31 January 2006

a grand awakening

Perhaps it's the baby hormones, but in the past few months I've been inspired, almost compelled, to put a lot more thought and effort into my creative pursuits than I have in many years. I feel more confident in my abilities and, paradoxically, more aware of my limitations. In the past I've been easily discouraged by failed projects, easily daunted by complicated sounding instructions, and easily frustrated by small setbacks. Without conscious effort, I'm now able to focus on and enjoy the process. Errors and difficulties are less frustrating now because I can see the opportunity inherent in all setbacks. I've always had a great appreciation for things made by hand, but I've never felt as capable of producing them as I do now. I've been branching out a great deal in the kitchen, have completed my first-ever story submission to a literary journal, and have several crafting projects in the pipeline. Among these latter are:

felted beads with the kids
drop-spindle spinning
redwork embroidery
sewing diapers for Finch

I bought some wool roving in rainbow colors off ebay, and the children and I will be felting these into small beads suitable for necklaces as soon as they come. I also ordered an inexpensive spinning kit which should arrive this week. I have a marvelous redwork book, as well as all the materials save bleached muslin that I need to make a crib quilt, so I'll get that project going very soon. I'm hoping to sew the diapers very soon, but I'm a little bit nervous since my previous sewing projects are fair to middling at best. I need to be especially calm and mindful whenever I sew because it doesn't come naturally to me at all and I end up feeling frustrated and embarassed that I can't master this simple skill that most of my female ancestors must have. I'm going to go slowly with this project, and maybe even find a friend who sews to help out. I've also contemplated, but not definitely planned, soap-making and candle-making projects, as well as jam-making. I've mentioned the possibility of a small, outdoor tandoori oven to Mr. Desultory (I'd have to be the apprentice on any of those putatively male pursuits) and he seems willing if not keen. Excelsior!

dinner tonight: spinach salad with turkey bacon and blue cheese, herbed toast

30 January 2006

craftsmanship and knitting repair

In the past I've blithely assured myself that 'nobody will notice' various small mistakes in my knitting. Any mistake that I failed to notice after a row or two of knitting was destined to stay because I couldn't bear the thought of ripping back very far, and I had no idea how to fix things any other way. Last night, when I discovered an inadvertent split-stitch increase, a good 8 rows down, in Finch's romper leg, I almost let it slide. It wouldn't be at all noticeable once he was wearing them, I reasoned, and besides, I'm tired and I want to get it done. Mr DK, a private pilot, has spoken about a similar stubborness on the part of fellow-pilots known as get-there-itis. Fortunately for me, get-it-done-itis is unlikely to ever be deadly, but it does lead to amateurish finished objects.

I've (belatedly) come to the realization that it's foolish to balk at spending a little extra time fixing a mistake in a garment that takes many hours to finish. Besides, people will notice, particularly if they are also knitters, and they may judge you, or your craft, accordingly. A few years ago, while perusing the woefully tiny knitting section at my state fair, I heard a fellow fair-goer remark that she would never spend so much time making something you could get at the store 'for cheap'. Now, few of the objects on display were of the sort you could easily find at a retail chain, much less 'for cheap', but leaving aside the woman's ignorance and obvious lack of discernment, her point is well taken --- why, indeed, would anyone knit something that can be had 'for cheap' at the local Target? I don't want to produce the kind of knitwear one can find on a clearance rack at any old store, nor do I want to produce the kind of knitwear that languishes at the thrift store season after season.

I thought of these things while I stared at the ugly (and extremely visible in mercerized cotton!) mistake and was struck with the realization that I needn't rip out those 8 rows after all. I knit up to the first of the 3 stitches involved, and pulled gently to produce a run down to where they were the two stitches they were meant to be. Then I simply knitted them up again. I haven't the technical skill to explain how to do this, but Mary Thomas' knitting book explains the process quite clearly, which is where I got the idea several years ago. It's quite easy to do in stockinette stitch, and I did it once before to repair a 3-stitch cable that twisted the wrong way without undue agony. A crochet hook would have been helpful, but my double pointed needle was within arms-reach, so I used that instead. I discovered that this type of repair is a bit harder in mercerized cotton than in wool. The cotton is so slippy that the running strand loosens up, making your repairs obvious. My first response was to start again, tugging on the stitches as I made them, but this made little difference. I would've had to do this anyway, as I accidentally twisted one of the stitches the first time around, but I admit I was quite frustrated when the second time looked almost as loose and ugly as the first. The solution was simply to gently tug the running strand to the end of the row, for each row of repair -- the fabric will eventually absorb the slack.

I had to do this several times over before I was satisfied that the repair was invisible, but I finally had Mr. DK (precise to the point of fussiness) examine it, and he was unable to correctly locate the repair. He was, however, kind enough to point out that I should expect a mistake or two when I insist on knitting in a dark car. He believes that each and every task should command one's full attention, and that knitting in the dark, or while reading, watching television, talking, or driving is just plain foolish. I'm kidding! I never knit and drive! I have to admit though, that I'm sorely tempted at certain redlights. Tonight I took up the needles again so as to get the two legs united on one needle for tomorrow's errand running. I'll be watching my daughter's beautiful and incredibly long hair get hacked off for locks of love and then, if I survive the trauma, sitting in a waiting room with my bladder full for an ultrasound of the Finch. Finally, I'll be visiting my parents. Even Mr. DK admits the need to have something to distract while talking with my mother.

Dinner tonight: cream of roasted tomato soup, grilled havarti sandwiches

27 January 2006

Future Fiber Artists of America!

One of my favorite fiber crafting resources for kids is Harrisville Designs. Children as young as 4 0r 5 can begin with the potholder loom using either cotton or wool loops specially made to fit. (Unlike the cheapies we found in big-box craft stores, all of the loops fit perfectly). Wren made a few potholders in her day, but has since progressed to the peg-loom, which came with a rainbow of wool as well as some strong cotton warping, sufficient to make a small pouch. We also have the 'Easy Weaver,' a rigid-heddle loom, which comes with enough wool for two small scarves. All the kits come with very clear instructions, and the materials are of good quality and reasonably priced. No affiliation -- just a very pleased customer!!

I've cast on for Finch's romper using the 4mm needles. I've decided to knit the smallest size after calculating the dimensions using my actual gauge. He won't need the extra ease for warm things underneath since he'll only be wearing it in the summer, and I have small babies anyway. I dug out my twisted-rib sock and my fingerless mitts, and stashed them in my glovebox. Hopefully I'll remember them next time I'm in the passenger seat, and not bury myself in a book instead. Speaking of books, virtue came with a literary reward today: I cleaned out under my bed today and found Cloud Atlas. Now I have something new to read while I'm knitting the easy bits, which, for the romper, is pretty much the entire thing as it's entirely in stockinette except for the ribbing. I've selected several potential yarns for my knitting olympics project:

Cascade Eco +
Classic elite Beatrice
Filatura di Crosa Luna (available only in yellow)
Valley Yarns lambswool (available only in white)

February is almost here, so I really need to make a selection and order the yarn, but I'm having a tough time deciding. When I knit from a pattern, I usually use the indicated yarn, but this pattern calls for a wool/acrylic blend, and I prefer natural fibers. I've substituted before, but only with my lyso's help. Unfortunately, my lys didn't really have anything suitable for this pattern last time I was there, so I'm stuck figuring it out for myself. Hope I don't make a hash of it!

Dinner tonight: spaghetti and meatballs, followed by a salad with pomegranate vinaigrette, followed by cream scones served with lemon curd

24 January 2006

minor roadblock

I finally got around to measuring my gauge swatch for the striped romper, and discovered that my gauge is too fine at 22 stitches per 4", rather than the 20 called for in the pattern. I went up a needle size and got 21 stitches per 4", but the stitches looked out of proportion to the yarn so I didn't even try the next needle size. I checked the ball-band and sure enough, the yarn I'm using is meant for the finer gauge. All yarns have an ideal gauge, or range of gauges, but fine cotton is evidently very particular. I've tweaked the gauge a bit with worsted weight and heavy worsted weight, with good results, but even a small adjustment in the dk weight looked wrong. I'm keen to use this yarn though, and for this particular pattern, so I'm going to knit the pattern one size up in the finer gauge.I think I'll end up with something the Finch will be able to wear this summer. I've been catching up on the housekeeping these past few days, and my knitting has suffered: no progress on the mitts, Wren's hat still isn't cast-on, and swatch cap is definitely abandoned for the nonce. I resolve to wind the second hank of blue wool so that Wren can begin her scarf, and to cast on for her hat myself tomorrow afternoon. We usually craft or bake in the late afternoon, listening to audio books or podcasts, so I'll look forward to a cozy afternoon's knitting and listening.

Onions, red bell peppers, garlic, anchovies, black pepper, and rosemary sauteed in olive oil, then simmered in balsamic vinegar and finished with a swirl of butter and a handful of chopped fresh parsley make a delicious sauce for pork chops. I served these accompanied by smashed red potatoes and a fresh salad. The chops were bone in rib loin chops, brined for about 30 minutes before cooking. Another winner from Cook's Illustrated!

22 January 2006

It's all about the process, right?

The forlorn object in the picture is my aran swatch-cap. I knitted the ribbed cables according to pattern, but reworked the 'fishtraps' after row 14 to make them taper to a point. I also simplified the pattern somewhat, making the travelling stitches within each section twist the same way. My mistake was in thinking that I could figure out the shaping on the fly, by intuition, late last night while watching Harry Potter (PoA) with Mr. DK , the kids, and the cats. Robin, poor dear, needed to hide his face in my lap whenever the dementors appeared, and Maisie, the very fat and rather stupid tabby, kept kneading my yarn, so my concentration would have been off even if I hadn't been exhausted. Then I dropped a few stitches, then I noticed a mistake which meant dropping several stitches several rows. Knitting repair is tedious in any stitch pattern, but with cables and travelling stitches every which where, it's a nightmare. I'm beyond the beginner stage, but not very far, and this sort of thing discourages me. I'm not altogether certain that I won't finish this hat, but it doesn't look good. I do like the ribbed cable however, so much so that I plan to use it in something else very soon. I also learned a bit about various ways to work the right and left twist, and noticed how similar they are to the k2tog and ssk, respectively. I've swatched some mercerized cotton for a MinnowKnits romper that I'm going to knit for Finch. I had to go up a needle size to get the gauge, which means I'll have to use my bamboos (too slow!) or buy another set of Addi Turbos (I'll always associate these with the lightsaber sound, thanks to Brenda Dayne). The fingerless mitts still stagnate, Wren's hat remains but a good intention, and February and the knitting olympics are sneaking up on me, but I'm glad I took these two small detours. I learned a lot from the swatch cap, and since I never managed to knit anything from Minnowknits for the other two, I'm pleased that I remembered it in time to do so for this last little creature. On the domestic front, Mr. DK got busy with weatherstripping and foam insulation and I don't know what else, with the result that the house is noticeably less draughty. Wren knows all about 1066, and very firmly sides with William Godwinson; Robin can write his name and knows 5 letter sounds; and I made a very nice lemon curd. On the othe hand, I still haven't made cream puffs this year. Baking season will be over before I know it, so cream puffs (or 'green pups' as Wren used to call them) are going on my to-do list for February: bakery cream puffs simply can't compare to homemade ones, freshly filled with pastry cream and chocolate chantilly, and drizzled with caramel. Yum!!

Dinner tonight: Papa John's disgusting pizza for the mister and the kids, leftover chili for me

19 January 2006

In which I cast-on for the January Almanac-Along

I hadn't intended to 'do' January for the alamacalong, but I really wanted to see what the fishtrap pattern would look like knitted up, so I've cast on for a baby/toddler hat. This picture betrays my ineptitude with the camera (there's got to be a way to force it to focus on, say, the knitting instead of the curtains), but it's the best I could do:

I'm doing 2 fishtraps and 2 ribbed cables, separated by one purl stitch. I'm a little concerned that the 28 rows required for the fishtrap pattern will make the hat too long, but in that case I'll simply buy more yarn and turn it into a scarf. Or something.

I'm not sure I understand EZ's method for making a right twist (rt) -- she writes to knit two stitches together, w/o taking them off the needle, then re-knit the second stitch. I use Barbara Walker's baby cable pattern, which calls for knitting two together, then re-knitting the first stitch. Could EZ, by 'second stitch' really mean the first one on the needle? It could be, since the first stitch on the left needle is actually the second stitch your right needle passes through when you knit the two together. Otherwise, try as I might, I can't make the EZ method work for me. It resembles a rt, except that the crossing stitch is very prominent. I'm going to knit up a swatch with both methods done side by side so I can compare, as soon as I'm finished with the hat/scarf. I have another hank of the same yarn, but that is reserved for the gull-pattern baby sweater, to be done next month.

I haven't ridden in the car for several weeks, so my car-knitting is languishing in the glove box. (n.b. I picked a much nicer color for my pair!!) Before the current hiatus, I had to stop work on them for about a month, because I lost the other needle, and I don't have any more 3.25mm needles anywhere. Lorraine, the very kind owner of my lys, gave me a pr when I went in to buy the wool for the knitalong. I'm on the 2nd mitt, and the sewing-up is minimal, so I could be finished these in a day or two, but I'm too absorbed in the swatch cap to think of anything else, including poor Wren's hat. I think I'll cast on for her hat in the next day or two, and make that my car knitting or the child will never get her hat.

The house smells of chile, which I'm going to serve tonight with minced red onion, sour cream, and grated cheddar. Justin will put obscene amounts of cayenne in his bowl and the children will put in obscene amounts of cheese in theirs and not one of them will detect that I happened to be out of bay leaves when I made it, or that I switched to ancho chilis this time around. But they'll eat lots of it and proclaim it delicious and ask why we don't have it more often (because beef is unhealthy and expensive my dears) and I'll feel gratified.

Dinner tonight: Chili con carne

18 January 2006

Reason to knit!

We got our BG&E bill yesterday, and apparently even 60F (54F at night) is too luxurious for the likes of us. Worse than the (2nd) staggering bill was the slick pamphlet advising me to keep my thermostat 'below 74F' to keep costs down. I could weep. We got through a day of no-heat-at-all without tears however, thanks to numerous cups of tea, plenty of knitting, a brisk walk, and soup for dinner. Also it was a mild day and the house stayed around 55F with yesterday's residual heat. I suppose we'll have to take refuge in the library on the really bitter days. I am very clearly not well-adapted for survival, and if civilization crumbles in my lifetime, I'm a goner. Before we got our beloved, drafty, fixer upper in this marginal (or 'up and coming if you listen to the hype) city neighborhood, we lived in a cute little stone apartment in the suburbs. We had windows on 3 sides and wood floors, and heat and hot water were included! We kept the apartment at a balmy 74F every winter and we were happy, let me tell you. Except that we had no need of warm woolies, and so my knitting, lacking the inspiration born of need, was, well, desultory. Not to mention unappreciated. I knit a cute strawberry hat and my daughter lost it between our house and the library. I knit one fluffy purple sock and abandoned it's mate halfway through the ribbing. A scarf got left on a snowman until the snow melted, and by then looked so sodden and dreary that nobody felt like picking it up. I began a seamless raglan and lost interest halfway through the sleeve decreases. Eventually the carpet beetles got that one, as well as lots of beautiful wool yarn that I would actually appreciate now. So, my consolation for blue lips and frozen fingertips is that the children wear their handknits often enough to require the purchase and frequent use of Eucalan and a plastic laundry tub. My son wears his little orange hat everywhere, all the time, and even though he tends to leave it places, he always gets it back because everyone in the neighborhood knows it's his. My daughter, who rarely nags, has been nagging me to cast on for her hat, and has already decided that her next sweater will be red. Robin wants a green one, with cables no less, and a matching hat. But the best reason not to regret the free heat is that I now have very good reason to knit longies from the Knitter's Almanac. The idea of wool leggings for babies charmed me from the moment I read the book, but of course I had no reason to knit them for Wren and Robin. Poor little Finch will have to rough it with the rest of us, and will need a good supply of longies, not to mention a few sweaters and hats for next winter. He'll be the picture of contentment, snuggled in wool from head to toe asleep in his cradle. When he's not shrieking, pooping, nursing, or being toted about like a tyrant.

Dinner tonight: Italian bean and pasta soup

17 January 2006

food not yarn

Le Menu: Pan-roasted chicken breasts with sage-vermouth sauce served over egg noodles accompanied by hot buttered peas

I followed a recipe from the April '03 issue of Cook's Illustrated, my all-time favorite cooking magazine for the chicken. It was quick, easy, and delicious. My only quarrel is with the amount of fresh sage called for -- even doubled it was barely perceptible. I've been thrilled with my new instant-read thermometer, which serves to reassure my paranoid husband that chicken need not be dry and tough to be thoroughly cooked. Pan-searing and then roasting at a high temperature (450F) is an excellent method for bone-in chicken breasts -- not only does it keep the meat tender and moist, but it produces a pan full of those delectable brown bits, perfect for deglazing into a wide variety of sauces. Next time I think I'll try some lemon, rosemary, and white wine.

Brining the chicken

While the chicken brined, I prepped
the sauce ingredients: broth,
vermouth, onions, fresh sage,
pepper, and butter

Browning the chicken in olive oil

Sauteeing the onions in the pan
drippings (I poured off about
half the fat first)

Deglazing the pan with the broth
and vermouth. After that, I
added the fresh sage and reduced
the sauce just a bit, before
finishing with the butter and
adding a pinchof pepper to taste.
I meant to take a better picture
after the steam subsided, but I

Time to eat!

Back to knitting tomorrow, with my bid for the knitting olympics, a yarn question, and lace temptation...

11 January 2006

Wren's yarn, new design project, double knitting (the technique, not the gauge!)

First, a picture of my beautiful daughter and the lovely yarn she picked out for her first project:

More yarn, less girl:

We're going to wind both hanks this evening so that I can get started on her hat and she can get started on her scarf. I don't use patterns for hats, but I've always swatched, measured heads, and did the math to get the things to fit. This time, I'm going to start at the top, maybe with a long i-cord, and then increase madly to achieve a shallow watchcap style, stopping when it looks done. I'll finish off with a few rows of twisted rib. I have to wonder why I've never done hats this way before, since it seems easier and I crank out several a year.

I've never formally designed anything, but I have knitted, with some degree of success, 3 items that I made up 'as I went along'. The first, a kerchief (back when all the little girls were wearing them) was a no-brainer, but the other two were a little more complicated, and the neckline and armholes (both were tank-tops) looked amateurish. I'm going to revisit and revise these tops, using some mercerized cotton I got very cheap from elann last summer. If it turns out really well, I'll submit it to knitty. I'm not sure if I'm talented enough, and I know I'm not (yet) knowledgable enough, to be a good designer, but I'm looking on this project as a way to challenge myself. I've been a competent knitter for several years without learning or trying new things. Onward and upward -- let 'alps on alps arise'!

In addition to designing, I think I'll go ahead and try doubleknitting next month. By double knitting I don't mean the gauge, but the technique in which you slip every other stitch, then knit the slipped and slip the knit stitches on the following row, to achieve round knitting on straight needles. Now that we're keeping our house at a cool 58F (old, drafty house + rising gas prices + no money = arctic conditions!!!) I could use some blankets, and the idea of double knitting always intrigued me. Also, I've recently joined the almanac knitalong, based on EZ's Knitter's Almanac, which includes a double-knitted blanket for February (along with the sweater and longies that I'd already planned to knit for Finch.) I'm going to treat myself to some sheepsdown from Schoolhouse Press for the blanket, and imagine EZ herself smiling beatifically down on me as I knit.

Dinner tonight: Black beans and rice, banana empanadas

09 January 2006

A trip to my lys!

Yesterday was unexpectedly free of a particularly unpleasant obligation, so I celebrated by spending part of next week's grocery budget on wool from my local yarn shop. I was eager to start some of the baby's things, especially after reading about the Knitter's Almanac knitalong, and I wanted to let Wren, my 8 yr. old, choose yarn for her first project. She learned to knit recently on some Red Heart acrylic but I couldn't ask her to knit more than a few rows because the texture was so unpleasant. To further indulge myself, I interrupted dh's programming works so that I wouldn't have to drive, and, more importantly, try to park. So, Justin drove us all, and he and the boy parked and sneered at all the Fells Pt. hipsters while Wren and I shopped for yarn. Wren was very proud to be treated as a customer, and politely asked for a worsted-weight wool for her scarf. The saleslady very nicely directed her to a moderately priced wool, and steered her away from a much softer (and far more expensive!!) alpaca, explaining that the wool would be less slippery and therefore easier to work with for a beginner. Wren chose a bright blue that contrasts well with her red coat, and will go nicely with next year's plaid coat as well. It also matches her eyes beautifully, but I try never to comment on the child's hair or eyes, since she gets far too much attention for these as it is. I was proud of her for remembering what she wanted and for not expecting me to mediate for her -- my baby girl, shopping for yarn! She asked me if I would knit her a hat with the same yarn, so we got two 100 gram hanks, which will do us nicely. I chose an undyed homespun, also worsted-weight, wool of course, enough (I hope) for a pr. of longies, the gull-stitch cardigan, and a little hat. Finch is due in May, but I'm knitting them in a gauge to yield about a 6 - 9 mos size for his first fall and winter. I think I'll have to go back for some of that alpaca though -- so soft!

Dinner tonight: teriyaki glazed salmon, gingered rice, green beans tossed with ginger/soy dressing

08 January 2006

Can we please discuss something else?

I recently re-subscribed (after a year's hiatus) to the knitU list. It seems a lot more 'managed' now, which may or may not be the case, but it still counts among it's members those who feel compelled to close down discussions not to their liking. I think it's rather silly to try to shut down any but the most offensive discussions. It's so easy to ignore email! So easy to delete without reading! In this case, a seemingly inoffensive rash of posts defending the knitter's right to knit only for herself/himself followed a description of an 'unusual' knitter who never kept a stash and who only knit for herself. I learned that some of my fellow knitters have had people ask them to knit entire sweaters with a cheerful insouicance that absolutely astounds me. Surely even non-knitters have at least a dim awareness that knitting involves more time than, say, fixing someone a turkey sandwich? Or perhaps not. At any rate, I was mildly interested in the aggrieved knitters' stories, and more interested in a few posts that began to touch on the heart of the matter: whether artists/crafters are in any sense obligated to share their gifts with others, and to what extent. I've recently started two projects for myself, but all of my other knitting has been for my children and for a few relatives. I enjoy knitting for the kids more than anything partly because it's more affordable but mostly because it suits my need for more timely gratification. I started a pair of socks today! If I keep them, it'll be three projects all for me -- selfish, selfish! Baby cable ribbing throughout (except for heels and toes) in a grass-green wool/nylon blend. Nothing fancy, but it's only my 2nd pair of socks (and I do hope it turns out to actually be a pair, my history with singletons notwithstanding). As soon as I have a bit of scratch, I'll get some fine, soft wool for the baby's things. In a week or so I have another ultrasound, and they should be able to confirm his boyness. I kinda hope they tell me it's a little girl after all -- the girls are so much more fun to knit and sew for!

Dinner tonight: black beans and rice, banana empanadas