Life’s Little Indignities

Yesterday I ventured out into the rain to the post office, where I mailed a large padded envelope containing a light scarf. I used the post office’s time-saving Automated Postal System machine in the outer lobby, which I do as often as possible to avoid the long lines inside. Excellent – check one chore off the list.

From that point on, rain literally spewed down from the sky like Niagara Falls at full capacity, complete with high winds and hail. Open-your-mouth-facing-skyward-and-you’ll-drown kind of rain. I enjoyed watching it from indoors, knowing I didn’t have to go back outside.

Then today’s mail arrived, including the very same large padded envelope that I had posted just yesterday. Returned due to “Insufficient Postage.” How, you might ask, is this possible, when I had used the U.S. Postal System’s own automated postal machine, located on the premises of our local post office? Well, I wondered that myself.

I returned with said envelope to the post office today (still raining, though fortunately not as hard as yesterday’s deluge) and stepped up to the counter with this very question. The personality-free postal employee informed me that the size of my padded envelope meant it was not actually, despite all appearances to the contrary, an envelope, but instead had mysteriously been designated a “parcel.”

This, despite the fact that it was totally flat, padded, and contained an adhesive flap at one end. Oh, silly me. How could I possibly have mistaken this article for an envelope when obviously it’s a parcel?

Of course, “parcels” are more expensive to mail than “envelopes.” And of course, nowhere on the Automated Postal System’s machine does it tell the unsuspecting individual anything whatsoever about this bizarre and seemingly arbitrary fact. So, I ponied up the additional postage and headed back out into the rain, muttering under my breath.

Shadow just wants to know why nobody licks envelope flaps anymore – licking being a special talent of hers.

Say Hello To My Little Friend March

It’s beginning to look a lot like spring in my part of the country…

Of course, we’re being revisited by the torrential downpours tonight through tomorrow…

So I shall have to enjoy these glimmers of things to come while I have them…

Hope you’ve enjoyed them, too!

Blue Pleated Cardigan

Every once in a while, I remember something I forgot. The Blue Pleated Cardigan is one of those.

After I finished making it in 2009, I wore it to death for at least a year. Then, for reasons I no longer remember, I consigned it to the top shelf of my closet. That is to say, the shelf I can reach only if I stand on the kitchen step stool and reach up as high as my arms will go because that damned shelf is really high. The things that wind up there often don’t see the light of day ever again, or at least not often.

But the other day, I was fishing around up there looking for something else, and I rediscovered my old friend the Blue Pleated Cardigan. Tried it on and wondered what I could have been thinking when I put it up there, because I still love it, it fits me just fine, and the yarn (which I’m pretty sure is Shaefer) is so soft and warm – perfect for this time of year.

As detailed on Ravelry, this project evolved out of my desire to create a classic button front cardigan that combines supreme comfort with stylish design details.

Seed stitch ruffled “pleats” fall gracefully over the hips and taper up into a bobble, from which point they carry up into the body of the sweater as widely spaced ribs. These pleats result in a feminine and flattering peplum effect that eliminates the need for any additional waist shaping.

It is knit in pieces from the bottom up, with set-in sleeves that bell out at the ends due to the pleat detail. The seed stitch collar and button placket add texture that does not compete with the lovely shades of teal, green, and purple in the yarn.

Gleaming art glass buttons were the finishing touch of which I was most proud; the colors in the glass are dead-on against the colors in the yarn.

Not intending to self-publish this design, I never wrote up the pattern from my notes. I could probably recreate the notes now and devise a pattern, but I kind of like the idea that this cardigan is one-of-a-kind!

Your Exit Here

Congratulations to Kelly-Ann, who won the final pattern collection from the current issue of Knitcircus online magazine!

The above shot was taken in late January, when I was in NY attending VK Live among other things … late afternoon at a subway stop in Queens, snow on the tracks, whipped by the wind into a vortex of icy crystals that frosted your face as you stepped out onto the platform. You know what I’m talking about.

And our little impromptu road trip when we got stranded in NY over the holidays because of Snowmageddon, and wound up driving a rental car down to Dulles airport in the DC area in order to get to our next destination. Really made me envy people who live so close to their families that they have to travel only a few blocks to celebrate the big holidays together.

Traffic photos thrill me… there’s something both comforting and desolate about driving along the highway as the sun goes down and the lights come on, when the road is full of cars and all those cars are full of people, too, having their own private conversations, listening to their own music or talk radio … the shared experience of being in the same place at the same time as all those other drivers, yet each driver in his or her own little world.

My, aren’t we in a philosophical mood today.

Valentine’s Day: And In The End…

… the love you take is equal to the love you make*.


Happy Valentine’s Day to those who celebrate it.

Shadow and I wish you a happy day, full of yarn and chocolate.

*The Beatles

Not Your Traditional Knitter: Meet Mens Knitwear Designer Kevin Kramp

If you thought you’d seen all possible permutations of knitwear for men, let me introduce you to something completely different.

Kevin Kramp and I first talked several months ago when I interviewed him for an article in our university’s alumni magazine. I was immediately struck by his idiosyncratic creativity. In fact, the lede in my article quoted Kevin’s design mantra; “I think my work is stunning, and I want you to be stunned.”

Looking through images of his menswear designs prior to our interview, I understood in an entirely fresh way what people mean when they talk about artistic vision.

Not because I can actually imagine a “regular guy” wearing one of Kevin’s creations, but because he has an emphatic, highly original perspective on knitwear and menswear. His work is uncompromisingly true to this concept, despite published comparisons of his work to “Snuggies for men,” and other unflattering descriptions.

Kevin’s designs have won numerous awards in the world of high fashion, where his knitwear is assumed to have evolved from the work of avant-garde fashion designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyaki, and Comme des Garcons.

He rejects these comparisons, however, arguing that existing fashion is, instead, anti-inspiring in the creation of new fashion.

You may not like what you see, but I’ll bet it gets a reaction out of you because you’ve never seen anything like it before (oh, wait a minute, of course you have: think about ghetto kids with their jeans riding so low on their hips that their boxers are entirely exposed; think about oversized sweaters that make some of us feel – if not actually look – smaller).

If you appreciate nothing else about these images (Just for starters: luxe fabrics, texture in abundance, movement and drape), you must at least acknowledge the unique quality of the designs. 

Next month, Kevin’s work will be featured as part of a prestigious fashion design exhibition, Unravel: Knitwear in Fashion, at the  MoMu Mode Museum in Antwerp, Belgium. The exhibition will introduce visitors to knitted garments and accessories from across the last centuries, with a focus on high fashion pieces and their vernacular interpretations.

From the exhibition press release: “Top pieces by national and international designers and labels (Ann Salens, Vivienne Westwood, Sonia Rykiel, Versace, Missoni) historic couture pieces (Schiaparelli, Patou, Chanel) as well as more avant-garde and cutting edge pieces by established designers and newcomers on the international fashion scene (Sandra Backlund, Maison Martin Margiela, Comme des Garçons, Mark Fast, Kevin Kramp) will sit side by side to reveal the richness and diversity of knitwear in high fashion.”

Perhaps I should have stated at the outset that Kevin is not a hand knitter. He works on knitting machines that allow him to manipulate his luxury fibers, slowly creating sumptuous textured fabrics. A single swatch takes hours to develop (hand knitters can definitely appreciate that), and a prototype of a single garment can take him ten months to complete.

Although you won’t find Kevin on Ravelry, next time you find yourself in search of inspiration, a scroll through his site just might turn your knitting mojo upside down!

All images accompanying this post are courtesy of Kevin Kramp.

Knitcircus Giveaway, Part II

Contest winners/commenters are: Kirsi for a one-year subscription to Knitcircus magazine, and Barbara for a pattern collection from the current issue. I have already forwarded your emails to Jaala Spiro, the Knitcircus editor. Thanks for entering!

To keep the fun going a bit longer, there is one more pattern collection from the current issue of Knitcircus to give away to a random commenter who gets in touch between now and midnight PST on Saturday, February 12th. This could be your lucky day!

In addition to a maah-velous review of Brave New Knits, this issue is chockful of great articles, interviews, and beautiful patterns, one of which is modelled in the cover photo above.

The Big Spring Fake-Out

Those of you living in the frosty, snow-covered parts of the world might want to stop reading right here. I can’t help you.

In northern California, you see, we are in the midst of a week of “faux spring,” and yesterday the temperature went up to 80 degrees. I sat outside with my knitting, but was so drunk on sunshine that not much progress was made. I just had to soak it up, and in a week or so when our winter rains start up again, I’ll remember this respite.

With no new knitting content to share, instead I thought I’d show you what is blooming right this minute in my garden.

For example, these primroses, which are perennial and thus pop up like colorful clockwork every winter outside my front door.

We planted a couple hundred more daffodil, narcissus, and crocus bulbs last fall (you think to yourself, “How can I possibly find spots for so many more bulbs?” yet before you know it all those little bags from the nursery are empty), and already some are in bloom.

The flowering quince is among my favorites; they bloom before their leaves come out, giving them a lovely Japanese-y structure and simplicity that makes beautiful arrangements.

And of course there are the hellebores. Ah, yes.

And those ruffled, freckled show-offs, the double hellebores.


The Spring 2011 issue of Knitcircus is up, and it’s a terrific issue full of gorgeous patterns!

In addition to a collection of fabulous patterns and articles, it includes a lovely review of Brave New Knits. There’s also an interview with Alana Dakos, of Never Not Knitting fame. There is also a delectable-sounding recipe for French macarons, those sublimely light and crispy cookies with the soft center that just melts in your mouth. As the recipe is gluten free, I will try it this weekend – and let you know how they turn out!

Knitcircus editor-in-chief Jaala Spiro (the soul of generosity!) has invited me to host a giveaway featuring one one-year subscription and up to three pattern collections from this issue. Does one of these enticements have your name on it? Leave a comment on this blog post by midnight Pacific time on Wednesday, February 9 to be entered in the drawing.

I’m working on a new sweater project… despite a nasty bout of flu, my knitting mojo has finally returned. Will share WIP photos soon, so stay tuned!

Downton Abbey, Revisionist Version

I’ve already let it be known that I loved, loved, LOVED Downton Abbey, and now I stand corrected on an earlier assumption.

According to one of my commenters (thank you, Rhian!), U.S. viewers of Downton Abbey did, in fact, get all but a few “judiciously” cut minutes of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Classics. Although our four episodes comprised a total of 6 hours of commercial-free viewing, the UK version ran 7 hours but did include commercial interruptions.

I’ll take the commercial-free version any day, thank you.

Those Edwardian ladies certainly loved their lavender!

An reviewer, in reference to the Downton Abbey “unabridged” DVD, does mention that she saw the series both in the UK and in the US, and found that the US version contained some choppy scene shifts and changes in the order of character appearances that were, to her, a bit jarring.

From this article, kindly forwarded by the above-mentioned Rhian,, it seems clear that PBS director Rebecca Eaton did snip a few minutes here and there to make sure Downton Abbey fit into PBS’ intended 90-minute episode schedule.

There is, however, none of what has been called the “dumbing down” of the series for the American viewing audience. Evidently, our famously short attention spans are not so short, after all.

More lavender! Lovely on Lady Cora, no?

Personally, I was mesmerized by every second of the series, and had no difficulty following along with the intricacies of the “entail” and other British-isms. Now, all those forks and spoons at the dinner table – that’s an entirely different matter.

Downton Abbey, My Latest TV Crush

Did anybody else out there adore this show as much as I did? And was anybody else equally annoyed to discover that we poor Americans viewed the lamentably abridged version of the series, which cut a full hour (by my calculations) of the delicious goings-on in the Crawley family and among their servants? I assume it had something to do with what PBS was willing to pay for, but still – I felt gypped.

With a full-blown case of the flu that has left me a shivering, sniffling wreck this week – fever and all – I’d gladly park myself on the sofa with a mug of hot tea and the unabridged version of Downton Abbey, if only I could figure out where to view it. I just may have to buy the DVD, unless there are any other suggestions?

Isn’t this hat absolutely to die for? Wonder how much it weighs?  And how many endangered species donated their feathers to embellish it? Not to mention, how on earth did Lady Cora pass through doorways wearing it? Sideways, perhaps. I’ll tell you, sometimes it’s a burden looking back on fashion through the lens of modern times.

I looked hard for signs of knitting in the series, but didn’t see anything that convinced me the Edwardian era was as knit-happy as our own. Although some of the ladies sported what appeared to be woven shawls over their airy silk gowns, I didn’t see any of the exquisite knitted lace I expected. However, it is possible that Lady Violet is wearing knitted wrist warmers over her gloves in the photo below – what do you think?

Of course, it seemed that most of the episodes took place during spring, summer, and fall, so perhaps the Crawleys didn’t feel the need for woolens (though my heart skipped a beat when Lady Mary joined Evelyn Napier and poor cardiac-challenged Kamel Pamuk on the hunt – I thought for sure someone would sport a snug argyle vest under his hunting jacket, or at the very least a pair of finely worked socks. But no such luck.).

Can’t wait for the second season… and perhaps those Brits will let us have the entire episodes this time!!

It’s Never Too Late To Have a Happy New Year

At least, that’s my operating strategy going forward, as we kiss January good-bye and usher in that short but unpredictable month of February. So far 2011 is shaping up to be an interesting year. In order of magnitude, let me share the following:

1)  Brave New Knits has gone into a third printing, only five months since its original publication at the end of August, 2010. I had the fantastic honor of doing author signings at both TNNA in Long Beach, CA and at VK Live in NYC; it was so amazing to hear how many knitters keep BNK on their bedside tables to read those designer interviews as much as to drool over the patterns.

2)  Including the holidays, I’ve been stuck and/or stranded in at least two blizzards. Can’t remember the last time I had so much fun in inclement weather.

These experiences made me realize that I should just shut up about my less-than-favorite aspects of living in California, because absolutely no one back east feels the least bit sorry for me; in fact, they undoubtedly view me as the thin-blooded sissy Californian I have become.

3)  I’ve been working on projects both secret and not-so-secret, including the Sabine cardigan which I made for my daughter:

4)  I learned that I have a gluten sensitivity (but not celiac disease, for which I am grateful), and have embarked on a strictly gluten-free diet. One of my two New Year’s resolutions is to explore the GF lifestyle and make sure that everything I eat is as delicious as anything wheat-based would be.

It’s a whole new world out there. So far, I’ve discovered some great GF blogs and websites, and made my first batch of GF biscotti – they are so delicious that I had to stick a packed baggie of them in the freezer to keep myself from snacking on them all day.

What is my other New Year’s resolution, you ask? And if you know me, you’re likely aware that I am not a resolution-making kind of person, so this is rather aberrant behavior for me. And I usually stay away from political commentary on this blog. However, I feel strongly enough about the subject to do this:

5)  In 2011, I will not buy a single item for my own use that was made in China.

Here’s a challenge: go take a look in your closet. If it looks anything like mine, somewhere between 50 and 95 % of what you own and wear was made in China. It occurred to me that as a consumer, I have supported the Chinese economy very generously for many years. I decided that it’s about time I searched for ways to support my own country’s economic efforts more conscientiously.

If you, like me, shop the sales at stores like J. Crew and Banana Republic (and sister stores Gap and Old Navy), not to mention Target and large department stores – pretty much all mainstream clothing purveyors – then most of what you buy was made in China. All those great sweaters from Anthropologie that we scoop up in order to figure out how to knit them for ourselves? Made in China. Next to nothing in those stores is made in the U.S. Sure, you’ll find a few things manufactured in India, Vietnam, and Mexico, but for the most part they come from China. No wonder that country pretty much owns us.

I won’t even start on home electronics, small appliances, and toys.

Part of my goal is to identify manufacturers, designers, and purveyors of stuff made right here in the U.S. The good news is that most of the yarn I buy is U.S.-grown and dyed. Obviously, there are tremendous resources right on the internet. And our good friend Etsy will undoubtedly fill many a need. But please feel free to share resources, since I am a newbie here. Reading labels is just the beginning…

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?).

December Showers…

… bring winter flowers. 

Lest you think the garden is asleep for the winter, let me correct that impression. There are a few spots and pots where even my mostly-green thumbs can’t make anything grow spontaneously, and  it is necessary to import the color from our local nursery.

For those areas, cyclamen do the job nicely, being both fragrant and colorful.

Outside the back door, the camellias are in full bloom. At night, they seem to glow in the dark – when it hasn’t been raining, that is (which turns them soggy and limp in record time).

My favorites, the hellebores, are budding and will be in bloom in another few weeks.

The Meyer lemon crop this winter is outstanding after last year’s disappointment. Visions of lemon marmalade, lemon-infused olive oil, and frozen lemon cubes (for next summer’s lemonade) are already dancing in my head.

And this hairy specimen pitched her web right outside the front gate; some welcome for visitors, right? Her legspan was a good inch and she was hard at work spinning her web, but so far had not managed to lure anything edible into it… though not for lack of trying!


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?