Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Dog Days of Knitting

Hey Y'all,
Well the big Knitting and Yoga Adventures Monhegan Island Retreat Countdown has officially begun, at least by my count. In less than a month I will gladly flee the triple-digit Texas heat and embrace the Atlantic breeze wafting in my window at The Monhegan House.

In the meanwhile, I've been knitting a little bit of this and that. I finished the Christmas in July Stocking I was working on. Alas it didn't quite match the pattern, so I've got some frogging in front of me. I'll get to that soon enough. And I will also finish that Color Affection Shawl which seems to be taking months to knock out. No complaints though-- the yarn is so soft and it's relatively mindless knitting.


Speaking of mindless knitting -- or maybe I should say mindful knitting since it is so meditative to just whip out a little project that is pattern-free-- today I took a trip to one of my local knit shops and indulged in a skein of Blue Sky Extra-- a combo of merino and baby alpaca. I'm making a quick hat for a friend. I hope to knock it out in a few days just to get the satisfying sense of finishing something. Also I'm grateful it won't make my lap sweat while I work on it.

I hope you've got some fun knitting projects going on. Those of you joining us on the island please do bring some projects to show and tell. Of course we'll be taking on some new projects, too, so no need to overpack. Although I, personally, will bring my entire collection of handknits in the hopes that it'll be cool enough to wear them all. At the same time.

See you soon!
Spike

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Christmas in July!


Hey Y'all,
I know some less hardcore knitters sometimes put the needles down in the summer because of the whole wool-in-your-lap-in-100-degree-weather thing. Not me. It is so rare for me to miss even a day. And one day I will likely die with the needles still clutched in my hands.

I love where my knitting takes me. There is, of course, Monhegan Island, where a number of you will be joining Lisa and me and the rest of the crew in September. And I also often use knit shops to get my bearings in a new city when I am traveling, whether it's around the US or around the world.

But I also like where knitting takes me even when I'm right at home. And by this I mean where it takes me emotionally. Knitting always calms me down. Heck, just the sight of yarn calms me down (even as it excites me). I keep one of those three-tiered hanging fruit baskets above my bed that's full of mighty fine yarn just so I can see it first thing in the morning and last thing at night.


This week, my knitting is taking me to a super special place. A friend of mine who is too ill to knit these days is eagerly awaiting an imminent grandchild. She really wants a Christmas stocking to match the stockings of this about-to-be baby's siblings. So she asked me if I was up to the task. And-- I love this part especially-- she acknowledged she understood a big part of the challenge is that I am, to understate the matter, not at all a Christmas person. Honestly, I do everything I can to avoid the day. 

But here we are-- and as I write this it is the 25th so officially Christmas in July-- and I am working it hard over here, hoping to get this holiday item knocked out quickly, cracking up at the irony that I, ever the Grinch, even agreed to it. I've got a nice long plane ride tomorrow which should allow me to make it to the heel. I'm hoping to turn that and get the gusset going during a whirlwind trip to NYC. And if I'm lucky I'll knock out the toe on the flight home. 

I hope whatever you're working on is fun, lightweight, fast, and summery. You know-- something that isn't turning you, personally, into a heavy sweater. 

Ho Ho Ho,
See ya soon,
Spike

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Short Rows and Ocean Views


Hi Y'all,
Just checking in and saying howdy. A couple of weeks ago I did a run up to Monhegan Island with a bunch of friends, just for kicks. I like to pretend this is a scouting mission for the Knitting & Yoga Adventures September Retreat up there. But really, I just cannot get enough of the island, which is why I now go twice annually. The bummer news is that if you haven't signed up for the retreat, we are sold out. The good news is you can always pop over and put yourself on the waiting list, just in case an opening magically occurs.

While I was up there in June, I was able to confirm that the weather is still spectacular-- we had a little bit of everything including an amazing summer storm. The sunsets are still astonishing. And you can easily while away a day just sitting at Lobster Cove and watching the sunlight dance across the water.


I also really dug into the Color Affection Shawl I'm working on, and will be working on for the foreseeable future. It has roughly the same number of stitches (eighty bazillion) as the Adult Baby Surprise Jacket that took me nine months to knock out. That's okay. It's all garter and pretty relaxing for the most part. 

There are short rows involved. I'm not sure who started the rumors about short rows and heel turning being on par with summiting Everest. That's hardly the case. And I find that, at least when I am starting out with a new-to-me (or rarely-used-by-me -- I have done short rows once or twice before) being forewarned about how terrible the process is does give me a little fear. But that fear was unfounded. The wrapping and turning is easy. What is a little confusing is how the instructions say to knit three stitches past the last wrapped stitch-- so does that mean a total of three or four stitches? 

Don't answer that. I already came up with my system, and this is a shawl, not a fitted garment, so it's all looking good. But every time I come across ambiguity in a pattern-- pretty much every time I use a pattern-- it does make me wish for a bit more universality in the way these things are written. Of course as soon as I say that, I realize how much I would hate an Elizabeth Zimmermann pattern that was all tidied up and relieved of its conversational style. Sure, I have to look up tons of written and YouTube help when navigating some patterns-- especially EZ. But since that help exists I shan't complain too much.


Plus there is that insider information that falls into our laps sometimes, like a lovely alpaca afghan, bringing us great comfort. For example, I was at Hill Country Weavers recently (where the photo at the top was shot). I was there because I realized the third color I picked for my shawl was all wrong, and I wanted some help from Suzanne, the owner, because frankly I am terrible at coming up with good color combos. As we got to talking about the Color Affection, she pointed out that when you knit up the pattern exactly as it is written, there is a sort of cupping effect along the border. I had noticed that-- the thing was looking like a truncated hood. But it didn't occur to me there might be a remedy.

Suzanne explained that if I would do a yarn over between the first and second stitches and then drop that YO on the way back, it would create a more flat garment. Even though I've been applying this advice for several rows now, I still can't tell you if I'm doing that YO on front and back or just every other row. I sort of just apply it as I remember it and hope for the best. I'm sure this would drive some more meticulous knitters absolutely nuts, to see my haphazard "techniques." And it would probably cause the same knitters to faint if they saw the big mistake in one of the rows-- the old "proof that I'm not God" thing that I inadvertently manage to work in to every project, typically early on, and never seem to notice until I am far too along to realistically frog.


Ah well, I guess I will just call this my signature style and not worry about it. I mean, I haven't been worried about it, not too much. Because I don't knit to worry, I knit to relax. Speaking of which, look at my happy feet, just hanging out at Lobster Cove.

Happy Summer Knitting,
Spike

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Year of Ten Billion Garter Stitches


Hey Y'all,
So it dawned on me pretty solidly last night, as I was talking about Scotland with a friend of mine, that I have had a vague goal now for maybe a decade to knit an Aran sweater. I know, I know, Aran is of Irish origin, but still, geographically the places are close enough as to have reminded me that I am nowhere near actually embarking on such an ambitious project. I keep getting sidetracked by other projects-- sometimes gifts for others, sometimes garments for me. And this year has really turned into The Year of Ten Billion Garter Stitches, pretty much the opposite of an adventure in cabling. Oh well, one of these years I actually will dedicate myself to a super complicated sweater pattern.


For now, having completed the Adult Baby Surprise Jacket at very long last, I have two new projects on the needles. Pictured above is the first of what will hopefully be two socks, done in Freia. You know, I'm pretty sure the yarn I chose wasn't made for socks. On the other hand (foot) there is some nylon content, leading me to think they'll be sturdy enough to not wear through too soon. But now that Sock One is finished, I'm not so sure. Also, somewhere in my imagination, I envisioned these turning out more stripey, kind of how the ball of yarn looks. In reality I knew that wasn't going to be true, but after the ABSJ I fell into Supreme Lazy Knitter Mode and had zero interest in actually using a second skein, and working it from the outside in to add stripes.

I am hoping to knock out Sock Number Two by next Sunday. That's when I leave for Monhegan Island. Yes, I know showing up for our Knitting and Yoga Retreat three months in advance is a little over eager. But the truth is that I love the island so very much that for the fourth year running I am going up for a bonus trip. I take a bunch of friends. In the past we've used our time for a writing retreat. This year we are just going to chill out and let the weather and our daily desires lead us. I'm super excited that a couple of friends I've known for decades, who've never met each other before, will meet on the island. I am certain we will have a blast and that Holden and Sue at The Monhegan House will serve us ridiculously fabulous food as they always do. Monhegan Island truly is my happy place.


I often use a little plastic clicky counter but when I'm working patterns with repeating sets of rows, I bust out my StitchMinder App

My new purple socks will serve me well on this trip. But then there is a possibility I might not finish the second one. And why is that? Because I finally got going on a Color Affection Shawl. I first saw one of these in TESS in Portland, Maine, during our yarn crawl home after Monhegan Island last September. I was instantly smitten with the design. I was also taken by the yarn, a TESS original known as Kitten. So yes, Smitten Kitten, that was me. I'm pretty sure Kitten is not made of actual kittens, but it might as well be. I argued with myself a bit, trying to talk myself into buying enough for a shawl, and I'm no stranger to splurging for good yarn. But this really was beyond my reach. So I kept my eyes open for something that would work hopefully as well.

I found just the yarn-- Villa by Classic Elite Yarns. It's 70% baby alpaca and 30% bamboo viscose. I would like to create an entire wardrobe out of this stuff, including foundation garments. It's so soft I get kind of weepy just touching it. I selected the beigey color above, and also a gray, and a pink. Sort of a muted neapolitan effect is what I'm going for. I'm not really much for pinks but, power of suggestion and all that, these colors are very similar to the knitted up sample I saw at Tess. Oh, and I also love using Classic Elite Yarns for another reason-- Susan Mills is a designer there and Susan has joined us many times on Monhegan Island. She is one of my Top Two Most Awesome Knit Teachers Ever. (The other is my friend Deb, who teaches at Hill Country Weavers in Austin.) Susan has exhibited so much patience with me, fixed so many of my mistakes, and blown me away with her endless Knit Knowledge. Sadly she won't be joining us this year but...

Norah Gaughan will be coming along as our guest designer and teacher. Norah happens to be the Queen of Cables. So maybe if I really try hard I can knock out this Color Affection shawl, with it's endless garter rows, in time to wear it on the ferry from Port Clyde to Monhegan Island. In which case I'll have my needles empty and ready, perhaps, to finally start actually contemplating that Aran pattern of my dreams.

If you want to join us on Monhegan Island there are still a couple of spots left. You can REGISTER HERE. I'll even let you try on my new shawl.

See you in September,
Spike

Friday, May 29, 2015

Free Fun Chevron Pattern


Hey Y'all,
First things first-- many of you know I'm down here in Texas and boy did we have some weather recently. Still a few more storms expected. It's been hard and sad but in the face of so much flooding and chaos I have to say the outpouring of love and support has been just stunning. Also, lemons-to-lemonade and all that, once the flooding receded but before the sun came out, when it was raining enough to keep us inside but not so much as to be life-threatening, I sure got lots and lots of knitting done. 

I'm just about to finish up yet another Sweet Bon Bon Baby Blanket, which was designed by Suzanne Middlebrooks, who owns Hill Country Weavers in Austin, one of the top shops in the country. (Actually I'd say one of the top shops in the world.) I love this blanket because it knits up super fast on US 8-9 using Blue Sky Cotton, which my hands enjoy working with. In my case, since I'm still recovering from that six-month US 4 Adult Baby Surprise Jacket endeavor, working on 8's almost gives me an adrenaline rush. 

Something I super dig about the Sweet Bon Bon Blanket is that it uses a Chevron pattern which is easy enough to memorize but still has enough switching from K to P to KFBF that I don't get bored. However, I still managed to make a few mistakes... er "Elments of Design" (as discussed in my last post). Before I point out these "bonus features," a bit more about the pattern. The original pattern calls for for rows of garter between each Chevron set using Filatura di Crosa, a fun, candy-like yarn. Unfortunately, that's been discontinued. Fortunately there are plenty of other yarns you can use for a nice contrast. 
For the blue blanket pictured above left I used the Filatura. The brown and green one down below, in process, uses... oh I don't even remember now what I pulled from my stash for the contrast rows. The yellow might be Cascade cotton, which I held together with some super super fine (lace weight?) fuzzy stuff. 

Well as I was knitting along on an early section of in-between garter rows, I purled when I should've knitted. Not the end of the world. Rather than tear it out-- I mean really, is a newborn baby going to complain?-- I just created this new step where every other in-between section I did all garter, and every other other in-between section I did K 1-3 and P 4. That is until I got engrossed in a long phone call with an old friend and then I did a KPKK section. So yeah, some rows are double bumpy, and some are a combo of bumpy and flat.

Does this amuse you as much as it amuses me? It amused me less last night as I discovered it. I swear one of these days I am going to complete one Utterly Meticulously Completed Pattern. Likely it will be a washcloth. A very very small washcloth. 

On the other hand, I already have proof that we can fast get over worrying about "the errors." Remember when I was bemoaning the pair of odd little "corners" that mysteriously appeared as I knitted the Adult Baby Surprise Jacket? Well check out the picture below. If I didn't mention those weird corners to you, likely you wouldn't even notice them, partly because I blocked the heck out of the sweater, but partly because you simply can't tell unless you are a member of the knitting police.

By the way that picture is from a trip I took last week to the East Coast last week to wish my mom a Happy 80th. I finished the sweater just in time to wear it on the freezing plane. New Jersey weather cooperated and was plenty chilly, too. While I was up there my old high school friends, whom I'd not seen in 33 years, threw me a Welcome Back dinner party. It was so amazing to get back together with so many excellent old friends.

Which brings me to the Knitting and Yoga Adventures Monhegan Island Retreat, coming up in less than three months. It's our TENTH ADVENTURE. That seems impossible. Quite a few of us come year after year (or every other year) and the feeling is like that of a family reunion only without the stress. (Haha-- that was kind of a joke but not totally.) We've still got a few spots left and would love for you to become part of our Knitting and Yoga family. Just click here to register. 

Hope to see you soon,
Spike


Saturday, May 16, 2015

FINALLY FINISHED! (Sort of.)


Howdy Y'all,
I found the above photo of me at my first Knitting and Yoga Monhegan Island Retreat many years ago. So glad that gem floated to the surface because it really captures the spirit of life on the island-- I mean it is total R-E-L-A-X-A-T-I-O-N.

I want to share with you a big triumph I had just yesterday. I FINALLY FINISHED MY ADULT BABY SURPRISE JACKET. Well actually finished is a relative term. What I mean is I knitted the last stitch, which I think was Stitch #7,438,204,134, give or take. Never have I gartered so much in my life. And on Size 4 needles. I went from initial excitement to total boredom, to extreme ARE WE THERE YET? And then, finally, as the second sleeve was nearing completion, I had this thought about how when you're on a very long road trip there can be stretches in the middle where hundreds of miles whip by but then the last fifty miles seem like some endurance test. You just want to get there and it's taking forever and there are slow zones and roadblocks and exhaustion and all of it. But then, finally: HOME.

Such was the case with this sweater. Here is a picture of THE LAST STITCH. (If you don't count all the seaming I have to do. Let's not count that.)

THE LAST STITCH
I STILL HAVE TO WEAVE IN A BAZILLION STRANDS
Even though I'm relieved to be in the super homestretch on this project, I am also at the place where I am thinking about all the flaws and errors and stuff I am not in love with. For example, down below, you see that first red stripe closest to us? That's where I added on the sleeve. It looks a bit kooky in the back but this is part of the pattern. Not my error. What was my error-- a total rookie error that I should not be making sixteen years into knitting-- is that when I realized I needed more of the beige-ish yarn (this is Brooklyn Tweed Loft), I went to get some without taking a sample of what I had. So you can see there are two different colors of beige. Fortunately I am from the school of DESIGN ELEMENT where you just say anything that looks a little... um... different than you had hoped is a purposeful element of design. At the rate I'm going I qualify for the title of DESIGNER.


t
THE SLEEVE JUNCTURE

Down below you'll see still more DESIGN ELEMENTS. See how those corners up by the collar look like inverted little hoods? Even as I was knitting these areas I thought something looked off but I checked the pattern ninety times (not like me at all) and I swear I got it right. Although maybe I slipped or passed over one direction when I should've gone the other way. Who knows? All I know is that once I really could see these concave "features" I was far too far along to even think about frogging. I'm not a frogger under simple circumstances and I sure didn't want to deal with trying to get eight million stitches back on the needles. (Though come to think of it, very very early in this sweater, I was forced to frog quite a bit when I realized the miter was totally off. Oh I hate frogging.)


Down below witness me weaving in ends. Funny thing about this is that looking at how many I have to do I felt a little bummed out. But then I settled into it and I'm actually finding it sort of soothing. What's helping tremendously is that I've found yet another TV show to binge watch-- and this sweater has seen me plow through several series in their entirety. The show I'm hooked on now is BLOODLINE. It is magnificent to knit to. It's just magnificent period.


And finally, here she is: DONE! I know I keep saying this sweater is done when technically it's not. But humor me. Once I get those ends woven in I am going to seam up the sleeves and shoulders and block it. I've done blocking pre and post seaming and can't say I think there is a huge difference. I wonder if any of you feel strongly about this topic? In the case of the Baby Surprise Jacket I can't see how you could block it pre-seaming since the shape of the thing is so crazy and won't lay flat. I'm also wondering if, during the blocking process, I should try to super flatten those DESIGN ELEMENTS at the collar or just let them be? 

Decisions decisions.


Next up I'm going to knock out a pair of socks using Freia hand painted yarn and also a quick baby blanket for an imminent arrival. (Not mine!) For the blanket I indulged myself and got some Blue Sky Cotton. Like knitting with butter if you could, in fact, knit with butter without making a huge mess.

I hope your life is KNIT FULL and FROG FREE these days. I also hope you'll JOIN US ON MONHEGAN ISLAND in September. As of this posting WE ONLY HAVE THREE SPOTS LEFT. If you want to grab one of those just CLICK THIS LINK.

Cheers,
Spike

Friday, May 1, 2015

I Picked These For You



Hey Y'all,
Super Happy Springtime! Guess what? It will surprise precisely none of you to hear that I AM STILL NOT DONE MY DANG SWEATER! Rather than force you to look at yet another in-progress photo, I decided on another plan. I was just out walking around my Austin neighborhood, feeling so much gratitude for nature's delightful color schemes. So I picked you a bunch of flowers. Here are some: 



And below are some more. But first let me remind you that if you come with us on our tenth annual Knitting and Yoga Adventures trip to Monhegan Island in September, you'll get to see all sorts of amazing foliage. From the Cathedral Woods to the stunning cliff views out over the Atlantic, with diamonds of sunlight dancing across it, there is never a dull moment. Avid hikers will love all the many trails. But you can also just sit on the porch in a rocker, knit the day away, and look out any which way to see endless beauty.



 Spaces are filling up but we still have room for a few more. Just visit the REGISTRATION PAGE for our trip, tap in your info, and away you can come with us on an unforgettable journey.



See you in a few months,
Can't wait,
Spike