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Beautiful, Virtuous and Boring

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First, the beautiful: 4 ounces of merino bamboo silk dyed by Sweet Georgia Yarns in the colorway "Hummingbird", the entry in the August 2010 fiber club.  This is the kind of fiber with the kind of color that makes my toes itch to treadle my wheel.  Which brings me to the virtuous part:



I bought this book, the Intentional Spinner,  when Interweave was running their hurt book sale over the summer.  I love spinning, and I feel I can turn out a pretty decent yarn when I spin, but I would describe myself as a very un-intentional spinner -- I just let it move through my fingers and it becomes what feels right.  I don't plan much, other than to make the 2 or 3 ply decision.  But lately I've been thinking that I would like to take a bit more control of the process -- imagine a yarn that I want and work towards achieving it.  I haven't gotten very far into the book so far (I'm still reading through the parts about the fiber types) but the Sweet Georgia fiber and some other entries in my collection are spurring me on.  

And finally, the boring.  

  • The first sleeve on my  High Line sweater is complete and the next one is under way.  I used a kitchener cast off (also called, by some, a tubular cast off) to create a nice edge for the K1P1 knitting and I'm pretty impressed with that (though not impressed enough to bore you with a picture).  
  • John and I spent some serious effort identifying what we want to do around our house to make it a better place to live.  A big part of that involves decluttering... after working on it together and breaking it down into manageable chunks, I'm pretty psyched about getting started...
  • I set up an account at Mint.com and am thinking deep thoughts about how I spend my money.  It helps you integrate all your accounts (banking, loans, retirement, credit cards, etc.) into one place so that you can get a better picture of your finances, net worth, how you're spending your money, and so forth.  It was very easy to get connected and set up.  Best of all, it's free.  
  • I am 99% of the way to being paperless where my bills are concerned.  I should have wrapped this up aeons ago, and now the weight of a forest of trees feels lifted off my shoulders as I contemplate all the paper I won't be throwing away/recycling.
  • I cleaned out my pantry.   Nothing could be more boring, but, looking at the results makes me happier than I would have thought.  Hopefully Fall 2010 will be the time of the Great Clutter Diaspora...
  • I played a bunch of video games with my budding gamer girl... it's awful fun to be rooted on by an enthusiastic little girl!
I hope you all had lovely Labor Day weekends.  The weather in Chicago is now suggesting that Fall is most definitely on the way.  I think we're all looking forward to the change of the seasons!

Summer Reading

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One of the accomplishments I'm most proud of myself for this summer is my daily elliptical habit.  I've had an elliptical machine for a long time, courtesy of a good deal at Costco.  But for most of that long time, it was pretty lonely and on its own in the basement.  This summer, I decided that I needed to get into the habit of exercising more regularly.  While I enjoy running and walking, I'm never good at keeping up with those activities in the winter. So I decided to see if I could get in a regular habit of using my elliptical machine, which is easily available all year round.  At first, I was using it a couple times a week, then a majority of the week, and then every day.  And the duration of my rides has gotten longer.  Early on, it was 20 minutes, now it's pretty much 30 every day.   

The rewards have been obvious.  On my last trip to my doctor, my blood pressure was good and my resting pulse rate was way lower than it's ever been before.  I've gone down a size in pants.  And I just generally feel better after my rides.  

I'm crediting the success of this program, in part, to my iPad and the Kindle reader. Because of my new toy, I get to work out and enjoy some reading time.  I stay strictly away from anything too serious or mind taxing.  So this summer has been the summer of urban fantasy -- magic and butt kicking in the modern age.  I'm always intrigued by authors who manage to knit magic into their technological worlds, and I love to see how different people take old stand by magic and mythological creatures and define them in a modern space.

I'm already a big fan of Jim Butcher, and this summer I've added three new authors and three new characters to my "must read" list:

Tim Pratt and the Marla Mason series kicked off the summer.  This series features Marla Mason, a mage and martial artist who lives in a world that looks rather like the United States, only with magic.  The use of magic isn't one of those things that all that many people know about (making it similar to the Jim Butcher, Harry Dresden series), so Marla, magic kingpin of Felport (the magic community has some mafia-like behaviors), gets to save the world several times over as she takes on a whole variety of magic users, ancient deities and spirits.  Marla is tough, somewhat abrasive, and generally unlucky in love, but also dedicated to her city and her friends.  Most of the books have a mystery element in them, but are pretty much straight out action adventure.  The writing in the books starts out a little rough, but gets better as it goes on. Unfortunately, the series is on hiatus as the publishing company decided not to pick up any more entries after book 4...  a real shame because that book ends with something of a cliff hanger.

Simon Green's Nightside Series will, at first, feel familiar in location, to anyone who has read Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.  This series features film noir styled private eye, John Taylor, a man who isn't a magic user per se, but has a special gift for finding things.  In the Nightside, a sort of alternate reality to London, it  is always 3 AM and all that is dark, dirty, dangerous and magical dwells there.  Most of the books follow John Taylor on "a case", but the story arc that resonates through the whole series is Taylor finding out who his parents really are, what that means, and how that affects the long term survival of the Nightside.  Along the way we meet a host of characters, including Tommy Oblivion the Existential Detective, Razor Eddie the Punk God of the Straight Razor, Dead Boy, and Shotgun Suzie, bounty hunter and the Nightside's closes thing to a biker chick.  These books contain a mix of straight on magic and futuristic technology with a healthy dose of time travel thrown in for good measure.  Overall, the stories are good, if a little short, and the main characters are fairly well developed.  They draw heavily on "old world" mythology.  My biggest complaint is that Green has a tendency to re-use certain descriptive phrases throughout (perhaps to help make sure the audience has a consistent tone no matter where they join in -- there are now 11 books in the series), however, he makes up for that but the relatively constant patter of funny lines. 

Probably my favorite find of the summer has been Illona Andrews' Kate Daniels Series.  Set in an alternate present day Atlanta where magic and technology shift back and forth, Kate Daniels is another hard fighting heroine who relies on her wit, sword and unique heritage to get her through the day.  Kate's world is filled with knights, vampires, witches and were-folks, but if you're expecting the vampires from Twilight or Anne Rice's books, you'll be disappointed. In this series it's the lycanthropes that generally shine.  I actually really enjoyed watching Kate's world get fleshed out, understanding the dynamics and politics of her world.  As the books roll along, we're also treated to a gradual unfolding of who Kate really is and what her destiny will be, along with a satisfying romantic arc.  The books are fast paced, there's more than a little bit of humor between the covers and I'm looking forward to seeing how Kate's world continues to get fleshed out as the series progresses.

Interestingly, all three series are told from a first person perspective  -- something that I have to admit I love, because it helps me create a connection with the characters.  

I'm changing focus a bit now and shifting back to Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks series -- modern day mystery.  I seem to be a sucker for mystery series set in England...no matter what the era.  Next time I talk about books, I'll put together a list of my favorite series in this genre.

Quiet

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Absent on Wednesday.  No pictures today.  My fingers have been quiet. 

I was going to show you the lovely color gamp warp that I just started on, but it's much less impressive to imagine when one forgets one's camera.  Suffice it to say, it was a pleasure to measure off my warp and touch a whole rainbow of colors on a grey January day.  I'm quite excited about this project, because the gamp will result in a blanket (roughly 40" x 50" in size) and I'll be working on a dobby floor loom -- the loom I had so much fun working on for the last couple of weaving classes is now ready to weave!

Having finished off the two Dragon Age novels (The Stolen Throne and The Calling ) on my Kindle (which were better than I expected and entertaining if you are also interested in the back story to the game, but probably not worth your time otherwise) I'm now going back to one of my all time favorite authors, Neil Stephenson.  I downloaded The Diamond Age this morning and am moving from swords and sorcery fantasy to cyberpunk and nanotechnology -- a bit of literary whiplash there, but the trial chapter drew me in, and so I go.

Other than that, I am trying to figure out how to cope with the 2 year old's main weapon -- refusal and screeching.  How, oh how, do they manage to hit the perfect pitch for creating the maximum disturbance in their mothers, and combine that with resisting absolutely any request, even simple ones like putting on socks?  My child is lucky she has two parents right now.  While she has a remarkable knack for being incredibly cute, she also pushes my buttons faster than anyone I know (and given some people that I know, that's saying something).   Any experienced mothers with suggestions (I've already figured out the glass of wine option, but that doesn't seem like a good plan at 10 in the morning) are more than welcome to share their secrets!

With a little luck, this weekend there will be couch surfing and sleeve knitting.  Or else there will be pictures of yarn on Monday... you have been warned.


New Toys!

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I just realized that I was so excited about the room a month project that I completely forgot to talk about a few holiday gifts that are currently enriching my life.  My dear sweet husband and my little girl got me this:




I've been wanting a Kindle since Amazon first brought them out on the market, but John wanted me to wait until the second generation came out -- just to be sure.   Julie got one and had nothing but great things to say about it.  My mother has one that she won't be parted from.  And I worked with my sister-in-law to get my brother one for Christmas (and, yes, he loves his, too).  It's really hard to be involved in the procurement of a tech toy that I lust after for someone else, and watch a bunch of other ones be enjoyed by people I know without having one of my own in my hot little hands. 

Needless to say, I was more than a little psyched when John handed me a nice little box and I found myself in possession of my very own Kindle. 

Since Christmas, I've downloaded two books (I will somewhat embarrassedly mention that they are Dragon Age related books...high literature maven I am not) and can say I lurve lurve lurve this device.  The text size can be adjusted, images in books can be zoomed and rotated, and the interface is mostly intuitive.  Reading a book electronically with the Kindle takes away none of the pleasure of reading a book, and it's great to be able to take electronic notes and use the dictionary as I read along.  But what I like best is the knowledge that not only is it a fun toy, it's also helping me reduce clutter.  I love books, but not every book needs to become a permanent part of my household (and I am dismal when it comes to getting them to used bookstores when I am done with them) -- so many I enjoy but know I will never read again.  The Kindle makes that a problem of the past.

The Kindle even has some nice features for knitters -- you can download PDFs onto the device.  Think about the potential for taking multiple patterns with you on vacation without having to carry around a bunch of paper that can get lost.  Good deal, is what I think.

Reading books on the Kindle also has another good side effect, at least for me.  When I read books, I'm a flipper and a spoiler.  I wish I wasn't, but there it is.  I can't resist flipping ahead a bit to see where the story is going (especially if I'm getting invested in a character and need to know they're going to be okay -- or not -- in the next pages).  I'm not sure why I do this... perhaps it is just that I don't like uncertainty.  The Kindle makes that much harder for me -- and I think I'm enjoying the books I've read so far just a little bit more because I can't cheat and flip about as I read. 

All in all, this is a wonderful and useful toy on a number of levels.  I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone who likes to read, especially if they spend a lot of time mobile and need to lighten their load up a little bit. 

Wrapping Up the Week

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One thing I've always wondered about fantasy heroes... you spend some undetermined amount of time saving the world, accomplish your goal, get a little fan fare, and then what?  Where do you go from that?  After you save the world, is everything else a let down or do you spend the rest of your life just feeling unnaturally good about yourself?

Well, if you're playing Dragon Age, you decide you want to see what's going on with the other endings and you start thinking about which save games you're going to re-load from.  Planning your next character.  This is probably the first RPG ever where I felt like I wanted to actually play the whole darn thing again.  The characters really are that good. 

Whenever I finish a good book wherein I got attached to the characters, I'm always a little bummed that the book is finished.  I feel that way about Dragon Age, too.  But since most books don't take me over 100 hours to read, there's also a bit of relief that whatever I do next, I'll be able to visit Ferelden in a much more relaxed manner, dropping by when I need to get a break from the real world, without the intense compulsion to want to know how the story ends.

Speaking of stories... if you're looking for another good fantasy series to pick up, might I recommend Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos books?  I've just finished up Taltos and Yendi and just started Dragon (I'm reading them in chronological order for the character, as opposed to the order they were written in) and while they aren't deep, they are really just a lot of fun.  I really love books written in first person, and these don't disappoint, as the main character, Vlad, is a wisecracking assassin with a mini-dragon familiar and penchant for witchcraft and getting in and out of challenging situations.  These books just make me happy to read, and because they are pretty light weight, it's easy to pick them up and put them down as necessary. 

Not only did I finish up DA today, I also got the pleasure of getting to finish up assembly of that AVL loom I mentioned last week.  All it's major pieces are in place, so warping might happen soon.  I'm so excited about getting to weave on a floor loom, I could just dance.  I mean, wow, warping a loom that I can sit inside... actually having to throw that shuttle for a fair number of inches.  Foot treadles.  Too. Wonderful. For. Words.

And then there's the squares and the swatching.  I have 4 new squares for my Targhee blanket, and I'm one swatch away from starting John's sweater.  Not monumental knitting productivity, but enough to make me really itchy to get things started on Aspinwall!

Still Life and Neverwhere

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I wasn't planning on a photo today, but then I saw what is becoming Elijah amidst my desk in the grey morning light and snapped a picture.  My desk is a mish-mash of knitting items and work-related papers, scissors, and yarn.  And an unfinished purple elephant.

What I was planning on talking about is a book I've just finished, Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman:



I've always been a devoted reader of fantasy fiction.  I love the idea of being able to do magic, of creatures that go beyond the ordinary.  Of a world where the laws of science don't always seem to hold.  Neverwhere is an lovely combination of fantastic creatures and not-quite-normal people set in the real, but not quite real, underground of modern-day London.  At it's core, this book is about the main character finding himself and understanding what he really wants in life, but wrapped up in that journey is a tour through the  London subway system of an alternate reality inhabited by people with remarkable skills and beasts from mythology.  As I was reading this book, it struck me a little bit like The Wizard of Oz meets Paradise Lost.  This book is a quick read, and Gaiman's writing is a treat to run your eyes over.

I'm also pretty psyched tonight because I purchased a farm share for the 2010 Cormo shearing from Juniper Moon Farm. next year I'll be looking forward to 24 ounces of lovely Cormo yarn.  Ever since I first found out about this sheep breed I've been wanting a Cormo sweater!
Today I have the privilege of kicking off Donna Druchunas blog book tour for her new book Ethnic Knitting Exploration: Lithuania, Iceland, and Ireland*.



Exploration is a lovely book for people who are looking to both understand a bit more about the knitting traditions of other cultures as well as those who are interested in having their own knitting adventure by creating a unique hand knit garment.  This book contains a discussion of the textures and motifs and sweater structures dominant in Iceland, Lithuania and Ireland and also has some beautiful templates to help you get started on making your own custom crafted sweater.  It's a great jumping off point for your own personal knitting explorations!

This knitting book has extra significance for me, because it's the first book written in English that I've ever found that talks about Lithuanian knitting traditions.  I'm a 3rd generation Lithuanian on my dad's side -- my great-grandparents emigrated from Lithuania, in the early 1900s.  However, because of the stigma associated with not being "American" much of the cultural heritage was not passed along and I've had very little exposure to the language, crafts or traditions of Lithuania.  When I started knitting, I spent some time looking for books that might help me understand if knitting had been a part of my ancestors lives, but found very little. 

I was lucky to connect with Donna some time ago when her book The Knitted Rug came out.  I saw her last name (if you see an "as" or "is" ending on a last name, it's almost always Lithuanian or Greek) asked her if she was Lithuanian too, and we emailed a bit talking about her interest in Lithuanian knitting and that she was hoping to travel to Lithuania to explore it further.  Ethnic Knitting Exploration  contains a section on Lithuanian motifs and knitting traditions that are a result of her first journey to Lithuania. 

For the rest of this post, I'd like to share a little "interview" I did with Donna to help me understand better how she approached this book and the knitting cultures she describes within it.  I hope you'll enjoy our discussion! 

KB: What was your inspiration for Ethnic Knitting Exploration: Lithuania, Iceland and Ireland?

 DD: Well, initially my publisher mentioned that she saw a need for a book about ethnic knitting traditions for a younger crowd and for newer knitters who might not be ready for encyclopedic books like Knitting in the Old Way. I thought that was a great idea, because many books on ethnic knitting traditions assume a very high level of accomplishment and skill from readers. I wanted even newbie knitters to be able to learn these techniques and to be able to design their own garments and accessories. My approach was to break things down step-by-step, rather than giving a high level overview of sweater construction and sizing calculations. You shouldn't need to have ten years of knitting experience under your belt before you can design a sweater for yourself.

 KB: Why did you choose to talk about garments from these three ethnic knitting traditions together? 

 DD: Mostly I was looking at the garment shapes. I wanted this book to focus on refinements in the shoulder area, and raglan, yoke, and saddle-shoulder garments all fit into this category. Saddle shoulders are most popular on Aran sweaters, shaped yokes are most popular on Icelandic designs. Raglans just fit in, but there's not a particular area where raglans were traditionally used exclusively.

 KB: What is your favorite aspect of the book?  What part of it was most fun for you to put together?

 DD: In this book I can't pick a favorite section. I love the cable section because I inherited a love of Aran knitting from my grandmother. I love the Lithuanian section because I am half Lithuanian and I have been visiting that country for several years. I love the yoke and raglan shaping because those sweaters are so fun to make, and I always get excited knitting the yoke as it gets smaller and smaller around the neck and after you bind off, there's not much more left to do than weaving in ends. I love the cardigan instructions, because I wear more cardigans than pullovers. I actually was quite surprised how much I liked the whole book after I got a final draft from my editor.

 KB: Many of the Lithuanian motifs that you chose look very Scandinavian inspired.  Did you find when you visited Lithuania to learn the language and do research for the book that there were many Scandinavian influences in Lithuanian knitting (or other) traditions?

 DD: In this book, I focused on Lithuania Minor, which was actually East Prussian in the past. Today parts of this region are within the countries of Lithuania, Russia, and Poland. Because national boundaries have moved so frequently in this area, influences have come in from all sides. In some parts of Lithuania many of the designs do have a strong Scandinavian influence. In some other areas, designs have similarities to Turkish patterns. In some places design elements are shared with Latvian and Estonian knitting. And the knitting technique traditionally used in Lithuania, Combination Knitting, has strong roots in Russia and all of the surrounding areas in Eastern Europe, and is even sometimes found in Scandinavia.

 KB:  I like that you chose not only to introduce pattern and texture traditions from the three countries that you chose, but that you also decided to look at different sweater shapes.  You mentioned that there wasn't much of an actual sweater knitting tradition in Lithuania.  What made you decide on the raglan sweater as a good format for the Lithuanian motifs?

 DD: As I mentioned above, I wanted to include these related shapes that all focus on shoulder shaping. Although sweaters were not a traditional part of the Lithuanian national costume, they have been popular in the area throughout the 20th century. In several of the old Lithuanian knitting books I have from the Soviet period, raglan sweaters are very popular. The sweaters are knitted in the round, and often from the top down (in Ethnic Knitting: Discovery: The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and The Andes , I focused on bottom-up techniques.)

 KB: I know the book is about knitting not about spinning, but did you discover anything about the types of wools that each of the different Ethnic groups preferred to work with?  I know many people are familiar with the Icelandic sheep that are the source for a lot of Lopi yarns.  Are there particular sheep breeds that are more common source of wool for Lithuanian and Irish knitters?

 DD: In Ireland, Aran sweaters were made out of various colors of yarn before they became a commercial product, and sometimes out of fine gansey yarn. When the commercial product became popular, the heavy-weight natural colored yarn became the standard because it's faster to knit and easier to see your stitches as you're working the cables. The sweaters were also switched from being made in-the-round, to the flat construction that we know today. The famous natural yarn is called Bainin (pronounced bawneen). Traditionally it was spun in the grease and the wool retained it's lanolin, giving the knitted sweaters a waterproof finish.

 In Iceland, Lopi yarn is actually a thin strand of unspun fiber that's been drafted out. The yarns that are sold today under the name Lopi are mostly softly spun, giving them a bit more body and strength than the unspun fiber would have.

 In Lithuania, there are two rare breeds of sheep that both have coarse wool. This wool was spun into stiff, heavy yarns that were used to make mittens and socks and also for felting to make heavy woolen over coats. Today most of the yarn from these sheep is rotting in barns while local mills are importing merino from New Zealand. I'm hoping that I will be able to get a business started at some point to have the local Lithuanian wool spun and import it into the US. It's not nearly as coarse as it sounds, and it can also be blended with some of that imported merino to make softer knitting yarns. It comes in a variety of natural colors, too.

 I discuss each of these briefly in the book.

 KB: One thing that the book got me wondering was whether there were traditional colors for the different Ethnic tradition.  I think many of us can conjure up images of the thick traditional creamy white Aran sweater, but what about Lithuania and Iceland?  Were the traditional colors based on the colors of the sheep available or did the knitters also dye their yarns into colors that they liked to work with?

 DD: I haven't really researched colors in Iceland. (Yet?)

 In Lithuania, wool was traditionally dyed with natural dyes, and linen was normally worked in its natural color or bleached white. When I was in Lithuania last summer, I went to a festival like a Renaissance Faire, where I saw a demonstration of spindle spinning and an exhibit on natural dyes. They had many dried plants on display, with samples of wool that had been dyed with the plant material.

 To go off topic a little, while I was visiting Lithuania, I found myself laughing at American Ren Faires,  because they are really not based on history. They're really just for fun. There's some historical accuracy, but not much. In Lithuania, the annual Days of Living Archaeology festival that is held at an important Bronze Age archaeological site in KernavÄ—, is all about education and the actual history and prehistory of the region. While it's still fun, the focus is much more serious than the American events I've attended.

 KB: I like the approach in your book that encourages people to "design their own" rather than knit straight from a pre-designed pattern.  How do you help people identify which shapes and sweater structures will help them get the best fit and look for their body shapes?

 DD: There are some guidelines for what shapes look best on different figure types, and these are often the topics of articles in fashion magazines. But the best way to know what looks good on you is to go to the store and try on lots of garments. Look at the shape and construction of the ones you like best, and measure them. OK, you can buy some if you want. But you don't have to. You can also do this at home. Look in your closet and examine the garments you find yourself wearing over and over again because they just look and feel so good. Don't pay any attention to the gorgeous pullover you bought that is gathering dust in the back of the closet because you never wear it. That is a reject. Give it to Good Will and just forget about it. Use the department store fitting room -- and your own closet -- as your own design laboratory. And pay attention to what you feel good wearing.

 KB: I know (from reading your blog) that you are planning a trip to Lithuania this summer and that you have been studiying the Lithuanian language.  Are you planning another book focused specifically on Lithuanian knitting?  If so, when do you expect to see it published? 

 DD: Yes, I am working on a book about Lithuanian knitting, along with June Hall from England. June has been working with Lithuanian spinners and knitters for several years, and last summer we travelled around the entire country to do research for our book. We are hoping to get the writing finished by this fall, and with any luck a year from then, a book will be hitting the shelves. There's no actual publication date yet, because the publisher does not schedule the production until the manuscript is completed and turned in. This book will be a lot like Arctic Lace, with a portion of the book being a collection of knitted accessories, and a portion of the book being about Lithuanian culture and history and our travels and experiences visiting the country.

For more information about Donna and all her books, check her out at her website, Sheep to Shawl and be sure to check out her blog where she talks in more detail about her work and shares knitting tips and tricks from Lithuania, Iceland and Ireland.  You can also find a list of the other guests on her blog book tour if you'd like to find out more about Donna and the book as well as get to "meet" some other great bloggers.

Knitting the Threads of Time

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Every so often I get the opportunity to review a knitting book.  Even more rarely do I get the chance to review a book that uses knitting as a central theme, but doesn't focus on patterns and knitting technique, but knitting as a vehicle to discuss other topics.

Knitting the Threads of Time: Casting Back to the Heart of Our Craft is just such a book.  The author uses the knitting of a sweater for her 6 year old son during a winter in St. Paul as a vehicle to discuss fiber arts as they have developed through time and through multiple cultural traditions.  This sweater is the author's first experience knitting a sweater and as she works through the various issues she encounters with it, she finds ways to connect to cultures and traditions, some ancient, some more recent.  It's got a bit of history, a bit of cultural exploration, a bit of the personal journey to self-discovery woven into it.  Certainly the "new knitter taking a journey to self awareness via knitting her first sweater" is not a new motif, but it is a comfortable one that makes for a nice launching point for the elements Nora Murphy explores.

I like to do a little reading before bed to help calm my mind and to distract me from the days events.  This book fit nicely into that ritual.  It's not a deep book when it comes to discussing any of the history or traditions that it introduces, and it is certainly not a comprehensive knitting history, but it would certainly be a reasonable launching point for anyone interested in exploring the social history of the fiber arts more deeply -- in addition to a rather nice index, she also includes a bibliography of source material that the reader can use as a starting point to finding more information about specific subjects. 

I enjoyed reading this book and found it to have a similar tone to Victoria Finlay's
Color: A Natural History of the Palette, which I also enjoyed (Finlay's book, however goes into a good deal more detail and while a travelogue, is not focused on the author's story so much as the stories of the people involved in producing the pigments she is researching).  It's a relatively short book (less than 200 pages) that reads quickly and leaves you curious about how the textile arts (she doesn't focus on knitting exclusively)  have affected women in the past -- and how they will continue to affect us in the future.

P.S.  Speaking of books, thanks for all the encouragement to add American Gods.  Not surprisingly, I am liking that first chapter I downloaded.  I suspect it might make it into my reading rotation soon.  Assuming I can put down the weaving books that have captured my interest of late... 

Kitty Knits

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I have to admit, I'm really not the kind of person who knits for her pets.  I love sharing my house with my cats and can't imagine a world without fur people in it, but they can be a little destructive when it comes to their possessions.  My Beezle, for instance, likes to dunk all his toys in his water dish for no reason that I've ever been able to figure out, other than the possibility that he is part raccoon.

However, with the arrival of Ms. Z, I've been feeling a little guilty about my furry boys because they really get a lot less attention when she is around.  Not to mention the fact that they don't get the respect they used to.  They get shooed off of her play mats and they get yelled at when they run off with one of her toys.  There's no room for them on the couch in the home theatre when she is nursing and we get particularly annoyed with them when they decide they want to take a nap on her changing table.  And, to make matters even worse, now she is mobile and she's very interested in introducing herself to the kitties by grabbing large hunks of fur or a tail.  It's tough to be a cat in our house right now.

So when Donna Druchunas gave me the chance to be a part of her blog book tour for Kitty Knits, I thought this would be the perfect way to share a little lovin' with my feline companions. 

First of all, let me say that whether you are a cat or a person, this book is a lot of fun.  There are 20 projects in this book.  Roughly a third of them are meant to be made for your cat, but the remaining projects are divided roughly equally for people and for your home.  The projects for people include a two color chullo (totally on my list for someone for Christmas next year), a Scandinavian style two color sweater and a lovely lace scarf.  One thing that really stood out to me about these projects was that with the possible exception of the furry slippers, all of them managed to avoid the excessively cutesy look that is common with knit gear that is inspired by pets.  The same is true of the "house wares" part of the book.  The felted applique pillow and felted cat doorstop would be fun items in many homes.  And if you wanted to try out a new technique, this book has a little bit of everything.  From felting, to intarsia, to two-color stranded knitting, to embroidery to lace to shadow knitting, this book has it covered.  There's a lot of punch packed into this 80 page book. 

After seeing the book, I desperately wanted to cast on for the chullo (the hat on the right side in the cover picture above), but I figured that neither of my cats would appreciate that as a gift, even if I could find the time, so I opted for something a bit more simple -- felted mice.  It was a hard decision, because while Donna had some traditional cat gifts like cat beds and murine cat toys, she also had some other clever options -- a felted intarsia "placemat" for cat bowls and the like (which I think could easily be adapted for a cute set of human use placemats as well)

20080316_PreFeltedMice.jpgI managed to get both these little guys knit up in less than the two hours it took us to travel from Champaign to Chicago.  Simple knitting but very fun results and probably the best use of a bobble I've encountered.  In fact, if you didn't want to felt these little guys, you could easily knit them on smaller needles and stuff them to get a nice result.  These mice are knit out of some remnants of Cascade220 from some previous felting projects.  Given the amount that I used for one mouse, I thing you could make yourself several families of these little guys from one skein.  If I had had more time, I might have made striped mice or mice with different colored ears for a little extra entertainment value.

20080316_FeltedMice.jpgBecause they are toys it doesn't matter at all what size they felt to.  I just put them in for one full cycle in the wash and let them go through a full normal wash cycle with hot wash and cold rinse.  When I took them out after the spin they were almost completely dry.  All I had to do was stuff them.  Aren't the ears fabulous?  I decided against the embroidery, but the pattern does call for embroidered eyes and any other details.  I think the shaping is good enough that even without the embroidery, it is clear what they are.

20080316_BeezleAndMice.jpgMy Beezle wasn't quite sure what to make of them.  But maybe that was because I liked them so much I woke him up from his nap to take his picture with them.  No doubt I will find one in his water dish sometime soon...

20080316_MercutioAndMice.jpgMercutio had a far more possessive reaction to them.  He snuggled right up to the blue one.   Ms. Z hasn't been able to find them yet, but I suspect these little guys would also make fabulous toys for little people as well as furry friends -- they are soft, squishy and noses, ears and tails can certainly stand up to a little chewing and they are small enough to hold in little hands.

The cats and I give Donna's book two thumbs and four paws up.  It's definitely a fun book with a lot of interesting ideas -- many of which you'll easily be able to take in your own directions.  Which is one of the things I really love about Donna's books in general.  Her patterns are great starting off points for experimenting with your own ideas in texture, color, shaping and new techniques.

 
In the interest of full disclosure, I was given a copy of the book for free to evaluate so I could participate in the blog tour.

Ethnic Knitting

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Today, I have a special guest post -- I'm part of the blog book tour for Donna Druchunas, Ethnic Knitting Discovery. Donna's new book is a lovely jumping off point for any of you interested in designing your own two colored and textured sweaters. The instructions and worksheets make it easy to take care of any "knitting arithmetic" so you can focus on the fun parts. As part of the guest posting, I asked Donna a few broad questions about her book that I thought other folks might be interested in hearing the answers to. Enjoy!

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Theresa, thanks for inviting me to bring the blog tour for Ethnic Knitting Discovery to your blog.

What got you interested in writing this book?

I was talking to my publisher one day a year or so ago, and she mentioned that there were no books on ethnic knitting geared toward a younger audience or newer knitters and I thought, "You know, that's right." It seems like most of the books have have been published about knitting traditions from around the world focus on very traditional, even old-fashioned, garments. These books also tend to assume that the knitters have a lot of background experience, that they understand the shaping and construction of sweaters, and that they know how to do a lot of calculations without much help.

That's not to put these books down, I love them and I have shelves full of advanced books like this. But while most of the traditional knitting books give you charts and high-level overviews of garment instructions, there are very few that provide the basic tools to enable new knitters to get over the hurdles that they might feel stand between them and the ability to design a garment from scratch. In Ethnic Knitting Discovery, I am trying to provide more details of the process so there's not so much mystery involved.

I also wanted to show that you can update the traditional styles without losing the traditional feeling of the garments. For example, you can make what was traditionally a tight sweater, that fit snugly to be worn as a workman's outfit, into a loose fitting garment for casual wear today. You can take a black-and-white Norwegian design and do it in purple and green!

What fascinated you about the cultures you included?

I'm fascinated by many different cultures. I first got interested in Andean knitting when I was editing Andean Folk Knits by Marcia Lewandowski. Marcia had spent several years living in South America, and she wrote about her experiences and put together patterns for many of the knitted accessories she'd seen during her travels. I just loved reading her stories and seeing the color combinations she used on all of her projects. Some time after that, one of our local yarn shops held a class on Andean knitting and I took it because I love unusual knitting techniques. The instructor had a lot of sample pieces of knitting that she purchased when she was traveling in South America and I just fell in love with the knitting style after seeing the pieces up close. Some day I hope to make it to Peru to do some in-person research. But for this book, I had to be an armchair traveler.

The other sections of Ethnic Knitting Discovery were chosen more for the types of sweaters that were made in the region than for anything specific about the cultures. I wanted this book to feature drop shoulder sweaters, because they don't have much shaping and they're the most basic type of sweater for those who are new to designing. Learning about the cultures was a bonus for me.

What sorts of things did you think about when you worked on designing your own projects?

I wing it when I'm designing something for myself. I start with the basic number of stitches to cast on for the back (if it's going to be knit flat) or for the body (if it's going to be circular), and I just make up each part as I get to it. For example, on one Aran sweater I made, I got tired of knitting the cables after I'd finished the body, so I used the trim stitch from the bottom band for the full sleeves. It looks great, like it was planned that way, but it was a last minute decision. When I'm knitting a colorwork pattern, I pick a main color and contrasting colors, but I make up the color sequence as I go, just changing colors whenever I get bored. I might even add a new chart when I get part way done, just because I want to add another element or because I'm tired of knitting the other pattern.

If I'm designing for publication and I need a test knitter to make the garment because I don't have time, then I have to do a lot more planning up front. In that case, I make sketches and fill them in with colored pencils to get an idea what the entire garment will look like. I also put the specific colors into the chart for the test knitter. I still pretty much make it up as I go, but in this case I'm using colored pencils and charting software instead of yarn and needles.

Do you have any tips to encourage people to experiment? I just love the idea of experimenting with old traditional ideas.

Me too! That's the fun part, isn't it? Tradition is wonderful. But it's not like a law. Take the parts you like, and modify them to suit your own tastes. If you think a sweater with patterns all over it is too busy, make a plain sweater with patterning just at the hem or on the sleeves. If you don't like the colors used in traditional designs, go for bright, snazzy colors instead. In the Andes, knitters in the past used natural alpaca colors and yarns dyed with natural yarns, to the colors were limited to the materials on hand. But today the knitters in Peru and Bolivia love acrylic yarn that is dyed in bright, neon colors. They've modernized their own tradition to include modern materials and to cut down on the work of handspinning and dyeing their own yarns. But there's no mistaking a hand-knit Andean chullo for a commercial product, even when it's made with man-made fibers and dyes.

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Donna and the Biggest Knitting Needles I Have Ever Seen

In the interest of full disclosure, I did get a copy of the book to look at as part of the book tour. But I didn't receive any other compensation. I just enjoy Donna's books, her knitting spirit, and keeping up with what another Lithuanian knitter is doing!

Arctic Lace

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Today I have a special treat! Almost two years ago I first came in contact with Donna Druchunas' work through the book The Knitted Rug. This was one of the first books knitting books that I added to my collection that specifically focused on knitted items that were not garments. I loved the fact that Donna took relatively simple techniques and used them to create interesting, clever and functional decorations for a home -- and encouraged other knitters to use them as a jumping off point for their own imaginations. In fact, I completed one of the patterns from this book not too long ago: the Handspun Spiral Rug -- a project that I loved to see come together, even if I still cannot bear to put it on my floor.

At the same time, I was struck by Donna's last name. You see, if you see a last name with an 'as' or 'is' ending, it can almost only be either Greek or Lithuanian. I'm third generation Lithuanian, so, of course, when Donna left a comment on my blog while I was working on the rug, I just had to email her back to ask her a few questions about the rug book and ask her about her last name. Lo and behold, I'd found another Lithuanian knitter.

So it's a real pleasure for me to participate in Donna's book blog tour for her latest book, Arctic Lace. Donna and her husband Dominic (who took all the pictures for the book, and the pictures shown here on my blog today) headed off to Alaska to find out more about qiviut and how lace knitting and the Oomingmak Co-Operative got started. The book is special because it is part travel log, part history, part technique guide, and, like the Knitted Rug, a contains a healthy dose of encouragement to go off and try your own things.

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Donna and Dominic in Alaska

TW: Clearly this book is part introduction to lace knitting and Alaskan lace knitting forms and part fiber adventure. What do you hope people reading the book will take away from it?

DD: I'd like people to take away the simple idea that lace knitting is not hard! If you can knit, you can knit lace. Sure it takes more concentration than garter stitch, but it's not rocket science.

In addition, I'd like to instill some knowledge and appreciation of Yup'ik and Inupiat culture, especially regarding respect for the environment and making decisions that are not short sighted, but that consider the impact on future generations.

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Unalakleet in Spring

One of the things that Donna explains in the book is that each village or town usually ends up with a particular lace pattern that gets worked into the garments that they produced. Most of these patterns are based on traditional elements from Yup'ik and Inupiat art and embellished items.

TW: How were the signature patterns developed for the villages? Did the knitters in the villages participate in the designs with the Oomingmak co-op founders?

DD: The first lace designs were created by Helen Howard, Ann Schell, and Dorothy Reade. They worked together to develop the stitches and patterns for the co-op to use. After that, different knitters contributed designs. Some of the designs on the Oomingmak co-op website list the names of the designers. Most of the knitters, however, are working in the co-op knitting to make money, and they are basically production knitters. They may make different projects over time (scarves, hats, headbands, lace, colorwork), but they are really doing this to make money, so they like to memorize the patterns to improve their knitting speed. The design process is totally separate from the production knitting part of the business.

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Donna Meets a Musk Ox

TW: What was it like to be close to the musk oxen?

DD: It was like being in Jurassic Park, only a little less scary. Because I was at the Musk Ox Farm, the animals were fenced (well, so were the dinos in Jurassic Park), and they also had the tips of their horns trimmed. Although they are still strong and muscular beasts, they don't pose a threat to tourists. The animals that have been hand raised are quite docile and will come up to the fence to get a treat from the familiar farm hands. The animals that have come from other places, such as zoos, are more timid and tend to keep their distance.

When I was at the farm, I got to stick my hand into the fur of one of the animals. Oh my! It was cold and damp out that day, and I was wearing a coat and hat. But inside the animal's fur, with my hand in the qiviut underneath the long guard hairs, it was as warm and dry as sitting in front of a fire. I was completely amazed. It's one thing to read about the great insulation of the musk ox coat, it's quite another thing to actually feel the warmth.

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Spinning Qiviut

TW: Do you spin? If so, have you spun qiviut? What tips would you offere someone who wanted to try spinning this fiber to create a special yarn for a project of their own? What are the best fibers to blend with qiviut if you want to make your fiber go a little farther or want a yarn that is a little less insulating?

DD: I do spin, but I've only spun a tiny bit of qiviut. When I was in Alaska, I found an ounce of raw qiviut that was selling for $30. It is full of guard hair and flecks of skin or dander, but it is otherwise quite clean. And qiviut has no grease. So I started spinning it on a tiny drop spindle. It spun up beautifully into a fine, lace-weight yarn. But in the end, I decided to keep my qiviut fiber for show and tell at workshops, and I haven't done any more spinning with it.

Qiviut is, as you say, quite warm, which is why it is normally spun and sold in very fine weights. The heaviest qiviut yarn I've ever seen is sport weight. The yarn also has very little give or elasticity, so it drapes beautifully for scarves and shawls, but is not very good at holding its shape for ribbing or fitted garments. Qiviut is also not lustrous, as is normal for a down fiber. Merino and silk are often blended with qiviut to add elasticity and sheen. Yarns with up to 55% wool and silk still have the luxurious feel of qiviut, while being lighter in color and more lofty in the skein.

Qiviut is usually spun with a very low amount of twist for commercial yarns. I prefer it with a tighter twist, which adds more loft to the yarn and a some elasticity just because of the structure of the yarn.

Qiviut also blooms after washing, and develops a fuzzy halo that resembles mohair but is much softer. I have heard some people say that qiviut pills, but I've seen samples at the co-op store that are quite old and that have been handled by customers for a long time. They had a very pronounced furry halo, but no pills.

TW: How did you decide what kinds of projects to put in the book?

DD: There were two main considerations. First, I wanted to make projects that were reminiscent of the Co-op's designs. Second, I wanted to include a lot of small projects because qiviut is quite expensive and I knew that many knitters would not be able to afford 6 or 8 skeins to knit a vest or shawl.

TW: Given the insulating nature of qiviut, how did you identify good working gauges for your projects? One of the things I think is challenging about lace is to create something that shows off the open work, but is substantial enough to still create some warmth. But I would imagine with qiviut which has such a high insulation factor, that you also have to deal with the opposite issue: how to keep the garment from being too warm to be comfortable?

DD: Because it blooms when washed and the solid St st areas fill in with the halo, qiviut can be worked at a fairly loose gauge for lace. I preferred to work my projects at a slightly tighter gauge than some qiviut designers, because I wanted the lace patterning to stand out strongly against the solid background. My lace designs, like the co-op's were made with very strong geometric shapes that are outlined with yarn overs. The design is further emphasized by the placement and direction of the decreases, and by using twisted stitches to create very straight outlines around the shapes. This helps make the lace pattern stand out more against the background. Not all lace is designed this way, so if you want to use other stitches with qiviut, definitely make a swatch first.

If you've never knitted with qiviut before, I suggest making a small swatch and trying 3 or 4 different needle sizes. Block and wash the swatch to see what you think. You don't have to waste the yarn, however. If you leave it attached to the ball, you can always rip it out and reuse the yarn if you need it to finish your project.

The important thing is to make sure that your stitches are neat and tidy looking. If they are loose and sloppy, it spoils the texture of the fabric and might not even out when you block the item, again because qiviut does not have that forgiving texture of wool.

If you want to read more of the interviews from Donna's blog tour, or find out about the knit-a-long for Arctic Lace, you can check out her website Sheep To Shawl

Nothing Here...

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... except a new book review over at Two Friends Collect Books (blame it on too much TV and video game playing). If you're interested, I've written down my thoughts on Alden Amos' Big Book of Handspinning.

New Features

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For a long time I've wanted to have a section of my blog/website in which I shared information about the books I have in my collection. If there's anything that is true about me, it's that I love to buy books. Any time it's time to learn something new, the first thing I do is go and see if there is a book I can add to my collection. This means that I've amassed a pretty large collection of knitting books and other fiber arts related books over the last several years.

This morning, while I was going through my list of "in progress" projects that I would like to have to wear this fall, I decided that Liberty needed to be my next thing to complete. I chose Liberty for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I am concerned about having enough of one of the colors and if I need to get another ball of Mist, I want a halfway-decent chance of still being able to find the dyelot somewhere on the planet. So in order to get the right front cast on and on its way, I had to remember how to do a tubular cast on. And the first book I reached for was Nancie Wiseman's "The Knitter's Book of Finishing Techiques".

As I was paging through the book, I realized that I had used this book enough to give it a good evaluation. Relative to it's size, it's not a cheap book, but I find myself coming back it over and over because her explanations and illustrations are excellent. And that got me thinking about getting a little bit more serious about sharing my opinions on books. In many cases, it takes a long time of living with a book, especially a technique or pattern book, before it's really possible to talk about what makes it good or not so good. I've been blogging and knitting and buying books for quite some time now, and I've definitely got both a good library to talk about and a growing collection of books that I've had time to live with and really understand whether or not they are treasures, trash or fall somewhere in between. I hope that my growing expertise in knitting will be able to give me a good perspective from which to judge new and old entries into the field and that my writing skills are sufficient to provide anyone who reads my reviews with a good overview of the book in question.

So today is the day that the book reviews start. You can find them over at The Keyboard Biologist Collects Books. I've also added a link to the page to my side bar for easy access. I don't anticipate that I will have a regular schedule for updating this blog, nor will it be totally restricted to kntting books. Not surprisingly, given the subject of this post, my very first entry is Nancie Wiseman's book. I invite you to read, leave comments and add anything that you think would help me or someone else understand what the book I've reviewed is all about. My goal is to help others get a good picture of what's between the covers of my selections.

Summer Reading

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Once upon a time, I used to read a lot of books. I never used to go anywhere without a book, in fact. I had a wide variety of reading interests, general history, mystery, science fiction, sociology, history of science. I was pretty omnivorous. I like to think that I still have pretty diverse reading interests, I just don't have quite as much time to read as widely as I would like. It's hard to have too many hobbies that compete with each other.

While I was in San Diego in June, I got a chance to walk through a Russian submarine. By the end of the tour I'd decided that I wanted to know more about what it would be like to live on one and when wandering through the gift shop of the maritime museum I came across a copy of das Boot, by Lothar Gunther Buchheim.

Sometimes the right book comes to you at the right time and not only provides you with the entertainment of a good story, but also provides you with insights into your own life. One of the guys I once worked for told me that das Boot is one of the best books on managment that you could ever read. And I've got to agree with him. The captain of the U-boat could really teach a lot of people about what the difference between leadership and managment is. For truly, to be manager is not necessarily to be a leader. It got me to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what I think leadership really is and to ask myself if I am a leadership person or merely someone who is good at organizing and creating structure.

So if you like your WWII history combined with a good story and a healthy dose of things to think about, das Boot is definitely a good read. I wouldn't call it light summer reading, but it is a book that combines suspense, history and a good story.

A couple of questions came up in the comments to yesterday's post. I'm not sure how well I'll be able to answer them, but I thought they might be of general interest...

When you say you plied from a center pull ball, do you mean from one center pull ball, using both the inner and the outer ends of the single, or from two center pull balls at the same time?

You can do it either way. In this case, it was one single center pull ball and I plied the yarn using the inner and outer ends. You can do the same thing with two center pull balls as well, but since I only had a small spindleful, I chose just one ball. Setting the twist in the single before I made the ball made it a lot easier to control the yarn and prevent it from tangling.

Why do you set the twist on your singles before plying? Isn't one of the purposes of plying to balance the yarn (ply with as much Z twist as the singles have S twist)? If the single is balanced, how do you get a balanced plied yarn?

I set the twist on the single to make my life easier when plying. In the past, when I have not set the twist and tried to ply from a center pull ball, I have gotten a bit of a mess becaust the yarn wants to twist on itself. This a particular problem with finely spun singles that might break easily when I am trying to eliminate knots or places where the yarn had decided that it likes to bond with itself too much. Setting the twist eliminates some of that problem. I'm not very good when it comes to spinning theory yet, but I think even though the twist is set and the yarn is acting balanced, you still have a twist that that plying will complement. I set that twist after plying as well. I think setting the twist is more about convincing the yarn to be straight and behave. It doesn't actually eliminate the twist. But this is just a guess on my part.

On Blossom Street

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This was going to be a picture-less entry with a short review of The Shop on Blossom Street that I finished over the weekend. But I arrived home this evening to find a package from the UK on my doorstep. Because I love treats that come from Wales, I thought I'd brighten up this post with a picture of the surprise I got from Marie:

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Colinette Skye in Turquoise

These bright and beautiful colors (not as well rendered by my camera as I might like) were a special treat on a grey and not-so-great work day. (Thanks, Marie! You had excellent timing!) In fact, in this colorway, the Skye makes me think of Koigu on steroids. I'm beginning to have quite a lovely stash of Skye in my closet, soon I am going to have to come up with something creative to do with it.

We now return to my regularly scheduled blog post: The Shop on Blossom Street, by Debbie Macomber

This book was a pass-along from my mother, who picked it up for light reading and because she was curious about the knitting content. The story centers around a woman who has battled cancer setting up a yarn store and getting to know three other women as a result of the first class she offers.

As you might imagine, our cancer survivor and the three other women all come from different socio-economic backgrounds, all have issues in their lives that they are trying to work out (most of which revolve around men and family) and, in spite of their differences, all become friends and work through some of their problems together. By the end of the book everyone has pretty much made it through their difficulties (that shouldn't really spoil it for anyone as similar things are more or less said in the front leaf description of the book). Ah, better human relationships as the result of yarn and knitting!

While the characters are relatively well fleshed out, and it's easy to understand what motivates their problems and struggles, all of them conform to their stereotypes a little too well, and I found it hard to get too deeply engaged by any of them. I kept reading because I was hoping there might be some surprises that effected real character development, but that never really comes. Although there are a few bumps and false starts along the way, the book comes to the end with everyone getting a happy ending.

There are some nice references to current knitting community events, such as the Linus project, but otherwise, knitting related content is limited to the mention of a yarn purchase here or there or the peace and joy found in owning a yarn store. This is probably a good thing, since long-winded technical discussion of fixing knitting mistakes probably wouldn't make for a very enjoyable novel experience.

This book is a great light read for when you are looking for a little brain candy. It was a perfect "right before bed" book to help me relax before I turned out the lights, and would be a perfect read for when you need a little more happy ending in your life.

Birthday Book Bounty

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This entry is going to seem very over the top without some frame of reference. In my family, books are part of the coin of the realm. We all love them and we all love to amass them in whatever area we are inspired by.

When I was growing up my mom, brother and I had a more than respectable science fiction library. Mom always had an incredible collection of cookbooks and craft books -- my brother is beginning to take over the cookbook collecting. My dad is slightly less bookish, but has all sorts of woodworking and photography books and magazines to reference. You really just can't walk into a room in my parents house without encountering a large collection of some kind of book.

And I'm not much different. My book collection is a pretty reasonable barometer of what I am into... biology, computers, history of science, social history, science fiction, origami and other paper arts, mystery and suspense, espionage, the occasional gardening reference, knitting and a smattering of travel guides fill my shelves. I have to admit to not being a very lofty reader... you won't find too much high literature on my shelves -- probably a result of being force-fed too much of it during high school and college.

And the rooms with shelves keep expanding... first the office, then the guest bedroom, now the small upstairs bedroom. John tries hard to keep the spread of my library in check, but at some level he knows it is a futile battle -- his only recourse is to accumulate computer parts and Legos and the other things that engineers like to keep around them.

I did not have a very fibery birthday from a stash-advancement perspective (which is okay because I am beginning to feel a little stash saturated again). Instead, I got a might boost to my knitting library.

Here's the lovely gift that arrived on Saturday morning from Amazon from my brother and his wife:

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Color Knitting with Anna Zilboorg

Both of these books by Anna Zilboorg are worth it for the pictures alone! Color everywhere! I really love the gauntlet mittens and the incredible variety of hat shapes. I was thinking that if I were going to try two color knitting, the best place to start would be on a small project or two... somthing that would give me some immediate gratification... or at the very least wouldn't become an expensive unfinished item (I try to be realistic about my expectations for myself). From what I can tell (I haven't read them thoroughly yet), these books are more jumping off points for personal knitting adventures than step by step guides to a given project. Which I like, but might not appeal to all.

On Saturday night, in addition to a fabulous dinner out at one of my favorite local restaurants, Meritage, my parents treated me to what has got to be one of the nicest book sets that a knitter could ask for -- at least if that knitter wants to design their own things -- the Barbara Walker treasuries:

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The Ultimate Reference Library: Barbara Walker's Stitch Pattern Encyclopedia

Aren't they just gorgeous sitting there in all their primary color wonderfulness? A treasury of inspiration just waiting for me to dive into them. And as if that wasn't enough... Mom also enclosed a gift card for use at Knit A Round, one of my favorite yarn stores away from home in Ann Arbor. I'm a lucky girl!

(I won't even show pictures of the other two books that I gave myself as a birthday present... Weekend Knitting and Anne Budd's book of knitter's templates...)

This also seemed to be the time for me to get my knitting mags -- none of these were gifts, but the timing was auspicious for me...

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Signs of Spring: The New Knitting Magazines Begin to Arrive...

I subscribe to Rowan and IK, and am a TKGA member. Not sure where the Knit N' Style magazine came from -- it was just a free copy that showed up in my mailbox. The Cast On and the KNS are mostly uninspiring, but I found a number of things in both the Rowan and the IK that I might need to do. Just my opinion, but I thought that overall there was a lot of good stuff in IK (and I was psyched to find the "Priscilla's Dream Socks" article available through the subscriber only part of the website -- I've heard such good things about this sock perspective but didn't really want to order the whole magazine to get it). When my husband picks up a knitting magazine and as he flips through points to half the items and says that he likes them, something good has to be going on.

Probably the only shame is that almost everything is cute and little and in cotton. I've got nothing against cute little cotton garments, but it's still pretty cold here in Chicago and I'm an instant gratification sort of girl. Be sure though, that "Polka Purl Dots" will be on my needles sometime in the future.

In the near term. however, I've decided that I need a pair of "No Sweat Pants" and have joined Allison's latest knit-a-long adventure -- the pant-a-long.

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It's still hard for me to believe that only 4 skeins of Lion Brand Homespun can make a whole pair of pants (I'm pretty sure that the largest size will work for me). And yes, I know all about knitted garments that you sit in and stretch out, but I just can't resist these things. They seem like they'd be just perfect for lounging around the house in. And aside from knitting, lounging around is one of my favorite things!

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