Friday, March 30, 2007


This is what I want to play with. Color. No fit issues. More color. Little to no wrestling with gauge.

The inspiration came from Cara at January One. As soon as I saw the mitered squares that she was creating, from a pattern in Mason-Dixon Knitting, I knew that I wanted to do something similar. And I'm following her lead: one dominant color for background, and then kismet, inspiration, no rational process, for choosing the contrast colors. You need to go over to her blog to see how fantastic this is. I'm not sure that I'll have the discipline to concern myself with values and brightness and color wheels, though I wish that I did. The point of this project is to wallow in color and enjoy myself.

Along with Mason-Dixon Knitting, I also borrowed Kaffe Fassett's Glorious Color from the library. I'll use the pattern for the mitered squares from Mason-Dixon. And the initial choice of yarns comes from a sweater that Fassett is wearing on the cover of the book: lime green, orange, yellow, blue, red, all together, and glorious.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Cracking the Code on Toffee Bars

I think that I finally cracked the code.

An almost identical duplication of the much-loved toffee bars from that very large conglomerate of coffee shops spread throughout our universe. I hesitate to use the name of the company, as I imagine that it has fleets of lawyers out trolling for trademark infringement. At the tea shop in my mall, they refer to it as "S." You get my point.

But the really important news here is that I finally found a recipe that matches my older daughter's and my favorite treat from there. A blond brownie with some butterscotch undertones, vanilla, chunks of white chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate, and chewy and thick without being too cake-like. In my quest, I've mentioned before that we spent an entire summer researching and taste-testing the real thing and home-made versions without coming up with a match. And here, the internet also failed me; no one, even the websites that focus on making faux versions of everything, even White Castle hamburgers, for pete's sake, had nothing.

So, here you go. Adapted from the Cook's Illustrated baking book, Baking Illustrated, with some changes in proportions and ingredients:

Toffee Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt 1 stick of margarine in a large saucepan. Beat in 2 eggs and 1 1/2 c. light brown sugar until well mixed. Add 1 tsp. good quality vanilla extract. Stir in, only until mixed, 1 1/2. all-purpose flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. baking powder. Stir in 1/2 c. white chocolate bits and 1/2 c. semisweet chocolate bits. Pour into greased 8 x 8 metal baking pan. Bake for about 15-20 min. Remove from oven when toothpick test still has slight crumbs on it. Let cool. Slice into large square bars. Rejoice!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Lanaset Overdyeing and Eveleen

My afternoon project: overdyeing some KnitPicks lace-weight wool from a Koolaid dyeing workshop last spring. I love to dye yarn: it's about as close to magic as you can come.
My approach is less than scientific. Today I mixed two teaspoons of Blue Lanaset powder dye into an emptied single-malt scotch bottle and filled it up to the top with hot water. Then I filled the stainless steel kettle that I use for dyeing (purchased from the hardware store) about halfway full of cool water. Turned on the stove to start to warm the water while the two skeins of wool sat in the sink to presoak. Poured the dye into the stock pot, squeezed the skeins out, added them, and stirred.
I'm slowly bringing the temperature of the dye bath up to a simmer. A very light simmer, just so that I can see puffs of steam rising from the water. Every once in a while, I check the bath and give the yarn a stir with a chopstick. Once it comes to a simmer, I'll hold it there for about 20 minutes. Then, my least learned part of the process, I'm going to add vinegar water to exhaust any dye that the yarn hasn't absorbed. Proportions? Probably about 1/4 cup to another bottle of water. Stove gets turned off, and yarn cools in the dye bath. Once cool enough, I'll carry the stockpot to the basement, dump the dye (if you know of a more ecological process, please let me know!), and rinse the yarn in the old iron sink until the water runs clear. Blot the yarn in old towels, and hang to dry.

Here's the tiny bit of before yarn that I'd luckily set aside. Very Koolaid, though not bad if you like neon colors.
The goal for this yarn? Eveleen, a Rowan top from the fall Magazine Number 40. The pattern calls for 4 Ply Soft. No one in my area carries it, and I'm hoping that a doubled strand of the lace-weight, overdyed, will work as an equivalent. Plus, it gives me an excuse to play with dye.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Promise of Spring

The promise of spring. Seventy-seven degrees today.
Green thoughts, not in a green shade, re Marvel.
Planting on the back porch.

Color and nature and sounds of birds and softer air.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Louisa Harding's Enchanted

I've been wrestling with the dilemma of fit of late. And it stands to reason that I'm having problems:
1. because I don't pay much attention to the schematics of the pattern (the helpful line drawing where the designer specifies how wide at the shoulders, how long the sleeve, and so on)
2. I'm amazingly fussy about fit
3. mainly, what I attend to is the look of the pattern and what bust size would be best for me.

So, I'm going to take a lesson. The goal is to have the teacher help me to read the specs for a pattern and choose the best size for me. And to help me verify my reading of my gauge, because part of the issue may be that I'm getting one gauge for my swatch, and then another gauge once I dive into the actual knitting. And most hopefully, I want to learn how to adapt a pattern to my shape, so that where it runs small and I run larger, or where it runs short and I am longer, that I can figure out where to add and subtract, decrease or increase, so that the finished result works for me.

This is a lot to tackle in one hour. But when have my expectations ever be reasonable? Realistically, I'm hoping that I can learn enough to get myself started, and then come back once or twice more as I work the sweater to check in for advice and more instruction. The pattern I've chosen is by Louisa Harding, from her book, Winter Muse Portraits.
I've not made anything by Harding before, but the owner of my LYS steered me to the book, and it looks like me: lots of cardigans, lots of lace detailing, classic but with a twist through stitch or color work. And Rowan patterns have been the best fit for me, and it turns out (you probably already knew this) that Harding used to design for Rowan. The biggest challenge so far: picking the yarn. The palette that the Harding yarn, called Kashmir DK, comes in is generally pastel-ish and toward the green end of the spectrum. (And no, it's not cashmere, as I discovered when I asked the owner if she would support me in a cashmere habit. It's a soft, springy blend of merino wool, microfiber and a bit of cashmere.) I'm apparently, though I never go by this system, a "winter": best off in deep colors, what the teacher calls "jewel tones" and I call reds and deep fuchsias and maroons and blues. After much playing, I ended up with this rose-lilac shade.

Not a color I've worn before much, but I'm relying on the kindness of strangers, who assured me that it will work for me.

Next choice will be the contrast yarn for the ruffled edges of the sleeves and body. Here again, nothing was calling my name. But the owner stepped in again and suggested a Debbie Bliss Alpaca Silk DK, which I've used and loved, in a near match to the Harding pink. And I trust her color sense: she's the person who selected the additional yarns for the Odds and Ends Swallowtail, and I love the color work in that.

So, first lesson, let go. Trust others' advice. Wow, that one may be even harder than getting a good fit in a hand knit sweater. . .

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Random Beauty from New York State

So lovely. Wouldn't you want to live there?
The yarn comes packaged in a cunning little bag. Here, it sits atop the pillowcases that have been on my loom, half-done, for two years. The beauty of knitting is that it moves faster and is more easily transportable. The beauty of weaving is the texture, the fabric, really an alchemy of some threads and some frames, and then something useful and beautiful.

Revealed in all its glory. Awaiting a plan for execution.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


An old project, inserted here so that I have a record. And because it's pretty. And because it's spring or summer in the photo.
Project: Cloud
Source: Rowan Calmer Collection
Yarn: Calmer
Color: no record, but a soft blue with grey undertones
Source: a yarn store in Oak Park
Size: XS, then blocked like nobody's business, to more of a Small

If I Had It Do over Again: As noted above, I might make a size small - but in general, this one fits just right, after I made a bit more room in the body by blocking. I made a gesture toward buttonholes, and then decided to bail and pin it closed with a silver brooch (that's the only word for this) that I received as a present a while ago. The yarn is extremely soft and surprisingly warm - must be the non-man made portions of the fiber, which make it very comfy but more appropriate for people like me, who are usually cold when everyone else is too warm. One of the first sweaters that I knit, after a Rowan Big Wool turtleneck that I have yet to photograph.

Progress, or something like it, on Bianca's Jacket

Okay, maybe it's me. But I'm starting to think that I'm just not destined, at least this year, to be knitting sweaters. Here, the pieces of the Bianca's Jacket, starting to be knit together at the top into a yoke finish with lace details.

Gauge, check. Measurements, check. Pieces arranged, then re-arranged in the correct order. Before I started the yoke, and that is a first: catching a mistake before I finish. (The Cabled Bolero? One sleeve seamed wrong side out. Ah, it's a design feature, right?) But, again, maybe it's me, but the body parts, so to speak - the fronts and back - look incredibly teensy up against the sleeves. I do like long sleeves that you can tuck your hands up into when it's cold out. However, this looks way out of proportion to my eye.

Here, the sweater laid out as it will be finished.
Looks a bit better, but still a bit lopsided in the sleeve-to-body aspect. Forge on, oh ye knitter, or something like that. Perhaps I'll be creative enough to figure out a way to add a lace border at the hem, if the body only reaches my ribcage, as I'm forecasting.
My most reliable sweater ever knit was a Rowan Calmer sweater that I made last year. (Full disclosure: that one turned out tiny, but I managed to block the living daylights out of it, and now it's perfect.) Perhaps it's time to go back to Rowan. I struggle, I learn lots, and the end result is beautiful. But do all the spring designs need to be made on size 2 needles?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Notes: Odds and Ends Swallowtail Shawl

Project: Odds and Ends Swallowtail Shawl
Designer: Evelyn Clark
Source: Interweave Knits Fall 2006
Yarn: Blue Sky Alpaca, sport-weight (120 yds/skein)
Amount used: 3 skeins (360 yds.)
Source for yarn: Knitche
Needles: size 8 24" and 40" Addi Turbo circulars
Gauge: not checked
Size after blocking: 58" wide by 25" long (measured at peak of triangle), sides 38" long each
Photos: taken at Fullersburg Woods, Illinois, on a Sunday during maple syrup season

If I had It to Do Over Again: I'm fairly satisfied with the result. I love the colors together, and I love that I used something that I had in the house instead of going out and accumulating more yarn. There's something virtuous about making do, and enjoying such a great end-result.
One change would be to use two skeins for the Budding Lace section of the shawl. I had only one skein of green and was allowing the amount of yarn to dictate the size of the shawl. Given how little yarn this used, it would be nice, the next time around, to make it a bit bigger. This size: good for draping around the shoulders, but not quite big enough to wrap oneself up in. Clark's original design is a small shawl, so I'm keeping with tradition. But my preference is for something wide and long enough to burrow into; maybe that's just me.

For those of us who like a very open, lacy shawl, I'd recommend going up to at least a size 10.5 or 11 needle with this yarn. Here, again, personal preference: I like a shawl that feels warm and has some weight and drape to it. Other knitters, in particular my teacher, prefer very open, gossamer-style lace, that just floats when you drape it around you.

My favorite part: the colors. Sorry to go on about this, but I'm delighted to have knit something not blue; to have put the green against the deep pink; to have the lilac (chosen by the owner of my LYS, when I was going with red as the border) being the just-right echo of the color in the middle sections. (I should mention that the green and the deep pink are old colors and no longer available; the border is Vivid Lilac, a current shade.)
If I can resist the urge to give this away immediately (what is knitting but instant gratification, after all?), I'm going to enter it into the little customer competition at my LYS and hope that I win something!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Progress on Odds and Ends Swallowtail Shawl

Bound off. I love this phase of a lace shawl, pre-blocking.

Ruffles at the edge, mountains and hills of lace in the center section. Happy colors, from an acid green that I've never knit in, to a deep fuchsia, to a pale lilac. Why knit in neutrals when you can play with colors like this?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Almost the World's Best Banana Bread

A craving today, for something banana and chocolate. Definitely in contention, though not the gold standard. Especially if you add chocolate chips instead of nuts.
Banana Bread (adapted from The Art of Cooking for Two, Castle and Newton)
Mix together with a wire whisk:
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 T. sour milk (made by adding a tiny bit of vinegar to some 2%)
1 T. fresh lemon juice
2-3 ripe bananas, mashed
Add, stirring only to moisten dry ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. each salt and baking soda
Stir in:
1/2 cup chocolate chips
(You can add some walnuts, too, if you like them. Even better, save a few to scatter strategically on the top and your bread will look amazingly professional.)
Spoon into buttered loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for about one hour, or until a toothpick comes out almost clean. Cover with foil at the end if the top is browned but the inside is still not cooked completely.

Let sit, if you can, until it cools. Again, even better, if you cover it with foil when it cools and wait until the next morning, you'll have the perfect breakfast with a hot cup of coffee. Most of the time, though, this doesn't happen.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Unfinished Business

One would expect, that given the untold hours available at home at the moment, that much would be getting done. Not so. A little bit here, a little bit there, some surfing on the internet to vicariously live through others' knitting and writing, a tiny bit of application to paperwork or phone calls that need to be taken care of. Puritan ethics fighting against general lethargy.

For some reason, it's making me feel better today to chronicle all the unfinished projects in the house. Here, then, they are:
  1. The "In the Sculpture Garden" bag from a wonderful Noni pattern. Handles attached by the shoemaker (he devised narrow leather straps to feed through the end of the acrylic handles and then sewed the straps tightly to the felted base). Many, many flowers made. A pile, a garden of flowers, yet this perfectionist hasn't found just the Right One. Move on, right?

2. What I've named the Odds and Ends Swallowtail Shawl. Evelyn Clark's pattern, on size 8 needles, with leftovers of Blue Sky Alpaca (sport or worsted weight?) from my stash. I love these colors and have been thinking, for a while, of combining them in a shawl. My favorite part: the blue stitch markers against the fuchsia yarn, with the acid green in the background. Coming along. If I can sneak over to the knitting store today for another skein of pink, I'm on my way towards done. Hmm, maybe driving isn't such a good idea two weeks out of surgery? Ah, heck, it's for the knitting, right?

3. Bianca's Jacket. I'd claim the pictures are not to scale, but I was taught never to lie. The back, smaller than the two fronts. The sleeve, so so much bigger. Will this sweater work? This time, I'm bravely following directions and letting the chips fall where they may. I do like sleeves long enough to tuck your cold fingers up into, so there may be some promise here. And a good, mindless pattern, just right for someone fresh into the world again.

4. Another Swallowtail Shawl, this one out of a Noro yarn that I fell in love with. Very early stages, probably might be happier on a larger needle, and there definitely isn't enough of this wildly expensive stuff to finish the shawl. Creative options? Nah, Sugar 'n Creme, no matter how great the Mason-Dixon gals can make it look, just won't work with Noro. This one is on hiatus for now. And Blogger seems to have reached its tolerance for pictures, cause I just can't manage to download any of my portraits of the shawl in earliest stages. look back here for an idea.

5. The Cabled Bolero. Mucho largo. Pienso que necesitamos un sewing machine para completar? (And that's how far I am from connection to this project, that it brought bad Spanish skills back from high school). Wanna finish, just not sure how to.

What I need is a challenge. . .something to bring out that competitive nature. Anyone, game on for setting a goal of finishing half-finished projects by the end of March? Prize could be a skein of something beautiful or perhaps a book? We need at least three competitors to make it happen, no pressure if you don't feel like playing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Best Medicine

Little Miss Sunshine.

Best line: "Everyone, please, just pretend to be normal."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Things to Recommend doing when You are Home from the Hospital

Admiring your new handknit socks, an entirely unexpected gift from Joan. So much on her plate, and she has time to help take care of me.

Reading The Enchanted Castle by E.Nesbit. Magic, dry British humor, almost-orphaned children, things that happen for no reason but make the world straighten up a bit. Harry Potter way before Harry Potter.

Watching Idlewild. In my next lifetime, I'm gonna be a dancer.

Taking walks around the block in the 60-degree weather, hearing the birds, seeing the ice melt. And walking faster than the dog. I was sure that she, as poky as could be, would be walking faster than me.

Eating a tuna fish sandwich with avocado on toasted wheat bread. The first meal since my operation that really tasted good. How odd. Sweet things still taste way too sweet; chocolate just does not work. There's something about the anaesthetic that plays with your perception of sweetness, throwing it way out of whack.

Talking to old friends on the phone. For hours. Laughing enough that you have to ask the caller to stop making you laugh, because your stomach, which is still fairly tender, hurts. But in a good way.

Finding that magic balance of medicine and no-medicine. I'm a lightweight, a cheap date. It doesn't take much of anything for me to feel it. (In college, a few sips of beer. I'd look at my friends and say, okay, I'm there, and they would laugh at me.) You have to keep reminding the doctors and nurses about your weeny response to medicine when they start to prescribe.

Sitting on the couch, looking out at the blue sky, the trees, the birds moving about. Just sitting. Not reading. Not listening to my Ipod. Not watching television. Just sitting.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Elephant Pictures for H

Now, don't get any ideas. I was just kidding about fitting one into the backyard or onto a horse trailer. And no, Tucker does not need an elephant stall buddy. But aren't they great? I love the way that the handler is cradling the ear of the baby. And the elephant painting? Dad swears that when she ran out of paint as she was drawing a line, that she nudged her trainer for more paint, then went back over the line so that it was solid. The first time that I posted these I mentioned a piece of trivia (maybe you've heard it at your work?) that elephants are the only animals that possess the self-awareness to recognize their own images in a mirror. Ancient, smart, and cute.

Sewing Heritages, and a A Dress a Day

I love this blog. Feminism. Fabric. Color. Tools. A sense of perspective and a sense of humor. Beauty, everyday, in the most quotidian of ways. And a how to buy a sewing machine link.

I miss having a sewing machine.
The last one that I owned was a rebuilt model from my father's plant, put back together after a fire. It served many years, and after calling for repair just too many times, was retired. I was a major seamstress in high school: the girl sitting at home, making quilts on Saturday nights. Friends would come over and try to kidnap me, and usually I went, because when you are 16 years old and doing too much machine quilting, something is out of balance. I have good memories of going shopping for fabric with my aunt. She is a master embroiderer, not a quilter or seamstress. But she has a great eye for color, and would lead me to combinations and patterns I might not have found on my own. Then, as now, I tend to work in the colors I like best. Getting me out of my rut: a quilt that combined corals, greens, browns, and beiges. I never wear any of those shades.

Another aunt, who was a painter, taught me to make quilts without a pattern. You start by seaming squares and rectangles of fabric together. You then arbitrarily cut the fabric into two pieces and seam it together once more. The result is a crazy-quilt fabric that is beautiful.
We then used the fabric to make a very simple side-wrap skirt. Maybe Butterick, maybe Simplicity, with a bonded lining a bit too heavy for the fabric.
My aunt had made herself a floor-length skirt to wear with a button-down man's oxford shirt, but mine was above the knee. Ah, the 70s. This aunt taught me not to worry about what the inside looked like:
The other aunt, the embroiderer, taught me that the back of the piece should be as finely done as the front. Hence my finishing issues?

The main use for a sewing machine, these days, would be to hem my weaving. Not that I've been doing any weaving, but if I ever finish the napkins on my loom (I was taught to weave by the painter -aunt), I'll want to zig-zag the edges before hemming. And if I had a machine, I could make wild seams into the Cabled Bolero, cut it up, and make something that works. Perhaps delegating someone in the house to make a trip to Target this weekend?

But first, I'm reading the advice on A Dress A Day about buying a machine.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Notes on Bianca's Jacket, Interweave Knits Fall 2006

The template:
Here's what I've learned so far. Some will be self-evident to the knitter/readers, but heck, why shouldn't we all accompany me on the learning curve? Something makes me want to say "hold hands and everyone stay together."

First up, a detail of the sleeve. The yarn is Sir Galli by Muench, a 100% silk that reminds me of a tussah silk. If you look carefully, you can detect slubs and a variegated thread of brown and beet red against the predominantly honey colors of the yarn. (From a brief investigation, looks like this yarn has been discontinued. I found a good deal at LittleKnits, but could see Rowan Summer Tweed as a great potential substitution.)
Notes on the yarn and pattern:
  • The 100% silk yarn called for has little to no resiliency. Know how wool or even alpaca has a spring to it? You knit it, it stretches and retreats, and then is available for a fair amount of change even in the blocking stage. Silk, not so.

  • The yarn has a dry hand to it, meaning it feels cool and a bit rough to work with, but not unduly so.

  • Gauge becomes more of an issue with an unforgiving piece of yarn. I'm guessing that, when I go to block this, that I will be doing lots of pushing and prodding to get it to the measurements suggested in the pattern.

  • Well-written pattern. No corrections after the fact on the Interweave Knits website. Directions are clear and easy to follow.

  • Don't be a renegade and do this sweater with circular needles. Use the straight needles that the designer, Michele Rose Orne, calls for. The reason, I believe, is that the stitches need to be kept at the same diameter throughout the work so that the gauge stays consistent. Because this yarn lacks the "memory" or spring we'd find in a wool, it needs the crutch of the straight needle's diameter to maintain its shape. Make sense?

  • I saw a huge change in texture when I finally caved and used straight needles for the sleeves. Much more continuity in gauge and texture, because the stitch doesn't open up as it's worked and then flop closed when it slides down onto the cable needle.
    Here's another view of the lace detail on the bell sleeve.
    And now, the elephant in the room, gauge. I swatched it both on size 7 and 6 circulars and could not detect much difference (getting about 16.6 stitches to 4 inches with both, or the gauge called for). I then isolated size 7 bamboo circulars as my main needle (what the pattern refers to as the "smaller" needle.") I made the back on a size 7 bamboo circular, then dropped down to a size 6 metal Addi, then finished with the 7 when it became too much of a struggle. Starting into the right and left fronts of the cardigan, I chose to make one thing in life easy by continuing with size 7 bamboo circulars for the fronts of the sweater. Below, on the right, the more open gauge of the front. The fabric feels a bit flabby. On the left, the more structured fabric of the back, but not comfortable to work.
    The differences are more apparent in this photo. Back on left, front on right. It's all good though. This one is about finishing.