Friday, January 30, 2009


Originally uploaded by Wordpurler
I finished this sweater in less than a month--it's Ingenue by Wendy Bernard from her Custom Knits book (which I love, by the way). I used Berocco Ultra Alpaca and it is so soft and wonderful...

The color on the photo is terrible--i was taking it at night using the (sucky) ambient light in my bedroom--but the weater is a lovely heathered brick red.

For more details, see my Ravelry page...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review: KA needles

The search for the perfect needle is the philosopher's stone of knitting, and rather a ridiculous pursuit at that. Ultimately, the perfect needle needs to fit a) the project, b) the yarn, and c) the knitter.

With that in mind, I want to review a product I consider to be fabulous, but that I haven't seen much about (or anything, really) in the knitblogosphere--a quick Google search yielded only two reviews--KA needles.

One of my LYSes, the Wool Station, carries the full line of KA and I was first introduced to them about 18 months ago as a more affordable alternative to Addi Turbo--KAs run for about $8 a set. Now that I know more about knitting and have tried more brands of needles, I am increasingly happy I was introduced to the brand, because they have become my go-to needles for circular knitting (with one exception, which I'll get to in a minute.)

KA are a bamboo circular that comes in a full range of sizes and lengths. At first glance they look an awful lot like Clover circulars, which may turn some knitters off; they have a clear plastic, rather thick cable, like Clovers, and are, of course, bamboo. These similarities are merely cosmetic, however, for the KA are functionally superior in needle, join, and cable.

Let's start with the needle. Very light, with a polished and silken feel, the needles are cut on the straight grain from what the packaging claims is bamboo heartwood, harder than the typical bamboo needles. Who cares about harder, I wondered--I'm not trying to chisel anything. The advantage the harder bamboo yields, though, is in the tip. These are not blunt stubby needles (see photo above); the tips work well for all the types of knitting I've asked them to do, including cabling-without-a-cable-needle (which I would never do with a Clover!) and lace.

Next, the silken finish is superior to other bamboos; they're very similar to the Knitpicks Harmony and, dare I say it?, Addis. I've worked with Clover needles and have had a lot of trouble with stitches sticking on their rougher surface, but yarns, even acrylic blends, slide right over the KAs. They walk the line between slippery and grippy without tipping either direction.

I also appreciate the length of needle the circs have, even in the 16" size. Some brands (coughKnitpickscough) skimp on the needle-tip real estate, leaving the knitter with little to hang on to when working in small circumferences. I don't know about you, but I don't enjoy feeling like I'm only pinching the needles with thumbs and index fingers--this is a sure recipe for hand and shoulder fatigue. The 16" KA needle ends are long enough for comfortably knitting a hat, neckband, or sleeve in the round.

As for the join and the cable, this is where the most special feature of the KA comes in--the join SWIVELS. So even though the cable is admittedly stiff and much fatter than, say, an Addi Turbo or Knitpicks Options, you don't end up with twisted-up cables or recalcitrant lines of stitches. (I do recommend giving the cable a good steaming or even immersing it in boiling water when you take it out, though.)

I've used these needles for knitting sweaters in the round, socks and sleeves on two circulars, and a little bit of magic loop. I don't recommend them for two-circ work because the cables are so inflexible; you spend a lot of time coaxing them to bend the way you want them to, plus the needles don't come in a 24" size so you're always sweeping the 29" out of the way. My surprise of late was discovering how well they work for magic loop, a technique I try to avoid as much as possible. I was working up a swatch in the round for a cabled sweater, and found I could magic loop on one of their 29" needles just great; the swiveled joins really responded well to the contortions required for magic looping, and I didn't have any trouble with laddering.

So--to sum up--I find KA needles to be versatile, affordable, expendable, and reliable. They're not statusy, but are quiet little workhorses ready for whatever you throw their way. You'll love them, but you won't cry if you lose a pair--for around $8 more they are easily replaced. And they swivel! (Second life as ninja weapons?)

They are available from a number of online sellers and maybe even your LYS. I buy mine at the Wool Station here in Bellingham, but they do not sell online. Buy local if you can, and tell me what you think of them!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sweet Coraline

Today, when we stopped for lunch on the way home from Olympia, my kids got a kids meal with a "Coraline" toy.

I asked my husband, "Have you read Coraline? By Neil Gaiman? Because I read it a few years ago and first of all I don't remember the plot at all except that I remember it being kind of creepy and disappointing and not my favorite."

He got this weird look on his face. "Coraline?" he asked.

"Yes, by Neil Gaiman."

"As in 'Sweet Coraline'?"

"Well, I don't remember that from the book," I said. (He teaches third grade, so he often is more up on the world of kids/YA lit than me, although we both love it.)

He still had this weird look on his face. One of those I'm-being-patient-with-you-but-I-think-you're-a-few-sandwiches-short-of-a-picnic looks.

"Like the song?" he asked. "'Sweet Coraline, duhn duhn duhn....Good times never felt so good,'" he sang.

I nearly spit root beer out my nose. I'm sure it's not the first Gaiman/Diamond misunderstanding, but "Sweet Coraline" has got to be a first.

Oh, and I finished a sweater! Let it be proclaimed throughout the land--two sweaters in two months! (Should probably post pics.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Spanking Clean

You know how you have that one household chore you just hate? And put off? And put off some more? Until you spend an hour on your hands and knees wrecking your rotator cuff scrubbing and cursing at the soap scum in the tub and the weird pinkness that is encroaching and the just overall disgustingness of this mess that you yourself (with help from the rest of the fam) have made?

Well, as you can see, my cleaning Achilles' heel is the bathtub/shower. I just hate it. And I am embarrassed to say how long it's been since I really tackled this task and drilled down to what could honestly be called clean. It's been done cursorily, but it hasn't been done "for reals" in far too long.

This past weekend, I fought the lion. And won--without the use of harsh chemicals. (And there are people online who want you to use stuff like oven cleaner. Um, hello, do I really want to be showering in a big vat of LYE?)

Instead, it was just me, some baking soda, some white vinegar, a scrub brush, and a whole lot of elbow grease. (Plus a great tip: use plain white paper towels soaked in straight-up vinegar and stick them too the walls of the tub/shower for 5 minutes, which will soften up the nasty so you can get it with your brush.) All in all, it took two long sessions before I had it the way I want it, and then I trooped the whole family in to cheer.

But the thing is that the lion always returns. So I searched for green recipes for daily shower cleaners and I'm going to give that a whirl--M has agreed to spray down the shower when he's done, since he's usually the 2nd out in the morning...and it's his use of bar soap that probably causes most of the scum anyhow, but I digress...

Here's the recipe I "created" based on what I found online and what we had in the house:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • about a teaspoon Bi-O-Kleen Cleaner and Degreaser, for the smell and the grease-cutting factor
There's some interesting chemistry involved in soap scum, but all I really care about is that I never again spend two Webs podcasts' worth of my life drilling it out of my tub.

Monday, January 12, 2009

5 Things...

Wendy tagged all her readers for this one. And I absolutely love reading these little bite-sized views into other folks' worlds.

Five things in my bag:

  1. iPod in its new ifrogz case (mine is Red Ruby with the Mud Pie band and the Orange Swirl sticker over the wheel--tres chic)
  2. Red sparkly pen (an English teacher should never be without her red pen, no?)
  3. School keys (add a pound of weight at least, it seems; I have 12 or so keys to various parts of the school)
  4. C. O. Bigelow mentha lip tint in "natural"--a gift from my mother-in-law and I love it; not being a makeup person by nature I love this because it is simple and attractive, low-maintenance, and smells amazing.
  5. JoAnn coupons in case of urgent yarn shortage

Five favorite things in my room:

  1. My bed with its comfy mattress, partner preferred although currently out watching football
  2. My books
  3. My red Keens
  4. My Manos silk-blend red cowl
  5. And, because he just walked in from his nap, my five-year-old!

Five things I have always wanted to do:

  1. Write for a living
  2. Run a half- (or even full?) marathon
  3. Sing on Broadway
  4. Teach abroad
  5. Live in a funky apartment in a city. Not as appealing any more with two kids, but still a dream

Five things I am currently into:

  1. Figuring myself out
  2. Knitting cables & colorwork
  3. Reading about knitting cables & colorwork
  4. Writing essays in my mind
  5. My new bag & iPod case (deserve a whole post to themselves so I can sing the appropriate rhapsodies)
Consider yourself tagged!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Be a perfect person in just 3 days

Did anyone else ever read that book when they were a kid?

The basic plot is this:
Boy feels bad about himself. Finds a self-help book called "Be a Perfect Person in just 3 Days." Follows the steps the book assigns--hilarity ensues, a la Judy Blume (though no toddlers consume turtles). Has to wear broccoli around his neck TO SCHOOL?! Every task has a lesson, of course: Don't care about what others think of you, etc, etc. Very after-school-special-y. But the kicker comes in the final chapter: he ends up sitting in a rocking chair drinking iced tea. And that's it. He wonders--um--what next? And the book, which I think is somewhat magical or at least very savvy about intermediate-grade kids' cognitive development, tells him: You're only perfect if you're not doing anything. So, to stay perfect, just sit in that chair with your iced tea.


In a lot of ways, I think I spend much of my life in the safe rocking chair. I let my desire for courtesy and kindness and safety and predictability outweigh my desire for justice and challenge and truth-telling.
For example: blogging (as it represents my desire to write publicly). I think about it--writing, that is--all the time. I constantly compose mini-essays in my head...I have pages of notes in my daybook for product reviews, responses to others' blogs, commentary on social issues, anecdotes about my life and my family...but something makes me balk when it comes to the publicness of posting it. Part of that is time, of course, everyone's bugaboo, but in some ways it's just the seeming safety of non-blogging. The desire not to put myself out there for critique. The knowledge that, if I put myself out there, someone will want to slap me down.

There isn't a goal or a resolution here, just a growing feeling--a feeling that I've got to get out of the chair, put on that broccoli necklace, and see what can happen.
After all, as my friend Jessica says to her choir students: "Make loud mistakes. It's the only way you get better."