January 2009 Archives

For anyone who has been following this blog for a while, you already know that I am pretty much the world's worst resolution maker and keeper.  I have lots of good intentions, but I tend to be both over optimistic and under-motivated.  So instead of making resolutions, I thought I would just dream a little bit and talk about a few of the things I would like to do this year.  Some are practical, some are not.  But I guess they all relate to who I am as a person this year and what directions I'd like to go in during 2009.

  • I'd like to get back in the habit of having regular check-ups with my GP (means I must get one...), my dentist and my gynecologist.  It's so easy to let the time fly by on this stuff, but I am beginning to realize, as I get older, that it's also unfair to my family if I don't take care of myself.  If I can get regular monthly appointments to have a facial then certainly I can schedule two trips to the dentist and annual visits to see my doctors.
  • I'd like to turn my bedroom into the adult retreat that I have always envisioned it would become.  John and I are coming up on 8 years in our house and it is time to stop looking at it as a transition home and start treating it as the place I plan to stay.  The bedroom is a small step, but a step that I think would add a lot of quality to our lives.
  • I'd like to return all the help and space John gave me in the months after becoming a mom by making sure that he gets some time back in his life.  Taking over some small chores, doing more of the grocery shopping -- that sort of thing.
  • I'd like to get back to going to a regular knitting group.  Since having Z, this has been harder than I thought it would be. 
  • I'd like to spin more often.  My wheel has been sidelined most of the year and when I got it out not too long ago and got it back into shape (note to self: rubber bands dry out) it was a real pleasure to work with it.  Spinning brings me peace.
I think if becoming a mom has taught me anything, it's that I can still do a lot, it's just that I can't do it all at once.  The first place in my life I learned that was blogging.  It's become apparent that there is no way that being daily is realistic anymore.  So most of these things on my list reflect that lesson: small things that have value, simple things that focus on my family.

You might be surprised not to see any Z-related items in that list.  She is so much the focus of life right now (and for good reason) that I don't really think I need to add anything more to my wish list.  I work 80% time so that I can have a day with her every week.  I enjoy taking her with me to stores with shopping carts -- we both have fun shopping together.  I have some projects for her on the needles, and I just made her several nice pairs of socks.  When it comes to Z, it's all good, and I suspect that it will only continue to get better and more rewarding as the year goes on.

Free Day


What's a girl to do when the nanny is already scheduled to come take care of the baby and has a vacation day planned?  Well, on Friday I decided I needed an inspiration day and after meeting John for lunch downtown I spent some time in a coffee shop enjoying a latte and working out the details of my current sock project.

20090104_ChicagoArt.jpgIn addition to my knitting, I also had my camera stowed in my bag.  Ever since I got my DSLR I've wanted to take a walking tour of downtown because there are so many striking pieces of art lurking around Chicago.  This is Alexander Calder's Flamingo
it was on the way to the coffee shop and a destination more interesting to South Loop Chicago knitters: Loopy Yarns.

20090104_LoopyFront.jpgI hadn't visited Loopy since their move to Dearborn Station (I am lucky to have two other yarn stores within relatively easy walking distance of my house so I don't need to go too far from home very often for fibery things) so I was pleasantly surprised by their new space -- as well as the 20% off sale they had running.  I had forgotten what a nice selection of Lorna's Laces yarns they carry.  Many places carry the sock yarn, but fewer carry the Shepherd Sport and Shepherd Worsted. 

What's particularly notable about the Shepherd yarns is that they are superwash.  And they are very soft.  And the Worsted is a perfect weight for a quick sweater for a certain toddler that lives in my house.  Lately in the mornings when she sees me... "Sweater, Mommy!  Pretty!"  and then she reaches up to pet my sweater.  I've been working on the Zebra Striper, but that one is a long way off.  Even though my better judgement kept trying to tell me that starting another project right now would lead to no good, my heart reminded me that I had no suitable yarn for a sweater for the baby, and that I had better not miss out on an opportunity to make her a sweater while she actually wants one, as opposed to when she is 14 and wants nothing to do with anything her mother can make by hand.

20090104_LLShepherdWIrvingP.jpgAnd what could be nicer than buying just two or three skeins of yarn for a sweater?  Especially when that yarn is 20% off?  The colorway I picked (which is not quite so bold as it looks in the image -- the bright fuschia in the sock yarn really blows the whole picture out) is called Irving Park and it seemed like a lovely colorway that would do well both this winter and in the fall (assuming I make the sweater large enough).  I loved the pops of purple and pink, the hand is lovely, and the yardage is good (225 yards/hank).  I figured 2 skeins would be enough, but bought a third "to be safe".  (The fuschia sock yarn is for a sock project for Z.  If anyone can wear bright pink socks, its a toddler girl). 

20090104_BabySweater.jpgWhen I got it home, I was surprised by how fast my knitting malaise disappeared.  I cast on for the project after dinner -- by the end of the day on Sunday, I had the body of the sweater complete and was working on the neck and button bands (the photo is lacking because I got some stomach bug Sunday afternoon that forced me into some unscheduled down time).  The sleeves will get started as soon as I can get a hold of some size 8 double points.  Every time I do a top down raglan project I just love love love how it progresses. 

It is amazing to me how one small project can change my attitude completely.  As I watch this little sweater grow, I also spend time thinking about what I am going to do next.  Maybe it's time to get started on that scarf I planned for my aunt 3 Christmases ago?  Or maybe I'll finally get to working on my pattern for mini-dragon socks for mini-feet?  The possibilities seem endless

Now, if you'll forgive me, I've got to run.  That neck band and button band are calling!

Little Top Down Sweater


20090106_TopDownBabySweater.jpgMost of a little sweater courtesy of Knitting Pure and Simple's Babies Top Down Cardigan.  The largest size for this cardigan is 18 months.  I'd like the sweater to last Ms. Z into the fall, so did an extra set of increases to make give the sweater a 25" circumference instead of a 24" circumference.  I also made the sweater an inch longer and am going to make the sleeves an inch longer, too (sleeves can always be rolled up, I figure).  I don't know if that's really a 2 year old size or not, but it seems like after you get past the 1 year sizes, sizes start to vary a lot for baby clothes at different ages.   I made one more small change: the neckband, bottom band, front bands and cuffs are all going to be in seed stitch instead of K1P1 ribbing -- I thought that that would be a little more feminine.   

I'm almost finished with the first sleeve and I only have the second sleeve to knit.  I'm estimating that I'm going to use about 1/2-2/3 of the second skein of Shepherd's Worsted.  I decided against the hood for this project.  I'm guessing that there wouldn't be quite enough yarn in the second skein for the hood and I like the simplicity of the little sweater without the hood. 

Ms Z. is getting quite excited about her little sweater.  I'm hoping that I can get the rest of the knitting done tonight and tomorrow and on my day off on Thursday I can take her to Joann's and pick out a cute set of buttons to finish up the project with.

Conroy the Friendly Ami Dragon


20090108_ConroyTheMagicDrag.jpgAt long last I can unveil my most significant amigurumi project yet!  This is Conroy, a fierce, but really friendly dragon -- the pattern is on Craftster, and I found him via Ravelry.  You may remember that my sister-in-law loves dragons (the original "Here There Be Dragons" socks were made for her).  So, in addition to the Hemlock Ring Blanket, I wanted to make my beautiful new nephew a toy and guardian symbol.  This Amigurumi project was definitely more complicated than anything I had done previously, but it was still do-able with my modest crochet skills. 

He's been complete for quite some time, but because he was meant to be a special surprise gift (dragons seem to like to make sure their guardian roles will be accepted before they make grand public announcements) he didn't make it up onto the blog after I finished him.  And then, of course, since I wasn't feeling well the night he was packed up to head down to Houston, I forgot to take any pictures of him.  Fortunately, my dad snapped a few photos of him stretching out his wings in the sun after his trip from the north country.

Conroy is made up of quite a few pieces, making him a toy with moving arms and legs.  I encourage you to check out the link to the project to see the pieces and the construction process.  Probably the hardest part for me was embroidering on his eyes.  Since my nephew is a brand new human I didn't want Conroy to have any parts that could be chewed off and ingested by accident.  But my free hand embroidery skills are weak, and I haven't done much embroidery on a crochet surface, which complicates the process a little bit.

He was constructed using Lion Brand Vanna's Choice acrylic yarn and stuffed with acrylic polyfil so that he could be washed if necessary.  Ms. Z picked out the colors (I showed her the yarn and asked her which one she liked best) since I wanted her to have a hand in the project as well. 

This is a fun project and the instructions are very good.  I am always pleasantly surprised when something that probably took a long time to write out as a pattern is available for free.  Of all the dragon patterns I found on the web, for free and for payment, this one was certainly the nicest.

My understanding from my brother is that Conroy was a big hit, so my only disappointment was not being there when he announced his intentions to be my nephews winged buddy.  I hope he has a long and happy future looking out for the sweetest little nephew ever -- and that he is a constant reminder that even though his Ciocia* is far away, she is with him in spirit.

*Ciocha (pronounced like cho-cha) is "Aunt" in Polish.  I'm "Ciocia Theresa" to my nieces and as I've heard it more and more I've come to like it more an more. 

Socks that Grawk


20090112_SnowyDay.jpgOn Saturday, about halfway through the afternoon, we already had about 6" of snow accumulation and the clouds above Chicago showed no sign of slowing down.  Going out to do anything in weather like this didn't have a lot of appeal, so we had a long, grey day to spend at home.  A good day to get caught up on house chores, like laundry, which resulted in the discovery of this:

20090112_SadSocks.jpgSad, sad socks my friends.  The sock on the right is the mate of the sock I repaired for John not too long ago (good thing I still have some Mudslide yarn left).  The sock on the left is one of the socks made out of my handspun "Hang on Sloopy".  Both earned a big sigh.  The second Mudslide sock I expected to have to repair sooner rather than later (the trip through the washer and dryer just must have been too much agitation for those weak fibers) but the handspun sock had had no obvious signs of such imminent hole-age.  I was contemplating which to take on first when John reminded me that part of the reason his socks get so much "love" is that he just doesn't have enough thick hand knit socks -- and that weather predictions for Thursday suggest that the temperatures might not break 0 F.

20090112_STRHGrawk.jpgThis left me to think about knitting priorities.  And whether I could give myself a little challenge to heat up what is likely to be a week of cold snowy weather.  I am always looking for man-friendly yarn to stash.  The good people at Blue Moon Fiber Arts have a nice line of colorways called the Raven Clan, which are essentially black yarns "enhanced" with colors as part of a color study.  What's really nice about these yarns is that they have beautiful color undertones to appeal to the knitter, but these undertones are subtle enough to appeal to the color-conservative male in my house.  This full-skein picture of the yarn gives you a good idea of how the color reads when you see it from a distance.

20090112_STRHGrawkMacro.jpgWhile this macro shot shows off the nice purple and olive undertones that show up when you look close or get the yarn into brighter light.  As man-friendly yarn goes, I think it's really stunning.  And the fact that it is Heavyweight STR meant that it would meet John's need to have another pair of warm thick socks for winter commuting.  The name of the colorway, by the way, is "Grawk"... so, naturally, I came up with a name for the project before I even really knew what they were going to be: "Socks that Grawk".

I like starting new sock projects with a very specific person with very specific wants.  For John, these wants include: 1 ) dark or subtly colored yarn and 2) simple unobtrusive patterns.  He really liked the last pair of socks that I made with the X and O cables up the side, so I thought for this pair I would stick with the cable theme, since that went so well.  But for this pair, I decided that I wanted a little more all over patterning, so I got out an old Harmony stitch dictionary and found a lovely, simple cable pattern that created a wide ribbing that I thought would be perfect.  With the cable stitch selected (and charted), the starting notes entered in my knitting journal (all the project I design myself get recorded here for further reference), some new podcasts loaded up on my iPhone and my lovely yarn converted to center pull ball, I sat near the best light in the house (admittedly not very good) and used the rest of Z's nap time to get the socks started.

By Sunday afternoon (before naptime) this is what I had accomplished -- and I was very happy with both the cable stitch pattern (made so much easier by being able to cable without a cable needle) and the way it worked with the dark yarn.  It knit up so quickly (I worked on a few other knitting projects on Saturday besides this one) that I decided it might be time to issue myself a little challenge: to knit John a new pair of socks in time for that wicked cold weather on Thursday.  By the end of naptime on Sunday, I had turned the heel and knit a pattern repeat past the heel, so I'm optimistic that John could have a new pair of socks by the end of the week.

Winter Flamingo


Just a short post today.  I am suffering from a toddler who decided that 5 AM was the perfect time to get up Tuesday morning -- and it was my turn to hang out with her since she wouldn't go back to sleep.  Needless to say, not much knitting is happening Tuesday night* since higher brain function is all but non-existent.

On the positive side, the sun did come out today and we had a lovely, if cold  (sunshine in the winter only heralds cold weather) January day.  I got a little more warmth and sunshine from another recent fiber arrival.

20090113_SundaraFlamingo.jpgSundara Fingering Silky Merino in "Flaming Flamingo" (oh the interesting images that conjures up!).  Bright, happy and sunny -- exactly what I would expect from the "Summer" colorway collection for the Seasons subscription. Certainly a sweet confection to enjoy in the depths of a Chicago January -- almost too precious to knit. 

*John's first sock might get finished... it's all done but the ribbing.  But odds are not good, at this poinf for completion of the pair by Thursday.  I still have high hopes for the weekend though!

Tah-Dah!  One finished top-down raglan baby sweater. This small sweater was knit from Lorna's Laces Shepherd Worsted in the colorway "Irving Park".  I used the Kniting Pure & Simple "Babies Neckdown Cardigan" as my framework for the pattern, but changed the sizing and converted the ribbing elements into seed stitch.  I also opted against a hood.  If you are looking for a worsted weight yarn sweater pattern model for the under two set, this is a good basic pattern to start from and the instructions are easy to follow. 

20090115_TopDownNeckline.jpgThis is the first time I have actually sewn buttons down on a sweater.  Amazing, eh?  I selected these little butterfly buttons because I thought the yellow made for a nice contrast with the sweater without stealing the show completely, and, of course, because Ms. Z loves butterflies.  She was remarkably patient with me, while I spent what probably seemed like an eternity to her, picking the final buttons (and, truth be told, I ended up coming home with several options because I was feeling very indecisive).

20090115_TopDownBack.jpgShe is getting increasingly hard to photograph, and the lousy weather of the last couple of weeks really limited my picture taking opportunities, but John and I were finally able to capture the little sweater in action. 

20090115_TopDownFrontNotBut.jpgBefore I headed out to buy the buttons, we had some good light in the house, so these pictures came from my first photoshoot.  Little doll, is she not?  I love some of the sweet and innocent looks she has.  You'd never believe she was really starting into those temper tantruming terrible twos, would you?*

20090115_TopDownFrontButton.jpgAnd here's the sweater fully completed and buttoned on to her.  Buttons, as I discovered, are not a toddler's friend.  Especially when there are 6 of them.  A zipper might have been a better call -- but she did like the butterflies.  I knit this sweater to be a little larger than most two year old sizes in hopes that it would also see some fall action.  I think it fits her well and still has a reasonable amount of growth room.  Will it make it to fall?  Only time will tell. 

20090115_TopDownBabyFace.jpgThis isn't really much of a sweater shot, but it's one of those photos that makes me smile -- she's smiling and reaching for the camera and her crazy fine hair is all over the place (she has her father's hair and hairline in spades).  It's so very Ms Z, so it seemed like a good way to wrap up this post and head into the weekend.

* She's actually not that bad so far, behavior-wise.  She's definitely trying to test her limits, but she's still a lot of fun to be with.

Alpaca Meditation

Several Christmases ago (I cringe to think how many it actually is, so I will leave it at "several")  I had been unable to think of a good present for my aunt.  My solution to the problem was to take her to yarn store and have her select some yarn that she really liked and I would turn it into a scarf for her.  This, I thought, would be easy.  There were so many great yarns, so many potential patterns, I would have a gift knit up in no time.   It would still be a little late for Christmas, but it would be handmade, and I knew my aunt appreciated handmade gifts. 

When I was in high school, my aunt lived in southern Colorado and had a couple of llamas.  Later on in her life she was married to a guy who worked on an alpaca ranch.  She developed a knowledge and love of our favorite South American fiber-bearing creatures long before the current explosion of interest in both the creatures and alpaca yarn.  So it should have been no surprise to me when she selected a skein of "Baby Twist" (in the jumbo format of 549 yards!) from Alpaca with a Twist in the "Bark" colorway.  Baby Twist is a 100% baby alpaca yarn.  To say that it is soft is damning it with faint praise.  The fondle factor for this yarn is incredibly high.  Certainly, of all the alpaca yarns that I have worked with, it is probably the softest and least "picky" that I have ever encountered.  I could probably wear it against my skin.

I was certain I was going to convert yarn into scarf quickly, so as soon as I got back from Michigan I converted the skein into a ball and set it on my desk, waiting for inspiration to strike me. 

And there it sat.  It has gone with me on a couple of vacations, never to be touched.  It's been cast on and ripped out a few times.  Finally it got stuck into the stash for a few years after I re-organized my stash closet, and I forgot about it until my stash migrated from the closet in Ms. Z's bedroom (which was originally my fiber room) to our basement guestroom, which was recently enlarged and which is on its way to becoming my fiber haven.  When I found it, I decided I couldn't in good conscience let it get buried in the stash again, so it came back up to my desk again.  To wait.

This time, however, the wait was not so bad.  I was sorting through the bookcase in my bedroom when I came across the Rivolo pattern that I had purchased along with a merino/tencel blend yarn that I purchased from Briar Rose Fibers.  I had one of those light bulb moments and ran back to my desk and looked at the weight and estimated gauge of the yarn.  Absolutely perfect.  I did a little dance, and with 15 minutes left in the naptime I was enjoying, I cast on.

You might wonder about the wisdom of working a lace scarf pattern in a slightly fuzzy slightly marled alpaca yarn.  I did.  However, after a few repeats, I stopped wondering and just kept looking forward to knitting.  The experience of knitting with this yarn is incredibly pleasurable.  As far as hand goes, this would have to be one of the nicest yarns I've knit with.  While the picture above hardly shows off the lace,  I think it has a great deal of potential.  This scarf is not going to look at flashy as it does with a handpainted yarn, but I think it's going to block beautifully.  I think it will also work well for my aunt.  The selection of a soft brown yarn fits with her well.  It looks practical but has a hidden quality that only the wearer really knows about.  I think the lace will be like that as well.  It may not be as obvious in this scarf, but it will be a little bit of extra beauty that the wearer willl know about and that will not detract from the warmth of the scarf. 

The pleasure of knitting with this yarn has allowed me to do something that I rarely do: knit from the "process" part of my brain instead of the "product" part.  Normally, my goal is to knit as fast as I can and get to the finish line and enjoy the finished product.  But with this, I'm enjoying the feel of knitting so much that I'm trying to knit just one repeat a day so that I can appreciate the feel of the yarn a little longer.  It gives me a short time to just pause and reflect and bask in the tactile joy of the craft. This means that my aunt will have to wait a bit longer for the scarf, but given my current track record, that extra time will hardly be too significant.   

Socks that Grawk, Ready for Action

By Sunday afternoon, with the last of the good light, I had made reasonable progress on John's socks.

20090120_SocksthatGrawk1.jpgPerilously close, as the saying goes, but no actual cigar.  I knit the second sock using my newly acquired Darn Pretty needles from Grafton Fibers.  I found out about these needles via Claudia
and must say that I wish I'd been paying attention earlier because buying these needles is not only great for my knitting experience (they are beautiful, have a lovely finish and come in a 5" needle size) but also great for my sense of supporting small craftsmen and women.   They definitely deserve a better picture and I will endeavor to do that with the next sock project that I can photograph in good light!

But even in the waning light, I persevered and before the end of Sunday, John did, in fact, have a new pair of socks.

20090120_SocksthatGrawk2.jpgBecause I wanted to add a little extra oomph to these socks, and to keep myself from getting bored knitting the second sock, I had the cable on the second sock twist in the opposite direction.   I also used the heel of the second sock to try my hand at Japanese short rows. I think the assessment that these make for a neater, less gapped short row is probably true, but since my current reflexes are already hardwired to the PGR method, it slowed me down because I had to think about the process more carefully.   The results were good enough to make me want to try it again some time soon.

20090120_SocksthatGrawk3.jpg  These last pictures were all taken in the light of my office with the help of my 50 mm f/1.8 lens.  It's pretty good for eking out the last bit of light and helping you create good pictures of still objects.  The colors in these socks reflect light better than the black, so the green and purple show up much more prominently than they would if you were actually holding the socks in your hand.  If they were really this vibrant, man rejection would have been certain.

But, in fact, they were happily accepted and modeled by the man, who is looking forward to having a new pair of heavyweight STR socks while I repair his Mudslides. 

Fortunately, I have a fair amount of Grawk left over, so should holes appear sooner than expected, repairs will be able to be made.  I'm hoping John will be a little gentler on these, since the patterning would make them somewhat more difficult to repair. 

I didn't quite meet my challenge of getting him a new pair of socks by Thursday, but I definitely finished them in a week, and there's still plenty of cold weather left in the forecast

18 Months


18 months has been a time of progression for Z.  I haven't noticed radical jumps so much as extensions of existing skills.  She has worked her way to 33.5" tall and 24 lbs (she's now 90th percentile for height and has finally hit 50th percentile for weight) and physically she's pretty much normal.

20090122_ZinSunlight.jpgShe does have a lot of words.  Even her doctor commented on how verbal she was.  I never really was counting them, but even if I had been, by now I would be hard pressed to keep up.  She repeats everything we say (or at least many of the last words in our sentences) and her diction is quite remarkable.  For instance, she can say "Tchaikovsky" and you know exactly what composer she is talking about. She has a collection of both Polish and English words and she strings them together interchangeably.  She puts three and four words together on her own.  (BTW, I cannot claim the above beautiful picture of her -- it was taken by my dad).

20090122_ZRedShoes.jpgHer sense of style is becoming more pronounced.  Those red shoes were part of a Christmas outfit, but she will ask for them at any opportunity.  They were required baby-wear for our trip to the Museum of Science and Industry on Thursday (my dad was in town and we all headed to the MSI which is free this month -- all the remaining pictures are from this trip).  She has distinct opinions about clothes and will make it very clear whether she wants to wear something -- or not.

20090122_ZSpiritAmerica.jpgShe's developed a strong love for her Grandpa.  It is a sweet and special thing, because for the longest time she was afraid of him.  Now she will ask for him and about him.  In fact, that is another thing she can do: she will ask about specific people in her life: Mama, Tata, Babcia, Grandma and Grandpa, Uncle Stanley, Ufer (my parents dog), Marco (our cat).  Z and Grandpa have had a great week together.  They share a love of birds and rocking chairs and going fishing for kitties. 

20090122_ZButtons.jpg Her manual dexterity continues to improve as well.  She is now a grand champion button pusher (betraying the strong cadre of engineering genes that are hiding in her genetic code) and she can fit her Duplos together without much help.   Stacking things is becoming a favorite pass-time and she loves "going shopping" (which consists of finding one of my bags and either taking things out of them or putting things in). 

20090122_ZinMirror.jpg We have started to refer to her as "Danger Baby" because she gets bolder and bolder every day.  She will climb on adult-sized rocking chairs, stand on ledges, walk up and down stairs with both hands full, and pull almost anything down off a counter that she can reach -- and that reach is getting longer and longer.  She climbs up on beds, couches and chairs.

20090122_ZAfterEmail.jpgShe's a baby with a developing sense of humor.  She's started giving "high fives".  Which makes laughing happen all around. She has belly laughs when we make funny faces and she will do things that she thinks are very funny and then turn around and look at us with a silly grin.  In fact, she is a baby with a whole pantheon of developing emotions, including the tantrum.  Coats do not go on without significant protest, and she gets quite unhappy about being redirected from any of her goals.

20090122_ZBabyFace.jpgShe is also developing her interests.  She's an incredible afficianado of "ABCs" and can recognize most letters and some numbers.  She's developed a taste for classical music and will ask John specifically to hear Chopin or Tchaikovsky one one of the baby-friendly websites John has found. She will bang on her xylophone and toy piano.  She loves Dr. Seuss books and can have them read over and over to her (particular favorites at the moment are "Hop on Pop", "Hands, Hands, Fingers, Thumb", "Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You", "ABCs" and "the Eye Book"). 

It is clear that we are watching the emergence of a real little person with likes, dislikes and a whole array of emotions.  I selected the pictures for this post because they show some of the many expressions that are now part of who she is.  She is outgoing and sweet, but in a heartbeat can become shy and coy (she charms the waitstaff in almost every restaurant we go to with her regularly).  She does things intentionally to be a stinker and get my attention.  She has even started to realize that she can get different things from different people if she behaves in certain ways. 

For her first time momma, it's both an amazing and challenging ride.  And as she learns about the world, I have begun to see again some of the many wonderful things that I just took for granted. 

Schaefer Socks

I am making slow progress on several projects right now: the Rivolo Scarf, the Zebra Striper Sweater, my Silkie Socks, the Three-Ply Targhee Blanket squares.  And I even repaired the hole in John's second Mudslide sock.  As I was working on the first of my Silkie socks I had a moment of clarity where I realized that while I like all my complicated projects, I really just wanted something simple to knit.  Something I could knit on autopilot.  Something that I could get started on after going shopping in my stash.  Something unequivocally for me. 

For the answer to the first item, the best possibility seemed to be socks.  Just a pair of simple stockinette socks using my standard toe-up pattern.  For the yarn, I decided that I wanted to knit a pair of socks from yarn that was not 100% merino in composition so that I could (hopefully) count on many years of care-free wear.  Originally I was thinking of the skein of Austermann Step that I have in my stash, but then I discovered the ball of Schaefer Anne (in a colorway whose name I do not remember and could not identify from looking at the Schaefer website) that I had purchased to try out a pooling scarf pattern in a long ago IK -- only to discover that the way this particular skein was dyed was not conducive to getting it to pool the way the pattern was supposed to.  The yarn was already wound into a ball, ready to go.  And since Anne is a wool, mohair, nylon blend, I figured it would definitely create both durable and warm socks.

20090125_SchaeferSockToe.jpgI started out this project on US Size 1 needles (2.25 mm) but the yarn was just too fine and the fabric seemed a bit to open, so I ripped it off those needles and cast on to size 0's  (2.0 mm).  It's been a long time size I've had a set of 0's in my hands, but they were the right needles for this yarn -- in fact, I bet I could have kit on 00's and also gotten acceptable fabric.  What I found interesting was that the final number of stitches after I increased was 64 -- which is what I usually get on larger needles -- so I'm getting a gauge of about 8 stitches/inch.

I can't say that I adore the pooling behavior of this yarn, but it also doesn't bother me a great deal either. The colors are very evocative of peacock feathers.  It has a high sheen (due to the mohair I am sure) and the sock fabric is soft and light weight.   About the only real complaint I have is that the stuff is prone to splitting -- especially on 2.0 mm needles with sharp tips (these are also Darn Pretty Needles  --  when I purchased them, I took advantage of the special pricing they had for a full set of sock sized needles).  But this is also not too suprising given the yarn's component fibers.

20090125_SchaeferSockVertic.jpgThis has turned out to be exactly the project I needed.  Simple, colorful, quick and stashbusting.  A nice reminder that sometimes a project doesn't have to be complicated to be good for the soul.

Tranquil Lighting

For my first post of the year, I outlined some things that I wanted to work on.  One of those things was to launch into re-decorating (or maybe just decorating) our master bedroom.  Over time, it had become one of those places where things just got stored, rather than one of those places that I wanted to be.  Which is unfortunate, because it's also one of the places in the house that gets the best natural light and I always found myself coming upstairs to knit there.  And then I would end up sitting on the floor. 

The first part of the project has involved simple changes.  For instance: making the bed every morning.  I can not put my finger on why, but it just makes me happy to see it all made up, to see my pretty pillow shams and duvet cover looking the way they were meant to.  I've also managed to eliminate most of the clutter.  The maternity clothes and nursing equipment are packed away.  The old speakers and stereo equipment moved to a place where John can get them ready to go on craigslist.  I thinned out my closet and organized my clothes better with a promise to myself to hang up or wash bin my clothes when I take them off.  Yarn and spinning wheel relocated to my guest room in the basement (which is not nearly as bad as it sounds, since the guest room is also my new fiber area).   All little things, but en toto they make a big difference.

Now that the room is mostly free of clutter, I've been letting myself get on to the decorating part.  There are new green velvet curtains for the balcony doors.  There is a lovely soft green runner with embroidered water lily blossoms on the dresser.   A vase filled with silk magnolias. And now this:

20090127_HannahsButterfly.jpgThis lovely lamp was something I found via the design*sponge blog -- which is a fabulous source of all sorts of decorating and design ideas and inspiration.  This lamp is the creation of Hannah Nunn  (please be sure to take a look at her Etsy shop -- her pictures show off more details than mine) an artist in the UK who works in parchment to create beautiful, nature-inspired lamps.  Given Ms. Z's love of butterflies, this lamp was an easy choice.  It looked beautiful on line and once it arrived in Chicago, it was just as lovely as I imagined.  When I plugged it in, John thought it looked like it was lit by a candle instead of a light bulb.

It is not bright enough to read by (at least not with the bulb that it comes with), but it will be perfect for soft mood lighting in our bedroom -- which is exactly what I wanted.  I think it would be a lovely night light in a child's room as well, or any place that you wanted some gentle lighting at night.

I'd also like to say that Hannah was very quick to answer my questions, shipped quickly and kept in touch about the process.  It was a pleasure to work with her -- and I hope to again, just as soon as I figure out which design I would like to have on our other nightstand. 

3 Swatches for o w l s

With a baby daughter who is uncannily aware of owls, it is perhaps no surprise that I should be keeping my eyes out for sweaters featuring her favorite bird.  I received a couple of great suggestions through the comments on my blog, and that got me swimming through Ravelry and googling about for sweaters featuring owls.  Originally this quest was to find something for her.  But then I came upon a pattern, sized for an adult woman, that I simply couldn't resist:  o w l s by Kate Davies.

Kate has kindly made the pattern for this sweater freely available.  And the more times I looked at it, the more I knew I had to have it.  Knit in the round from the bottom up in aran weight yarn,with feminine shaping and a yoke of cabled owls.  A perfect winter sweater addition. Especially since I had the perfect yarn in my stash (a yarn purchased many moons ago on sale and which I just *had* to have -- but which I had no idea what I would do with) ready to roll.

20090129_ChunkyShetlandEide.jpgThis is Jamieson's Chunky Shetland in the colorway "Eider Duck".  It looks grey, but it has lovely flecks of red and blue that give it more depth than your average grey yarn.  Definitely owl-y, I think.

The only challenge was to swatch in the round.  Rather than truly knitting in the round, I knit square swatches and after each row, slid the swatch back to the left hand needle, drawing a length of unused yarn along the back so that all the rows were knit, as if I was knitting in the round. 

20090129_3SwatchesForOwls.jpgAfter knitting each swatch, I cut the yarn bridges in the back and soaked the swatch in water with a little Eucalan to make sure the yarn had a chance to do anything it might do upon making contact with water.  Then I let them dry flat.  The top swatch was knit on US 10 needles, the middle swatch was knit on US 10.5 needles and the bottom swatch was knit on US 11 needles*. Of course, with the top two swatches I got the right row gauge but my stitch gauge was too "narrow" and with the bottom swatch, I got the right stitch gauge (3.25 stitches/inch), but my row gauge is off by a bit (4.75 stitches/inch instead of 5).  If I was on my own, I would probably choose the tension of the second swatch (I think it's a little better for the long-term wear of the yarn), but the swatch on the US 11/8 mm needles is not all that bad, and the extra stretch/looseness in the fabric will probably be better for a sweater that is meant to be close fittting, but is also made out a yarn that while nice, is unlikely to work directly next to my skin.

By amazing chance, I not only have the circular needles I need, I also have the right sized double points as well (from my felting days) -- which is good, because I think I'm going to start with a sleeve, just to be sure that my gauge holds up in a larger piece -- since we all know how disingenuous swatches can be. 

Anyone else out there knitting the o w l s?  What yarns are you using? 

*As an aside... does anyone know why the US needle numbering system does not include a 7 mm needle?  A 10 is a 6 mm needle, a 10.5 is 6.5 mm and an 11 is 8 mm.