Monday, November 26, 2012

Shaping the Season

"A lovely thing about Christmas is that it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together."                       

                                                             -Garrison Keillor

A week ago I went to the 45th annual Southern Christmas Show.  I hadn’t planned on attending, as a visit years ago to this enormous event held in a huge local convention center fulfilled any need in me to indulge in an excess of Christmas decorations, quirky scarves, and gimmicky kitchen gadgets.  However, one of my closest friends, Lauren, was going out of town and generously gave me two free tickets she'd received and couldn't use. 

Even though I visited the show after a two decades’ absence, oddly enough, my return there didn't impact me with a sense of the passage of years.  This happening is the sort of entity that seems impervious to time.   The displays, food samples, and shops, with a few additions of novelty items, seemed essentially the same as they did years ago.  Also, when I spent time strolling through the show with its Christmas village and holiday shops, I realized that perhaps I was a little too cynical in my anticipatory thoughts about venturing there.  The part of me that actually owns two doll houses (stowed away in my attic and sometimes dragged out at Christmastime) enjoyed the large display of miniatures, and my inner foodie appreciated sampling gourmet items.  This foodie also impelled me to purchase goodies such as maple butter and locally made poppy seed dressing.  The knitting blogger in me, as well, had a grand time getting a look at the handmade and mass-produced knitwear featured at the show. 
The socks and hats are machine made but provide some inspiration for
 cute projects.  The dog sweaters are hand knitted.

From my perusal of various stands and boutique shops, I surmised that animal-themed ear flap hats are all the rage as are scarves, ranging from those made from recycled sweaters to silk ones featuring a Velcro fastener for creative-scarf-wrapping challenged individuals.  I was also able to visit a booth sponsored by Baskets of Yarn, a local shop, although most of the items on display there were yarns and needles designed to make quick knits (types of garments I’ll probably need to do soon if I don’t speed up my Christmas knitting projects).
The animals are crocheted and then sewn onto the tie-dyed T-shirts.  This yarn
was sold at the booth of Baskets of Yarn booth. 

Finally, at the show I also learned that stores or booths with the term “diva” in their name should be avoided by anyone who harbors no desire to own pink polka-dotted hostess aprons, hand towels and pillows with “Wine a Little” or “Born to Shop” embroidered on them, handbags adorned with lots of rhinestone “bling,” or cute flip flops for wine glasses to wear. 

After the sensory overload of the show, the following long Thanksgiving weekend afforded me a change to unwind and afforded me some much-needed respite from my daily routine.  On Thanksgiving morning, I cooked a Pavlova, a recipe I saw featured on Judith Hamid’s blog, I Read, I Sewed, I Crocheted.  In the past I have not been a big fan of meringue (I sometimes scrape it off the tops of pies I'm served), but I am now a convert (at least to the crunchy variety of this food item) and my taste buds are still savoring the memories of this wonderful dessert.  The meringue base is made with egg whites and caster sugar, an ultra-fine substance which makes for a dainty, light, super-sweet, and  crispy foundation which I filled with homemade whipped cream and fresh raspberries and frozen blueberries (from last summer’s crop).  I also made a pumpkin pie, a crab meat-and-artichoke dip, and a wonderful torta made with goat cheese, mascarpone cheese, and smoked salmon.  I used some leftovers from this last dish to make a quiche, which I’ve frozen for a later time (as I don’t think my arteries can handle another high-fat infusion at the moment).
I increased Judith's recipe, using five egg whites instead of two and adjusting
 the other quantities accordingly (through guestimating).
The recipe for this torta can be found at Williams-Sonoma.  I toasted some baguettes
as the recipe suggested, and they went well with this appetizer.  I also sliced some
German pumpernickel bread I'd purchased to serve with it.
Since this is a knitting blog, however, I should perhaps refrain from talking about food and get back to discussing the progress on my latest projects.  Last week, I finished knitting a hat for my niece’s baby, Lucas.  The pattern is from the winter 2012 issue of Debbie Bliss magazine, and the yarn is her Rialto Aran.  I also made progress on a sock monkey (another gift for Lucas) as well as a simple triangular garter stitch shawl.   This shawl is made with Tahki Crystal yarn that I’d bought last spring for a project, and then realized I’d purchased the wrong weight for the pattern.  Using this sequined yarn stranded with lace weight alpaca is creating a beautiful, sparkly, light shawl.  I ran out of the sequined yarn, however, on Thanksgiving Day but was able to find another skein at Rainy Day Creations on Friday.  I’m not certain to whom I will give this item, as I am so enamored of it that I want to give it to someone who will appreciate the time and materials involved.  Of course, I might just wear this shawl over the holidays. . . .

The garter stitch is simple but the rich yarns give this piece complexity. 
The hat is cute, although I made a size the seven-week-old
baby's head isn't quite bit enough for yet.  Creating this hat
 reminded  my why I love Debbie' Bliss's yarns so much.
I also cast on a pair of socks, with a cute heart pattern on them.  I haven’t made socks in over a year and felt that it was time to practice my skills.  Socks are wonderfully portable projects, but I always have a tough time counting when increasing for the gusset (or is it when I'm decreasing afterwards?).  I purchased some very tiny size one circular needles which might make sock knitting a little easier than using circulars or the magic loop method. 

At present I'm uncertain about these tiny circulars, but I'm beginning to
see how they do prevent the constant switching sides and pulling
cords of the magic loop method and the sometimes unwieldy nature of
knitting with double-pointed needles.

Paton's Yarn has an entire booklet devoted to knit and
crochet sock monkey projects, including stuffed animals
as well as hats, mittens, and scarves.

I worry that these knitting projects along with so many others either already started or occupying a "cast-on-soon" queue in my brain may become a burden as I try to complete them for holiday gifts.  I think that I am going to scale back my seasonal knitting aspirations rather than add to the mayhem that comes with wrapping up the end of the school semester and preparing for the holidays for my family.  I've already been busy making some felted eyeglass cases that aren't as time consuming to create as knitted gifts.  I hope to show them in a future blog post. 



Friday, November 16, 2012

Free Pattern: Highlands Baby Santa Hat

This hat is shown unblocked.  Irregularities should
even out with washing and blocking.   

College recommendation letters.  An application for a grant for international travel.  A PowerPoint presentation on my recent visit to another high school in our state.  Lessons.  Feedback on student essays.   At this point in time, my creative juices—at least in the writing region of my psyche—are a bit dried up.  I have, however, spent the last week or so designing and knitting up a cute Santa hat.  This hat, with its 14-inch circumference at the base, will fit a baby from roughly three months to one year of age.

The designing and knitting project went rather smoothly. I’m finally getting a handle on the math of decreasing and increasing in the round. (The whole experience of envisioning a simple design and executing it from scratch has added to the humility I experience when I see all of the creative, intricate knitting patterns designed and displayed by other bloggers). 

Adding rows of plain knitting between the decrease rows
lengthens the top of the  hat, causing a pointed effect. 
This woolly Filatura di Crosa
Lupo yarn is perfect for the ball
 on top. 

I hope some folks do find some use for my pattern, however simple it is. I called it the Highlands Baby Santa hat after a town in the North Carolina mountains because the alpaca makes it warm and cozy enough to wear in northern climes. Click here to access the PDF pattern.

In addition to my baby steps at designing patterns, I’ve also been engaged in a woodworking project—creating drop spindles in preparation for a visit from Ivy of Pumpkin Spins, who is going to come to a meeting of the Fiber Arts Club at the school where I teach and demonstrate spinning with a top whorl spindle. I ordered a whole slew of birch dowels, toy wheels, and cup hooks and spent last weekend sawing, hammering, gluing, and screwing in hooks.I brought the dowels to school yesterday and enlisted the help of some students in sanding the spindles. Aside from one student’s having to wear an eye patch after the sanding, the project seems to be going well. (The student wears contact lenses and ended up with some sawdust in her eye.  She’s patchless today, though, so I hope the irritation has cleared up.)

Here is a view of my drop spindles, which still need much more sanding and then a coat of varnish. 


Friday, November 9, 2012

Free Pattern: Bulky Ear Flap Hat

The Lamb's Pride Bulky yarn comes in beautiful colors. 

I finally finished rewriting my Asheville hat pattern, for use with bulky yarn.  This item is man-sized, so it will probably fit very loosely if made for a woman.  (I'll probably wear the one shown here, though, if we have a cold winter--or if I can't find a willing male family member or friend eager to wear this item with its orchid accents).  Actually, I'm longing for an opportunity to wear a warm, wooly hat in charming Asheville (in the North Carolina mountains), but my weekends are still taken up with football games.  Of course, this hat would be just the thing for sitting on the bleachers at an evening game in crisp, cool November. 
This hat knits up super fast. 
My original pattern includes instructions for a fleecy lining.  Since the Lamb's Pride wool I used here is so thick and warm, I didn't add the lining here (or include instructions for the lining with this pattern).  To download the PDF for the Bulky Asheville Hat click here or go to my Free page. 
I've also been finishing up some other projects this week and contemplating casting on some small Christmas gifts. 

This heathery shoulder cape is made with Debbie Bliss's Riva yarn.  The pattern is in her
Riva pattern book.  I love the natural, rich look of this yarn. One of my students said that
this garment looks like a "big grape."  The purple hues do, indeed, remind me of
Concord grapes. 

This is the completed Noro Bonborri wrap that I talked about in my last blog post. Go to Black Sheep and Ewe
to purchase the kit. It's a steal for $20.00. 

Finally, I've been having some technical issues with the company who saves my PDF files online.  I'm switching all of my PDF knitting files, so that they are now stored in Google Docs.  I apologize if some of my free patterns haven't been accessible. 


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Slippery Short Rows

I decorated my hat with a flower I made from I-cord and a vintage
button I'd bought at a yard sale last year. 

Last Wednesday afternoon, after a long doctor’s appointment which included the discomfort of having blood drawn and receiving two other vaccine injections, I sat down at home to work on the Lucy Hat, a pattern found in the latest Knitscene magazine.  I cast on the requisite number of stitches, joined them in the round, and, as per the instructions, purled four rows.  I then began the short row shaping—a technique I’ve only attempted a handful of times—used mostly when I’ve made socks.  I consulted the notes at the beginning of the magazine and set forth—but ended up with a strange-shaped and bumpy brim—one which is supposed to fold up in a neat curve on one side in the manner of Peter Pan’s jaunty topper.  My work, however, resembled a round with one side featuring a lumpy flap with a concave dip.    

I knew that the local knitting store was having a Lucy Hat class the following Saturday, but figured that I really didn’t need to spend any more knitting-related money this month.  (An unplanned visit to Tangles on Main a shop in a nearby historic Waxhaw, had set me back a bit.)  The hat pattern did look pretty straightforward—despite the short row shaping—so I’d decided to persevere to discover where I’d made an error.  I began by searching for assistance on Ravelry, where others who had made the same garment had posted comments.  As I read “such a quick straightforward knit” and “super easy knit” and “no trick; this is done already!” my ego rapidly deflated.   Overcome with a sense of my own unworthiness as a knitter, I cast my project aside, exhausted from the entire process of knitting and frogging and reading and also probably from my visit to the doctor with its shots. 
I bought a kit to make this Noro wrap from Black Sheep and Ewe at Vogue Knitting Live last year.  I love this yarn  I actually finished the
wrap tonight, but it's wet right now, so I'll post this picture for now. 

Later that evening, however, I had a brainstorm.  Reread the pattern! I thought.  When I did so, I realized that I’d misread one line.  I wasn’t supposed to repeat three rows 27 times, just one!  Rather than tear out my rust-colored hat again, I decided to use some inexpensive gray Patons  yarn I had lying around and try the hat again.  If it worked, I’m knit up the rust one.  With the instructions amended in my mind, I quickly made the hat, although my typical overthinking caused me to experience a few difficult spots.  My stitch marker denoting the beginning of the first round was on the side of the hat, so when one part of the instructions read to knit “to the end,” I didn’t know if I was supposed to knit to the marker or back to where the current round began (about halfway around from the marker).  I went with my gut, and I think the hat turned out just fine. 
I had to show an up-close view of this pretty Noro Bonborri yarn.

On another note, my semester is hectic.  Grades are due Tuesday, my sons’ athletic events are going strong, and my evening web page design class is exhausting me.  I have some ideas for knitwear to design and blog posts to write, but finding the time . . . and the energy to post more than once a week right now is difficult.  I’m still knitting strong, however, as this activity provides a therapeutic escape from my busy schedule right now.  
I like my hat, but might give this one away and make another one for myself.  (My friend's name is Maggie.  She loves when I take the time to sit still for a moment in the back yard.)