Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer of Literature

I made a small goal for myself this summer. I decided that I would alternate my book choices. For every fluffy, “light summer reading” type book, I’d alternate with a classic. Now I know “classic” has many definitions, and can signify a particular period in literature, but for my purposes classic means any book on my shelves written by a celebrated author of their day. In other words, those books I buy intending to get around to reading someday, or books written by my favorite authors. Some of those on my shelves include Edna Ferber, Sinclair Lewis, Jane Austen, RF Delderfield, Margery Sharp, PG Wodehouse, and Booth Tarkington, to name just a few.
First up was “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh. I thought I watched the miniseries when it first came out in the early 80s, but I certainly didn’t remember it. This was such a sad story of what we would now call a dysfunctional family. Had it been the story of an American family I’m sure I would have pitched it. But I’m a sucker for British literature, and the lush descriptions of Oxford and Italy and the Brideshead estate saved it for me. Since finishing the book, I’m trying to watch the miniseries again, but it’s going slowly. It’s hard to watch much video in the summer – I look at the baseball games instead, and spend much more time outside, if the weather’s nice.
The second classic was “Winesburg, Ohio” by Sherwood Anderson. I’ve had this on my shelf for years, the “Modern American Library” edition, with an idyllic scene on its dust jacket. How deceptive. Again, such a sad, dark book. At first, it reminded me of Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, only in prose instead of poetry. But at least in Spoon River, you had a few happy souls in the cemetery. In Winesburg everyone was tormented by their inner demons, and if they did have a strong faith, it was usually a little too far on the zealous side. I couldn’t wait to get out of that town. I had it on my coffee table and one day my brother picked it up and asked me why I was reading it. He had scanned the chapter headings and thought it sounded just dreadful.
In right now, I’m in the middle of John Steinbeck’s “The Moon is Down”. Too early for a review, but I’m racing through it. It’s been a long time since I've read Steinbeck, and I forgot how much I enjoy his writing. I picked this book because it’s just an old mass-market paperback (complete with underlined passages), so when I’m finished with it I’ll donate it to Goodwill or the library book sale. The other two books are already in the donation box. It’s highly unlikely I’d ever read either one again, or want to pass them on to friends, and I need space on the bookshelves!

I’m not sure what will come next, or how long I’ll keep this going. Maybe I’ll extend it through the end of the year. Maybe it will become a permanent habit. So often, I put off reading a "deeper" book because I think I'm too busy to get involved with a heavy novel. But so far, this is working out well!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Baby, It's Hot Outside!

My beer can has a sweater.
Isn't it snazzy?

I need to get some of these knit for the Etsy shop. They are just the ticket when it's hot and humid and you need to hold a beverage of any kind. I've made them in this basic ribbing, which is nice and stretchy and fits a variety of sizes. And I've made some fancy ones too, with colorwork.

It's been great to have a basket of them, so I can grab one and slip it over a glass, bottle, or can, and not have to worry about sweaty water rings. It's a little nicer than a coaster, because nobody wants to grab a wet glass, and then have to wipe their hands before keyboarding, knitting, playing cards, or any other fun summer activities. And if it eventually gets wet, just swap it out for a fresh one!

Stay cool!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

We Went to Separate Schools Together

Back in my early college days, I had a summer job doing clerical work. I worked with a group of men, all older than myself, and most of them characters, in one way or another. I remember that one of them, when asked if he knew so-and-so, would usually reply “Oh yes, we went to separate schools together.” It was good for a silly little chuckle.
Fast forward to now. Even though I live in the same town I grew up in, I rarely see or spend time with people I grew up with. This is for a variety of reasons, the main one being I’m just not that social.
This week when I went to get my hair done, a classmate of mine was at the salon. I’m not sure if she recognized me, but we all chatted about current events. I pulled out my knitting as I always do, and eventually the conversation turned to knitting. What was I making? Why so many needles? Who else here knits, or used to knit?
My classmate then said that she remembered learning to knit in school, but hadn’t done it for a long time. I looked at her in wonder. They taught knitting in school? In our small school? Was it in Home Ec class, or in Art class? I didn’t take either one. It’s not like we had all that many choices for electives back then. I looked at this woman, and pondered the different paths our high school lives must have taken. In a class of just over 100 students, she had been a cheerleader. I had been in music and drama. We must have had some classes together, but I couldn’t remember for sure. She learned to knit years before I did, and I never even knew I had the opportunity to learn.
Then I realized it – we went to separate schools together!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

On the Needles...

Over the last few weeks I’ve had a lot of projects on the needles, and while this can sometimes be overwhelming, right now it feels like a good mix of projects.

There have been two pairs of socks. The first is a brown pair in Lion Sockease, that I thought would be good for work (I have to wear brown to work - sigh). They are turning out all right, but I’m waffling on whether or not I really like them.
The second pair is a one that I started when I needed something completely mindless to work on while I ran a meeting. They are in Zauberball Crazy, and it’s the first time I’ve knit with this yarn. I have three balls, and this is the most colorful of the three. It’s entrancing how the colors change from one to the other, much more gently than I thought they would.
It’s reminded me that there’s nothing wrong with knitting plain old socks. So many knitters are working on lace socks now. They’re everywhere. I made a couple of pair in the past, and while they are pretty, they’re just not for me. I don’t like putting holes in my socks intentionally! I am fond of cables and texture patterns, though, and I like knitting them, although they take a little more work and concentration. But for pure satisfaction, you can’t beat socks in simple stockinette stitch. They almost fly off the needles, they’re so easy!

Aside from socks, I’ve been working on more baby booties, washcloths, and catnip toys. These are all the “take-along” projects. At home, I’m trying to finish the second square of the new cat bed, and I unearthed an old toddler sweater that only needed a few rows of button band.

And I whipped up a pair of scuffs from Lopi yarn over a weekend and then fulled them in the washer with the laundry. After three cycles, I’m wondering if they’re done. They are still a little large for me, so do I stop and use them as a gift or sell them, or do I try one more cycle? They may not shrink any further.
I’m still hoping this weekend to pull out one of large sweater projects and make some progress on it, but until a big chunk of time comes along, these small projects are great for filling in. And since I’m still on a mad dash to burn through as much stash as possible, the more knitting, the better!

Monday, February 06, 2012


One of my recurring knitting projects is slippers. They make good gifts, and I like to have at least one new pair for myself each year. I have one pattern that I make again and again, even though I like to try others to see how they compare.

Three years ago I made this pair of slippers for myself. Nothing fancy – one strand of acrylic worsted weight, combined with a couple strands of fine mohair coned yarn. After a few washings they became nice, sturdy slippers.
Now, after two years of wear, I noticed that the soles were just about to wear out into holes, and this time, rather than just toss them and make another pair, I decided to try and do something about it.

This particular slipper design has a nicely defined line of stitches running along each side of the foot. I found some leftover wool/acrylic yarn in a dark gray, and cast on 15 stitches, which by eyeballing it, looked like the right amount. By knitting back and forth in plain garter stitch, and slipping the edge stitches, I ended up with a piece long enough to stitch in place. I did a few decreases at the top where the toe shaping was, whip stitched the patch to the slipper, and voila – slippers restored!
The patch will provide an extra layer of cushioning as well as cover up the thin spots. I suppose eventually it will wear out as well, and maybe by that time, I’ll be ready to toss this pair.

So what did this action save? It saved a pair of slippers from the landfill (they were acrylic – couldn’t burn or compost them). It saved time – a couple of hours knitting and stitching, versus a couple of days making a whole new pair. It saved materials, although, for someone wanting to use up stash, this wasn’t so important. And the small amount of yarn for the patches came from a sweater project that someone else gave me, that I was unraveling, so I guess it saved money by not having to buy yarn.

Besides getting a rejuvenated pair of slippers, I also gained the knowledge that this kind of repair was not only possible, it was easy, and there was no need to “over-think” it (which I had done in the past, until I made my own head swim and gave up without trying). And there’s something about this kind of small accomplishment that gives a sense of confidence. If I can mend slippers, I can do anything!

My world needs more of that – how about yours?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Back in Stock at Creativemind - Red Voyageur Cap

This unique cap is one of the more popular items in my Etsy shop. It is a historically authentic cap that the Voyageurs, or French fur traders, wore in the 1600’s when they were exploring Canada and the northeastern United States. A friend of mine who does reenacting had asked me to knit one for him, and when others reenactors saw it, he suggested I make more.

This painting by Frances Anne Hopkins shows an example of just such a cap:

The cap is made form 100% wool yarn, and this one is the most traditional color – red. The shape is basically that of a squashed football, and it’s worn by tucking one end up into the other end, which gives a double layer to keep your head warm. The pointed end of the cap is then folded over to one side for a jaunty look.

Not only have these caps been popular with the reenactors, many other people have found them to be a unique form of winter headgear. In the past I’ve knit special orders in a variety of colors, and have adding ribbing and a tassel as a special request.

If you attend Black Powder Rendezous, or other historical events, or are just looking for a great way to stay warm, check it out!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

She's Got Legs...

Ok, I don’t have rock star super model legs by any stretch of the imagination, but now, after several months of off and on knitting, I’ve got leg warmers to keep them warm!

Often in the winter, I’ll change into jammies or a flannel nightgown early in the evening, especially if I’m just going to be sitting and knitting and watching tv or listening to books. I would bundle up pretty well, but with a nightgown, I’d still have cold legs, especially when I’d have to leave my little nest for some reason. I realized two or even three years ago that leg warmers would be the answer, but it took this long to get going and actually make some.

Even though I could have figured out something on my own, I decided to find a pattern as a jumping off point. I liked the looks of a pattern called Ribbed Thigh Highs from the Lion Brand website; it was what I had in mind – something long enough to go over the knee, and just a basic stitch design. I can't link directly to the pattern - you'd need to register and log in just to look at it :(

The yarn I chose was a vintage yarn from my stash – City by Aarlan. It’s a superwash merino wool, DK weight, and long ago discontinued. I bought this yarn via mail-order in the 1980s, and have kept this little stash of it for so long, looking for just the right project. I have only a few balls each of four bright 80’s colors, and I could never figure out what to do with them. There wasn’t enough of any one color to make something big, and combining the colors would need just the right project. Plus, it was superwash MERINO, which at the time of purchase was something rare and cherished. It’s still a luxury fiber, but it’s more readily available today.

I finally decided it’s time had come, and selected the teal color for the legwarmers. I started knitting in October of last year, and although it was easy going, I kept having to the knitting aside for more urgent projects.

I didn’t follow the pattern exactly as written. My row gauge must not have matched, because if I had worked 12 rounds between decreases, these would have been miles long! I did a few 12 round intervals, then switched to six, then to four, then back to six. Whatever looked like appropriate leg shaping.  I kept track by making notes on the pattern, and finally got the first one finished. I put it on one cold evening while I started the second legwarmer, and already I could feel the difference.

While working on this project, I realized that I do not have a problem at all with “Second Sock Syndrome”. For me, it’s just the opposite. Usually it’s the first sock that is the tedious affair, because from the beginning I have so much to figure out. How many rounds of ribbing? 10? 12? 1 inch? 2? Ok, 2 – write that down.  Write down rounds and keep track of repeats of stitch pattern. Which rounds have leg shaping? Write it down. How many rounds for the foot? Write it down. How many stitches left on the toe for Kitchener stitch? Usually, I have a pattern page or a memo pad full of jottings, hash marks, and hopefully usefully information like needle size and stitch counts. All this deciding and calculating and estimating takes extra time.

So once the first sock, or in this case leg warmer, is cast off, I’m ready for smooth sailing on the mate. All the hard work has been done. All I have to do is follow my notes, tick the same number of hash marks, and the second sock, leg warmer, or mitten, almost flies off the needles.

The leg warmers were finished last week. I wore them one evening, and they feel wonderful. There is a little drawback that they don’t stay up on bare legs, which I was sort of expecting. But they only droop when I’m walking around, and not much. So once I’m settled on the sofa, I pull them up and stay comfy cozy.

There was one ball of teal yarn left, and I think I’ll use it and the other bright colors of City for some multi-color socks similar to the pair in my Etsy avatar. Those were made and sold years ago, and I miss them. They were quirky and fun, and the world needs another pair!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

New at Creativemind - Black Watch Cap

One of the ways I want to use the blog more this year is to highlight items that are added to my Etsy shop. Often there’s a reason why I make something, or a story behind its making. Or sometimes I’m just knitting. Here goes!

This black watch cap was added on January 1.  To me, the black ribbed watch cap is a classic. It conjures up images of merchant seamen or sailors, of robbers or bad guys from the movies, or hikers and outdoorsmen.  And it’s a unisex style – women can also wear this cap with ease and comfort.

Besides the classic style, another reason I like to make these ribbed caps is just that – the ribbing. The standard knit 2, purl 2 ribbing is so stretchy that it can accommodate several head sizes. This is especially nice if the cap is a gift – it’s bound to fit!

The yarn I used for this cap is Berroco Vintage, and it’s a new yarn for me. It’s a blend of wool and acrylic, which makes the yarn easy to care for. I liked the heft of the yarn, and thought it was very pleasant to knit with.

If you are looking for a standard wardrobe staple, or a great gift, be sure to check it out!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Year in Review - Just some Tidbits

Happy New Year! Here we are off and running with new goals, new aspirations, and new dreams. I didn’t write a list of resolutions this year. Several years ago, I sat down with a legal pad, and not only made a list of goals, but actually outlined the steps necessary to meet those goals. It’s a beautiful list – more than six pages long! It’s fun to look at it year after year, and see what’s been accomplished, and what hasn’t.

Several months ago I also came across a little notebook that had a few blank pages in it. I’ve been using it for daily reminders, and will toss it when I’ve used up the pages. But at the beginning of the notebook are my 1993 Resolutions. This is even funnier, because in addition to the common goals of “eat sensibly” and “be frugal” are some that are past their sell-by date, such as “label all video tapes” and “clip coupons diligently”. A few pages further in the notebook are some daily accomplishments, including several days spent “working on labeling video tapes”. I think now that most of those tapes are long gone. And my hardcore couponing went by the wayside when I realized I was spending more money buying name brand items I didn’t necessarily need just to use a coupon, when generic was still cheaper, if the item was needed at all.

But my topic for today was a look back, not forward. I won’t bore you with the vital statistics of how many grams of yarn I knit up, or how many books I read, but instead have these few observations to share.

I did knit up a lot of yarn. That was good. More than 20 pounds, more than in 2010. But this year I also tracked how much yarn came into the house. Even with being on a yarn buying moratorium, it happened. Not in a drunken binge sort of way, but in very carefully considered purchases. And even though I was very restrained, I still purchased almost as much as I knit up. My net use was only 20 balls of yarn. For someone trying to bust stash, this is not very encouraging!

Most of the projects I made in 2011 were not for me. I had several on the go, but what routinely got finished were items for the Etsy shop, or the Craft Barn, or for gifts. That’s ok, but I’d really like to enjoy more of my efforts. And I’d like to make some of the more complex pieces that require attention and aren’t necessarily good “take-along” projects. Still, I can’t say that I made anything that I didn’t like working on.

Books – I listened to a lot of audio books in 2011. I started with audio books several years ago when I got a treadmill. Trying to read a book or look at a magazine while on it made me dizzy, but the audio books held my attention. Often I would go and walk just to hear what happened next. Eventually I was listening while I cooked, or knit, or cleaned. I worked my way through the Agatha Raisin series by MC Beaton, and I’m about halfway through her Hamish MacBeth series. These are light mysteries, and they remind me of when I was a youth, devouring the Nancy Drew mysteries. I would check out three or four from the library and read all weekend.
With audio books, the narrators make all the difference. I enjoyed the readers of the Agatha Raisin series, but was not as impressed with the readers of Hamish MacBeth. I also tried a Richard Russo novel where the reader was so clinical and sterile that I gave up after an hour, deciding I’d rather read the book myself and put my own voice to the characters. Probably the best audio book I listened to during the year was “Montana, 1948” by Larry Watson, read by Beau Bridges. He did a wonderful job not only of portraying  the characters, but of setting the mood, and giving the book the atmosphere of the place and time.

I hope that this year continues to provide new opportunities for enrichment, both creatively and intellectually. I’d like to try to blog more, of course, so be on the lookout for ramblings on a variety of subjects. You never know what will turn up!