April 25, 2006

I RETURN HOME FROM MY BAY AREA ADVENTURES

Since the national convention last year, 13 people have finished the Master Knitter requirements. Let me drop some names, here, so I can bask in their reflected glory: Three of those 13 were my friends Anne, Nancy, and Frances. (I really wished Anne could have been there to receive her pin, but she had family obligations that kept her from attending.) Here's a photo of Saturday evening's pinning ceremony:

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L to r: Nancy, Frances, Debby Johnson of TKGA staff, and Lorraine Ehrlinger, one of the Master Knitter committee co-chairs. Yes, of the 13 who passed, only 2 made it to the pinning ceremony.

My camera totally sucks at taking flash photos under fluorescent lighting, so I'll only inflict on you this one photo of the ceremony (even though I took a bunch).

On Sunday, Jewel and I met in person. This is one-and-the-same Jewel who created my Ideaphoria banner and button for me, and who recently devised that hedgehog giveaway.

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Jewel is holding a Dale sweater she's knitting for a friend's son; I'm holding a sock Jewel knitted.

Jewel is a real sweetie, and we talked nonstop. I couldn't get over how the sock she knitted from Lorna's Laces Lakeview came out looking like it was knitted from a self-striping yarn (although Lakeview is a multi-colored yarn and not a self-striping yarn), so I took a photo of it (especially since she doesn't have a photo of it on her blog):

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On Monday, Jewel and I took BART to Berkeley where we shopped at Lacis. We had very high expectations of a lace-knitter's paradise, and so the mix of goods we found there surprised us no end.

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They had the full color line of three different brands of crochet cotton, in the various weights. They had embroidery flosses in silks and other fibers. But they had only one knitting yarn that we could see. (Not that you can't knit with crochet cotton, but my point is that there were no cones of Zephyr or laceweight cashmere.) There were plenty of tools for knitters, crocheters, and tatters.

But overwhelmingly the store was full of vintage apparel, sewing patterns for re-enactment costumes, and the vintage accessories (e.g., antique lace collars) you would want to use with your vintage apparel or to give your re-enactment costume that little extra flair. In other words, it was as much a vintage clothing store/antique store as it was a shop of knitting and crochet supplies.

This eclectic mix of goods included these:

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Where else are you going to buy your fishnet tights?

And these:

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King Henry VIII and His Six Wives Fine Mint Chocolates. Since we'd been talking a lot about the AS book Tudor Roses, Jewel couldn't resist getting these for me.

Lacis did have a large selection of books. I found one hardbound copy of AS's Fishermen's Sweaters that was reasonably priced, and since I didn't already own this book, I purchased it, along with some quadruple-zero knitting needles and some various colors of crochet cotton to play with. And a wrist ball holder so that I can try knitting and walking at the same time. (I'm thinking Green Lake -- Linda K, are you with me on this?)

Tuesday, on my flight home from California, I finished the Norwegian Mitten that I had started last Friday in Beth B-R's class:

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including the thumb:

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My intention was to make child-size mittens and donate them to the Dulaan Project. As you can see, the mitten fits me! Probably there's another lesson to be learned about gauge, in this. Even though this mitten fits me, the cuff is shorter than I'd like, and it is pretty snug at the fingertip, so I plan to finish off the pair and donate them to Dulaan anyway.

I'd really, really like to call this my second FO of 2006 . . . but when it's only one of a pair, I feel like it's cheating to call it a full FO. Can we have a half-FO?

I leave you with one last photo from this year's convention. At last year's convention, we were not given goody bags, and I heard knitters complain about that. This year, here's what our goody bag looked like:

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Need I say more?

Posted by Karen at 12:27 PM | Comments (7)

April 22, 2006

APRIL 21, 2006

Interesting class scheduling here at the TKGA convention this year. Yesterday morning, Frances and I had a class with Beth Brown-Reinsel for three hours in the morning, and then a six-hour break for lunch. What else to do when in the Bay Area but to head out to the beach --

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Frances, with bright pink sea star. This critter from time to time curled up the little ends of its tentacles at us, so we knew it was still alive. Frances was like a little kid, finding sand dollars.

And to visit the San Francisco Zoo:

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I was very impressed with Frances's ability to negotiate the public transportation system in the Bay Area, and get us from Oakland to San Francisco and back again. Couldn't've done it without her.

We came back to the evening session of our class on Norwegian Mittens with Beth Brown-Reinsel. (The evening session was from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM -- beats the heck out of me why TKGA gave us the afternoon off, but, obviously, we managed to make the most of it.)

One of our fellow students had brought in champagne and a wonderful small feast (salmon! chive dip! Godiva chocolates!), and when class was over we toasted Beth's birthday:

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Left to right: Dee, Beth B-R, Cathy who fed us, and Frances. I was behind the camera, of course.

Big banquet tonight. Frances and Nancy are being pinned with their Master Knitter pins!

Posted by Karen at 06:17 PM | Comments (5)

April 20, 2006

THE CHAPTER IN WHICH I PARTY AT THE POST OFFICE, THEN SAVE JANINE'S LIFE

At this moment, I'm in Oakland, at the TKGA national convention, but before I can start telling you about my knitting adventures here, let me back up to tell you about the evening I had just a few days ago.

I typically go to the post office every day to mail things for Two Swans Yarns. Last Monday's trip to the post office was particularly interesting. You see, on those Mondays when the Ferals meet and I'm trying to be particularly efficient, I will swing by a post office that's just a couple of blocks off of the freeway, en route to Seattle. Last Monday, April 17, being the deadline for postmarking federal income tax returns, I was expecting a particularly long line at the post office. But since I hadn't managed to make it to my local, rural post office earlier in the day, I drove up to the urban, just-off-the-freeway one, preparing myself to accept a crowd that would be as large and frazzled as the one that gathers for the Christmas mailing season.

To their credit, the people managing the post office were geared for the evening. A postal employee was at the curb where the drive-up box was, and she was taking by hand the tax returns that drivers were handing to her.

Parking spots were at a premium, but the postal employees weren't allowing people to double-park (something I have seen happen during the Christmas mailing rush). I managed to find a space to park in, and went into the post office building with my Two Swans packages that needed postage.

Inside the lobby there were the sweetest sounds of steel drum music. And a woman from a local restaurant, handing out "anti-stress fish" to those of us who had to stand in line to wait to be helped by the postal clerks. These colorful "anti-stress fish" were made from a material like foam rubber, and you squeeze them like a worry stone. While I was waiting in line, I actually saw people dancing in the lobby to the sounds of the steel drums, although they were gone by the time I went out and retrieved my camera from the car to snap this picture:

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In all, I spent only about 10 or 15 minutes at the post office that day -- and it was far more enjoyable than the usual trip.

Our Ferals meeting was well-attended that evening, and again I have to credit the interest in spinning for being part of the draw. The drop spindle spinners want to start meeting an hour in advance of our regular Ferals meetings -- and this sounds like a great idea to me, and an opportunity for me to practice with my drop spindle (which otherwise has been buried in my closet since last November).

Janine had brought her Sashiko jacket-in-progress -- but couldn't work on her sleeve since the three dpns she had with her were engaged in holding the stitches. She asked around for a fourth dpn to knit with. "Does anyone have a spare size 1 dpn? You'll save my life if I can borrow it to knit with," she pleaded.

Rebecca and Ryan were elbowing each other out of the way, vying for the opportunity to save Janine's life. Rebecca whipped out her size 1 dpn the fastest, chanting in a neener-neener singsong, "I'm gonna save Janine's life, I'm gonna save Janine's life." Janine gratefully accepted the dpn, only to immediatey pass it back to Rebecca with the remark that it was a six-inch dpn and too short for her to work with comfortably. Ryan, meanwhile, was screaming, "No, I'm gonna save Janine's life!" and rather dramatically unfurled her knitting needle case -- but the size 1 dpn she handed over to Janine was only about 7 inches. Longer than Rebecca's, but still not quite the lifesaver that Janine was hoping for. Meanwhile, I was rummaging behind me for my knitting bag and the ball of yarn attached to my Lupine Lace sock, and shouting, "No, I'm gonna save Janine's life!" The working needle for my Lupine Lace socks is not only a size 1 dpn, but it is an eight-inch long one, and when I handed it off to Janine, she declared, "You saved my life!"

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Janine, revivified. You see that metal needle across the bottom of Janine's knitting? That one's mine -- so there.

I spent much of that evening giving Rebecca an impromptu lesson on intarsia knitting. (Visit Rebecca's blog and scroll down to her entry of April 19 to read her really nice commentary on it all.) When at last I was ready to knit on my own Fair Isle project, I found I hadn't brought with me the right pattern. So I turned to the Lupine Lace sock. I was far too polite to reach across the table and snatch back from Janine's knitting my size 1 dpn, so I rummaged around in my knitting bag and came up with a long circular size 1 needle. I put this into my sock's stitches, thinking that the magic loop method would become clear to me by the time I had put the needle into all 72 stitches. I still couldn't quite figure it out, so I turned to June who was sitting to my right, and she gave me an impromptu lesson on how to do the magic loop.

That is so much the strength of our group. Everyone pitches in to help each other -- and not just pitching in to help, but ferally fighting over who gets the privelege of helping.

Posted by Karen at 08:28 PM | Comments (2)

April 17, 2006

LUPINE WITH GRAPE HYACINTH

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I knitted a few rounds of the Lupine Lace Socks on Easter Sunday. I'm using Shepherd Sock in the color Periwinkle. Photographed here with grape hyacinths blooming in our front yard. The pattern, so far, is very straightforward. You'll find the Lupine Lace knit-along on Yahoo Groups here.

Upcoming events this week:

Monday, April 17 - Feral Knitters tonight!
Thursday through Monday, April 20 - 24 - I'll be in Oakland, attending the TKGA convention, and meeting in person e-mail penpals Frances, Nancy, and Jewel for the first time

For the TKGA convention, I'm signed up for a classes on Bavarian Twisted Stitches, Norwegian Mittens, Cast-ons and Bind-offs, and Knit to Fit. You've probably noticed that the last two times I've taken classes that required homework, I've waited until the last possible moment to start knitting those homework swatches. I'm determined to be better prepared for the convention. So I spent time Easter evening reading over the homework. Bavarian Twisted Stitches, Cast-ons and Bind-offs, and Knit to Fit all have no homework, other than to bring various kinds of yarns, needles, and supplies. (Hooray!) And the homework for Norwegian Mittens requires only casting on 40 stitches and working a k2, p2 ribbing for 10 rounds -- I think I can get that done even before the flight to California.

Posted by Karen at 12:05 PM | Comments (5)

April 14, 2006

GAUGE EXPERIMENT

When my swatches that I'd knitted for Catherine Lowe's workshop relaxed and grew after being washed and blocked, I got concerned about what implications that might have for my Level 2 vest. If my 6" swatches could grow by half-an-inch, that made me wonder whether my vest could grow by 3 inches.

Catherine Lowe had recommended that when we swatch before starting a project, we make a large swatch: 10 inches square is good, 12 inches square is ideal.

It occurred to me that I have a swatch that's even better than that. I have one that's about 19-1/2" tall and about 36" around. My prototype vest is a life-size swatch, non?

I soaked the prototype this morning in the bathtub. (Before this, it had only been hit with some steam so that it looked good when I taught the mini-class.) Here's the before shot:

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and here's the after shot:

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It grew by the width of only a couple of stitches, and boy, am I ever relieved. I do own a wooly board and I know I could stretch this vest to within an inch of its life, but I'm not going to. I attribute the difference between how much the merino swatches grew and how little this Shetland wool vest grew to: (a) the fiber and how much it was processed, and (b) the nature of stranded color knitting and how much it wants to pull in and stay square.

While the vest was enjoying its soak in the tub, splashing in the Herbal Essence bubbles, and reading a trashy novel, I was slaving away, getting my Specials for the month of April page uploaded to the Two Swans Yarns site. No good excuse for why I didn't get it uploaded on the 1st of the month, or the 2nd, or the 3rd . . . other than that I've been busy.

But you've been reading my blog, so you know how busy I've been.

Look at who else is reading my blog!

Posted by Karen at 01:12 PM | Comments (3)

April 13, 2006

LOWE WORKSHOP, CONTINUED

Catherine Lowe's instructions for preparing our swatches very specifically stated that we were to knit our swatches in DK weight wool to a gauge of 6 stitches and 8 rows per inch. (In all of the knitting classes I've taken, I've never had to knit homework swatches to meet a particular gauge, so this was very unusual.) I'd started out on a size US 6 needle, and when my knitting was coming out at 5 stitches per inch, I actually ripped out the first swatch I knitted, and changed up to a US 7 to get what I thought would be gauge. I always think of myself as a tight knitter.

So in the evening after Day 1 of the workshop, when my swatches finished out to 6-1/2 stitches per inch, I wanted to revisit that assumption I have about myself being a tight knitter. I was a little concerned that Catherine Lowe might come around with a ruler and measure our swatches, but not so concerned that I bothered to re-knit them.

In fact, Catherine did not measure my or anybody else's swatches. Although she is painstakingly precise as a pattern-writer and as a knitter (and one might associate that quality of painstaking precision with a stern personality), she was actually very kind.

We did a lot of picking up of stitches in the workshop. We picked up stitches to work joinery bind-offs. We picked up stitches to work a border with a mitered corner. We picked up stitches for all sorts of techniques. And so the reason to knit the swatches to a particular gauge was that it made it easy to pick up stitches at a particular ratio. If the swatch was 8 rows to the inch, and if we were picking up stitches along the side of that swatch, Catherine could direct us to pick up 3 stitches for every 4. The resulting stitch gauge of the new bit of knitting (coming out of the side of the swatch at 6 stitches per inch) would square with the row gauge of the swatch (at 8 rows per inch). It looked really good, in other words.

I mentioned in my last entry that Catherine's cape pattern in Scarf Style is the longest pattern in that book. This isn't anything she discussed in class; I had sat down with that book when I bought it for Two Swans and I had analyzed the various patterns in it, as I usually do when I bring in a book to sell. Something that she did show us in class is one of patterns that she sells through her mail-order business; I was not at all surprised to see that that pattern, too, was pages and pages long, covering every detail and every permutation of every detail for every size of that garment. She told us an amusing story about how she'd written a pattern for a vest for Interweave Knits, and when she sent in the pattern, it was 34 pages long, "and you could hear the screaming from Loveland, Colorado [Interweave's headquarters] to upstate New York [Catherine's home]."

One of the things that I most enjoy about taking knitting classes is the chance to hang out with other knitters. Catherine Lowe is teaching at a very high level, and in our group were some knitters whom I consider to be some of the most experienced, awesome, and inspiring knitters in Seattle Knitters Guild -- the kinds of knitters I aspire to be, one day. I'll close with a few shots of the workshop; there were more people who attended, but not all of my photos turned out.

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Catherine Lowe, at left, and Sarah Hauschka, at right. I had never knit a mitered corner, before. The one that I knit in class came out all right at the corner, but the whole thing was a little askew because I managed to get my stitch count wrong. Sarah Hauschka's mitered corner was a thing of beauty. I am super-appreciative of Sarah for taking the time to show me how she'd made her increases to get such a beautifully symmetrical corner.

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Janet Charbonneau, at left, and Susanna Hansson, at right. Susanna was knitting without looking at her stitches! (Someday I'll learn to do that.)

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Sundara Murphy, a generous soul who shared her knitting needles with me on Day 4 of the workshop. Although I had brought my case of needles with me the preceding three days, I managed to forget them in the hustle and bustle of leaving home on the morning of Day 4. Sundara is knitting a sock with some yarn that she hand-dyed.

Posted by Karen at 11:45 AM | Comments (3)

April 11, 2006

MY INTRODUCTION TO COUTURE KNITTING

I've spent the past four days in a very intensive workshop taught by Catherine Lowe. (It was two workshops, really -- the first two days were the "Basics of Couture Knitting," and the second two days were "Designer Details." But there was enough building of skills and information based on what happened one and two days before, that I'm just going to call it one workshop.)

Before going to the workshop, I didn't know very much about Catherine Lowe. I knew the pattern she has in Scarf Style:

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I had read this pattern pretty closely at one time, thinking that I might make this wrap. It is easily the longest pattern in the book. Now, you might think that that makes sense, since most of the patterns are for scarves, and this is a whole wrap/cape/drapery kind of garment -- it's a bigger garment, therefore it needs longer instructions.

But if you look at the photograph, and read the pattern, you realize that the wrap is all garter stitch. There are colorwork scarves in that book that are probably more complicated to knit that have much shorter pattern instructions.

So, what gives? Why is the pattern for so apparently simple a garter stitch wrap so long and involved?

It has to do with Catherine Lowe's unique vision for garment design. (Her term for her vision is 'couture knitting.') First, Catherine Lowe is totally into selvedges. In our case in point, the garter stitch wrap, the wrap is made from four garter stitch triangles that are joined to form a square. Each of those triangles has selvedge edges. Second, Catherine Lowe is totally into joining pieces of knitting on the needles, and she calls this 'constructing' a garment. In the four days of our workshop, she never uttered the word 'seam' (except to say that it might have been something we might have done in the past). In the case of the garter stitch wrap, it is constructed by joining the four garter stitch triangles using a three-needle bind-off. And third, Catherine Lowe is obsessively into fine details of finishing. What that means for the garter stitch wrap is that the cast-on edges that form the front opening for the wrap are enclosed within a binding that you knit for them. Since the instructions for these three things must be included in the pattern directions, plus the additional fact that Catherine Lowe is a former college professor and uses language precisely, and it is now obvious why the pattern for an apparently simple garter stitch wrap is the longest pattern in Scarf Style.

I'd been studying this pattern late last summer and in early fall, thinking it might be something to wear for the holiday party season. I chose not to knit it because I didn't want to wade through four pages of instructions, because I don't like garter stitch (it tends to look amateurish, plus its dense row gauge takes twice as long to knit), and because I misunderstood the schematic. The directions call for a wrap that finishes to a size of 56". I'm only 63" tall, and I had visions of myself wrapped in these miles of garter stitch fabric that would hang down to my ankles, looking like a little girl playing dress-up in big sister's shawl. But mostly I didn't knit this wrap because all of that garter stitch seemed like a lot of knitting.

(Prior to the workshop, the only other pattern of Catherine Lowe's that I was aware of was a kimono jacket in Interweave Knits. It's a beautiful jacket.)

So the first day of the workshop, Catherine Lowe had brought with her all of the garments for which she has published the patterns, including the garter stitch wrap. She explained the features of each garment that make it couture knitting. In the case of the wrap, each of those triangles that make up the complete wrap are garter stitch knit on the bias. Garter stitch knit on the bias looks woven and drapes beautifully -- so my objection about the amateurish look of garter stitch vanished.

"But that wrap is a lot of knitting," I said, remembering my other objection to garter stitch.

Catherine said, "It is a lot of knitting. It's two sweaters' worth of knitting. But it's a very simple row repeat, and I have a friend who's made three of these wraps, just taking her knitting in the car with her and knitting whenever she's stuck in traffic."

Back at home that night, I looked up the pattern. The wrap takes 3000 yards of yarn -- that's at least two sweaters' worth of knitting! I don't know whether I'll ever have occasion to be stuck in that much traffic . . . .

Catherine let us try on all of the garments she'd brought, so I had the opportunity to try on the wrap. I had misunderstood the schematic; there's actually a hole for your head in center of the wrap, so that I wouldn't have 56" worth of fabric hanging from my neck, but only half of that, or 28". In fact, the wrap hung to the back of my knees, a flattering length.

As is so often the case, the wrap looked prettier in person than in the photo in the book, and I mentioned this to Catherine. She agreed, saying that she knit it on needles that were fairly large for the fiber, so it has an airy, almost faux lacy look to it. They photographed it for the book in such a way that it looks heavy and dense.

When last I blogged, Thursday evening getting ready for the workshop, I had written that I needed to get my homework swatches done. We were to prepare 4 swatches, knitted to a gauge that would result in a 6" square. Here's something that I love about Catherine Lowe: At the end of her swatch instructions, she wrote, "If time is short, prepare swatches 3 and 4."

When is my time not short? I got 3 and 4 done Thursday night. (Not blocked, though -- didn't allow time for that.) Friday, Day 1 of the workshop, we didn't use our swatches at all; instead, Catherine spent the morning talking about what couture knitting is, and describing the garments she'd brought. She spent the afternoon discussing swatching as a component of garment design. She emphasized the washing and blocking of swatches, saying that you have to know how your yarn will behave after being washed and blocked before you can launch into the knitting of a whole garment. She said that, in general, your knitting will relax and your gauge will get larger when washed. She said that she typically will soak her swatches for 24 hours.

During class, I was able to take notes and knit swatches 1 and 2.

On the way home that evening, I swung into the grocery store and bought some Clairol Herbal Essence Clarifying Shampoo. I didn't have 24 hours to soak my swatches, since this was the evening of Day 1 and I'd be going back for Day 2 bright and early the next morning, but I did soak my swatches for 2 hours before blocking them:

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(I know this photo looks like I'm marinating chicken breasts in Clairol Herbal Essence, but really, take my word for it, those are four swatches of merino wool.) And, sure enough, those swatches that I had so conscientiously knitted to a gauge of 6" square, did relax. They finished out to 6-1/2" square. Over a whole sweater, that would be a huge increase in size. Lesson learned. And I better re-think my gauge for Take Two of my Level 2 vest.

Will continue with my report on highlights of the workshop, in later blog entries.

Now, it's back to real life, and in some areas I am sorely behind schedule, having devoted time and attention to birthday party preparations and to the workshop. Here it is, the 11th of the month, and I have yet to update my Specials page on the Two Swans site. It's on my to-do list for today.

Posted by Karen at 10:53 AM | Comments (8)

April 06, 2006

GREEN DINOSAUR ON PURPLE MATH BOOK

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Green dinosaur on purple math book. The wind-up dinosaur was one of Allegra's birthday presents.

The birthday girl:

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Her ensemble includes a sticker that says "Organic" on her forehead, and the giant bow that was on her present.

Speaking of math and homework, I've got to get to those four swatches I'll be needing tomorrow at the Catherine Lowe workshop, "The Basics of Couture Knitting." Let's do the math . . . 35 stitches x 46 rows x 4 swatches = Aiyaiyai! Time to get cracking!

Posted by Karen at 09:46 PM | Comments (2)

April 03, 2006

STILL LIFE WITH KNITTING

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Still life with knitting, digital photograph, circa 2006. This photograph captures a moment when the knitter has just stepped away, perhaps to fetch the contrasting color of yarn since the knitting chart (so prominent in the foreground) indicates that the work will be stranded color knitting. Her work, which rests in a circle at the lower left of the photograph, shows a garment in that liminal space after the casting-on and ribbing, but before the main, colorwork portion, begins. What does it all mean?

Clockwise, starting from -- why not? -- the clock: Clocks typically symbolize time. Is this knitter knitting against a deadline? Or simply time-conscious?

Super sticky Post-it-Notes: A new package, yet to be opened, would indicate that this knitter was only recently introduced to the Super Sticky version of this useful tool.

Ruler, and knitting chart: The chart is several enlarged photocopies cut and pasted together, for speedy, easy reference while knitting. We recognize this as a traditional Fair Isle stitch pattern, copied undoubtedly from a reference such as The Complete Book of Traditional Fair Isle Knitting. The ruler is underlining the first row of the chart, a further indication that the colorwork is just about to begin.

Knitting: A modest circle of Jamieson's Shetland wool, knitted in a 1x1 rib.

Mug: We can assume that, for this knitter, the act of knitting and the drinking of coffee go hand-in-hand, as it were. This mug depicts a breed of dog, the Border Collie, so named because they are a breed originating from the border between Scotland and England, and are often used for herding sheep. A handmade mug such as this one was no doubt carefully chosen by the knitter in response to some especial fondness for a border collie in her own life.

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Upcoming events this week:

Monday, April 3 - Feral Knitters
Tuesday, April 4 - Allegra's birthday
Friday, April 7 through Monday, April 10 - I'll be in Seattle, attending workshops on Couture Knitting taught by Catherine Lowe
Saturday, April 8 - Abby's wedding

Posted by Karen at 08:34 AM | Comments (4)