Still here, still knitting

The projected low here tonight is 54 degrees Fahrenheit, and I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am that endless summer may have come to an end at last. Yesterday it had rained by the time I left work, and I walked outside and thought, Cold weather! (Then I realized it was probably about 60F, which shouldn’t count, but it was a 30-degree drop from the weekend, so “cold” is probably fair.)

I went back east to see my mom at the end of September, which was lovely, even though – or maybe even because – it was cool and rainy much of the time. My cousins were visiting while I was there, and the first two days were spectacularly gorgeous and sunny.

30784718515_c17b99c2ab_oArchetypal New England scene. Unfortunately we were a little early for fall colors, but I’m pretty happy with green. I was trying to line up the vertical lines of the church with the vertical lines on the grid of my camera screen and realized that there weren’t actually any true vertical lines on the church – reminding me of a moment in high school when I was sitting in the kitchen of my parents’ very old house with some friends and one of them said, “Does your ceiling go down or do your cupboards go up?”

29572114023_e9c5789ff5_oNo idea what this is, but I liked the colors. It was in the border of a little town square with a monument to “those that fell in the Rebellion of 1861 to 1865.” God, I love New England.

30201361875_90152844e6_oThis town holds movies and concerts in the park over the summer – the grass was all worn down and tired out and ready to go to sleep for the winter.

Then it turned gray. We went exploring one day to find a tennis goods store that had apparently turned into a resortwear store and then wasn’t even open anyway, but we realized we were about a block from the beach, so headed that way, parked illegally in the driveway of a beachfront mansion, and took a short walk. (My cousins are from England, and the plan was if anyone had a problem with where we parked, my cousins would put on their best accents and charmingly claim confusion. But it was a cool gray September day and the beachfront mansions were all deserted.)

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The vacation was a great break from real life. And of course, having all that spare time (including ridiculously long flights) was great for knitting. I think my cousins were a little bemused that I could knit and hang out talking with them at the same time. Isn’t it great how magical knitting seems to non-knitters? I plowed through about three-quarters of a sport-weight cardigan.

30457490106_a6868a99aa_oStitch marker courtesy of Yarn Hound, which is a really pretty little store. Kinky yarn courtesy of unraveling my swatches because it was easier to knit from them than to wind a new skein.

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I love the way the raglan increases look in this yarn. And I’m so. very. close. to being done – I have about 1/2 a sleeve and a collar to go; I’ll show you the whole thing and the pattern when I get it done, and washed, and all the wrinkles from being stuffed in my project bag have been smoothed away. Unfortunately, not long after I got back from vacation I used up my last wound yarn. I have more yarn, but it’s in the skein, and life/work (mostly work) has been crazy enough that I really haven’t wanted to spend my little free time winding yarn. Instead I’ve been picking up whatever projects I can find that don’t require thought or winding yarn. I have a tiny bit of breathing space now and I can’t decide whether to come back to the cardigan, or finish the even-more-mindless projects. We’ll see what inspires me more. (It’s still too hot to wear the cardigan anyway.)

The absolute best thing about the vacation was reconnecting with my family (I saw my sister too! and she has pink and purple in her hair right now and it looks awesome! and I live far away from all my family and am really terrible about making time to see them and I need to get better at that really soon before it’s too late). But I also loved seeing how much knitting I could get done in a week of really serious knitting time. I think I miss vacation as much for the gobs of knitting time as for the rest of it, in part because the knitting is almost as relaxing as the rest of the vacation. Too bad that whole pesky day job thing gets in the way of knitting.

My next vacation is going to be between Christmas and New Year’s, and I’m already pleasurably plotting both what I’m going to knit for the vacation, and on the vacation. There’s going to be plenty of car time. It’s going to be epic. (For a middle-aged middle=class lady who loves knitting, that is.)

 

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California dreaming

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Last weekend, I traveled to Amy Herzog’s make.wear.love retreat (PDF), held at the lovely Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, California. How to describe it??

This was my first knitting retreat – and, actually, my first experience of formal knitting classes ever. I took a beginner’s spinning class once (at Fancy Tiger Crafts, my favorite yarn store ever – Denver, I still miss you). But otherwise, my mom taught me the knit stitch sometime when I was a kid, and I’ve managed to teach myself everything else via the glories of the internet. It was also my first time in northern California, so between these two things, it was a bit like entering a parallel universe.

The classes were great (though I have to share that I totally embarrassed myself, chatting with Norah Gaughan at check in, when we talked about being on the same flight into Monterey, because I totally did not realize who she was at all. At the end of the conversation I introduced myself, she rEllie’s, “And I’m Norah,” I said, “Nice to meet you,” and took two steps out of the registration building and went, “OH!!! THAT NORAH!!!!” So that was why she’d looked kinda familiar in the airport. Gulp. To be fair, it was kind of interesting then to think about how some designers are instantly visible because they model all their own stuff, and how some designers are much more behind the scenes – I find those kinds of marketing choices fascinating. I still couldn’t help but wonder if I’d been completely gauche though).

But anyway, the classes: my first was Norah Gaughan’s “Creative Geometric Design,” which was an engaging glimpse into how one designer approaches her projects, and a really fun way to think about coming up with design ideas. I don’t know if I will ever actually design sweaters (I fantasize that I will, but also suspect that fantasy is better off staying a fantasy), but it was also helpful for looking at schematics and thinking about what I might want in a sweater. The amazing part was how she could take a rectangle or circle of fleece, cut armholes in it, toss it on a model, and after about 30 seconds of tweaking, transform it into the roots of a beautiful garment.

Also she had a dark green alpaca sweater that looked good on everyone in the class and was the most amazingly comfortable, snuggly thing to wear, and everyone at the retreat is waiting with bated breath for the pattern to come out.

My second class was Julie Weisenberger (aka Cocoknits)’s “European Finishing Techniques,” which was a compilation of many tips and tricks. I was familiar with some of what she showed us, but many of the techniques were great and I will definitely use them (especially her middle-of-a-row bind off and shadow short wraps). The atmosphere was at once energetic and relaxed, with a lot of answers to individual questions. I’m still not convinced that her method of picking up stitches (to pick up and knit) will work for me, but I need to get the proper tools to try it properly on one of my own projects. My only regret is that by the end of her class I was fading fast, as the day had been full of learning and interaction with strangers, and my introvert brain was exhausted.

Also her sense of style was amazing.

My third class was Clara Parkes‘ “Know What Your Yarn Wants to Be,” about how different fibers and yarn construction result in yarns that work better for some projects than others, and some of the general things to keep in mind. She was as charming in person as she has always seemed online, and the depth of her knowledge is crazy. I’ve read her The Knitter’s Book of Wool, as well as a lot of other general discussions online about yarn and how to match it to a project, and while I’d never claim to be an expert, I wondered a little bit how much of the information would be new. And the answer was: plenty! For instance, sure, I knew that alpaca was a very slippery, smooth fiber, and that therefore it tends to “grow” because the stitches don’t cohere very well in finished fabric. But that was just a useful background for her discussion – a starting point, not the sum total.

Also now I want a pair of wool sneakers.

My final class was with Amy Herzog, “Sweater Design Intensive,” looking at different shoulder constructions for sweaters (drop shoulder, raglan and modified raglan, yoke, and set-in sleeves) and how to modify the different kinds to fit your shape. There was math, and I can’t claim I absorbed it all, but it made sense at the time and Amy Herzog explained it beautifully. What was really helpful – in a way that books can’t be helpful (though I have and value her books) – was seeing the actual real sweaters, which she wore, and used to demonstrate common modifications and fit issues, and passed around so we could see the construction and fabric.

Also she has the most beautiful speaking voice.

One of the things that thrilled me most about the weekend was how, well, ecumenical all the instructors were about methods and approaches and designs. No one was dogmatic or restrictive or scolding about what knitters should or shouldn’t do, instead emphasizing that while they had strong beliefs about the best way to do things, the important thing was that as knitters, we have accurate expectations for what a given yarn/pattern/design could achieve, and achieving that in a way that made us happy.

I also appreciated that there was quite a lot of diversity in style on offer. To date, Amy Herzog has emphasized fitted, set-in sleeve sweaters with waist shaping, and honestly, I felt a bit of an imposter when I showed up, as I never knit sweaters like that (I hate fitted tops and waist shaping). But she has started to offer Custom Fit designs without waist shaping (if you’re unfamiliar with Custom Fit, go take a look at the link), and is about to introduce an A-line option (previewed at the retreat). She explained that she was moving into more variation on sweater shapes, and in her class, she showed a number of examples of these new-for-her constructions from her next forthcoming book, which all thrilled me.

Norah Gaughan’s explorations of geometric shapes were further along that spectrum, nearly as far from the traditional Herzog sweater as you can get. But while the result was garments that were loose/non-fitted, even frankly voluminous, they remained flattering and not sloppy (and much more to my taste).

Even opinions about gauge and sweater fabric were varied. Amy Herzog was pretty decided that all yarn has a gauge that is right for that yarn, and I think Clara Parkes would tend to agree. (I found particularly interesting the argument that drape shouldn’t be about knitting a yarn at a loose gauge, but about the inherent qualities of the fiber.) But in contrast, Julie Weisenberger talked about how a lot of her designs used a very open gauge.

So all in all, it was a successful weekend. It was a little daunting attending by myself, but everyone was very very nice and it was pretty easy to fall into conversation with people. I find it a bit exhausting to talk to strangers for four days, and I had tiny flashbacks to high school social anxiety at meals, as there’s a dining hall that serves you cafeteria style, and then you have to scan the room and decide which table to plop yourself down at that day (did you sit with people who know each other already? are you interrupting their chance to get together and catch up? are they amateurs like you or semi-pros? are they perhaps esteemed local designers/dyers which you don’t realize until the end of the meal? ACK).

Conversely, though, something I found incredibly welcoming was how, if you were tired out from making conversation, or didn’t see someone you had already met, you could sit by yourself (at events more than meals, I should say), and as long as you were knitting, you were part of things. The way that knitting made you a part of the social fabric, even without being sociable, was kind of amazing.

I also loved that in every class, at least half of the students were knitting away the whole time. I know people who knit at conferences or work meetings, but I’ve never been in a position to do so, and have always had a sneaking feeling that to do so was rude. But here it wasn’t! How could it be rude to knit at a retreat centered on knitting? It was just lovely – both to have more knitting time, and to see what so many others were knitting, and start up a conversation about their yarn, or pattern, or needles, or so on (this happened with all the completed handknits people were wearing, too. Sadly, I didn’t actually bring any of my handknits, because they take up a ton of room and my suitcase is small).

So. That is an incomplete (though not short) description of my weekend away. It was truly very very far away from my daily life, and a lovely immersion in Knitlandia.

IMG_3495It was gray and cloudy-to-rainy the whole weekend, except late afternoon on Saturday, when the photographers with their tripods descended on the beach like seagulls. I was surprised to realize that although I didn’t grow up on the coast itself, growing up in a northeastern coastal state was enough to instill in me the belief that the sun should rise, not set, over the ocean – and when I saw the sun sinking into the Pacific it just looked wrong!

Speaking of travel 

I didn’t mention the knitting I brought with me: Gudrun Johnston’s Havra shawl (originally a Mystery Knit A Long, but the mystery has long since dissipated, since the KAL ended a few months ago).

 For a while this was my desk-lunch-break knitting at work. 

I’m using Tosh Merino Light in Composition Book Gray. Originally I planned to do the colorblocked version, and use up some TML half-skeins I had left over from other projects, but once all the finished object photos started popping up on Ravelry, I realized I liked the single color versions much better. So I bought a second skein (so much for this being a fun way to use up the stash!), which luckily ended up virtually identical to the first. 

The pattern is beautifully clear, and I appreciate that the lace pattern repeats are written out as well as charted – especially because having both helped me learn how to read charts, which I can do now! (I think the reason I’ve had problems with charts before was that they involved cable stitches, and I have a terrible time remembering which symbol means you hold the cable needle in front or behind. It’s sort of like Z plying and S plying – mirror images just trip me up. I can never figure out which button in the elevator opens or shuts the doors, either.)

Nonetheless, I’ve found that through no fault of its own, this shawl has become my back-up knitting. Mostly I picked it up for the fun of the KAL, without having a burning desire for a gray shawl, and while I actually find myself very much enjoying the process of this project, my product-driven compass keeps swinging back to whatever more desired object I’m currently constructing.

But ironically, backup knitting – or at least, this example – turns out to be wonderful travel knitting. It’s one of my few non-sweater projects going right now. My established sweater projects are all far enough along to be unwieldy to wrangle on an airplane. While I thought about casting on a new sweater project for this trip (because the beginnings of a sweater are often pretty manageable), the next ones I have next in my queue will require alternating skeins, which isn’t very portable. I’ve been pondering a Prowl by Steven West, but the yarn I want to use is handdyed, so I’d likely have to alternate skeins on that, too.

This is where people who knit sweaters in pieces and seam them up at the end definitely have an edge. A sleeve, or a cardigan front, or even a pullover front, is pretty portable compared to a 3/4-finished seamless sweater. But I realized the problem isn’t just that I tend to knit seamless sweaters that get bigger and unwieldier as you go. It’s also that my sweaters are too precious to me! The idea of something happening to a sweater project – with its significant investment of time, and yarn! – is horrifying; I find myself unable to risk it. (It’s true that something happening to a sleeve or cardigan front is less risky – but I’m still not sure I’d have enough yarn to replace one if tragedy struck.)

So the sad truth is that I can travel with my Havra because I’m less afraid of something happening to it. Sorry, Gudrun! That’s not at all a comment on your lovely pattern, just on me and my priorities. I hadn’t spent a ton of time on this shawl (at the time I took it with me) and I can replace a couple of skeins of TML if need be. But for instance, the top-down sweater I’m knitting out of Plucky Knitter Single? The yarn that I splurged on for my birthday and managed to snag in one of their fast-moving updates? I can’t replace that so easily. And a sweater’s worth of stitches is (usually) quite a bit more than a shawl’s worth. So even though I’ve reached the point of that sweater where all I need to do is finish the body by knitting stockinette in the round for about 8 more inches, and plane travel is the almost perfect situation for a lot of mindless knitting, I can’t bring myself to take it out of the house.

So my Havra will be well-traveled, and it will make her all the more well-loved. Eventually.

(Do any of you feel the same way about travel knitting?)

Consumerism: the third and fourth days

Okay, time to wrap this up. My third day of shopping, I braved public transport (the bus system was completely easy and efficient) to go to the Alberta Arts District. It’s across the river and it was interesting to see something other than downtown, especially a more residential area.

First I went to Close Knit, which was a lovely cosy yarn store with a good selection of more mid-range yarns. Lots and lots of Cascade 220, which is a great workhorse yarn, as well as some more high-end brands. I really only wanted to buy a needle (I needed a 40″ size 6 with pointy tips for a lace shawl), but on my way to checkout I was seduced by the “40% off” rack and grabbed a ball of Schoppel Wolle XL Kleckse Cat Print, in the colorway Beerenauslese. (Still within my guidelines – on sale!)

IMG_1813excuse the overexposure – it was the best shot of the color

At the time, I had convinced myself that I would make a pair of socks with this – and I may yet do that, as I’ve never made socks that actually fit, and while I rarely wear socks (as opposed to tights/stockings or athletic socks), having a handknit pair would be pretty nice. However, I think I have other plans (see below).

I also went to a lovely little fabric store, Bolt. I did not fulfill my goal of fondling/figuring out knits, because they had knits, but not a vast selections. But (similar to my experience at Powell’s) it was great to see in person fabrics I’d only looked at online – and of course I bought some. (The best part is that it was day one of their Fall Sale and EVERYTHING was on sale.)

The top is I think a J.Crew fabric? (didn’t know such a thing existed), and the photo turns the dark print black, but it’s actually navy, and a beautifully light and breezy voile. The middle is a Robert Kaufman chambray (with colored flecks that don’t show up especially well here), and the bottom is an Anna Maria Horner crosshatch.

The sale was clearly a big thing – there were a number of customers getting their fabric cut when I first walked in, in a not very big space (but well organized and laid out). While my fabric was being cut, one of the women working (she sounded owner-y or manager-y) was talking about how her son (clearly little) wanted attention while she was preparing for the sale, and so how she had him hold the bolts of fabric on his lap while she put the sale price stickers on, and how she kept checking periodically to make sure his legs hadn’t fallen asleep as she piled more and more on.

Then I wandered up and down the street looking in all the shops, bought my husband a slice of banana cream pie at a pie bar, bought me a Belgian waffle at a waffle shop, and bused it back downtown.

The last full day, a friend of my husband’s joined him and me to re-explore the downtown knitting options, as she is also a knitter and hadn’t had a chance to do so yet. So we went back to Knit Purl, and…um…I bought more yarn (which is still beautifully wrapped so again, no picture). But hey, the husband picked it out, so that doesn’t count, right? It’s Tosh Merino Light in Citrus, which is the world’s greatest orange, and I also bought a printed copy of Olga Buraya-Kefelian’s Tabi Mittens, to make my husband a pair of incandescently orange lobster-claw mittens. (He loves tabi socks.) Even in the desert, it’s probably wise to have one pair of mittens.

We stopped at Pearl Fiber Arts, where my husband’s friend bought some yarn, and then the owner (seeing our Knit Purl bags) asked us if we were going to complete the circuit? Circuit? we asked, and found out there was a third downtown yarn store, not too much further north. Armed with directions, we marched ourselves along to Dublin Bay Knitting Company.

To make a long story short, this was yet another gorgeous yarn store, with yet more brands I’d never seen in person, as well as friendly and helpful staff. As befits the name, there were traditional Irish and British yarns, but also lots of more modern companies as well. I fell madly in love with everything Hedgehog Fibres and bought a skein of their sock yarn in the Typewriter colorway. As with the Schoppen Wolle, I thought, “Eh, I can use a pair of socks, right?” But once I got them home and put them together, I decided that a two-color shawl of some variety might be a much better way to put these two to use:

So that was my crafty tourism in Portland. There are at least three other yarn stores I didn’t even get to, as well as two fantabulous fabric superstores (on the edges of town, so harder to get to on vacation) – so now I absolutely want to move to Portland, where there is lots of yarn to be had, and lots of opportunity to wear garments made from it! (And fabric, too, but you can wear that in the desert without difficulty.)

Second day of vacation shopping

My next day in Portland, I went to the bookbuyer’s mecca, Powell’s City of Books (which is a wholly appropriate name). I limited myself to looking at craft books, because I knew that if I just roamed all the stacks and shelves I’d probably never leave. And I was pretty restrained, buying only these:

The book on top is this one:

There were a lot of great vintage “how to sew” books, and I wish I could have taken them all home. Well, I wish I could have taken many more things home, and it was hard even to narrow it down to the four I chose. But I had seen a good review of the vintage book somewhere on the web, so decided to try that one. I have also wanted the Radcliffe book for a while, and when I got to flip through it in person, I liked the look of it.  The fitting book was a “staff pick,” and since there were a gazillion fitting books, that seemed as good a reason as any to choose it (also, it wasn’t a huge hardback book). Finally, there were also a gazillion “intro to photography” books, and I have no idea if this one is supposed to be any good, but agin, flipping through it, I wanted to read this one more than the others.

I also ran into a book signing by rock musician Corey Taylor of Slipknot fame (and Stone Sour, but I’ve only heard of Slipknot), which was kind of fascinating. I walked round one set of bookshelves to find the local news person doing an interview with a camera person in tow; it’s funny how immediately identifiable “TV news person” women’s style is. Lots more makeup than most ordinary people. Soon after an entourage guided him across the floor to where he was going to sign, trailed by a huge long line of people wearing black and tattoos all clutching Taylor’s latest book. One guy kept declaiming loudly about being at the end of the line and how long the line was getting – he was clearly super excited to be there.

After Powell’s I wandered over to an interesting store called Scrap, which is a “donation-based creative reuse store and donation center,” or basically a thrift store for arts and crafts supplies. It’s a great concept, and there was lots of really inexpensive stuff there, as well as a good number of shoppers. But I had forgotten until I got there that I, personally, really hate shopping at thrift stores, so I didn’t find anything I wanted or stick around for long.

I didn’t go to Voodoo Donuts on this trip, but Blue Star was near Scrap, so I treated myself to a Raspberry Rosemary Buttermilk donut, which was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.

And then on the way back to my hotel I stopped at Pearl Fiber Arts, which is a nice little shop filled mostly with local yarns and fiber, as well as very pretty wooden yarn bowls and ceramic buttons. There was nothing I couldn’t live without, but it was still fun to browse, and the owner was very friendly.

Two more days of craft tourism to go…

First day of vacation shopping

oops – I wrote this last week but forgot to post it till now.

My first day in Portland, I went to Knit Purl, which is absolutely beautiful, with a very clean, simple, aesthetic. Lots of gorgeous, higher-end yarns, with helpful and friendly but not obtrusive salespeople.

I especially enjoyed getting to see some brands in person for the first time, like Brooklyn Tweed, Sincere Sheep, the Fibre Company, Hand Maiden, and especially Shibui – there were two walls devoted to all their yarns (they own the store), and all their products were amazingly beautiful. I have never handled any of them before and could have spent (probably did spend) a ridiculous amount of time just standing by those walls stroking skeins.

In fact, I came this close to buying enough Shibui Pebble, Cima, and Baby Alpaca to make a Trace sweater. But while the results are admittedly spectacular, Shibui’s recent practice of designing sweaters that use two or three of their different lines held together frustrates me a little, because it just adds to the amount of yarn required and gets costly fast. I also chickened out on knitting a baby alpaca sweater (even though the Baby Alpaca yarn was one of the softest things I’ve ever touched, like angels came down to earth and fed the alpacas on celestial clouds and nectar or something), because I worried it would end up too hot. But oh my goodness the yarns were lovely.

Also, if you’ve seen people talking about how incredibly soft the new(ish?) yarns by Woolfolk are? Oh. My. God. They’re all correct. It is truly one of the softest wools I’ve ever felt. I didn’t buy any because the palette, while lovely and classic, is a little muddy for my tastes. But I may  change my mind in the future. I’m thinking if I ever decide to tackle a black sweater (and that day is coming, I’m sure), that might be the yarn to use.

I sort of blew my mental budget on the first day, although I stuck to my guidelines and bought enough lovely local yarn from Bumblebirch to make a light cardigan. It’s fingering weight in Dandelion (acid yellow-green/citron) – which continues my trend of buying yarn that’s either green or purple. But I really like the colorway and my husband approved of it as a “me” color.

(I am boringly not posting a picture because they wrapped the skeins so beautifully in tissue paper, and sealed them with a sticker, that I can’t bear to break them open until I’m going to use it. But they gave me a lovely tote bag. See?)

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That was it for the first full day. Frankly, it made me sad that Knit Purl isn’t my local yarn store, though it’s probably safer for my attempts at stash control that it’s not. More about the rest later.

Trip to Portland: I came, I saw, I bought all the things 

Portland started out with exhaustion, mostly because I’m incapable of packing before the very last minute. And then I had to spend much of the first evening and first full day finishing a work project, because the time-management-skills fairy passed over my crib when I was a baby.

BUT. Besides that.

It was a great vacation. The city was beautiful, and there were trees! And the leaves were changing colors! And falling! And you could smell the fallen leaves as you walked along the sidewalk! And the weather was great – in the 60s, cloudy in the mornings but sunny in the afternoons, no rain – wonderful for tramping around the city. I loved it.

I didn’t get a lot of pictures, but here are a few:

I like old courthouses.

We had a delicious breakfast under this chandelier, in an old building that was otherwise more shabby chic than fancy.

No significance here, I just liked this mural.

This is the old armory, which won an award for historic restoration sometime in the 1960s. I really liked the way the sun bounced off the cut stone.

I didn’t get a lot of scenic pictures because I spent more time browsing downtown shops that going to any of the parks/gardens/purposefully scenic places. And I am only willing to be so conspicuous taking pictures in such places. Which is also to say that craft-wise, it was a productive, dangerous (for my bank account) trip. I’ll write more about that later.