Friday, March 30, 2007

Springtime blossoms

Our back yard is bursting into bloom--Enjoy!

(I just learned about the macro setting on my camera...Love it!)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The top-down raglan-y colorwork baby sweater is done...complete with EZ-style secret message hem. I think it should fit Mr. Colin James when he's about 1.

I never thought I'd say this, but yay for fair isle! I mean, this is no Alice Starmore, but it's my first. The stranding is reasonably even and aside from a few spotty spots on the yoke where I was trying to outthink the chart, I'm pleased with the design.

My photography assistant, whose cute toes poked their way into two of these pics--he actually took the photo with the turned-up hem--even said, "Wow, mom, that's cool."

As for the sweater's construction technique--I will definitely be making more top-down sweaters, but I'm not going to use Mary Rich Goodwin's book for more than inspiration...Her designs use only minimal shaping (there are short rows below the neck ribbing), but don't have some of the other attention to detail I've seen possible in top-down patterns. For instance, what about the underarm bunching? How about a neck that doesn't funnily funnel?

I downloaded Glampyre Knits' "One Skein Wonder" for myself and want to try a sweater pattern from either her online collection, her book Fitted Knits, or one of these designs (maybe Something Red? I'm a sucker for red).

On to other things...

Colorwork looks really cool from the underside.

Maybe that's why the designer of this sweater...Put the sleeves on inside-out.

Oh, yes.

I picked up this little beauty at our local Salvation Army which, aside from being the least-smelly thrift store in town, also carries all of the rejects, samples, and overstocks of a clothing brand called Mac & Jac. This sweater had a tag marked $89; the other sweater I got had a tag--from Nordstrom!--marked $119. I paid, for each...

wait for it...


It had a three-to-four-inch hole along the back bottom border, which I was able to kitchener closed using color-matched DMC embroidery floss, adding a few duplicate stitches so the pattern wasn't too off. It's a bit warbly--see above--but since the repaired area is on the back of a colorful sweater, I don't think anyone will notice but me. I wish I had a more dramatic before/after but I was so excited to fix it that I sort of forgot about the whole "for posterity" thing.

Because this was a sample sweater, it doesn't have the full garment care tag, but the yarn feels like a cotton/acrylic blend. It's soft, slightly fuzzy, and very warm.

The buttons were missing as well, and I replaced them with some quasi-amber brown plastic ones from JoAnn.

So--I don't think I'll be trying inside-out colorwork as a design feature any time soon, but to get a $90 sweater for $5 plus two skeins of embroidery floss and a couple of buttons...? Priceless.

Monday, March 26, 2007


We've had a soaking-wet winter, and the last two weeks have been absolutely depressing. The daily deluge, the whistling winds, and the cold temperatures kept us indoors and on the verge of Seasonal Affective Disorder (not to mention Crazy Four-year-old Disorder, which manifests itself with extreme costume changes, high-pitched whining, and uncontrollable racing up and down the hallway). The few times we ventured out, we'd return chilled--especially Baby E, no matter how many layers--and damp.

Hence my excitement when I awoke to this view out the front window:

Blue skies. Clearly glimpsable mountains. (These are in Canada, in case you were wondering--our window faces north. Probably someday I should find out what they're called.)

We went for a run--me running, the kids in the double stroller (makes 1.75 miles feel like 4)--and are headed for the park this afternoon. Ahhh.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Swedish Meatball

I finally get this blog's reference: Breakfast at Tiffany's. (Thank you, quote of the week in my Stitch'n'Bitch desk calendar.)

If she's knitting a ranch house, I may be knitting an IKEA store:

Our friends Aaron and Pam just welcomed their long-awaited son last Monday. I hadn't intended to knit a sweater...I have a couple other project that need to be completed...but somehow two skeins of Wool-Ease made their way into my cart at Jo-Anns, budgets being what they are, and I started a top-down raglan for the little dude.

The pattern is based on the cover sweater of Mary Rich Goodwin's book Children's Sweaters and Hats: Knitting Seamless Raglan Top Down. I thought I'd give the technique a try.

I'm reasonably pleased with the results. I think it'll fit well; it was a fast knit (it's small, so, duh), and the addition of some leftover navy yarn tempered the whole Swedish flag aspect.

It's also been a great pattern for making me more and more comfortable with stranded colorwork:
Interestingly, though I like the sunshiny yellow and denimy-heathery blue together, the navy and yellow just looked terrible. It's always fascinating to see how colors react and interact with each other. Anyway, after seeing how the yellow body stripe was reading rather neon-Charlie-Brown, I ripped back, did a few more inches of navy, then finished with the light blue and no yellow at the bottom.

More photos to come when it's completed.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I is for Introvert

Have you ever taken one of those in-depth personality type tests? In college, I took the Meyer-Briggs personality inventory. I don't remember exactly what I scored, but I remember being really surprised at one of the results--I was an introvert.

Now, remember, I talk to (sometimes AT) people for a living. Before I started teaching, I worked in marketing/sales/customer service, did training workshops to sometimes hundreds of people, and in college I was an RA and assistant resident director, managing communities of 50-500 people. I'd been active in student government, I spoke up in class, I could talk to strangers in airports. If anything was sure, I thought I would be squarely on the extroverted end of the E-I spectrum.

Not so.

I'll never forget what the facilitator said. She said that introverts are not necessarily shy or antisocial, and extroverts are not necessarily gregarious party-people. The difference between E and I is where you get your energy. Extroverts get it from being with others; introverts get it from being alone. And again and again I've found this to be true. I love to be with people, and I have energy when I'm with them, but to truly, deeply recharge I must spend time alone.

So after a week of not-aloneness, I was at my wit's end yesterday. I've been carrying almost all of the parenting time since my husband has been recovering from being ill and extremely busy at school. 200,000 games of Sorry and Peekaboo later, I was exhibiting all the signs of post-exhausted-mom-disorder--snappishness, cynicism, and a general air of malaise. So Saturday afternoon M sent me off for some alone time.

(It's nice to be married to someone who knows you better than you know yourself.)

I visited a lovely LYS called the Wool Station. I burned up the rest of my fun money for the month--or should I say ALL my fun money for the month--on a ball of Trekking XXL and two Addi Turbos 24" size 1. I walked across the street to my favorite bookstore in the whole world, Village Books, and bought a book and a magazine and sat with a soy latte and swatched for socks.

Two hours later, my spirits were high (though it could have been the caffeine) and I was me again.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bumper Stumper: Ribnets

Was a time there were only red ribbons. Remember watching the Oscars and seeing every star with a silk twist on their lapels, proclaiming their awareness of the AIDS epidemic and commitment to finding a cure? (Um, guys? Any day now.)

Now ribbons have reproduced like fruit flies. Pink for breast cancer. Multicolored for autism. For every social issue, there is a color-coordinated accessory. No longer content to pin them on our lapels, people now stick ribbon-shaped magnets on the backs of their cars--ribnets?--especially here in suburbia where if you wore a ribbon on your lapel, no one would see it, because you spend half your life in your car.

Yesterday, as I drove home through the driving rain, I followed a minivan with three ribnets. Having just marked the fourth(!) anniversary of the Iraq War on Monday, I was in no mood for jingoistic "Support Our Troops" rhetoric...and of course one of the ribnets said "Support Our Troops." So I turned my attention to the other two. What other pressing social issue was our Mom Bomb advocating? What other mushmouth sentiment had she taken the time to display for the world to see? Heart disease? Genocide in Darfur? The national deficit? I finally pulled close enough at a stoplight to see that they proclaimed an undying commitment to the cause of:


This just proves to me that the ribnets are idiotic. Football is not a cause. (OK, maybe it is for some, and Seahawks football is definitely a cult, but it's not like people are DYING here.) The original purpose of the ribbons/ribnets was to commemorate, to at least IMPLY an actionable cause, to raise awareness, to get people talking and asking questions. Let me repeat: FOOTBALL IS NOT A CAUSE.

This conflation of the "I HEART" motif and the ribbon...sheer idiocy.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Wearin' O' The Green

I've had the girl from auntie's Celtic Cap pattern for a few months now. Saint Patrick's Day being last week, it seemed fitting to spend a couple of days last week knitting this up.

I really like this pattern. The cables gave a bit of challenge--I used grumperina's method for cabling w/o a cable needle, which really speeds things up--and the overall knit was fast, clean, and satisfying. The directions seem intimidating--12 pages for a HAT pattern?--but that's only because they are so thorough, and because the designer provides a worksheet for resizing to fit one's gauge and/or the recipient's head...alternate cable charts for shorter or longer cables...and some really clear instructions for all of the chart symbols.

Details: Cascade 220 color ___ (need to dig out the ballband). Used two size 6 circulars because I don't have a 16" size 6... The pattern said you need 220 yards of worsted but this must be a conservative estimate--I'd guess I still have about 1/4 to 1/3 of the skein left.

I wore the hat on Saint Patrick's Day--of course--and trotted it out again today whilst the kids and I ran errands. Today also marked the first day I have worn two of my own handknit items. My Silja too-big-but-I-love-'em-anyway socks and the hat. I probably looked like I was celebrating a few days too late, but oh well.

They're not quite the same green, but who could tell?

This having been such a positive experience--I think I'm ready to tackle Rogue. Or Eris.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Apple Red Happiness

You Are Apple Red

You're never one to take life too seriously, and because of it, you're a ton of fun.
And although you have a great sense of humor, you are never superficial.
Deep and caring, you do like to get to the core of people - to understand them well.
However, any probing you do is light hearted and fun, sometimes causing people to misjudge you.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


When I was a kid, my dad would obsess about house projects. If he planned to build a deck in the summer, he'd spend all winter reading books about deck-building, making notes in the margins, and drawing little schematics on graph paper.

I asked him once why he did this. He said he needed to completely visualize the whole project before he could start. He also said that his dad, a wheat farmer who also raised a small herd of beef cattle, would spend all winter--AKA "the slow time"--planning for the spring/summer/harvest ahead--reading, charting, naming calves, and this habit of overplanning trickled down to him.

The Brannan planning gene manifests itself in my obsessive reading of knitting books. I don't just like flipping through and admiring the pretty pictures, although that'll do in a pinch--I love reading the pattern directions (Yes! Reading! The! Line! By! Line! Directions!) and imagining the garment in its finished glory. If a technique doesn't make sense to me, I go over and over it in my mind until I can see the logic and mathematics behind it. Sometimes I even swatch to try something out, e.g. bobbles.

I now have a name for this obsession (er) habit, thanks to Alice Starmore: LOOK-THINK-KNIT. (I guess Dad's is LOOK-THINK-BUILD and Grandpa's is LOOK-THINK-FARM.) On page 46 of Aran Knitting, she says:

"Observation has always been a key ingredient in all knitting traditions. I call it the LOOK-THINK-KNIT approach. Instead of blindly following instructions, traditional knitters study any patterns that they come across, and create a mental picture which they transcribe into their own work....The greatest advantage of all is that with practice, the knitter quickly develops a complete understanding of the structure of the patterns and is then free to experiment with new ideas."

She's talking, of course, about memorizing Aran stitch patterns, but I think it can apply to the craft/art of knitting in general, or any task that requires both creative (mind) and skillful (hand) energies.

In the same way that mental understanding of grammatical structures leads to more skillful creative writing, even if one "breaks" the rules (think e.e. cummings or Hemingway), reading and absorbing knitting techniques and garment designs means that the hands execute more cleverly and the mind is free to create.

I won't say much more about Aran Knitting, because it's clearly a classic in the field--why else would it be going for literally hundreds of dollars on eBay? (Thank goodness my library has a copy.) Its combination of history, instruction, and patterns makes it invaluable. Next time I have an extra $250 lying around (ha!) I'm bidding on this one.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Book Reviews, Part One

These past weeks I've been reading about knitting, reading while knitting, knitting while reading, and haunting the stacks of my local library searching for knitting books that don't include sweater patterns that have a) dolman sleeves or b) look like a cat just threw up on the wearer (yes, I mean you, Mr. Fassett).

I checked out this batch last week and have spent many happy hours immersed in them. Here's whether, in my opinion, they're worth the price of admission:

The Best of Lopi, edited by Susan Mills and Nora Gaughan (different cover shown on Amazon, but seems to be the same book based on the reviewers' text). I love sweater books with a bit of history to them. I knew about Lopi already, of course, from reading Elizabeth Zimmermann, but I loved learning a bit more about Iceland, its wool, and its population of tall, thin models encased in colorwork. Although I still question whether the men in my own personal life would enjoy wearing a yoked sweater, there are a couple of other "recipes" in here that could be adapted.

Pros: Lovely patterns, multiple colorways shown for most, some non-traditional patterns (aran-style, raglan cardi).
Cons: Most of the cardis shown are knitted back and forth, which seems counter-intuitive and was probably adapted for the steek-fearing. Not that I've steeked as yet, but I don't fear the steek. But it's easy enough to adapt the patterns.
Verdict: Would buy.

Knitting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti. I equate Righetti with Zimmermann in my knitting goddess pantheon. Though this book is 20+ years old (the Amazon listing seems to just have a new cover slapped on the old edition) it was helpful, clear, and I already used it to help me figure out short rows.
And Kay and Ann are right: just the chapter title "Buttonholes are Bastards" is worth the price of the book!

Pros: Plain English, as advertised--plain, readable, helpful English. Variety of chapters--how to pick patterns, basic skills, advanced skills, stitch patterns to know.
Cons: Not diagram-heavy (but certainly helpful), somewhat outdated in terms of supplies & yarn recommendations.
Verdict: Would buy.

Knitting Ganseys by Beth Brown-Reinsel. Another gem from the '80's/early '90's. I got interested in ganseys after reading an article in the winter Interweave Knits, and this book is very clear about their construction as well as the history and necessity behind the style. I love books that don't just present pattern after pattern, but unlock the core theory behind the patterns, and Brown-Reinsel has a master teacher's ability to help the knitter envision and choose the sweater she wants to create.

Each chapter goes over a different choice-point or step in the gansey's construction, and shows examples of different variations, and then the final chapters tie it all together by teaching you how to write your own gansey pattern. If you don't want to do that yourself, though, there are several patterns in the back; I'd personally only make the kid ones, though, because the adult sweaters have a very 80's flair--certainly not the close-cropped traditional gansey construction. I'm considering using this book to design a sweater for M.

Pros: Extremely complete and readable; nice balance between theory, example, and practice.
Cons: Ugly adult designs.
Verdict: Will check out again; a possible purchase.

Children's Sweaters and Hats: Knitting Seamless Raglan Top Down and
Adult Sweaters: Knitting Seamless Raglan Top Down

by Mary Rich Goodwin
I'm torn when writing about these two. After reading Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top, I wanted to see some top-down designs in action. I found Rich's books tucked away on the knitting shelf.

The sweaters, especially the children's ones, are adequately designed and seem like they'd be fast, intuitive knits. What bugs me about these books is the writing, and bad writing is a "Do not pass Go, do not collect $200" for me. Both books, which are, incidentally, the same "skeleton"--instructions, introduction, etc--with different patterns in the middle, are filled with grammatical errors that make my English teachery eyes bleed.

Here's a verbatim quote from the introduction: "[Making top down seamless raglan sweaters] is like magic cast on so many, work the neck ribbing, divide for sleeves, front and back, and viola, a sweater. The pattern seemed to work for any size sweater knit the yoke longer and the sweater is larger." AAAAAAAH! This woman never met a sentence she couldn't mangle. And, worst of all, she's a teacher. I have very little space in my life for people in my profession who write like idiots.

Pros: Simple, practical--if very basic with little-to-no-shaping--sweater patterns for kids & adults. I'm going to use up some acrylic gifted to me on a simple sweater for baby E using one of her kiddie patterns.
Cons: Ridiculously poor writing/editing. None of the patterns seem like anything one couldn't design using the *free* pattern found here. Also, for some reason, she prefers the "raglanless" raglan, where one spaces out the raglan increases rather than lining them up. This gives a sameness and a rounded shape that looks more homemade than handmade.
Verdict: Would not buy. (Especially because I checked Amazon and used copies were going for $60. Whaaa?)

I have a few more books to write about, including an orgy of Alice Starmore--stay tuned--

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

My first "first" for 2007

It is complete!

I followed the UNdirections closely.

Included Phoney Seams up each side and underarm...

Knitted in a secret message...

And it fits! (And matches both our house and Mr. D's spidey boots.)

This was an indescribably enjoyable experience, the first of many to come for sure. He's worn it voluntarily twice already, and I only finished it on Sunday. My neighbor, also a knitter, but one who's not heard of EZ, has already asked me for the pattern. My spouse already asked, "How expensive is the yarn you used?" and has been ogling the saddle-shoulder or hybrid.

I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the hemmed bottom edge -- which I didn't photograph in progress because I just couldn't stop knitting -- but I love it. I knit up in the purl bumps, decreased by 10%, wrote my secret message, and sewed the stitches on. (This got easier when I thought to use open stitch markers to mark ahead a few stitches so I could keep it straight.)

In total I used 2 skeins of the blue and one of the red. Had to break into some green I had stashed for the message letters in order to keep enough blue for the final hem row and sewing-up yarn. The stripes made a few burbles in the fabric when I wove in the ends, but a good steaming evened everything up and I'm just so happy with it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Bumper Philosophies

I have a fascination with bumper stickers, those ultra-condensed snippets of philosophy. I don't know about you, dear (hypothetical) readers, but there isn't anything--not a sports team, not a religion, not a political candidate, and certainly not a 10-word clever phrase or innuendo-- that I've been so passionate about that I wanted to permanently adhere it to my multi-thousand dollar vehicle. It absolutely fascinates me to see the issues that people feel compelled to post on their cars.

When I named this blog knitsmith-wordpurl, my intention was to use it as a space for not only my knitting (mis)adventures but my fascination with words and writing.

Thus begins a new feature here: bumper sticker commentary.

Today when I was out running I saw this one on a parked car in my neighborhood:


Yeah, for now, until you have to carry that little oxygen tank with you wherever you go. Idiot.