Thursday, December 10, 2009


I've unfortunately discovered that a swift and utter retreat is sometimes necessary in order to survive a vicious attack from the whims of fate. This blog, sadly, has been a casualty of my retreat.

My mother died about four months ago. She only lived two months after her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. As many, many of you know from your own personal experiences, these last four months have been difficult in ways that I cannot even begin to describe here.

However, when I consider my knitting, the small particulars of this one aspect of my life seem to reflect and illustrate the larger whole. The impact on my knitting is but a microcosm of the larger system that is, quite frankly, still very much in chaos.

About a month after my mother's death, I experienced a sudden and intense desire to devest myself from all worldly fiber possessions. I gave away at least 80% of my stash. Some perspective: this is a simple, modest amount of yarn but enough to make for a successful Yarn Give Away Party. It was a comforting and social exercise - it felt wonderful to bring pleasure to my friends and to be philosophical about possessions and life. I have absolutely no remorse and I love my closet space.

Around this same time, I ambitiously began gratitude scarves for the Oncology nurse and doctor who administered to my mother. The simple man's scarf for the doctor is finished. The delicate, lace scarf for the nurse is still awaiting the final trim. Whenever I pick it up, I feel sick to my stomach.

After a few weeks, I began to hate that lace scarf. It morphed from a "thank you from the deepest part of my being" scarf to an "every stitch of this pisses me off" scarf. I would hang my project bag around the house hoping to find the one place that would inspire me to work on it. Instead I felt stalked. I now loathe that scarf and cannot in good conscience give it away to the dear woman who helped my mother. It would be such bad juju. I simply continue to detest it. It now reminds me of failed chemo and failed surgery. Frustration and impotency.

Humbled by the hatred of the scarf, I thought I would begin a fun, simple sock project with no deadline, no pressure, and no guilt. The first sock flew by. I can do this, I thought. I felt comforted by the activity and by the successful feeling of one finished sock on my foot.

But then disinterest and apathy arrived on the scene. Big time. It began with an escape trip to the US Virgin Islands. I intended to relax with my family and have plenty of time to knit - to get the mojo back. I had never been to the tropics (in fact, most of our trips are to Northern climes where knitting is a natural past time).

Let me share what I learned: one cannot knit a wool sock when temperatures approach the 90's. It was hot. It was humid. The knitting languished. Even now at home, I'm afraid the classical conditioning is complete. I have absolutely no desire to pick up and knit that sock. I have turned the heel, this is the home stretch, but I couldn't care less. Absolute and utter disinterest.

Baby hats, more scarves, wraps, Christmas ornaments - the litter of unfinished projects trails behind me for three solid months. Maybe a new pattern book? A snappy blog post? Some new equipment? Yarn? Nope, nothing inspires.

One thing is certain, everything changes. So will this. But when? How? Those things that I relied upon, that grounded me, were transient. Impermanent. Fleeting. When the ground itself is too unstable to find footing, it's impossible to knit a sock.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Warming Feet

My son loves hand knitted wool socks. Everyone in my family does, but my boy especially loves them and wears them constantly in winter. Luckily, my LYS always has oddballs of sturdy, self-patterning sock yarns like Regia in its sale bin, so for about 5 bucks and one week's worth of effort, I can whip up a pair of warm socks for my favorite 6 year old. These socks see some really hard wear; my son has been known to wear them outside on the driveway, and keeps the same three or four in constant rotation, and they have yet to wear out. There's nary a hole in socks that are on their third winter.

This year, though, my mind is on other children, the street children of Nepal. I'm still really stuck on that image of homeless children wearing flip flops in the winter. In our comfortable western world, the closest we get to this experience walking to the car after a pedicure in January. My son will surely get his socks, but he'll have to wait. He has a drawer full, sometimes to overflowing, of hand knit and commercially made socks. He has sturdy shoes and footie pajamas, a warm bed and a full belly every night. So right now, I'm making socks for kids in Nepal. I made these two pairs, and started a third this week.

If you are knitting socks for the kids in Nepal, please consider the following:
  • use the sturdiest yarn you have. I used Regia and Lang Jawoll (I even knit the heels and toes using that cute spool of reinforcement thread that comes with the Jawoll), but Opal, Trekking XXL, Lion Brand Sock Ease or Patons Kroy would also be good choices, and I'm sure I'm forgetting others in this wool/nylon blend category. Assume that these socks will see constant, hard wear, will rarely be rotated, and almost never washed.
  • Knit at a tight gauge to ensure sturdiness. I knit my socks at 8 spi. You could also knit a bigger yarn at a tighter gauge. If you have some really sturdy wooly worsted, for example, you could knit it at 6spi and get a really firm pair of socks.
  • One 50g ball of yarn was enough for a pair of child's socks, but just enough for adequate cuffs (about 5"). Make the cuffs as long as possible. I happen to have several 50g oddballs saved up for my boy's socks, but if I had more yardage, I'd make the cuffs longer. This is a great time for you to stash-bust your balls of leftover yarns and make your own stripey or wild-self patterning socks.
  • I used used my Ann Budd's Knitters Handy Book of Patterns as my guide for stitch count and lengths, but there is any number of generic sock patterns out there for children. Skip the lacy patterns, and crank out simple stockinette or ribbed socks. This is why the self-patterning yarns are ideal.
Thanks so much for your enthusiasm for this project, and whatever you knit, whether it is socks, a hat, mittens or anything else will be appreciated.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Project Nepal

I know I have been absent from blog-land lately, and I am not even certain if Ann, Mo, and I have any readers out there anymore. But I am returning with a request for help, and a call to action.

Knitters are generous people, I know. We knit chemo caps for people with cancer, blankets for animal shelters, and prayer shawls for the grieving. We knit for soldiers and veterans, foster children and homeless children. Our sturdy, warm handknits get shipped to all corners of the world where people are cold: Afghanistan, Mongolia, Botswana.

from the ROKPA website

While I hate to take away from any of these other worthy recipients of our generosity, it has been brought to my attention, knitters, that people are also cold in Nepal. I recently received an e-mail from a friend who is involved with an organization called ROKPA which provides services to the homeless and impoverished in Nepal. He shared with me that "many of the homeless people (or even about half) are children who live on the streets or in shanties. During the winter months they are subject to very cold weather and are happy to have something to put on their heads, hands, feet, necks, bodies. The kids need everything from socks (they walk around in flip flops) to wooly hats."

Did you catch that? Homeless kids in Nepal wear flip flops in the winter.

Knitters, I am asking you to contribute something warm and wooly to kids in Nepal this winter. Here are the guidelines if you want to participate:

1. Warm, insulating natural fibers only. Knit for durability, warmth, and of course, beauty.
2. Knit items for kids between the ages of 4-10, whatever size that means to you.
3. The deadline is January 25th.
4. Contact me at lizjosh1ATverizonDOTnet for mailing information.

I am serving as the collection point for this project, and would love to stuff Chris's luggage with socks, hats, scarves, sweaters, shawls, and mittens for the people of Nepal. I know your needles are busy, but if you could spare some time, some stash, and some love for this project, I would so appreciate it. Also, feel free to link on your blog or your favorite corner of Ravelry to help get the word out. I'll be posting here a little more frequently with ideas and patterns, and hopefully, to share photos of whatever knits I receive.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The quick knit that wasn't

Here's my "I need a quick win" knit that ended up requiring an email to the designer in Germany, grilling my favorite knit shop owner for advice during her son's baseball game, too much time on the calucaltor, etc. You understand, right?
I found this cute free pattern on Knotions and purchased some beautiful Pebbles Classic Elite yarn hoping to whip out an easy summer top for Isabel.
Many things got in the way of making this a quick win, mostly trying to get a gauge somewhere close to the pattern.
The final product is super cute, but it is out of season and probably won't fit her past the new year. And, I'm NOT knitting this again. Moving on ...

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Congratulations Jared!

The extremely talented Jared Flood is publishing a collection of handknit designs to be released next week. I am so excited about these patterns! Click here for previews and Jared's post. I see more than a few items that will be on my queue!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Victory Lap For The Drive-Thru

This Drive-Thru was a Tour de France knit. All our evenings for the past three weeks were spent cheering on the boys in the peloton but especially Thor Hushovd from Norway. His remarkable sprints and gritty determination in the mountains won him the honor of the Maillot Vert. Congratulations Thor!

The second time around, this sweater was even faster and easier. The yarn is once again Jo Sharp Silkroad Aran Tweed, knit on US 6s and 7s. If I were to knit it again, I would CO more stitches for the cuffs of the sleeves - they seemed a bit snug on both of the girls.

R doesn't seem to like a tight color, so this sweater is a bit looser at the top than I would like. But she loves it. She is actually wearing it inside in the AC today because she doesn't want to take it off. True sweater love!

I have truly appreciated your kind words and prayers concerning my mother's cancer diagnosis. We continue to live day by day and to take the difficulties as they come. Thank you so much for your thoughts and good wishes.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Side-Swiped and a Drive-Thru

About two months ago, I found out my mother was sick with a mysterious GI illness. A month ago yesterday, we learned that the mystery illness was in fact Stage IV metastatic pancreatic cancer. Six to eight months. Best case scenario.

BAM! Side-swiped by Cancer. I thought my life could cruise on auto-pilot for a while - at least for the summer - kids, garden, home, friends, food, family. Nope. Seems as though I'm in for a GROWTH OPPORTUNITY. (That's what we optimists call it when life SUCKS.)

Everyday has been different and challenging for my mother, yet she is emerging from this first shocking month courageous and spunky. We're slowly finding a rhythm as my brothers and father and I put together the puzzle pieces of caregiving.

I initially thought that caregiving would mean lots of knitting by my mother's bedside - not so bad, right? But it turns out, it's much more frenetic: running errands, organizing medications, scheduling doctor's appointments, gardening, cleaning, and cooking. Except for the hours spent in hospital waiting rooms, there hasn't been much knitting time.

Luckily, I had the best project in the world for this situation*. The Drive-Thru sweater by Wendy Bernard. This child's yoke sweater is knit in the round with worsted-weight yarn. It is seamless and quick. So quick that I knit it in less than a month - and remember, I am a slow, slow knitter. A knitter who cannot at this moment dedicate any part of her brain to charting, modifying patterns, or stitch counting. The shaping is pure Elizabeth Zimmerman so you know that it is tear-free and fun.

I used Jo Sharp Silk Road Aran Tweed. Sigh. A heavenly yarn. I chose an expensive yarn that would provide some tactile delight and luxury - my mother would sometimes just stroke it while I knit.

I started a second Drive-Thru for my other daughter, mixing the colors around. Because I'll need it for the next few weeks. And then after that, maybe one for myself ... one day at a time, one stitch at a time.

*Socks would work as well but my daughter really needed a sweater.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Two Months Of Update!

Having resolved to Knit Less in 2009 (and blog a lot less -- hello, two months since my last post), most of my knitting projects are short on ambition, but long on satisfaction.  Since my last big project, I made a lot of simple, little projects, all of them gifts, almost all of them from stash.  

Here's the first: one simple yet stinkin' cute sweater for the daughter of my dear friends Andrea and Tanya whom we visited in May in Providence.

This sweater took less than a week to make. A yoked sweater knit in the round in a rich red color, it's all about the simple. But those owls have such an impact! They are adorable without being ducky-bunny twee. It makes a unique statement in a world of boring baby sweaters. The biggest challenge by far was the buttons. Joann's did not have 30 matching buttons, and being a lazy, impatient sort, I did not want to wait for a new shipment, look online, or go to yet another store. The simplest solution, one inspired by Kristy, was to go with different colored eyes, so I simply gave one owl dark blue eyes, while the rest are light blue. It is a quirky, individual design element, which is the Whole Point of Handmade Items, no?

I used one of my very favorite baby yarns, Mission Falls 1824 Wool (machine wash & dry! awesome rich colors! 50% off at my LYS!), and used only 3 skeins despite its total crap yardage. Baby Sami, 6 months old, is growing like gangbusters, so I made her about a one year size so she can be warm and owly this winter in New England.

The next sweater was an impulse knit, for my lovely and adorable baby niece, Lila. She has already received and promptly grown out of her first Aunt Lizzie knit, so it was time for another. Some stashed Cotton-Ease and leftover Katia Jamaica combined into yet another Baby Surprise Jacket, this one about a one-year size as well. San Diego babies need sweaters all year round, so I don't really need to worry about the size, and this jacket just makes me happy to look at. I wasn't a confident or experienced knitter when my daughter was a baby, so I have a feeling that Lila will be the recipient of much knitted cuteness from me.

Remember that meme on Facebook, where you agree to make something for 5 people, and they agree to make the same offer?  Here's the knitted stuff I made for some of my FB friends.

L to R:  Fetching Mitts, Green Thumb Mitts, Crocheted Market Bag

But the crazy has snuck back into the crafty life, with my entire creative time being eaten by the Queen Sized Ripple Blanket of Crochet Insanity.  

I love it.  I lovelovelovelovelovelovelove it.  But it is going to be So.  Big.

I'm using Tahki Cotton Classic and an F hook, and it takes almost 45 minutes to complete one color stripe.  I made a tragic error by making it just a little too wide so that one ripple uses about 28 grams of yarn, leaving me about 3 grams short of a second complete ripple.  And much of the yarn I am using is discontinued TCC colorways bought as Webs grab bags over the years, so there is no supplementing with additional skeins for a lot of the colors.  Which means lots of leftovers.  Gah!  

After a great deal of individual attention, it looks like I'm almost halfway done.  But it's getting big enough to be unwieldy, and it requires too much yarn to take on vacation, so I will be putting down the hook periodically and getting back to the pointy needles as I spend most of the rest of the summer on the road:  Baltimore, Vermont, the Chesapeake, and many, many days down the shore.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Whatcha building?

The Pavilion at The Lareau Farm Inn

I spent this past weekend in Vermont at a lovely Inn - eating delicious, organic food and fraternizing with delightful family and friends.  Saturday morning found me deep in a comfortable chair by the porch while guests and their children wandered in and out enjoying the perfect weather and the local, scrumptious breakfast.  It was the first time in weeks (months?) that I've had quality knit time.

First Sam-the-innkeeper walked by and asked, "Whatcha building?"  Then later Lisabeth-the-innkeeper asked me the same question.  I'm not sure if others use this terminology, but I had never heard it before.  The idea of building a project (versus making or just plain knitting) is new to me.

I am a knitter, but I balk at other descriptions of myself such as artist or crafter.  "Artist" seems to high-falutin'.  "Crafter" conjures up images of popsicle sticks, glue, and glitter.  [This stuff is my own baggage people, label yourselves as you will.]

I'm lounging on the porch to the right on an extremely comfy couch.

When I knit an object, the act of knitting is usually the most time-consuming part of the process, but it is not the only part.  There is the research for the pattern, the measuring, the swatching, the measuring again, the math, the measuring yet again, the adjustments, and then, finally, the cast on.  Just as one might design plans for a structure, lay a foundation, or measure wood for a piece of furniture.  

George Schenk from American Flatbread and his amazing ovens.

As I looked around me at the many things at the Inn that were made by hand with integrity and authenticity, I was proud that Lisabeth and Sam had invited me into their group of builders.  

What I built:

Pattern:  Endpaper Mitts by Eunny Jang
Yarn:  Rowan felted tweed 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Next Generation

Both of my children knit.  I am not entirely responsible for this, my at-home influence is fortified by their school experience - they attend a Waldorf school where handwork is part of the curriculum for every grade.  In fact, I didn't even teach my oldest to knit, that duty fell to my dear friend, Martha, who has infinitely more patience than I.  

My  youngest putting the finishing touches on a crocheted purse for her American Girl doll.

I love to see the girls sizing up projects or just impulsively picking up the needles and knitting.  They appreciate a well-written pattern (with good pictures) and, at ages 6 and 9, can browse in a yarn store with the most hardened yarn addict.

N browsing intently in a yarn store in Bergen, Norway.

I already have summer projects waiting for them.  It may take them until next summer to finish, but they are excited and motivated.  

Am I selfish to feel pride when my children thrill to the same experiences as I do?  Would I feel the same sense of satisfaction if they picked up fishing or pottery?  I choose to think that I would.  However, the truth is that I am thrilled to have a shared interest and hobby so that, every now and then, I can escape from that constant supervisor/manager/disciplinarian role and become a knitting buddy.  A friend.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

i heart you

I had the pleasure of test-knitting i heart you for Mandy at Zigzag Stitch. It's a seamless colorwork yoke sweater, and I fell in love with it the instant I saw Mandy's original on flickr.

It is a little big on Rosebud -- I chose to knit it in the fourth size, ensuring extra ease in this close-fitting sweater. I knit much of this sweater during Philadelphia's April heat wave, and I wanted to make for damn sure that she'll be able to wear it next Fall. Also, Nature Spun is not exactly next-to-the-skin soft, so it will definitely require an extra layer underneath it to stave off the itchies.

I've knit some colorwork before, but I think this is the project where I finally got the hang of two-handed colorwork. My gauge is extremely tight in stranded knitting; I had to go up to a US5 needle to get gauge, and I had to learn how to catch floats (thanks, Mandy, for pointing me to this video) on some of the rows. I now feel ready for more colorwork, and coupled with the fact that my stash now overflows with Nature Spun in every shade of blue and purple, I will have plenty of inspiration!

Mandy just released her pattern for sale via her website and Ravelry, so go check it out!

Just in Case ...

I find this tremendously funny.  David R. Castillo, you are brilliant.  Pattern is here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How To Use Up Yarn

Let me walk you through how to use up partial skeins of yarn.

First, the yarn - Blue Sky Organic Dyed Cotton.  Beautiful.  Springy.  You adore it and must do something with it.  There must be about half a skein left, enough for a little kimono for a dear little 2 month old.

Next, the pattern.  Fuss about which kimono pattern to use.  Decide a sweater would be better.  In fact, a sweater that she can wear in August when she's in Vermont.  Yes, perfect - a 3-6 month size of that very cute Debbie Bliss Garter Stitch Jacket.  How adorable!!  Simple, fast, and classic in an EZ-looking kind of way.  Cast on and start knitting immediately, late at night, while completely engrossed in the final episode of John Adams.  Give absolutely no thought during any of these deliberations to yardage requirements.

The next day, notice how very large the sweater is looking all of a sudden.  The pattern calls for a 22" chest circumference for the 3-6 month size.  Crazy!  Spend most of your available knitting time comparing patterns and 3-6 month old babies.  Decide to just go with it.  She'll wear it when it fits.  Once again, and this is very important, give absolutely no thought to yardage requirements.

Run out of yarn.  Buy another skein.  Grumble about how this was to just work up the partial skein.  Wonder what happened.  

Knit until just one side of the front is left.  Run out of yarn again.  Buy yet another skein.  Grumble.  Wonder.

Finish the sweater and see that you have the exact same amount of yarn leftover.  If not more.  Deep sigh.  Find beautiful, sweet buttons and forget all about feeling grumbly.

Hmm.  Now what can I do to work up that skein ...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Proper Response to Gray

I spent an inordinate amount of time this winter knitting with charcoal gray Silky Tweed. It's first pass on the needles was a failed original design, a swingy, drapey open cardigan, intended to be the perfect, light layer for our February family trip to Southern California. This project has been visited before, as a FAIL.
I promptly ripped it, and knit the swingy, drapey, already-designed open cardigan, the Minimalist Cardigan instead. I had previously dismissed it because I thought all that moss stitch would be endlessly, soul-crushingly dull. I was completely right, and in fact, managed to make it even more dull by using that charcoal gray Silky Tweed. I spent months knitting boring moss stitch in dark charcoal gray, wondering why I just wasn't all that into knitting lately. Hmmm.

In the end, it is one of the best sweaters I've knit. The fit is perfect; set-in sleeves are my most flattering shape. That charcoal gray makes it endlessly versatile, and the shape is classic and elegant while being currently quite fashionable. I wear it often, and am glad I suffered through those long months with it because the end result is more than worth it.

But after all those months of gray, there was just one appropriate response: color.
Clockwise from top L: Ballband dishtowel, I Heart You Sweater (a test-knit), Ripples of Insanity, Felicity Hat in Karabella Aurora 8

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Icarus Finished!

With sore hands and a stiff neck, I bound off the last of the hundreds of stitches just in time.  The auction was Saturday night.  I finished knitting by 8pm Friday night, wove in my ends around 9pm, and left it blocking overnight.  Phew!  

With 1,369 Icarus projects on Ravelry, I'm not going to spend any time discussing this pattern (which is beautiful).  So let's talk about this yarn.  I LOVE this yarn.  This is lace weight cormo from Elsa Wool Company.  It is divine.  I owe many thanks to Melanie and Stewart, the grooviest yarn sellers on the planet, for carrying and recommending this yarn.

This is not a true representation of the color - the other pictures capture the silvery gray.

Cormo sheep are a cross between Corriedales and Saxon Merinos.  The resulting yarn is unbelievably soft and luxurious.  The yarn is undyed and is the natural color of the sheep.

But don't just believe me, here's what Clara Parkes has to say in her review of Elsa Wool Company's Cormo:  "Cormo is one of my favorite fibers.  It has all the tenderness of merino but with a little more character and succulence."

Succulence.  Yes.  It is delicious in the hands and on the needles and it blocks like a dream.  This is a woolen-spun yarn which means that it is spun with a core of air in the center resulting in a warm, light, and lofty yarn.  Perfect for a shawl.

Icarus made his ill-fated wings out of wax.  Make your Icarus lace feathers from heavenly cormo!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Deep in the Madness

No, not March Madness.  That's Liz, not me.  I'm deep into lace madness.  I committed to donating an Icarus shawl to the Waldorf school for their auction on Saturday.  Is it done?  NO.

I added an extra repeat on the main body (back when I was proceeding at a leisurely pace), so now I'm up to 427 stitches and have 40 rows before I hit the edging.  I need to be done by Thursday night because my parents are coming to visit Saturday.  I thought that I might try to clean the house Friday while the shawl was blocking.  So I think I'll be up early and late trying to bang this out.  

Good thing there's basketball to watch on TV.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Blessingway Blanket

How do you help prepare a friend for a birth?  Advice, baby paraphernalia, a pre-natal massage?  What if your friend is having her third baby?  And is an experienced home birther?  And is a doula?  What then?

Well, this was the conundrum for a group of us women who are friends with Melissa.  Something different was needed at this Blessingway.

Something to thank Melissa for all that she has given.  Something that would represent in a small way her strength, intuition, beauty, and deep love.  Something that might fortify her for labor but also wrap her in the love of her soul sisters during those difficult hours with a newborn.  

So each friend who could knit (and even some who couldn't) picked up needles or crochet hook and made a square ... or several ... and presented them to Melissa at her Blessingway - the squares infused with our thoughts, wishes, prayers, and blessings.  The room just glowed with love and joy.

The squares were arranged and rearranged and then handed off to me.  I seamed, joined, and bordered.

The blanket is now home.  Wrapped around a new little person who was born joyfully at home cradled in the love of her mother and father.

Welcome Pippa!

*Many thanks to Kindness Girl for the first three photos!