I’m Knitting As Fast As I Can

Having just completed writing up the pattern for a secret project, I needed something soothing to work on. Something a little bit mindless. Something mindless that would nevertheless result in a garment I will be happy to wear.

And that’s why I am Working up another of Cocoknits’ designs, this time the Louisa long-sleeved tunic. I really want to wear it over the holidays, so am knitting practically in my sleep during every spare minute.

Knit in the round in Stockinette to the armholes, this is a relatively speedy project (relatively because as a tunic it is fairly long and that just takes more time compared to a sweater that ends at the hip).

The Habu wool and linen roving is easy on the hands and knits up into a soft, drapey fabric. I especially like the deep, clay green colorway. Lovely!

Even Shadow has offered to help (actually, she’d much rather play with the yarn but knows better than to try… who says cats can’t be taught?).

Sabine

Another recent FO to share, Sabine is my first – and perhaps my only – knitted holiday gift for this year. 

Sabine is for my daughter, who goes to college in a cold-winter climate, who has coveted this yarn (Mountain Colors “Bearfoot”, a DK weight blend of wool, mohair, and nylon) ever since it first appeared in my stash, and who is the apple of my eye (as the saying goes).

The creation of Julie Wiesenberger of Cocoknits, Sabine is a drapey cardigan knit seamlessly from the top down, with simple eyelet lace details that add a bit of hourglass shaping to the back and a gentle flare to the three-quarter length sleeves. In its own quiet way, it is a joy to make. 

 I first became familiar with the collection of Cocoknits patterns when Julie agreed to participate in Brave New Knits, (her Button child’s tunic is utterly adorable and equally easy to make) and was immediately drawn to the elegant simplicity of her designs.

Yet, her patterns include graceful details and ingenious assembly techniques that make the finished garments look more complicated than they are.

They are heavy on the stockinette, making them excellent projects for evenings when I may watch some TV and don’t necessarily want to work on more demanding projects.

Those gorgeous leaves from our peach tree add just the right autumnal note, don’t they?

Designer Spotlight #2: The Yarniad

Designer Spotlight #2: Hilary Smith Callis, The Yarniad

San Francisco resident Hilary Smith Callis was an easy choice for inclusion in Brave New Knits. Although at the time she did not consider herself a full-fledged designer, the foundation had been established and was just waiting to blossom.

Hilary writes an entertaining blog that shares all the fibery details of her knitting experiments, successes, and even the occasional frogged project. That blog “voice” is endearingly modest and just a little bit goofy in a highly entertaining way. Her knitting evolved quickly from covering the patterns of other designers to working up her own ideas from sketch to swatch to finished sweater. Since first discovering her blog, it has been a pleasure to follow her progression from basic knitter to accomplished designer.

Simple But Stunning

Hilary’s eye for simple but stunning details is unerring; she creates designs that manage to be both user-friendly and style-conscious. The project she designed for Brave New Knits is a perfect example of the wearable simplicity she strives for. Although the finished garment is as sophisticated as it is practical (love those pockets!), making it would not be beyond the skill set of a new knitter.

The detail shown below, with its neat textural juxtaposition (Whoa! An ‘x’ in two consecutive words! God, I love the English language!) of stockinette and reverse stockinette, the clean finished edge, and an unfussy, classic button choice, is just a tiny preview of the knitterly goodness to come.

In the year since we first met to work on her interview, Hilary’s knitting life has changed in major ways. “Back then, I think I was looking at designing more as a hobby and a way to express myself; now I’m definitely taking it more seriously as a ‘career’, even if that career is just part time.”

Soon after our interview, Hilary released a few free patterns on her blog. The enthusiastic reception these received was the tip of the iceberg, because “… when [the] Citron [shawlette] was published in Knitty [in the Winter 2009 issue], things really took off.” Hilary credits Knitty and its readers for the fact that her “… blog readership has grown about 1000% (!) and I’ve started being contacted by indie dyers to collaborate on designs.”

Collaborative Creativity

It is this kind of collaborative creativity that really resonates with the designer, whose inspirations seem to come at her from all directions, marinating in her imagination until she “sees” a precise image of what the design should be.

At the beginning of 2010, Hilary had three sweater designs accepted into Knit Picks’ Independent Designers Program. This additional exposure gave her designs an even wider online audience. In fact, she is convinced that “… because I design exclusively “for the internet”, almost everything I do is in some way influenced by the online knitting community.” And that conviction made her a perfect fit for Brave New Knits.

Even Ravelry has gotten in on the act of anointing Hilary as an up-and-coming designer to watch. Within just a few days of putting up a new pattern for sale  (the Lilas Cardigan, below), responses were overwhelmingly positive, and it had made the “New and Popular” list that is a regular feature on Ravelry. Thanks, Hilary, for letting me “borrow” this image of your lovely design to share with readers.

With more designs in the works for Knit Picks, more collaborations in progress, and other design proposals pending, her main problem is “… not having enough time to get everything in my head out on paper [and] yarn.”

Habu Goddess Tunic, Part 2

Habu Goddess Tunic: Versatility is her middle name.

When we left off at the last post, the Habu Goddess Tunic’s possibilities were beginning to reveal themselves.

We saw what a bit of pinning, ruching, and draping could accomplish. Transparent became translucent. Flat became dimensional. Loose became fitted. And Blah became Wow.

And now, plain-and-simple becomes simple-but-versatile. These Habu yarns are a delight to work with, creating fabric that is light as air, yet allows itself to be molded to suit any knitterly purpose. The Goddess Tunic can be draped and seamed more than one way, as demonstrated below.

Again, strategic pinning and draping reveal a new way every knitter can become the Goddess. Panels that start out sheer at the shoulder cross over to form a double layer over the bust. The even bordered hem in Version #1 becomes pleasingly asymmetrical in Version #2 below.

Which Goddess are you? Which version do you prefer?

Habu Goddess Tunic

Earlier in the week, we took a look at the unassuming beginning of the Habu Goddess Tunic. Two long pieces of stockinette in Habu‘s Tsumugi Silk, bordered at each end with deep swaths of Wool Stainless Steel carried with Kusaki Zome Silk. Each length measuring 60″ long by 18″ wide when blocked, they could easily be repurposed as a pair of ephemeral scarves.

But look what happens when we begin adding definition to these simple lengths of stockinette by pinning them strategically together. Gathers at the shoulders add delicate ruching and lend a hint of modesty to the fabric’s sheerness. Flattering shapeliness and drape begin to take form. Our curiosity is aroused; how else will these two pieces of fabric come together?

Suddenly it becomes clear. The gathers and pins work together to create a classic silhouette. The deeper-toned border gives the design a bit of weight, a feeling of substance that plays nicely off of the body’s transparency.

A delicate ribbon tie under the bust provides just the right touch of embellishment to make this tunic appropriate for dinner out, or an evening at the theater. Greek tragedy, anyone?

Love Bites Up

Love Bites Neckwarmer and Fingerless Gloves

If you’ve been on my Ravelry Designer page within the last 48 hours, you may have noticed that these patterns are up for sale. As promised, you can purchase them as a set for $7.00, or individually for $4.00 apiece.

In addition, way past my bedtime two nights ago I uploaded them to my Pattern Store on this site. The link routes you to PayPal to complete the purchase. I hope you’ll enjoy these projects – because even if you are not a fan of the Twilight books/movies, or the True Blood TV series, this is a project to love for its own sake.

Do Vampires Have A Sense of Humor?

And did you notice those brilliant red “drop of blood” buttons to fasten the neckwarmer? Resistance was futile, but they were selected with tongue firmly in cheek. Equally true for the toothsome (OK, a fang is a fang is a fang) “Shark’s Tooth” lace border that edges both the neckwarmer and the fingerless gloves.

This craze for all things vampire-ish seems to me to demand a sense of humor! That’s also the inspiration behind my cable choice for both projects; the X-O-X-O represents that strange attraction that humans seem to feel for vampires, and vice versa (at least according to the movies and TV shows that feature them).

 

Do Vampires Knit?

If you are an intermediate skilled knitter, or even an adventurous beginner, the Love Bites ensemble is designed to be only moderately challenging but provides a relatively quick reward for taking your knitting skills to the next level.

And just a reminder; the 1st, 13th, and 25th purchasers of one or both of these patterns will receive a skein (of my choosing) of indie dyed yarn. I’ll PM you so I can get your mailing details! Actually, Christina C. was the very first knitter to bite (hehehe!) when she purchased the neckwarmer two days ago, so she will receive a skein of luscious merino wool from Fearless Fibers.

Up In The Air

I’m no Ryan Bingham, and certainly no (spoiler alert!) cheatin’ Alex, but lately I’ve been up in the air way too often for my liking. Air travel takes on a whole new perspective when you’re doing it because you HAVE to instead of because you WANT to. While I’d do anything for my family, this back-and-forthing from California to New York is taking a toll. I just don’t bounce back the way I used to, and it takes a full week for me to get back to normal (well, as normal as I ever get!) from the jet-lag.

Dad is back home after two weeks in the hospital, precipitated by a fall that broke 4 ribs and also caused him to 1) suffer massive internal bleeding when one of those broken ribs pierced an artery, and as a result required 2) several blood transfusions, leaving him so compromised that he 3) developed a serious bacterial infection, and 4) had a heart attack, and then 5) developed a secondary bacterial infection. The man is 89. Evidently, he has nine lives and if it is left up to him, he will tell you that he still has a few to go before he’s done.

In order to make it feasible for him and my mom to return to their very old and creaky two-story house, several things had to happen. The most important of these was that we had to make it possible for them to live exclusively on the ground floor. And then, we had to make it easy for a very frail man (who gets around s-l-o-w-l-y with a walker) to get from the house out to the car for the doctors office visits that now comprise the bulk of his activity. Ramps were installed, furniture was moved, new showerheads and grab bars were installed. And none of this takes into account my mother, whose dementia is pretty bad at this point and who was being taken care of by my dad until all this happened. And let me tell you, it takes a village – but we got it all done. This is what we do for our family, right?

Meanwhile, while I was away, the garden continued to do what it always does at this time of year: it bloomed! One of the best things about coming home from these trips is that I am blown away by the changes in the garden. This means these tiny heirloom roses that were in bud before I left, and ju-u-ust beginning to adapt to their new life climbing the pergola column on the back patio, are now in full, glorious bloom:

The Satsuma plum tree is LOADED with green fruit that over the next several weeks will turn miraculously deep purple and sweet. These plums make the most divine jam, not to mention tarts and crisps. Mmmmmm!

When I left home, the last of the irises from spring were beginning to fade away. The asiatic lilies of summer had not yet begun to bloom, and yet, upon my return it was clear they had decided in my absence that it was time to get their show on the road:

The roses bloom all summer long, and last month they were particularly gorgeous. Still, these Eden double-flowering ones are among my favorites. They cover a back fence (smother is more like it) in a profusion of delicate pink set off by shiny dark green serrated leaves. Although they have only the most subtle fragrance and I usually like my roses stronger, these are so lovely that I gladly forgive them their lack of scent.

Another good thing about travel is that it often presents the opportunity to knit. Ordinarily, I can get quite a lot accomplished when I’m out on the road, but under the circumstances I was often so exhausted by evening that it was all I could do to work a few rows of my current travel project, the Emily Dickinson Shawl by Kieran Foley. Never one to leave well enough alone, I’ve made a couple of modifications to Kieran’s lovely design. As already mentioned, these were the result of having insufficiently sparkly beads coupled with the need to make that broad swath of stockinette a bit more interesting to work sans beads. Wish I had more progress to show, but I also worked on a couple of secret projects for which I was under deadline. And unbelievably, I met those deadlines. Don’t ask me how.

Close-up of my little yarnover modification:

The best part of being home, however, was definitely seeing these two smiling faces again:

Emily Dickinson

Have I mentioned that I started the Emily Dickinson shawl by Kieran Foley after I saw what an absolutely bang-up job Ann had done with it?

Here is my start – and the fabulous color of this Woolen Rabbit yarn in Chocolate Chambord laceweight is dead accurate in the photo, for once.

I completed the border and decided that the beads I had selected were not shiny enough to show up.  And if they aren’t even going to show up, why am I even going to go to all the effort of working them into the shawl? The remainder of the project will, therefore, be beadless, but I’m excited to wear it nonetheless. I suspect Emily would approve; she seems to have been as austere in her person as she was emotional in her verse.

Twist superlatives

Now that I’ve finished admiring my own handiwork in the latest issue of Twist, I’ve gone back through the rest of the patterns and decided that this issue is the best one ever! When I can’t make up my mind about which project to download first, and when there are fewer designs I probably won’t want to make than there are designs I definitely, absolutely must queue up immediately, that ratio suggests **winner** to me, big-time. At the moment, these are my top three:

I love all the shawls and wraps in this issue, but the Abrazo shawlette by Susanna IC really captured my heart; I picture wearing it all summer either draped lightly over my shoulders or wearing it twisted as a wrap in my hair. Love the beading, love the open fabric, love the deep lace border. Any number of skeins in my stash of Sundara laceweight yarn would be well-suited to this project, as would the Woollen Rabbit laceweight, the Fearless Fibers laceweight….. maybe I’ll just have to make more than one version of it!

Poplar & Elm by Carol Sunday is a masterpiece of lace, feminine shaping, and stylishness. I love everything about it, and have a few different yarn options that would be lovely for it.

When I first saw the fabulous Timpani by Connie Chang Chinchio, I thought immediately of my stash of Elspeth Lavold’s Silky Wool, and of wearing it in the fall here in California, where that fiber blend is perfect for the climate. I just love the crisp military styling of this jacket, and although I might have to do a bit of regauging to accommodate the yarn weight (although knitting it on slightly smaller than recommended needles would give the fabric more stability), it would be worth the effort to have such a snappy garment hanging in my closet.

So, no shortage of possibilities in this issue. Paging through the options makes me appreciate all the more the good company in which I find myself. Comments on Ravelry regarding my Passiflora tunic have been interesting and enlightening. Some readers don’t like the thought of their bras showing through a garment and will consider omitting the side lace panels as a result. Some don’t think the A-line shaping flatters their figure type, and are likely to add waist shaping to their version of the design. Since I modify nearly every project I knit that has been created by other designers, I can hardly protest when others see fit to alter mine – in fact, it’s this kind of dialogue, this realization of knitting’s infinite possibilities, that makes the craft so intellectually challenging, creative, and fulfilling.

Hello From No-Knitting Hell

With my right hand bandaged to resemble a catcher’s mitt, you’d think my entire hand had been spectacularly mangled in our blender rather than what are probably a total of ten stitches and a little bruising here and there on the two fingers that were fixed. Given this state of affairs, I obviously cannot knit. Nope, cannot knit a whit. Cannot knit, not even a bit (OK, enough with the Dr. Seussian rhyming). And it’s torture, I tell you. Last night, I finished The Help, which I really enjoyed, but it is unlike me to finish a book with that many pages in just two sittings. However, when one cannot knit, one reads, at least in this house.

Think about it. There’s not much cooking I can do with one functioning hand (Hear that, honey? Can we get take-out again tonight?) which probably explains the irresistible urge I had to make the blood orange marmalade right before going under the knife.

I really can’t even focus enough to watch television without my knitting clicking along in my lap; it’s… just… too… passive. I do seem to be one of those people who hears, absorbs information, and learns better when my hands are busy. Although I will make an exception for the Oscars on Sunday night, because that’s more of a participatory experience, more like sport – yelling at the TV, screaming at Joan Rivers’ plastic surgery, keeping up a running commentary on the red carpet gowns and bling, etc. 

At least yesterday I wore my completed Citron shawl when I went out for lunch with a friend to Bakesale Betty’s for the fried chicken salad (And there’s so much delicious, crispy-coated chicken and tangy cole slaw salad in there that I took half of it home with me to have for dinner), and I felt a little better knowing that I had completed it right before the surgery. It gave me a small sense of accomplishment to know that it was my Emergency Pre-Surgery Project, and I had actually finished it.

Other than that, all I’ve been able to do is pet the yarn I bought at Stitches West last week. These signs of withdrawal are truly pitiful to behold. Just ask my husband, who has come upon me more than once this week holding a skein of hand-dyed yarn up to my nose, eyes closed in ecstasy. I inhaled its bouquet like a glass of fine wine while he rolls his eyes and tiptoes out of the room, but those skeins might as well be good wine; I get a bit giddy thinking about the possibilities of each one. I brought home yarn from the likes of Pigeonroof Studios, Brooks Farm Yarn, Handmaiden and Fleece Artist, and Miss Babs. Absolute heaven! That and getting out into the garden to see what has blossomed in the last 24 hours are what’s keeping me going.

Citronella

I never got a chance to introduce my completed version of  Hilary Smith Callis’s Citron shawl, as featured in the latest issue of Knitty (Winter, 2009). I guess you could call my version, which was completed in the final hours of the run-up to my finger surgery (when I wasn’t stirring a gigantic copper cauldron filled with boiling blood oranges for jam, that is), Peach, or Mango, or some such fruity title. I’d rather just call it Genius, because Hilary’s pattern is such a delight to knit. Many rows of wonderfully mindless stockinette that are ideal to make one feel virtuously productive while watching tv, with just enough counting, increasing, and decreasing to keep it interesting.

So here it is, being modeled by my accommodating new office assistant, Grayce (so named for the nasty gray color of her fabric covering. Notice I had to press one of my husband’s retired undershirts into service in order to cover up both the form’s cloth cover AND the large plastic dials that allow me to customize her measurements.). 

Texture Is Everything

And I am especially reminded of this in the spring, when carpets of green hills roll out all around me, dotted with the brilliant yellows of mustard and daffodils in bloom. Closer to home, my garden is a veritable encyclopedia of knitting inspiration; between the color combinations assembled by Mother Nature and the textures of various plants, I fill page after page of my idea notebooks. And this is a particularly fervid time of year both in the garden and in knitting; time to submit design proposals to my favorite knitting magazines for their fall issues. It’s such an act of faith (and optimism, and still sometimes-shaky belief in my creativity), sending those concepts out into the void and hoping the editors will share my vision for the knitted garments.

Much as I love the showy flowers appearing all over the garden now, as an equal opportunity color fanatic it’s the leaves that often get me. Leaves smooth and crenellated, heart-shaped, spearish, or lozenge-like, vibrant chartreuse or deepest bottle green; the variety is astounding. And don’t even get me started on the flowers! The scent of daphne overlaid with violets, all in full bloom, intoxicates me whenever I venture into the garden, camera in hand. Here is some of what’s inspiring me this week:

I’m Knitting As Fast As I Can

And I am doing so because in less than two weeks I’m having another – and I hope the last – hand surgery. How crazy is it to keep knitting when I’ve already had four of these surgeries? No, don’t answer that. The answer is obvious even to me, obsessed with strings and sticks as I am. And having bought an electronic knitting machine, you’d be well within reason to assume that I have mastered its intricacies by now, but unfortunately you’d be wrong. Machine-knitting has its place in my creative life for sure, but it will take me several intensive weeks to play with it until I’m comfortable. And that seems like an ideal activity for while I’m recovering from hand surgery in March, don’t you agree?

Meanwhile, not to belabor the infirmities of middle age, but yesterday I had a cortisone injection in my back. It had been bothering me for months, but I tried all other possible remedies first. I modified my workouts at the gym until I felt the routines were more appropriate to a frail and cautious 100-year-old. Physical therapy was to no avail, despite the enthusiastic ministrations of a highly-trained therapist whose technique I truly respected and believed in. Ieven agreed to have my kidneys and bladder tested to make sure there is no other issue at play (and that was such a thoroughly unpleasant round of examinations that I’ll spare you the details. Except to say that I fervently hope I never DO have anything wrong with my kidneys or bladder that would require a repeat of those tests!).

So I was sedated before the cortisone was injected. While I don’t normally assume sedation is necessary before getting a mere shot, for heaven’s sake (I really have skin like an armadillo hide after getting allergy shots twice a week in both arms for longer than I care to remember), I’ve had numerous cortisone injections in my hands and fingers (Ye-ouch!) without sedation, and they hurt like a sonofabitch. So going in, I knew I wouldn’t want to be awake and alert for the one in my back. The good news is, in order to avoid the possibility of paralyzing me from the waist down (good idea, right?), my doctor used an X-ray to guide him to the exact location of the swelling, ensuring that the injection went precisely where it is needed.

Back at home afterwards I slept off the lingering effects of the sedation. It was the purest, deepest, and most relaxing sleep I’ve had in months, and gave me a glimmer of insight into how Michael Jackson could have started abusing anesthetics in his desperation to chase down a good night’s sleep. Then, in the spirit of experimentation I got up to walk around the house and test out my Brand New Back. What I quickly discovered is that now I had shooting pains not just in my back, but all the way down my behind and into my leg. I limped around the house feeling sorry for myself the rest of the day, groaning mightily every time I had to sit down or stand up, and applying the ice pack way more often than I probably should have. My husband went above and beyond in the sympathy department, bless his heart, considering what I whiner I was.

This morning, however: New Woman! There is still some pain, but nothing like yesterday. And I’d been warned that it would take up to a week for the cortisone to really kick in, so I was prepared to feel no immediate relief. Meanwhile, as you can see, it really is spring here. It is totally disconcerting to see daffodils and crocuses in full bloom in mid-February, but there you have it. Even after nine years in California, it still shocks me to see this happen. It just feels WRONG! Not to mention, the plum tree is in full bloom, as are the flowering quinces, and even the roses are starting to bud out. Time to get busy with the fertilizer!

Spring Has Sprung

That headline will look extremely strange to those of you on the east coast, where you are still enveloped in at least a foot of snow. But out here in the Bay area, today’s temperature is 60 degrees and the garden has taken note:

  

While in transit last week, I got halfway through Hilary Smith Callis’s Citron Wrap from the Winter 2009 issue of Knitty.com, and I’ve never found a more perfect travel project. One skein of sock yarn, one pair of circular needles, minimal notions, and your hands.  An easily memorized pattern, and remarkably speedy results. Definitely a formula for success when one is stuck in airports (or long car, train, or bus trips, or in front of the television with someone else’s favorite show on).

My yarn of choice is Pagewood Farm’s St. Elias semi-solid sock yarn, which flows softly through my fingers with subtle color changes that make it a quiet pleasure. Hope to have it finished soon!

Faint Heart Never Won Fair Maid

… sounds like a newspaper headline ripped from the seventeenth century, doesn’t it? Thank you for that romantic declaration, Mr. Shakespeare. My own DH, never faint of heart, surprised me with an addition to my transferware pitcher collection for Valentine’s Day.  It was a most unexpected and welcome surprise, since I’ve been on a shopping diet since the New Year. But it wouldn’t be polite to complain when somebody else buys me something I just happen to be thrilled about.

This particular specimen is enormous, standing a full 12″ tall, and the mark on the bottom reads, “Manufactured for Davenport Bro.” with a New York City address. I’ll have to do some research to find out where it was actually made. I imagine a pitcher of this size was originally part of a set with a wash basin. Frankly, we suffer from a bad case of wretched excess bit of clutter in this house, so the pitcher alone is more than enough for me!

It is so good to be home from my travels. I spent most of last week in NY, where I had the unaccustomed pleasure (and much-needed workout) of shoveling my parents out of their house in the aftermath of the snowstorm that shrouded the East Coast on Wednesday and Thursday. Where they live, an hour or so up-county from NYC, it looked like this most of those two days:

I definitely got my exercise shoveling the walk and driveway multiple times over the two-day period. It was really kind of a masochistic good samaritan treat for me, since I rarely get to see snow at home. Of course, the persistent runny nose that comes with hard labor out of doors was not as enthusiastically received.

Call me a sissy if you will, but I was glad to get back to my temperate California climate late last night, even though the airline did not manage to get my suitcase onto my connecting flight (despite the full hour layover between them!). One thing I noticed about the east coast in the middle of winter is how dry the air gets. My hair was a standing nest of static electricity. Every time I put on my coat or pulled a sweater over my head, my hair would stand on end as if I’d stuck my finger into the proverbial electric socket. Patting it down with damp hands became a weird short-term grooming ritual.

On Friday, I drove on to Pennsylvania to visit my daughter at college. She needed a little spoiling from her old ma, so in addition to dinner out in a real restaurant (as opposed to cafeteria food which, while perfectly adequate in its own right, suffers at this time of year from a distinct lack of variety), I presented her with the afore-mentioned hand-knit Valentine’s Day gift:

The School Spirit Mittens. If your school colors have to be navy and orange, this navy-heavy proportion makes it less of an awful combination. I wound up nixing the embroidered orange heart idea on the palm of each hand, and it’s a good thing I did. She likes them just as they are. The project was a great stash-buster, using a fraction (roughly 125 yards) of my last skein of Blue Moon Fiber Arts Twisted, in the color “In the Navy,” and a few yards of Noro’s Cash Iroha in color #116 (vibrant orange) for the single crochet trim. The vintage orange buttons were a find at Article Pract, one of my favorite LYS in the Bay area.