Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Word of Thanks

Oh. My.

OK, I need to take a sec here and catch my breath. A minute ago, I just finished posting about my cool crocheted shawl and blahblahblah and as I was about to skip back over to ravelry before heading off to bed, I noticed this:

Someone made a donation to the Spina Bifida Association of Northeastern New York through my firstgiving page. A hundred dollar donation.

I wish I could thank this person by name, but the donation came in anonymously, at least as far as I could see. (Can you tell this is the first donation that I've ever gotten?) So, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, my most sincere thanks go out to you via this post. You truly took my breath away.

For those who might not know, my younger daughter, Little Z, has spina bifida. For those who might not know what spina bifida is (and I had never heard of it before Little Z was diagnosed), it's a birth defect with the potential for some absolutely horrific consequences: profound cognitive delays, paralysis, hydrocephalus and more. Little Z is tremendously lucky that she's managed to dodge many of the worst effects of SB, and we are eternally grateful for that.

We're members of the Spina Bifida Association of Northeastern New York because of Little Z. SBA of NENY has been a lifeline for us, and we try to raise what funds we can so they can keep helping families like ours. I could prattle on and give statistics about how many families they work with, or how much information on SB prevention they've distributed, or the advocacy work that they do. But, that's not the real face of this organization.

It's this.

When Little Z was first diagnosed with spina bifida, when I was just 20 weeks pregnant with her, the doctor who made the diagnosis told me flat out that I should schedule an abortion for the next week. No suggestion of a second opinion, no attempts to find out the extent of Little Z's neural compromise, nothing. When Little Z was born (in a different hospital with a different team of doctors), so much of our energy was focused on helping her get well; what little we had left over went to her older sister, Big Girl, who was a trooper throughout that difficult, difficult time. Instead of the joy and excitement that accompanies the birth of a baby, all our friends and relatives were asking how Little Z was faring -- were there infections? complications? setbacks?

And then, our welcome packet from SBA arrived in the mail. It contained lots of information about spina bifida that we desperately needed, and it even contained a very sweet gift: a CD of lullabies. But, most importantly, it contained a welcome letter. And that letter began, "Congratulations on the birth of your baby!"

God, I needed to hear that. In all the whirlwind surrounding Little Z's birth, I don't think anyone actually congratulated us. No one omitted it intentionally, no one was trying to be unkind or thoughtless, but everyone -- us included -- had other, more pressing thoughts on our minds. And I had no idea how much I needed to be congratulated on the birth of my precious baby until the people at SBA did it.

We raise funds for SBA because they need to keep their doors open. They need to keep educating, advocating, and yes, congratulating new parents on their precious babies who just happen to have spina bifida.

I'm incredibly moved that someone I don't even know has donated to a cause so near and dear to my heart. I don't have any other words but the ones I've already said: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Knitter, a Crocheter and the Pope Walk into a LYS....

I'm sure you know the old saying: "You can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse." Otherwise known as "Crap in, crap out."

Now, I've been crocheting since I was so young that I don't even remember learning how. Growing up, I either worked with Red Heart acrylic, that mainstay yarn of the 70s and 80s, or crochet thread. When I went back to crocheting after a many-years-long hiatus, I mainly stuck to dishcloth cotton. All of those materials have their places in the pantheon of fibery goodness. But, boy, let me tell you what a difference it makes to use really, really good stuff when you crochet.

Check this out:

It's a shawl I just finished out of Schoppel-Wolle Zauberball in the Fuchsia colorway. Holy crap! The difference between crocheting with this stuff and crocheting with anything else I'd ever used was like the difference between eating a perfectly-steamed lobster and dropping a brick on a bare toe. And it served two important purposes for me.

First, it's really inspired me to crochet again. Oh, I've been having fun with flowered dishcloths lately, but this is an entirely new league for me. I can't wait to find the next amazing pattern I can crochet in an absolutely kickass yarn. All those skeins I've had sitting in the stash waiting for the Pope to visit? Out you come, my pretties! It's time to work you up.

And second, it's a good reminder for me to use the good stuff. If the day ever comes that the Pope shows up at my door demanding a day of crafting fun, I can always run out to the LYS for a skein or two of, Popely. Till then, I need to step away from the dishcloth cotton and break out the crown jewels of the stash. And now I know I can crochet those special skeins up as well as knit them.

It doesn't hurt that crochet progresses at lightning speed compared to knitting. That shawl up there? Two days. That's right: two days. And not two days of being away on vacation, sitting by the pool, doing nothing but crocheting, either. These were two days with a sick child, a visiting houseguest, party know, the usual detritus of life.

I am hooked.

(Ouch. Pardon the pun. But honestly, did you really expect me to be able to hold out forever?)

Friday, May 21, 2010


I may have mentioned that I love crochet. My mother taught me to crochet when I was so young that I don't even remember learning. All through my youth, I made lacy doilies, pictures in filet, and the occasional scrap-yarn blanket in shell stitch. Despite all this, I never really liked the look of crochet. Lace was fussy and old-fashioned; granny squares were too 70s. I laid aside my hooks because I simply had no use for the stuff I could create with them.

Now, however, I'm rediscovering crochet through some of the amazing new patterns that are coming out. True, there are still way too many granny-square thises and shell-stitch thats to suit my taste. But some of what's out there is really cool.

Like these:

The Chrysanthemum Dishcloths (pattern number 25878), a freebie tear-off sheet available at Michaels. I lovelovelove this pattern. It uses up nearly a full skein of Sugar & Creme yarn (if you work it as I did, without a separate contrasting color). It takes all of an hour to crochet up a whole cloth. And they really do look like flowers. Too cute.

I needed a bit of an instant gratification project today. Earlier this week, I finally finished plying the 4 oz of Crown Mountain Farms Superwash roving in the "Oh, Pretty Woman" colorway that I'd started spinning way back in something like February. It came out looking stunning, I must admit.

I truly think this is the most even, well-balanced yarn I've ever spun. I'm quite proud of myself.

But now, this puts me in a bit of a quandry. There's nothing that I want to do next.

I thought of starting to spin some more CMF fiber. If I want a break from superwash, I can always pick out one of the fiber-of-the-month offerings to try out.

But, I tend to spin in fits and starts. Knitting is my true go-to craft, and while the urge to start another spinning project hard on the heels of the one I just finished is strong, so is the knowledge that I need something on the needles to make me happy.

I thought my OTN project was going to me my Impasto Shawlette. I even got so far as to knit through the entire first color stripe and 3/4 of the way through the second. That's when I ran out of yarn. Sadly, my leftovers from Big Girl's rainbow blankie won't be enough to make the shawl. And while I've considered several other options, nothing is grabbing me enough to make me want to cast on those 321 stitches yet again.

Of course, I'm avoiding the giant elephant in the room: my mother's afghan, which I've yet to finish seaming. I wove over 400 squares on my little 4-inch Weave It loom, but the job of seaming them all together is just killing me. Mom is coming for a visit next week, so I'm considering recruiting her to work with me to seam it up. I wonder if she'd go for it.

So, I'm torn by guilt over the project I should be finishing, but sufficiently uninspired to start any of the hundreds of projects in my favorites list. Which is why I spent today crocheting face cloths.

Now if I could just figure out what to do tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Candy Dots and Other Stuff

What a day yesterday was! The only reason I didn't blog about it then was that as it was I got to bed after 2am, and these days, getting to bed at 2am makes for a nasty wake-up call in the morning.

But, I digress.

Yesterday, Sunday, the supposed day of rest, I woke up at the ungodly hour of six-something a.m. But, I put the time while the rest of the family slept to good use. I finally finished pinning out my Salsa Picante, aka modified Multnomah, shawl:

This photo is only partway through the blocking process; I love how it turned out after the wet-blocking. The crochet bind-off really opened out and makes for a beautiful looped edging, and the shape of the shawl is exactly what I like. Here's how it looks all blocked:

And with the pins out:

All in all, a definite keeper.

But wait, that's not all. The family and I spent a relaxing Sunday at home, hanging out on the deck most of the day. While DH and the kids played, I watched and finished up these:

Big Girl's Candy Dots mittens! Many thanks to gibknitty for providing the inspiration for the name "Candy Dots." She said that the colors reminded her of the little colored candy dots that come on that long strip of white paper, and as soon as she said that, I saw it too. I love the image, especially as these will be for my daughter, who at age 5 is head-over-heels over candy.

And speaking of candy, I even managed to whip up a last-minute recipe for no-bake candied sweet potatoes that turned out just about as good as any Thanksgiving sweet-potato recipe I've ever tried. Make it at your own risk; it's addictive!

No-Bake Candied Sweet Potatoes

Peel 3 medium sweet potatoes and cut in half lengthwise. Cut into 1/2 inch slices and set aside. In medium saucepan, melt 3 Tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. When butter bubbles, add sweet potatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook sweet potatoes, covered, in butter until browned and fork-tender, stirring occasionally, approximately 10-12 minutes. Lower heat, add 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed, and ground cinnamon to taste. Let sugar melt and stir gently to coat potatoes. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes until sugar caramelizes. Serve immediately.

Yes, indeedy, that's just a little ol' slice of candy-coated heaven, and it takes nearly no time at all to make. If you do happen to give it a try, let me know how you like it.

Finally, I even started a new project: an Impasto Shawlette, from the latest issue of Interweave Knits. I'm using up some of the leftovers from Morgan's Birthday Blankie, and I'm hoping that I'll have enough of each color to do the 4 loooooooong rows for each color repeat. Let me tell you, I'll be pissed if I wind up only 3 or 4 stitches short on yarn and have to rip out 1,000+ stitches to get back to the last color. So far, though, I'm really enjoying the slip-stitch pattern. Keep your fingers crossed that it all works out!

And then, what kept me up till past 2am:


Specifically, two skeins of WM Twin in the colorway Maus Jung (Young Mouse; it sounds so much better in German, doesn't it?) that I scored in the Completely Pointless and Arbitrary swap group.

Now, I haven't swapped with this group, or with any group, really, for well over a year. For awhile, I was swapping like mad. But, when DH became worried about his job, I became worried about the money I was spending sending out my swaps, so I stopped cold turkey.

It really wasn't so bad. I'd sort of reached stash nirvana (or maybe just stash overload) at that point anyway. I still lurked on the swap boards, but I didn't play and I knit from stash. (I could probably do that for the next 10 years and still not make it through all the yarn and spinning fiber that I have tucked away, but again I digress.)

But, last night, that Maus Jung called to me. It was in a thread for which I actually had valid swappables. And the person offering the yarn is someone I know from back in my high-frequency swap days. I like her. She was online at the time, had just posted the offer, in fact. I dallied. I looked up the yarn, looked up projects knitted with it. I tried to buy just enough time for someone else to claim. I was nervous. I hadn't claimed for so long, I was actually afraid to go for it. And then, reason prevailed. It's only freakin yarn. So, I claimed.

In the end, I swapped away 3 skeins of Socks that Rock for 2 skeins of the WM Twin in Maus Jung, both from the same update. That should give me enough for a decent-sized top for myself, or some killer, killer thigh-high stockings. A very fair trade, I daresay.

Now I just need to start getting ready to do a spinning demo at Big Girls preschool on Wednesday. Twenty-five five-year-olds and me.

Send good vibes my way. I'm going to need them.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Rose by Any Other Name

Sometimes, you just have to know when to give in. I reached that point yesterday, when I realized that the growing yarn snarl hanging from Big Girl's otherwise lovely mittens-in-progress was threatening to go from unmanageable to irredeemable. So, rather than do what I normally do -- stick my fingers in my ears and loudly sing "lalala, I can't heeeeeeear you," hoping that the problem will magically go away of its own accord -- I actually stopped knitting, unwound about half the rainbow yarn from its cake, and cut. Once I rewound the yarn, I had my original solid-color yarn still being worked from both ends of the same cake, but with the much-needed ability to unwind the rainbow yarn when the four independent strands started to tangle.

Here's what I'm up to:

I lovelovelove how the colors are turning out. I dyed the rainbow skein myself using leftover Easter dyes, and quite frankly, I wasn't at all sure if I liked the result. The yellows muddied, the purples hardly was a definite disappointment in the skein.

But, as with most creative endeavors, it's more about how you use the materials you have than about what exactly those materials are. And I did manage to find just about the perfect use for that jacked-up skein of rainbow yarn: Robin Hansen's Salt and Pepper Mitten pattern.

Instead of the colors piling atop one another, competing and clashing, the alternating stitch pattern allows the colors to flow harmoniously, in gentle waves. I couldn't be happier with this project.


I can't for the life of me think of what to call it.

Now, until ravelry became the greatest thing ever to happen to the fiber world at large, no one but artists named their projects. When my mother knit a sweater, she called it "that blue sweater" or "the sweater in the hall closet" or "your sweater, you know which sweater I mean, and don't you give me that look young lady, you just march yourself back to your room and put it on rightthisminute."

Now, however, every project must have a name. If my mittens were black and white, I could simply call them my Salt and Pepper Mittens and leave it at that. For now, they're on my ravelry page as my "Two-at-a-Time Mittens," which, while accurate, is less than poetic. No, I'm loving the colors so much that I want a name that I love just as much. Something fitting. Something memorable. Something better than "your mittens, mit-tens, the ones I knit for you and put on a string specifically so you couldn't lose them, those mittens, now findthemfindthemfindthem."

Here's a close-up of how the colors play together.

Any suggestions?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Eye Candy

I love two-handed colorwork knitting. And I love the two-at-a-time method of knitting two circular items on one long circular needle. I just don't know if I love the two things together.

Unlike peanut butter and chocolate, two-at-a-time and two-color knitting just don't seem to go together easily or well. At least, not when working from both ends of a ball of yarn. Too many tangles, too much time spent unwinding, or trying to unwind, twisted strands. I think it would work better if I were using 4 separate balls of yarn instead of 2, but that's neither here nor there now as I don't plan on attempting to re-wind my yarn with my project still on the needles.

So, it seems I'm stuck with this clunky, lunky method, at least to the end of the hand portion of these mittens. Fortunately, they're durned purty to look at:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Learn Something New Every Day

I really wish I could live by this axiom. Unfortunately, once you pass a certain age, it really is hard to learn something new every day. I mean, when you're two, there's so much to learn. Nouns, for one thing. What's that? A shoe? Cool! And what does it go on? A foot? Even better! Two things learned in the space of two seconds. Learning is a full-time job for a kid.

The curve does taper off, of course. By the time you've reached the grand old age, 29-plus, as I have, most of the nouns have been mastered, as have the basic motor and social skills needed to make it in day to day life. Barring a sudden relocation to a third-world nation, it does get tricky to learn something brand-new every day.

Which is why I'm so very chuffed with myself today. Because I learned how to do this:

That's right, I finally took the plunge and taught myself how to do two circular items at a time -- in this case, mitten cuffs -- on one long circular needle. And as soon as I grasped the concept, I wondered why I'd waited so long.

I took the technique from the 2-at-a-Time Socks book by Melissa Morgan-Oakes. I've had this book for awhile, but for some strange reason, I was reluctant to give it a try. I'm not usually this intimidated by a technique, so I'm still puzzled by my resistance. As it turns out, it really is simple. I do all my circular knitting magic-loop style anyway, and this just tweaks things enough to make the process interesting. The hardest part about this project so far has been winding my yarn into a decent center-pull ball, a necessity since I'm working from both ends at once.

I was so eager to finally give this a try that I cast on this morning, only to get called away and leave my knitting out on the living room ottoman. Sure enough, Little Z got ahold of it and turned it into a minor rat's nest. That wouldn't have been much of a problem, though. I was my subsequent poor winding skills that resulted in not one but two completely unserviceable cakes of yarn. Far from being "the charm," my third attempt resulted in the great-granddaddy of all rat's nests. Both DH and I have spent hours on this thing today, all to no avail. Luckily, I had two more skeins of the KnitPicks Bare that I'm working with, and once I overcame my rage and pigheaded determination to fix that stupid skein rightnowgoddamit, I simply wound up another one -- correctly, this time -- and had a go.

And because I can't do anything halfway, tomorrow I start the patterned portion of the mittens. Two cakes of yarn, both being worked from both ends simultaneously, carrying strands in both hands. It'll give me something new to learn tomorrow, too.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

Mother's Day seems to be a day for finishing in my house. Not that I'm complaining, mind you, just commenting. Last year, my Mother's Day gift was enough peace and quite for me to finish the tubular bind-off on my Spring Thaw Socks:

This year, my Mother's Day finish was my Salsa Picante Shawl, based on the Multnomah pattern:

I absolutely love how this shawl turned out! I'd been wanting to use this yarn -- a skein of Dashing Dachs Sox in the Matuey the Cat colorway -- for a long time, and at first, I thought a Multnomah would be the perfect pattern for it.

I was wrong.

The garter stitch of the Multnomah just didn't work with the wildly variegated colorway, and everything wound up looking muddy and unattractive.

So, I ripped the whole thing out and started over, this time working the body of the shawl in knit one below stitch instead of garter. I followed the directions in the Knit One Below book, making sure never to work a knit one below immediately before or after a yarn over, and I also kept the center 5 stitches in plain stockinette. I worked the body on size 3s, then switched to size 8s to work the feather and fan border in stockinette. I worked 18 rows of f&f and bound off with a picot bind off on three stitches.

I just love how the knit one below stitch produced vertical "rays" of color radiating out from the center band of stockinette stitch. I think it makes a striking and lovely contrast to the horizontal bands of color in the feather and fan border. I'm a little burned out on this pattern right now, but I would definitely make this again in another wildly variegated yarn. I'm also going to remember the knit one below trick for working with wild colorways to help avoid unattractive pooling and flashing.

Now, I need another project. I'm debating between working some quick colorwork mittens for the girls using some Knitpicks Bare that I dyed myself using our leftover Easter egg dyes or doing a Green Gable for myself. For tonight, though, I think I'll just spin. I have some Crown Mountain Farms superwash in the Oh, Pretty Woman colorway on the Journey Wheel that I need to finish up. I'm taking the JW into Big Girl's nursery school in a few days to do a spinning demo, and I need my bobbins free.

Off now to spin and listen to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls on my iPod. Jane Austen meets the undead. It just doesn't get better than this.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

A Moment in Time

Did you submit your photo to the NY Times' "A Moment in Time" project?

I did:

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

How Unfortunate

My mother raised me to be one of "those" shoppers. Always polite, but also always ready to question a price that seems incorrect or return a product that turns out to be defective. I'm the person who checks the supermarket receipt and goes to the customer service desk to get my two dollars back when the scanner at the register blips up the wrong price. I'm the person who will call the seafood counter and complain that, of the three dozen clams I purchased, four were DOA and another 3 were smashed to smithereens at the bottom of the bag.

Which is why, when I found myself dissatisfied with the quality of a skein of yarn recently, I emailed the producer -- a small-scale, indie dyer -- to ask about the exchange/return policy. I first explained how much I liked the yarn itself, then described the problem I'd found with the skein, and finally I said that I would like to buy more of this yarn, but only if I knew that, were I to come across this problem again, I would be able to exchange the skeins for problem-free ones. I wasn't looking to exchange this particular skein, mind you, and I said exactly that. But I did want to know that if I bought more, I wouldn't get stuck with yarn that I felt was sub-par.

The response I got was disheartening, to say the least. I was told that lots of people love this yarn, so if I bought any in the future that I didn't like, I would find it very easy to give away.

Yes, that's right. The solution to the problem of defective yarn is to give the yarn away.

Let me state right up front that I have no qualms about giving yarn away. I'd much rather give away yarn that I know I won't use than trash it or otherwise have it go to waste. But, really? Really? The best that the dyer could do was suggest that I give the yarn away? No chance of an exchange to keep a customer happy? And a snarky tone in the email to boot?


I was really annoyed over this earlier. Really annoyed. When I'm really annoyed, I tend to vote with my feet, as we say in my line of work. If I don't like what I find, I walk. So, the solution for me is never to buy yarn from this dyer. Too bad, really, since it's nice stuff on the whole.

But what I'd really like to do, so I don't wind up ending my night with an upset stomach from annoyance, is contrast this decidedly unfortunate experience with its polar opposite. While I won't give the name of the company from which I will no longer be purchasing yarn, I will happily give the name of the company from which I wish I could still purchase yarn: Sonny and Shear.

If you never shopped at Sonny and Shear (The "I Got Ewe, Babe" Yarn Shop), you truly missed out. They were a fantastic online store, and in addition to selling superb yarns, they really put their customers first. They did all sorts of cool stuff, like giving you discounts if you sent in the labels from skeins of yarn that you'd knit up, whether or not you'd bought that yarn at S&S. Small, family-run, they were something else.

Sadly, they shut down several months back, and at that time, they had a huge going-out-of-business sale. I bought three gorgeous skeins of Dream in Color Starry in a deep ocean-blue colorway. I think I paid half price for the three.

When the yarn arrived, I took one whiff and knew something was wrong. The yarn absolutely reeked of black mold. I checked with my husband, who agreed: that yarn seriously stank.

Well, I figured, S&S was going out of business. Maybe they'd had a storage issue, and the yarn had been stored in an area with a mold problem. For half price, I couldn't really complain. I would wash the yarn and see if I could get the smell out. If I couldn't, I would probably have to trash it. Who would want to knit with (and wear an item made out of) moldy yarn?

But, since my mother raised me to be the customer who at least provides feedback, I contacted S&S and told them about the smell. I said I certainly didn't expect them to do anything about it since they were going out of business, but I did want them to be aware that wherever they were storing their yarn might be harboring dangerous black mold, especially if that place were in their house.

Imagine my surprise when I received a reply the next day stating that it wasn't a case of mold at all; it was a defect on the DIC end that they'd identified months earlier. It had something to do with the final rinse of the yarn after the dyeing process, and it had left the yarn smelling of the dyestuffs used on it. S&S was very apologetic, saying that they'd thought that they had pulled all the affected yarn off the shelves when the problem was discovered, but that they must have missed the skeins that I'd purchased. They gave me instructions for what to use on the yarn to get the smell out.

And then they issued me a full refund.

Can you believe it? A full refund, after telling me to keep the yarn and letting me know how to get the smell out so that I could use it. And all this from a company that realistically shouldn't have cared a bit about providing good customer service since it was going out of business.

Sonny & Shear, I miss you. All companies should be as good to their customers as you were.