarn, what can I say?

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Knotted Chair. (Designer: Marcel Wanders Studio.) "The chair uses a hybrid yarn with a carbon fiber core inside an aramid sleeve. The high strength yarn is knotted and then resin applied and the chair dries into its final shape, hardening at the same time." This chair was touted as being very strong but lightweight.

There were many other items on display, showing unusual uses for technical fabrics (in tote bags; in chair upholstery; in various kinds of curtains to filter light, or provide directional signage, or to absorb sound), but I'm not going to bore you with lots of pictures of these. I'll limit myself to this last one:

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Elastoplast Clothing. (Designer: Shelley Fox) These garments are made from bandaging fabric for the healthcare industry. "The fabrics are printed with an ultrasound technique that is used to burn and scorch the fabric, creating a delicate, distressed lace effect."

(Quotations are from the exhibit display placards.)

Any questions? What is it about fabric that you don't understand?

That whetted my appetite for art. I spent Saturday afternoon in the company of Jessica, the marketing manager for Scott's business. (When I saw the Tiffany Exhibit at Seattle Art Museum, I went at Jessica's invitation.) We went to the McNay Art Museum, where we took in an exhibit called Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites.

The McNay Art Museum was originally a mansion, the home of Marion Koogler McNay, patron of the arts. She collected 20th century art, and when she passed away, donated both her mansion and her collection to the city of San Antonio. The mansion was built as a half-oval, and stands two stories tall. The floor plan was very surprising -- Jessica and I felt lost, half the time. The Waking Dreams exhibit just went on and on, for room after room of gorgeous paintings. Every time Jessica and I thought we'd seen it all, there would be another room of paintings and other objets.

The Pre-Raphaelites were a group who did their work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their paintings are lush, with a Renaissance-like realism; the color palettes I really loved, with lots of teals, purples, golds, and raspberry-reds. Most of their subject matter was based on literature: Greek myths, or fairy tales, or stories from the Bible. Both Jessica and I were intrigued to see about as many female painters as male ones were active in this art movement.

Click here to see my favorite painting in the exhibit, one that was painted by a woman.

Jessica and I spent the afternoon at the McNay, but we easily could have spent the entire day there. The grounds were lovely, with many fountains and outdoor sculptures.

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Jessica takes a break in the museum's courtyard.

We also zipped through the exhibition on Matisse's Jazz, and the McNay's regular collection, which boasts of having works by Gaugin and van Gogh. (I laughed on our way to the Museum: "That probably means one of each!" Lo and behold, I was right.)

The Waking Dreams exhibit is on tour through 2007, going to other venues in the country. It was really a rich exhibit and well worth seeing.

Posted by Karen at 12:45 PM | Comments (3)

November 07, 2005

GETTING RE-ACCLIMATED

After sunny San Antonio, I've been trying to get acclimatized to the gloomy and cold Pacific Northwest. This place called home was made all the more gloomy by the time change -- moving not only from Central Daylight Savings time, but to Pacific Standard Time and short days of low, wet skies. And cold? While we were gone our furnace decided to go out. (Oh, my poor sister and brother-in-law who were here from Arizona house- and pet-sitting for us, how they suffered....)

Once upon a time I wrote a blog entry about repairmen and how they never show up when you expect them; they arrive too early, before you are ready; or, more often the case, they arrive late when your patience is worn out and perhaps you are even on your way out the door to some pressing engagement. Last week continued to prove this rule true. The furnace repairman promised me he'd come by Monday afternoon between 2:00 and 4:00; at 5:30 that evening I phoned to ask if he was still coming. And although he claimed to be on his way, because night had already fallen, because rain was pouring down and traffic was a mess, I told him not to come that night. And as things turned out, he couldn't come on Tuesday, but would make it Wednesday morning between 8:00 and 10:00.

Surprisingly enough, who should show up Tuesday but the cable guy? He was scheduled for Friday. Talk about repairmen showing up too early!

Wednesday morning at 9:55 I had the phone in my hand, ready to call the furnace repairman and say, Where the heck are you?, when he drove up our driveway.

Our heat was restored on Wednesday. Lest it sound like I'm just griping for the sake of griping, let me tell you that our area has had something like 10 inches of rain over the week since Scott and I've been back from San Antonio. Really made me long for that warm and dry Texas weather.

Here are a few photos of highlights from our San Antonio trip:

Friday, October 28, I went on a tour to Fredericksburg, Texas. Fredericksburg is a shopping mecca best known for its variety of shops for home decorating. However, a few blocks off the main drag, I spotted a cute little sheep-shaped sign that I knew must indicate a yarn shop:

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Stonehill Spinnery. Virginia was the clerk on duty at the time, and she showed us warm, Texan hospitality. I asked about what yarns they might have that were unique to their store, and she showed me some natural-colored worsted weight yarn that is spun from animals owned by the shop's owner. While those yarns were lovely, what really appealed to me were some dyed yarns from El Coyote Ranch:

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The inside of that cute little goat label reads: "This is a wonderful blend of my pet Angora goats fiber (mohair) and Texas Rambouillet. 60% Rambouillet, 40% Mohair."

We had very limited time to shop in Fredericksburg, so I grabbed up these two hanks of purple yarn, said good-bye to Virginia, and headed back out to the main street to visit a few other shops.

In one of the home decorating stores, a swan sighting:

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This little flock is made from hand-painted gourds. They are on sticks and you would put them out in your lawn, like pink flamingos. (Gourds painted as pink flamingos were also available.)

What I was really looking for was a turquoise necklace and earrings, and I found some darling ones at a store called Jeep Collins:

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I got these just in time, for Friday night we went to a big bash that had a Western theme. Here I am in my cowgirl duds -- including new turquoise necklace and earrings -- with George, a long-time friend from California:

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Check out that purse George is carrying! (Actually, it belongs to his wife Patti.) When we were packing for our trip to San Antonio, and I was putting into my suitcase my Western skirt, top, and jacket, I said to Scott, "I'm gonna get me some red Tony Lama cowgirl boots." And that is just what I did. And I did not buy the most expensive pair. And I love 'em!

I'll share more photos of that evening in the next entry.

The Ferals ride tonight!

Posted by Karen at 11:43 AM | Comments (6)