24 June 2007

Book Reviews

Between the Amazon sale and my CC gift certificates (yay, airplane tickets!), I've gotten some new knitting books lately. So I thought it'd be fun to tell you about them here. It's not really fair to call them 'reviews' as I don't plan to be all that terribly professional about it, and because I wouldn't have said anything at all about them if I didn't like them. Also noted: I got Victorian Lace Today not that long ago, too, but haven't said anything much because my feelings precisely coincide with grumperina's: awesome book, see her reasons why (plus, of course, the awesome historical content). I'm also going to save talking about Galina Khmeleva's Gossamer Webs for another post, as I love it so very much and have so much to say about it that it deserves a post of its own. So that leaves: Knit2Together, Charmed Knits, and No Sheep for You.

Knit2Together: Since I got this on Amazon for $5, there's pretty much no way on earth it wouldn't be worth it, unless it turned out to not be about knitting or something. But I think I would have been pretty happy with it even if I'd bought it at full price, although with the caveat that I'm getting pickier about my knitting books (as my shelves groan with the books already collected), and this one has enough in common with other books I already own to make it inessential. What makes it inessential to me? (1) the technical information and hints are all things I've already gotten from other sources (although they're presented really nicely and would be great for any knitter who hasn't already scoured practically everything out there), (2) the fun chatty stuff also feels familiar, like I've read it several times before in other forms, but for all that it's still cozy and nice - it's not a bad thing, it's just not something I would buy the book for, having already bought a lot of other books with a similar vibe, and (3) only one of the patterns is already itching to jump off the page and onto my needles (that would be the felted house slippers, 'cause I can always use another pattern for those, can't make it up myself as I have proven by trial and major error [cf: Frankenstein slippers, scroll down], and these ones are among the cutest out there). That said, I still love the book and am glad I bought it. While I'm enumerating, here are the reasons I love it:

1. Tracey Ullman. How can you not love Tracey Ullman? I feel like I grew up loving Tracey Ullman, my love has never wavered, and now I find out she loves knitting the same way I love knitting. What's not to love? (PS: Favorite Tracey Ullman movie? I Love You to Death)
2. Until I read this book, it never entered my head that "ullman" means "wool man" in Norwegian even though, it's true, my Norwegian is not SO rusty that I forgot either of those words.
3. The patterns are designed by Mel Clark, whose aesthetic I mostly really like, even though just at this moment I'm not sure what besides the house slippers would be practical for me to make and wear right now. I absolutely adore the Ponsonby Suit, and can probably see myself knitting it eventually, though right now my patience and time are not at that level. The Tropical Garden Vest is seriously cute, though I'm not sure what the effect of it would be on my decidedly curvier shape. Would be awesome to knit for a girl of about 13 or 14, but right now I don't know any such. I simply worship the Pimlico Shrug and, oh lordy lordy, the Lacy Hug-Me-Tight, and I might at least knit the latter no matter what, but I can't honestly see myself wearing either except at home for dress-up. I can see other people wearing them and looking fab - just not me. I don't have the je ne sais quoi (sp??) to pull it off. The ginormous Doctor's Bag is gorgeous and would be lovely to own, but if the boring knitting didn't kill me, the finishing definitely would. The Witches Britches are adorable and would be an easy, relatively quick knit, but again, I really wouldn't wear them outside the house, and I already own lots of comfy house-pants that didn't require weeks of my time to make. I also love the Gym Slip Dress, but also think it would require some fairly major mods to work on me, and at the moment the inspiration isn't there for that (though it may come). Finally, the Rowena Cardigan is lovely - and it's just a plain, simple cardigan with one brilliant twist, which I could pretty easily reproduce at some point, though probably not right away.
4. Along with the gorgeous-but-not-immediately-practical(-for-me), there are also a few quickies in here that, while less exciting, are more likely to actually get made. A lacy, ruffly tea cozy, picture frames (which, yes, I might have thought of myself, but not gotten around to thinking through), the super-cute mouse family with clothes, Daphne's Baby Cape (a very EZ-type affair), a pretty table skirt for which I need only a table, and - folks! - a floppy "Lady Detective Hat" which will definitely get made! The Novella Socks and Pea Pod Cardigan are also both cute, and fall into the category of things that I'd love to have, but probably won't get around to knitting because other projects will continually get in the way.

All around, that's a good amount of knitting inspiration for one book, and I'm satisfied.

Charmed Knits: As this is a book of Harry-Potter-related knitting patterns, obviously you have to be a Harry Potter fan to get into it. Since I'm a very rabid HP fan currently in the throes of waiting for the last book to come out (26 days!), and determined to keep any future children I may someday have clothed in exactly the type of adorable, classic, Brit-knit style sweaters that fill the movies and the books, this book was of course a must for me. Though I'm still dying for a pattern for the sweater Ginny wore at the Quidditch World Cup in the movie, all the other essential HP patterns are in here, plus a few extra things I hadn't seen or thought of: an "invisibility shawl" and a blanket based on the idea of Mrs. Weasley's clock. The wand cozies, I must say, cracked me up in kind of the wrong way, but whatever. I also think the wizard robes and hats are kind of pushing it - these are definitely things that should be sewn, not knit, but it doesn't matter because the sweaters, hats, scarves and mittens are perfect and that's the key thing. While I think I could have unvented the accessories myself, the book is really helpful in providing affordable yarn choices in all the right colors. On the one brief occasion when I flirted with the idea of making a Gryffindor scarf (before remembering how much I hate making long, repetitive scarves), I couldn't find the right color combination, and started to lose my ability to remember what the true movie colors look like in the face of all the not-quite-right colors in the LYS. This books gives you a solid handful of alternatives, and that's really nice. And I'm totally making an invisibility shawl! (Since my favorite thing to be at parties is invisible, this should be perfect!)

No Sheep for You: So, remember how I said just a little bit above that I'm getting pickier about my knitting books? This book, along with Amy's Big Girl Knits (which is next on my list to get) are exactly what I want in knitting books now. What I love, love, love about both of them is that they are packed with hard-core, well-researched, well-presented technical information that is not available in this form elsewhere. I'm neither allergic to animal fibers (thank god!) nor (quite) beyond the usual size-range of standard knitting patterns, but I think these two books are the two most useful knitting books for me in a long time. I've been reading the major magazines, almost all the mainstream current books and a few oldies, and been fairly well entrenched in the online knitting world for several years now, and the information Amy gives in No Sheep for You on non-animal fibers is a revelation to me. I've seen profiles of some of the new yarns and fibers elsewhere, and I've read many a general survey of all the various fibers, but nothing has come close to this much information, all of it immediately applicable to my knitting. To be honest I've avoided using any of these materials, except for cotton and that only for dishcloths and bathmats, because the few items I've tried in the past have not worked out so well. Now I know that that's because I had no clue what I was doing - it was not the poor fibers' fault (well, there was some guilty acrylic...), but user error. Most wools are pretty easy to just pick up and knit and end up in a garment that will be usable, but the fact is that you can't throw hemp or silk into a pattern intended for wool and expect everything to work out. I had probably gotten as far as this realization in previous experiments, and concluded that I just didn't know what to do with those fibers, and maybe that I couldn't do much with them beyond put them into scarves. Amy's book takes the next step and shows how truly dazzling all these kinds of yarns can be in just about any type of FO if you do it right, and then shows you how to do it right.

The patterns are lovely. I want to make Tomato, and Hubbster has already registered his desire for the hemp "Manly Maze" sweater (actually, he'd been asking for a hemp sweater for ages, but I hadn't known what to do about it...) The intensely cabled and delicate Morrigan makes me go all wobbly. The Tuscany shawl is a must, and I'm going to dedicate to it the first skein of sea silk I can get my grubby little paws on. In fact, every single pattern in here is very desirable to me, though the others I haven't mentioned yet may be too ambitious, too expensive, or too fussy for me at the moment (which is not to say I won't get there eventually...). And they're all very timeless, more so than most books I can think of, which suggests that even if it takes me 10 years to be ready and able to make Morrigan or Sweet Indulgence, it'll look just as good then as it would now.

There you have it, folks. Next time: a long disquisition on the wondrousness of Galina Khmeleva (who I'm going to MEET in August!!! while also having a slumber party at Beth's!!! And seeing her spinning store!!! Aiiieeeee......)

Also of note: There's an event in NYC on Monday that I'm dropping everything to get to: 19th Century Knitting and Needlework in the park!!! I don't know any more than what's on that link, but my friend Aline and I are going, I'm bringing the set of US 000 DPNs I'm afraid of and some laceweight to see if I can experiment with what stocking knitting felt like 150 years ago. If you're in NYC and can go, drop me a line so we can find each other there!

21 June 2007

FO Parade

I slipped off to Augusta, GA for a week to see the in-laws, and I got a bit of knitting done there. Enough for a "parade of FOs" though I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that they're all small items, and not all of them were even among the WIPs when I left! Oh well, it's vacation. With no further ado...

A second pair of twinkle toes, this time for a friend who's a ballet lover and has a birthday coming up (and, blessedly, very small feet):

(the following is a terrible picture, but just to prove I did finish both of them...)

I was also inspired to try a pair of pocketbook slippers for the same friend. I've finished the first one. The yarn is a mystery yarn from Russia, mostly wool with a bit of silk and mohair. I'm hoping there's enough silk to keep them from felting too badly...

Just before I left I finally finished the melon scarf. I was just this close to being sick of it (NB: it's not yet blocked, and I had to white-out the background of the modeled picture because it was too weird and ugly):

Did I tell you guys that my dad got me an mp3 player for my birthday?? It arrived only after the diss work was done, and so timely it was. It's totally changed my life. I had no idea how behind I'd gotten, for one thing, on knitting podcasts - I'm nowhere near caught up even on the ones I used to listen to before the Dark Time of Diss Finishing began, never mind all the news ones! Then there's audiobooks....Not to mention, of course, the suddenly dire need for a knitted mp3 player cozy. I used leftovers of one of my all-time Favorites Yarns in Life, Himalayan recycled silk/wool in red. I made up the shaping as I went along, and inserted a little elastic and some buttons after the fact to keep things tidy. Then I also made a plain pouch to hold the headphones, so that I can throw both in my KIPer bag without worrying about tangling or damage (they fit really nicely into one of the inside side pockets).

Finally, just to prove I have been putting some work into a bigger project, here's a progress shot of the fisherman's sweater (I'm just a few rows away from splitting it up for the armholes):

Meanwhile, in Georgia, I stopped at a Michael's and picked myself up some Paton's SWS. I was a little irrational with no specific project in mind and craft-store-fumes and all, so the number and variety of skeins I bought really makes no sense, but boy are they pretty, and boy do I like staring at them while I try to think of what to make. What went through my head at the time was that I wanted a Lady Eleanor but didn't know how much I needed, and I also wanted felted slippers like these, except maybe instead of fuzzy feet I'd try the new pattern from the new book I just got...and the result was that I bought yarn that doesn't really work for any of these. I'm thinking of making two pairs of fuzzy feet and a neck warmer in entrelac a la Lady Eleanor instead. But I might still be so tipsy from the yarn that that doesn't make sense either.

Georgia was nice (though hot, and/or stormy), but now were back and in full packing/sorting mode. Very tiring and kind of blah. Can't wait to move on to NH at the end of the month: 1) no plane to get there, 2) good weather, 3) we get to stay put for a while, 4) fresh air, trees, hiking.

08 June 2007

My Head Is Full of Yarn

So, as I was drifting off to sleep the other night, I noticed that when I closed my eyes, images of beautiful knitting continued to float in front of my mind's eye. This was, no doubt, the result of two full days of playing on Ravelry almost non-stop. Half-way down the road to being asleep as I was, I tried to explain what was going on to Hubbster. Somehow, the most coherent thing I could muster was "My head is full of yarn."

What did Hubbster say?

"I know."

It was as if I'd said, "It's hot in here."

On a related note - you know the random sort of stuff that you think about before you fall asleep that calms down your brain enough to let you drift off? In my family we call them "mental screen-savers." Counting sheep is a mental screen-saver, though a pretty boring one unless you're really into their fleeces or something (which would be only natural, after all). My mental screen-saver lately has been imagining, in lots of detail, my dream knitting room. That is, neither money nor space (or perhaps even physics) are objects to putting together this perfect space. I like to think of all the lovely tools (sewing machine and serger, blocking wires, blocking board, large flat surfaces) that would be there, and the pretty storage solutions (a wall of cedar cubbies, hand-dyed hanks hanging from the ceiling...), and the full-spectrum lamp and comfy armchair...and of course a computer for blogging and browsing and pattern/yarn reference.

I find that most mental screen-savers get boring after a while. Somehow, I think I can revel in this one for quite a long time....

What would your dream knitting room be like?

07 June 2007

Anticipation for Ravelry

People are getting so excited about Ravelry, it seems, that they can hardly contain themselves. This was me 3 days ago, and I know it's still most of you (though they're inviting people from the waiting list in large numbers daily...). Since I've been in and seen it, I thought I could say a few more things about what to expect for those of you chomping at the bit. I also posted this to a Flickr discussion group where people are getting mighty anxious:

What it is: think of it as a combination of MySpace and a vast fiber arts database that's created by users (a la Wikipedia). The possibilities of how this can be used are pretty much endless, but for starters it allows you to (1) organize your projects, stash, needles and books (2) browse other people's stuff (3) find patterns and yarns and instantly see how they've been used by lots of other people (4) find people with similar fiber interests and tastes (5) projects can be linked to blog posts, so it's also a good way to stumble onto new blogs that you're likely to enjoy (i.e., it's better than a random search), (6) there are forums for everything fiber-related that can potentially become *the* central forums for online fiber enthusiasts. One of the most exciting things about Ravelry, I think, is that it's like a Grand Central Station for online fiber people. It doesn't replace anything that exists already, but it can organize, connect, and provide a central gateway for all of it.

What you can do now: You can take your waiting time now to get everything ready to put on your "notebook" in Ravelry as soon as your invite comes in (which could be any moment now). Photograph all your projects and every yarn in your stash if you want to be that thorough (and you will want to be once you get in there and see everybody else's). Upload all these pics to Flickr (eventually they say you'll be able to import pics from other image storage sites, but right now it's just Flickr). Lay out all your needles and make a note of everything you've got on a single sheet of paper so you can enter it more easily in the Ravelry chart (see screen shot linked to above, to know what it will look like). Enter all your knitting books into LibraryThing.com - you'll be able to import knitting books only directly from LibraryThing into Ravelry.

That should keep you busy in the short time remaining until you join up!

For those of you who listen to Cast On - you probably are among the first to have heard about it, because Brenda mentioned it quite early, and it is (in my opinion) the answer to many of the questions Brenda raised in her last series about the online knitting community - or at least, it has the potential to be. And Jess and Casey are incredible people, doing an incredible job very fast, out of nothing but generosity and enthusiasm! Let's all channel those same feelings, which are so common among knitters, and put it into making this database as vast and magnificent as it can possibly be!

05 June 2007

WIP: Lace Sampler

Edited to Add: there are a few other knitting books on sale at Amazon right now. Look also for Knitting for Peace, or just search under "knitting," in "books" and look at the first few pages. I noticed that one book that was $5 yesterday (Greeting from the Knit Cafe) is back to normal price.

I feel guilty. Like maybe I've been neglecting my wonderful, old, more-than-a-year-old bloggy-woggy (not to mention Bloglines) in favor of that hot little tart, Ravelry. Does this make me a blog harlot? Something like that. Anyway. Hubbster came home with the camera, at last, but there was only about a half hour of daylight left. So here's the best I could do:

Of course it looks like cat barf right now, but I love it anyway. As pointed out by the Purloined Letter, lace is incredibly good therapy for deeply bruised nerves and brain, or at least so I'm finding out. The only example of extended lace knitting (or knitted lace - whatever) that I did before (Icarus) was in the middle of a deep procastination phase, and it also served me well by absorbing me completely at a moment when I needed to get away (and ended in a very quickly finished shawl!). Now, I feel like I'm getting something different out of it, something less like escape and more like meditation. For this the sampler idea is perfect, and especially from a great book like Victorian Lace Today. The author adds little tidbits next to each chart, noting things like "it's an in-between stage in the development of lace - reverse stockinette is used to add definition, but decreases are still unidirectional." I feel like I'm both learning and practicing a little bit of the history of lace by moving through these charts, and the excellent presentation in this book really helps me to pay attention and take in the nuances of the patterns as I go. And, of course, the yarn is beautiful, the needles (KnitPicks Classic Circ US3) are perfect, and I'd love it even if it wasn't going to block into breathtaking beautifulness.

Oh - and Amazon put some knitting books on super-sale. This morning I got Knit 2 Together for $5, and since there's no point in not getting free shipping, I also took this little opportunity to totally cheat on my book diet and also order Galina Khmeleva's Gossamer Webs. I justify this because I'm going to take her class at Beth's spinning shop in August!!!!!!! (btw, Beth, while I'm thinking about it, in answer to your question: I still don't know, need to talk to mom and sort out transport question, which is increasingly complicated...are there buses in Michigan??)


Look look look!

So even if your number hasn't yet been called, start photographing your stash now! Jeepers, how have three days passed and I've done...nothing but play with Ravelry. Haven't caught up on emails. Haven't knitted, hardly. Haven't blogged. Sure as hell haven't done the dishes or the laundry. Did get some quick groceries, but only to fuel more play time. This is d a n g e r o u s stuff, here, folks. And probably the only reason I'm posting this now is that Hubbster took the camera to the library and so I can't photograph my stash right now, or even get a picture of my new sampler lace project (which was going along nicely before Ravelry and will surely continue to progress soon). How kick-ass will it be to have pictures and accurate data of everything - yarn, needles, books, projects??

Oh, and another thing. I completely missed my blogiversary. Blew right by me. Will have to think of some other excuse for a contest at some point soon. And then think of a contest. Workin' on it.

Should probably go forage for food, or bathe, or something.

03 June 2007


Guess what?!!!! I finally got my invite to Ravelry Beta!!! I'm not one of the privileged who were solicited, of course, but I did sign up on the waiting list, so I don't know if they're just gradually adding the waiting list people but not yet generally up and running, or what. But oh my god I'm so excited!!!! If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go check it out, or catch up on your podcasts (as I have just started to do myself...) - everybody's talking about it! And with good reason. It's *incredible*. Makes me really wish I hadn't lost my old database of stash, needles and projects (when my laptop got stolen years ago), as that would have made it super-easy to actually get everything up on Ravelry really fast, but oh well. This is an incredible resource, guys, and I'm so excited I can't sit still.

Important: if you read this blog (lurker or not), please be my friend on Ravelry! As soon as you join, find me in the list of people and click "invite friend." I'd love to know who you all are and see your blogs! I try to go look at the blogs of commenters as much as possible, but for obvious reasons I've been way behind lately.

Can you imagine if I'd been able to join this a few weeks ago? I might not be getting that PhD after all!