Monday, December 27, 2010

Obligatory Gift Roundup

This year's batch of knits, some already having flown their way to the four points of the compass:

A hat for my brother:

Fleeced Earflap Hat

A hat and mittens for his wife:

Trefoil Hat and Mittens

A scarf for my sister:

Slytherin Scarf

A hat for my sister (this is technically her birthday gift, but her birthday isn't for several weeks and I didn't see any point in her ears being cold in the meantime):

Beaumont Tam

Some fingerless mitts for a friend:

Veyla Mitts

And a blanket for my parents:

Lap Hap Blanket

Looking over the Ravelry statistics, I knit about half as many projects as I did last year and didn't spin nearly as much either. I was going to write another big retrospective post for the New Year but the numbers are a little depressing. I'm not sure what's up with the drop in productivity, but I'm going to think about it while I relax. I might have the solution for next year. For now, I'm going to give my wrists a rest and curl up with some tea and Sweater Quest for inspiration.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Raiding the Button Jar

I finished up my last official holiday knitted gift two days ago. Technically I still have other knitted gifts, but technically those don't need to be finished until late January.

My last holiday knit needed buttons, and I thought I already had the perfect ones, but turns out I only had four and the project needs eight. We were spending Christmas Eve and the day before with the husbeast's family, and I was puzzling over whether to walk downtown and see if the LYS was open when I remembered his mom keeps a button jar.

Button Jar

After dumping out the whole thing, I started by weeding out buttons that were too large or obviously wrong (for example, metallic with embossed anchors). After also putting back buttons that did not come in a set of eight and seriously considering the possibility of using deliberately mis-matched buttons, I was left with three choices. I picked my favorite, stuffed them in my pocket, and walked down to the LYS anyway to review their options. They were indeed open, and I had to talk myself down from purchasing several pattern books (has anyone else noticed that Aran Knitting is back in print?). But I still liked the button jar buttons better than anything the LYS had to offer.

I walked back to the house, pleased at my own frugality, and sewed the buttons on while the husbeast's aunt baked up a storm of cookies and we caught up on life. The husbeast was incredibly happy to have me by his side for this part of his family's holiday traditions.

I'm working on my last knitted gift today, and thinking about how things in our lives grow and change. I was also thinking about Stephanie's post about the solstice and lunar eclipse, which I did not get to see due to bad weather. Endings are sometimes a necessary (and healthy) part of life, and this year has had a lot of endings for me and the people around me. But those endings have been good endings, the natural death of an old part of my life.

This year, I won't be spending Christmas Eve at the church I grew up with, or Christmas morning opening presents with my parents and siblings. Change can make me anxious, exhilarated, energized, but rarely does it bring the sense of calm I find myself searching for at this time of year. This year is the first year I stuffed a wrapping paper bow on my own cat and attempted to take his photo, and the first year I got to spend the holiday with my new chosen family instead of settling for a phone conversation peppered with "I miss you so much." I don't know that I can say it's the happiest Christmas I've ever had (there was the year I got a telescope for Christmas), but it's been Christmas times three. Today is the calm in the middle of all the traveling. And I hope all of you get some calm, peaceful, reflective time in your holiday as well as this season turns around and the calendar turns over.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Holidays Are Here Again

and not everyone is happy about that.


But, there are upshots.

Starbuck and Tree

Starbuck has mixed feelings about the holidays. On the one hand, the humans have provided him with a toy tree. On the other hand, they keep trying to put that stupid hat on him.


I am zipping through my holiday knitting, which is good because I forgot that some of it needs to be ready to be shipped to North Dakota BEFORE Dec. 25th. I'm still playing the priority game (first knitting those gifts which will be given first), which has worked well in the past. We regularly exchange gifts three times a year (and this time it will be four), so there's a fair amount of wiggle room given that some projects must be finished by the 25th, some by the 26th, and some not until the 31st. I also cut down the list a bit this year, so even though everyone is getting something handmade, they are not all getting knits. Another help was the Bazaar Bizarre. Like a bad blogger I went and forgot my camera, but the new venue at Fort Mason was awesome (way less crowded). I ended up going on both days, and the husbeast and I picked our tree out from the Guardsmen Tree Lot on the next pier over. We loved getting our tree there and will certainly go back there next year. I probably spent more money than I should have, but I loved seeing some familiar faces.

Lastly, I wanted to say how happy it makes me to see all the Ravelers who have added the Sluggish Mushroom mittens to their favorites. It was a little heart-stopping to wake up the day after I posted the pattern and find so many hearts! You can now buy the pattern directly off the blog in the right-hand sidebar, in case you're a knitter who is not on Ravelry. Thanks everyone!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

There and Back Again

As I get older and gain the ability to take a very long view, I'm starting to see themes emerge in my life. Not everything is cyclical, but some things sure are. We return to places and people we find comfortable. Sometimes it's a rut, but sometimes it's a return to a problem, puzzle, or challenge.

Okay, enough with being all cryptic, I am going somewhere with this and I should get down to it. Several weeks ago, I realized that I would be sadly unable to attend Adrian's fabulous Mitten School. I was trying to think of something fibery I could do, or something I could splurge on to console myself. Something that was less expensive than a plane ticket to Kansas, but would present a learning opportunity (as Mitten School certainly would have done). And I got to thinking about Kristine's mitten contest from last year, and how it wasn't happening this year because they've just moved to a fabulous new store.

Hey! What about the failed initial mitten design from the contest? The two- five-color Arts & Crafts Tile-inspired one? Couldn't I do something with that? The idea hit me and stuck like a bad tv commercial jingle. If I wrote another mitten pattern I'd be working on mittens and feel a bit better about not attending the workshop. Furthermore, a small part of my brain started telling me that if my pattern turned out to be popular, I'd feel even better about not going to the workshop because it would be proof that I didn't really need instruction on how to knit mittens. Well, at this point I starting feeling bad about that little selfish egotistical part of my brain and all its ungrateful thoughts about education. Of course I could have gotten something valuable out of the workshop, and even making up a new mitten pattern wouldn't change that (no matter how wildly popular it ended up being).

I dug out all my old notes from the mitten contest, and starting thinking about more mittens. I pulled out all the mittens I've ever knit, and starting thinking more about things like thumb length, gauge, and the like. I asked myself: just how pointy do I like the tops of mittens to be? I figured that this year, I would try to draw more inspiration from Adrian's mitten patterns, which all have this whimsical vintage quality that I just adore. No external deadlines this year, only self-imposed ones. If everything went according to plan, I should have another pattern ready in time for the holidays. And I really liked the idea of making a new pattern every year. Maybe next year I won't do mittens, or maybe I will, I thought. But for this year, I give you the Sluggish Mushroom mittens:

Sluggish Mushrooms

I kept putting off taking photos of these mittens. I was a little apprehensive about publishing the pattern right away, because many of my test knitters (who knew that the mitten pattern is supposed to look like mushrooms) had friends or strangers commenting on their lovely jellyfish mittens! So I waited and waiting, trying to decide if I wanted to literally go back to the drawing board and try again with the chart. And then I decided that, like a good book, the individual knitter's interpretation and experience that they bring to the pattern are part of what makes the creative process so rewarding and fulfilling on both ends. So it can be like one of those optical illusion pictures. One way it's a duck, one way it's a guy with a big nose. But just in case, I decided I should take pictures with lots of mushrooms around the finished product.

Sluggish Mushrooms

It was overcast and drizzly today, and a short stroll through the park rewarded us with a nice little colony of mushrooms. The husbeast was helping me photograph, and after we had both finished taking shots of the mittens lying flat I pulled one pair on my hands to get some photos of them on a human being. While I was putting my camera away, he spotted a slug and I started saying "ohmygodohmygodnowaynowaynoway!" in a high-pitched voice.

Sluggish Mushrooms


Now down to the details. The pattern is available for sale both on Ravelry and directly here if you're not on Ravelry (just click the "buy now" button above). I would like to sincerely thank my test knitters for all their help and feedback.

Sluggish Mushrooms

It's very nice as a designer when the process shifts from a solitary one to a social one. I loved their color choices and seeing the pattern come to life.

Sluggish Mushrooms

They were the ones that really encouraged me to publish the pattern before the holidays, and it's always nice to hear someone tell you that although the task ahead might be hard, that they will help you out and believe you can complete it.

Sluggish Mushrooms

Thanks Eujean2, TK, PinkViking, Firesarah, and everybody else at Purl Jam for everything. I couldn't have done it without you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A New Verb

So I know I've mentioned Verb's new store a few times already here. I can't put my finger on precisely what quality it is that draws me to Kristine's yarns and fibers. I do know that, even when I'm not looking for anything in particular, I always see something I like. Every time. Maybe it's the subtleties of the color palette she gets from natural dyes, or the huge variety of fiber bases she dyes ranging from super-crunchy wool to the most luxurious blends of silk, yak, and cashmere.

Verb Grand Opening Party

Aside from the products, there's also the mentality of the shop that I really appreciate. Perhaps it's the fact that Kristine taught me how to choose and wash a fleece. Or it could be the way she supports local farmers by carrying wool from their sheep in her shop. There is always something new to learn when I walk into the shop. I've been wanting to take the rigid heddle weaving and natural dyeing workshops for a while now.

Verb Grand Opening Party

So let me tell you about the party on Saturday. It was fabulous. First of all, you walk into this amazing space. And I mean SPACE. There is enough room to wander around (and you don't bump elbows as much as you did in the old shop), big windows to let in the light, and tall ceilings to let the air circulate.

Verb Grand Opening Party

There's a central table for sitting and crafting, and a side area with a gallery space around it.

Verb Grand Opening Party

I'd forgotten how much I love Sonya Philip's work until I saw it in the shop.

Verb Grand Opening Party

Verb Grand Opening Party

There was even a yarn cake:

Verb Grand Opening Party

and a familiar friend:

Verb Grand Opening Party

I couldn't resist telling a few knitters (including Kristine's mother) that they were petting and oohing over my wedding shawl. I'm so stinking proud of that thing, even though the beads were a royal pain.

The funniest part was how I felt tempted by so many things throughout the day, and resisted. But I wasn't really tempted too much by anything in this corner:

Verb Grand Opening Party

I don't own a sewing machine, although I know my way around one from growing up with a mom who sewed everything from Halloween costumes to my senior prom dress. Every few years I think about getting a machine, but sewing has never been something that stuck with me like knitting has. So it was absolutely hilarious to me when Kristine called my name in the raffle to come claim this:

Quilt Kit

A quilt kit.

It's going to take some willpower to work on holiday knitting instead of this. We'll see how it goes. For now, I have a borrowed sewing machine hanging out in the living room and another reason to visit the shop, take a new class or two, and add another verb to my repertoire.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I'm in luuurrrve!

With a yarn. It's bad. I haven't been this in love with a yarn in a long time, and certainly not with a commercial yarn of all things. I've been in very deep like with many skeins of my handspun, especially when they ended up in the perfect project. And I've felt gratitude towards yarns for being the way they are. I have a profound platonic friendship with Cascade 220 that will probably never leave me (inexpensive? 270 different colors? What's not to love?).

So how did it happen? How did I find myself in this slightly embarrassing yet delightful situation? Well, it started the day after the stash exchange. I was out at the big local yarn shop with knitter friends, most of whom had been listening to my knitting woes at the stash exchange the day before. Having just cleared out lots of yarn, I went in with three allowable purchases: first, yarn in very specific colors (hello again, Cascade 220!) as requested by a family member for their gift.

Slytherin Cascade 220

Second, a new travel mug with a cute sheep on it; my old one has finally kicked the bucket after nearly four years of daily use.

Travel Mug

Third, yarn for my special super secret project. I can't tell you about the project yet, but I will as soon as I can. Lately I've been thinking in tweeds, obsessing over Shelter, knitting things out of rustic yarns or from very old, very familiar stash yarn. So with my guilt alleviated from the recent stash exchange, I was on the lookout for just the right colors, and not too particular about getting something under budget. Also, technically I wasn't buying stash yarn. I've got a deadline, so I knew this yarn would be on and off the needles in a matter of weeks. Since my handspun and spinning fiber stash contains something like 90% variegated colors, I've recently been drawn towards solid or semi-solid colors when buying commercially spun yarn. And I needed solids for this project. Nobody does solids and semi-solids quite like the fabulous colorist behind madelinetosh. I know, because I made this yarn

Madelinetosh Worsted

into this hat

Thunderstorm Tam

last April. Dark blue is one of those colors I will never escape. It's a staple of my wardrobe. "Thunderstorm" is a breathtaking variation on dark blue, and it's difficult to capture the yarn adequately because the color changes are so subtle. The true color is somewhere between what you see in the yarn and hat photos. One of the funny things about yarn produced in small batches is how much variation can occur across different yarn bases, because different fibers react differently to the same dye formula. What looks just right on a merino yarn might be washed-out on cotton, or deeply saturated on a wool/silk blend. Not that saturated or washed-out are necessarily bad, sometimes that's just what the project calls for. We were wandering around the shop, and I got to comparing one tosh color across the sock, vintage, dk, and lace yarn bases. And then I picked up pashmina, and everything clicked. I won't say that I heard birds singing, or that a ray of sunshine broke through the window to shine on the skein, but it was a close thing.


Fig. Perfect. I mean the color, not my photography skills. A deep, dark chocolate brown with a few hints of milk chocolate. And the yarn feels simply amazing, good enough to wear the unknit skein around your neck. Except... I needed a contrast color. I couldn't start the project without both colors. Aha! I remembered from previous trips to the yarn shop that tosh produces a creamy white (undyed?) colorway called Antler. Reminds me of bone buttons. Again, perfect. Sadly, no Antler was in stock in the Pashmina yarn base, and the Fig colorway did not show up on the sock base in the way that I adored on the Pashmina base, so no substitutions. After searching and some deliberation, I decided that I couldn't pass up the Fig. But I know myself, and I wouldn't be able to rest unless I knew I could go home and immediately order some Antler online. Technology to the rescue! A friend lent me her cell phone portable internet machine so I could verify that Antler was for sale somewhere in the Pashmina base. I found three sources, just in case two of them sold their last skein of Antler Pashmina by the time I could eat lunch and go home (never underestimate the power of paranoia). We made our purchases, and I went off to lunch with the skein of Fig nibbling at the back of my mind.

Once home, I ordered my yarn from Happy Knits. Here comes the really awesome part: their service was amazing. Nearly instantaneous email confirmation of my order, and they must have put that sucker in the mail first thing on Monday morning, because the yarn arrived on Wednesday afternoon.


I desperately wanted to cast on my project on Wednesday night, but held off, knowing I had to photograph this adorable package.

Happy Knits Yarn

Not only did my package arrive lightning-fast, but they included a thank-you note, a little sample skein of Skacel Urban Silk yarn, and a tiny blank booklet. And best of all, they swiftly silenced all the tiny nagging doubts my brain was building up about how Fig would look next to Antler.

Antler and Fig

I can't show you photos of the yarn knit up yet as it would spoil the surprise, but the fabric feels absolutely decadent. If you're looking for something to spoil yourself with (but not too much), I cannot recommend this yarn highly enough.

Then again, I'm in lurve, so I'm biased.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

One Million

Is a pretty big number. I'm an astronomer, so I should know.

We are mighty. As I said back in January, Ravelry is a community I am proud to be a part of and to which I am happy to contribute.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

That's what friends are for.

They're there to tell you that the things you make are awesome, and give you awesome things in return. Also, they'll tell you your obsessions aren't strange in the slightest, and will never give you looks that suggest you might be a little off in the head for going on and on and on about the perfect shade of green.

It's been a tough semester, having a night class that means I'm missing my regular knitting time every week. This weekend I got to see my knitting friends and have knitting conversations and discuss ideas that had been bouncing around in my head for weeks. The husbeast is very patient with the yarn talk, but it's not his thing.

Purl Jam Stash Exchange 2010

Every year my knitting group gets together and does a stash exchange, and since we usually do it on a weekend, I was still able to go and hang out with folks that I'm used to seeing once a week. The event is now in its third year, it's started to feel like the holiday season really begins with the stash exchange party. It's also the perfect way to justify buying yarn for gifts I want to knit, and gives me a chance to clear the dead weight out of the stash. In the past, I've mostly cleared out yarn that I bought on a whim and have since let marinate for a few years. This year, I attacked the handspun stash.

Purl Jam Stash Exchange 2010

I know, sounds scandalous, right? But this was all yarn that I'd spun at least three years ago. In almost every case, I'd been aiming for something very specific and the yarn ended up disappointing. Too chunky, not enough yardage, colors combined in an odd way when plied, that sort of thing. After three years, I don't think I would ever knit it into anything, and I was starting to think it was... bad yarn. But my awesome knitting friends snapped it right up, and the only reason they thought I was crazy was that I was giving it up. They were all the very image of politeness and never once asked how I ended up with so much pink handspun. It's good that they didn't ask, because I don't know the answer myself.

The other great part of the stash exchange is that it always feels like we all won some great fabulous yarn prize. Not only do we all get to go home with some great yarn, we also get to thin out our stashes. Anything that doesn't get picked up, we donate.

Purl Jam Stash Exchange 2010

I can assure you that the Shibui Sock or Skinny Bugga went to loving homes, though. I took 17 skeins of yarn, plus some bags of leftover sock yarn bits that were never going to get used either. I came home with 6 skeins of yarn and one bump of spinning fiber. That just feels great, especially given what happened on Sunday. There was a trip to a yarn store. I'll tell you the rest later. Right now I have to figure out what to do with that single skein of Shibui Sock (the Bugga got snapped up faster than you can say "indie dyer").

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Just in Time For Fall!

Wayfarer Scarf

Wayfarer is complete, and I'm so glad that this time I managed to finish a seasonally-appropriate knit (unlike the past two springs, when I've been finishing a pair of lined mittens). I didn't finish it in time to wear on our trip north and east, to an area of the state that my brain has started calling "Inner California." Two amazingly generous relatives of the husbeast gave us some land as a wedding gift, and we took a weekend to go check it out. It's totally undeveloped, far away from everything, and very very cold in late October.

Property near Susanville

I brought Wayfarer with me to keep my lap warm in the car, and I made sure both of us had hats and hand coverings. I brought along my Noro scarf for my neck, and worried that I was overdoing things by packing both my Fiddlehead mittens and my Endpaper mitts. I ended up wearing the Fiddleheads on top of the Endpapers while we tramped around the property, it was so cold! It was very mentally relaxing to be out in the middle of nowhere. We saw a pretty cool snakeskin:

Property near Susanville

and admired the juniper trees:

Property near Susanville

and tried not to think too much about the temperature and how we're pretty big wusses when it comes to the cold. It was a really nice kick in the pants for holiday knitting, which should be awesome this year. Both my siblings have moved to climates colder than where they were living in last year, which means knits are extra-appropriate! It's pretty hard to top Minnesota, but my brother and his wife managed it somehow, and I'm not about to fail in my knitterly duties. The husbeast teases me for knitting and wearing lined mittens here in California, but at least I've never fooled myself into thinking it gets cold enough here for thrums. Now I have the perfect excuse.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Sometimes I worry that this blog should be titled "Starry Creative", since I often feel compelled to share anything I make with you all (not just the knits). I guess then the title wouldn't be nearly as clever, though. The husbeast and I have been waiting for the "right" time to try out a really cool-looking bread recipe, and two weekends turned out just right. We both took some much-needed personal time, and with the arrival of more fall-appropriate weather we both felt back in step with life after the hooplah of the summer. I made soup and bread.

I went against one of my own cooking rules (don't change the recipe the first time you try it), so the process was a little stressed but it was a good kind of stressed. I was excited to see if the bread would come out okay. This is the first time I've made bread all by myself (I made bread with my mom when I was younger, but never on my own). The recipe is pretty simple, though (it's America's Test Kitchen "Almost No-Knead Bread", if you're interested. You might need to register to see the recipe.) Here's the loaf rising:


Here's risen loaf going into the super-preheated dutch oven (500ºF!):


And the final product:


Just for fun, here's the bottom of the loaf:

It was amazingly delicious. When the first loaf came out of the oven, we both simultaneously exclaimed "Holy crap, it's bread!" We devoured the first loaf within three days, and I shared another with my gal friends on Monday. I developed a fantasy wherein two nights a week I mix bread dough in the evening after work, knead it in the morning, and bake the following evening. I was on such a roll (the first two loaves were amazing, despite my futzing with the recipe a bit. So in the middle of the week, I tried it out. Turns out bread won't rise in our kitchen unless the heater is on and all the windows are shut, so no mid-week bread for us yet. But I'm not giving up entirely yet. Homemade bread is too good to give up on!

Looking at all these bread pictures makes me want to spin something appropriately colored... maybe some Falklands wool?
GOTR Ceylon Falklands

Or perhaps Targhee?

Or some cashmere!? So many choices!

One half-ounce of failure

So after I took Blake's fleece to be washed and pin drafted, I decided it was high time to wash the pillowcase the fleece had been sitting in for approximately one year. Guess what fell out of the leg of my jeans as I was pulling them from the dryer in the laundromat?

Felted Locks

This, girls and boys, is how we do NOT treat lovely fleece. It was wrapped up in the pillowcase originally, which smelled fanTAStic (if you like sheepy smells), so it was in the hot load. Also, while not squeaky clean, the locks definitely encountered some laundry detergent because they don't have that lovely sheepy smell. Instead, they have that lovely fresh laundry smell. Finally, this heated and soaped-up bunch of locks must have worked their way from the comfort of the pillowcase into the agitation-machine that is the leg of my jeans while in the dryer.

Felted Locks

Shockingly enough, even after all the agitation, heat, and alkalinity (which stand for AHA, the three conditions you want to avoid while washing fleece for spinning purposes), the locks are not completely glued together. There's definitely lots of cohesion there, but some parts of the fleece did not stick together as readily as others. The cut ends look more solidy cemented, while the tips tend to still be free from lock to lock. So now I'm curious: can the "stickiness" of the scales on a single fiber of wool vary along the length of the fiber? It makes sense in my head, since the tips of the lock would have been more exposed to the elements (and perhaps "worn down" a bit more), but that might not have any basis in reality. Does anyone know if feltability varies this much in a single fleece?