Who Me? Knitting Fatigue?

It was a productive weekend, followed today by another (perhaps the final?) pre-holiday trip to the post office. There are more items I’d like to make, but the critical ones are finished and that is a great feeling of accomplishment.

The Thorpe above is for my brother-in-law, the pediatrician in Ohio. The colorful beanie below was supposed to be for his partner, who appreciates brighter colors. But I was overruled by my husband and daughter, who insist this is too bright even for him. At least it was a very good use for odds and ends of Noro Kureyon from my stash. So now I have a spare giftable hat, and have to work up another option lickety-split since we will see them for Christmas and I want to be able to hand them both a hat.

Finally, my friend Crissy will be the recipient of this hat and mitts set. I showed the hat last week, and now the set is complete. The kid merino yarn from Chasing Rainbows Dyeworks knits up with a lovely soft haze from the mohair… it is just too delectable.

Soon I’ll be able to get back to work on my daughter’s sweater, the pattern for which is in this booklet by Lana Grossa:

I love this pattern book and want to make nearly every project in it. Progress on the cabled front had been moving along nicely until I realized the holidays were nearly upon us. At that point it was relegated to the bottom of the knitting bag while I attended to all those hats and mitts. I’ll be glad to get back to it, even though R. has no expectation that it will be completed in time for Hannukah. She knows it will eventually be hers, and besides – for this Hannukah she will finally receive the Lizard Ridge Blanket I made her to take to college. I figure she might as well break it in over the next several months, right?

Someday soon, this piece will grow to look like this:

Only my daughter is cuter.

Chocolate Makes the World Go ‘Round…

…especially when you’re knitting lots of little holiday gifts on a deadline (Time and Christmas wait for no one) and although you’ve already made a couple of smug “Oh, I’m so ahead of the crowd!” trips to the post office, you’ve suddenly realized you will have to make at least a couple more of those trips and in all probability the lines will be significantly longer (and the people waiting in them significantly grouchier) by the time you get there with the last of those packages.

So, where was I? Oh, yes. Chocolate. As I always say, a day without chocolate is a day without sunshine. My latest favorite mood enhancers are the dark chocolate covered ginger bites from Trader Joe’s. I dole them out into little dishes, maybe a dozen at a time (they’re small) and savor each one as I knit away. They might not help me knit any faster, but something about that combination of zingy ginger with velvety chocolate always makes me happy.

More festive holiday knitting to share tomorrow after tonight’s marathon. Til then, knit on.

How Do I Know It’s Winter?

Let me count the ways winter is revealing itself here in the Bay area. First of all, it’s getting “cold.” In northern California, that means daytime temperatures in the 50’s, and nighttime temperatures in the high 30’s and low 40’s. I can’t help laughing when I see people running around town zipped into heavy down jackets, and bundled into scarves and hats as if they lived at the North Pole. Of course, in San Francisco one often sees women wearing winter coats and knee-high leather boots in July – and not necessarily on the cool, foggy days, either. I’ve accepted that it’s just a Bay area thing. Meanwhile, here in the wilds of suburbia, in addition to the individuals spotted wearing their winter finery, my garden lets me know it’s winter this way:

and this way:

and then, there’s this way, one of my favorites that I look for anxiously as November rolls into December:

In other words, an entirely new bloom cycle has begun in earnest. Hellebores, cyclamen, paperwhites, lavender, and rosemary. Fragrant, delicate-looking yet hardy, reliable beacons of life visible and tenacious. Oh, my!


Okay, here’s another hat. I’m on a roll. If I’d known how supremely light and soft and warm this yarn would be when knit up, I’d have 1) bought more of it at Stitches West two years ago and/or 2) used the three skeins I have much sooner. It’s by Chasing Rainbows Dyeworks, and the fiber content is Kid Merino. It. Is. Totally. Divine.

I knit this hat on size 9 needles. The resulting hat is so soft that I yanked it off my daughter’s head like a crazed baboon as soon as I’d finished taking these photos am wearing it right now and might never take it off. I might even have to sleep in it. Since I had not decided exactly for whom this hat would be a gift, there’s no law that says I have to part with it. Of course, I do have more of the yarn and could therefore make another hat for myself after I give this one away. That would be the unselfish thing to do and this is, after all, the most unselfish time of year, is it not?

Besides, I had already made up my mind to knit a matching pair of mitts to go with the hat, and the nice thing to do would be to give them all to my friend Crissy. Although she is practically my neighbor, not to mention the fact that she, too, is a knitter, she offered to let me do laundry at her house when our washing machine died last month. That magnanimous gesture (don’t forget – we are still in drought conditions here, and our water bills reflect that fact) should be worth at least a hat and mitts, in my opinion.

Gift-Knitting Race Continued…

In between knitting holiday projects, dinner has to be resentfully thrown together for picky family members who wolf it down in less than one-tenth the time it takes to make it lovingly and carefully prepared for my always appreciative family. But with as many knitted gifts as I hope to make, at this time of year dinner above all has to be a quick proposition. Time to return to that family favorite and one of my favorite stand-bys, Trader Joe’s sausage and lentils.

The ingredients for this dish will get you through the express line at TJ’s – and in and out of the kitchen – in record time. A couple of sliced carrots and one big chopped onion, sauteed together in a large pan with a drizzle of olive oil until soft. One package of chicken sausage (the kind that is seasoned with cilantro gives the meal a bit of a kick), sliced, and added to the pan to brown. At the end add one package of prepared lentils and about 1/2 to 1 cup of chicken broth, and allow it to simmer until the lentils are heated through. This, accompanied by a tossed green salad, is about the quickest and most satisfying meal I know.

Then, appetites satisfied, I can get back to the knitting. Another Kristen Kapur Thorpe hat joins the growing collection, this time for my brother-in-law. On my husband’s side of the family, only my brother-in-law and his partner live in a part of the country where winters get cold enough to wear a warm wool hat without succumbing to Sweaty Scalp Syndrome. For this I am actually rather grateful.

Here is one hat, and I have another to make, with sufficient style variations that they don’t walk around looking like the Thorpe Twins version of Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee. Hmmm… maybe add a pom-pom on the top? Lose the ear flaps? Make a brim deep enough to turn up? There must be endless variations on the Thorpe theme.

And because no doting mother ever tires of fulfilling the super-model fantasies of her teenage daughter, here are a couple more gratuitous photos of my very own super-model wearing the hat intended for my niece (if I can get her to part with it in time to get it into the mail, that is).

Holiday Madness

Yes, it has finally set in. Weeks ago, I perused my patterns in search of the perfect – i.e. quick and easy yet eminently giftable – projects to make as gifts for family and a couple of friends this year. Thinking to myself, “I’ve got Plenty of Time…!” (Famous last words, right?)

Now, here it is the first week of December and already I’m feeling behind the curve. I’ve discovered that much as I admire them, I’m just not one of those bloggers who posts photos of every WIP in each stage from start to completion. I don’t always have my camera at hand to shoot projects every few inches and then discuss the challenges and rewards of each step of the process. Some of the more challenging ones, yes, I do try to document those with slightly more regular updates. But the smaller projects that I crank out this time of year, not so much.

Finished projects – well, those are a different story. And as it happens, I have a couple to share today. Certain people who regularly read this blog should probably stop reading now because this could be a spoiler.

I made the Thorpe hat , designed by the wonderfully talented blogger Kristen Kapur in a couple of hours yesterday afternoon while listening to NPR and pausing every now and then for a sip of hot tea. If there’s any better way to spend a cloudy, raw afternoon, I don’t know what it is…
The hat, slightly modified with a couple of rows of garter stitch at the crown and knit on size 9s out of Noro “Transitions” (from my obscenely seemingly bottomless stash) should keep my niece’s ears nice and warm this winter:

Transitions is one of those Noro yarns into which the designer used almost every luxury plant and animal fiber available. No lie; just consider this ingredients list. Here goes: a single skein of Transitions contains 55% wool, 10% silk, 7% cashmere, 7% alpaca, 7% angora, 7% camel, and – whew! – finally, 7% Kid mohair. What was Mr. Noro thinking?!! I’ll give him credit, though – this baby is one soft, warm, and snuggly hat.

For my sister the pea-soup-green-fan, this Darkside Cowl by Sarah Fama is just the ticket. I knit it in Manos del Uruguay pure wool (yes, also from the stash), also on size 9s:

and then (because I had another skein, so why not?) I made her a pair of mittens to go with it.

It’s the End of the Year As We Know It…

…to borrow and modify a song title from REM. How did it get to be December? I guess I was so wrapped up in election madness that the year flew faster than usual. Thanksgiving with family was wonderful. Everybody got along, the food was delicious, and I felt extremely grateful to be able to make the trip to New York to celebrate with my loved ones. I felt grateful that we have a new president who just may be able to pull our country out of this terrifying tailspin. I felt – and feel – grateful for our warm and safe home, for my beloved family, for our (relatively) good health – all of it.

When I see this:

and lots of these Meyer lemons slowly morphing from green to vivid and fragrant yellow:

and even some of these enormous dahlias still valiantly blooming amid the dried and slightly moldy leaves in the cutting bed:

it makes the end of the year all the more difficult to believe.

And now it has caught up with me; the next few weeks are so busy and then… 2009, here we come, ready or not!

Marilyn’s Bed Jacket

At last… it’s out, finally! I received my Interweave Knits Winter 2008 issue in today’s mail and had my first chance to see my very own Marilyn’s Bed Jacket on the page. So much better than when I tried to model it myself, because as per instructions the size I made is clearly intended for a wearer who is more abundantly endowed than I. As you can see:

Lots of new designers in this issue, which is full of unfamiliar names. Seems that many of the all-stars are publishing in the new issue of Twist Collective, which went live just a few days ago. Personally, though it’s always wonderful to see the names of designers whose work I already know and love, I also enjoy seeing new work by new designers who are not already household names. Keeps things fresh, in my opinion.

Not only is my pattern out for knitters, but my feature interview with Norah Gaughan made it into the issue… four full pages of all things Norah. Truthfully, she has had such an incredible career in the knitting industry that IK could devote an entire issue to her! What a lovely individual she is; interviewing her for the magazine was as big a thrill as having my cardigan design accepted.

Detail above of one very special pewter button, a finishing touch to the rich tweed cardigan.

Talk about perfect timing, and something for which I am most thankful. This issue could not have arrived at a better time, since I’m heading out to visit family for the holiday this week. Happy Thanksgiving, all. Will be back in a few days.

Thursday Yarn Pr0n

As if I needed any incentive to buy more yarn, it seems that every time I check in with Anne’s blog there is a strangely compelling, even magnetic link that pulls me directly from there to some of my favorite yarn sites. Sometimes I bravely resist the fiber force field, but other times – like this week – resistance is futile.

A recent visit to the Fearless Fibers Etsy shop netted me these lovely additions to my collection of lace and sock weight yarn. Here’s a line-up of the four most recent acquisitions:

From left to right are: Deepest Forest, Teal Green, Ocean Breeze, and Majestic. Let’s take a closer look:

This is the Deepest Forest, although you might mistake it for Majestic here. It is truly more green than this, but it’s a murky, dramatically shadowed green, the kind of green that suggests the stillness of an old-growth forest just before a storm – the name Deb chose is particularly apt.

Teal Green is, to my eye, more blue than green. I cannot overstate the rich saturation of the colors in this skein – so rich it practically drains all the other colors out of the room. Its true value is somewhere in between these two photos, with just enough variegation to make me itch to cast on for a wrap.

Ocean Breeze…! Yes, that is what these next sprightly, crisp spring tints bring to mind.

That, and perhaps a country meadow in early spring, when the air still carries the waning fragrance of melted snow, and the trees are just beginning to bud leaves in that special and particularly luminous, translucent greeny-yellow, and the stalks of all new growth are heartbreakingly tender and fragile and hopeful.

And finally, Majestic. What can I say about it that Anne hasn’t already covered in her recent posts? This color is magnificent, featuring every deep shade of eggplant, violet, charcoal, and more. Deb’s laceweight merino is so deliciously soft, so luxurious to work with, that my imagination is boggled by the range of projects for which this yarn would be suitable. I’m thinking: long and lacy gloves with a ribbon woven through at the wrist; gloves you’d envision on the delicate hands of a Victorian poet or star-crossed Shakespearean damsel.

Okay, time to pull out the needles and do some serious swatching!

Startitis: It’s Contagious

There seems to be an epidemic of Startitis going around the knitting blogosphere at this time of year. I keep catching myself fondling different yarns in my stash (and anyone who has seen my stash knows that such fondling could continue for weeks – possibly months – without touching the same skein of yarn twice. It’s scary. Soon I’ll no longer be able to tell myself, “As long as it fits onto the shelf/into the cabinet/in the baskets, there’s room for another skein.” But I digress.) with no particular project in mind.

With the holidays nearly upon us, I have a stack of quick and easy hat/mitt/scarf patterns laid out temptingly on my desk, even though I do not traditionally make holiday gifts for friends and family. Perhaps it’s fear of spending money during the faltering economy, perhaps it’s college tuition payments looming for my daughter (more likely it’s simply my obsession with knitting and beautiful yarn), but this year I am more tempted than usual to knit gifts for my loved ones.

I’m working on a pair of simple ribbed mitts right now, in a semisolid colorway that resembles split pea soup crossed with pond scum. There is someone in my immediate family who is fond of such greens… (you know who you are). My daughter wants a hat or two or three. My husband would like a pair of mitts. So I keep winding skeins on the swift and ball winder, then casting on for one project after another, yet none of them holds my interest. My eyes keep wandering around the stash, and my fingers twitch to touch something different than that which is in my hands at the moment.

Maybe my impatience is a corollary of this disconcerting weather more than it is of the time of year. Our weird California weather continues, although at least today didn’t get any warmer than the mid 60’s. Yesterday it reached nearly 80 degrees, and to my mind that is simply too warm for mid-November. Where is the rain? We need it desperately! In the garden, although there are many plants at the end of their cycle for this year, others seem also to be succumbing to startitis. The hellebores are just poking up new stalks:

even as the dogwood leaves, in brilliant crimson, begin to fall:

The cymbidium orchids have put out dozens of bud stalks, and soon will be in full glorious bloom; once again for a few months they will justify the long summer months when there is nothing to look at but their rather boring, swordlike leaves.

Newly planted calla lilies seem content with their new spot in the ground; their blooms are vibrant and graceful, and have already lasted more than a few weeks. When the rain finally begins, their upturned cups will hold the water like a glimmering gift.


Here it is, ladies and gentlemen: the Drops Cardigan from Garnstudio. Easy-peasy, to my delight. Sometimes in my knitting I just need a dose of (nearly) instant gratification, and this project is it. So quick to knit – about three weeks from start to finish – and a perfect fit after blocking. I love the full-length sleeves, and made sure the overlapped double seed stitch front plackets would not look skimpy when buttoned. The collar could be a bit deeper, but buttoned up it fits snugly and comfortably around my neck. Lovely.

The only problem? Well, not really a problem, but I have to make a return visit to Britex Fabrics (not exactly a hardship) to purchase one additional button. Decided that four worked better than the three I bought on my original trip to the store. I distinctly remember seeing a full box of these buttons behind the counter of Britex’s Notions Heaven otherwise known as the 3rd Floor, so am hopeful they will have more of them when I get into the city later this week.

A human model soon. Meanwhile, the vintage button money shot:


So has everybody seen the latest email from Interweave Knits’ Knitting Daily newsletter? The one that offers a preview of the Winter 2008 issue? The issue that includes a cardigan pattern by yours truly, an exciting project that remained in the “Secret Knitting” category for a few hectic weeks over the summer?

Although the preview is up, I’m not sure it would be kosher to show photos of my project just yet. I will say it’s in the Country House, City House section and the IK editors have named my pattern “Marilyn’s Bed Jacket.” When I made this project in the requested size, the finished garment was way too large for me and, therefore, not particularly flattering. On the stunning IK model, however, who is taller and curvier than I can ever hope to be, the cardigan is not just lovely, but it is sexy and opulent, feminine and practical simultaneously. This is not to blow my own horn; I truly didn’t realize the cardigan – much as I love it – could look like this. Va-voom! I’m so pleased, and cannot wait for the issue to hit newsstands (and my mailbox) so I can share more details.

It is my distinct honor to have another piece being published in the same issue of Interweave Knits, but for now that will remain under wraps.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Lily is one of those female names that is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. I’ve met many little Lilies the last couple of years, tiny girls who epitomize the graceful and mellifluous name. And my mother is one of the originals. Yesterday she turned 79, and despite the frailties of age and a less-than-robust heart, the Lily I know is still lovely, graceful, and a proud standard-bearer for the name.
Creative from childhood, she has excelled at every artistic medium from sculpture to painting to quilt-making. Generous with her time and her exuberant talent, when my sisters and I were growing up our mother taught art classes and instilled in many of our community’s children an appreciation for art and the many ways to see beauty in the most mundane things around them, as well as a realization that they, too, could explore their own creative impulses and make beautiful images.

Always sensitive to color and balance and proportion, our mom made each of our homes over the years beautiful and welcoming even though she had no formal decorating training. To this day, when I go home to visit I find myself looking around my parents’ living room and admiring the placement of furniture, her choice of art and accessories, and the seeming casual ease with which it all comes together to create a unified feeling of comfort and visual pleasure. I grew up strong because of the countless times I pushed and coaxed my bedroom furniture across the room to try new arrangements that were inspired by Mom’s efforts. We girls were allowed to choose a new paint color for our rooms once every few years, and it was only after much agonizing that those choices were made because Mom’s exquisite taste established such a high bar. She’d set us up with water colors at the kitchen table and praise us extravagantly for our efforts. Visits to museums were always part of our childhood, and to this day (oh, so many, many years later) we still make a point of visiting the museums in any city to which our travels take us.

Our mom is a reader and a Scrabble player, and she instilled those passions in her three daughters. When we were children, our inviolable Saturday morning ritual was to pile into the family station wagon and head to the public library. There, we would spend a solid hour in that hushed, high-ceilinged space, choosing books for the week – and until I left home for college, it was routine for me to read two or three novels or biographies every week in addition to any reading I had to do for school. It wasn’t that we discussed our reading with each other around the dinner table. It was simply that reading for pleasure was such an important part of our lives, and Mom did such a good job of conveying her belief that reading opened up new worlds to anyone willing to step into books.

And Scrabble. Well, we still play whenever I visit my parents. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood and began to play with unrelated friends that I learned some of my mother’s rules were a little loosey-goosey. Pick up three of the same letter? Well, put one back, silly, and choose a new tile! And I thought it was legal to replace a blank tile with the letter for which it was a stand-in. Mom taught me that sometimes it was worth forfeiting the point value of that letter in order to make use of the repurposed blank tile in the next turn. Not real, official rules, readers. But what did I know?

Mom is even now possessed of a sense of style that is perhaps the result of all those fashion design courses she took in college. Like many little girls we loved to watch her get dressed for an evening out with Dad. She’s so elegant, with her arching eyebrows, wavy black hair, and simple jewelry. Though the hair is now gray, the elegance remains. We love her, and appreciate her, and always look forward to spending time with her.

Happy birthday, Lily!

Back from College Heaven

Some of the best times I’ve spent with my family this year are precursors to what will undoubtedly be, at least temporarily, one of the saddest times. We’ve taken a couple of short trips back East to visit colleges with my high school senior daughter, who has her heart set on going out-of-state for college even if it means paying back loans for the next twenty years of her life.

In the spring, we visited several schools in Pennsylvania over a couple of raw wet days filled with dirty snow and dreary skies. The campuses, however, were impervious to the weather, populated as they were with perky tour guides who excelled at walking backwards across campus as they extolled the virtues of their schools, and encouraging admissions officers who were thrilled at the prospect of attracting a bright and shiny new freshman from the under-represented West Coast demographic. Not that I’m cynical or anything.

This time, we went to Providence, RI to visit Brown (which my daughter pronounced “Beautiful even in the rain!”) and several schools in Boston. In Providence, we met my parents for a visit that included a delicious dinner at Mill’s Tavern to celebrate two birthdays: Mom’s and my husband’s. My dad outdid himself, calling the restaurant’s pastry chef in advance to request a special cake… it was extravagantly delicious, with a dense, moist crumb and chocolate ganache frosting. Though it was incredibly rich, I kept taking just… one… more… bite… because it was too good to stop eating. We could hardly get up from the table when the meal was finished.

Everywhere we went, I was childishly pleased to see that the fall foliage had not completely dropped off the trees.

We stuffed ourselves with chowder, oysters, and other rich New Englandy seafood dishes in between campus tours. We wandered around the Faneuil Hall Market square, and admired the historic old architecture of the Back Bay and Beacon Hill (pausing at a house on which a placard announced it as the building from which Paul Revere set out on his midnight ride), and window-shopped Newbury Street after dark to walk off yet another rich meal.

We connected with our daughter’s best friend from her summer program in France, and had dinner at a wonderful restaurant in the North End with Sophie (on the left) and her parents.
And everywhere we went, there were more of those brilliant gorgeous trees…

In three days, we toured four colleges, and did drive-throughs of another three. Quite a whirlwind, yet each school left its own distinct impressions. Memory being an imperfect thing, thank goodness I took so many photos of all that foliage those buildings!

These are the three inter-denominational chapels at Brandeis University, one of Rachel’s favorite spots on our tour of that campus.


My joy is indescribable.

Congratulations, President-Elect Obama.