Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Tangled Skein

A new yarn store has opened in downtown Hyattsville, an area less than a fifteen-minute drive from where we live. David, Son, and I went to check it out on Sunday afternoon.

What a lovely store! I love the modern-but-warm feel of the silver-gray walls and black yarn cubbies. I was pleased by how well the colors of the yarn showed up against the dark shelves and how incredibly inviting it felt.

As soon as we walked in, I ran into two pals from my knitting group. Together and apart, we ogled the Classic Elite Miracle (a 50% alpaca, 50% tencel yarn in gorgeous colors), the Waterlily, lots of silk and silk blends from Debbie Bliss and others, and the relatively comprehensive selection of standards from Lamb's Pride and Noro. There is a nice selection of books and magazines as well.

So far, the store does not have much laceweight or sock yarn. But the store just opened. Not only do I expect that they will fill out their yarn selections--but they are thinking about adding a coffee bar!

One of the best things about the store is its location. This up-and-coming hip neighborhood is full of artists--and the store is directly across from one of my favorite brew pubs-slash-general stores, Franklin's. I can see this becoming a habit!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Changing Plans

It's here!

* * *

Yesterday I drafted "My Personal Rules for Fair Isle February":

1. I will start knitting Glen Albyn, designed by Jade Starmore.

2. Even when it gets hard, I won't cave and knit something else. At least not in this short month.

3. Except plain stockinette socks. (If buying sock yarn doesn't count as buying yarn for you stash busters, it surely doesn't count to knit....)

4. But I can still spin, right?

5. No lace. No cables. Not even a little seed-stitch beret.

Can you tell I am getting nervous?

* * *

Recently, there has been quite a discussion on a listserv I lurk on about how kits from Virtual Yarns frequently run really tight on yarn, even for those who knit at the perfect gauge.

Can I knit at the perfect gauge? When I make my little swatch at the beginning, I will be all but a novice, and with a penchant for tight tension anyway. By the end of the sweater, I'll have enough experience with fair isle that I am sure my tension will loosen up--meaning I will not be at the same gauge and therefore even more susceptible to running out of yarn.

Eeks! Pull out the books for some guidance and start rifling through them for hints....

* * *

And then I read the comments on this post where I confessed that I wasn't yet swatching but instead casting on new lace projects here at the tail end of January.

My definition of a brilliant idea is something that you aren't thinking about but once you hear seems abundantly obvious and feels like you've known it all along.

Sarah lobbed in this one: "You 'ought' to do what you want to do!"

* * *

Fair Isle February is a KAL with no rules. Why did I feel like I needed such inflexible rules?

Fundamentally, knitting is an ordered rule-driven craft of the textile world. Stitch follows stitch, row follows row. What makes is fun--what makes it art, even--is how we learn to bend those rules to create things all our own. Bending the rules is what created cables, what created shaped garments rather than just simple squares or rectangles--and even what allowed Fair Isle knitting to blossom.

* * *

My partner David watched me reading through the library's copy of The Principles of Knitting: Methods and Techniques of Hand Knitting by June Hiatt and an interlibrary-loaned Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting. He listened as I talked faster and faster, my voice getting higher and higher as the muscles in my body tightened. I said I couldn't do it. He reassured me that he was sure I could. I was almost crying.

Finally, he looked at me and said, "Why not just do something a little easier? Make a mitten or a hat or something. How about those mitts of Eunny's you were talking about?"


I suspect that success in a smaller project will give me confidence as well as help me regularize my stranding tension enough that perhaps then I'll be ready for Glen Albyn.

So bring it on! Rather than trembling and trying to turn backwards, I'm chomping at the bit for February 1st.

* * *

The question is:

brown and ice blue?

or brown and rose?

Cross-posted to Fair Isle February

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Skeleton Scarf

I love this scarf--both the pattern and the yarn. Knitting it was an absolute pleasure.

I enjoyed it so much that I'm not sure if my next project from Arctic Lace will be the Parka Trim stole or another Skeleton--but with 3 patterns across rather than 2, and 5 long instead of this scarf's 4 repeats. Whichever it is, I will enjoy this scarf now in the winter weather we are finally getting!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hey.... That's not Fair Isle knitting....

Despite my commitment to Fair Isle February, I'm sitting here with more lace on my hands. As soon as I cast off the Skeleton Scarf (pictures tomorrow), I managed to cast on Kiri in this luscious shade of Kidsilk Haze:

Yummy. But I ought to be swatching for Fair Isle....

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Cozying up to my iPod

David gave me an iPod for Hanukkah and I've been enjoying it immensely.

I made a little cozy for it with Knit Picks Gloss yarn.  After taking a swatch, I measured around the iPod and multiplied my gauge by the number of inches.  I cast on that number and knit a few rows of garter stitch, then switched to stockinette for the body.  I knit until the cozy was long enough to cover the iPod, then divided the stitches in half and did a 3-needle bind-off. 

I picked up stitches along the front, knit back and forth in stockinette for a couple of inches then finished with a couple of rows of garter and bound off.  I sewed the hanging flap up the cozy to make a little pocket for the earphones.  (Actually, I added a couple of stitches to the flap to make room for my larger mono earphone from my hearing device--but most of you won't need to do that.)  Then I started a long i-cord to go around my neck.

Although I've listened to podcasts on my laptop for a while (and still love Cast On and the others), I've discovered a few new favorites:

1. Sticks and String

Although I obviously have a lot of interest in men who knit (as you can tell since both my partner and our son knit), I was a little wary of a knitting "bloke."  Sounded a bit too consciously macho for my taste.  I was wrong.  (Clearly I didn't get the everydayness of the word in Australia.  I gather it doesn't mean anything other than "man" or "guy" or "fellow" does to some of the rest of us.) 

David, the host of the podcast, has a welcoming personality.  With his gentle voice, he presents essays, reviews, and occasional interview interspersed with mellow music.  I caught up with all of his earlier episodes in short order!

In his spare time, David is an astrophysicist and a teacher.  How cool is that?

2. More Hip than Hippie

This is an "eco-funny" podcast, as the hosts say.  Although Dori and Val are a bit more professional and less off-the-cuff than Lime and Violet, they have some of the same energy.  The introductory song turned me off so much than I almost didn't continue listening to the first episode--but now I am totally hooked on their laughter, inspiration, reporting on issues, summary of recent eco-news, and "teeny weeny greeny" tips to live a greener life, and reviews of chocolate and beer.  Have a listen!

3. 3 Wine Guys

These three guys review several wines on each episode, usually all of a particular variety.  Sometimes they talk about particular wineries or the history of a particular kind of wine as well.  I don't always laugh at their occasional attempts at broad humor, but I'm very fond of their quiet off-the-cuff  discussions.  Who wouldn't drool over descriptions of "a chewy kick-ass pinot" tasting like a mix of cinnamon, raspberry syrup, pencil lead, grilled toast, violets, and forest floor?

4. Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me

Did you KNOW you could listen to some of the best of NPR, including my all time favorite listed above?!  I had no idea.  I also found my favorite local NPR talk show from an old hometown--the thing I still miss absolutely the most about Philadephia.

5. The Economist and Democracy Now

And when their news gets too serious, check out the Onion.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Arctic Alpaca

I've been knitting the Skeleton Scarf from Arctic Lace: Knitting Projects and Stories Inspired by Alaska's Native Knitters and I am really enjoying this pattern. Although it is a very regular and predicable chart, the repeat is 92 rows long so you never get bored. Although the pattern calls for 3 repeats for a short scarf, I am knitting four at a larger gauge--so I will have a wide scarf (or narrow stole) of about five and a half feet long.

Although I did not splurge for qivuit, alpaca makes a gloriously soft substitute.

The pattern is based on a wooden spoon painted with a traditional "x-ray" painting of a monster--showing its skeleton in the same pattern as the lace. Very cool.

The dark lines are the shadows of the window panes with bright sunshine coming through. Right after taking the picture, it began snowing for the first time this winter!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Fair Isle February KAL

My parents bought this sweater in Scotland in 1970 when I was a very young girl.

Please join me at the new knit-along this month as we celebrate Fair Isle knitting and try our hands at colorwork. Whether you are a novice or an expert, we'd love to hear about your adventures in stranding.

All projects are welcome. Some of us will be starting sweaters. Perhaps you plan to try a traditional tam or a great mitten pattern. Maybe a colorwork purse sounds just right. But whether you are designing your own complex Fair Isle cardigan or just attempting a stranded iPod cozy, here's a place to meet friends, ask questions, learn new techniques and history, and share your progress.

There are no rules in the KAL. You may start a new project, get enough inspiration to pick up a UFO or finish a WIP, or design something on paper but not knit a single stitch.

At the end of the month, names of all participants will be put in a pot for a DRAWING FOR FABULOUS PRIZES donated by such vendors as Schoolhouse Press and Black Water Abbey!

Friday, January 19, 2007

This Calls for a Toast

Since 1949, writer Edgar Allan Poe's Baltimore grave has been visited every year by a mysterious visitor in the early hours of Poe's birthday, January 19th. The man, described as an elderly gentleman draped in black with a silver-tipped cane, kneels at the grave for a toast of Martel cognac and leaves the half-full bottle and three red roses. Only this and nothing more.

'He leaves quietly and we don't know who he is, nor do we have any intention. We're very careful to protect his anonymity,' said Lou Ann Marshal, a tour guide at Westminster Hall cemetery . 'In the last few years, I've heard it's been a younger man with a cane who tries to walk with a limp, but it's not natural-looking. My guess is that it's something that's been passed down in a family--a secret Poe society.'

See this report for more news about the 2007 visitation.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

David's First Sweater!

Pattern found in Melanie Falick's brilliant Kids Knitting, which has led not only a few children but a lot of adults to a Life of Knitting.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


During the 1950s and 1960s, my parents were involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the town where they were then living. I grew up hearing stories about my father passing out candy bars to protesting African Americans sitting down at the segregated lunch counter at the drugstore. For this, his graduate school took away his fellowship.

I also heard stories of my father's father and his critiques of the Ku Klux Klan. He believed they were cowardly for hiding their faces when they should be proud of what they believed and fought for.

What a long way my father came from how he grew up.

I grew up with images of people wearing their Sunday best, proud and strong, marching peacefully to express their refusal to accept segregation--and images of those same people being sprayed to the ground by fire hoses strong enough to peel bark off trees. The hoses were held by police officers. Whenever people told me that policemen were our friends, I cringed.

I sang with my parents on every long car trip, learning the words to many many freedom songs, including a few turned-around verses written by the few liberal white southerners in the movement: "If you miss me at the front of the bus, I'll be sitting in the back...."

* * *

Yesterday we watched as our community celebrated Martin Luther King day in the way that seems to be becoming the traditional commemoration in the United States: rather than a day committed to justice and nonviolence (which one might expect and want), it is a day of service (which seems less edgy or dangerous, I suppose).

The service projects in the DC area that accepted children as volunteers all seemed to be more about making the kids feel connected and enjoy their experiences than actually get anything substantial done. We went to a Day of Service fair that sometimes just felt like a make-crafts-with-plastic-crap festival. In my cynical mood, I walked around the noisy hotel ballroom, frustrated that the charities represented there were not even allowed to have posters explaining the point of their organizations. Making dice out of recycled boxes or making decorations for a party to thank donors to the Republican party basically cannot help me memorialize Martin Luther King.

And then, as usual, fiber stopped me in my tracks.

Using the idea of the prayer shawl ministry where volunteers knit shawls for people in need of comfort and prayers, the local hospice program decided to have volunteers decorate fleece shawls to offer to the hospice patients and to their family members "to wrap them in the comfort hospice can provide." I sat down with polar fleece, scissors, Red Heart yarn, and a needle barely sharp enough to pierce the fabric--and started to cry. After I made mine, Son came to start one as well:

Some people made really elaborate scarves:

I then made a flower from tissue paper for the a local shelter for abused and homeless women including those with families. The flowers would be used by the children there to help them prepare corsages for Mother's Day. Can you imagine what it must be like to be spending your first Mother's Day in a shelter because you were a brave enough and strong enough mother to take yourself and your children away from a batterer?

Do the fleece-and-sequins-and-glue shawls or the tissue paper flowers really do any good in the world? Perhaps not. But despite my reluctance, the process of making them DOES do a lot of good in the world. Making those of us with plenty feel connected to the incredibly deep needs of others may be more important than anything we could actually do for people in need in just an hour or so. It is not their lives we change but our own. (And of course, most of us are both "us" and "them" at various points in our lives.)

And now I am off to finish a scarf for Food and Friends, cast on a scarf for the Orphan Foundation's Red Scarf Project, and finish plans to put together with my family an afghan for Afghans for Afghans. Anybody want to join me?

* * *

After we left the hotel ballroom, we stopped by our favorite movie rental place to pick up an episode or two of Eyes on the Prize, the phenomenal documentary about the Civil Rights Movement. The video store did not have it (and I've now put it on hold at the library) so we went back to one of MLK's roots and checked out Gandhi. Although I know it would be made differently now and has some factual problems as well, we were all overwhelmed with the power of the movie.

The two moral centers of my personal universe are honesty and pacifism--although I constantly fail at my efforts to be an honest person who never relies on violence--even verbal violence--to win my way. (Perhaps the fact that these are weaknesses is why I am so committed to the ideals?) I completely realize that people's ethical commitments can vary tremendously and even completely conflict with each other, and both people can still be very ethical people. So please, if you don't share my pacifist beliefs, understand that I realize that this is my own path and not necessarily that of my readers.

I believe that force can never win true and lasting change. I believe that violence cannot create a world based on respect and peace.

Nonviolence is not just an ethical practice. It is a successful strategy. Ghandi talked a great deal about how the nonviolent soldier had to be just as committed to engagement and just as prepared to lay down his or her life for the cause as any military soldier would be. Instead of accepting domination, fight by refusing it, both in small ways and large, symbolic ways and tangible ones.

Gandhi, resisting the dominance of the British markets, encouraged Indians to reconnect to skills that could insure their independence. When the empire required that salt be bought from Britain, Gandhi marched to the sea and made salt. When the empire required that cloth be bought from Britain, Gandhi mobilized an entire country to spin their own thread and weave and wear homespun garments. (Ah yes, it all comes back to the fiber arts.)

When faced with violence, don't turn back. Violence shows the weakness of those we fight against. When you do nothing but vigorously challenge oppression, the person hitting you may be able to see your humanity. If he or she does not, at least the people across the world learning of the story will be able to understand your side. Yes, there will be pain and death--but will there be more pain and death than there would be in military battle? And will change come about because of force, change that cannot last, or will justice come because we finally see the greater humanity that links us all?

* * *

Imagine a world committed to both justice and nonviolence. What if we had that in the US? Can you even think what the War on Terror would mean if that was our starting point? What if Palestinians and Israelis had moral leaders like Gandhi or MLK?

May we never loose the ability to see such a world.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The new edition of Yarnival is up! As usual, it is full of funny, insightful, inspiring, and instructive posts. Go check it out.

And don't forget to submit your favorite posts for inclusion in the next issue--which will be hosted right here at The Purloined Letter on February 15. The deadline for submissions is February 1st. See you there!

Friday, January 12, 2007

First FO of 2007

The time I had to knit during my travels and during the conference allowed me to finish this:

The Shetland Triangle shawl from Wrap Style is a terrific first lace project--and it is also great for conference-knitting when you can't spend every moment looking at your knitting or a pattern.

I knit it from luxurious Handmaiden Sea Silk, easy to knit with and luscious to touch. The yarn is a bit slippery so I recommend using a bamboo needle.

Using 11 pattern repeats to give a 6 ft. width to the shawl, I used all of one ball plus just enough extra to bind off the final row. (I think David may knit this same shawl with the second ball and knit only 10 repeats.)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Knitting in Atlanta

I zoomed into Atlanta, gave an academic paper at a conference, hit two knitting stores, and flew out again.

The conference worked out well. I enjoyed practicing our paper over a glass of wine with my cowriter, about to move to Scotland for a new teaching position. For the holidays I gave her a Shetland Triangle shawl. Susan is always incredibly kind about anything I give her, especially something handmade. (And yes, she knows to say hello to Alice Starmore if she runs into her.)

Due to illness, neither my father nor brother were able to attend. (How nerdy is is that family reunions occur at every academic conference?!) My brother's girlfriend Rebecca was there and we got to have lunch together. Wish her luck on the job market!

I took MARTA to Buckhead and the walked about ten minutes to Why Knot Knit, a lovely shop. The store is a converted house right off the main drag. They carry everything from a wide selection of beautifully-displayed Cascade 220 to Helen's Lace, from Blue Sky Alpaca to Manos. The sales assistant at the time chatted amicably with me while she wound a skein of Handmaiden's glorious Sea Silk. Upscale but comfortable, the store is just lovely and the yarns easy to imagine knitted up.

I could not resist this classic alpaca, destined to become a classic scarf:

I then took a cab to the happening Virginia Highlands neighborhood, clearly the Takoma Park of Georgia. There I went to Knitch, a beautiful new store trying to appeal to a younger market. Wow. The store was full of not only gorgeous upscale commercial yarns (Jade Sapphire cashmere! Artyarns silk! Cool Tilli Thomas that I have never seen in person!) but hand-spun glories such as Insubordiknit Yarns and hand-dyed yarns like Claudia Hand Painted. They also carry limited spinning supplies, including a roving color called Lima Bean. It took a LOT not to buy that.

And, well, of course:

I came out with some Aloo--a spun nettle fiber. Gorgeous and fascinatingly rough. Could not resist. I'm thinking a little cabled purse? Any other ideas?

I took the bus to the subway--something the bus driver seemed to think no middle-class person would do in Atlanta. I don't drive for medical reasons and am therefore used to traveling all over the world without a car, so I risked it. What a great public transportation system you have there! With both that and at least these two stores, you Atlanta knitters are a lucky group. I'm so sorry I did not have enough time to meet some of you.

One of the best parts of the trip was the uninterrupted time to listen to podcasts and knit on the plane. More on both soon!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Drawing Results

The ball of Graceful laceweight goes to Inky! I can't wait to see what you do with it.

Send me your email and address to ThePurloinedLetter1 AT Yahoo DOT Com and I'll get it right out to you!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Knitting for Peace

Yesterday in my hometown of Takoma Park, MD, there was the first meeting of a large group of knitters who gathered to stitch together and make some items for charity. The meeting, in honor of the wonderful book Knitting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time (which Amazon is selling for less than ten dollars!), attracted a large crowd. Many of us made scarves for Food and Friends, a local group that is having a scarf drive. Others knitted bears for children with no toys, premie caps, afghans, etc. David took along the scarf he is knitting out of Kidsilk Haze and donating for a charity auction.

We chatted a little about ideas for future plans. Some people expressed interest in each of us knitting a square for an afghan we then seam together. Others suggested knitting a multi-knitter shawl like the one at the end of Shawls and Scarves where three or four knitters sit in a circle and keep going around and around. Whether we donated the shawl to a charity or put it up for sale at the local farmer's market, it sounds like a lot of fun.

While we were there, Amy taught me how to crochet--and I completed a whole scarf on the hook and yarn I borrowed from her for the afternoon. A representative of Food and Friends was there and I handed the completed scarf right over. Wow--add crochet, big hook, and bulky yarn together and things go fast!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Swatching Laceweight

Yarn Place produces beautiful yarns. Coming in a wide range of colors, lace-weight yarns Touch and Graceful are very different from each other but share one thing in common: they are both extremely affordable. I know Yarn Place will be getting an order from me in the future!

Touch is an interesting yarn made from 85% merino, 10% man-made fiber, 5% cashmere. Each 62.5 skein has 800 yards and retails for $11.99.

Using the pattern for the Adamas shawl, I knit up a swatch on size 3 needles. Although it takes a minute to adjust to knitting with a yarn as stretchy as this one, it quickly becomes natural. The yarn is very soft running through your fingers and is therefore a joy to knit.

I blocked the swatch severely, as I do with all the lace I've knitted:

Although I did not know it was possible, I think my blocking this time was a bit too severe. The stretchiness of the yarn is so intense that it opens up tremendously--and as I was blocking, I was guessing that the elasticity would cause the yarn to snap back a bit after unpinning. It did not at all, holding the blocking exceptionally well. Next time I won't pull it out as far.

* * *

The other yarn I swatched was Graceful, a 100% wool yarn with 2400 yards (enough for at least two large shawls) in the 100 gram ball retailing $22.99. The yarn is lightly variegated with luscious and extremely slow color changes--so slow that you might not see much color transition at all if you're knitting a small shawl.

Using Barbara Walker's stitch treasuries, I decided to try out a bunch of different lace patterns for these swatches.

Graceful yarn is extremely fine. I am a tight knitter and usually have to go up a size or two to get gauge. Having very successfully knit Jade Sapphire Lacey Lamb on size 3 needles, I tried that first:

I felt like I was knitting thread with piano legs as needles.

I gradually worked my way down and was happy with the result when I was knitting on size 000 needles. The result was fantastic.

After knitting this tiny swatch on triple zeros, I knew this yarn might be destined to sit in the stash box for quite a while....

* * *

If anyone is a braver knitter than I am and would like to have the rest of the ball of Graceful, please leave me a comment saying so. If there are several of you, I'll draw a name and send it out to you!

* * *

Thanks, Amy, for giving me the chance to swatch and review the yarns!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


I am thrilled to be hosting the February issue of Yarnival!

Started by Eve of Needle Exchange, Yarnival showcases terrific blogs and great posts from the fiber world. Each Yarnival spotlights everything from reviews to essays to finished objects. Every issue is a treasure trove of beautiful writing and spectacular photography.

Eve hosted the first two issues. The subsequent issues were hosted on January One, Fricknits, and CaroleKnits whose upcoming issue will be released January 15.

Please submit posts from your blog for inclusion in this edition of Yarnival! Submissions will be accepted at the Blog Carnival site until the end of the month. The new issue will be posted on February 15th!

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Tradition

Happy New Year!

One of our family traditions this time of year is a visit to the United State Botanic Garden. Every winter the USBG, a conservatory next to the Capitol building, puts on a spectacular train display. This year the adventure began outside:

Inside there were two more train displays. One was a fairy-tale land with trains running by the houses of the three little pigs, Grandma's house with a wolf wearing an apron waiting at the door for Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella's carriage, etc. The other was a train running through 19th-century village which encircled an enormous Christmas tree.

Designed by Paul G. Busse, all of the buildings are decorated with bits of the natural world: pinecone scales, walnut shells, locust pods, coriander seeds, birch bark, cinnamon sticks, acorn caps, dried okra, pistachio shells, corn husks, moss, and the like.

My favorite part of the conservatory's holiday decorations is their National Mall in Miniature exhibit, also made by Busse:

Here is the Capitol...

...the USBG conservatory building itself...

...the Library of Congress...

...the Washington Monument...

...and at the end of the reflecting pool, the Lincoln Memorial...

...complete with a little Lincoln.

I love the gourd top of the Jefferson memorial:

After walking through the lusciously humid jungle of plants in the rest of the conservatory, I sat down to knit and enjoy the warmth and the scents of the flowers. Soon I realized that I was sitting in the perfect location: right in front of a painting of a spinning wheel!


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