Tuesday, December 21, 2010

50,000 Winner

Thank you all for visiting my blog and for your kind words about my books!

I drew a name while waking up with a cup of coffee. Lisa from Mississippi wins a copy of Color Style. Lisa, email your address to me at annbudd@annbuddknits.com and I'll get it in the mail to you (but maybe not until next week).

Hmmm, I wonder what I'll do when the clicker hits 100,000...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Getting Close

The 50,000-hit drawing should take place soon!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Count Down to 50,000!

Actually, we're counting up to 50,000, but the days are counting down to that goal. The clicker (at the bottom of this page) is at 49,485 as I write this on Friday evening. At the rate it's been going, my blog will register 50,000 visitor hits in just a few days.

Help me celebrate and post a comment the day the clicker turns to 50,000. You'll have to check back to make sure you post on the correct day. On that day, tell me your name, the state where you live, which of my books you'd like to win, and why. Please post a separate comment for each book you'd like. (Go to my website to see a list of my books.) I'll put the names in a basket and draw a winner. I'll post the name of the lucky winner the following day. If I don't hear back from the winner within 3 days, I'll choose another name and that person will have 3 days to contact me. I'll keep going until I have someone to ship the book to!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We Have a Winner

I'm happy (and relieved) to say that Debbie #2 from Massachusetts has claimed her prize of Knitting Green from the Thanksgiving raffle. Debbie, your book will go out tomorrow.

Remember that I'll do another raffle when my block-hits clicker (at the bottom of the blog page) turns to 50,000. It's at 47,601 now. To be eligible, simply post a comment on the day it reaches 50,000 telling me which book you'd like and why. One entry per book please. And please, if you enter, be sure to check to see if you win!

While I've been waiting to hear from Debbie #1 and Debbie #2, I've been learning to spin thread. My friend, Lori, sent me an adorable miniature Turkish spindle from Thomas Creations. The spindle is just 4 1/2" long and weighs a mere 0.7 ounces. The shaft is made from olive wood and the whorl is made from Lignium Vitae (whatever that is). Spinning thread is easier than I thought--the spindle won't even spin if I feed it too much fiber. I have no idea what I'll do with such fine yarn; for now, I'm content to know that I can make it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Alternate Winner

I still haven't heard from Debbie, the winner of Getting Started Knitting Socks so I drew an alternate name. The lucky winner this time around is also Debbie. But this Debbie asked for Knitting Green on 11/25/10 at 6:46 Colorado time. Debbie, please email me at annbudd@annbuddknits.com to give my your mailing address and I'll send the book right away.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Desperately Seeking Debbie

It's been more than a week since I announced Debbie as the winner of the Thanksgiving drawing and I still haven't heard from her. Debbie, I have a copy of Getting Started Knitting Socks all ready to send you, but I don't know where you live. Are you toying with me?
If I don't hear from Debbie by midnight 12/11/10 (isn't that a cool date?), I'll do another drawing from the same list of commentees. But honestly, I hope to hear from Debbie first.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

As some of you know, I've been working on a book called Sock Knitting Master Class, which will be out in the summer of 2011. In addition to 17 sock patterns by master sock knitters, this book contains insights into how those designers (including, but not limited to, such notables as Cookie A, Kathryn Alexander, Cat Bordhi, Nancy Bush, Evelyn Clark, Anne Hanson, Meg Swanson, and Anna Zilboorg), went about creating fantastic socks. It's a smorgasbord of inspiration and technique, whether you like to work with cables, stranded colorwork, lace, twisted stitches, slip stitches, intarsia, shadow knitting, or entrelac and whether you like to work from the top down or from the toe up. The cover (below) shows just one of the innovative designs (this one's by Deborah Newton) you'll find in the book.

The book is in production now, which usually means that an author's work is mostly done. But notice the red circle in the lower right quadrant? It says that an instructional DVD will be included. I met with the folks at Interweave today to go over the contents of said DVD. Taping is scheduled for January 11, 2011, and I don't mind admitting that I'm in a bit of a panic. Not only do I have to knit a boatload of samples in order to describe various stages of various techniques, but I have toTALK in front of a CAMERA. Despite my fears that this is going to be detrimental to overall book sales, I'm told there's no getting out of the taping. But, between you and me, it's perfectly fine for you to buy the book and never watch the DVD. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Finished Project!

I finished knitting the triangular shawl that I started while visiting my father in the hospital, worked on at the Knitter’s Review Knitter’s Retreat, and finally finished last week. The shawl requires 4 skeins of Quince Tern (a fingering weight yarn that’s 75% soft wool and 25% tussah silk). It follows a simple 8-stitch pattern that is repeated for 6 rows, then offset for the next 6 rows. The edging is worked simultaneously with the body of the shawl, then incorporated into the bind-off edge to be continuous around all three sides. 

When I took the piece off the needles, I was surprised to see that the bind-off edge (which I thought would be the straight side at the top of shawl but forms the two ruffly sides in the photo below) produced a more pronounced “V” shape than the two selvedge edges (the two straighter edges in the photo). Veteran triangular shawl knitters probably know to expect this, but I was afraid that my triangular shawl would have four corners.

With a bit of a sinking feeling, I soaked the piece for 20 minutes, spun out the water, and set about blocking it. The thing about blocking lace shawls is that it’s absolutely necessary, but it’s fussy work that takes a lot of time and requires a large, empty space. My friend Lori has an entire bin of finished lace shawls (at least 20) that just need ends woven in and blocking. She says she prefers knitting lace shawls to blocking them, and after inserting blocking wires through every blessed edge stitch, I understand what she means.

Fortunately, the wires did their job—the stitches opened up beautifully and a perfect triangular shape was revealed. Unfortunately, the shawl was just too big for me to get a decent photograph, even when standing on a step stool. You’ll have to wait until Quince’s photographer Carrie Bostick takes a professional photo. This is the first project on my list of things to do for Quince & Co (see November’s post titled Back to Knitting)—it should be available from their website in a few weeks.

By the way, I still haven’t heard from Debbie, the winner of Getting Started Knitting Socks. Please, Debbie, contact me so I don’t feel like the girl who hosted a party that nobody attended!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lucky Winner

The winner of the Thanksgiving book raffle is “Debbie”, who asked for Getting Started Knitting Socks on November 27 at 10:04 am. Debbie, email your mailing address to me at annbudd@annbuddknits.com and I’ll get the book to you. I enjoyed this raffle and was interested to see which books are most in demand—the most-requested books were The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns, The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns, and Knitted Gifts.

For those of you who did not win this time—keep in touch. I noticed that the little clicker at the bottom of my blog page says that there have been 45,763 hits since I started my Blog last January. I’ll do another raffle for the people who post comments the day the clicker turns to 50,000! 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Pause for Thanks

Normally, I’m not all that keen on Thanksgiving. I don’t particularly like turkey and I just can see the point in cooking all day so everyone can eat too much and end up beached on the couch or floor for the evening. 

But this year is different. I am exceedingly grateful to serve up a complete turkey dinner to both of my parents. This will be their first outing since my mother broke her hip in September. I’ve cleared the furniture to make room for my mother’s wheelchair and my father’s walker and I promise to sweep up all the dust bunnies before they arrive. And I’ve planned the best dinner ever! Last week I ordered a complete Thanksgiving dinner from Trattoria on Pearl, a Boulder restaurant owned by the parents of kids that have been in school with my boys since kindergarten. They delivered (yes, I didn’t even have to leave the house) the full dinner late yesterday: a 12-pound turkey soaked in an herb and spice brine, stuffing, sweet potato gratin, mashed potatoes, green beans in balsamic-shallot butter, gravy, homemade cranberry sauce, homemade bread, and pumpkin crème caramel. All I have to do it put the turkey in the oven 3½ hours before I plan to serve, then add the other dishes to the oven at specific times so that it all turns out warm and ready at the same time! I’m still chuckling at my cleverness.

And to celebrate this season of thanks, dear readers, I’m hosting a raffle for the Ann Budd book of your choice. All you have to do is tell me which of my books you’d like and why (the “why” part is essential). Please, only one entry per person per title, but you can enter for each title you'd like. Check out my website to see a complete list of my books. I’ll draw a name and announce the lucky winner Wednesday, December 1, 2010. May you all be spoiled brats!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why I’m a Spoiled Brat #12

As some of you know, I had to cancel my first trip to SOAR (Spin-Off Autumn Retreat; sponsored by SpinOff Magazine) this October because my parents were not doing well health-wise. Being a new spinner, I was disappointed to miss out on all the friendship, lessons, fiber, and tools that I’m sure I would have brought home with me.
But my friend Sarah (who I was to room with) just gave me a surprise souvenir of  several ounces of a luxurious blend of Polwarth (?) and silk as well as an adorable little crocheted bag decorated with llamas. Now think about this—I finked out on sharing a room with Sarah and she came back with gifts! The balance is definitely tipped in my favor on this one.
I don’t know when I’ll get to spinning the fiber—I’m dreadfully behind on my editing work—but in the meantime, I‘ve got the bag on my desk and smile whenever I look at it.  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Back to Knitting

Thank you all for your concern and good wishes for my parents. My father gets to go home today (after the better part of four weeks in the hospital!). My mother is holding steady in the health care center. I am knitting again. Here's a photo I took of them on my father's 89th birthday last February (I knitted that sweater for him in 1980 and he still wears it almost every day in the winter).

I spent last weekend at the Knitter’s Review Knitting Retreat (in western MA), hosted by the Clara Parkes herself. I taught a morning class on cast-on techniques, and afternoon class on bind-off techniques, and another morning class on the mathematics of knitting (which really should have been named “Intro to Sweater Design”). I had been nervous because I hadn’t spent much time prepping for the classes, but they went well. I did some serious yarn shopping, too. There were booths for Quince & Company, Foxfire Fiber, String Theory, Spirit Trails, Briar Rose, and Kathryn Alexander yarns. I am keeping a positive outlook that my parents will stay healthy and let myself get yarn to make several pairs of socks as well as three (3!) sweaters.

Now, I am in Portland, Maine, where I’m staying with Pam Allen, the Queen of Quince. This morning I got to see my purple scarf photographed (by Carrie Bostik Hoge). It is knitted with Tern, a wool-silk blend, and will be available on the Quince & Co website as soon as it gets tech edited.

Then I got to tour the warehouse. Just look at all those bags and bags and boxes and boxes of yarn. Talk about heavenly fumes!

I had so many ideas of what to do with the yarn that I agreed to knit a new project for Quince every four to six weeks.
Here’s the tentative list of what I plan to knit in the next year:
1.     Not-Very-Lacy Shawl out of Tern
2.     Textured Cap out of Lark or Osprey
3.     Girly Baby Sweater out of Tern
4.     Baby Socks out of Tern
5.     House Socks out of Puffin
6.     Child’s Chunky Sweater out of Puffin
7.     Baby Sweater out of Chickadee
8.     Cabled Socks out of Chickadee
9.     Cabled Hand Warmers out of Lark
10.  Cowl with Decorative CO and BO out of Tern
11.  Reversible Scarf out of Lark

Now that I’ve announced all these projects, I'll feel compelled to finish them. I’ll keep you posted as I make progress, one project at a time.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mia Culpa

Over the summer I worked out instructions for toe-up socks that look just like top-down socks. The pattern was made available on the Quince & Co website a couple of weeks ago. Problem is, I failed to specify the type of cast-on to use. I am such an idiot!
You should use a method that casts on stitches for working in the round such as Judy's Magic Cast-On or the Turkish/Eastern Cast-on. You can find instructions for these methods online through a Google search.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Making Progress

I managed to finish the scarf I've been working on for the last few weeks in between hospital and nursing home visits. I used Quince & Co Tern in a lovely grape color (I'm sure it has an inspired name but I can't find the label). I used size US 5 needles and about 1 1/2 skeins of yarn. This yarn contains 25% tussah silk, which gives the yarn a marvelous heathery appearance. I still need to write up the instructions, then the pattern (and yarn) will be available through Quince & Co soon.
Next up is a triangular shawl in my favorite olive green color.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Check it Out

Even though I’m not knitting much these days, the multi-size, multi-gauge toe-up sock pattern that I worked on earlier this summer got posted on the Quince & Co website yesterday. It's included with the patterns for each of the five Quince yarns. Buy the pattern—I’m buying a lot of gas these days to visit my parents.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your good wishes where my parents are concerned. Both and stable and on the road to recovery. We’ve arranged for my mother to visit my father today—it will do them both a world of good.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Still Not Knitting

It’s been three weeks since my mother broke her hip and things had just started to settle down so that I felt able to knit again. I'm about half way done with a lace scarf. But the fates have other plans. Monday my 89-year-old father was taking his daily 20-mile bike ride when a woman passed him on the right and caused him to lose his balance and fall. He’s now in the hospital indefinitely with 7 broken ribs and a punctured lung. Obviously, I’m having trouble knitting again. Between visiting my dad in the hospital and my mom in the rehab nursing home, I wonder if I should change careers and become a health-care provider

Monday, October 4, 2010

Not Knitting

My 81-year-old mother broke her hip a couple of weeks ago (when in bed, no less) and the surgery and recovery have been a roller-coaster ride of emotions. In the past, I’ve turned to my knitting in times of stress, so I am surprised that I’ve had little desire to knit. Because I feared she might not survive the surgery, my fingers wouldn’t hold the needles while I kept my father company in the waiting room. As she drifted in and out of awareness in the days that followed, I was too distracted and on edge. In retrospect, I think that I was afraid that I might not keep on top of her early recovery if I let myself drift into a knitting calm. It may also be that knitting is too closely related to work for me and I needed a complete break.
Thankfully, my mother is now settled in a nursing home and I’ve at least partially settled back into knitting—there are still times when my mind wanders and my fingers forget to form the stitches. But I did finish a simple triangular shawl out my spindle-spun yarn (the fleece was a gift from Anne in Reading, PA). I didn’t have enough yarn to include a lace pattern across the top edge, but I was lucky to end with a complete pattern repeat and 6” of yarn to spare.

I’ve also swatched another lace pattern (shown below) with Quince & Co Tern for either a scarf or shawl. I’ll ponder the possibilities when I visit my dear sweet mum today.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Words I Thought I'd Never Say

I am finally tired of knitting socks. In the past two weeks I’ve knitted five pairs of adult medium socks and sample feet for four other sizes. I’m sure my saturation with sock knitting won’t last, but if I find time to knit today after I clean my desk, I’ll bypass my double-points in favor of circulars and cast on stitches for a triangular shawl (if I can find a suitably mindless pattern).

The first photo below shows socks with an 8" foot circumference in Quince yarns at gauges of (from left to right) 4.5 (Puffin), 5.5 (Osprey), 6.5 (Lark), 7.5 (Chickadee), and 8.5 (Tern) stitches to the inch. The second photo shows the feet only in Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Worsted at 5.5 stitches/inch in size (from left to right) 9.5", 9", 7.5", and 6.5" foot circumferences.

Why have I been knitting socks like a fanatic? I’ve been under a self-imposed deadline to generate a toe-up sock pattern for multiple sizes (five) and multiple gauges (ten) for Quince & Co. Unlike the toe-up sock pattern (Working Socks from the Toe Up) I wrote for the Spring 2007 issue of Interweave Knits that features a short-row heel, this pattern looks like a “normal” top-down sock with a padded flap along the back of the heel and gussets along the sides of the instep. This pattern also includes stitch gauges in one-half-stitch-per-inch increments from 4.5 stitches/inch to 10 stitches/inch that gives enormous freedom for working with a variety of yarn weights and needle sizes. I plan to send the socks and pattern to the tech editor today so she can correct all my errors before the pattern is posted on the Quince & Co website. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Red-Letter Day

Today my Abbey Road Socks got posted on the Quince and Company website, along with their new sock yarn Tern (a delightful mixture of 80% wool and 20% silk) and I turned in the manuscript for my next book: Sock Knitting Master Class: Innovative Techniques + Patterns from Top Designers. You can get the sock pattern right now from Quince and Co, but the book still needs to go through all the editing, design, and layout stages and won’t be available until next summer (in time for Sock Summit 2011). I’ll let you know exactly when.
Care to help me celebrate?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thoughts on the G-word

I like to cast on stitches and get started on a project as much as the next knitter, but it’s an inconvenient fact of life that if I don’t knit a gauge swatch first, the project will likely end up the wrong size. Besides ensuring that you’ve chosen the right needle size for the project, a swatch can tell you a lot about how a yarn knits up. You’ll learn if the yarn is sticky or slippery on a particular type of needle or if the pattern stitch is too boring or too fussy for your peace of mind. This allows you to make adjustments in needle type or stitch pattern before you embark on a full-scale project.
But one of my favorite things about knitting a swatch is the opportunity it gives to experiment with different needle sizes. This is particularly useful when I’m designing a pattern from scratch. The ball band on most yarns specifies a particular gauge with a particular size needle. Rather than a rule, I consider this a guideline for what the manufacturer thinks will be a suitable fabric. Depending on the project I have in mind, it’s not unusual for me to disagree with the manufacturer. For example, I habitually knit socks at a tighter gauge than recommended, even when using dedicated sock yarns. Recently, I knitted a long swatch of each of the four yarns available from Quince & Company. Because I expect to knit socks with this yarn, I knitted the swatches in the round, beginning with at least two sizes smaller needles than recommended and ending at a couple of sizes larger. This gave me a nice range of fabrics from very tight (appropriate for socks, mittens, hats, and gloves) to quite loose (more appropriate for airy scarves or shawls). I now have a record of a variety of gauges to choose from when designing socks with these yarns, which gives me more freedom in choosing stitch patterns that repeat over a variety number of stitches.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sock Heels

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve become obsessed with knitting toe-up socks with round heels—the kind that heel that is most commonly used for socks knitted from the top down. I’ve taught a class in toe-up socks with short-row heels for a few years, but some students have requested a more “normal” heel for these socks. To determine the method I like best, I’ve knitted a number of samples to experiment with the methods used by Chrissy Gardiner (Toe-Up! Patterns and Worksheets to Whip Your Sock Knitting into Shape), Wendy Johnson (Socks from the Toe Up), and Melissa Morgan-Oakes (Toe-Up Two-at-a-Time Socks). 

Finally, I think I’ve come up with my favorite variation. To test it out, I knitted one sock from the top down (shown on the bottom), then a mate from the toe up (shown on top). There are only subtle differences between the two—the most noticeable being that the “wedge” on the sides of the toe-up sock is narrower than that of the top-down sock. This is because I worked the increases one stitch in from the edge instead of two stitches in. I’m happy to report that when on my feet, I can’t tell the difference between the two.

I plan to write up instructions for the toe-up version for multiple sizes and gauges. If all goes well, the pattern will be available online this fall from Quince & Company. I'll let you know when!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What I've Been Up To

It’s been more than a week since my last post and I'm feeling a little guilty. Here’s what’s kept me away from my computer.
Last week, our son Alex returned safely from Nicaragua. I'm happy to report that he looks and acts much the same as when he left. He had a fantastic time and is considering returning in a couple of years as a supervisor; he’s already talked on the phone with a few of the families he met. School starts tomorrow so he’s been off with his friends most of the time. I did catch him relaxing in the hammock he bought before he boarded the plane home.

I finished the repeat Beginning Spinning course I signed up for this summer. I have 930 amazing yards of two-ply Corriedale yarn to show for it. I haven’t decided what to do with this yarn—maybe a vest or some tightly knit, highly textured mittens. For now, I’m happy to just admire how clever it makes me feel.

I also knitted a pair of socks with my handspun for SpinOff magazine (it won't be published for a few months) and a pair of gloves for Piecework (which also won't be published for a few months). I bought the fleece for the socks (100% superwash merino) from Traci Bunkers at The Estes Park Wool Market in June. I spun the yarn on a spindle I bought the same day, then plied it with a wheel I borrowed during the spinning class. I purposefully spun the yarn as thin as I could, but after I plied and washed it, it came out more of a sportweight than the fingering weight I was after. To make sure I had enough yarn, I worked a short-row heel (which I believe uses less yarn than the more traditional round heel with gusset). I always count the number of rows in the leg and foot of a sock so that I can knit the mate to match. What I failed to take into account is that my handspun is not as uniform at mill-spun. One of the socks is considerably larger than the other. One of my feet is bigger so maybe this won’t be a problem.
I used the new Quince & Co Chickadee yarn for the gloves. It was a dream to knit with and I couldn't be happier with the stitch definition!

I’ve also been experimenting with different ways to work a round heel on toe-up socks. This is the type of three-part heel that you usually see on top-down socks: heel flap, heel turn, and gussets. I’ve knitted five full-size samples and several small sections of just the heel turn. I’m getting close to working out my favorite method for various sizes and gauges. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Why I’m a Spoiled Brat—#11

Because I changed my name when I married, it’s a little known fact that my mother is Barbara Walker. Not the Barbara G. Walker of A Treasury of Knitting Patterns fame (which would have been fine), but the Barbara S. Walker of ceramics and sculpture fame. When I was a child, my mother took up ceramics and later became a co-owner of The Lodestone Gallery, a fine craft store here in Boulder, Colorado. She made everything from dishes to lamps to Christmas tree ornaments, then in later years she settled into sculpture. Although she tried to get me interested in clay, I always preferred clean crafts such as sewing, knitting, and embroidery. But I am absolutely certain that I was influenced by my mother’s industriousness and creativity. She, as well as my father (who was a college professor), taught me that it is possible to make an income following your passion. Both of them loved what they did. Through the strength of their example, I gave up the corporate world (I had a MS in geology of all things) to pursue a career in fiber. And I’ve never looked back.

Here are a few photos of my dear mum and her sculptures—the last photo is a bust she made of my dear dad. They set the stage for my very good life.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Great New Yarn!

My dear friend and co-author, Pam Allen, has recently started her own online yarn company, Quince & Company. Clara Parkes said it best in Knitter’s Review: Pam's goal is to offer good, basic yarns in a ton of colors, sourced and spun in the U.S., priced reasonably, and backed with excellent pattern support. Those yarns requiring imported fibers (say, silk or cashmere) would be sourced as responsibly as possible. She currently has four yarns (sport, DK, worsted, and bulky), each available in 37 solid colors.

But that’s not all. Very soon Pam will unveil a sock-weight yarn, named Tern after one of the small birds native to Pam’s Maine home. Tern is a round 3-ply yarn of 75% soft U.S. wool and 25% silk added for strength, luster, and luxury. It is ideal for my current obsession for twisted and traveling stitch patterns. Pam sent me a trial skein of the yarn and I just finished the toe-up socks shown here. The pattern and yarn will be available at www.quinceandco.com very soon!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Top Five Knitting Tips

I realized that I haven’t posted anything significant about knitting lately so today I’m giving you five of my favorite knitting tips.
1.     When working with yarn that is at least 75% wool, I join a new ball by splicing the ends together. This is particularly fun to do in front of the uninitiated. Simply feather the ends of the old and new yarn, put both in your mouth to get them nice and wet (saliva is a must for this part—clean water doesn’t have the right enzymes or whatever is needed to make it work), then overlap the ends about 1” in the palm of one hand and rub your palms together vigorously until the two ends felt together. The overlapped section should be close to the same diameter of the original yarn because it has been compressed.
2.     I have always knitted tighter than I purled. This causes unsightly “rowing out” in stockinette stitch worked in rows. For a while, I avoided working stockinette stitch in rows. Then I discovered that if I used a smaller needle for the purl rows, my purl stitches were the same size as my knit stitches. Now I routinely work stockinette in rows with two needle sizes—say a size 6 for knit rows and a size 5 for purl rows.
3.     I use a set of Boye interchangeable needles so that I can use a different size needle tip on each end of the cable when I knit stockinette in rows. Some years ago, I discovered that if I kept the smaller needle tip on the left end of the cable, it was much easier to work in the round. The stitches are made to gauge on the right needle tip, then they slide easier around the cable and onto the smaller left needle tip to be worked on the next round. Because the left tip is smaller, it’s also easier to manipulate the stitches for lace or cables!
4.     To ensure two pieces of knitting are the same length (such as the front and back a sweater, two fronts of a cardigan, or the legs or feet of two socks), I always count rows. Knitting stretches and it’s all too easy to be a few rows off when measuring length. If the pieces are the same number of rows, they will be the same length (as long as they are worked in the same stitch pattern with the same needles, of course). This makes it so much easier to sew seams.
5.     When counting rows of knitting, whenever possible I count purl ridges instead of individual stitches. I like to turn the work over, pull a little on the length of the knitting, then work my thumb up the knitting, counting two purl ridges at a time. It’s much easier on the eyes than trying to focus on one stitch at a time.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Feeling Clever

Since buying a spindle at the Estes Wool Market last month, I’ve spent much more time spindle spinning than knitting. In fact, this may be the longest stretch I’ve ever gone without knitting. Instead, I’ve been spinning fleece that my cyber friend Anne from Reading, Pennsylvania, sent me, as well as fleece I bought at the Wool Market. Not knowing how to ply on a spindle, I just keep spinning more and more singles.

Now I confess to a bit of OCD on my part—I decided to take Maggie Casey’s Beginning Spinning class again this month. I figured that much of what she said the first time went over my head, some because I didn’t realize it was important at the time and some because I was concentrating so intently on what I was doing that I, well, didn’t pay attention. An important part of the class is that students take home a different wheel each week. This is an ingenious way to get students to choose a favorite to buy. Part of my incentive for retaking the class was that I’d have a wheel to ply all of those singles. So instead of spinning new fleece, I spent most of Friday plying all the singles I had accumulated.

Finally, it was time to knit! I ended up with 165 two-ply yards from 2 ounces of red/blue/purple dyed fleece I bought at the Wool Market. I knitted a swatch to determine that I liked it at 6 stitches/inch on size 4 needles. Based on The Knitter’s Handy Guide to Yarn Requirements, I knew I had enough yarn to knit a pair of fingerless mitts. I then followed the mitten instructions in The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns. I worked the cuff, back of hand, and top edging in a k3, p1 rib in which I slipped the center stitch of the k3 column every other round to make a raised rib pattern that wouldn’t interfere with the beauty of the yarn. I worked the back-of-hand pattern on a little more than half of the stitches so that it would completely cover the back of the hand when worn.

What a joy it was to knit with my own yarn! I had been advised that handspun yarn had more life than store-bought. No kidding! The yarn had the most amazing “boing” as it formed stitches—I think each stitch had a life of its own (maybe I put a little too much twist in the yarn?).

Next up: a shawl from the 257 yards of yarn I spun from 8 ounces of fleece that Anne from Reading PA gave me! (Perhaps I'm entering my red phase.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Walking Aids

My sister and brother-in-law came to visit for the last week. They live in Nashville, Tennessee, and are always eager to escape the southern heat and humidity. Happily, we’re having a cool spell here and the high temps have been in the low 60s. My brother-in-law “Bob” has Parkinson’s disease and uses a walker to get around. When it gets cold, he needs to wear socks, but socks can be slippery on wood, tile, or linoleum floors. Bob has tried many types of no-skid socks but he complains that none are as comfortable as the socks I’ve knitted him over the years. 
This year, I bought a pair of leather soles for making mukluks at my local yarn store, then sewed them to the bottom of a pair of his handknitted socks. I made the socks for him back in 1994 when Nancy Bush’s Folk Socks book came out (these are the Ukrainian Socks; he chose the pattern). Bob is delighted—the socks are comfortable, he doesn’t slip, and we’re all a little more secure in his ability to move about. I encourage you to do something similar if there is a walker-dependant person in your life.
I had planned to wash these while they were here, but they were always on his feet (and I forgot). I can see I’ll have to make another pair so these can get washed!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Featuring Feet

I spent three days last week at the photo shoot for my upcoming book, tentatively titled Designing Handknitted Socks. As much as I’d like to take credit for all the amazing socks that will be included in this book, I’m even happier to report that most of the socks were knitted by true sock divas, including Cookie A, Cat Bordhi, Nancy Bush, Evelyn Clark, and Anna Zilboorg. I don’t want to let the cat entirely out of the bag (or handknitted sock) so I’m not going to reveal all of the designers just yet.

Photo shoots can be grueling in the best of circumstances, but socks add their own hurdles. For one, feet are as far away from the head as they can be. That makes it hard to include the rest of the body in the image if the socks are to be the focus. Second, there just aren’t many ways to photograph feet that look natural. The challenge is to come up with images that are interesting, inviting, and informative.

Thanks to Joe Hancock’s ability to get down and dirty, I think the images for this book will be creative and fun. Here are a few photos I took of Joe taking photos. This is one shoot where I might have liked to be a model.

Thanks to Joe Hancock’s willingness to get down and dirty, I think the images for this book will be creative and fun. Here are a few photos I took of Joe taking photos. This is one shoot where I might have liked to be a model.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dumb Luck

For the past 9 months, our 17-year-old son Alex has been preparing to volunteer in Nicaragua this summer through a program called Amigos de las Americas. The organization has paired teens with community-based initiatives in Central America for well over 40 years. Alex has attended monthly meetings since last October and the entire family has volunteered for fundraising, which included selling and delivering(!) 190 20-lb boxes of oranges and grapefruit.

Alex was scheduled to leave today. Or so we thought. Around noon yesterday I got a phone call from the other Denver-based volunteer assigned to Nicaragua. She was at the airport wondering where to meet us. This is the stuff of nightmares—Alex had misread his ticket and we were all a day off. Fortunately, Alex was at home, but still in bed. I woke him up and after a panic-filled 15 minutes, he was packed and we were on our way to the airport. Miraculously, we made it in time. I figure that the universe must really want him to be in Nicaragua this summer or one of many variables would have misaligned and he would have missed the flight.

I had planned to take a photo of him as he walked down the causeway to the plane, but, well, I forgot my camera in the hustle. So, with very little fanfare, my first-born has taken off to the wilds of a third-world country to teach English and (we think) help train villagers in water purification. When he returns in mid-August, he’ll be 18 years old and a legal adult. Is it trite to wonder where the time has gone?

I was a wreck by the time I got home from the airport. First, I treated myself to a big piece of carrot cake leftover from Father’s Day dinner.

Then, I calmed myself by spinning on my new Maggie spindle.

I'm still a wreck 24 hours later; I probably won't recover until he returns in August.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Tour of Brown Sheep Company

This week a few friends and I played hooky and took a tour of Brown Sheep Company in Mitchell, Nebraska. None of us had toured a big operation before. It was impressive. The wool (all from sheep in neighboring states) is washed, cleaned, and carded in a mill in South Carolina, then sent to Nebraska to be blended, spun, dyed, and wound into perfect balls or skeins.

Our tour guide, Donna, took us through the mill where we got to see each step of the process. For privacy reasons, cameras are not allowed in the mill so you'll have to believe me when I say that the machines are big and noisy, but impressive in their speed and efficiency. I can't remember how much yarn is produced in a day, but it looked like about twenty 5-pound skeins were processed at a time at each station. Something like 500 pounds of yarn can be vat-dyed at a time -- they were dyeing a nice dark red the day we were there. The all-around best selling color is black (go figure), followed by white, cream, and gray. We didn't think to ask what was the most popular dyed color.

You probably know that dyeing takes a lot of water. After a couple of years of research, the company has installed a state-of-the-art water filtration system. They are able to remove the dye particulates from a dyebath, then store the hot water to use again for the next bath, even if it's a different color.

The final stage of production is attaching the ball bands. This is probably what impressed me the most about the operation. After all those perfectly calibrated machines and processes, a person examines each ball or skein is individually examined before putting on the ball band. Except for the Lamb's Pride bands (which are secured with a machine), each band is manually taped around the ball. When we questioned this labor-intensive process, Donna told us that it was the best way to ensure quality. If there is a knot or if the ball looks less than perfect in any way, it goes into the "seconds" pile.

And where do those "seconds" go? The mill has it's own yarn shop where they are sold by the pound at a significantly reduced price. You or I wouldn't be able to tell what's "wrong" with these skeins, but Donna says that's because they work so hard to maintain the highest quality possible. In addition to balls that have visible knots, you can also buy yarns where the dye is a little off. So, we loaded up. That's Donna at the counter and packing our yarn in bags.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Estes Park Wool Market

The annual Estes Park Wool Market was last weekend. Normally, it’s deathly hot during this weekend, which typically coincides with Father’s Day. This year, it was cold (40 degrees Fahrenheit) and rainy (rivers are close to flood stage). Except for four very drippy yaks in a mud-soaked pen, I didn’t see any livestock outside. The food vendors, however, were trying to stay warm and dry under large tents. I bought a delicious crepe with blue cheese, spinach, and walnuts that I covered with a couple of napkins until I could find cover.

But I digress.

The real reason I went was to pick out the perfect spindle, now that I’ve caught the spinning bug. I made a beeline to the Magpie Woodworks both where I’d been informed that I’d find the finest spindles ever made. In addition to spindles, they offer handcrafted niddy-noddies, nostepide,  sewing needle holders, bowls, and other things I couldn’t identify. I chose a perfectly balanced top-whorl spindle made of cherry. It spins forever without a single wobble.

Once I had the spindle, I asked the esteemed Maggie Casey (who happened to be at the Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins booth—she’s co-owner, doncha know) to point out appropriate fiber for a newbie like me. I picked up 4 ounces of handdyed superwash merino from Bonkers Handmade Originals (definitely a pair of socks), 2 ounces of a silk/camel blend from Skaska Designs (a lace scarf once I learn to spin thin enough), and 2 ounces of Australian Bond Sheep from Gleason’s Fine Woolies, which I spun before I thought to take a photo. This is destined to be a pair of fingerless mitts. Now I'm kicking myself for not getting one of the magpie hand-carved bowls to use as a backdrop for it all.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Touching the Sun

Of the many essays in Knitting Green, Touching the Sun Through Fiber is the most meditative. It is written by Carmen S. Hall, a dear personal friend and sometime spiritual mentor. Carmen doesn’t have her own blog, so I’ve invited her to share her thoughts on how she “touches the sun” through knitting.
Here's Carmen:
My family and I just finished driving from Colorado to Cape Cod. I, of course, brought along a knitting project to pass some of the hours, but this project was not planned with my usual attention to detail . . . and it didn’t take long for me to realize that this lack of attention was precisely what enabled me to have a sun-touching knitting experience.  
Normally, I spend a lot of time selecting the fiber with which to knit. I then spend a lot of time selecting just the right shade. Then, I agonize over selection of just the right pattern. Finally, I studiously analyze the gauge swatch to make sure the needles are exactly the right size. At last, I’m ready to cast on.
My recent travel project involved none of this prep work. In fact, yarn and pattern were selected rather blindly. If you’ve ever had the good fortune to travel to Taos, New Mexico, you may have met Martie Moreno, owner of the Taos Sunflower, which has morphed into the Taos Sunflower Too on Etsy. If not, you can get to know Martie through her blog at www.taossunflower.blogspot.com. I could write several pages on Martie’s humanity and explosive creativity—simply knowing that her footprints are set on this planet at the same time as mine gives me deep comfort. Recently, Marty posted about some of her handspun: “I don’t know how to begin to tell you about this skein. It was my passion for an entire week. I have approximately 28 hours spinning and plying time invested in it, and my goal was to try to spin something close to a lace weight, just for the fun of it.” With that introduction, I honestly didn’t care what the yarn looked like—I knew it would be full of seriously good juju and I bought it on impulse. 
A week later, I happened to be celebrating a dear friend’s 50th birthday along with a group of amazing friends (including Ann Budd). We visited a local yarn shop together and were having one of those rare and wonderful times possible only amongst true friends and confidantes. At the shop, I saw a pattern for a    lace shawl (called Traveling Woman and designed by Liz Abinante and available at http://feministy.com) and without so much as a close examination, I paid the copy costs and put it in my bag. Then, with only a cursory gauge swatch, I started knitting the described pattern with Martie’s yarn. 

I immediately understood that I was creating something special—I was touching Martie’s spirit at the same time as I was surrounded by women who mean so much to me. It was a powerful sense of time shared with people who bless my life and, I realized, I was knitting this very experience! No doubt, this shawl is destined to be one of my favorite projects…ever. I’m glad it’s still on the needles and, like a favorite book, I’ll be sad to see it come to a close. However, I rest easy in the knowledge that I can touch a beautiful spinner and deeply treasured friends and can wrap myself in this kind of warmth and goodness whenever needed. Yes, I am touching the sun.  --Carmen S. Hall

Saturday, June 5, 2010

More on Knitting Green

KnittingDaily.com is sponsoring a 10-Day Blog Tour of Knitting Green, which will include stops with many of the book essayists and contributors. The timing couldn't be better.

A couple of days ago, my sister called to rave about Knitting Green. The idea for Knitting Green came about when she visited and we mused about what my next book might be. Initially, we focused on the projects--things like shopping bags to replace paper or plastic bags; kitchen cloths to replace paper towels; and of course, sweaters, shawls, socks, and scarves to replace turning up the heat. But as the book took shape, I wanted to include something about the ecological dilemmas surrounding the yarn itself, similar to the issues brought up in The Omnivore's Dilemma, in which Michael Pollan investigates the carbon footprint of four very different meals.

Although she leaned to knit before I did, my sister didn’t take to it in the same way and I'll wager she hasn’t picked up needles for a couple of decades. But I was interested to hear that even as a non-knitter, she found the book interesting and informative. Besides pointing out her favorite projects (ones that I suspect she hopes I’ll knit for her), she was most enthusiastic about the articles. Like a lot of people, she hadn’t given much thought to the “greenness” of knitting other than the idea that it was more ecologically sound to make something yourself than buy it a big box store. Before reading Clara Parkes’ essay The Gray of Green, she hadn’t considered that yarn itself has a carbon footprint, which can vary greatly depending on how the fiber was raised, processed, and distributed. I don’t think she’ll ever look at bamboo fiber the same, and she'll certainly expect me to know the origin of the yarn in anything I knit her from now on. She found Pam Allen’s essay The Meaning of Organic equally enlightening. With so many regulatory hoops to jump through, it’s no wonder organic yarns cost a bit more. And she felt that Kristen Nicholas's article Ode to Sheep is essential reading for anyone who gets lamb (or any other meat) wrapped in plastic and styrofoam at the grocery store.

I encourage you to digest the other educational articles in Knitting Green as well. In Darlene Hayes’s article It’s All About the Color, you’ll learn about the joys and pitfalls of natural dyes. A Shop Owner’s Dilemma by Lisa R. Myers offers insight to the practical limitations of running an environmentally conscious shop and explains how you can help your local yarn shop grow in a green direction.

For lighter reading, Sandi Wiseheart considers the difficulties inherent in eco-friendly knitting in It’s Not Easy Knitting Green; Carmen S. Hall offers a meditative look at how natural fibers connect her to past generations of knitters and bring her closer to inner peace in Touching the Sun Through Fiber; former earth-mother Kristeen Griffin-Grimes muses about the days before electricity and there was no time to knit for fun in Knitting Stone-Age Style; and Amy R. Singer suggests ways to use leftover yarn in earth-friendly ways in Too Much of a Good Thing?

For more ecological food for thought, I invite you to join the Knitting Green Blog Tour (sponsored by KnittingDaily.com), where you'll hear from many of the book’s essayists and contributing designers in the days to come. Click on their names and visit them on the dates below:
June 6: Kristeen Griffin-Grimes (Knitting Stone-Age Style, page 109; Caterina Wrap, page 110)
June 7: Kristen TenDyke (Soap Nut Vessels, page 22)
June 8: Mags Kandis (Paris Recycled, page 142)
June 9: Cecily Glowik MacDonald (Solstice Skirt, page 18)
June 10: Veronik Avery (All-(North) American Hoodie, page 50)
June 11: Kimberly Hansen (Knitting enthusiast and reviewer)
June 12: Sandi Wiseheart (It's Not Easy Knitting Green, page 67)
June 13: Carmen Hall (Touching the Sun through Fiber, page 89; Carmen doesn't have her own blog so you'll visit her via Ann Budd)
June 14: Katie Himmelberg (Eco Vest, page 14; Better Baby Rattle, page 56)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Happy Ever After

What you’re about to read is a true story, and like a fairy tale, it has a happy ending.

Last September, while on my annual retreat to Taos and Santa Fe with some of my best knitting buddies, I bought some Marianne Isager yarn to make the Sugar jacket from Marianne’s recent book, Classic Knits. In fact, four of us bought the same yarn (but in different colors) to make the same sweater. I bought extra yarn so I could extend the body beyond my thickening mid-section. We called it the Sugar Jacket Challenge. I lovingly placed the yarn in my to-get-to-next basket while I caught up with other work.

As luck would have it, I got busy and still hadn’t started at the end of October. But as in all fairy tales, fate interfered. In November, I attended Clara Parkes’s Knitter’s Review Retreat in western Massachusetts. One of the requirements was that we each bring a new project to start for ourselves on the last day of the retreat. I resisted the urge to take a pair of socks that were under a deadline and instead, I packed the Isager pattern and yarn in my carry-on bag.

Come Sunday morning, Clara gathered us for some concluding words. Because it was Massachusetts—and therefore because she could—Clara surprised us by conducting a group ceremony to join each of us to our new project in blissful matrimony. We repeated words of commitment and vowed to remain true to our projects to their completion, giving them our dutiful attention and forsaking all other projects (within reason) along the way. Then to seal the union, we cast on our stitches and had “witnesses” (read that anyone else in the room) knit a few stitches of recognition and confirmation.

Despite the hilarity of the situation, I found that this gave the Sugar jacket special significance to me. Not only did I buy the yarn with my closest friends, but I started the project in the most wonderful of environments—a weekend retreat with new-found best friends. I can’t remember everyone who knitted a few stitches on the body of my jacket(I wish I had kept notes), but they included Clara herself, Kathryn Alexander, Melanie Falick, and Anne Hanson.

When I returned home, I continued to give the Sugar jacket as much attention as I could. And I finished just in time to wear it while teaching at Midwest Masters in Neenah, Wisconsin in April. Since then, I’ve worn the sweater most every cool day (and there have been a lot of them this spring). I don’t know when I’ve been so pleased with a garment. If fact, I expect we’ll be happy together for a very long time (though now that I see a photo of it on me, I suspect the sweater will start looking for a more flattering partner).

Monday, May 24, 2010

It’s Official—I’m a Bag Lady

The weather finally warmed up weekend and I decided that my dirty windows were interfering with my view of the sunlight on the flowering trees. So, I spent yesterday washing windows—all 24 of them—inside and out (each with 2 panes, I might add), as well as screens. I have the aching muscles to prove it.

While washing windows may not be notable (unless you’re like my sister who has never washed the windows in her house of 30 years—I’m not making this up, either), I made a startling discovery when I moved various piles and baskets of yarn and projects in order to get to the windows. I unearthed an embarrassing number of knitting bags and baskets.

I counted 17 knitting bags and 5 notions bags. When I sat down to unload the digital photo onto my computer, I realized that there were 3 more bags under my desk! Then I realized that I hadn’t included the handmade bag a friend made that I left in the living room. That’s a lot of bags. I certainly don’t need all these bags, but when I looked at them critically to decide which to donate to charity, I found myself loath to part with any one—each holds memories of a project or an event or a shop that I visited.
And here’s the best surprise—I found a half-knitted sock (along with yarn and needles) in one of the bags. I estimate that the sock has been in this state for two or three years, which brings me to a philosophical question—when does a work-in-progress, otherwise know as a WIP, become an unfinished object (UFO)?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why I’m a Spoiled Brat—#10

Shortly after I posted a blog about learning to spin (New Tricks, posted April 2, 2010), I got an email from a reader named Anne in Reading, Pennsylvania. Anne complemented me on my spinning and asked how I went about starting my blog—she’s considering starting one of her own. Of course I replied, but I had to be honest and say that it was all mumbo jumbo to me without the help of a couple of very smart (read that computer-savvy) friends. I could never have figured it out by myself and I was not at all clever enough to help someone else. In response, Anne thanked me for my sparse information. Then she sent me a box of fiber treats to encourage me to keep spinning—five different kinds of prepared fleece, a pile of silk hankies, a dyeing kit, some beads, and even a twisted glass pendant that Anne made herself!

What Anne doesn’t know is that last week I had to return the wheel and spindle that I had on loan during the 5-week spinning class. What she also doesn’t know is that my husband said quite clearly that he hoped I would not take up spinning because, from his perspective, I can’t keep up with everything else and something important like the laundry or cooking dinner would slip. And he’s got a point—there have been many times when both have suffered as I was absorbed in my knitting, writing, editing, or reading. We both know that I don’t have time to knit all the yarn that I already have (but that’s beside the point).

But, now that I have unspun fleece in the house—and a gift no less—I feel a moral obligation to spin it. I figure that through Anne, the universe is telling me not to give up on spinning. Thank you Anne! The Estes Park Wool Festival is in a couple of weeks and I’m sure that there will be a spindle with my name on it.

Ever since the box arrived, I’ve been humming a line from a song Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music—“somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.”