Saturday, December 29, 2007

Holiday Ho Ho HO

Christmas was mass confusion as usual: Loads of people, presents, food, drink, and zaniness.

Here's my wish that your holiday season is as happy and full as mine has been. I had the good fortune of having all my kids home for a few days: Liz arrived home from Philly on 12/18, the oldest two descended from DC on the 23rd. Now the older two are back in their regular lives again, and Liz will stay to enjoy her semester break until she leaves us on January 9. Claire's break ends on January 8, so at least she'll be able to enjoy a little time with her sister (and us.)

Happy Hanukkah! (belated ... it sure was early this year.)
Merry Christmas!
Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

TAMS! FINISHED! Before Christmas, even!

Man O man, why do I always bite off more than I should chew? ;-)

The list of Christmas projects is as long as my arm, but the amount of time left for completion is becoming more precious by the day. I just finished my first stranded colorwork project, which is also a Christmas gift: a tam in an ombre yarn (Patons Classic Merino "Retro") and a solid that is the favorite color of the intended recipient (Patons Classic Merino "Burgundy"). Sort of a 'cheat' Fair Isle look. It took less time than I anticipated, only a week, for which I am forever grateful. I'm not Speedy Gonzales on the needles either, so it would be a really fast project for most anyone else. Once I got my tension and strand separation issues worked out, it went very fast. Many thanks to Kathleen Taylor, who created the pattern and posted it on her Dakota Dreams blog. She offers a new free stranded colorwork pattern every Friday. Be sure to check out her site; she is a wonderful knitter and designer. Her Ravelry ID is GrammaK; go look at her projects there, too.

This tam is in the Interweave KNITS HOLIDAY GIFTS 2007 issue, called the Qiviuk Webs Tam, but I substituted a delicious baby alpaca for a HUGE floppy tam. It was so large that I had to haul out the heavy artillery to block it: my trusty 18" round Christmas cookie plate. The yarn, Fable Handknits "Pure Baby Alpaca", is so so so so SO soft, but is tough to work with on the needles. To say nothing of the fact that this entire pattern is PURLED almost exclusively. UGH. It looked so floppy and lifeless, seeming to resist any kind of pattern. I was not happy while knitting it. It was very hard to stick with it, but knowing that it would be well-loved kept spurring me on. Knit on US size 2 needles, it took me three weeks to complete, an eternity for such a smallish project. But after washing and blocking, it miraculously bloomed into a gorgeous, ultra soft, ultra luxurious, lacy, ENORMOUS tam .... exactly what the recipient has been looking for! If I did it again, though, I'd figure out a way to knit it on the wrong side to avoid all the purling. It's those K1TBL, crazy P2TOG combined with YO's that would make that a tough conversion, though. But it sure would be a lot easier.

There are still three more bags and two vests to complete. Do you think Santa could use a couple of crack knitters on her staff? Pictured to the right is the Autumn Woods Bag from the Patons Yarn website, on it's way to becoming yet another gift. I actually started this before the fair isle tam, hoping to figure out the tensioning and stranding issues before working on the tam. Great plan, worked like a charm. The beauty of this bag is that even my beginners efforts won't show in the long run, because the bag will be felted and lined. No one will ever see my haphazard, uneven, beginner's-type stranded tensioning. Once I got the hang of it, I set it aside to work on the quicker tam project. Gotta have a little gratification to keep me going.

Thanksgiving is this Thursday, and it's going to be the quietest one ever for our family: Just three of us. Claire is working that day, too, which predetermines and dictates our celebration time to Noon. I'll be making the whole schlamoo: Fresh turkey breast and dressing, butternut squash, garlic and bacon green beans, an apple/cranberry relish, pear and spinach salad, mashed potatoes, gravy, and homemade dinner rolls. Hubby is making his potato leek soup recipe as a starter. Claire wants a Coconut Cream Pie, so I am caving and making that. I can't bear to have Thanksgiving without a fresh, warm Pumpkin Pie, so I'll be making that too. ( Pie is always perfect for breakfast the next morning, especially pumpkin pie with leftover homemade whipped cream, of course.) Calories be damned!

The other three kids and the rest of my extended family are still on the East Coast. The kids are driving together to PA to spend it at my Mom's. I can't complain about that; she's 86, and the more time they spend with Gramma, the better I feel. Liz is catching a bus from Philly to Maryland, where Sean and Julia will pick her up and continue onward. Now that Sean has a car he loves, he can't stay off the road. :-) My brother's family lives in the same city as Mom, so they'll all be together for a big, happy, noisy, excessive-as-always feast. We're already missing them all.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Knitting Between Meetings

Yeay! I finished one Christmas gift. The only hint I can leave, unfortunately, is that it is a pale blue-lavender baby alpaca something. The yarn is to the left. It is soooooo yummy-soft. If you are on Ravelry, you can see it in my Projects list, and the mystery will be solved for you. :-)

I'm smack in the middle of our quarterly business Board meetings, but will find the time to start two more Christmas gift projects: One is a tote that'll be lined and felted. I hate the colors the original pattern specs, so I redid the palette to rosier reds, olives, golds, deep teal, black, and an accent of hazy purple. Going to cast on when some of the guys go out for their cancer break, which they usually manage to drag out to a half an hour.

The second is another nameless project. I have it in my Projects list on Ravelry. Hints: It involves Fair Isle stranding, is a smallish project, and the pattern is available in the Interweave Holiday Gifts 2007 issue. That's all I can say right now.

I started another blog that has nothing to do with knitting but everything to do with expressing gratitude for the small (perhaps even infinitesimal) things in daily life. Even if you are having having a world-class shitty day, at least one good thing happens, even if it's just one teensy-tiny speck of a thing. We can choose to dwell on the crap that inevitably takes over our lives sometimes, or we can thank our lucky stars for small happinesses. That's why CHOCOLATE CAKE FOR BREAKFAST was born. Go visit and tell everyone about the good thing in your day .... or leave feedback.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Crawling Around for Yarn

Busy, busy, busy. Two yarn crawls. Yes, TWO. The first, on October 6, was sponsored by a LYS, carrying 50 yarnaholics just like me on a chartered bus to five different LYS in the Texas Hill Country.

The second Yarn Crawl was one that I organized for our local Austin Knitting and Crocheting Meetup Group. This past May, I organized one where we visited Sandra Singh in Spicewood, Yarnbow in Lakeway, Craft-O-Rama in Austin, and Artisan Yarns in Burnet. We had, in a word, a BLAST. There was such a clamor for another one that I figure we could do this each season, covering different shops.

Personally, I like this smaller scale yarn crawl a lot better: We rent a 12 passenger van. The ideal capacity, we discovered, is NOT 12.

It is 10, reasonably, in comfort. On our May crawl, we had 10. On this second one on October 20, we filled it to the stated capacity of 12, and it was tight. Twelve is just a tad too many, for a variety of reasons: First, the van. People need elbow room; we're knitters, after all. Second, most shops are overwhelmed when of us 12 arrive at once.
Tough to get personal service that some need, as well as make purchases a timely manner, since there's usually one computer per shop for all transactions. And as you already know, each computer transaction takes forever. Multiply that 12 times and you have wasted a precious thirty to forty minutes at each and every shop when you could be ogling and fondling yarns someplace else. All that time adds up fast: On our small scale crawl, we spent a total of more than two hours just waiting to make purchases in the various stores. That's a lot of waiting-around time. Third, it's tough to get timely and good service in a restaurant for a party of 12. We time our lunch to be on the late side, but it's still difficult on a Saturday. On this latest trip, we tried the Dodging Duck in Boerne. They offer wonderful homemade beers, and the menu choices include a delicious German lunch complete with homemade soft pretzels. Lastly, we plan an ambitious itinerary: This time around, we visited Sandra Singh in Spicewood, the Old Oaks Ranch Fiber Studio in Wimberley, Ewe & Eye and Rosewood Yarns in Boerne, and a brand new shop in Austin, The Knitting Nest. See? We could have used those two hours!

The best discovery? There are so many yarns and so many yarn manufacturers and small-scale hand-dyers that there are only a few common overlaps in the products each shop offers. Even with products overlapping, the colorways each offers are different. Everyone wins, and it is a bonanza for knitters, crocheters, and fiber artists.

So, all this yarn means I must have a lot of projects.


Christmas is coming, and this Santa is busily working away on various items. I don't think it prudent to be more specific, since some of the giftees may peek in on this blog. Sufficeth to say there are currently 8 Christmas gifts on the needles. To top it off, I joined two Knit-A-Longs: The Mystic Waters Shawl KAL, which started today (eek!) and a Spring Shawl KAL, which begins January 1.

I can thank (or blame) Ravelry for my absence, too. I found the KALs there, and a bunch of patterns that I am adding to my queue soon (well, after Christmas is over). It is an astounding, globally diverse community of knitters making a mind-boggling array of projects. It's fabulous!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Teaser: A FEW Photos from Giverny, France

Giverny. Just saying the word evokes beautiful light, tangled gardens, the perfume of roses and waterlilies. It was amazing. Here are a few I just can't keep to myself. They are meant to be shared, like Monet's work.Not coincidentally, this is Monet's house, surrounded by those amazing gardens. Heaven. No wonder the guy lived to almost one hundred.

You can't imagine how heavenly it was to wander around his place and see the paintings come to life. There were so many "AHA!" moments.

Inside the house, the salon walls are covered with his work. COVERED, top to bottom. All the furnishings in this public room are shades of gold and ecru, so your attention is carried up and down the walls. It is such a happy feeling room.

Each and every room is painted in a different palette of colors, and all the furnishings are yet an entirely different palette, making for a strikingly lively yet harmonious scheme. Monet's love
affair with color really glows and shimmers here. Unfortunately, no photography is permitted inside the house. So you must go for yourself and see. Imagine the palette of the gardens in an interior space. That'll give you some idea of how color is splashed and dabbled around inside.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Home Again!

I missed my Austin Knitting Group friends. It was so good to see some of you again today at the North Austin meetup at Kneaded Pleasures.

A lot of you asked me about pictures. Well, they're coming. Soon. I promise. First things first, though: I really do need to finish all the laundry we generated from this trip and unpack the last bag, which is the wheeled carry-on loaded with the goodies we bought while cavorting around Europe.

Every time we travel, I SWEAR I won't buy any breakables. And every time, I break that promise. This time on the third to last day: I saw a lovely Portmerion 'Sophie Conran' teapot and mortar and pestle in St. John's, Newfoundland, in a WONDERFUL shop called HOME. I just couldn't come home without it. I came soooooooooooo close to keeping my vow, but that last port did me in. Mea Culpa.

Above: St. John's, Newfoundland
downtown area as seen from the ship

Monday, September 10, 2007

Another Crossing!

This will be the last post for awhile, as I am absconding for yet another transatlantic crossing, this one on Celebrity's CONSTELLATION, leaving from Dover, England with stops in Dublin, Cork, Cornwall, Le Havre, St. John's Newfoundland, Halifax NS, and Bayonne NJ. Yes, I will be knitting on sea days. No, I don't plan to take the Cherry Leaf project or any lace knitting, for that matter: I need uninterrupted time to do lace, something that isn't realistic on a crossing. So my Shoulder Shawl in Cherry Leaf Pattern is going to sit home and sulk for a few weeks. I will be casting on the Pea Pod Baby Set and the Tweedy Vest during this trip, though.

I am hosting a charity knitting event on sea days, for Stitches From the Heart, asking those on the Cruiseline Fans and Cruise Critic roll call boards, and anyone else who is on the ship for this crossing to participate and/or donate machine washable/dryable worsted, DK, sport weight, or fingering weight yarn in baby/child colors, and/or straight needles in size 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8, to make their preferred knitting patterns or crochet patterns. Don't forget to print out the pattern directions and put them in your knitting tote! We will meet on sea days, beginning with the 2nd sea day, on Deck Twelve forward, in the Revelations Lounge, at 2 p.m. If you are on this crossing, I look forward to meeting you, continuing the tradition of charity knitting events aboard ship on sea day afternoons that Ann Landau started last year on CENTURY.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A Gorgeous Setting for Inspiration

Of all the schools we visited, our first one, Appalachian State University in Boone, NC has the most beautiful setting, hands down. Home to roughly 10,000 students, it nestles into the hillsides of the Blue Ridge Mountains at 3,000'+ elevation, with amazing views. It's a good 6 to 10 degrees cooler here than the base of the mountain. It's a campus where walking is a pleasure. And it's a darn good thing, since you will do a lot of walking. One thing is for sure: You will stay in shape.

We made a reservation for the generic campus tour, but our group of 43 was so large it was impossible to hear the student guide most of the time. Tours begin in the admissions suite auditorium to view a slick video designed to make prospective students warm and fuzzy. A short Q & A follows, where the admissions rep asks most of the Q's, eliciting raised-hands responses: Who is from NC? Who is from out-of-state? What made you decide to visit? .... etc. Finally, the walking tour begins, which lasts roughly 2 hours. Most of it is what I would call a 'fly-by': our student guide points to buildings, stating their uses as visitors continue along the footpaths. We did visit the Student Center (FYI: there is a spiffy new one under construction, about 70% complete) the library, a dorm and a dorm room (typical: concrete block walls, Cargo-style furniture, central hall baths), business school, bookstore, and student union building. There has been a lot of construction activity here in the past six or seven years: There are at least a dozen new buildings, and campus expansion/updating continues at a brisk clip. It is all beautifully maintained, with a lot of native flowers, colorful annuals, and seasonal perennials in abundance. Try this link for a quick-and-dirty tour.

After the official tour, Claire and I made for the College of Fine and Applied Arts building on our own, home of the fiber arts program. We were in luck: the program's lead faculty member, JEANA KLEIN, was in a studio. (Here is some of her work.) How often does that happen in JULY? She was very cordial and friendly, answering Claire's questions with great detail. We wound up in a neat discussion, concluding forty minutes later with Jeana chronicling some of the future plans for expansion of the program, which includes adding more faculty. This was a great start!

Physically, the large studios are in a 1970's-era building that is undergoing some renovation, and there are an impressive number of looms in all sizes. Jeana noted that students keep their work on 'their' loom(s) for as long as it takes to complete a project, eliminating set-up time each class. Students can come after class hours to work, which means the dead of night as anyone with college kids knows. There is also a dyeing area, and a studio with sewing machines, drafting tables, small looms, quilting frames, spinning equipment. Design is heavily emphasized, including all things knitted, sewn, woven ... whatever students want to pursue. There is also a wonderful study abroad program, high on Claire's list of "must haves".

More about the Appalachian University College of Fine and Applied Arts is on their blog.

Monday, September 3, 2007

So You Want To Make Fiber Arts Your Life

All of my kids have varying artistic afflictions. The latest to go off to college is majoring in painting in an extraordinary dual program between Penn and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. We just finished delivering her to her new life, driving a total roundtrip of 4,009 miles Texas - Philadelphia - Texas in 10 days with a rented van packed to the ceiling. Not so oddly, we haven't heard from her much. But when she has called, it was clear that she is loving every minute of every day, finally living the dream she's had for most of her short 18 year life. She did a lot of painstaking research, national portfolio day reviews, and visits to find exactly the right program fit, and it paid off.

So what about all of you who don't want to abandon your knitting or crocheting or other artistic fiber pursuits when you go to college? What if you want to make it your life? Don't despair. Programs exist. REALLY! I only know this because my fourth and last child is attempting to go this route. So guess who did a lot of initial research? Of course you know. Mom.

This past summer was highlighted and dominated by the culmination of a two and a half week college tour road trip that included all the colleges with programs that passed my youngest dear daughter's investigative muster. She's a rising senior, a creative dream-child, but not so hot on the research end of things. She and I did all our initial research on the web, which led to receiving loads and loads of information by mail from over 30 schools. From this, 20 colleges were chosen. And from that 20, 11 were selected for a visit, and we actually visited 9 of those. The ones discarded weren't bad schools, they just didn't have all the elements my daughter was seeking, or were located someplace she didn't want to live. I hope all of our research and experiences help you on your quest. So if this is what you want to do, keep checking back. This will be an ongoing odyssey with frequent posts highlighting specific schools visited, with all their pros and cons.


Here is a list of the four year schools that offer majors/programs in fiber arts/textiles/weaving, either formally or by designing your own major and receiving faculty support. There may be more out there, but if there are, I don't know about them.

Feel free to add a school to the comment section below the post, or pass along your own information about the schools on the list. Even better, if you are enrolled in one of these programs, we'd love your feedback about your school.

Included are cut-to-the-chase links so you won't waste your time wading through huge, deep and sometimes daunting college websites. This lets you look at the program first, then decide if you want to look at them more closely. Believe me, I wish someone had done this for us!

July 8: Claire at the start of our road trip. I picked her up at the beach house of her best friend's family in the NC Outer Banks, then drove to the opposite end of the state for our first college, Appalachian State University, the next morning.


Academy of Art University

Appalachian State University

Arizona State University

Baylor University

Beloit College

Berea College

Bridgewater State College

California College of the Arts

Chester College of New England

Cleveland Institute of Art

College for Creative Studies

College of the Atlantic

Colorado State University

Cornell College - Mt. Vernon, IA

East Carolina University

Eastern Michigan University

Hiram College

Kansas City Art Institute

Kent State University

Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

Longwood University

Maryland Institute College of Art

Massachusetts College of Art

Memphis College of Art

Moore College of Art and Design

North Carolina State University
Oregon College of Art and Craft

Philadelphia University

Rhode Island School of Design

Savannah College of Art and Design

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

State University of New York College at Buffalo

Syracuse University

Temple University Tyler School of Art

Tennessee Tech University Appalachian Center for Crafts

University of the Arts

University of Georgia

University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth

University of Michigan

University of North Texas

University of Oregon

University of Washington

University of Wisconsin - Madison

Virginia Commonwealth University

Western Carolina University

Western Washington University

From that, we whittled and honed our list to visit to these:

Appalachian State University
Virginia Commonwealth University
Longwood University
Moore College of Art and Design
University of the Arts
Kutztown University of PA
Hiram College
Beloit College
Cornell College

NEXT BLOG POST: First stop: Appalachian State University in Boone, NC

Monday, August 20, 2007

Knitting Is Way More Fun With A Group

If it weren't for learning to knit within a group, I probably wouldn't be knitting today. Why? It's about energy, personalities, and eclectic creative perspectives all coming to the table together forming a synergy with whatever degree of experience each knitter possesses. And experience, as we all know, is an invaluable commodity.

Thursday morning meetup group

I know that knitting in a vacuum isn't for me. I'm just an unabashedly social animal, and love a sense of community. Tapping into their expertise and experiences saves me a thousand tears and provides a million inspirations. There was one small problem, though: As a relative newcomer to Austin, I didn't know anyone else who knit. Didn't know many other people, period. Once again, I used Ann's advice to utilize the internet for knitting resources, this time looking for a knitting group who were as crazy as I am.

Google is my friend. One of my best friends.

Typing 'Austin TX knitting groups' into the search bar, I was feeling lucky. The very first search result produced the Austin Knitting and Crocheting Meetup Group. I immediately joined, attending my first knitting meetup a few days later. About 7 other knitters attended that chilly November Sunday, and I knew I'd found the kinship that would keep me interested and juiced. Skill levels of members run the gamut, all of them were friendly and helpful. On my first day, I was the only one there who was brand new to the craft.
Saturdays at Central Market

Many meetups later, I found I was not the least experienced person in the group, no Sirree Bob. Some newcomers come to learn from scratch, and are always made to feel welcome. They are encouraged and supported, and, little by little, will spread their wings as I have, leaping into projects they wouldn't have dreamed of trying on their own.

What better way to learn techniques for more complex projects? Who better to get great ideas from? Why, from kindred spirits, of course. Tackling my first sweater, my first bag, my first tank top, my first shawl were all due to the courage that knitting within this supportive community provides. We laugh, share, and the gorilla glue holding us together is the passion for exquisite fibers and beautiful objects.

In a little over a year, this group has grown from a handful to over 300 members. If you live in Austin, come join us. If you are visiting the area, we'd love to have you come, too!
Two North Austin Meetup members

This post is inspired by and dedicated to one of the very first Austin Knitting and Crocheting Meetup Group members I met, Amy. Through my many trevails and knitting foibles, Amy is among those I consult (harrass?), patiently showing me techniques that mystify me, and rescuing me countless times from dropped stitches and pattern disconnects. She's leaving us for the Bay area in northern California, and she will be sorely and profoundly missed here in Austin, not only by me, but ALL of us. (We love you, Amy!)

Amy, one talented knitting/crocheting/designing fiber goddess and Renaissance woman extraordinaire, working on socks of her own design

Friday, August 17, 2007

Gimbiya's Headband

I've been doing a bit too much talking so far: Too much tell and not nearly enough show. So I thought this post ought to include at least one original creation and the pattern. I'm happy to have you make it for yourself or for a nice little present for someone else, but please do not make it to sell. That's a big no-no.

I made this headband for a dear friend visiting us from Washington, D.C. last weekend. She has incredibly thick and curly hair, and I thought she would like this. (I haven't sent it yet, so this will be a nice little surprise for her.) The back of the headband is finished in garter stitch, for stretch, then stitched together with mattress stitch, but you could join it any way you like.


Shine Sport, by KnitPicks, 50g/110 yards per ball, 60% Pima cotton 40% Modal
1 ball in 'Coral'
One tapestry needle

Finished Length before joining: 19"
Finished width after blocking: 2-3/4"

6 stitches per inch in stockinette

Note: this headband was made to accommodate African American hair. My daughter, who modeled the headband in the photo, said it could have been 1" to 1-1/2" shorter for her.
Each ball of yarn will make 2 headbands.
Headband is made vertically all in one piece.

Cast on 13 stitches.
Row 1 (RS): k1, p2, ssk, (yo, k1) 3 times, yo, k2 tog, p1,k1,p1
Row 2: k1,purl until two stitches before the end, k1, p1 last two stitches
Row 3: k1, p2, ssk, k5, k2 tog, p1, k1, p1
Row 4: k1, p1, k1, p7, k2, p1
Repeat rows 1-4 until piece measures 16-1/2" then:
Do garter stitch rows (knit every row) for 2"

Bind off and join. Block to 2-3/4" width.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I can knit, I can purl, but can I get it on the needles?

On returning to Austin from the crossing, I made for the closest store that had yarn, a Hancock Fabrics, which pretty much carry Lion Brand yarn exclusively. So I loaded up on a dozen skeins of LION WOOL, and a few balls of MYSTERY to make the heretofore mentioned scarves. But before the scarves, I was on a mission to make a tea cozy for moi.

Prior to the Austin move, I lived for 22 years in the DC metro area in Maryland. My dear friend and back door neighbor there has relatives in Ireland who make a pilgrimage to the US every couple of years for extended visits. Her Auntie Nyna was a knitter, and she made both of us the most remarkable tea cozies: they were honeycombed in texture, giving them fabulous thermal properties. Her cozy would keep a pot a tea hot for over two hours, better than any carafe on the market. But over the years, my grey and salmon cozy slowly but surely lost it's elasticity and most of the buoyant thick texture that made it function so well. I still have it (sentimental fool that I am) but it is pretty much useless. Auntie Nyna died several years ago, and with her the tea cozy pattern. No one knew anything about it. The first project idea that lept into my head was finding a similar tea cozy pattern and actually and knitting it. Myself.

God Bless the Internet, long may it reign. On the ship, Ann told me there were veritable storehouses of information about knitting on the Internet, including video tutorials and patterns. Once home, a Google search produced not only the tutorials I needed, but also a nearly identical tea cozy pattern! I couldn't believe my luck. It had the same double walled (I call it honeycomb) construction as my Auntie Nyna cozy. The pattern called for worsted weight 100% wool yarn, so I chose two skeins from my new stash: Lion Wool 'goldenrod' and 'winter white', and dove into my first project on my own. Then a real dilemma then arose: I had never learned casting on while under Ann's protective custody. The process just stymied me. Instead of belaboring it and delaying other progress, she merely did it for me ... as did others in our group. A definite disadvantage, but one that I could fix when I returned home with Internet video tutorials, she reasoned.

I sat before the computer armed with needles and yarn, replaying the long tail cast on tutorial over and over and over and OVER. I just couldn't figure it out. My youngest daughter wandered in, and sensing my frustration, came to see why I was so near tears. "Let me try" she said, having never even seen a knitting needle in her short 16 year life. She studied the tutorial a few replays, then took the needles and the goldenrod yarn and cast on 40 perfect stitches!

Another knitaholic was born.

Claire knitting Christmas gifts for friends,
with Sophie placidly snoozing in "her" chair.
Claire made all the baby hats on the table.
She's a natural!

I'm all for role reversal, especially when it's my kids teaching me. Over and over, Claire cast on and demonstrated the necessary finger movements. Once again, I started to feel like a knitting retard, until suddenly it just CLICKED. We were both jubilant. Claire quickly learned to knit and purl, and suddenly we had a new interest we could share.

Once the cozy was on the needles, I was fine. My first solo project had colorwork! Every four stitches I had to change colors, but it wasn't a big deal. Claire made one for her own small teapot in Lion Wool 'lemongrass' and 'purple'. Both cozies were made on size 6 needles. With her usual flair, Claire added two amber glass beads to the tails of her bow.

Happy teapots are cozy teapots. On the left, large cozy in Lion Brand Yarn, LION WOOL. Colors: 'Winter White' and 'Goldenrod'. This is a 48 oz. pot (large!), and I cast on 84 stitches to get the correct size. Right: Small cozy in Lion Brand Yarn, LION WOOL, colors 'Lemongrass' and 'Purple'. Claire cast on 76 stitches for the small teapot.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

With My Grateful Thanks ..... to Ann Landau

Catching Ann knitting

One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art.
~ Oscar Wilde

The mogul of style, both literary and artistic, had it right. In a nutshell: If you are going to put all the time and effort into making something, it might as well look good. Something your kids will fight over after you are long gone. Something their kids will look at in awe. Something that, in the murky haze of the distant future, you will sigh and marvel over, given your former visual acuity and the amount of time needed to create such visual and tactile confections.

Welcome to the blog of an intrepid baby boomer who hasn't run of out creative gas just yet. No thanks to me, though: For decades, I was convinced that I couldn't knit, based on the flawed and weirdly misshapen scarf my cousin taught me to knit for my first boyfriend in the late 1960's: God only knows where those holes came from and how it grew to look more like a pyramid than a graceful, drapey rectangle. I was mystified, frustrated, miserable. Couldn't purl, either: Just knit, knit, knit, knit, knit. Boringly. Horribly.

I love to travel, especially by ship. In November 2006, I made a transatlantic crossing from Barcelona to Miami on Celebrity's CENTURY. Fourteen days in toto, with five days exploring wonderful French and Spanish ports. The remaining days were "at sea", a few interlaced between ports, with the rest devoted solely to relaxing and being spoiled while crossing the Atlantic to Miami. That was the plan.

Prior to the crossing, I chimed in on the online roll call board Cruise Critic for those interested in getting to know each other prior to sailing. One post in particular caught my eye: One of my fellow passengers was organizing a charity knitting group to make baby caps and blankets for Warm Up America, to meet on sea day afternoons for a couple of hours. "Even if you don't knit, donations of machine washable acrylic yarn and pairs of size 7 or 8 needles would be greatly appreciated" the post read. She even gave packing tips to make it painless: "Just stuff the skeins in your shoes and in the sleeves of your shirts". Linked to the post were pattern directions supplied by Warm Up America and a list of yarns that would do the trick. I already knew I couldn't knit a lick, but nothing prevented me from being a donor, did it? I dashed off a note with a heads-up to the organizer. She responded with gratitude, and I trundled off to Walmart to buy a dozen skeins of Caron Simply Soft in sweet pastel baby colors and two pairs each of size 7 & 8 needles to give to more industrious and gifted souls than I. She was right: it was easy to stuff the skeins into shoes and shirts.

On the second sea day, it was simple to track down the knitting group in a forward lounge on Deck 12. There were five women assembled, with a tiny, energetic whirlwind of a woman named Ann passing out information about the charity, and sets of directions to those who had forgotten to print and pack copies for themselves. She saw my loaded tote bag and smiled, "You're joining us to knit?" "Oh no, no, nooooooooooooooo. I'm the one who emailed you about donations" I said, cheerily waving the tote in front of her. "I can't knit AT ALL." She straightened, still smiling, eyebrows arching up, "Now what makes you think you can't knit?" I told her my horror story from the past, and she laughed, saying "I already know why you made the mistakes you did, and I haven't seen you knit a single stitch!" Flabbergasted, flustered, I stammered " No, you don't understand. I REALLY AM a knitting retard. I am not the least bit capable AT ALL", this time thrusting the bag toward her while edging away slightly. "I'm sure you ladies will turn this stuff into adorable little hats and stuff." She cocked her head a bit. "Did you ever wish you could knit?"
It was a trap!

"Yes, but ......" I trailed off weakly "I just can't knit." "If I showed you that you could knit, would you like to join us?" her eyes twinkled. I was sunk, certain of complete humiliation in front of these five other women. "I'd love to knit but I just CAN'T..." I mumbled again. She motioned for me to sit next to her, pulled a pair of the needles I had brought out of their packaging, and cast on a dozen or so stitches. "Show me how you learned to knit." I took the needles from her, settled into an awkward, uncomfortable position, and stuck the right handed needle into the first stitch. "OK,STOP!" she cried. "This is your ENTIRE problem: You are trying to knit into the loop of the stitch and not the first stitch itself."


"That is what you did when you made that first scarf. Do this instead", she said, proceeding to place the needle correctly. "OK, NOW knit." And I finished the first row. Correctly! Without any holes! Without going into pyramid mode! Encouraged, I started the second row, when she immediately stopped me again. "You're doing it again!" she said laughing, replacing the needle in the correct position, showing me, then pulling it out.
"Try it on your own." This time, I placed the needle correctly and knitted the entire row without a hitch. "This is GREAT!" she said, " Of course you can knit! Why, even your tension is wonderful, natural. And this is what made you think you couldn't knit?" she asked incredulously. "Uhmmmm, yeah, it was. I could still screw up, you know." "You will, honey. But at least you will know WHY you are screwing up, and HOW to fix it."

If only it were that easy.

And that was that. No longer simply a benefactor, I was knitting. She assigned me squares at first, but in the middle of the second session, Ann thrust a sheet o paper with some heiroglyphs on it before me. "You'regoing to knit the squares in a stitch pattern" she saidbrightly, full of confidence. "But I can't purl!" I whined. "I'm going to show you how" she said smilingly, proceeding to sit beside me for the next half hour while I struggled with the stitch, back and forth, row after row, until she pronounced,

Ann on the left, yours truly on the right

"You're ready to do patterns" nodding toward the sheet she had given me earlier. She picked it up, pointing to each weird notation, decoding it for me while I read along and listened. AHA! K5, P5 = knit five stitches then purl the next five. I was amazed. So this was knitting. For real. The square I made that day was frogged a half dozen times before I got the hang of it, but I was knitting. In pattern. (For the truly curious, it was the basketweave pattern) For the next two sessions, I made basketweave squares with a religious fervor, knitting deep into the night in my cabin instead of reading before lights out. I hadn't learned to cast on yet, so every time I needed to start a new square, I called one of the women in the group, and we would meet someplace between our two cabins, where she would cast the requisite number of stitches onto a needle for me and then we'd go our separate ways until the next knitting session. (More about my cast-on-aphobia in another post.)

Meanwhile, the group grew from the original five to thirty-three! Ann cajoled the ship's Cruise Director into placing an announcement of the knitting circle and its meeting place in the ship's daily newsletter. We grew and grew, with women from Spain, Mexico, France, Ireland, Canada, England, Scotland, Finland, Russia, Romania, Africa, Sweden, Australia, as well as from the states of FL, TX, MS, MO, VA, NC, GA, MD, PA, MI, LA, CA, WA, and OR! Many brought their own projects to work on as well, which sealed

Group member Wanda transforms squares into baby blankets

my fate completely: the array of gorgeous socks, Aran sweaters, lacy baby blankets, shawls, booties, tops, and fair isle mittens took my breath away. These gals were making works of art!

Charity items we made ... in progress

We quickly gained celebrity status on the ship, with folks stopping by to see the knitting phenomenom for themselves. The donated yarns and needles vanished quickly, transforming the mountain of frothy pastel skeins into adorable little hats and blanket squares. All told, the group produced 86 baby hats and enough squares for 9 complete blankets during seven sea days. Three of the women pulled an all-nighter assembling the squares into finished blankets before the last session. The CENTURY photographer took a picture of the group with the completed items on the last day of our get-togethers, and Ann sent the whole shooting match off to Warm Up America when she returned home to Miami.

Thanks to Ann, I am learning the process and zen of knitting late in my baby-boomerism, but still have a lot of catching up to do. The picture to your left is a scarf I made for a friend of my daughter's (who is modeling it here) as a Christmas gift. I came home and dove into the first place I could find that sold yarn and wasn't a Walmart. The scarf is about nine feet in length, and was made out of different colors of Lion Wool, on size 7 needles. I also made seven other scarves, all different (and never photographed ... it just never occured to me at the time!) as Christmas gifts for each of my kids, several friends (including a dog owner and her dog ... 'twas a cute matching set!) and an afghan for my mother-in-law.

Buckle your seat belt, and stay tuned.

NOTE: Photos on the ship were provided by Ann and her more-than-significant other, Ira. Thanks, guys, for making my text come to life.