Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Progress! I can't believe how long it's been since I posted. Now, I'm back in the saddle, knitting lace, and ready to face 2009 like a cowboy at the start of a trail ride. I admit it: I've been watching way too many westerns this holiday season.

This year, the holidays have been a little different for me. I've been on vacation -- that's a big difference. Usually, I might take a day or so to recover from all the cooking, shopping and visiting. But I had so much vacation left on the books at work, I took December 20 through January 4 as my own personal holiday. On the other hand, hubby had no time off, working every single weekend and holiday, through New Year's Day. Bah!

So, what did I do? What will I do with the days remaining?

1) Watch movies. We turned in our Netflix at least three times this month. It must be a record. We also watched dozens of holiday movies, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies, and two Viggo Mortenson movies. Movie time is great for knitting. I made some serious progress on a few projects.

2) Make rum balls. These turned out great and will probably be a holiday staple in years to come. While making these does not allow for any knitting to take place, the resulting treat makes knitting (or anything else, except driving or playing paddleball) a pleasure.

3) Drive down to Princeton Yarns. This lovely new store is in a new mall in the harbor town of Princeton, just south of Pacifica, where I live. The owner is a very pleasant and knowledgeable woman. Even though the store has only been open for a couple of weeks, she has a very nice, select inventory. You won't find shelves stocked to the ceiling, but if you're looking for Hiya Hiya needles, she's got a bounty of them, as well as a wide selection of Addi Turbo needles. She only had a few of the Addi lace needles, but she will probably get more in the future. The yarns are beautiful and high quality. The indoor mall is bright with a glass cathedral ceiling through the center. I was surprised at the size of the mall and the adjacent Oceano Hotel and Spa. Princeton has always been a quiet little fishing harbor, with a few good restaurants. Barbara's Fishtrap, the mainstay local fried fish hangout, was buzzing with people. Half Moon Bay Brewing Company was busy, too. With this new mall and resort, the town hopes to attract more visitors.

4) Work on The Princess Shawl edging. If you've heard me talk about this shawl before, you're probably wondering why it took me so long to get started. I've actually had the pattern for a YEAR. This may not surprise you, if you know a lot about this pattern. It's one of the most advanced Shetland lace patterns currently available from Heirloom Knitting. And it will probably take me another year to complete it. Over these past months, I've swatched and debated on what yarn to use for this mother-of-all lace shawls.

I thought about it, researched it, read what yarns others were using, read about the errors in the pattern, and probably made a mountain out of a molehill. For gosh sakes, it's a shawl. It's not like I'm attempting to build the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks or something. I made a decision to use some terrific Colourmart merino that I had swatched and liked.
It's not cobweb, but an extra fine 2-ply laceweight, finer than Jaggerspun Zephyr. I'm going to have a really big shawl, but I don't mind. I like how it looks. See if you like the edging so far in the photo. I'm okay with it. It's going to be beautiful.

5) Make progress on the Hydrangea Scarf. I've had this scarf pattern since Stitches West 2008. It's a beautiful design from Eugen Beugler. One day a few months ago, I started working on it, and it just flowed from my needles. It's one of those addictive patterns that keeps you moving through it, without getting boring. However, when I started adding beads, I slowed down. I guess just the stopping and starting to add the beads was getting to me. At first, I thought I would just bead the hydrangea flowers in the pattern. Then I decided I wanted to mix up the colors of beads in the hydrangeas. It's still a bit nebulous in my mind, but I think I've got it to where I like it now. See if you do, too.

6) Visit with the ACKD (Adult Children with Knitting Disorders) group. This is the group that meets at Starbucks in Bayhill Shopping Center, San Bruno, on Tuesday nights. It's a great, fun knitting group that seems to grow bigger every week. Projects range from basic beginner scarves to the most advanced lace to dolls to sweaters and everything in between. The group is on Yahoo and on Ravelry.

7) Meet with the BAWDies. This is my long-time knitting group in the City. One of the members gave me a nice gift of some melon colored wool and silk. It's gorgeous stuff, and I can't wait to start something with it. The BAWDies meet on Sunday afternoons, from 2-4pm at Arlequin Cafe on Hayes Street in San Francisco. BAWDies group is on Yahoo.

8) Order the book: Shetland Lace, by Gladys Amedro. I was so excited to hear this book had been republished in November 2008! It was out of print for many years, and when copies would turn up on eBay, they invariably sold for very high prices. Now, Unicorn Books has released it again, and I'm getting my copy ASAP. It's a great reference for anyone interested in Shetland Lace knitting. If you just want to try one of her patterns, Jamieson and Smith in the UK sells some individual kits and patterns, like the Gibbie Shawl and the Woman's Own Christening Shawl.

Happy New Year! What's your resolution?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Thanksgiving ...

New flowers in the windowbox ...

Why I don't use my good lace tablecloths on Thanksgiving ...

Gorgeous tulips! Californians put tulips and tangerines on the table in November ...

A favorite doily on a side table ...

Thanksgiving tradition: a handpainted folk art turkey made of reeds. I've cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the last 18 years for my family, and this turkey has been on the table every year. (A new fixture: Mr. Monk reminds me of my knitting OCD every day ... )

We found this tiny dish among my mother-in-law's china. I didn't quite get it with my limited Italian. The translation: "far from the eyes, far from the heart" -- an Italian version of "out of sight, out of mind." I wish I knew the story behind this little dish. I'll make one up and tell you later.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Like mother, like daughter

My family is big and prolific. My grandparents' progeny and future descendants alone could populate a small town. Nana was one of seven brothers and sisters, and Tata was one of fifteen. That's just one branch of the family. From all of those great aunts and uncles, cousins galore have been born, been fruitful and multiplied, filling many houses in the Bay Area and beyond.

About 20-something years ago, I knit a sweater in lavender and pink for my cousin Janet's new baby Alexis. The pattern was from a Bernat baby book, and the yarn was a machine-wash acrylic, easy for a new mom to wash and fold with the rest of the baby's laundry.

Alexis is all grown up now. When she announced she was pregnant more than a year ago, I knew a baby shower would be coming up fast. I wanted to make something for the baby that Alexis (and her mom) would like, would be fun to make, and easy to care for.

I rummaged through my patterns and found ... the old Bernat baby book. I looked through it and considered making a lacy cardigan, or maybe some coveralls. But then, I looked at the striped sweater pattern I had made for Alexis more than 20 years ago and thought, why not! I found the same colors of yarn and made a duplicate of the lavender and pink sweater and a matching hat.

Aidan Evelyn has big, beautiful, twinkling eyes and a smile to melt the polar icecap. She's turning one next month. These are photos of Aidan in her lavender and pink sweater, just like mommy wore when she was a baby.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Motoring to the Fair

Yesterday, we planned to visit the San Mateo County Fair. Our idea was to check out the Home Arts exhibit area where my Paisley Long Shawl was entered for judging and then go to the evening concert featuring KC and Sunshine Band and the Village People.

The best laid plans of mice and and men often go awry.

A week ago, I ordered a new car from a
Mini dealership. Since that time, we've been hunting around the Internet for information on our new baby, soon to be built at the factory in England. We found a local group that meets once a month for a "Mini run" to various locations in California. On Saturday, they met at Tesla Motors in Menlo Park for a run to Half Moon Bay.

Tesla is the electric car that is making headlines throughout the motoring world. It can do 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds, gets 220 mpc (miles per charge), and redlines at 13,000 rpms. (If you think knitters have a lot of abbreviations, just try to understand a few motoring enthusiasts chatting in acronyms.) The Tesla is a beautiful vehicle with a beautiful pricetag: $109,000.

The Minis were lined up outside the Tesla dealership, and we spoke to a few owners to gauge their satisfaction and to learn more about our Mini-to-be. Then, for a lark, we took off on a wild ride to the coast, following along behind a colorful caravan of Mini Coopers.

Instead of taking Highway 92, as we thought they might, they drove over Alpine Road, a winding, narrow, wooded byroad several miles south of 92. Let me tell you, these Mini drivers are escape artists who love fast cornering and zipping over hill and dale with aplomb. We kept pace in our Toyota, but it wasn't easy.

Hairpin turns through densely wooded glens with glimpses of impressive dropoffs -- what a trip! We took a sharp turn onto Pescadero Creek Road, another narrow, twisting path through Loma Mar and Pescadero. Nearing Pescadero, the cooler air signaled the proximity of the ocean, our homeland.

Our route through the trees ended at Pescadero State Beach. We turned right and headed north toward Half Moon Bay.

Not surprisingly, we were a bit tired from our Mini adventure, and we almost nixed the Fair in favor of the Olympics. We watched them a bit, but decided to take a short nap and head to the Fair later on in the evening.

We didn't perk up again until around 7:00 pm. We knew we might miss the beginning of KC or the Village People, but went anyway, speeding south on Highway 280, remarking about how fast those Minis scooted around tight corners.

We got to the Fair and were told that the concert was sold out. What?! No KC? No Sunshine Band? No Village People? The dream of reliving my disco youth, shattered?

I was disappointed, but not for long. We headed toward the Home Arts area to view the textiles and needlearts.

The Home Arts displays were in a big tent, rather than one of the buildings at the Fairgrounds as they were last year. The tent was the same one where I had dropped off my entry a couple of weeks earlier.

Although there was more room than last year, the lighting was rather poor. Still, the works displayed were lovely. I snapped several photos of items made by people I knew from the knitting groups.

And I found my Paisley Long Shawl displayed on a table with a Best of Show rosette!

I spoke a few minutes to Julia Curry, the Home Arts Department Coordinator, and she gave some insight into how the items were judged.

Julie is a quilter. None of her work could be entered under her name, but she had worked on at least 30 quilts in the exhibition. She said that some of the amateurs sent their hand-pieced quilts to her for finishing work.

As for the Paisley Long Shawl, she mentioned that the knitting judges remarked about the difficulty of knitting with linen and how my stitches were consistent and even. Cool!

I asked if she had a few pins to tack the shawl down to the tablecloth. Although chains were around the table, my shawl was just lying on top of a tablecloth. I liked that they chose to display it on a light background, but anyone could pick it up. She was very helpful and said that she appreciated hearing feedback about the displays and how they could be improved.

I walked around looking for some of the items that were entered by people I knew. Some won ribbons and all were beautiful.

Nancy's weaving won a 1st place blue ribbon. Gorgeous colors and inspiring!

Jane had several entries. This rose bag is luscious.

Jeannette's miniature sweaters are just perfect displayed on fingertips.

Patt's color choices are always stunning. This woven scarf is a miracle of color and texture.

Julie's blue scarf won a 3rd place ribbon! Congrats!

Jane's wool dickie won a 1st place ribbon! Way to go!

I'm embarassed to say I don't know whose hat this is, but it is a lovely one.

Another creation from Jane - a darling green child's pullover.

And Jane's afghan won a 1st place blue ribbon! Great color choices and the textures are wonderful!

Matthew's mermaid is a one-of-a-kind whimsical treat to behold.

And I had to photograph this leather tooled saddle that won Best of Show. Isn't it amazing?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Paisley Long Shawl Completed!

This is the completed Paisley Long Shawl I knit in Euroflax 100% linen. I finished it shortly before I went on vacation, but just haven't had time to post photos.

The 1/2 lb cone of Euroflax Paris held 1,300 yards. I came perilously close to running out. I even had to unravel about half of my swatch! The pattern said that 1,260 yards would be enough if I omitted the fringe. Of course, this estimate was based on using Jaggerspun Zephyr, the recommended wool/silk blend.

Since I used linen, and my gauge was slightly different, my yardage
required was different. Also, I chose to knit an additional repeat of the center boteh pattern to compensate for the smaller gauge.

I used a US4 needle, and my finished size is about 28" x 80" -- whereas the pattern's finished size, not including the extra repeat or optional fringe, was 29" x 77". I think I made the right choice in adding a boteh repeat. If I didn't, the length would have been around 74".

This is true knitted lace, with lace patterning on both sides. There are no "rest" rows
(plain rows). For me, the pattern was exciting and fun to knit. I enjoyed seeing the lovely lacy flowers emerge in the shawl, and reading the large, clear charts row by row was a pleasure.

The pattern is a garter lace, so there is no wrong or right side. For this reason, I made sure to use a different colored marker at the beginning of the odd rows, to keep my eyes reading the chart in the right direction. When I saw the colored marker, I knew I had to read the chart from right to left (odd row). When I didn't see the colored marker, I knew I had to read the chart from left to right (even row).

Chart reading for knitted lace is a necessary skill. The charts help you to visualize where the holes should appear on every row. If something isn't lining up, you can frog back (God forbid) and fix it by looking at the chart. To do this with just written instructions can be nightmarish.

I used lifelines about once every other repeat. A lifeline is a contrasting thread sewn into one row by threading it through all the stitches on the needle (not the stitch markers). If I needed to rip back, I could go back to the lifeline and not lose any stitches.

The shawl starts with a provisional cast on in the center. Then I knit all the way to one end and bound off. After that, I picked up stitches from the provisional cast on and knit all the way to the other end.

The border is part of the main pattern, so I didn't have to add one at the end. Shetland lace and many other lace patterns require a knitted-on or sewn-on border, so this border was considerably faster. However, the border pattern does take much concentration, even more than the center pattern. The yarnovers are many!

Dorothy Siemens, the designer, writes her patterns impeccably well, and the
charts are large and clear. There are four pages of instructions, four legal-sized chart pages, and two pages of photographs. She gives tips on gauge, sizing, marker placement, joining new balls of yarn, lifelines, fringe and blocking.

This shawl will be my lace entry this year at the San Mateo County Fair. Wish me luck!

Monday, June 16, 2008


I had read about Yubina on Fleegle's blog. This Mongolian cashmere can be ordered only online. If I hadn't heard of the positive experiences of others, I probably would not have ordered, because there is no address or direct contact information on the website, except for an email address.

But on the plus side, the website offers a variety of weights, colors and blends. So far, the reviews of other bloggers have been great.

I was at work on Wednesday when my hubby called and told me a curious little package had arrived with Chinese stamps on it. He said it looked too small and felt a little too heavy to be yarn. Hmmm ... if they had shipped me a box of rocks, I would be mad, to say the least!

When I got home from work that day, I barely had enough time to scoop up the box and my knitting bag to hurry over to my knitting pal Nina's house for knit night. When she opened the door, I held up the unopened box reverently, and she instantly knew what I had brought for show-and-tell.

I had ordered the yarn on May 26. On May 30, I received an email from Jeremy at Yubina that the yarn had shipped. The package arrived on June 11. That's 16 days -- not bad for going halfway around the world and through customs.

Nina handed me a box knife and I carefully cut open the package. The tension was palpable. Would it be a box of joy or disappointment?

Gasps all around -- joy!

The purple is 50 grams, 500 yds per ball, 100% cashmere. The color is heathery; it looks like dark and light purple mixed together. You can't really tell how heathery from the photos on the Yubina website. It's super soft and squishy, and would make a lovely shawl.

The blue is 45% cashmere and 50% silk. The other 5% I'm assuming is some sort of synthetic binder, but the website does not state. The yarn comes without labels or care instructions directly from the manufacturer.

In some cases, they have stopped shipping 50 gram balls, and instead are shipping the 125 gram cones. I had ordered 100 grams (two balls) of the blue, but got a cone instead -- so I got a little extra for no charge.

On closer inspection, I found that the blue is a three-ply yarn. Two of the plies are a soft baby blue, and one ply is a similar but slightly brighter blue (probably the silk ply). The combination has depth, and I'm extremely pleased with this choice. In fact, I swatched this weekend for the Princess Shawl from Heirloom Knitting. This yarn is definitely a possibility. I like the tight twist and the smoothness. I don't think I want anything too fuzzy or springy for Princess. The silk adds a nice shine and drape. I love this stuff!

One thing I know for sure: I will not use my Inox greys with this yarn. I tried swatching with a 2mm (US 0) needle, and the Inox tips were definitely not sharp enough. The Addi Lace or Hiya Hiya needles are good choices. I have some of each brand, but the Inox was the first one I grabbed.

I knit a swatch from one of the Princess charts, 20 sts by 30 rows. I washed it under cool water in the sink, squeezed it in a towel and pinned it out to dry. As I was pinning, I started thinking about blocking the grand Princess Shawl when it's completed.

First of all, look how many pins! This is just a swatch! I'm going to need a zillion pins when I block the shawl. Of course, I have about a year or so before I have to do that.
I'm going to get some gardening knee pads for that job.

I do have blocking wires (actually welding rods) and a big rolled up piece of berber carpet in the garage that I use just for blocking large pieces of lace, but the Princess may be bigger than that.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Paisley Progress and a Cone Spinner

I've made some progress on the Paisley Long Shawl. The shawl is knitted from the center provisional cast on toward each end, beginning with the small botehs (flowers), followed by small paisleys, then large paisleys, then hexagons. The paisleys in the photo look upside-down because the provisional cast on is at the bottom. The work is hanging from my circular needle as I progress toward the end of the first half of the shawl.

When I get to the end of the first half, I will pick up stitches from my provisional cast on, and work the second half of the shawl, from the center toward the other end.

The edging on either side is knitted as you progress down the long rectangle. I've put some noticeable stitch markers in between the edging and the main body on either side to alert me.

This design is a pleasure to knit. I can't say enough good things about Fiddlesticks patterns. They are clear and well-written. The pattern changes from row to row, so it never gets tedious for me. I would recommend this pattern to experienced lace knitters. It is true knitted lace (lace patterning on both sides).

As I began to knit this shawl with my Euroflax linen, I struggled a little bit with pulling the yarn from the cone. It wasn't a huge problem, but it didn't flow as smoothly as I would have liked. I started thinking about making a cone spinner. I've knit from cones before, and I knew it was something I would use again and again.

At first, I considered size and portability. I wanted this light enough to bring to my knitting group and small enough to fit into my knitting bag, yet it had to be stable so that yanking on the yarn wouldn't knock it off the table.

The spinner mechanism is simply a small lazy susan about 3" across, purchased from the local hardware store. The wood pieces are two cedar fence post caps that we happened to have in the garage. They are about 4.25" across with beveled edges.

The dowel is another scrap from the garage, about one inch in diameter and five inches long. The pieces were sanded and stained with some leftover redwood stain.

Hubby drilled pilot holes in the center of the dowel and the center of one fence post cap. He screwed the cap to the dowel, countersinking the screw and adding a drop of wood glue between the cap and dowel.

With all the pieces in order, I tested the spinner with my Euroflax cone, and it seemed to work very well. It spun freely and didn't tip over. I tried it with a larger cone, and it still seemed stable and spun freely. More on this when I have more experience using it.