Wednesday, December 28, 2011

KnitFlix: State Fair

I caught State Fair (1945) on Turner Classic Movies recently, and noticed that Fay Bainter’s character, Melissa Frake, was knitting in one scene. I’ve seen this movie plenty of times, but I suppose not since I’ve started knitting. Otherwise, I might have noticed earlier.

In this scene, Ma and Pa Frake are relaxing, high on their recent awards for their prizewinning mincemeat (Ma) and boar (Pa). Ma uses that dainty overhand pencil-holding technique that seems to have been how women learned to knit back in the day, and which I’ve seen in other films before.


Cultural note: I don’t think many women refer to their husbands as “gay dogs” in this day and age any more.

According to the IMDB, Fay Bainter had been on the stage since the age of 3, but she must have found the time to pick up knitting somewhere. She clearly knows what she is doing and is able to act at the same time. But I can’t figure out why she would want to knit a mile-long garter stitch scarf on such tiny needles!

If you’ve never seen this film, it’s kind of interesting. The Technicolor will make your eyes bleed, although it’s fun to see mid 1940s fashions in  color rather than black & white. The palette is pretty darn jazzy! And notably, this the only musical that Rogers and Hammerstein wrote for the movies. A newer version came out in the early 60s with Pat Boone and Ann-Margret, but that version was set in Texas, and although, as a Texan, I must say that our state fair is a great state fair, if the film isn’t set in Iowa, you don’t get to hear the film’s best song: All I Owe Ioway!


Monday, December 26, 2011

Always. Be. Knitting.

SteakKnivesBeing at loose ends is a sorry state for a knitter. There are, of course, the loose ends that must be woven in at the end of a project, but there are also the ones that occur when you’re just not sure what to start next. Late last week, I found myself facing the latter type.  I have a few projects in mind, both of which involve yarn that won’t be available for order for a few days. Knowing I would have time on my hands while in the wilds of the Texas Hill Country, I was almost in a panic trying to decide what to knit next. I hate not having something on the needles. To paraphrase Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry, Glen Ross, a knitter should Always. Be. Knitting. Coffee is for knitters. Oh, and second prize is a set of steak knives. (If you want to watch a clip of the scene I’m referring to, do so at home and away from little ears!)

Just when I was at wit’s end, Janelle sent me the Glengarry equivalent of the new leads – a free Ravelry pattern for the Movember Mystery Sock. It’s fun, has little mustache motifs all over it, and is perfect for the green Lorna’s Laces yarn I rescued from Kate’s yarn-hating jaws. Turns out this was just the perfect little Christmas miracle combination of yarn and pattern. I managed to get half of a sock finished over the past few days. It was chilly and damp during our little trip to the west, and it was comforting to be swathed in handknits (sweater, socks, slippers, scarf, hat) while making yet more. Always! Be! Knitting!

Postscript: Here’s a holiday-themed parody on the classic Glengarry Glen Ross scene that appeared on Saturday Night Live a few years back. Enjoy!


Friday, December 23, 2011


Be very be-scarved.

I surprised myself by finishing up my Pavement Scarf yesterday. I still had a good part of the 4th and final ball to go when I sat down to knit, and I just flew through it. After dinner, I gave it a good soak and pinned it out on the floor in our spare bedroom with some blocking wires. Thanks to everyone who commented about just doing this. It’s how I used to block things before I had a blocking board – don’t know why I was reluctant. I left the ceiling fan on full blast overnight, and this morning, I had a nice cozy scarf to keep my neck warm while walking the dogs. It so light and airy, and I love it.

As mentioned before, Shelter is a great yarn to work with – it doesn’t split and feels nice in the hand. And, despite it’s rugged aspect, isn’t all that scratchy against the skin. It did puff up a bit after blocking. The reversible cables are genius, if a bit difficult to get used to at first. I did some math; there are 336 cable twists in this scarf, which ended up being 8 inches wide and 75 inches long. The medium size was supposed to be 7.25 inches wide and 72 inches long. If this had been a fitted garment, my gauge would obviously have caused problems, but who cares with a scarf, right? It’s much longer than the Henry scarf I made a few years back, and the color is perfect.

Scarves are one of those things that beginning knitters learn to make – and some knitters never move beyond. Typically, they don’t involve shaping, although this one did have a row each of increases and decreases. They’re fairly easy to make and fit isn’t usually an issue, so they make great gifts. If you’re going to learn to knit, you’re probably going to end up making a scarf. And you’ll probably end up giving one to someone else. 

Just this weekend, Jeff and I were watching Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the end of the World (2007), wherein we saw a well-worn and probably hand-made scarf on volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, as he stood on the rim of the quite active Mt. Erebus, on Ross Island, off the coast of Antarctica, probably in December at the height of the Antarctic summer. I liked the thought of him packing this hand-made thing and taking it with him to the ends of the earth.

Here’s to staying cozy and warm this holiday season, wherever you’re spending it!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Scarfing Down

Just a note to show a bit of progress on the Pavement Scarf. Still loving the pattern, and still making mistakes from time to time. Love this yarn – if I do have to rip out, the stitches just sit there patiently, not unraveling, waiting to be put back on the needles.

I’m a little shy of 3/4 of the way done. I was worried at first that this scarf  wasn’t going to be long enough. That is no longer my concern. What keeps me up at night lately is trying to figure out how to block something that is 76+” long on a blocking board that is only 30-something inches long. Do I do it in sections? That seems wrong and not very manageable. Do I just pin it to the carpet in the guest bedroom and make that space  off-limits for a while? Anyone with expertise in blocking extra-long things, feel free to chime in.

Today, I spent the morning with friends, eating too much and laughing. The hostess with the mostest gave everyone some luxurious hand cream, which is totally amazing. Then, I got home to find more goodies on the doorstep from my brother and his family, shortly after talking on the phone with him about his recent trip climbing Andean volcanoes. Tonight, we sing in our men’s chorus concert, and then it’s a week of downtime before the Christmas weekend.

Hope everyone is staying warm and enjoying this wonderful time of year as much as I am.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Who’s Got the Buttons?

Answer: me. Yesterday, I replaced the burnt wood buttons on my Kerouac Sweater -- for a few reasons.

First, the color just wasn’t quite right. Although the wooden buttons gave it a certain 70s vibe which I liked, ultimately, I thought they pulled focus from the sweater. It was starting to look like buttons with a sweater around it. Second, they were a bit large. I began noticing how much friction occurred when buttoning the sweater up, and I could envision the wooden edges eventually slicing through a strand of yarn. Not good. Third, they were a bit heavy, and when the sweater wasn’t buttoned, they dangled off the front like so many sow’s nipples. Not attractive.

So, I went to the fabric store, and got some very plain gray/taupe plastic buttons to replace them. Switching them out didn’t take long, although there was a moment of panic when I sliced through the knitting with my scissors. I have no darning skills (I could have used your help, Janelle!), so I just tied the snipped strands together, as they were going to be behind a button anyway and wouldn’t show. You can’t even tell from the front. Whew! The new 3/4” inch buttons fit better than the old 7/8” buttons, don’t distract, and won’t be as hard on the button holes. I’m thinking of reinforcing them, though, just to learn how to do it. If anyone knows of any excellent tutorials for this, let me know.

When I started this sweater, I didn’t envision it becoming a laboratory for learning so many new skills. Usually, when I finish something, it’s done; I don’t think about it again. But for some reason, this one calls me to experimentation. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Splice Splice Baby

Today was a day for tying up loose ends, so to speak.

A few days ago, I looked down into the craft bag that I keep beside the chair I knit in , and was appalled at it’s sorry state. Needles everywhere, half-wound balls of yarn, torn up ball bands, color cards, DPNs everywhere – it was a mess. So today, I dumped it out and cleaned house.

I pulled out the straight needles and put them in a vase (I’ll find something better later), threw out a LOT of useless ends and scraps, made sure all the right circulars were in their correct bags, organized my DPNs, and put together some things to donate. This mess you see here is not neat and tidy and only 1/3 full. Maybe now, Kate won’t be tempted to stick her nose in there to see what she can find.

Which leads me to project number two and this post’s title. Last winter, when Jeff and I were out of town, Kate got into some of my knitting. Some of the stuff she ate I didn’t really care about, but she did manage to mangle a hank of Lorna’s Laces in a one of a kind color. Seriously, the color number is 000, but strangely, it has a dye lot number of 34…  I started to toss it, but it had a pristine mate, and knowing that it was irreplaceable made me a bit more dogged (so to speak) in my determination to fix it. So I put this sad shredded mess on a swift, and spent a few hours gently teasing out the pieces and splicing them together. It turns out there were only about a dozen pieces, and two sections were quite long, so I think it was worth it. I’d kind of forgotten about this yarn, but now I’m already thinking of possibilities.

And finally, progress was made on the Pavement Scarf over the past few days. It’s a satisfying pattern, easily memorized within a few pattern repeats. The numbers 6 and 7 figure in the pattern a lot, and it’s clever how it’s reversible – a handy feature for a scarf. Unlike most cabled figures, there is quite a bit of purling into knit stitches and knitting into purl stitches, but once you see where things are going, it does make sense. It is a bit lacier than I thought it would be, and the whole thing could be done on smaller needles, but the drape will be nice and I’m hoping it will fill out when blocked, which this garment sorely needs.

This was to be my over-the-winter-break knitting, but I may finish this faster than I expected. I’m really digging the color.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

I Wish You Shelter…

“…from the storm, a cozy fire to keep you warm. But most of all, when snowflakes fall, I wish you love.”

Not exactly appropriate, as these lyrics are from a breakup song, but I think of this tune when I think of Brooklyn Tweed’s Shelter yarn. If you’re unfamiliar with it (the song, not the yarn), there's a video of Judy Garland singing it on her early 60s TV show at YouTube. Go ahead and watch it. The blog will be here when you get back.

For months, I’ve lived only 2.5 miles from one of the few places that carries it (the yarn,not the song) but some reason, I’d just not gotten around to getting any. If you’re not familiar with this yarn (yes, there are a few non-knitters who might be reading this!), check out some information on this yarn line’s background. Interesting stuff on how it’s made and some beautiful photography, too.

It’s been a bit chilly this week, and while I like my Henry scarf that I made several years ago, I’ve wanted something a bit heavier and a bit longer, with more wrapability. So this evening, after we walked the dogs and while Jeff started making supper, I snuck over and bought 4 hanks of Shelter in the color Long Johns. I’m planning on using this Brooklyn Tweed yarn to make a Brooklyn Tweed pattern, Pavement.

I’m looking forward to many long hours of satisfying knitting, working with a cool new yarn, and ending up with something to keep me toasty. I’m going to wind up a ball and get started right now. Try and stop me.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Year of the Balls

Librarians like to be thorough and systematic. And I am a librarian. So, if you think transitively, (or if you’ve ever met me), you’ll know that I like to follow a path and finish what I start. Keeping all that in mind, I’m trusting you’ll tell me if you think I’m biting off more than I can chew here.

Last month, I got a copy of 55 Christmas Balls to Knit, and I’ve enjoyed perusing it since then. This weekend, I got to thinking  – Christmas 2012 is about 55 weeks away. What if I set a goal of knitting one of these things a week for the next year? Then, when it comes time to decorate the tree I’ll have over 4 dozen new ornaments!

I made one yesterday as a prototype to see how things might work. I had some leftover Stroll fingering weight yarn from the Border Socks I made, so I cast on and quickly knit up the first design, called Snow Crystal. It didn’t take all that long, and I found that using Stroll with 2.75mm dpns seemed to make a good sized ball. But, unless you’re seriously into 70’s era sweat suits, I don’t think this color scheme is going to work. I’m thinking of doing all of these with a white background and red for the patterns. Stroll comes in an un-dyed white, and I want to use either Scarlet or Barn Red. I’m leaning toward Barn Red. What do you think? I find that the colors I see on the Knit Picks website and what arrives can be quite different, and Knit Picks doesn’t provide color cards any more.

Also, the authors suggest gluing on little rhinestones to give these some sparkle, but I was thinking that it might be fun to use that technique where you put beads on the stitches using a crochet hook. If anyone has done that and wants to comment on whether this is advisable, I’d sure appreciate it.

It was cold enough to wear a sweater today!