Friday, February 29, 2008

Jester Hat: Fruit of the Bobbins

Jester is the intarsia hat that I knit as a sample for KnitWhits. The hat will be felted into its final form before it is displayed.

This is a fun hat to make and a good way to practice your intarsia technique.

I used bobbins to keep an ample length of each color dangling as I knit.

It looks confusing at first, but it's actually much easier to detangle than if I had sixteen balls of yarn attached to my work.

To avoid holes when changing colors, I flipped one color over the next, twisting the two strands one time. (Since this hat will eventually be felted, small holes are not a big deal.) The yarn is not carried across the

This is different than two-handed fair isle, where each hand is controlling a separate color and both yarns are carried all the way across the work. I'll post another sample hat soon that uses the fair isle technique.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Old World and New World Gifts

Last week I was visited by several birthday faeries who treated me to some lovely gifts. Not only that, Stitches West, the largest knitting convention of them all, was held this past weekend, and so I was able to use some birthday cash to acquire some fun things.

My husband took the hint and went to Biordi Art Imports in North Beach. And look what he found! I was so impressed that he picked out the perfect olive oil cruet for me, along with a dipping dish. These are handpainted and imported from Italy. I love the colors, and the top of the cruet has an ingenious spout. It is a cork with a hole through the middle. The steel spout is centered through the cork. This way, I can remove the cork to fill it, and use the spout for pouring a fine stream. Very nice!

Some Italian food smells must have been wafting through the air when my friend Marjory thought to give me another piece of Italian art pottery. This cup and saucer are from the same region as the olive oil cruet and dish. I'm a lucky gal! Marjory owns the Tranquilitea Tea Room in Pacifica.

In the cup and next to it are two skeins of delicious 10/2 hand-dyed tencel that I found at Stitches West.

The tencel is from Just Our Yarn, an effort of two women who have built a reputation for the most glorious hand-dyed yarns. Even though the camel and wool and yak and other fibers tempted me, I couldn't put down this silky tencel. It's similar to the white tencel I purchased from Halcyon Yarn, but with fantastic subtly blended colors. I think these two colorways are similar enough to be part of the same garment. I haven't decided what to make of them yet, but don't you think they'll make a lovely lacy something?

Stitches West is held annually at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California. My pal Tina of KnitWhits had a booth this year, and I worked all day on Friday. What a wild time!

The Stitches crowds were relentless, partly due to a convention gimmick that brought tons of people into the booth. Attendees had Ravelry "passports" -- little booklets that looked like passports. We were one of the booths that offered passport stamps, so not only were we selling hat, purse, scarf, sock, and Easter Egg kits like crazy, but we were also stamping passports.

Speaking of yak, I bought this terrific yak pin from Gita Maria at her booth. She designs "eclectic and whimsical" jewelry and charms. This one she said she brought to a cattle or yak (?) convention, and all of the cowboys wanted one, but in a smaller size to wear on their hats! I was pleased to have the full-sized version to wear on this lovely alpaca scarf, given to me by my friend Suzy.

Last year, Suzy visited Winters Gone Farm, an alpaca farm in Wiscasset, Maine, and thought this alpaca scarf was perfect for me. I love it! It wraps around and has a few buttons to snuggle it up and keep me warm.

In addition to the yarn and yak pin, I picked up a few more things at Stitches West, including this small African basket and a bunch of really cute glass beads. I may ask my sister to make me some new stitch markers with these.

I also picked up the Hydrangea Scarf pattern, the newest lace pattern from Eugen Buegler. He was there, sitting at the Lacy Knitters booth, with his pal Lew and several others. I asked him if he would honor me by signing his latest work, and he couldn't have been more delightful.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Bobbins of the Past

I started working on an intarsia hat pattern. Why? Someone would like me to knit it for her. And I like the pattern.

It brings back memories of knitting strange intarsia punk patterns in the early 80's. I remember knitting leg warmers in orange and black; a grey and burgundy hound's-tooth vest; a black stockinette sweater, knit entirely of Bernat Bucilla, with a stark white "A" in the middle of a white circle; and a baby blue, pink and white Fair Isle sweater in acrylic, with bristly hot pink mohair accents. I had gotten the acrylic at the
Emporium on Market Street in San Francisco and the hot pink mohair from Marks and Spencer's in London.

Anarchy, man. It was anarchy.

But, I started to think, did I ever use bobbins? Did I? Didn't I just let it all hang out (the ends, mean?) I remembered some bobbins, stowed away with the oldest of the old knitting needles I'd inherited from various relatives and from friends' mothers.

I poked around in the old Castile Soap box from I. Magnin that my great aunt had given me to hold my knitting needles as a child. The corners are taped together now, and I have newer and shinier places to store my knitting supplies, but I can't bear to throw away the old Castile Soap box.

The bobbins
were right where I had left them years ago, tucked under old needles and pins and things. I gathered them together and lined them up. They were all of the same genre, mezzo-opaque or mezzo-transparent. How had I acquired them?

Funny how these things never get thrown away. They are passed along from person to person until someone finds a use for them, or like me, someone can't bear to toss them out. And what of the white wool yarn wrapped around a couple of these ancient bobbins? It certainly wasn't a remnant of anything I had knitted. Had my great aunt given me the bobbins with this tightly wound white wool yarn clinging to them? I feel like I should leave the wool on them and keep them like good talismans, warding away evil mojo.

Okay, I had found these ten bobbins, made of
tiddlywink material, sort of like bakelite. But I needed 16 bobbins. I probably could have jimmied a few, but I knew I had more somewhere.

And after some rummaging, I found these Jiffy Bobbins stored in the stationery cabinet in the den. Don't ask me why I put them there. I thought I had consolidated all my knitting paraphernalia, but these were strays.

The lid of the box says they are "automatic." This makes them sound somewhat mechanized, but I'll forgive the manufacturer for that. In fact, they are quite usable and ingenious little things.

All is well in Bobbinlandia. I shall persevere at maximum bobbin capacity.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


I came home from work one day last week to find a corrugated cardboard package had arrived for me. The return address read MBI Publishing, or something like that. I put it aside and made dinner. I had gotten home later than usual and was in a hurry to put something edible on the table. We sat down to eat, and I stopped in mid-chew ...

The book. The book had arrived. What was I thinking! I ripped open the cardboard and found three lovely advance copies of Knitting Through It: Inspiring Stories for Times of Trouble.

Long ago (October 2006), I had submitted a draft of my story "Sofia's Hands" to Lela Nargi who had announced her plans for a new book on Knitter's Review. Lela, a successful editor and writer, had produced Knitting Memories: Reflections on the Knitter's Life and Knitting Lessons: Tales from the Knitting Path, both well-received by the knitting community, and much beloved for their warmth and ingenuity.

The new book was in its formative stages, and she wanted some fresh stories to add to the collection. I was indeed "fresh" and somewhat timid about the entire publishing process, having no real professional writing experience. I had written a few essays published in local mags when I was in my twenties, but since then, my writing had been sequestered to business reports and an occasional blog entry. When Lela asked me to expand my original submission, I was excited and more than thrilled. She offered great suggestions for improving my idea, while still keeping my prose intact. Published friends had told me horror stories of their words slashed to ribbons, but this was not my experience at all. I was relieved and elated.

Upon opening the package, after carefully wiping my hands, I found that the cover was different than the advance cover I had seen on Amazon a couple of months ago. The new design is sweet and tantalizing, and the heart shape formed by a strand of yarn hints of the tender stories inside. (Barnes & Noble has it, too, and you can read the table of contents there.)

The stories come from various sources, including new authors, veteran writers, and the WPA Federal Writers' Project. A number of black-and-white photographs from the Library of Congress and a few patterns are great complements to this volume.

One interesting note: I had included a reference to the Oomingmak cooperative in the first draft of my story. This knitting cooperative I visited in Alaska produces knitted items from the underwool of the musk ox to supplement the income of their subsistence communities. Lela had been looking for stories about native American knitters, and this spurred her to contact Donna Drachunas, who had just published the book Arctic Lace, and had done extensive research on the Oomingmak. Donna contributed a story to this book, and I was pleased that Lela added a reference to Donna's story in "Sofia's Hands."

My story is personal. It relates the trials of dealing with my own mother's illness and caring for my mother-in-law in her last years. Knitting was my solace and a my distraction during that time, and with every fiber of my being, I am grateful to the knitting community for helping me through it.

In the back are "Notes on the Contributors" -- mine is a little frivolous, but I had to say something!