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I Protest So You Don’t Have To

21 June 2012
  • Mr. Trask: So, are you going to write something about that Ravelympics thing?
  • Me: Well – I don’t know. It’s been covered on Ravelry and Twitter and Metafilter and blogs. The Yarn Harlot has weighed in. It might even make Colbert.
  • Mr. Trask: Yeah, are you knitting him socks?
  • Me: If I were going to write about it, I’d have to be able to add something special. Like, I could go to London and knit in Trafalgar Square with duct tape over my lips, the way they did at Brita’s protest on Community.
  • Mr. Trask: …It would be really inconvenient if you went into labor in London. But, hey, you have some photos of you knitting in London, right?

Without further ado, I give you:

Paddington Protest

Paddington Station: a great place to protest.

Knitting the Diamond Jubilee

6 June 2012

Well! Some of you may know that there was a celebration here this weekend – the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, who has been on the throne of England for 60 years. Here in England, that meant a four-day weekend and several events in London, including an enormous floating pageant of celebration, a pop concert, and more traditional ceremonies as well. There also were street parties and local celebrations across Britain and Wales.

Harcourt Arms Jubilee Sign

A sign for one of Jericho’s festive gatherings, at The Harcourt Arms. We still don’t know what the “beards not essential” note at the bottom means; we suspect an in joke among the pub’s regulars.

I haven’t been able to find absolute confirmation that Queen Elizabeth II is a knitter, but I suspect she is. We know that Queen Victoria was a knitter, and that the Queen Mother organized knitting circles to make socks for soldiers during World War II. Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose participated in these as they did many war efforts, although sadly we don’t have a photo of Elizabeth knitting as we do of her changing a tire on an ambulance.

Jericho Street Party

Set-up for the Jericho Street Party. Bunting! Signs! A very long table!

What we do know is that knitters all over the country have adopted The Queen as one of their own. As was also the case during the Royal Wedding last year, knitters leapt into action to celebrate the monarchy:

  • Mysterious yarn-bombers spent three months preparing festive displays on a pier and a set of public toilets (?!?) in the North-East of England. The knit items in the display included bunting, Beefeaters, corgis, a pot of tea, and teacups with Elizabeth II’s insignia on them. This is the second instance of yarn-bombing on Saltburn Pier, and the BBC investigates in a hard-hitting video. One man protests, “I know nothing at all about knitting!” to which the reporter responds, “It’ll be better for you in the end if you own up.”
  • Meanwhile, in the privacy of her own home, a Cardiff woman knit a two-foot royal carriage (and the Queen and Prince Philip, and horses…) to honor the monarch.
  • Not to be outdone, a woman in Southampton spent four months knitting a replica of the Diamond Jubilee Boat Pageant. Even more incredible, the article says that she made it out of “bits of spare wool she had lying around her house.” What a stash!
  • 60 people in the Milton Keynes area knit the world’s largest flag (British, of course) to celebrate the Jubilee. It’s made up of 6156 individual squares sewn together (talk about a nightmare finishing project) knit from 280 balls of acrylic yarn (so the flag would be washable?). Confirmation from the Guinness Book of World Records is pending, but in the meantime someone called Stephen from HCS Crafts in Stony Stratford received a cake from the mayor of Milton Keynes. Stephen, you deserve more than just a cake. Someone get that man some cashmere.

My own Jubilee weekend considerably tamer than that of either The Queen or the dedicated knitters who hono(u)red her. I had some 18th century poetry work to do, and I am getting enormous, so we stuck near home and attended the festivities around here.

Knitting at Diamond Jubilee Party

Here’s me, knitting at the Rickety Press party. You can see that I have, well, swollen a bit.

Our local gastropub, The Rickety Press, had a street party (with jazz quartet, no less) on Monday, so we popped over there for my favo(u)rite pregnancy treat (their burger). You’ll see that I indulged in some knitting in public while we waited for our food. We also walked through the street fair in our neighborhood, Jericho. Vendors! Face Painting! Cream Teas and Bingo at the Church! A Live Band! It reminded us of Del Ray‘s First Thursdays. Except that there was also an unexplained group of people dressed as pirates. Alexandria, time to add some pirates!

I did watch the Thames pageant on television; it was pretty darn impressive, with a thousand boats parading down London’s great waterway to hono(u)r The Queen. Largest floating pageant in 350 years, we’re told. Plus, I could knit while watching. I’m making some nifty little baby hats for our baby and others; baby hats, it turns out, are like potato chips. You can’t make just one. Also, they’re great for the little bits of yarn you have in your stash (you know, if you aren’t going to use them for a reproduction of a boat pageant).

Fabulous knitter Alissa (who introduced me to Dynamo Sophie) came to Oxford with her family on Tuesday. They brought us amazing gifts – a hand-me-down stroller, a baby sleeping bag, and best of all their company. Alissa is working on a vest made out of the yarn that I sent her last summer during the stash giveaway – with luck, she’ll share us pictures of the finished product! I stupidly forgot to take any photos of her visit, so you’ll have to take my word for it that she was here.

So! Wherever you live, did you get in on the Jubilee action, or did you avoid it?

If you want to make your own knitted Queen Elizabeth II, there are instructions for knitting her in Carol Meldrum’s book Knitted Icons and Fiona Goble’s Knit Your Own Royal Wedding.

Knitting for a Baby: Sweaters

4 June 2012
Three Baby Sweaters

Three Baby Sweaters: from the top, the Garter Yoke Baby Cardi, the Tulips Cardigan, and the Baby Mine sweater.

You all knew this post was coming: what should one knit for a baby (whether one’s own or that of a loved one)? I’ve been delving into this question a bit over the past few months, and so have some Friends of the Blog (as you have seen).

Now, let me preface all this by saying that I haven’t had a baby before, and I have only occasional experience with infants. Moreover, every day that goes by convinces me that I am even less prepared to take care of a baby than I thought the day before. So what I am passing along here is the general wisdom I have read or been told about knitting for a baby. Please don’t hesitate to argue with me or to offer your experience in the comments.

Today’s installment: sweaters. It’s fun and relatively easy to knit a baby sweater; since they are completed much more quickly than adult sweaters, they’re even a nice way to learn a particular sweater construction before moving on to a full-size one. Fun New Knitter Mallory is making one for her toddler niece right now.

Here’s what I know about baby sweaters:

1. Cardigans Are Nice. I am told that babies are part wiggly and part floppy, and that therefore cardigans are easier to put on and take off than pullovers.

2. Buttons Must Stay Put. Make sure that all buttons and any other embellishments are extremely secure. Babies tend to put things in their mouths, and you don’t want them trying to swallow your button. (When I first read this, I was tempted to just cut all the buttons off of everything, to be safe, but I am told that this is an over-reaction).

3. Babies Grow. So, hey, don’t feel trapped in infant sizing! You can knit something in the 6-to-12-month range and you may well see it on the recipient longer than you would a smaller garment. This is a great argument for the Rocketry and Tulips cardigans that Stephanie Pearl-McPhee made famous a few years ago. Tulips’ smallest size is 6-9 months, and Rocketry is only available in 6-9, but that size seems to me just right for a new baby. It’ll fit eventually, and (as this Knitty article) points out the baby can always wear the sweater early with the sleeves cuffed.

4. Washable Is Nice. Baby knitting seems to be one area in which the two sides of the superwash debate have come to a truce. Everyone agrees that babies are messy and new parents are busy, so superwash wool is awfully nice. Additionally, superwash wool is softer on a baby’s sensitive skin. Combed cotton is another option – both washable and soft.

5. Advanced: Babies Only See Some Colors. This is something I never, ever would have thought about, but this yahoo voices article suggests one consider the baby’s own visual pleasure when choosing colors. Infants can only see black, white, and red, the author says, so high-contrast knits will be more pleasing to them. To that end, Ann Weaver‘s fabulous Le Mans, Death Race, or Albers Baby patterns seem just right, but then how often is a baby going to sit up and say, “Hey, Mom, thanks for the aesthetic consideration!”?

Sleeves Close-Up

Consider bolder colors for your baby sweaters; nowhere is it written that a kid has to wear pastels all the time. Notice how Emily’s choice of a deep pink color modernizes the lace in her Baby Mine sweater.

Want some more concrete suggestions? Here are patterns with which I have experience and which I think are worth your precious time. Pease do jump in via the comments section with your suggestions.

1. Tulips / Rocketry Cardigans. As I mentioned above, Lindsay Pensky’s patterns in Dream in Color yarn rose to fame when the Yarn Harlot confessed her addiction to the Tulips cardigan. You can get kits for these top-down striped sweaters through Coldwater Yarn – convenient if you don’t want to buy a million little skeins of yarn. I’ve made these for friends over the past few years. The “wow” factor is pretty high with these. Plus, Dream In Color Classy is fabulous to knit with. Mmmmmmm. I have yet to decide whether the adult version would be attractive or too much on me, but I am definitely tempted by it.

2. Yoked Cardigan. This easy top-down sweater was my go-to before I started on the Dream in Color sweaters. Hannah Fettig designed this sweater in many sizes from baby to adult. It’s a quick and easy knit. The smaller sizes seem to have larger sleeves (proportionally), but that may well make it easier to get a baby’s arm through said sleeve. This might make a great practice top-down sweaforked you haven’t knit top-down before; make a baby one as a gift, then reward yourself with an adult size for you.

3. Garter Yoke Baby Cardi. I just made this using the pink yarn that Emily sent me. Again, it’s a top-down pattern – but I’d suggest not making this as your first top-down sweater, because the instructions require some understanding of the top-down construction so that you don’t get lost. The pattern only comes in one size (6-12 months), but it’s a free pattern. Overall, worth a try!

4. Owlet. Popular a few years ago and written by knitting master Kate Davies. I am about to cast on for this one with yarn I got through Sophie at Twist Yarns. Cannot wait to make the cute little cabled owls. Less enthusiastic about sewing like 20 buttons on for the eyes. But, hey, I am brave. If the little sweater goes well, I may try for a bigger one for myself. You know, in my spare time.

5. Tiny Tea Leaves. Mallory’s making one if these for her little niece, and the pattern is well-written enough that she hasn’t needed a lot of help. Plus, this pattern looks great in variegated yarn as well as solid.

Garter Yoke Baby Cardi Plus Hat

Just for kicks, I gave the Garter Yoke Baby Cardi one contrasting button band, and made a coordinating hat out of the extra yarn from Baby Mine (which Emily-the-knitting-enabler sent along with the completed sweater).

Hono(u)rable Mentions
Here are some patterns that have been suggested to me, but that I haven’t tried yet. If you have experience with them, jump on in and let us know!

1. Olearia. In similar vein as Tiny Tea Leaves, with garter stitch ridges, but several different style options.
2. Milk Infant Top. The fabulous Lesley suggested this a while back, and the only thing that’s kept me from knitting it is not having quite the right yarn. Somehow, this feels like an heirloom pattern, with its crochet edging, and I’m not sure I have any heirloom yarn in the right weight.
3. Baby Mine. A Yarn Harlot pattern, this one was knit for our kid by fabulous Emily. It’s beautiful – a real heirloom piece – and (again) has a lot of “ooh” potential. I know I oohed when her mother gave it to me! Emily knit this in a deep pink color, which makes the lace on the bottom and the sleeves look modern.
4. Demne. A really pretty cardigan, knit side-to-side. Free pattern, but sadly only available in one size: 0-3 months.
5. Eyelet Yoke Baby Cardigan. Cute but not too fussy.
6. Sunnyside Cardigan. Cute, cabled, free, available in many sizes! This one’s high up in my queue.
7. Seamless Baby Kimono. There’s a whole host of baby kimono patterns on Ravelry; this is the one that was suggested to me, and it looks lovely. Garter stitch, seamless, lots of sizes.

Do you have a go-to baby sweater pattern? Share it with us in the comments!

Happy Birthday, Jane Lawton

24 May 2012
Jane on the Vineyard

Mom on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, 1997.

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been – wait, should I say? She might not like that. Well…she would have been 68. I wish I could throw some kind of birthday party for her, or at least take her out to lunch and ask her how swollen her feet got when she was pregnant, or what she thinks of Mad Men.

This is one of the difficulties of May: first Mother’s Day, and then her birthday. [Perhaps next year we will have shifted over to UK Mother’s Day, which is in March?] You people who like your knitting blogs full of knitting probably don’t know which end is up.

Mom used to have amazing birthday parties for us; I just came across a whole bunch of photos of one of mine. I think I was in fifth or sixth grade. There are at least 30 kids there – maybe all the girls in my grade? – and I remember there being crafts and goody bags and all kinds of nifty stuff (which may be par for the course these days, actually…but seemed amazing back in the 80s). The nifty stuff included my grandmother, dressed as a fortune teller, using an old goldfish bowl to see our futures.

[I am certain that this happened, but knowing my grandmother the mind boggles.]

As I told you all last month, Mom used to call on my birthday and give me little tidbits about what she was doing on the day I was born: she woke up, there were some contractions, she decided to go to the garage sale anyway, her water broke while she was there, she had to get a cab from there to the hospital…you get the idea. Sometimes she’d give me the whole story in one go, but sometimes she’d draw it out and call at different times during the day (“This time 23 years ago, you had arrived! But the cafeteria was closed, and I was really, really hungry, so I sent your father out for a cheeseburger!”). There were years when this tradition of hers seemed hilarious, and years when it seemed really embarrassing. But (looking ahead to our daughter’s birth) I now realize that one’s birthday doesn’t just belong to oneself: it also belongs to one’s mother. And I wonder whether Mom’s mother did something similar on her birthday.

Anyway, for some reason today the idea of a birthday party is in my head. I so wish I’d had a great big party for my mother when she was alive. We did have a party for her 60th birthday, but what I remember most about that is a grand saga trying to get the cake there on time. This weekend, I think the baby and I and Mr. Trask will go to the Randolph Hotel for tea to celebrate Jane. She stayed there when she visited me in Oxford many years ago, and we loved having high tea together there. Mmm, high tea.

Randolph 1995

The Randolph Hotel, 1995. Photo by Jane Lawton.

And then it also occurs to me that I might make something for her. I have this beautiful red yarn that was given to me by my mother-in-law, and I’ve never made it into the “something to wrap yourself in” that we’d planned. But it’s a gorgeous shade of red, just the shade Mom liked, and if I make something in honor of her but wear it myself then she’ll be pleased. I know, because she used to say, “Why don’t you wear more color near your face?”

I’m tempted by the Leaflet pattern from Knitty, but would love to hear your suggestions. What would Jane Lawton wear?

Now, I realize that I just talked myself into eating a sumptuous meal, and knitting something for myself, somehow to celebrate my mother’s birthday…but hey. I think she’d approve.

Red Yarn for Jane

Pretty red yarn in our back garden during unusual heat wave. What Would Jane Wear?

Adventures with Mom: Knitting Saves the Day

13 May 2012
Jane Inauguration

I don’t seem to have any photos of Scotland 1994, but here’s Jane Lawton at the Inauguration Parade in 1993 (I think). Isn’t she gorgeous and fun?

Another Mother’s Day (US) is here, and this one’s a new one for me: Mr. Trask and I are expecting our first child, and so I’m both remembering my own mother and aware that next year (if all goes well) I will be a mother myself. This is one of those times, like weddings or graduations, when I become aware of the passage of time. Recently, a friend on Facebook posted that his college graduation was half a lifetime ago, and asked what the rest of us were doing [half our age] years ago.

Me, I was just a few months away from that crazy road trip through Scotland with Jane Lawton. It was only my second trip to Europe, and my mother planned most of it. A close family friend had ties to Scotland and gave us lots of advice; we flew into and out of Glasgow and spent some time both there and in Edinburgh, but the highlight of the trip was to be our drive through the rural areas, taking in lochs and villages. Lovely!

Now, you people know that driving in the U.K. is on the left, as opposed to on the right in the United States. And those of you who know how old I am will have done the math and know that I was between my first and second years in college: still a teenager, but barely. Teenagers are not generally known for their patience and tolerance.

Do you all remember that phase of your lives when your mother could really get under your skin? When there were moments that her very existence seemed to be an affront to, not just your independence, but your very dignity? Well, just put her in a foreign country and make her drive manual with the opposite hand, on the opposite side of the road. Put the controls for the car in completely different places. Give her a map of a rural area and get her to ask her daughter to navigate. [And, people, I am still a bad navigator.]

As many people do when they’re first learning to drive, Mom kept centering herself in the road instead of the car; that put my side of the car, the left one, into the bushes by the side of the road. We’d approach roundabouts with fear and trembling, Mom laughing nervously. As she started the turn, she’d flick the turn signal on the car, which would turn out to be the windshield wipers, and we’d careen into the traffic circle with me yelling “Go left!” and her giggling. Oh, it was embarrassing, even though there we were the only ones in the car: that cosmic embarrassment one feels as a teenager, in which one’s parents’ very existence is humiliating.

Three things saved the trip:

  1. my mother’s unending patience;
  2. our mutual appreciation for the absurd (even though mine was only intermittently in play);
  3. knitting. [You all knew that was coming, right?]

I’m not sure what inspired me to bring yarn with me on the trip, but I had several skeins of gorgeous Manos Del Uruguay Wool Clasica in different solid jewel tones, and I was making a scarf for my boyfriend. [Every person who saw the scarf told me it was a Doctor Who scarf; at the time, I had no idea what that meant.] I knit through most of the terrifying and embarrassing moments of the car ride, and I do think that things went the better for it. It might have saved me making 2 of every 3 obnoxious teenager comments about Mom’s driving. The scarf ended up being really, really long; I think I just had to keep knitting to stay sane, the way one does.

Plus, the scarf me to my first knitting event. The owner of a bed and breakfast where we stayed (a man who always wore a kilt: memorable quote, “Trousers wear out. A kilt is forever,”) saw me knitting and told us about a nearby sheep and wool festival; my patient mother drove us there. I remember walking past many sheepy booths and buying some rustic yarn, and seeing an introduction to different wooly animals that culminated with the introduction of “the most fearsome creature here,” according to the announcer: a tiny, pitiful-looking cashmere goat.

The trip wasn’t all near-death experiences. It’s also when I learned that Scotland is a beautiful, green, misty wonderland. It’s when we saw Noises Off! in Glasgow and laughed so hard we cried, and when we saw Macbeth performed by high school students in Edinburgh, possibly during the festival, and when we saw something in Pitlochry (although for the life of me I can’t remember what). It’s when we figured out why tea is so important: it saves you on a rainy afternoon, and so many afternoons are rainy in Scotland. It’s when I learned how great it is to knit on a road trip; it’s when I realized how much I liked traveling, especially in the United Kingdom.

As I look toward having my own daughter, I know I’m going to have days when she looks at me like I am just the worst, the most humiliating being on the face of the planet. This must be cosmic justice, and I only wish Mom were here to have the satisfaction of seeing me get the treatment I occasionally dished out. In the near term, I’m planning to drive here starting this summer or fall, and I feel sure some part of her spirit is going to be watching me and gloating a little as I struggle. Or at least laughing that nervous laugh as I head for the roundabouts.

So, on this Mother’s Day, I say: thanks, Mom, for taking me to Scotland. Thanks for the spirit of adventure that brought you to plan the trip, and for the gumption that helped you continue, and for not smacking me upside the head when I said, in a condescending tone, “God. Those are the windshield wipers.” You were the most patient of women, and the most fun. I hope I’ll be half the fun and crazy you were.

Jane and Kathleen at Blenheim

Mom and me in the gardens at Blenheim Palace in 1995. Her trip to Oxford is another story for another time, but you can assume this is about what we looked like in Scotland. My hair doesn’t look great…and neither does that hat. It was the ’90s.

A Brief Interlude, Part 2: Knitters Are Kind

7 May 2012

Well, folks, the dissertation outline and chapter are in, and in a week I will have to defend them. Thank you all for your patience and support during this long international nightmare.

Meanwhile, I seem to have gotten rather large (apparently 31 weeks of pregnancy will do that for you), and I am trying to return to real life, or whatever life this Oxford adventure is. Mr. Trask and I are preparing for the baby, which in Mr. Trask’s case involves sensible things like balancing our budget and his work calendar, and in my case involves…knitting. Of course. You all have already seen what I’ve made for the baby, but here’s something I didn’t expect: you people made things, too. And mailed them to England! Can you believe it?

Duck Socks

Duck Socks from Zoë . So cute, and a free Knitty pattern.

The first package that arrived was from Zoë, who lives in Canada and did some test knitting for my book a while back. Apparently, Zoe has been cranking these duck socks out for lucky babies everywhere, and she’s ready to give you advice and support if you decide to make a pair. Pop on over to her blog and let her know that you, too, dream of ducky feet.

Package from Emily

Package from Emily, who knows that knitters like to knit.

The next package was from Emily, who sent me a fibre space care package: Neighborhood Fiber Co. Studio Sport and a project bag. Emily knows that knitters like to knit! I started a Baby Surprise Jacket with the yarn, then realized that the yarn just wants to be something else (does this happen to you guys?). As Emily herself pointed out, the colorway, Victorian Village, is similar to the color I used for my Tea Leaves Cardigan a couple of years ago. Tiny Tea Leaves would be an option, then, except that the gauge is wrong. So I’m thinking about a Garter Yoke Baby Cardi. Anyone else have ideas?

At this point, it’s starting to feel like you guys are throwing a virtual baby shower for me. It’s amazing! I get teary thinking about it. Seriously. [I also got teary watching Avengers Assemble a couple of weeks ago. I’m less embarrassed about baby-shower-by-mail tears than I am about superhero tears.]

The next package was from Becky, another sample knitter for the book who has become a friend. Becky was totally silent about this package – it just appeared out of the blue one day, with Bisquick Gluten Free Pancake Mix (an amazing treat) and this:

Amazing Blanket from Becky

Amazing Blanket from Becky. When did she find the time?

Becky knit this blanket in her free time…and she has a kid to chase around the house. Super-duper impressive. Who else wants to be Becky when they grow up?

Anyway, knitters are amazing. Not only the three women who sent me fabulous yarny packages, but also all those who have sent me notes about their own pregnancies and their experiences as new mothers, and all of you who have posted comments on the blog, and…just…all of you. I am really overwhelmed and grateful. When I started this blog, I don’t think I realized anyone was going to actually read it. <sniff sniff>

Moving along so you don’t have to see a pregnant lady cry – I’ll be back to a better blog schedule next week. Be aware that Sunday is Mother’s Day in the US, so you’ll be reading another Jane Lawton post from me. Forewarned is forearmed.

Lastly, Jennifer R. won the handspun from Cardiff from the last giveaway. Congratulations, Jennifer! Stay tuned for a bit more yarn in the coming weeks. In the meantime, how about some advice on what to knit with my beautiful pink skein of yarn? I am nothing if not suggestible.

A Brief Interlude: Knitting Photos from Oxford

19 April 2012

So, people, I have a major deadline for my dissertation this month, and suddenly I turn around and it’s two weeks since I’ve posted. While I continue to type in another medium about eighteenth century poetry, I thought I’d show you some of the knitterly things I saw in Oxford this fall.

The magic of the knitting obsession is that every one of these made me feel I was in the right place during a time when I felt pretty discombobulated. Has that ever happened to you? A knitter on the subway or an airplane, an amazing knitting-themed display in a shop that would usually eschew anything handmade, a yarn shop just around the corner of a new city? Think about it, and (if you like) tell us about it in the comments.

Knitters in the Greens Cafe

Knitters in the Greens Cafe. I was too shy to approach, but I did Kinnear them. Too weird?

Young Man Knitting in Blackwell's

You can tell Mr. Trask and I spent a lot of time in cafes this first month (no furniture or internet in our house). Here's a gentleman knitting in Blackwell's. I think he was a new knitter - he seemed a bit uncomfortable with the sticks and string - but he was hanging in there.

The Gap Goes Hand-Knit

A knitting-themed display at The Gap in Oxford, which was up much of the fall and into the holiday season. Check out the enormous needles on the right!

Darn It & Stitch

First sighting of Darn It & Stitch, the haberdashery and knitting shop that I'd been stalking online for several months.

Oxford Craft Market

A knitter's booth at the Oxford Antiques and Crafts Market (held every Thursday in Gloucester Green). I like the sly smile she's giving me here.

And here’s one more thing that, while unrelated to knitting, made Mr. Trask and me both feel we were in the right place:

Two Pink Lines

Two Pink Lines.

Happy Birthday To Me (and you): A Giveaway

5 April 2012
KELT Birthday 2011

Here I am (a little blurry) on my birthday last year. Little did I know what was coming...but, hey, I had that nice pink mocktail to get me through (lower right).

Yes, folks, today is my birthday. I am (mumble) years old. It’s been a good year, with a lot of changes and a lot of knitting…and a lot of you people. I think it was around this time last year that I started giving away yarn like there was no tomorrow, and all kinds of folks came out of the woodwork to give my stash a good home.

Aside: my mother used to call me on my birthday, not just to wish me a happy day, but also to remind me of the story of my birth. Some years, she’d call more than once, giving me a sort of blow-by-blow of the day (“This time 25 years ago, I was still at the garage sale, and my water broke!”). At the time, it was one more sign of her quirkiness. Today, preparing for my own kid’s birthday, I say: Thanks for all the hard work, Mom.

So to thank all of you for the love, support, and stash-busting over the past year, I give you: some more yarn.

Welsh Handspun

Handspun yarn from Cardiff, Wales: one lucky commenter will get to make an amazing hat/pair of mitts/something from this.

I bought this yarn at a little yarn shop in Cardiff a couple of years ago. Here is what the tags say:

  • PINK: Ragged Robyn. Merino, Linen, Blue Faced Leicester. 188 yards.
  • BLUE: Ragged Robyn. Merino. Thread Ply. 202 yards.

What I know is that it’s handspun from a woman who lives in Cardiff, or used to live in Cardiff. A little Google-stalking came up with nothing definitive about the mysterious Robyn, but I can tell you that this yarn is gorgeous and soft. If it were me, I’d make a pair of mis-matched (fraternal twin) hand mitts. But whoever wins can make whatever they like with it!

The yarn has lived in a plastic, airtight container in our one-cat, non-smoking home since purchase (plastic container was shipped abroad when we moved). Details on all stash giveaways here. Deadline is Wednesday, April 11, at noon GMT+1.

Happy Birthday to me, thank you to all of you, and happy commenting! Tell me about how you celebrate your birthday, or the most unusual handspun you’ve found in a yarn shop.

Links for the Shawl/Scarf/Neckwarmer Knitter

2 April 2012
Color Affection

The Color Affection Shawl by Veera Välimäki. I'm itching to start this one! Photo © and courtesy Veera.

Funnily enough, it seems a lot of people are suddenly knitting, or planning to knit, shawls and scarves. Is this because it’s almost spring, but not quite? Here in Oxford, we had one gorgeous week of temperatures in the 60s (F), which I missed due to the worst chest cold of all time, and now it’s back to high 40s, low 50s. (My weather app is telling me that it might snow in London on Wednesday, but I’ve noticed a lot of false snow predictions on this app that disappear within a few hours. Is there some kind of snow default for London that disappears when a meteorologist enters actual information?) In the DC area, there was a similar fake summer, although theirs had highs in the 70s and they’re still in the 60s or so. A shawl might seem like the right option for versatile dressing: snuggly when you need it, easy to knot around your waist or shove in your bag when you don’t.

Trifecta Scarf

Or maybe I want to make this one: The Trifecta Scarf by Olga Buraya-Kefelian, whom I knew long ago in Knit Happens days. Photo © and courtesy Olga.

At any rate, I had shawls popping up at me all over the Internet recently:

  • Laura Nelkin designed a shawl to use while teaching the Craftsy class Knitting with Beads. Accola is a bottom-up shawl in which one works the border over a small number of stitches before picking up for the main body of the shawl. It has lace accents and a lot of stockinette stitch to give you a rest, and (as the class name implies) beads. Laura, Jill Draper, and Craftsy have teamed up to offer giveaway: a class and yarn for the shawl if you comment on her blog post by tomorrow (April 3).
  • Spud & Chloe is hosting a knit-along for their Trifecta Scarf, a lovely lace pattern in three different stripes. The knit along begins on Monday, April 16, and I am sorely tempted. As if I need to commit myself to another pattern, people. S&C knit-alongs are always popular, with knitters jumping in and posting about problems, solutions, and modifications like gangbusters. This one should be a great time.
  • Classic Elite Yarns featured the story of a knitter who made an incredible lace shawl for her wedding. This is such a gorgeous item – even if you aren’t a lace knitter, click over to see the beauty that is this shawl. Plus, it’s orange!
  • The yarnings podcast is having a knit-along, too, this one for the super-cool Urbanity Shawl. This shawl has a drop-stitch pattern that mimics the skyline of a city – very cool. The knit-along ends April 30, so get your pattern and join in today.

In keeping with the neck-warmer theme, I will tell you of the tiniest knit-along in the world, which Catherine (whom I met at the P3 Retreat last fall) and I sort of started a couple of weeks ago. It started, as such things often do, with enthusiasm. Kay of Mason-Dixon Knitting posted a note about a beautiful, funky cowl pattern by earthchick.

Catherine and I were excited, and talked briefly about a knit-along. But (as Catherine’s first post on the cowl points out) a knit along of two is a small knit along indeed. Nevertheless, we are pushing on, in a manner of speaking. Catherine has done a lovely job, knitting and posting her progress. Do look at her post for some lovely photos of the cowl in progress.

Until last night, here is how far I had gotten:

Liquid Amber in Antilles

Hey, yarn selection is half the battle. Right? Right?

Meanwhile, Catherine has moved on to an amazing sewing project for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. I can only plead start-itis, plus having to weave in all the ends of my Moderne Baby Blanket (on which more later). By last night, though, I was at a point where I could cast on something new. I also had the Sunday night blues, and using the Sundara Fingering Silky Merino I chose seemed like it might be cheering. Plus, I really, really had to get started on the cowl.

Aside: I am using a thicker yarn than is called for in the pattern. You people know that I’m still in stash-reduction mode (although I’m sure Mr. Trask would dispute this given the packages that have arrived at the house from time to time) and the only fingering-weight yarn I have is slated for another project. I got gauge in this yarn and, although I expect the drape will be somewhat different due to the different yarn weight, I think all will be well. So far, all is delightful: the yarn is lovely and the pattern is easy to remember, even for me.

Liquid Antilles Cowl

Liquid Antilles Cowl: Tiniest Progress Ever.

I worked on this while watching The Impostors, one of my favorite movies ever, and Sunday seemed a lot more manageable after that.

Are you knitting neckwarmers of any kind? Do you have an explanation for this trend? How about a neckwarmer pattern you think everyone should knit? Post any or all of that in the comments.

Beginning Knitting Book: Knitting Rules! by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

30 March 2012
Knitting Rules!

Want to really understand your knitting? This is the book you're looking for.

This is the first of an occasional series of book reviews aimed especially at the beginning knitter.

You all may remember that I’ve been thinking a lot about how to introduce people to the world of knitting. I’ve done this for years as a knitting teacher, but haven’t really slowed down to think about what I say and why, until now. So now you all are hostages to my musings, unless you want to scroll down and check out a baby sweater.

As someone who learned to knit long before it was a craze, I’m eminently sympathetic to those who like to learn on their own, perhaps through the Internet and books. It’s all right to be an introvert knitter, I say. It’s not that I don’t enjoy other knitters, because I really do – but there are times when I need a little space, and I often like to figure out a new technique on my own rather than in a group.

All of which leads me to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s book Knitting Rules! Like her blog Yarn Harlot, it offers sympathy and inspiration for the obsessed knitter. Hers was among the first knitting blogs, and her combination of honesty and humor has made her one of the most famous knitters around.

But that’s not why I’m suggesting this particular book. Here’s why: if you’re a beginning or intermediate knitter, it’s all to easy to get attached to patterns and not necessarily feel brave enough to improvise a pattern. Knitting Rules! includes “recipes” to knit hats, shawls, and even socks in any gauge and for any size. It’s hard to come by this kind of information in an understandable format when you’re a beginning knitter – and I think it’s essential.

Wisconsin Winter Socks

Wisconsin Winter Socks: The unassuming booklet that changed my life.

There are several stories about how I learned to knit (and I’m planning to share them with you guys someday). This is because I knew I liked knitting, but somehow it didn’t stick for a while. The point when it finally did wasn’t when I found the perfect pattern; it was when someone gave me a book that told me it was all right to change a pattern to please myself. The first time this happened, weirdly, was with a tiny booklet called Wisconsin Winter Socks. The sock pattern in the book is easy to follow, and it’s illustrated with cute little sketches, which I always enjoy. But the best part of the booklet is the part where the author encourages you to customize your socks with stripes or other patterns. Between that and stitch patterns I found in other books,  I was able to make all kinds of purty socks – mostly because the Winter Socks authors had given me “permission” to play around with knitting.

Knitting classes are usually centered around a pattern, and it’s understandable why they are. The teacher needs to be able to plan different phases of the class and prepare for questions that will come up. Meanwhile, students need to know what they’re going to get out of the class, and a pattern both manages those expectations and helps them be fulfilled. But when I work with intermediate students one-on-one, I like to talk them through designing something simple on their own. Like any other craft, knitting is creative, and knitters deserve to be able to design what they want to make rather than be limited to other knitters’ imaginations.

But I digress. What Stephanie Pearl-McPhee does in this particular book is introduce the idea of designing in such a way that it won’t intimidate beginning knitters. The “recipes” are interspersed with her usual stories about unmanageable yarn stashes, disastrous knitting projects, and explaining knitting to the non-knitter. She also gives tips on knitting that will be helpful to the new knitter: explanations of how gauge works, what different kinds of yarn look and feel like, and (my personal favorite) how to figure out what a mystery yarn is made of. Most of the information in here won’t be new to advanced knitters, but it will be invaluable to the new knitter.

So, if you’re thinking of spending the weekend teaching yourself to knit, scare up a copy of this readable classic and dive on in.

Tulips Cardigan

The Tulips Cardigan: Well, yes, I do still have to weave in the ends.

For those of you who have been waiting for the baby sweater: here it is. Made from a pattern that Pearl-McPhee made famous several years ago, this Tulips Cardigan was fun to make and is even more fun to show off. I’ve made several of these for friends over the years, and I’m so cheesily happy to have made one for our little sprog. [Although I haven’t yet woven in the ends…oh dear.]

So: What books would you recommend to a beginning knitter? Which ones helped you when you were a beginner?