In Which Our Heroine Examines Knitting Mysteries

And The Winner Is...

Thank you, thank you, Gentle Readers! Your input is always spot on.  I *may* have spent the last two days down the Ravelry Rabbithole.  Every time I'd tell myself to get back to work, another comment would come in and I'd drop everything to go explore that suggestion.  Not a bad way to spend time, you understand...

I was delighted to find how often your favorites and mine are the same.  Each time one of you reported in on something you're making, I'd look it up and think "Oh I always meant to make one of those!".  Great minds think alike, no doubt.

Here's the project I decided on:

This is (one version of) Janet Szabo's Follow the Leader Aran Knitalong ("FLAK").  See it HERE.  Rather than a regular knitting pattern, it's a series of 8 lessons for how to knit your own traditional Aran, from the top down.  You can make a cardigan or pullover, any neckline you want, and substitute any stitch patterns you like.  You can work it flat or in the round, seamlessly or in pieces.  The only constants are: top-down construction, shoulder straps, peasant sleeves, and cables that more or less get along (compatible row-repeats).  This has just the right appeal for me: I get to make and learn from my own design decisions, but still follow steps mapped out by a pro.  I've taken Janet's classes and own her books, but I never explored the FLAK until now.  For a really well-spent day hour or two, hop on over to Ravelry and have a gander at the 147 FLAK projects there.  Guaranteed mind blow.

And now, A Cunning Plan:

I noticed in Janet's Ravelry group that there hasn't been a knitalong of this pattern in quite a little while.  Are any among you interested in staging a revival with me?  Send a comment, along with your desired beginning date if you have one, won't you?  I can't think of a better way to learn than by sharing the process with my favorite knitters:  YOU!

School Me, Please?

In order to justify all the spinning I've been doing (as if!), I've decided to actually knit a sweater.  Or possibly two (Did I mention, lotsa Cormo?).  I think it wants to be a deeply-textured, cabled Aran.  Something uber-traditional, with a wide center panel, and shoulder straps...maybe a turtleneck...

And then I realized that I have never knitted a real live Aran sweater.  Sweaters with cables, sure, but never what I would consider the the real deal.  I've bought books, been to classes, queued patterns, and never once actually done the deed.  Not sure why not, but there it is.  Knitting is always full of things we've never done before, thank God.

So it seems to me that a bit of practice is in order.  I'm going to take the unusual step of knitting somebody else's pattern, before I strike out to design my own.  But which one?  I'm having trouble narrowing it down.

Here's a beauty by Marie Wallin.   I do love me some knots and crosses.  And that funnel-neck is super cool - I dig the way the cable sort of crawls up the sides of it.

And one by Hayfield, whose designers clearly know exactly what they are doing.  Nice, restrained use of bobbles.  This company scares me to bits because there are no charts.  Really?  What century are we in?

Or how about this one, by Friend of the Blog, Sandi Rosner?  Totally dreamy.  And the sweater's not bad, either.  Particularly that shoulder strap/sleeve situation.

What do you think makes a cabled sweater design really special?  I especially love it when the cables/elements continue into the edgings, such as in Kathy Zimmerman designs.  I also love it when the cables are positioned to enhance garment shaping, like Nora Gaughn does.  What/who are your favorites?

Aside from design specifics, what technical elements do you think make a great cabled knitting pattern?  Do you feel that charts are essential?  What designer/publisher uses the clearest symbols?  Who has the best size range?  Most intuitive instructions?

Share your opinions, won't you, Gentle Readers?  I gotta get some more know-how!


Yesterday, Campbell and I rode our bikes together.  We had so much fun that we didn't figure out until after getting home that we had ridden over six miles.  That's a really big deal for me, not having been farther than a few blocks from home before now.

Later in the day, I challenged him to add up all the yardage on my Cormo spinning project:  1,706 yards, so far.  Then I asked him to look up how many yards are in a mile (bonus points if you already know it's 1,760). 

Which means that I'm exactly 54 yards away from having spun a MILE of Cormo yarn.  We're not going to talk about how much fleece there still is left to spin, but it's looking like Cam and I could have matching sweaters.


The best things in my life are non-digital.  My knitting needles, my spinning wheel and my fountain pen use no screens, no electricity or bandwidth. 

For literally years, I've been stalking Craigslist in search of a bicycle.  What could be simpler, or more lovely than just riding a bicycle? Wind in my hair, air in my tires, and not a care in the world.  Not just any bicycle would do, of course; it had to fulfill an unreasonably long list of criteria, some of which are:

Not too expensive (harder than you'd think, even on Craigslist)
Not too sporty (if I have to wear a bicycle/clown outfit, forget it)
Not too beat up (my pride outweighs my mechanical skills)
No derailleurs (the source of much frustration when I rode as a kid)
Room for Knitting (obviously)
And it had to have some degree of charm; a je ne sais quoi that I would only know when I saw it.  A Goldilocksian fantasy.  No wonder I looked for years.

I did loads of research about what bicycles can (and can't) do nowadays.  And living in Portland, the self-christened Bicycle City of the USA, there is no shortage of places to see and talk about bikes.  I narrowed it down to about four different options that I thought would be good, and searched the used bike listings compulsively regularly.  I was pretty sure that I would end up rebuilding an old English 3-speed, which both excited and nauseated me.  It would be fun to learn about, but time-consuming and cumulatively expensive.  And of course, there's always the chance that you'll need a part that hasn't been made in 50 years, so a relentless pursuit of weird little pieces looked inevitable.

And then one day last winter I found her:

She was unceremoniously sold to me after her owner fell off her, after less than a year of ownership.  A practically new, modern bike with an eight-speed internal hub and nice, modern brakes.  She wasn't as pretty at the time as she is here.  Her fall had left her covered in mud and scratches.  Although there wasn't any real damage, her prior owner had assumed the scratches were deep and permanent.  She was mine for less than half the price of a new bike.

Back at home, I carefully buffed out all her scratches, lovingly waxed her frame and lubed her chain.  I named her Nilla, for her ice-cream color.  For Christmas I got her the beautiful basket she's sporting.  Lindsay and I found the Dutch stretchy-bands for her rear rack at a boutique bike store one rainy afternoon, which we followed with a real Portland-style food cart lunch. 

I've been practicing with her a little all winter, as the weather would permit (not much).  I'm a little bit wobbly, not having had a bike since about age 12, but it's nothing too scary, so far.  I live in a great neighborhood for riding, so I can stick close to home until my skills and endurance improve.  Today after lunch I decided to take Nilla to the park.  First I packed the necessities:

Once there, I found a comfy spot and noticed that the Oregon Grape (bonus points if you know it's the State Flower of Oregon) are in bloom:

And I worked on a sock:

A plain Vanilla sock, as a mater of fact, which makes it just about perfect for today.

My next goal for Nilla is to procure a lock, so I can take her places where I might actually leave her side. 

Yarn shop, perhaps?

You hereby have my permission to do something Analog today.  Leave the phone somewhere, unplug the laptop, and take yourself outside.  Crack a book, drink some tea with lemon, and knit for a while.  It's good for you.  And if you are lucky enough to have a bicycle in your life, dust her off and go for a spin.

It's Good to be Needled

Last weekend I managed to drag myself away from the spinning wheel (Not. Easy. There may have been self-bribery of an undisclosable nature).  It's time to start the new book!

The working title of this project is The Creative Kids Photo Guide to Knitting.  Part of a series my publisher is starting, this book is all about adults and kids knitting together.  I'm really excited about it because it's about how kids and adults can spend time connecting and learning together, rather than just another "how to knit" book.

Of course, my handicap is that I already know how to knit.  I have to be really careful that I don't assume too much, or dumb anything down, either.  So I've decided to force allow my family to help me. 

Lindsay, at 15, is almost not a kid anymore, but she learned to knit recently enough that I can count on her to remember what it was like better than I do.  Campbell, at 12, doesn't knit currently, having rejected it at around age 6.  I haven't forced it on him (for reasons I no longer remember), so I'm hoping his ambivelance can be overcome by blackmail my great teaching skill.  And Phillip, my youngest, (45), has never knit a stitch in his life.  The very suggestion of my teaching him to knit causes a vein in his forehead to throb menacingly.  But he's bravely volunteered to help me by trying to learn how.  He understands his value to the project as a brand-new knitter, and we both agree that if I can teach him, then other kids could learn from me, as well.

I decided one of the projects for the book should be to make your own knitting needles.  Campbell and I visited no less than five retail establishments to round up everything we would need.  We got:

Hardwood dowels, in sizes equivalent to US 3, 8 and 10 needles
A multi-hole manual pencil sharpener (more rare than you would think)
A rainbow of permanent markers
Sandpapers and spray lacquer
All sorts of wierd things we thought would be fun to stick on the ends of the needles:

Phillip's are the purple and red skulls hiding in the back.  Campbell rocked the black and red dice.  Lindsay made the squid fishing lure ones.  And mine are the beaded numbers.  You'll notice that we stained each set two different colors.  This is to aid remembering which needle is doing what when we move on to actual knitting.  So far, so good.  Nobody got hurt, and only one kid managed to get their needles glued together with lacquer. 

Yeah, it was Phillip.  Good thing he's cute.

Spinning, Out of Control

One drawback of having written two books in one year is that I put myself on a Spinning Diet.

Spinning, for me, is the place where no rules apply.  It's the opposite of knitting:  There are no deadlines, EVER, no writing down or trying to reproduce anything, no undoing of mistakes is allowed, and no time limits are imposed.  I embrace my mediocrity and "long-term beginner" status completely.  The yarn the wheel (or spindle) gives me is the yarn I love, and that's all there is to it.  I'm the Unintentional Spinner.  So I decided that as long as I was on a knitting deadline, there was not going to be any time for spinning in the way I like to do it:  Down the rabbit hole for hours and days; spin, ply, skein, wash, dry, pet, pet, pet.  Takes a lot of time.  And before I knew it, more than a year went by without my touching the wheel.

Which simply will not do.  What a colossal wrong to have done myself! Spinning Diet, indeed.  Spinning feeds knitting, which everybody knows.  Communing with fleece as it becomes yarn is spiritual knitting nourishment at its finest.  I have starved my inner spinner nearly to death with some ill-conceived notion of time management.

This weekend, I binged.  I made 643 yards if 3-ply Cormo yarn.  And by "weekend" I mean a good part of Saturday, lots of Sunday, most of Monday and all of Tuesday.  Spinning Out of Control.  I have no memory of eating or sleeping or cooking or doing laundry for four days.  I can tell those things have been happening, because nobody else around here has noticed a failure to function in me.  But 643 yards of 3-ply Cormo do not result from some passing whim to spin for a bit.  They come from hardcore obsessive megafocus on spinning.

I don't know whether to be proud of myself for making so much dreamy string, or ashamed for being so self-indulgent.

Either way, it's time to get back on track, because I have to start a new book.

And the 3 of these bags of beautiful gorgeous pin-drafted fiber that I still have to spin are pretty much torturing me.  They call to me from the corner by the wheel with the voices of Sirens.  No matter where I go in the house, I can hear the song: 

"Spin more, spin more spin more, it is not day! 
It is the Nightingale and not the Lark;
Whose song beguiles you Leave the Wheel and work.
The laundry and the dishes don't love you;
As we do, who are made of fluffy wool!"

Every binge must reach its inevitable end.  The only question is what sort of end will it be?  A purposeful, self-controlled roll to a stop, or a squealing, twisted collision with reality?  If I don't stop spinning today, I could find myself in an intervention!  My family could tell me all the ways my compulsion to make string has injured them.  They might say they love me and that's why I have to go to a Special Place of Healing.

Or else they will continue not to notice I'm wearing the same clothes from days ago, and there is fiber sticking out of my hair.  As long as they get picked up from practice and the groceries keep hitting their plates, at least. 

As ever, it's gonna be up to me to decide to control myself.  Or not.

Fun With Thumbs, and More

Wanna spend my birthday with me?  On April 19 & 20, I'll be teaching at the Columbia Gorge Fiber Festival!  On Saturday the 19th, we'll spend the whole day covering Selbuvotter (Norwegian Mittens), their history, cultural significance, and of course, construction.  I'll be covering two different thumb architectures: 

1.  Traditional, gusseted thumbs:

And 2.  Sassy, slotted thumbs:

Attendees get BOTH of these patterns, and everything you need to know to make them!

Then, on Sunday the 20th, I'll be teaching "Start to Finish", a workshop on project planning and finishing techniques, where your homework is just to pick out a new knitting project. (Really?  Sanctioned Start-itis? Yes!  You're welcome!).

Visit HERE to sign up.  We'll be in beautiful Hood River, Oregon; home of microbreweries, windsurfing, and YARN.  Did I mention there'll be a fantastic marketplace?  Well, there will, as well as classes with Sarah Anderson (spinning!) and Linda Gettman (weaving!). 

You cannot lose, unless you don't come.

Spring Break

We took Monday afternoon off, to celebrate a day of clear weather which coincided with Phillip and the kids being out of school.  The wind at the beach was wicked, so I hunkered down in a sheltered spot and worked on JWS while the gang cavorted.

Notice anything new on JWS?  How about now?:

There's a finished neckline now!  Worried that I would run out of yarn, I pulled the opposite end from the center of my ball and worked the neckline ribbing from it, leaving the main working yarn in place at the bottom.  Once that was done, I returned to working the rest of the body.  I'm so close to the end!  Too bad I'm totally going to run out of yarn.  Story of my life.  On my tombstone, they will chisel "Failed to Estimate Yardage Correctly".

Trying not to let that knowledge harsh the rest of my afternoon, I grabbed some loved ones and squished them.

Good medicine, that.

Got the Message

Some e-mails are more fun than others.  If you've ever shopped at amazon.com, you know that they data-mine your every move, and then send you mail suggesting that you buy other things just like the thing you already bought.  This morning I got a message from amazon suggesting that I should really buy some new knitting books.

Not a bad idea, I thought, and checked their list of suggestions:

Call me crazy, but that one there at the very bottom looks like a real winner...

Seriously, is there anything more surreal than getting an email suggesting that you buy a book you have written?  Ha Ha.  Thanks Amazon!

Some Sleeves, and a Question

The JWS (Jane Wolff Scott) cardigan progresses:

Two sleeves!  Some things are just better in pairs.  Not that I remembered that as I was knitting the first sleeve entirely wrong.  Overcompensating for the negative ease in the sleeves of my first prototype, I left way too many stitches in this one, resulting in a frog, back to the armpit.  Which, if you are good at math, will tell you that I have actually knit three (3) sleeves for this sweater.  Not the appropriate number.  So it's a good thing that one of them no longer exists.

But the funny thing is, even in spite of that, this sweater is SO FAST to knit that I'm still time ahead, based on my highly scientific process of determining these things:  It feels like I'm getting done really quickly.

You know what's to love about this project?  It's not Rocket Surgery.  Now don't get me wrong; I'm as big a technique junkie as you'll ever find.  If it's got trickery, or thrill-seeking, or fiddle-factor, I'm there.  Usually.  But sometimes I just wanna make a sweater.  Without thinking too hard.  Or taking too long.  Or spending too much.
This sweater is that sweater.  

Which brings me to the question:  Shouldn't there be a pullover version, too? The only thing missing from this dreamboat is getting to work it in the round.  It could have a turtleneck.  Or not.  It could have waist shaping, adjoining the sexy side-cables.  Or not.  I could plug in a different 6-st cable in the raglans, just for fun.

Weigh in, Gentle Readers?  Should the JWS cardi have a daughter, who's a pullover?