Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hope for the Two-Color Brioche

It's a rare vacation week in Karma land, and I'm happy to report that the knitting is getting a little honeymoon.  No sandy beaches or candlelit dinners, but lots of devoted one on one time.  I'm knitting at least an hour every day, usually more.  The stash is getting sorted, the queue is getting organized, and they after-holiday yarn sales are being investigated.  The knitting friends are getting face time for the first time in weeks. And I've been entering fiber articles to the Fast Fiber Facts at a rate of about one every two days.  Woo hoo!

The most exciting part of my knitting honeymoon is that today I am lunching with a knitting friend capable of the magical witchcraft called two-color brioche stitch.  I am hoping to exact a promise from her to teach me this wondrous craft, as I have chosen two patterns and purchased the yarns to complete them.  I just lack the skill.  (I hope you can stand the sucking up!  I think she reads the blog pretty regularly and I'm hoping she'll take pity on me.)

In the Karma column, my life task of learning patience and spreading peace is getting tested several times a day lately.  The dog has gotten off leash three times in the last week, resulting in an unexpected tour of the neighborhood for me while I collect him.  The "service" part of my day job has lately consisted of telling people why they won't be getting their money back.  And my teen children think that just because they're on vacation from school they should be on vacation from all responsible behavior.  (Um, no.)  Staying calm and effective is harder than usual.  But inch by inch, row by row, knitting reminds me that the surrounding emotions come and go - the work remains.  If I do the work properly, I will have created something.  Soon it might be something in a reversible two-color brioche stitch!  For today, a well sorted stash and progress on a pair of socks.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Mittens for the Mister

Things are at a standstill with the two color brioche stitch.  I'm not getting anywhere with the written directions, and I haven't yet found a friend who has experience in this to teach me one on one.

In the meantime, the Mr. really would like a pair of extra-warm mittens.  I shopped a little today, and succeeded in collecting what I believe will be ideal mitten materials.  The Mr. seems to have had a minor case of frostbite a few years ago, and now winter is very painful on his fingers.  I collected a Tahki Yarns Sedona hand dyed in a clear cool grey, and a really soft and lofty AslanTrends Bariloche kettle dyed.  Both are a heavy worsted, and I plan to knit them up of 6s or 7s to make a very wind-resistant, warm and lofty mitten which will also shed water if the Mr. uses them to shovel or make snow balls.  The AslanTrends has polyamid in it, making it a stable choice for wet work.  The Tahki is all merino which might grow a little if it weren't knit in a fair isle or blended colorwork pattern with something like the Tahki.

I'm looking at a variety of patterns from the Robin Hansen book, Favorite Mittens. I haven't chosen, but it will keep my fingers busy until I can talk to a few more knitting friends and get two-color brioche lessons. 

Another back-burner project which may finally get some attention is making me another pair of socks.  Since I fell in love with the Schaeffer Nichole sock yarn, I haven't made myself a pair of socks, though I've made two other pair that I have gifted.  I cast them on today, and will probably use them as my travelling project. (Waiting for appointments, killing time while travelling, etc.)

Between these, my monthly washcloth pattern, and designing an Andean Mountain hat for my youngest, my knitting future looks very busy.  Just yesterday I was all caught up!  It's my Karmic task to have perpetual knitting tasks.  Where else would I work to combine creativity, patience, and a willingness to trust directions blindly?  Bring it on!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Karma

Christmas at the Marino home was a delight. The kids received electronics, concert tickets, magazines, and pajamas.  Cookies were eaten, champagne was toasted, and then it was over...  As an avid knitter, of course I hoped for knitting gifts this year.  And the kids came through!  No coffee mugs, no candles, no DVDs - knitting books! And the Mr. came through with a Kindle!  So cool.

The first book is 60 Quick Knits, published by the makers of Cascade Yarns. Every pattern features Cascade 220 worsted wool.  There are hats, scarves and mittens in snazzy color combos and updated versions of traditional designs.  Since 220 is a worsted weight yarn, everything knits up quickly.  I've made mittens from this book, and know a couple of people who own and love the book already.  I'll have to wait a little, though, as it's still on order. :(

Second is Punk Knits by Sharon Ross.  The author is a punk music artist herself, and views creating her own garments as a way to side step the establishment and make her own statement.  That's fine with me!  There are 26 projects in the book with edgy details and a ton of attitude. I always tell the kids to tell me what they'd like me to make and I'll be happy to make it.  I'm sure it won't be long until the kids are placing requests for these punk knits.

Alli, my youngest, has recently taken a serious interest in what I knit.  She doesn't knit herself, but this morning she was poring over pattern books and suggesting color combinations and traditional motifs for an ear flap hat she wants.  She does this kind of designing in her head, leaving me to find the right yarns and generate the patterns.  Who knows?  Maybe we have another great knitwear designer in the making.  I'll be happy to be her sample maker!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gaffs of Christmas Past

Every year my family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve.  My dear friend Lisa (special ed kindergarten teacher) comes in from out of town, I make a huge meal, and we dine in candlelight in the evening.  Part of the daytime tradition is to deliver trays of handmade holiday cookies to friends and family.  It all starts with me getting up very early in the morning to bake bread, pie, etc.  In '08 I had more to do than that.

I had knit a pair of fingerless gloves with mitten caps for my youngest, and somehow never got round to blocking the 2nd one.  I blocked it 2 days before and it was still wet.  I had made sterling silver earrings for my eldest, and they needed polishing.  I hadn't finished decorating.  My house guests were sick, and one a diabetic vegan which made for a complicated time playing Florence Nightingale.  And of course there was the cooking.

I threw pie in the oven around 7am, and moved on to polishing the earrings.  The first one went great.  The second one disintegrated in my hand.  7:30am.  I'd think of something. Oh! Mittens!  Darn.  Still wet. Gift exchange around 2pm.  Dammit.

I checked on the pie.  Fine.  I washed up from the baking trying to figure out what to do.  Apologize to eldest and make another one soon. Ok.  7:45.  Take soggy mitten and put in toaster oven at 150 degrees for ten minutes.  Maybe it will dry faster.

I went to get the candle lanterns out of the basement and decorate with those so we would have light for our candlelit evening. 8:00.  The pie beeped, so I grabbed that, and went back to the lanterns, one of which I promptly dropped and smashed.  In my bare feet I put the dog out, and cleaned up the broken glass.  I checked the mitten.  Now it was a hot wet mitten.  Damn again.  I turned up the toaster oven.  Just a little.  Let the dog in. 8:45.

On to making breakfast for the sick house guest, and starting a vegan holiday meal as well as the turkey dinner.  I was stuffing acorn squash for the vegans and turkey for the rest.  I chopped, I sauteed, and then I smelled it.  THE MITTEN!  I ran over to the toaster oven.  9:40.

Wool doesn't burn in the traditional sense.  It just smells awful and disintegrates.  It still looked like a mitten (though a little brown) but when I went to pick it up it just crumbled. Damn, damn, DAMN!

Stuffing almost finished.  Gravy started.  Squash roasted for soup. 10:45. Vegan Lisa comes into kitchen and asks about the "Weird" smell.  "Turkey's supposed to smell like that!"  I snapped.  She's a vegan - she'll buy that, right?  'Cause burned wool smells so "holiday".

I was frazzled, and decided to go drop off cookies to my LYS.  "Lisa, I have to get out of here for about 20 minutes.  Help me out; keep the husband out of the pie, the kids out of the presents, and the dog out of the stuffing.  I'll be right back in a much calmer mood!" I grabbed a platter of cookies and left for the shop.

"This is all you brought?" MaryAnn (LYS owner) was teasing.  I explained my crazy failure of a morning, and sat for a minute gulping coffee.  She chuckled, wished me well, and I went home.

When I got to my back door Lisa and my dog were waiting and they both looked sorry. Aw, crap.

"What happened?"

"The dog ate the stuffing."

"All of it?  Vegan and regular?"

Yup.  This woman can handle 20 special ed 5 year olds for 6 hours per day, but not my family and dog.  I called my mother in desperate futile hope of recovering my day.

"Haven't you started drinking yet?"

"It's 11:15 in the morning!"

"Not in Australia.  Things will look much more festive after your second glass of wine. Go for it!"

I took my wine and retreated for the tub.  And she was right.  Things were looking up.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Giving The Girlfriend Socks

This is a close-up of the heel flap reduction on the Girlfriend Socks.  The specific reduction technique is easy, and I really like the look.  It makes a neat line with no holes where the fabric changes direction and tension.  (The pattern is in the Knit Simple Knitting Workshop booklet.) The Girlfriend received hers today, and seemed pleased.  This photo has the colors pretty well down, which is half the fun of these socks, in my opinion.

They're roll-top socks, and have a slip-stitch heel for durability.  The kitchener stitched toes, once the scourge of my existence, were achieved through obsessive You Tube video lessons.  The yarn is the lovely Schaeffer Nichole, and the  needle size is US 2.5.

On the Brioche stitch project I cannot claim as much success.  I have done well with the one color brioche swatch.  I then cast on my reversible scarf project.  I'm having a little trouble fully understanding what I am to do for the set up row and for row 1.  The designer may have written it perfectly and I am overthinking it, or she may have given sparse instructions where I need the gaps filled in.  I'll be trying again tonight, and I'll let you know!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Brioche Experiments

I tried to relearn brioche stitch yesterday.  This photo represents my attempt, unblocked, mistakes and all. It was a hand made light worsted weight yarn, knit on 7s, then 5s.

I decided to start with a one yarn brioche swatch to get my brain around how brioche works. (The pattern I'm working towards is in two yarns.)  My knitting paranoia immediately kicked in.  I knit a few rows, didn't see what I expected to see, and ripped back and started again.  I did this three times.  I was getting nowhere, fast. 

I still  didn't trust it, and made some mistakes, but I didn't rip again. Then I got engaged in a conversation, and voila, it was fine! (Funny that I always do better when I stop thinking.) When I looked down at the work, I liked it.  Then I decided to try it on 5s.  A few more mistakes happened ( I didn't say made them **looking around suspiciously**) but I liked it better a little tighter.

Now that I get the concept, on to two color.  Then on to the scarf.  Then the vest.  It's a lot of prep for one little vest, but I'm so excited to put a new skill in my toolbox I don't care!  I hope if you don't do brioche stitch yet you'll try it.  Use this link to a YouTube video tutorial.  A written plan can be found in Vogue Stitchionary One, and The Encyclopedia of Knitting. Try it!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Camelids, free pattern

First things first - the Girlfriend Socks are done!  They are photographed, but I won't post the pics until the intended recipient has them in hand.  (I don't want to ruin the surprise!) I'll miss using the Shaeffer Nichole sock yarn, as it is a pleasure in color, texture, and fabric.  But I'm moving on.

Right now I'm having a romance with camelid products - alpaca, camel, guanaco, llama, suri, and the other fibers from the camel family.  They come in light and heavy, long staple and short staple, breathable, wicking, stain resistant, and more. For folks like me with a wool allergy, they are a huge relief.  They allow us to knit soft snuggley things without itchy hands!

This is exciting for me because I'm about to launch into an alpaca project for me.  I don't knit for myself very often (it's very hard to fit me in!) and have chosen a brioche stitch vest.  Since I haven't done brioche stitch since I learned it 20 years ago, this is a bit of an undertaking.  I've chosen to precede it with a brioche stitch scarf to even out my stitch and tension before I launch into my vest. The pattern can be found here.  I haven't cast on yet, and have a nutso day today, but I'm hoping to get into it tomorrow.  I'd love company if anyone is in the mood for a knit-along!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thank You, Makers of Lysol

My dear friend Colleen has been sick for the last week or so.  Though she's mostly miserable, she is "getting a lot of knitting done."  Really?  While I applauded her incentive to make the most of her down time, I couldn't help remembering the blankets donated to the native Americans by the pilgrims.  You remember - the ones contaminated with Scarlett Fever?

Well, of course I was too hasty in my teasing of my friend.  As it turns out, I have had pneumonia for a couple of weeks now, and have NO intention of ripping out all the gift knitting I've done on that time.  Christmas will not give me more time just because I'm ill.  (Dammit.)

I have come up with an awkward but effective solution.  I can saturate my knits in LYSOL!  And it imparts a somewhat seasonal pine-y smell, too.  It kills everything, right? 

Another recommendation I've received is to just give the gifts as they are, and use the excuse that I'm a little muddled on cold meds.

From yet another friend, "Give these things to people you really don't like, and then they can get really sick."  This was followed by an evil grin...  Somewhat tempting, but leaving me giftless for the original intended recipients.

I'm going with the Lysol.  Now that I'm on the antibiotics, I'm no longer contagious.  If I decontaminate the knitting, we're gold.  I think.  Gosh, I hope so.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Free Acorn Ornament Pattern

Click here for an adorable pattern by Carmen Rigby-Wilson.  This is an acorn ornament, andit can be made in about an hour.  Make a group of them as a quick display for fall and winter while still celebrating your crafty side.  The photo comes courtesy of Ravelry.  Make 'em and love 'em!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wine With Knitting

I enjoy a glass of wine.  Sometimes two.  And often I enjoy that glass of wine while knitting.  Experts indicate that reds tend to go with red meats and heavy spicing, and whites go with chicken, fish, and mild spicing.  Champagne goes with dessert.  Do different wines go with different knitting?

I would have to say yes, they do.  Whites are served cold, and I think they go well with colorful projects, particularly of a summery nature.  (Chablis and Riesling come to mind.)  If I'm knitting in the summer with white wine, it needs to be a really easy project, though, as I tend to drink the cold wine quickly when it's warm outside.  Not a good combination for intricate stitch work.

Light, bright whites are lower in alcohol, and are fabulous for working a new stitch pattern.  (Beaujolais and Pinots.) It still feels like you're relaxing with a glass of wine, but you can think straight, and the bright flavor notes are a nice punctuation to the learning experience.  I find many children's projects work in this category.

Moderate reds like Merlots are my go-to knitting wines.  I like to plop down while dinner is on the stove and have a sip or three and get a few rows done, whetting the appetite for the evening's knitting to come.  I usually have wine left in the glass after dinner, and that works out nicely.  I'll crank out socks or garments or washcloths while finishing the glass.

Big Fat reds (high alcohol Bordeaux and Chianti types) are excellent for ripping back rows to correct a mistake, but not so good for the actual correction.  The corrections may require coffee if you need to get on with it right away!

Let's face it, champagne is just fun.  If you haven't cracked a bottle of sparkling wine in a while, try it the next time you're finished with a project and you're blocking it.  Everyone needs something to celebrate, and finishing your labor of love is a great thing to make a festive occasion.  No one to share with?  Save the leftovers for sauces and sauteing.  Hate that idea?  Invite your knitting friends to come and join you!  (I'm pretty sure I'm free that day!)

Saturday, December 11, 2010


A blogger I read found herself wondering why she is knitting herself mittens since she hates mittens and lives in the southern US.  I understand the question was rhetorical.  I don't understand questioning knitting motives.  Even so, I was grateful to spend a moment thinking about why knit.

Knitting transports us to a place where errors can be fixed and will never show, to places where effort yields beauty, where "when I'm finished with my row" is a reasonable measure of time.  I love that place.  That's enough for me.

I've been having some serious stress in my life lately, and knitting is a refuge.  Every knitting project makes me a better knitter, and eats away at myriad life stressors.  I think I would knit picture frame cozies (or doggie chew toys) if those were the only knitting option left to me. 

I have no babies, but make occassional baby things.  Not even as gifts.  I've made a couple and later sold them at the LYS just because I had the urge to make baby things.  I've made useless (but adorable) miniatures, single mittens while writing patterns, and sweaters for decidedly unchilly stuffed animals (not for kids, my own). 

I knit because I'm a knitter.  Anybody need a knitted iPod case?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Spa Gifts - Free Pattern

I'm giving this gift myself. Washcloths and face cloths seem to have gone the way of rotary phones.  Yet very little is as good for the skin as simple friction with a gentle organic soap.  All the chemical cleansers and exfoliants are great money makers for cosmetic companies, but at most high end spas you'll find simple cleansing and moisturizing as the treatments of choice.  (Think clay masks and cucumber eye treatments.)

If you're looking for a quick last minute gift, try beautiful washcloths and artisan soaps.  Two handmade cloths wrapping some fine handmilled soaps and tied with a ribbon would make a lovely gift for anyone on your list.  (Modern men are into skin care, too.) Add a candle or two, and it's a spa experience you can even tuck into a stocking!

Use some organic cotton or bamboo fibers, and these cloths will gently exfoliate skin.  Choose a boutique artisan soap that fits your friend's personality: chocolate, olive oil, lavender, and oatmeal are all popular handmilled soap types.  (If you're in the Buffalo NY area, stop in to Village Artisans on Main Street in Williamsville for a lovely selection of soaps and candles.)  Or coordinate soap and candle colors to the yarn colors used for a pretty visual. Need something more substantial?  Add a pedicure brush or a facial brush, bubble bath, and a natural moisturizer.  Enjoy! 

Socks and Cookies

I have learned that my tiny-footed friend reads this blog.  This means no pictures of the socks, because though she knows what her gift is, at least she doesn't know what it looks like.  Yet.

On cookie news, 5 more dozen today after 13 dozen on Sunday.  I am a flour-coated elf with dishpan hands.  Dishpan hands snag yarn, but it's for a good cause, and I will persevere.  Soon the cookies will be done and I can devote my full free time to my knitting once again.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cookie Time

I've ripped the girlfriend socks back to the problem area, and have made over an inch of forward progress.  Now it's time to bake Christmas cookies, and I can work on the socks in the down time between putting the batch in the oven and pulling them out.  This will be the first time I've combined these two activities.  I will consider it a success if the knitting stays out of the oven, and the cookie dough stays off the knitting.  (As some of you know, the knitting has gone into the oven before, with disastrous results!)  I will post a photo of some of the cookies and the sock progress over this weekend.  I'll also update whether I recommend this combined activity.  Have a great Saturday!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Free Pattern for a Boy Sweater

This is an adorable sweater for the man/boy in your life.  You can make it in any kind of colorway, and as it is knit in blocks, you could add any or subtract any colors you want. 

Make it in a solid and it could go to most offices.  Make it in two contrasting tones, and it celebrates the weekend.  Make it in the Mr.'s favorite team colors (Red and Blue for the Buffalo Bills) and it's a multipurpose garment.  (Warmth and spirit in a handmade.  Woo Hoo!)

Make it in a cashemere blend, and it's a luxury he'll never forget.  Make it in baby alpaca, and it's warm enough for outerwear, even here in the Buffalo area. 

Have fun with it.  Take pictures.  I'd love to see them!

Tiny-footed Sock Model

Well, I found her!  A model with a tiny foot tried on my "girlfriend sock", and the verdict was negative.  The sock, though adorable, is too tight.  The modifications to the pattern have created an attractive but useless garment. Damn.  And so close to Christmas.  I still have to make two of them, and get them out to said girlfriend before the big day.  I guess this is where I pull up my big girl panties and frog my brains out.

It's painful, though. I was really happy to finally have gotten what was in my head into the sock, and now I have to go back to a standard pattern so that I can get them both done.  All the other knitting projects need to wait patiently, but right now I can hear them calling me with vigor.

Patience seems to be my eternal karmic task to learn and possess.  So far I suck at it.  After the temper tantrum I'm about to have, I'll make some dinner, and settle in to ripping out this sock.  I hope all of your knitting is going much more successfully.  :)