Friday, December 29, 2006

Ann's 2006 Round Up


There were many, many, many crowns handed out.

A Mistaken Rib Scarf knit for the Red Scarf Project because the wonderful BackBou ended up with the Basket Weave Scarf as a stocking stuffer.

My mother's socks (doesn't that sound like an Almodovar movie?) ...

Yarn: Claudia's Hand Painted, 100% merino, Purple Earth
Needles: US 1s, 9st/inch
Pattern: a simple 2x2 rib with garter stitch heel, top down/heel flap construction
Size: 10 1/2 inches from toe to heel, 9 inches up the calf. I cast on 80 stitches.
Notes: These socks took almost a month to knit! At 9st/inch, there were a whole lot of stitches. And unfortunately after the 3rd row on the 1st sock, on an airplane to Memphis, one of my needles splintered. I have never considered myself to be a superstitious person, but I wouldn't switch needles in the middle of the project. I still don't understand why, it wasn't logical, but I managed to studiously avoid the splinted end of the double-pointed needles throughout the socks. My mother now has socks that really fit her feet! Hurray!

Nuts and Bolts/Techniques: Without a doubt, the biggest accomplishment of this year has been that I know consider myself a sock knitter! I knit 6 pairs of socks this year, not 16, but I am officially hooked. I also tried some openwork, it was so basic that I hesitate to call it lace. There was fair isle, cabling, and felting ... lots of felting. As a recent convert to knitting (2 1/2 years), this was a real turning point year for me in confidence. I am comfortable now reading patterns and charts, jumping into advanced projects and techniques, and figuring out the right yarn for the project. Most importantly since mistakes will happen, I have learned to zipper down.

Designing: Between Pumpkin Pie Man, designing a cute handtowel for N, tweeking the King Harald Street Hats, and felting my spiral bag, I have made a huge leap in my designing skills. I accept, with resignation, the absolute importance of swatching and checking gauge. I love getting out the graph paper and working the numbers!

Stashing: 2006 saw my first projects with Noro, All Hemp, Blue Sky Organic Cotton, and sock yarns such as Sockacolori, Claudia's Handpainted, Wildfoot, and Trekking. I have learned lots about different kinds of yarn and have added some interesting yarns to my stash including Handmaiden Sea Silk and O-Wool. The BackBou stuck some great yak yarn in my stocking for Christmas that will become some mittens one day as well (maybe Liz's Playground Mittens?). I have discovered that I am more comfortable with a small stash -- too much in the closet makes me feel pressured and I just plain don't have space for much. Thanks to the Summer of Stash for not letting me go yarn wild this summer!

Favorite Projects: King Harald Street Hats, Nora's Stole, and Pumpkin Pie Man.

End of the Year Thoughts: I love this blog. It has helped my knitting tremendously, but more importantly I have discovered a supportive, fun, and instructive community of knitters. I am not a great knitter, writer, nor photographer ... and I am a terrible lurker (usually because I'm trying to do too many things at once and can't always get my fingers on the keyboard ...), but please know that this blog community has filled a creative need that I've had for years. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Year-End Round Up

First, a little business. Here is a previously-unbloggable FO, now given to my little sister for Christmas:

"work shoes" for my work-from-home sister with the cold-extremities

Pattern: Log Cabin Socks from Handknit Holidays
Yarn: Artyarns Jazz, less than one skein

Last year around this time was when Mo, Ann and I began toying with the idea of a group blog. All the year-end entries were especially inspiring to me, and I loved the idea of having a blog to look back on my progress as a knitter over a year.

For 2006, I am taking a somewhat thematic approach to my round-up.

Nuts-and Bolts/Techniques: I added a lot of new skills to the arsenal this year, and many were in service of sock-knitting. Until 2006, I had knit two pairs of socks total: one toe-up pair with a too-tight cuff, and one pair of cuff-down knee highs for Rosebud with a too-tight cuff. Enter EZ's sewn bind-off, and the 16 pairs of socks I knit this year have comfy cuffs. I also learned magic loop, various provisional cast-ons, and different methods of heel construction.

2006: The Year in Socks

I saw the light of the top-down raglan this year, making 5 sweaters from the top down (one is currently in progress). And the latest new skill that has made the knitting flow a little easier must be cabling without a cable needle. I also did a little lace knitting this year, and plan on knitting more lace in 2007.

Designing: This is the year that I dipped my toe into designing pond. I began with minor tinkering of projects because of gauge, moved into modification of patterns, and ended up with a few projects being pretty much my own. I discovered this year that I am not a designer with a pencil and calculator, but I can design on the needles, or execute an idea with a little inspiration from another pattern.

Stashing: 2006 has been a banner year for yarn! In 2006, I knitted with Koigu, Lorna's Laces, and Socks that Rock for the first time. One major disappointment was Brown Sheep Cotton Fine, which bled unevenly in the wash and smelled terrible when wet. My favorites were Malabrigo and Schaefer Anne, but you will see me returning to lots of the yarns I used this year.

2006 saw the dawn of the Great Stash Explosion here at XRK Northern HQ. The yarn even got a room of its own. It became so oppressive that it launched its own KAL. Thanks to the KAL, though, I have learned to make peace with my stash. I learned that a well-edited stash filled with an inspirational selection of yarns is a true joy. I definitely knit with a lot of stashed yarn this year, and have learned that eventually, I will find the right project for the yarns in the stash.

Favorite Project(s): Malabrigo Raglan, STR Widdershins, Schaeffer Anne Forest Canopy Shawl.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Monkey See, Monkey Do (with mods)

When Liz posted about Rosebud's super-cute playground mittens in Noro Kureyon, I got in the car, drove to the LYS and bought some Kureyon. I had to have it, but I though I'd make the Fake Isle hat from MagKnits.
Then, Eyeknit posted about her stripey scarf knit with four skeins of Kureyon. Wow ... that's an awesome scarf. I wanted to start one immediately.
I had one skein of Kureyon (color 170) and one skein of Lamb's Pride Worsted in Midnight Green on hand. Since a few knitters commented on the very large size of their scarf, I scaled mine down. I cast on 24 stitches on 8s, with a k2 p2 rib, alternating the yarns every two rows. It's still a good size scarf. Another note, the Lamb's Pride really adds some softness to the end result. The solid color yarn cuts down on the wacky random color combos, but the brilliant Kureyon colors still shine through nonetheless.
This may be my Red Scarf contribution. Or, I may make another just like it, but with reds.
All in all, this is an awesome last minute knitted gift. Try it!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tricot en Situ, Dateline: Moscow

I realize that I have sounded a little humbug-ish in my recent posts about Christmas knitting, and it sounds like there have been underwhelming responses from certain recipients of the handknits. In truth, I am hard-pressed to think of any time since I returned to knitting 5 years ago that anyone did not gush appropriately about a knitted gift. Many receivers of the handknit are sure to share the compliments they receive when they wear them; I have had moms send me pictures of babies wearing the sweaters or snuggling blankets I've made.

My family is always the most enthusiastic and appreciative of all the knitted items. They go out of their way to take an interest in my hobby, and this is why they get the bulk of the knitted gifts.

They are also very tolerant and enabling when it comes to the blog. First of all, my darling children (for the most part) leave me alone during the day so I have time to blog. And no one questions me when I insist on taking pictures of their feet. Mr S tolerates me when I constantly tinker with the camera to get the lighting right. My sister had provided lots of behind-the-scenes support for XRK, making improvements to the template, going yarn shopping with me and even contributing a post herself. How lucky I am to have a family that not only supports my little knitting obsession, but encourages my equally strange need to talk ad nauseam about it.

My brother Joe has proved himself to be a worthy recipient of the handknits, and he'd best prepare for some more. Last year, I made him a Here and There Cables scarf, intended to warm him in a Russian winter as he and his wife traveled to adopt a sister for their son. Bureaucracy and incompetence conspired cruelly against them for over a year to delay their trip but finally, during those first few cold December days, my brother and his wife traveled to meet their daughter.

And while he was there, he took my casually requested picture:

"Um, here's this scarf, but if you could just take a picture of it in Red Square, that would be awesome."

With this level of support, traveling over 5000 miles for a special photo-op, he'd better be thinking about what he wants for his next hand knit. Perhaps a hat? A knitted vest? Socks?

But he's going to have to wait in line behind his daughter, who is getting a purple top-down raglan pullover with a big ole' cable down the front.

The new niece's sweater, pictured with the handmade card Joe gave me last year with my membership to Rowan International. Yes, that's Nipsey Russel. With knitting needles. This man deserves more handknits!

For the very first time, my family will be spending Christmas without my brother, as they are going back to Russia to bring home their long-awaited daughter over Christmas, so please wish them safe travels. Merry Christmas to Joe and Dana. We'll miss you terribly.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Fat Quarters and Beyond

I'm slipping quickly, and I'm almost gone. I've made my way back into the quilt shop. Yes, back. I quilted in a former life.

It's a dangerous place ... kind of like the first time you go from the corner craft store to a nice yarn shop. Your world starts spinning with all the projects, the beautiful things, the gadgets.

I found my way back to the sewing machine innocently enough with Halloween costumes. Mouse and Rocket Boy were hysterical with excitement over their, um, mouse and rocket costumes. And, to tell you the truth, it was pretty easy.

So, I whipped up a few quick pillows as Christmas gifts.

Next, it was an apron from my niece. And, another one on the way for Mouse.

Now I'm buying fabric with no real project in mind -- a spattering of ideas, but no real direction.
But, it's so pretty, isn't it? I. Just. Can't. Help. Myself.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Yesterday was without a doubt, the best birthday I have ever had. Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Diamonds from Mr. S.

2. Nun calendar. I love nuns.

3. Breakfast in bed with fresh-cut flowers from the kids.

4. Gift Certificate for Yarn.

5. Mom's Roast Beef and Baked Potatoes (my favorite) for dinner.

6. My current all-time favorite CDs on the iPod.

7. The Eagles beat the Giants.

8. I finished a pair of socks. This makes 16 pairs of socks this year!

Socks that Rock lightweight, Alina colorway, toe-up, Widdershin heel flap, beaded rib

9. I spent my birthday with some of my very favorite people, my family (brother & his family, sister, mom, my hubby and kids). And there's nothing like small children to get really excited about your birthday.

10. When your birthday is the week before Christmas, some people complain that their birthdays get lost in the shuffle. Not in my family. My mom always made sure I had a special birthday, and now, so does my husband. And I love my birthday being a part of the most festive month of the year, and love to associate my birthday with Christmas.

But having spent most of my energies in the past few weeks preparing a magical Christmas for my family, it felt especially amazing for them to make such a special day just for me.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Menu for Hope

If there is one thing in my life that I'm passionate about, it's knitting. But truthfully, I am also passionate about food. I love it. I love how food can heal, soothe, inspire, revive, and unify. When my dear husband pulls a freshly baked loaf of bread out of his wood-fired oven and we eat it (after the requisite 20 minutes for the steaming process to finish) warm with butter, fruity dark olive oil, or nothing ... it is heaven for me. I feel as though eating food made with integrity and honesty can be a truly spiritual experience.

I have the luxury of easily buying organic and local produce. I have the time to prepare healthy and, most of the time, yummy meals for my family. My life is filled with food that feeds my soul as well as my stomach.

The BackBou's take on the Potato Pancake with goat cheese and thyme
Obviously this is not the case for much of the world. The United Nations reports that as many as 815 million people, that's right 815 million, in developing countries are going hungry. These people are hungry as I am scraping leftovers into the compost bucket. They are hungry as I try to restain myself from having just one more cookie or chocolate. I am ashamed that this hunger exists in the world.

I give regularly to some favorite local and global charities (Heifer International and The Central Virginia Foodbank), but here is a new way for the blogging community to lend a hand to combat global hunger ...

Food Bloggers all over the world (including my favorite Brandon Eats) are raising money for the UN World Food Programme through Chez Pim's Menu for Hope III. When you donate, you also register to win some excellent food prizes! Click on Brandon Eats or Chez Pim for all the low down on how your passion about food can help stop someone else's hunger.

Food bloggers raised $17,000 last year for UNICEF and this year, in just 4 days, they have exceeded $18,000! There is one week left for donations, please contribute.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas Wrapping

Every year when Christmas rolls around, I long for some snappy holiday accessory or bit of clothing to whip out and instantly exude holiday cheer. Unfortunately, I'm not keen on most of the options.

Up until now, I've relied on my red boots.

I love my red boots. This purchase was inspired by Dave Alvin (of the Blasters) after a solo club show in the late 80s. He was the coolest man alive, and he worked those red boots. They did their time in the regular rotation, now to be sadly relegated to holiday wear.

While the boots are awesome, I wanted something a little different. I decided I needed a Christmas wrap/stole/scarf to add a splash to my normal routine.
So, I introduce my 2006 Christmas Wrapping!

This wrap uses about one and a half skeins Karabella Gossamer and was knit on 17s (50 stitches across for six feet in garter). While this wrap is light as a feather, it really adds just the right amouth of warmth. My photos don't how the wrap in it's fuller state, but it's really lovely. Plus, I do love the fact that its lightness allows me to wear it as a scarf, too. To be honest, yarn was a splurge for me, but I plan on wearing the heck of this thing. Even if it is 70 degrees outside!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Holiday Gifting

Just a few clarifications and answers to questions received on yesterday's post:

1. Ann, I think, misunderstood, and sympathized about my efforts to finish Mr. S's sweater by Christmas. Let me clarify, Ann. No. Freakin'. Way. I hope to finish it before Spring.

2. Yes, Minty, I did hold it up to him. Yes, it will fit. Yes, he is a broad, barrel-chested kind of man. And, no, Maria, that is not a blanket, it is the back of my husband's sweater, and yes, it is big enough to be a blanket. Perhaps I should have stuck to socks.

Moving on...

Just because I said I am making only one knitted gift for Christmas this year doesn't mean I'm not making anything. This week, I made these:

I would never want my Sit n' Knitters to be without yarn...

A project boldly stolen from inspired by this blog, I gave them to the members of my knitting group, the Montco Sit and Knit. I have never blogged about them in detail, but believe me when I tell you, this group of women (and the occasional husband who dares to hang with the fiber chicks) are some incredible people. It is not easy to show up to a meeting of total strangers, but as most knitters, they were a welcoming group. I quickly found out that not only had I discovered a diverse group of talented, passionate knitters and crocheters, but I also found my first friends in Philly.

They are, as individuals, everything I like about people: irreverent, a little ribald, often subversive, and incredibly encouraging of me, both personally and in my knitting. After our summer of partying together in each others' homes and backyards, we went from being co-knitters to good friends.

Merry Christmas, y'all!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More small sweater-ing...

I would like to report that although my duties as Chief Santa Claus in a family with two very enthusiastic young holiday revelers and two major religions to represent have me very busy, I have managed to avoid being crushed by holiday knitting.

This shiny-clean sink represents the first time this blog actually encouraged me to do housework rather than studiously avoiding it.

I make it a general rule to not knit on a deadline. It harshes my mellow, you know. Another general rule is that I do not foist my handknits on people unless they ask. I wonder if I appreciate and enjoy the making of the gift more than the recipient enjoys receiving or using it. Perhaps this is just me being self-effacing, or just plain selfish. Suffice it to say, I am no Carolyn, although don't you wish you were in her family?

Now if someone asks me for something, I will knit with abandon and love (see my little sister, my mother-in-law, husband, children...). Take the one knitted gift I am making this year, a little cardigan for my niece's American Girl doll. She wants her doll to have a Catholic school uniform to match hers. Her grandmother will supply the jumper and blouse, but Aunt Lizzie is making the sweater, complete with an embroidered monogram.

It just needs sleeves now.

My darling niece happens to attend the very same Catholic school that I attended some, er, 20 or so years ago. And it was there that I developed my deep aversion to All Things Navy Blue. After wearing a Navy Blue jumper every day of my life for 8 years, followed by four more years of a Mostly Navy Blue plaid kilt with a Navy Blue blazer, I do not wear Navy Blue. Ever.

That's why it is a mystery to me that I ever bought this Navy Blue Patons Kroy, but there is was, marinating for years in the stash, just waiting to be the perfect little cardigan for a beloved niece's beloved doll. It will be the perfect accompaniment to the rest of her gift, a knitting basket and entry into Rosebud's and my Knitting Club.

And seeing as how Rosebud's Christmas heart's desire is an American Girl doll, I think I will be making lots more teensy sweaters.

"Honey, that looks huge. Are you sure it's not going to be too big?" asked Mr S as his wife continues to knit the enormous sweater...

All this has not kept me from plugging away on the gigantic Dylan Goes Electric for my darling Mr S. The DGE for Mr. S has a complete back. This sweater is taking a long time, even after learning how to cable without a cable needle.

Talk about harshing ones mellow.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pink Eyes and a Red Scarf

Not a lot of posting or knitting lately. But lots of laundry, buying tissues, and applying eye ointment. Seems as though we have been invaded by pink eye, head cold, and sick stomach germies. Ugh. We seem to be on the upswing since I'm sick now which tends to signal the end of a wave of sickness.

Despite the ill household, we've been able to decorate the house for the holidays and I have made some slow progress on my mother's socks. I should have them ready in time for Christmas, but I tell you, the 9" up the calf, 10 1/2" foot is taking some time.

I have also knit up a scarf for the Red Scarf Project.

Pattern: Ann Budd's Basket Weave Scarf from Interweave Knits Staff Favorites, Fall 2004
Yarn: From Sterling Brook Farm, found at the Waterbury Farmer's Market, VT
Needles: Peace Fleece Russian Hand Painted Needles US size 6

Remember: Scarves are due in January! Knitters in the Richmond Area can drop their scarf contributions at the Richmond Waldorf School between January 2nd and 16th. Don't worry, I'll post more reminders!

I read in the paper today that Rosie Lee Tompkins died on December 1st. I am not a quilter, but I do admire quilts. I believe Ms. Tompkins' quilts were pure genius. She will be missed.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Actually, I Knit Three Sweaters This Week...

I have received many requests for a pattern for the Playground Mittens. As it is more a modification than an actual pattern, I'll write up a simple tutorial over the next several days. It's a good thing, as there is a bit of Christmas knitting going on in the northern neck of the XRK woods, and the recipient(s) read this blog.

Thanks for all the wonderful feedback on the Malabrigo sweater. Truly, it knitted itself and I love love love it. I have also gotten a few requests for how I modified the sweater. I tried to e-mail individuals who asked, but I can do a more detailed post if readers would like one. Leave a comment and let me know.

Mini sweater ornaments from Last Minute Knitted Gifts, using scrap yarn

These tiny sweaters are for my nephews. Mr. S's brother and family live in San Diego, and we just don't get to see them as much as we'd like. My SIL and I decided last year that instead of adding yet another toy under the tree, we would try to establish a holiday tradition that would forge a connection between the two families, despite the distance.

She and I have started ornament collections for each child. Each year, the cousins exchange special ornaments, and when they are all grown up, they'll get their box of ornaments for their first Christmas trees of their own. And they'll know that each and every ornament was specially chosen or made just for them by their aunt, uncle and cousins.

We did spend this Thanksgiving with them, and I had the pleasure of teaching my SIL how to knit. She is an experienced crochet-er, but wanted to try her hand at knitting. She got the hang of it quickly, and is making the sweetest alpaca hats for her two sons for their upcoming visit to chilly Baltimore this January.

Thus, I thought mini-sweaters would be a perfect gift for their ornament boxes this year!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hug Me

Seriously. Hug me in this sweater. You won't let me go.

Pattern: Refined Raglan, Winter IK 2006
Yarn: Malabrigo, Burgundy
Mods: I modified the stitch count slightly due to gauge issues, and it is definitely a closer-fitting sweater than the one the model wears in the magazine. The other major modification is that I swapped out the funnel-neck specified in the pattern for a classic K2 P2 crew neck. This is an easy modification -- e-mail me if you want specifics on how I did it.

The most difficult thing about this sweater is photographing it. But trust me. It's perfect.

This is a sweater that any knitter would rate a 10. Gorgeous, super-soft yarn with rich incredible colors that knit up without incident into a simple yet distinct, absolutely perfectly fitting sweater.