Monday, July 31, 2006

New project!

Okay, like I need another project...but I stopped at my favorite yarn source, Bluebonnet Yarn Shoppe (always a mistake if I want to walk out emptyhanded, but oh, so much fun!) on the way home today, and got not only a lesson in I-cord (yes, I'm a moron about directions, but they were very kind about it) but found a cool mitred square purse pattern--yay!

I also picked up some Cascade Quatro (raspberry and pink) and Ironstone Hot Stuff to make little felted purses for my grandgirlies. Okay, no, I haven't done the Kureyon purse for myself yet and no, I'm not finished with the cross-stitch calendar (but I worked on it a lot this weekend, if that counts), but it is just so dang much fun to buy yarn and plan projects, isn't it?

The Bluebonnet folks always have people sitting around knitting and chatting, and on Wednesday nights, they stay open late for people to gather and knit. It's my dream to get to be one of them, one fine day. In the meantime, I'll keep dropping by and salivating over the beautiful yarns and cool sample projects scattered all over the store.

Oh--and Terey, was it you oohing over the lighted needles? I saw some in the flesh! How fun!


Mitred squares and fear of geometry ;)

I *think* I might have mentioned this waaay back when we started, that I'd found this very cool felted purse that I was dying to emulate, only I described it in some doofus way that didn't ring any bells.

Okay, so I was good at math until I got to the spatial relations stuff, aka ::shiver:: geometry. I do not know why my brain melts when it comes to that (or navigating maps without turning them in the direction I'm going) but...there you are. So I ran across the right term--MITRED!! Duh, Jean...shoulda recognized that in a heartbeat, me with a beloved husband who started out as a carpenter!

So I'm intrigued. The mitred portion was only in one corner of this bag, so I'm not sure how the rest was done, but I'll keep scratching my chin over it...because, of course, finding the pattern for that purse is way too logical and simple. ;) Gotta have something working in the back of the brain, right?

But I *did* print out directions for a mitred square and methinks I'll pull out yet another set of needles and see if I can muddle my way through it.

By the way, Jamie, I am beyond green over your craft room, however much it's not your ideal. My stuff is stashed all over the house, including art supplies, jewelry making, yarns, flosses, have it all in one room--to die for! I keep thinking I want a separate little building to write in, and hey! I could consolidate my stash! Except how would I then continue my daily multi-tasking dance, darting between the bread rising and the laundry underway and supper going and my current wip?

And, as my best friend says of her husband's workshop, she's drawing the line at installing a bathroom and fridge, or else she might never see him again! There be dragons... ;) It's too easy, anyway, as a writer, to lose my grounding in the so-called real world because my imaginary ones are so much fun. Best not to toddle off to a separate building, methinks.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Knitting in the dog hairs

It's a running joke in our house that when I knit a shawl or scarf for either of my teenaged children, they're not just wrapped in wool, they're (they now say it in stereo without my prompting) "wrapped in love." Both then make loud gagging noises.

As corny as it sounds, it's true: my projects are labors of love. I love knitting and I love giving them to those I love. Recently I discovered that more than just my affection was included in my knits.

As I was weaving loose ends into the soccer-scarf-that-never-ends, I found myself picking out dog hairs which had gotten knitted in along with the soccer pattern. We have a wonderful golden retriever named Max (see photo). He sheds, of course; long, slightly wavy golden hairs which float everywhere in the house no matter how often I vacuum. It's inevitable that they'll end up in any long-term project I undertake (including my manuscripts since he sleeps beside me as I work at the word processor).

After weaving and picking for a few minutes, I stopped because it occurred to me that I should leave those little reminders of Max in the scarf. He's quite old so we won't have him around much longer. (Yes, I'm wiping away tears just thinking about it.) Even more important, he adores every member of our family with all his heart and soul. So I figure those hairs are just adding more love to everything I knit.

Does anyone else knit in their pet's fur or am I the only lunatic?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Felting thoughts

Barbara's problem with felting intrigued me on several levels. What factors affect the felting quality of a particular yarn? If I were handspinning the yarn, what techniques would create the best yarn for felting? Barbara's experience would indicate that there's more to this than choosing 100 percent wool that isn't superwash. I admit it, I'm selfish. I want to skip the frustration and go straight to perfect felting every time. I've have a pattern for Fisherman's Boiled Wool mittens I'd like to try soon. The pattern's for handspun wool, and it's one of those older, less specific pattern that assumes one knows a lot more about knitting than I actually do. So before I choose which fleece to spin into yarn, I want to know which type is better, and what technique would mostly likely yield a suitable yarn.

My quest for information began with an email to an acquaintance from my years as a handcrafted soapmaker. I taught soapmaking at various fiber-related events in the Midwest, and Helen often taught her felting classes at these events. Helen felts with unspun wool and is an expert on the properties of wool.

Some general principles from Helen's email:

- The grade of wool makes a difference. Fine wools felt down harder. Blends of fine with other grades also work well in producing tight or hard items such as vessels.

- Commercial yarns can present more challenges because you never know how they were finished. Even if they're not superwash, they may still have been treated with processes that affect the felting qualities.

- In handspun yarns, a firm twist will felt down slower than one that's loose. (This tip led me to google color cards of various yarns mentioned. Kuro appears more loose. Outback has more twist.)

- For better felting results with knitted items, she suggested taking the item out of the washing machine during the last wash or rinse and use a washboard to 'full it.' Helen uses the washboard method with her unspun wool felting, and I can testify that her results are awesome. She said experienced felters can skip the washboard and full with just their hands.

An article at provided more answers, and a very good explanation on fulling, which is really what we knitters are doing when we 'felt' our knitted items in the washing machine.

So, I've narrowed down my options to spinning a loose singles yarn from one of the Shetland fleeces in my attic or the Babydoll Southdown wool from a ewe we expect to shear in the next few days. I may blend this finer wool with some Cotswold wool from a fleece I bought last year from a farm near mine. It should be an interesting experiment, don't you think?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

REVIEW: Why You Need Wendy Knits (The Book)

There's bad news and there's good news.

The bad news? I'm not an impartial reviewer. I'll admit that right up front. I've been an avid reader of Wendy Knits (The Blog) for three years now and I had extremely high expectations for Wendy Knits (The Book.)

The good news? Wendy Knits (The Book) exceeds those expectations.

I thought writing this review would be a snap but to my surprise it's turned out to be a whole lot harder than I thought. What can you say about a book that works on every level? Not much, as it turns out, besides a loud and enthusiastic, "BUY THIS BOOK NOW!"

Wendy Johnson is an extraordinarily gifted knitter. Visit her blog and you'll see examples of lace work that are otherworldly in their beauty and perfection of form. She is also a gifted and talented designer. Flip through the pages of Wendy Knits (The Book) and you'll find patterns for everything from delightfully simple scarves to classic tank tops and pullovers to the wickedly intricate Grape Arbor Shawl.

But here's where Wendy separates herself from the other wonderful knitters out there: Wendy has the ability to explain the most complicated knitting maneuver in clear simple language that even a terrified beginner can understand. The patterns are well-thought out, beautifully written, error-free, and it that's not enough, she offers charts, too. What more can a girl ask for? I hope this is just the first in a long line of knitting books by Wendy Johnson. Wendy could easily do an entire book on the mysteries of knitting lace, another one on socks, maybe one on various Scandinavian techniques. The list is endless as is her talent. But I do have one complaint: if ever a book cried out for color photos and hardcover treatment, this is it.

Wendy Knits is truly one-stop shopping for beginning and experienced knitters alike. I was a Wendy fan before and I'm even more hopelessly devoted now. Spend a few minutes with this book, a pair of bamboo needles, and a skein of something luscious and you'll be hopelessly devoted too.

(And no, I'm not related to Wendy. I just know a great knitter when I see one.)


A budding fiber addiction

I'm joining the fiber addicted although I don't have major stashes like Laura and Jamie's. Give me time!

I had to share the yarn I just picked up for my next project. (I can't tell you what the project is or who it's for because it's a Christmas gift for someone who might be reading this blog.) The picture doesn't do the yarn justice: it's variegated in beautiful deep shades of purple, lavender and hot pink. It feels lovely to the fingers.

Even better it's called Manos del Uruguay (The Hands of Uruguay) which is a non-profit organization comprised of more than 400 artisans in cooperatives throughout Uruquay. Manos' mission is to bring economic and social opportunities to rural women.

Manos yarn is spun from a blend of Merino and Corriedale wools and then dyed in large kettles in 90+ colors. Because it's hand-dyed, there are no dye lots. The label recommends knitting two rows from one skein and then two rows from a different skein to give a blended effect. I don't think that will be an issue with the variegated variety and besides I like the different shades.

I'm forcing myself not to start the new project until I get the soccer flag's border finished but, boy, is it hard to keep my hands off this yarn!

Dream Space

Laura's post got me to thinking. Not always a dangerous thing, either. Actually, while reading her post, I was nodding my head in agreement to the point I think I sprained something.

Unlike Laura, however who tucks her wools around the house, I do tend to keep mine all in one place. Unfortunately, it's not just wools and the tools that take up all the space in the third bedroom of our house.

There are all my cross stitch supplies -- the DMC floss stored in fancy containers and surplus stored numerically in zip lock bags. Aida cloth in colors I can't even remember what pattern I'd been intent on creating.

Then there are all the sewing supplies. Spools of thread, a hand-me-down surger from my mom that's still in the box and never opened, sewing patterns, a couple of sewing box storing needles and whatever a crafty person might need to sew, and of course, fabric. I have bolts of the stuff. Material for dresses or summer outfits I never made for me. Fabric for things I'd wanted to make for my grandkids that I just never got around to and now they've outgrown the babyish designs.

We can't forget all the yarns for knitting and crocheting projects just waiting to be tackled. There are tubs of the stuff. Big tubs, which my DH refers to wool coffins.

And books. If I did an actual inventory, I think I could easily find that I have just as many pattern books for the various needle arts to rival that of the library of research books and keepers on the 12' of bookshelves in my office.

While all of this stuff occupies the third bedroom in our house, it's not my dream space, it's merely a storage space. We're essentially in a holding pattern in this old house, hoping to buy a new one that is far more suitable to our needs sometime next year. One of these days I'll have my dream space for all my crafting supplies. I've envisioned this room for years, and I know just how it's supposed to look. It'll have built in cabinets and drawers, all organized by craft. It'll have a sewing table and space that would make Vera Wang drool. It'll have a small stereo and a television and DVD player, too, and a comfortable chair with a good side table and lamp where I can sit quietly and stitch to my heart's content. And it'll have a window facing the backyard of my dreams, overlooking the gardens. Ah...I can't wait!

So what's your dream crafting space like? Do you have it yet, or are like me and it's still in the dream stage?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I'm so weak!

My fiber stash would fill a room if I kept it in one place. Yarns, unspun wool, fabric, and then of course there's the equipment, which might fit in that same room if did a bit of cramming and rearranging. My preference is to tuck it here and there around the house, and of course, hide a large quantity in the attic in tubs, tins, and trunks. I've enough fiber to keep me busy for decades. So what do I do when I spot clearance yarn in a certain discount store that shall not be named? I knew I should resist. Then I started thinking of that nice young man my daughter's dating, and how cold that south Texas boy will be during the next Missouri winter. I could make him a scarf, I thought. I don't know if he likes scarves or would wear one, but if that doesn't work out, that fuzzy yarn would make a nice two-tone throw for my other daughter's dorm room.

Rationalization - I know, a sure symptom of addiction. It's true that I'm a fiber addict, and to make things worse, I adore a good bargain. And this yarn was half price, which actually worked out to be about 30 percent of suggested retail. Who could resist that?

Besides, as the husband of a fiber acquaintance declared at a fiber festival a few years ago, 'she who dies with the most wool wins.'

I'm definitely a contender.

What do you think? I have thirteen skeins of Red Heart Symphony here to add to the stash. Should I make scarves? A two-tone throw? Hats? Warm, luxurious (yet washable!) mittens?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Struggling with the technical terms

Gosh, Barbara, thanks for being impressed with my soccer scarf! I'm very flattered.

Let's see if I can answer your questions. I'm not very good at the technical terms.

1) I used Cascade 220, a Peruvian Highland wool yarn. Um, it says it's worsted (is all yarn worsted?).

2) I used No. 7 bamboo needles (I love bamboo needles--I wish there was some way they could make circular needles in bamboo.)

3) I don't honestly know if the scarf's intarsia because I don't know exactly what that means. If you explain it to me, I'll tell you whether that's how I did it.

4) Designing the scarf was great fun. There are these amazing (free!) websites where you can put your gauge in and they generate knitting graph paper that fits your exact specifications. You print it out and mark in all your little X's to form the right shapes. Of course, the first few letters took a bit of "tinking" (all right, there was even some frogging) before I got the hang of it. I also had to figure out how to twist the yarns together when I changed colors so that they were firmly anchored (is that the intarsia part maybe?).

I had one thought about your felting problem (and I can see it clearly is a problem in the photo). As your washing machine ages, it loses its ability to heat the water to high temperatures. (I think I could draw a parallel to my own body here but I'm resisting.) Maybe that's why your stitches aren't disappearing?

Okay, back to knitting that @#$%$#$ border!

The Pre-Felt Post-Felt Blues

Outback Wool. 100% wool. Not superwash.



See my problem?


Tech Question on Felting (and one for Nancy)

For the uninitiated, felting is as close to magic as you're likely to find in the world of knitting. (Or just about anywhere else, if you ask me.) It's an amazing process. Watching a giant clump of knitting shrink into something solid and strong, watching the colors bloom into a rainbow Monet would envy and all of this because you're lucky enough to own a top-loading washing machine and have access to hot water--well, I love it. What can I say?

My first felting experience went flawlessly. Noro Kureyon. A Perfect Pouch. Two 18 minute trips through the washer in a zippered pillow case surrounded by old jeans for agitation and I had achieved felting nirvana. Great color. Firm fabric. No visible stitch definition.

Did you see that last sentence? That's what you're aiming for. No visible stitch definition.

I'm having a lot of trouble the last year or so achieving that goal. We raise the water temp to almost lethal. I make sure to toss in a tiny bit of detergent for alkalinity. Jeans for agitation. The pillowcase so I don't destroy the washer. And nothing. Okay, next to nothing. I had to run a Perfect Pouch through the washer for THREE HOURS last Christmas to shrink a bag down to something close to no VSD (visible stitch definition) but still not close enough. I settled but I wasn't happy.

Where am I going wrong? One friend suggested using a tablespoon of baking soda for the alkaline instead of detergent. One friend suggested dumping the pillowcase and felting au naturel. I'm at a loss. I'm the same knitter using the same yarns in the same house in the same washing machine but with disappointing results. (Isn't that a take on the classic version of insanity: repeating the same process and still expecting a different result?)

Help greatly appreciated.

And, Nancy, I was blown away by the soccer scarf/flag. Details, girl! I want details! What yarn are you using? What size needles? Did you lay out the drawings on graph paper? That's intarsia technique, right? I need to know!!

Close-up photos of pre- and post-felting swatches are ready to be uploaded but Blogger isn't cooperating. I'll post them ASAP. But you can click and see them now if you're impatient. (Like me.)

If you want to take a short and fabulous trip through the felting process, visit WendyKnits today and feast your eyes.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Kaiti and I have a lot in common

Kaiti and I are learning about knitting together! I thought I was finished with my son’s soccer “flag” (the technical term for the long scarf with your team’s name on it which you wave frantically while screaming at the top of your lungs at a soccer match). However, when I tried blocking it, the edges persisted in curling inward.

Somewhere in the back of my mind when I started knitting it in stockinette stitch (one row knitting, next row purling), I remember a little warning light going on but it was kind of dim and got lost in my floodlit enthusiasm for the design part of the project. I’m sure the seasoned knitters on this blog know that straight stockinette stitch always curls at the edges and I think I once knew it too.

In desperation, I went to my favorite knitting store and asked their advice. Guess what I’m doing now? Picking up stitches along both sides of a nearly six foot long scarf and knitting a border onto it to kill the curl. (You can see the beginnings of the long and tedious process on circular needles in the photo. Thanks to Jean for explaining in terms I could understand how to get pix on the blog!)

Tell Kaiti that knitting teaches many lessons, not the least of which is the necessity for patience and perserverance. And as we all know, those two qualities are also a requirement for dealing with the publishing biz, another reason knitting and writing seem to go together.

Romancing The Manuscript

I'm writing a book that's due at my publisher's in two short months and I promised myself I wouldn't do anything but work this morning... but I made a little detour, came here and found you guys had offered so many incredible insights into writing and knitting and the similarities between the two that, well, I just had to take a break and say a few things of my own.

Do you know that feeling that comes over you when something you're creating is just right? It doesn't happen all the time, not with knitting or crocheting or embroidering or writing but if you're lucky, every now and then the yarn, the stitches, the pattern come together--or the words, your fingers on the keyboard, the vision of your story come together and you tumble into a moment of pure Zen.

There's nothing like it.

I remember the first time I was aware of that sensation as part of creativity. It was years back; I was just learning to embroider and I was working on something that was probably too complex for a beginner. I should have stopped but you know how it is. You keep telling yourself 'I can do this' and, of course, all that happens is that it becomes more and more obvious that you can't.

So I kept going.

I grew more and more frustrated, more and more disappointed at what wasn't happening inside my embroidery frame... and then, without warning, the stitches that had evaded me suddenly made sense and the pattern came alive under my hands. To this day, I've no idea why or how it happened. It just did.

There are times I'm writing that are like that. I sit staring at my computer monitor, trying to figure out why a character's eluding me, why a motivation for that character insists on staying just out of reach. And then, for no reason I can ever understand, something happens. I'm tempted to say the world tilts but I don't want to go too far with this. I only know that, all at once, that character, that motivation reveals itself to me.

I tumble into the story and know I've found what is, for me, a moment of pure Zen.

Teach me the next part!

My niece, Kaiti, is here at the farm for a two-week visit. She's eight and in love with most aspects of country life, which in her view is very different from life in her suburban neighborhood. Her excitement is catching. My mundane daily routine seems exotic to this child, and her curiosity shines a light on every little thing I've come to take for granted.

One of those things is knitting. Kaiti wants to learn, so yesterday I showed her how to cast on. Today, we've a long list of plans. Morning chores, grooming the angora rabbits, a hike to the back pasture to admire the wildflowers, then into the woods to the thicket where the deer bed down. A moment ago, she stepped into my office, her expression earnest, eyes sparking with excitement.

"When we get back from hiking, can you teach me the next part in knitting?" she asked. I wore a big grin when I added that to the list, and I thought how this ties into the thoughts my fellow bloggers have expressed here in the past few days. The heady days of ignorance when we begin, the joy, the willingness to embrace risk . . . sometimes my cautious adult side remains too much in control and crushes the joy with all those sensible reminders about what could happen, what did happen last time or the time before, and how I really can't spare the time to . . . whatever. And what if it doesn't work out?

Kaiti doesn't care. She's eight, and she understands that mistakes are just a part of learning, and there's no mistake in knitting that can't be undone. There's no such thing as lost or wasted time, either, because it's all practice. She's learning and finding such joy in the learning. I think she's setting a great example for me.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

The heart of things...

Oh, Nancy, don't you miss those heady days of ignorance when we each started...that lovely time when we didn't understand the market, didn't know what the business was like, when we just wrote what we loved and let it pour out of us?

I truly believe (though I'm not always good at applying it to myself) that in writing and knitting both, nothing is wasted when we go for the gold, when we write what we're burning to write. The book might not sell, the sweater might not fit, but though it hurts (sometimes a LOT) when either happens, there is intrinsic value in the doing as much as the learning. The business end of publishing only cares about the sure thing, but we are artists--as knitters and as writers--and if we don't take chances, if we don't honor the heart of the work, we are poorer for it. Something sad and damaging happens to us when we only take the safe route. Because the business is all about "what have you done for me lately?" and nothing about what our spirits need--and it will desert us in a heartbeat. So if we lose ourselves, we lose everything.

But that joy...that love...isn't it the heart of the best stories, the ones we can't forget? That willingness to embrace risk, flying into the wind of the sure sale or the safe sweater or the hot genre, is what keeps us alive as writers and keeps us in touch with the joy that is the touchstone that we cannot afford to lose, with the power that only comes from writing from the deepest heart of ourselves.

Jean, maybe waxing a little too philosophical, and if so, mea culpa

Instincts and tinking

Jean, you're a genius! You just wrote something that crystallized everything I've been struggling with for the past year in my writing.

Jean's brilliant insight:"Isn't writing all about learning to trust your own instincts?"

Yes, yes, yes! That's what I've been groping for, the confidence to go with my own sense of what the book should be. Not what other books are, not what the market wants it to be, not what my agent thinks it should be. What I, the writer, believe is right for the story.

However, I SO agree that every writer needs an editor. I was blessed with having a wonderful editor for my first two books and I miss her light, deft touch terribly now that she's moved on to a different publisher and different genre.

Like you, Barbara, I love to cut, to make the prose lean and mean. It's probably a holdover from my days of writing poetry when every word had to do so many duties that it practically groaned from the burden. However, it takes a real mental effort for me to start revising. A cup of tea is not nearly enough to get me into the self-editor's chair--it takes more along the lines of a bottle of bourbon. Yet once I begin, I really enjoy making the book better.

And like you, I 've only recently learned to tink or frog or whatever is necessary to make the knitting project perfect. I find it quite satisfying, in fact, to know that I've fixed a mistake. But I think it's all tied into the revision thing. I figure if I can do it in my books, I can do it in my knitting.

Did I say how wise I think this group of bloggers is?

Low-Fat, Sugar-Free and Luscious

Writers try to create a feast for the senses. Meaning we want our readers to see, hear, smell, touch and taste what our characters see, hear, smell, touch and taste. Once in a great while, I put a recipe in a book. (See the recipe for homemade vanilla ice cream in The Widow and the Wildcatter, now out in large print and available for the asking at your local public library, for example. Warning: it spools out in a sensual scene between Joni and Chance.)

Anyway, last night I was serving my adaptation of the French dessert known as clafoutis, and I thought y'all might like the recipe while fresh peaches are still in season.

What's this got to do with knitting? you ask. Not much, though I made the dessert in honor of my sister, whose birthday is July 22 and who loved the pink Noro Booga Bag I made her. How's that for a stretch? LOL! All I ask if you make and love my adaptation of the clafouti is that you give me credit for it. Okay? Here goes:


Adapted by Fran Baker

3 Cups peeled, sliced peaches

1/2 Cup Splenda

1/4 Cup flour

3/4 Cup Egg-Beaters

1 1/2 Cups skim milk

a little vanilla

a little salt

Preheat oven to 425F. Mix the flour, sugar, vanilla and salt with the eggs and milk. Stir in the peaches. Pour mixture into a Pam-sprayed 8x8 square glass dish. Bake for 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Eat and enjoy.

Fran Baker

Tinking, Frogging, and Knowing When To Quit

Jean! Your post really made me think about the kind of writer I am as opposed to the kind of knitter I am.

I love to revise my writing. There's nothing I like better than sitting down with the completed manuscript and ruthlessly cutting away the excess. So long "he saids" and "she saids." Goodbye redundancies. And if there's anything more fun than combining two yappy wordy chapters into one that actually says something in a (relatively) entertaining manner, I don't know what it is. I experience an actual rush of excitement when I sit down with the print-out of my manuscript, a couple of felt-tip pens (preferably Flair pens in black, blue, red, and green), and a cup of tea. Any emotional attachment I felt for the book vanishes (and that's saying something since that emotional attachment is both the blessing and bane of my existence during the writing of it) and I feel like I'm seeing the material for the first time. I love X-ing out passages, moving things around, watching it all reassemble itself into something leaner and tighter and faster-moving.

On the flip side, this is also the time when you see where you've shortchanged both yourself and the reader. Sometimes I take the easy way out the first time around and sidestep highly emotional passages that require a depth of understanding that maybe I don't have at the moment. This is my chance to jump back in and let 'er rip.

A couple of years ago I was working on CHANCES ARE and it was running long. Okay, it wasn't just running long it was running so long that after awhile I started to call it War and Peace on the Jersey Shore. A million characters who each had their own story. Lots of conflict to set up, play out, and then resolve. As I crossed the 500 page mark and then waved so long to page 600, I knew I had to warn my editor that: 1) her mailbox needed to be reinforced ASAP and 2) I fully understood that I would need to cut 100 pages or more of chaff and would do so happily and quickly.

This was one of those times when I had to write long and full-out in order to find the heart of the story and thank God I have an editor who understands that and trusts me. I'll admit the cutting process hurt a tiny bit (it usually doesn't bother me) but I did it and the story was definitely better for it.

The thing is, cutting doesn't scare me. It never has. If a chapter has to go, it goes. I might dance around it for weeks, trying to screw up the courage to do the deed, but once that odd little "this isn't working" feeling makes itself known it's only a matter of time.

Now how, you're asking, does this have anything to do with knitting? Well, I think that my ability to make deep cuts in a book is finally beginning to assert itself in my knitting. You see, I used to be The Cowardly Knitter. That's probably why I began and then abandoned so many projects over the years: plain old garden variety fear of screwing up.

Quite frankly up until the last year or two, I had neither the skills nor the confidence to repair my mistakes. One little error along the way, one dropped stitch, and it was all over. The sweater or whatever it was I was working on would be stuffed into a bottom drawer and forgotten about for a few years. Can you imagine knitting with that kind of attitude? Every stitch I knitted was fraught with peril. What if I dropped it? What if I screwed up that cable? What if I was on the last three inches of the last section of a sweater and I dropped a stitch? Yep. You're right. Buh-bye, sweater.

I said in an earlier post that I don't quite know why (although I suspect the oceans of shared information on the internet has a lot to do with it) but this time around I'm not afraid to make mistakes. It's only yarn. It isn't brain surgery or rocket science or whatever cliche you want to plug in there. If it can be done, it can be re-done correctly. I knit with a crochet hook next to me and if I drop a stitch I happily work that puppy right back up the rows and back onto the needle.

Sometimes you begin a project with high hopes only to discover that either the yarn was wrong or the instructions or your perspective on the whole thing. Stuff happens, right? You can either frog the whole thing and create something knew with the yarn or tuck it away in a bottom drawer (along with those manuscripts that didn't quite work out) and chalk it up to a learning experience.

Here's a very bad Razor Shell swatch:

And here's a (slightly) better one:

There's so much still to learn and that goes for writing and knitting!

(My apologies if the photos are out of whack. I've been fighting with Blogger for an hour now and can't make them line up properly. But, as the title says, I know when to quit!)

Barbara Bretton

Tinking and frogging: the writer's POV

Tinking...LOL, BB. You know, this makes me think about life as a writer. I've sewn all my life, but never have I learned to like ripping out seams. Ditto with needlework...hate, hate, hate to rip out.

And I was that way when I first began writing ten years ago, as complete novice. With no training and no experience, it was all OJT for me, and I never trusted anything but the first words that rolled onto the page--somehow that initial outpouring felt true, but I knew so little about what I was doing that I was scared to death to do any serious revising that would materially change the story.

But somehow I made the transition and now have a hard time figuring out when to stop--God bless deadlines, or I'd mess with each book as often as I re-read it. And as Stella Cameron told me once, early on, "Don't iron it too much; you'll flatten it." In, of course, that lovely Brit accent of hers.

Finding that point is tough, and isn't writing all about learning to trust your own instincts, your own sense of your story, what's your true voice? (Except, okay, that there's not a writer alive who doesn't need an editor--not matter what Anne Rice thinks.;))

I can make myself rip out stitches, of course...but I still don't like it. I'm a forward progress kind of girl.

But maybe if I've learned to revise my writing, I'll eventually embrace ripping out more cheerfully.

Ya think?


Saturday, July 22, 2006

pastoral knitting

First, though, BB, I gotta ask: what's frogging?

And tell me more (at least I *think* I want to know) about spit splicing...or do I? ;)

Back to my subject line, pastoral knitting...I'm sure every knitter knows that knitting is recommended for anger management, and I can really relate. Not that I'm much prone to anger, but I do appreciate the soothing nature of it...knitting, I mean. Not anger. ;)

But I ran across a further amplification of that principle recently. My mother had a serious spinal surgery, lasting several hours, and her pastor was the first to show up to sit with me. This wonderful woman, Amy Elder, who is now atop my own pantheon of those I admire for a whole bunch of reasons, took out some knitting while I was working on cross-stitch. She was doing dishcloths (don't you just adore knitted dishcloths? Indestructible, and they just feel so dadgum good in the hand!) because, as she explained to me, she wanted her attention not to be distracted from the needs of her flock, but she'd discovered that if she brought her knitting, it gave those she was sitting with the option to talk if they wished or to be silent and not feel odd about it. And doing dishcloths is mindless enough that she can direct her attention toward them and not her, of course, there's always a need for dishcloths.

So we sat and stitched and knitted, and sometimes we spoke (actually we spoke a lot because, well...she's wonderful and interesting and we got on like gangbusters)...but sometimes we were just silent, enjoying the companionship and the soothing touch of busy hands.


10 Things I Know Now About Knitting That I Didn't Know Before

Maybe it's age. Maybe it's all the help available on the internet. Maybe it's just that finally something clicked and it all began to make sense in a way it never had before.

But here are ten things I know about knitting now that I definitely didn't know before:

1. A dropped stitch isn't the end of the world
2. Frogging isn't a mortal sin . . . or a sign of knitting inadequacy
3. One knitter's great project is another's week in Hades.
4. If you don't love the yarn, you probably won't love the process.
5. Knit for people you love who also love the fact that you're
knitting for them.
6. Knit a swatch! Knit a swatch! Knit a swatch!
7. Stitch markers aren't crutches for lazy knitters. Neither are
row markers or counters. They're important tools. Use them.
8. Take photos of your projects and keep a knitting journal. One day you'll be glad you did.
9. Spit-splicing really works.
10. It's all just knitting and purling.

Learn to read your knitting and the world of Zimmerman and Swansen and Walker and Fassett will open up to you in a way you never imagined possible.

What have you learned about knitting? Share your comments with us.


Friday, July 21, 2006

The Hammerhead Sock

I had no idea that knitting a sock could lead to discussions worthy of the G8 but it has.

The truth is, until I started knitting I never paid all that much attention to my socks or anybody else's socks for that matter. A sock is a sock is a sock . . . until it's a sock that you're knitting and suddenly you're faced with more serious top level decisions than you've ever debated in your life.

I made myself a pair of Broad Ripple Socks last month and followed Rob's directions in Knitty to the letter. The socks are a delight and I'm thrilled with them.

Did I angst about the toe? No, I didn't.

Did I worry about the elasticity of the cuff? No, I didn't.

But try making a pair of socks for the man you love and suddenly--after more than thirty years of marriage--you find yourself learning things about him you not only didn't know but wouldn't have believed he actually had formed an opinion on. (Yes, I'm ending with a preposition. Forgive me.)

He doesn't like pointy-toed socks. A 16-stitch Kitchenered sock is his idea of toe prison. Who knew? We settled on a 36-stitch wide toe. The thought of Kitchenering 36 stitches (18 pairs) sent a chill down my spine but I locked myself in another room, lit a candle, and got down to it.The Kitchenering went fine. The sock fits. He loves it. But that toe! Good grief, that toe looks like a hammerhead shark. I am deeply ashamed of that toe and am not looking forward to grafting another one just like it for Sock #2.

I know, I know. You're hearing the shark theme from Jaws right about now, aren't you?

So who wins when the comfort of the recipient is at odds with the asthetic sensibilities of the knitter? The recipient every time. I mean that's the point, isn't it? These socks are supposed to make him happy.

But somehow I don't think Hammerhead Socks are going to catch on any time soon.


Originally posted to Wicked Splitty 2005

Thursday, July 20, 2006

BULLETIN: Stitches East, Midwest, West

Reader Vicki Tallman gave her permission to post this note to the group:

If you've never been to one, go to one of the Stitches shows marketplaces. It's like falling into a wonderful vat of color. The shows are Stitches Midwest (Rosemont, IL) in August (10-13 this year), Stitches East (Baltimore) in November (2-5 this year) and Stitches West (Santa Clara, CA) in February (22-25, '07). Just an FYI...

Thanks, Vicki!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hot water ;)

Fran, thanks for the boost--and the tip about making it taller. Is the hot water in my washer enough or do I need to heat something on the stove?

My camera phone is a Sony Ericsson Z520a. It gives me 4x zoom, choices of b&w, sepia and color photos and a bunch of other stuff. The way I get my photos is to email them to my email addy, then rename them as .jpg and use them from there. I haven't signed up for a special plan for emailing, since I don't do it often. I can email several photos on the same message, and it costs me 25 cents per message, I think.

I can go from 640x480 resolution down to 160x120 plus something called extended...but we've discussed, right, my aversion to reading directions?

We have a digital camera, but it's usually with my husband, and this has turned out to be soooo easy. My only complaint about the camera is that there's a quick-shoot button on the side that's easy to hit and snap an unintentional picture...but I have 16 mb memory, so it's not like I get overloaded easily, and it's very easy to delete them.

As for the Noro...BB, by chance, I picked #40 for my first purchase. All my favorite colors in there...yum. I, too, am allergic to wool...but just had to have it. Can't wait to give it a try.

Terey, do we need to contemplate an intervention for this yarn stockpiling problem? ;) It's like the "I have no idea what I need that fabric for, but it's just so gorgeous" mania that fills up the spare bedroom, eh wot?


Bliss, knitting shops & office supply stores

OMG, have you seen them yet??? Lighted knitting needles, be still my heart. Quick, someone tell the manufacturer to send me some because I must have them for review. Must, I tell you. Like Noro yarns (and gel pens) they come in pretty colors, and like lighted pens that allow me to take notes at the theater or during a black out, they have lighted tips (and replaceable batteries!) that would allow me to knit during a black out or when my husband wants to watch movies in the dark.

Now, of course, the big question is...are they functional as well as pretty? They cost $15.95 a pair, and of course I'd want a pair in every size (what's the sense in having only a pair of size 8s if I needed a lighted pair of size 10.5 or 15, I ask you?) Which is why I need the Knit Lite people to send me some so I can review the needles and post that review here for everyone to see. They don't have to pay me in anything except ... a pair of lighted needles in every size and lots of extra batteries. No, that doesn't guarantee a glowing review, but...I love toys, and I could give some to my mother who'd have a marvelous time playing with them, too. Also, if I test out and review every single size of these lighted needles, then we'd know for certain how they stack up against each other, right? All needle sizes are not created equal after all.

That written...have you ever noticed how writers who are knitters all same to be easily addicted to the same things? I mentioned the Bliss of Office Supply Stores in my header because there's nothing like the smell of leather bound notebooks and brightly colored gel pens to brighten up a morning. And back to school shopping? Fuh-get-about it! My kids are grown and out of college now and I still have to take covetous little looks at all of those new colors of notepads, post its, binders, book covers,'s terrible. If I live to be 312 there's no way in the world I'll ever use up all of the paper and pens that are in this house.

Yarn shops are the same sort of thing. I've just got to pick up that one little piece of yarn, that new color, new fibre, new pattern, new needle - it's the creative addict in me, the person who knows that, despite the fact that 100% wool is 100% wool that Jewel Tone Red absolutely has its own texture and feel, will knit up with a completely different look, style and even flavor than the Jitterbug Blue from the exact same manufacturer, using the exact same type of dye & the exact same dying process because...

My brain tells me it will and I know how to write out the difference in those colors. And so, like my stash of pens and paper and paperclips and post its and you name it in the way of office supplies, I also have that never ending knitting stash. Because I can't help it. Not having it would be like running out of ideas for stories or other things to write about and...

That would be just plain bad.


How Do I Love Thee: An Ode to Noro Kureyon

(<--Part of a Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton afghan pattern expertly knitted by Dallas Schulze in Noro Kureyon #128)

Oh, Nancy, how I envy you! You're a Kureyon virgin with the wonders of Noro still ahead of you. Kureyon! Silk Garden! Hana! Cash Iroha! And that's just the tip of the woolly iceberg.

But you want specifics, don't you? Let me see if I can help.

1. Noro Eisakura is a genius
2. All Noro yarns are hand-dyed
3. Nobody, and I mean nobody, achieves the depth of color and creative mix-and-matching of Noro. You'll look at some of the combos and think, "Are they crazy?" but darned if they don't knit up like a dream
4. Kureyon is a work of art that still connects with the earthier aspects of wool. (Did I mention that Kureyon is 100% wool?) Yes, you'll occasionally find a bit of vegetable matter in the skein. Embrace it! Yes, occasionally the yarn will spin down to whisper-thin then bulk back up to its almost-roving self. Embrace that too! Art isn't stamped out by a machine.
5. Kureyon, in particular, and Noro in general feel wonderful in your hands
6. Some of the most gorgeous patterns on the planet are created for Noro. Look specifically for Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton's books.
7. The color changes are long enough to establish themselves yet short enough to keep your eyes happy
8. Kureyon felts like a champ
9. Color #102
10. Color #128
11. Color #40 - life doesn't get much better
12. You haven't lived until you've watched Kureyon "bloom"

Mostly, though, it's a visceral thing. When I gaze upon, fondle, and create with Noro Kureyon I am blissfully happy. It satisfies this knitter's soul in every way possible. Better still, it helps you create a stellar product.

The only problem is . . . I'm allergic to wool. I pay dearly for every second of Kureyon Joy.

But it's worth it.

Lots of Kureyon available on eBay. Discounted prices available at WEBS among other outlets. There's a great Canadian online store -- Wool Needle Work -- with one of the best range of colors available.

This was my first Perfect Pouch. First felting attempt. First I-cord. Definitely first attached I-cord. I never did find the absolutely perfect button for it, but I used it until it literally fell apart.

This was a blanket in progress. There was some more knitting ahead, then felting, and then it went on its way to Sandra Marton's grandson!

So how do I love thee, Kureyon? I can't count that high!


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Jean's First Felting Project

You're doing great, girl. One thing to keep in mind is that it will shrink more in length than width so be sure and make it tall enough. Be certain, too, that the water is hot, hot, hot! I just finished a wild pink Noro bag today and got it in the mail to Dallas for my sister's birthday on Saturday. Next I need to figure out how to take pictures that I can post here. A camera phone may well be the answer. What kind do you have? And do you need any special software on your computer, or does it just come in as a jpeg or such?

I need to get back to work on my new book, but this blog has been so much fun I've gotten sidetracked. But that's okay. I needed a little break after focusing on the purse. Now I'm going to write and also make something for the Launch Contest.

I'm curious: What's everyone reading right now? Are you enjoying it? Would you recommend it?

Fran Baker

Clue us all in!

Okay, here's my first official dumb question. (Remember I said my role was to ask all the really stupid questions on the blog?) You all keep talking about this fabulous yarn called "Noro Kureyon". What on earth is so amazing about it? What do you use it to knit? Is it made of spun gold or just wool?

We want to join the secret Kureyon Society too!

first felting project

Just a quick note to share a couple of pictures of my first-ever felting project, a Booga Bag, as I mentioned before, pattern courtesy of Fran Baker pointing me toward the freebie (thank you, Fran!), and my new love, bamboo needles. (Not that they'll replace my beloved dh anytime soon, but I really like the feel of them! Way less than him, of course, when he's not around.;))

I took these with my cameraphone, then emailed them to myself, so please bear with the photographer, but I hope you can see how it's actually formed a bottom and is rising now--yay!!

I'm using Lion Brand Wool Prints Ocean Blues, and Clover Takumi 10.5 circular and DP needles. Can't wait to see how the felting goes--wish me luck! (Of course, first I have to figure out this I-cord thing...) Then, if all works out, I've got some yummy Noro Kureyon to try next.

Of course, this does not address the already-mentioned cross-stitch Advent calendar that *was* first in line...I'm still working on it, I swear! Just got a little sidetracked by the purse fun.


Writing v. Knitting

You'll have to forgive me because I am going to introduce myself and then disappear for the most part, at least until August 15th. That's when the next book is due and for me getting a book done becomes writing v. knitting. Last summer I didn't pay any attention to the signs and was writing and knitting like a fiend and before you know it I was in the physical therapist's office getting hand therapy for early carpal tunnel. Those two words have got to be the scariest to both breeds, writers and knitters. But when you do both, yikes! (or as I said the budget minded engineer husband, "I'll quit writing before I quit knitting.") After 911 revived him, I knew the knitting had to take a backseat until the book was done and I could go into my annual Sept-December Christmas knitting frenzy without worries of the house being foreclosed. More on that in September-the frenzy that is, not the Boyle budget.

However, this year I have restrained myself from picking a summer project that calls to me like a Siren from my knitting bag. Instead, I chose to work on a sweater. Actually, I have three of them going right now in various stages. Sweaters, I find, are like running a marathon, much like writing a book. None of the sweet satisfaction of knitting up a cute hat in an evening in some chunky, funky yarn and wearing it the next day to impress the walking partner with your artistic prowess. No, knitting a sweater is like writing a book. The joy of the finding that great idea (read: cool sweater pattern), searching for the right characters (ie perfect yarn), and then comes the work. Sitting down to knit it. And knit it. And knit it. Like one does when you have 400 pages between you and those magical words "The End." So the sweater progresses slowly, through swimming lessons and ortho appointments and the occasional evening I sit down to watch something, while the book takes up all the extra time and the tendon power.

Who's a Rookie?

Sorry, Jamie, but the title of 'rookie' goes to me!

My mother taught me to knit in the dark, distant past when I was in my teens. I loved my mom like crazy but the truth is, she was a terrible knitter. I recall one sweater she made that was supposed to have cap sleeves. Well, when she'd finished, one sleeve was a cap. The other... it didn't exist at all.

So I became a knitter much like Mom. Knit one, purl one, rip. Count the stitches, answer the phone, go back to the knitting and whoops, where was I?

But I enjoyed it anyway. Seeing something come to life in my hands was incredible, especially since when I'm writing, that doesn't always happen without lots of anguish.

Anyway, I'm definitely THE rookie here. I absolutely claim the right to that title.

I'm making a scarf right now. Yup, a scarf. Me and Uma. If nothing else, looping it around my neck (tightly!) will be lovely. The yarn is gorgeous and soft and altogether wonderful. And I ask you, how many times would somebody have to rip out the stitches on a scarf? (I'll let you know.)

Contest! Contest! Contest!

I thought that would get your attention.

To celebrate the launch of Romancing The Yarn, we're holding a contest. Do we know exactly what the prizes will be? Not yet but we will, we will. I can tell you that the gift basket will contain autographed books and assorted knitting goodies designed to tempt and tantalize. Give us a day or two to nail down the details but trust me, you won't be disappointed.

So what do you have to do to enter? Not much. Click here and send an email with CONTEST in the subject line. That's it! We'll do the rest. The contest will run through August 31st. The lucky winner will be drawn on September 1st and announced here.


Join us, Uma!

Just saw this little blurb about Uma Thurman in New York Magazine.

At the premiere of My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Ivan Reitman said, "Uma's a very good knitter. The scarves did get very long."

Uma, however, responded, "Actually I'm a slow and lame knitter. Everyone was always making fun of me. So when I eventually produced a sweater, they were very proud."

Maybe Uma will drop in on us here....

Loose Ends Redux (or This Is Just Sooo Wrong! ;-))

I'm not supposed to be here right now, but when Barbara writes something about loose ends and writing and compares it to knitting...writer bangs head against keyboard... here I am. *grins*

My loose ends are everywhere about the house, lying around in unfinished projects - both writing and knitting - so that the house looks more like a yarn and research battlefield than somewhere people (and animals) live.

Oh, but you weren't talking about that kind of loose ends, you say? You were chatting about the dangly bits hanging all about a knitting or crochet project that leaves it looking undone and unprofessional and more or less unwearable / unusable? Yes, well...*big grin* After a fashion, so am I. Here, let me show you: I'm working on this book right now. It's due out in October (a charitable collaboration for breast cancer awareness / research) and I'm not only one of the authors but the project creator and editor. Right now I'm cleaning up all of the loose ends on it so it can be put together into uncorrected & unedited ARC (Advance Reader Copy) form so that it can go out to reviewers for advance publicity to generate early orders and mega (!!!!!! from this type to God's ears!!!!) sales so we can donate a ton to either the National Cancer Society (breast cancer) or the Susan G. Komen Foundation. I plan to knit up some of the Knitty Titties from Knitty and...

Yes, well, LOL!! You get the idea. Let's get the book done and out. Which it will be. Last year's version made it and so will this one. But right now I'm also finishing up the "loose ends" on a sweater that I started for my husband 2 Christmases ago. It's his favorite sweater, and the only one he really likes me to make for him. I've made him...I don't know 15 or 20 over the years, from an old Leisure Arts pattern dated from 1974 called "The Great Sweater of the 1940's". Hold on, I'll show you:
Here's the front and back cover from the pattern. As you can see, it's knitted all of a piece - back and front knitted as one through the shoulders and neck by several rows of garter stitch before stockinette stitch resumes for the body of the sweater. The sleeves are joined to the body and knitted in, then the collar (turtle neck, since the pattern's history states the sweater originated during WWII and was knitted en masse for soldiers at the cold war front) is done in the round. Nowadays I generally make the color a mock-T-neck or a crew neck for him, but...

The pattern runs from child's size 4 to adult size 50". My husband loves this sweater with a passion. Why? I can only guess. He tells me it's because I've told him he can wear it like a sweatshirt (which he does). I've knitted it out of the least expensive yarns I can find. He throws it in the washer, wears it under the car, works on whatever equipment he wants to and wears it to the shop. The thing wears like a leather jacket even at the elbows - and he's hard on elbows.

But I digress. After 2 years, I'm finally finishing his latest. He'll get it for his birthday (Halloween.) I gave him the yarn a couple of years ago at Christmas. I think that's what you call one present down.

Or tying up the loose ends - as well as finally applying the finishing touches to the thing.


Terese Ramin, who had to choose the hottest days of the year to work in wool

Monday, July 17, 2006

Nancy and the Loose Ends

Nancy, now you've done it. You've made me think and it's way too hot to do anything except pray for winter to come as soon as possible.

The similarities between writing and knitting? I never know how either one is going to end up. I just pick up a gorgeous ball of yarn or let a fascinating character into my head and the process begins. Sometimes it's a disaster (see picture at the top of this post) and sometimes it's not. But I never know until I cast off . . . or type "The End." (Which, come to think of it, I've never actually typed. Does anyone really type "The End"?)

Both can make me so happy I want to cry. Both can make me so angry I want to cry. Both make great use of circular logic. I miss both to a frightening degree when I'm not engaged with them. I love all of the paraphernalia surrounding both activities almost as much as I love the activities themselves. (The Writer Magazine. Interweave Knits. Wonderful hardback notebooks with creamy white paper and pale blue lines. Austermann's new Step yarn which is, quite frankly, to die for. Highlighters. Stitch markers. Fountain pens with 18K nibs. Addi Turbos in shiny brass.)

Both require more patience than I sometimes think I have. Both require discipline . . . sometimes more than I think I possess. Both rely on that mysterious merging of the right side and left side of the brain.

After twenty years I still don't really understand how a book gets written anymore than I understand why circular knitting works the way it does. But books do get written and socks get knitted and somewhere in there is the secret to life but I'll be damned if I know what it is.

Let me lie down and think about it.

Barbara Bretton

Loose Ends

The soccer scarf I’m working on has a lot of color changes which means a lot of little yarn ends left dangling. Since there are so many, I decided that every time I picked up the scarf to knit I would also weave a few of the danglers in so I wouldn’t be faced with such a daunting task at the end.

As I was weaving, it struck me how similar this was to writing a book: you have to tie up all the loose ends before you’re truly finished or your readers will be frustrated and grumpy. No one wants frustrated, grumpy readers, especially since I am often one of them!

How else are reading and knitting similar?

Both books and scarves get finished line by line. In a novel you have to keep just putting sentences on the page. In a scarf, it grows row by row. If you don’t sit down and simply get those lines done, you’ll never, ever have the satisfaction of casting off or typing “The End”.

Another lovely similarity is the ability to fix mistakes. Heaven knows I’ve ripped out rows and rows when I’ve lost my concentration and messed up the pattern in my daughter’s shawl. As for my writing, I’ve tossed entire chapters into the recycling bin and the book has been far better for it. How many other times in life do we get to fix our mistakes so our project comes out almost perfectly?

Anyone else see more parallels between the writing and the knitting life?

Short History of a Tall Knitter - PT 1

So there I was, maybe six or seven years old, sittin' and knittin' on the front stoop with my friend Doris from across the street. I lived in New York City -- Elmhurst, Queens to be exact -- and for some reason knitting was the thing to do. We sat on Doris's stoop for endless hours that summer knitting long strips of Red Heart Worsted Wool in all its variegated variations. Mostly we loved the one with the black background and bright short bursts of primary colors interspersed. (I think it's called Mexicana today and is acrylic.) It looked like a party and made the knitting great fun.

Question: why is it that intelligent human beings turn into easily-amused children when working with variegated yarns? I'm reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine refrains from sex and is turned into a blithering idiot who applauds at rotating tire signs in front of the auto shop. But I digress. There's something infinitely amusing about knitting or crocheting with variegated yarns. What inexpressible delight when a beautiful color flows between your fingers, the anticipation as you await its return, the slight letdown when that kinda muddy brown lingers longer than you'd hoped, and the soaring pleasure when an unexpected burst of fuchsia or rich turquoise ignites your work with splendor.

What was I saying? Oh yeah. Anyway, there we were, Doris and I, sitting on her front stoop trying to see who could knit the longest totally useless strip of fabric. And the competition wasn't limited to knitting needles. Remember those bright red plastic spools that created long ropey tubes that we now call I-cord? We did that too, also with our beloved Red Heart, then coiled them into circles, stitched them together, and called them pot holders and coasters and rugs oh my!

Knitting was just something we all knew how to do. I can't even remember who taught me or when. I assume it was my mother since my grandmother wasn't exactly the crafty type unless crafty meant applying Revlon Fire & Ice to her lips, spritzing herself with Tigress, then sashaying into Manhattan for a Manhattan with a beau.

Did I digress again? Sorry. As I was saying, we all knew how to knit and it was an accepted part of our world. Nobody questioned it. In fact we used to take our knitting to school during final exam week when you were allowed to knit at your desk if you finished the test early. Imagine rows of little girls in St. Bartholomew's navy blue jumper and saddle shoes, all knitting endless strips of brightly striped, very long . . . somethings.

For years that's pretty much all I did with knitting needles. Knitting made me nervous. I mean, if you dropped a stitch the whole thing went down the drain and you had to start all over again and who wants to start all over again when you were already ten or twelve feet into the project. Not me. I found myself sliding over into the world of crochet where I never had to worry about dropped stitches.

And so began the Era of the Granny Afghan. And the huge three-strand scarves circa 1969. And warm head-hugging hats. And the inexplicable pineapple motif tablecloth crocheted with a skinny steel hook and whisper-fine mercerized Coats & Clark mercerized cotton. The instructions looked like the plans for the Stealth bomber. Pages and pages of dc and tc and ch21 and sk3sts that were enough to make your brain implode.

I envied knitters. As I said earlier I was in awe of my mother's facility with double points and circs and cables and everything else she took for granted.

In my defense, I did start a sweater for my soon-to-be husband. It was 1967 and I found a pattern for a fair isle pullover in an earlier edition of McCall's Needlework Arts & Crafts (my bible) and jumped right in. Nobody ever told me fair isle could be difficult so it wasn't. I had my Red Heart (what else? I could afford it and I loved it) in midnight blue and navy and Yale blue and creamy white. I had my bobbins. I had my Susan Bates straight. I had the confidence that only love can give you.

It was a snap. I zipped through the front of that sweater like I'd been fair isle-ing all my life. But then 1967 turned into 1968 and he was off to war and that sweater was the least of my worries. Besides, once I was 17 and my attention span at 17 wasn't all it could be. Once I'd established that I could indeed knit fair isle I wasn't all that interested any longer.

It would be almost twenty years until I picked up knitting needles again.

To be continued . . .

You're wondering about this bright blue sweater? Crocheted by yours truly in 1970 for the husband who went off to war. Unfortunately my color sense was dictated to by the amount of money I had to spend. Which wasn't much. (Details about the sweater are at Wicked Splitty.)

Barbara Bretton

Romancing The Yarn

Romancing The Yarn
Well, here I am! Understand, I'm the kind of knitter who rips out one row for every two she does but my heart's in the right place even if my stitches aren't.Seriously, knitting just has to be more relaxing than the five endless hours I spent updating my web site yesterday. What should have taken ten minutes turned into a disaster only a masochist would have found amusing.Great to be here, ladies. Hugs to you, Barbara, for coming up with such a fun idea.

Confessions of a Rookie

I consider myself the rookie of this fabulous group of women. I know Jean claims she is, but trust me, I have a feeling she seriously knows so much more than I do. So yes, I am a rookie. A rookie with 30+ years experience.

That makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? I can hear the cries now. NOT! But it's true. I promise. I did learn to knit - sort of - I just never applied the same discipline to honing my knitting craft as I have to my craft of writing.

Like most of us enchanted with yarns (the string kind, in addition to the story kind, which I also weave) I learned to crochet when I just a kid. My mom wasn't much of a needle crafter, but she did teach me how to embroider. Our neighbor lady was big into needle crafts, and since I spent a great deal of time at her house, the summer before I entered junior high school, she taught me to crochet. I still remember my first project. A purse. It was navy blue. She even helped me line it so my lipstick and pens wouldn't fall out. I carried that purse to school my first year of junior high. I even made a gym bag to cart my gym clothes home every Friday for laundering that my mom has still packed away somewhere.

For years I crocheted. That was it pretty much the extent of my yarn work. When the babies started arriving, I crocheted blankets and cute little sweater sets for my infant sons. I even made afghans for Christmas gifts for family members. When my friends started having babies, I finally lucked out and was able to make the most adorable crocheted dresses for their little girls. But I was so often discouraged when looking for new patterns, because all the really cool ones were always of the knitted variety. Until one day I became so discourage, I picked up a "learn to knit" booklet.

Ah, I was hooked. Or should that be needled?

I started out with simple knit projects. I was a newbie in this new genre of yarn crafts, after all. I made sweaters for my then toddler sons. After completing three sweaters in the same pattern, I grew bored and wanted something more challenging, so found the courage to take on a much larger project -- a sweater for my husband.

The stitch for this project was still a relatively simple one. No fancy stitches, no cables, just a alternating of so many stitches of pearl and knit so it looked like a checkerboard, sans the second color on #10 needles. I did finish the project, but it was my last knitting project or many years. The sweater turned out way too large, and if you knew my husband you'd know what a joke that is because he's not a little guy by any stretch of the wool. This thing could've fit Andre the Giant it was so huge.

Humilated, I put away my knitting needles and went back to what I knew best -- crocheting, cross-stitch and needlepoint. But the urge to knit never did go away. Every so often, I'd get the itch for a pair of needles in my hand. And all the best patterns still seem to come in knit rather than crochet.

I'm giving the knitting world another try now, thanks to the encouragment of my Romancing the Yarn pals. And yes, even after 30 years, I still consider myself a knitting rookie. I just found a cute blanket pattern online I'd like to try, but there's a stitch I know nothing about. PSSO. Huh? And I know my mom would love one of those prayer shawls. I even found an idiot proof pattern. But what, pray tell, does PSSO mean?

So in true rookie fashion, I've decided to apply the KISS method to my knitting - Keep It Simple Stupid. I'm making scarves for my grandbabies -- we've accumulated eight of them -- and currently on my needles is a brilliantly colored scarf done in a very simple seed stitch. With the Lion Jiffy Thick & Quick yarn, I'm confident I can even make my eight scarves by my self-imposed Christmas deadline. Unless I decide to try something a little fancier, then it could end up being next Christmas. I'm not a fast knitter.

All this scarf takes is two skeins of Lion's Jiffy Thick & Quick and a pair of 17" needles. Cast on 10 stitches, then knit one, purl one (for 11 stitches total), turn, knit one purl one across. Turn and do the same until the scarf reaches 60". Now, isn't that simple? Even a rookie like me should be able to handle this one.

Oh, and if someone could please explain PSSO in idiot proof language, I'd be forever grateful. In fact, I'll give away one of my most recent releases. Just post your instructions in the comments section, let me know you'd like to be a part of the random drawing, and by noon tomorrow, check back and see if you're the winner!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Thanks, Laura

Laura, thank you. I do knit with the hard braces sometimes, but I hate it. I'll get another set of the soft ones and stick them in my knitting bag, though--I'm pretty sure it's postural, which is why I taught myself Continental, because it seems you bend the hand less, but obviously I'm still doing it too much. Someone needs to stand over me and smack my knuckles with a ruler to retrain me. ;)

I use a Natural keyboard and have for years--it really helps. Of course, if I'd type less and knit less...but who wants to do that?!?!!?


More wrist woes

Jean - I know that pain. I get it when I crochet for more than a few minutes at a time and when I type too long on the laptop. But knitting doesn't trigger it for me. I must be holding my wrists in a good position when I knit but I've never thought to analyze it. Have you tried knitting with the braces on -- maddening I'm sure -- though perhaps worth it for the sake of discovering a hand position that's better for your wrists.

I switched from English to Continental style knitting a few years ago because of pain in an arthritic finger and really had to concentrate for a while to retrain myself and to also accommodate that weak spot. And for keyboarding, I highly recommend one of the many ergonomic keyboards. I've used a Kinesis contoured keyboard since 1993 - another recommendation from the physical therapy department. That particular style worked best for me because so much inflammation in the flexors on my hands, plus wrist pain and swelling and more pain in the elbows and shoulders. (I really was a mess.) The exercises Fran recommended are similar to some the PT had me do, too. Your mileage may vary. These things are so individual with so many varying influences.

REVIEW: Cool Socks, Warm Feet - Lucy Neatby (book)

I'm sitting here surrounded by knitting books, current knitting magazines, vintage knitting magazines, knitting DVDs, knitting CDs, straight knitting needles, circular knitting needles, double point knitting needles, and easily enough yarn of various weights, colors, textures, origins to fill my old house. Fair warning: I have opinions on all of 'em and I'm not afraid to share!

Cool Socks, Warm Feet by the brilliantly talented Lucy Neatby is the book that opened up the world of sock-knitting for me. As strange as this may sound, the layout and feel of the book broke down my defenses and calmed my raging sockophobia.

This book is spiralbound and that makes a surprising difference. When you're struggling with needles and yarn, you shouldn't have to struggle with the pages of your book as well. What a pleasure it is to flip to the page in question and have it lay flat. Sheer bliss. The book is beautifully laid out. The color photos are luscious. The directions are clear, direct, and easy to follow. The patterns are varied in style and experience level. The various design changes possible within a pattern are spread out before you like desserts at a buffet. Choose one! Choose all! Round toe? The directions are there. Kitchener? It's there. Wedge? Of course. And same goes for heels. There are cuff choices. Cast-on options. Cast-off methods I'd never heard of before.

And the Chimney Toe! You'll find great instructions for this innovative toe grafting method on Lucy's website.

Sock books used to intimidate me. The information might as well have been written in ancient Greek for all that I could understand what they were saying. Lucy makes the incomprehensible crystal clear. I began with her basic sock on page one and I instantly made the pattern my own. Now I'm not the kind of woman who writes in her books but I found myself scribbling notes in the margins, circling my size options, adding technical data for the changes I found myself making spontaneously and -- to my amazement -- with great success.

What can I say? Some books are simply perfect: the way they look, they way they smell, the way they sit in your hand, the way the photos leap out at you and practically dance on the table top. For me, this is one of those books. I don't know how she did it, but somehow Lucy Neatby reached out from those pages, squeezed my hand, and said, "You can do it! You can knit a pair of socks."

And she was right.

You can find Lucy at her Tradewind Knits website.

But beware. Once you start knitting socks, there's no turning back.

Barbara Bretton

Wrist Woes

Jean, and anyone else with wrist trouble: You might want to try the exercises recommended at Carpal Tunnel Specialists. I do them when I'm between paragraphs or sentences (or words, if I'm really slow). No guarantees of a cure, but they can't hurt!

Wrist woes

Laura, I'm so intrigued by your knitting as physical/occupational therapy! How wonderful that it worked so well!

I have the opposite problem, which the last couple of days back knitting a lot have reminded me of--my wrists hurt something fierce when I knit too much. Anyone have any suggestions? It hits at the same area that gives me a burning sensation just beneath the outside bone of each wrist (the one in line with the little finger) when I work on the computer without wearing wrist braces, the awful hard ones. So when I both write and knit on the same days, it's murder, but I hate wearing those dumb, hot braces.

Any advice? In case it matters, I knit Continental, but knitting English (am I remembering the terms right?) isn't any better, worse actually.

A knitter's ramble

Writing and knitting are a lot alike. For me, they’re inextricably entwined passions, though I’m a long way from expert at either. I even keep a simple project on needles at my desk. I knit while on the phone, and while I’m thinking about the next sentence or the next paragraph, and when I’m just staring at the blank screen and getting jittery because I haven’t a clue what happens next.

Knitting calms me. Maybe it’s the memories that slip into my mind every time I pick up the needles; I come from a family of fiber addicts. We knit, crochet, cross-stitch, embroider, quilt, sew clothing and curtains, and some of weave, tat, spin, and maintain a spinner’s flock. (If you can’t find the perfect yarn, grow it!)

The rhythmic, repetitive motion eases my jangled nerves. Give me a few minutes with the needles, and my mind stops jumping around. My thoughts settle into a calmer pattern so I can really think. Plus, it’s physical thereapy. Really, but I’ll come back to that.

I came late to knitting. My grandmother tried to teach me to knit during what I remember as ‘The Summer on Grandma’s Porch’. Grandma had strong opinions about how young ladies should behave and what skills a young lady should possess. Since we lived right next door to her, there was no escaping her lessons. We began with cross-stitch and progressed to embroidery, crochet, basic hand-sewing, and then knitting. While we stitched, we talked. Grandma told stories about my mother and uncles as children, about her brothers and sisters and cousins. She talked about Grandpa’s courtship, the Great Depression, and ancestors I’d never heard of until then. And that’s how stitching became linked in my mind with storytelling. Every day, weather permitting, she and I spent a full hour on her front porch with the current project. Grandma set the timer. One full hour, no excuses, no stopping early. I excelled at crochet and learned to make tiny, invisible hem stitches. But knitting? That’s the only time I can remember Grandma giving up on anything. My mind wandered too much. I dropped stitches, lost my place, knit rows back on themselves, and came close to poking the cat’s eye out with a needle.

In my early 30s, I lost much of the use of my hands from a combination of tendonitis, fibromyalgia, and arthritis. The rheumatologist sent me to both physical therapy and occupational therapy. After a while, the two therapists conferred and suggested I take up knitting again. It was, they thought, an ideal method to help me regain strength and dexterity in my fingertips. So I muddled through with the help of vague memories, books, and a short lesson from Mom. After a couple dozen dishcloths, knit very slowly with a lot of ripping out, I was hooked. I knit scarves, hats, balaclavas, afghan squares, and a sweater. I learned to use double-points and made lots of mittens. I haunted the sale room at the local knitting store and learned to adapt patterns to suit whatever luscious yarn I found on clearance. One thing led to another, and now have two spinning wheels, a spinner’s flock, an extensive collection of single point, double point, and circular needles, and my fiber stash takes up half the attic. My grandmother, I suspect, is laughing with delight up there in heaven.

I’m a rambunctious knitter. I dive in, rip out if I don’t like how it’s going, try again or not. I like to experiment. I love the textures, the subtle tactile differences between yarns. When I picked up the needles that first time in physical therapy, I decided this was one endeavor I’d never let myself take too seriously. I’d keep it fun. I learned enough discipline on those afternoons on Grandma’s porch to propel me through the tough spots when I’m attempting a new technique. I’ll fix the big goofs, but will take the lazy way out with the small ones when the mistake isn’t glaring and doesn’t affect the function of the end product.

So that’s me and my story of how I came to be a knitter. Next time I’ll show you what I’m working on now. And maybe, someday, I’ll dig out that vest I made when I decided fuzzy mohair was just the thing. And you too can slap your forehead and say ‘ohmigod, what were you thinking?’


Fear of Footwear

Afraid to tackle your first pair of socks? Help is at hand.

Up until (maybe) eighteen months ago, socks absolutely terrified me. I had a raging case of sockophobia. No, I didn't scream when I pulled a pair out of the dryer but the thought of sitting down with a fistful of double points and a ball of skinny yarn had me casting longing looks in the direction of the Kahlua in the closet.

I really never thought I'd ever be able to master knitting in the round. The concept itself sent my brain into a tailspin. (I tend to overthink knitterly concepts and create lots of trouble for myself.)

Anyway, in those days before I entered the blissful world of circular knitting (which, come to think of it, might share much in common with the world of circular logic) I discovered seminary student Mary Ann Croisant's famous pattern for Seabury Socks and I was on my way. (Mary Ann published her pattern in 1995 while she was studying to be an Episcopal priest. I've often wondered where she settled and if she's still knitting.)

I made my first pair of Seaburys with Noro Kureyon (is there a more perfect yarn on this planet or any other?) on a pair of #7US straights and thought I'd been assumed into Knitter's Heaven. The strangely shaped object really did sew up into a sock and a comfortable one at that. I was delighted. I was empowered. I was woman see me knit! The only problem with using Kureyon for socks was the fact that our floor and hallway are tiled and grout is very cruel to tender yarn. The soles were trashed within two weeks and my heart was broken.

So here's what I learned: reinforce wear-prone sock areas with nylon reinforcing thread in an appropriate color. Or sew on a leather sole to the sock in question. Or use two or three strands of actual sock yarn made to stand up to wear.

Or else just ask your male knitting slave to carry you from chaise to desk then back again.

Seriously, if you're dying to make socks and don't feel ready to tackle double points or circs quite yet (although I have to say there's nothing to be afraid of;believe me if I can do it so can you) this pattern is an easy and delightful way to turn out a pair of socks in record time and impress everyone you meet.

OTN (On The Needles): sock #2, black Fixation Bulky, Addi Turbo #4US circs, Magic Loop technique, my basic sock pattern - this time on 48 sts; 2K2P ribbing; standard heel flap and gusset; round toe (These are for my husband and he prefers a round toe to a Kitchenered)

Barbara Bretton
My Other Blog

Knits 'n' Knots

July 15 marked the sixth anniversary of my mom's death, so I read Barbara's post through tear-filled eyes. I always thought my siblings and I were the luckiest kids on earth to have our mom. It's nice to know that other kids were lucky, too.

I'm a self-taught knitter. (Long story short: I'm one of those going-to-be-early-for-her-own-funeral types married to one of those who-me-late? types, and knitting's better than ulcer medication.) Anyway, being self-taught means I have tension issues. Doesn't mean all self-taught knitters have tension issues. But I frequently find I'm knitting too tight or too loose.

Mmmh, it just occurred to me that the tension issue relates to writing as well as knitting. I'll explore that in a later post. Right now I just want to thank Barbara for inviting me to join the blog. It's a terrific group of writers in search of the perfect yarn.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Link experiment

I'm experimenting again. Let's see if I can provide a live link to Project Linus's page and to my own Project Linus page on my site.

Here goes!

Trying a photo!

I thought I'd experiment and see if I could manage a photo. Here's one of me at a Project Linus work day, learning how to make those fun tied fleece blankets. I'm knitting a teen-size blanket in the photo, but I have since made a bunch of those fleece blankets for this very worthy cause.

For those of you who don't know, Project Linus provides "a blanketful of hugs" for kids in traumatic situations. We did a ton of them for Katrina and Rita victims, but they also go to kids who are victims of abuse, neglect, hospitalized children, etc. There are more pictures on my Project Linus page on my website, along with a pattern for the fleece blankets (SO cute and quick and fun!) and Project Linus's site is


Okay, I'll try this again!

Well, I jumped the gun (not an unusual event for me, to whom procrastination is some weird congenital anathema...but in my next life, I'm going to be not only a slacker but a night owl!) and posted too soon for the blog.

So...let's try again. Thanks, Barbara, for getting the ball rolling on this blog. Your mother's argyle sock is absolutely astonishing. I am sooooo far from that! I stand in awe. (And I have no doubt, as devoted a daughter as you were, that she knew how you felt, whether or not you said the words exactly as you would like to do now. We writers have a need to express ourselves in exactly the right words far more than others do. My husband often tells me, "I don't need to hear all the backstory and details, but I know you need to say them, so go for it.")

Also, I can't say that I like how real life denies me the perfect endings I write in my stories--and I must admit that the godlike power to create those just-right scenarios feels good, and I can't figure out why I can't have them all the time. ;)

Nancy, you're in good company--Jamie and I are also neophytes compared to the astonishing breadth of skill and knowledge people like Barbara and Fran and others possess. You don't have the corner on the market for dumb questions. I expect to ask about a bazillion. I, too, used to knit eons ago, then got on a needlepoint, then cross-stitch jag and am lately returned to knitting. (Okay, so I still have one cross-stitch Advent calendar to finish for my daughter, but I couldn't resist putting something on the needles, too.)

Thanks, Fran, for the intro to the Booga Bag. I'm knitting the first one out of a fairly pedestrian Lion wool...but yesterday, I found the Noro Kureyon you mentioned, so I grabbed several skeins to use once I make all my mistakes (hope, hope) on this first one. Since I've never felted, I can't wait to see how this turns out!

I have a question for you gurus, though. In the little shop where I found the Noro, there was a sample bag that had a pattern that seemed to have a portion knitted at a right angle, if that makes sense. It was very cool-looking, but I was pressed for time, and the shopowner was busy, so I couldn't ask about it. Anyone know what that might be called or have a sense of how to achieve it?

And Fran, I mentioned in my premature comment that I tried bamboo needles after all and am loving them. I loved even more, when I had the bag bottom formed and it was time to begin circular knitting, how the bamboo double points worked. They just seem to hold the yarn without slipping so much better than metal or plastic needles.

Okay...shutting up now! But it's sure fun to be here!


The sporadic knitter

Okay, Barbara, I’m completely intimidated by your mother’s argyle sock and by your analysis of it. I figured out what “double points” are by the context (and I’ve even used them in the far-distant past) but I’m flummoxed (great word, right?) by the diagonal line being in “duplicate stitch” and the cuff being done flat. Clueless, that’s me.

So here’s my confession: I’m a sporadic knitter. My mother taught me to knit in my youth when I made myself a stuffed bunny in the stockinette stitch. Then I stopped for years.

In my early twenties, I started commuting to New York City and thought knitting on the train would be relaxing. (It also tended to keep people from sitting beside me unless it was the last seat in the car—they didn’t want to get poked by my needles or my elbows.) I knitted a sweater for my then-boyfriend, now-husband (which he can’t fit into anymore so it went to Good Will) and a pullover vest for my sister (which we just found while cleaning out my parents’ basement—the moths had attacked it). Then I stopped for years—I won’t reveal how many.

Now I’m knitting again (yes, Barbara lured me back to the Dark Side, as she says). Also, there’s this delightful new yarn store in the town next to mine, owned by several ladies who live near me and I always try to support local businesses (ahem).

My first project was a shawl for my daughter because she’s always cold (gets that from her mom). It was HUGE! And it was on circular needles. And it had all sorts of weird stitches I’d never done before. And I had a blast knitting it. So the addiction is back. (You can see a picture of the shawl on my website in the archives of “From the Garret” under “On Finishing Things”. I’m afraid I haven’t figured out how to post photos to the blog yet.)

Now I’m knitting a soccer scarf for my son which I designed myself. I had to create my own pattern because there’s not a huge demand for soccer scarves fora high school team representing a town of 7,000 souls. When I finish it—and when I learn how to get a photo on here—I will post my soccer original. I know you’ll all want to copy it.

I figure I was invited to provide the comic relief on this knitting blog. I’ll ask all the dumb questions so no one else will have to do so. Feel free to email me any questions you’re too embarrassed to ask and I haven’t thought of.

Seriously, a huge “thank you” to Barbara for including me! I’m thrilled to be part of this group.