March 31, 2012

Speaking of Adventures in Sock Design....

The top of "Beadboard Beach Socks"
I was on Ravelry the other day, as I often am, and was snooping around the forums. (I say "snooping" because I was not adding comments, just reading. Maybe it is more like "lurking," but hopefully without the creepy factor.)

In one of the forums, I noticed what seemed to be an off-hand comment within a side conversation about a Martha Stewart contest. This piqued my interest as I used to get her magazine for years and, not withstanding her legal and incarceration troubles, I do enjoy the style of the image they project with their brand. Heck, I myself have definitely made my personal share of her recipes and paper crafts.

I thought about my Martha Stewart crafts from the past as I gazed for a moment at the forum comment, then  I suddenly remembered that I had seen the new Martha Stewart yarn line at Fred Meyer recently, a local "everything" store here in the Northwest. I read on.

There apparently was a contest for the best project made from the new Martha Stewart line of crafty yarns.

I went to the website for the contest and I thought, why not? I have just as much of a chance as anyone else, haven't I? As long as it doesn't take me 6 months to complete something, I might be okay for a contest deadline .... Considering the approximate $2,000 value of first prize, it seemed worth it. I looked up the deadline.

The legal page, or "contest rules" page, for the contest is very long. It's one of those writings that contain very few paragraphs and lots of nearly run-on sentences. It had too many words. In any other type of writing it would be considered grammatically incorrect. In short, it is confusing. I thought I saw a date of April 25, assumed it was the contest deadline, and skipped over the rest. Excited with anticipation, I went hunting for yarn.

Crazy swatch before I got new yarn
in a wool/cotton wosrted weight. MS
offers nothing smaller than worsted.
I started my hunt on the website that had all the new M.S. yarns from Lion Brand. There were a few unusual yarns: one called "Mambo," which I thought looked more like dred locks than yarn, and a "fun" yarn called "Glitter Eyelash." These were not for me. For a moment I wondered if they fit the traditional understated sophistication that the Martha Stewart brand represented, even in color they felt "off," the styles and colors are really pretty wild. The rest of the yarns were more like what I had expected to find: an alpaca mix, a roving wool, a soft wool blend and a merino wool, and all in muted, soft, classic tones.

After poking around the yarns and the "rules" page on the Lion Brand site, I headed to the Martha Stewart website. There were lots of patterns and info there. I searched for ideas. There weren't many sock patterns, so....

I looked at the merino wool. It was the best of what was offered for sock knitting. I quickly sketched up a pattern that I thought might work--I thought it would be fun to try the first thing that popped into my head--after all, what could I lose? I spent a couple of evenings swatching some ideas.

Tried a smaller yarn, just to see the pattern.
 Didn't like the twisted rib on this--looks like
a baby bootie, which is cute, but not for a grown up.
The two colors weren't working for me, either.
I also tried slate on cream, but 1991 called and wanted its colors
back, so that swatch is not pictured. 
Once I thought I had something that would work, I made a few phone calls before heading out to the craft stores.

LYS's would probably not carry this yarn, as I thought it had a "LYS yarn in your big box store" sort of feel to all the marketing, so I did not call any of them. (If any of you are carrying this yarn, my apologies.) Lots of the places I did call--Michaels, Craft Warehouse, etc.--had the yarn, but the folks I spoke to seemed unsure about the merino wool variety. I got a lot of, "Well, I see a lot of wool back there, but I am not sure what kind it is ...."

Pair number one. Very cozy! Made them 14 inches
long to the heel, so they come all the way up to the
So, I headed out to check it out. Already-long story short, no one here in the Portland market had the merino wool. Everyone had the blends and the roving, but that's it. I picked up Debbie Stoller's single ply peruvian wool for about $5 a skein to practice a design and headed back home to my computer to order some yarn online.

As I clicked the "complete order" button at had the best online price at $5.41/skein, plus shipping--I thought I had better recheck the deadline for the contest. After all, I had hastily jumped in to it all. I went back to the confusing legal document, trying to untangle the spaghetti-like writing. The date I had seen earlier, the April 25th date, was the day they would announce the winner! The deadline for submission was April 12. I had been wrong. Worse, I lost about 13 days of knitting. Worst of all, I had designed a pair of knee highs. Even if I finished the sample pattern in the Debbie Stoller wool, I would have to start all over again in the correct yarn for the contest.

I like the decreases on the twisted knit
stitches, but I think I will add
cables on every other rib on the
final version--the decreases on
the ribs almost look like mistakes.
After I swallowed my heart out of my throat and back into my chest, I thought for a second. This current day of reckoning was March 24th. Even if I got the yarn on April 1st (impossible since that was a Sunday, which also meant another weekend was lost for knitting....) I had 11 days to work on the final product. Of course, I would have to recheck the gauge and make a swatch with the new yarn, too, so I calculated the risk-benefit including that information.

I decided to just go for it. It's an adventure and, even if I don't win, I will have a new pattern, two pairs of cozy socks ( I already love the first pair) and only at the cost of a lot of sleep and probably no dinners for my family for about two weeks.

Last look at the post office site showed that my yarn will be here Monday, April.

Taking a deep breath, and here I go! Good luck to any of you doing this, too!

March 26, 2012

Enter to Win! It's Our One Year Giveaway!

Hello, Lens Friends!

After much consideration, I have decided that Portland, Oregon, is the theme for this year's giveaway.

I am a Portland native, and have lived here most of my life. As a child, I always felt distaste for my great state of Oregon (say, "OH-ruh-gun," and you will sound like a native, too. : )  ), but through my twenties I moved around a bit and, while I will always have a craving to live simultaneously in Minnesota due an acquired mad crush on the midwestern U.S., I now am proud and grateful to call the Great Northwest my home.

Therefore, this year I would like to honor a very wonderful knitwear designer who also happens to live here in my hometown of Portland, Laura Irwin.

I will be giving away her book, Boutique Knits, one month from now. I saw her book, and several examples of the knitwear therein, at Close Knit on Alberta Street here in Portland during the Rose City Yarn Crawl. It was vintage, beautiful, clever and stunning. The patterns were mosly small projects, so one could make several if one were inclined! My friends and I were oooing and awwing at it, and we found ourselves returning to the sample table again and again to see the clever designs. (Did I mention they were clever?)

You can also check out the book on Laura's etsy shop, or at Amazon for more photos and information.

To enter the giveaway, just follow the blog! You can do so on Google reader (or other readers, I have seen a few other than Google), Google friend connect, email, Kindle, etc. If you already follow the blog, just leave a comment below or like The Knitting Muse on Facebook! For more chances to win, take as many actions as you like. Then, please email me at my personal email, so that I know you entered and how many times.

You do not need to live in the U.S. to enter.

During the month of April, I will be featuring more about Laura Irwin and other local designers, Portland Yarn Shops and other little interesting tidbits about our city. For example, did you know that Pine State Biscuits--featured on The Food Network--is right next to Close Knits LYS? In Portland, you can have your biscuits with a side of fiber!

Happy happy knitting, my friends, and thank you so very much for reading my little blog : )

Janelle of The Knitting Muse

March 24, 2012

"Diagonally," A Wrong Turn in Sock Design Finally Gets Right

I hope to release "Diagonally" by fall for
Halloween knitting, along with a few other sock
Remember that thing I talked about a while back, the whole "journey into sock design...hopefully?" I have neglected to keep anyone interested (yes, all 2 of you...) apprised of my doings.

First, let me say that the learning curve for sock design has been steep, but worth every steep step--as far as personal satisfaction goes, anyway. And, like any other project in life, it has been more time consuming and more expensive than expected. It's sort of like those home improvement project stories you might hear from time to time.

You know, those stories that begin something like this: "We are really excited to add on a sun room to the back of our house." They follow with further justification: "It will be a great investment! We will be able to really enjoy our back yard then." They embellish: "I have furniture already on order for the sun room. That way, once it's done--and it shouldn't take us more than a few weeks--we won't have to wait to use it."

A few weeks pass and the story changes. "It's taking longer than we first thought, but even if it's a little slow, it will be worth it!" Then, "Well, John is doing better after that last trip to the emergency room. They think the feeling will return to his reattached fingers within a few months..." Finally, "I think we will hire a contractor for the rest. We can still use the room next year..."

While I still have all of my fingers, nails, most of my hair (some has been pulled out...) and have only broken 3 bamboo dpn's (the most painful of which was the breakage of a new Lantern Moon needle), I think I am on my way. Maybe.

Since Sock Summit, I have been playing around with patterns for a lightning motif that winds around the leg. After lots of fiddling with ideas, yarns and tons of recycled graph paper, I think I finally have what I wanted. 

"Beautiful Tricks," coming out hopefully with Diagonally. This lightning motif
is a little different. It didn't work on Diagonlly, but works for me in a
column design.
It started with a stitch pattern on Socks that Rock, but that pattern was too close together for this particular project.

I separated the YO's with an in-between knitted row, which was great, but I could not figure out how to "twist" it neatly around in a spiral. Enter Cookie A's pattern, Rick, for her brother of the same name. Examining the structure of the chart, I could see that she was adding a decrease at the beginning of certain rounds and an increase at then ends.

This was completely irritating because I had been having an ongoing problem all along with the pattern on the foot. Long story short, when trying to put a diagonal pattern on the top of the foot only, I was incidentally putting decreases at the start of what we could call the "lace panel" and increases at the end. This was causing the panel to move off center and, instead of recognizing that this concept could have spiraled the leg of the pattern, I instead focused on keeping it centered on the foot/instep.

Consequently, instead of recognizing that what I wanted was accidentally discovered--and not used--months ago, I put the work down long before Christmas (mostly to make gifts) and it was only recently that I picked it up again and had an "aha!' moment.

Regardless of my frustration, it worked out and I like what I have.

The first incarnation of this pattern was in Blue Moon, as I said. Then, since the pattern was originally for my daughter, Annie--the lover all things Harry Potter--I made it again in her choice of yarn, which was self-striping.

This obscures the pattern and it was not my intention to make a sample sock with stripes. So, I turned to Smooshy Dream in Color. For some reason, I like purple for this pattern as Harry Potter seems to conjure this color for me when I think of the stories.

Here it is in purple Smooshy. This will be written for a regular, calf-height sock:

Contrasting yarns: Dream in Color Smooshy on top at about 7 stitches per inch
on size 1dpn's and Sensations Bamboo Ewe on the bottom in stripes and 9 stitches
per inch on size 1's.

Finally, I have sketches for this, as a knee high, in a more stitch-definition friendly yarn, Madelintosh Merino Light in "Wicked."

I actually think this will be the best version of the pattern.

Now I just have to make the other sock spiraling in the other direction. Hopefully it will not take me until August to figure it out.

Comments and suggestions are welcome! Please feel free to make them.

Thank for reading!

March 17, 2012

There Was an Old Lady from Dagobah--the one that started it all

I originallly started the blog, in part, to practice--and just enjoy--writing. Of course, the blog has taken on a life of its own for me--as all such very personal projects seem to do. Here was my first entry. It tells the story of how and why I started knitting. Sometimes very strange doors open to very wonderful hallways. Read on. You might just relate...

Why knitting?

It had never even crossed my mind. Well, that's not entirely true. My grandmother--like so many grandmothers before her--tried to entice me into knitting with a pair of green, warped size 8 plastic Boyle knitting needles and a family heirloom slipper pattern. But it was not to be. As an 8 year old, I--like so many 8 year olds before me--became quickly frustrated as the yarn repeatedly slipped off the needles as I tried to work it, dropping my stitches and ultimately culminating in nothing more than a pile of tangled acrylic yarn on the bedroom floor. No slippers for me. At least not from my own needles.

Flash forward 30 years...

Entering our annual church bazaar, we knew what we would find--everyone does. There were handmade candles, ornaments, cookies, quilts--so many knitted and crocheted items. Dozens of them. My husband and I made it a point to attend this event every year faithfully. We wanted to support local craftswomen and men who spent so much time and effort to bring us such affordable and beautiful creations--many of which are sold to raise money for good causes.

As the familiar old-church-fellowship-hall smell--now mingling with holiday bayberry and pumpkin spices--enveloped us upon entering, we began to wander around the crowded tables, most of them practically overflowing with colorful items crowded together and stacked high. Browsing was an incredibly slow process as shoppers would crowd and thin, ebb and flow around each banquet table and slender aisle. There was a lot of standing and waiting to get to each display. I was glad we didn't have a stroller with us....yet.

I was about five and a half months pregnant with our sixth child--Amy Rose to be, our sixth of "yours, mine and ours." I was not new to pregnancy, but because she was the sixth, I was also not so young, either. We had planned on staying as long as we could, but since I had been pretty sick and uncomfortable through the whole thing, I had mentally planned on being ok with leaving the bazaar a little earlier than usual--just this one time. Then we wandered into one of the outlying rooms, new to the event this year.

The church hall, with its narrow space and long, low ceiling lined in multi-colored fluorescent lights, was not quite large enough any more for all of the vendors in attendance. The once small country church had an ever-growing population from within and from without. This year, the bazaar planners decided to use some of the classrooms outside the main hall for booths. They contained, of course, more of the same bazaar fair. But they also contained something unexpected.

As we wandered into the first, then second classroom, we started talking about leaving soon. We had purchased a few candles, some organic soaps from a local farm, and a handmade quilt from the Catholic daughters with flannel bears and lovely stitching. We had almost run out of hands for carrying things. That's when we heard Mona.

It was a distinctive voice coming from the third classroom. I listened to the voice getting louder as we approached it, dense and German, high and pitchy. Elderly?

Behind a table on the left wall was a strong, short, thickening woman with hair straight out of a red bottle of dimestore dye. Her red lips were thin and bright, threatening to leave their feathery boundaries and any moment. Her small, brilliant blue eyes shone from behind trendy purple metallic bifocals. Or were they trifocals? I judged her to be at least 75, probably more--she was clearly well kept.

She stood silently for a moment, hands neatly behind her back. She gazed at no one in particular. She just stood.

As my husband and I neared her table, she barely smiled. She just maintained a pleasant expression and I wasn't sure if she even saw us. But I saw her. And I saw the lovely things behind her, hanging on her wall.

On display, there was a darling layette: hat, booties, sweater, clearly handmade. The yarn was probably acrylic with little pink sparkles. I didn't recognize the stitches then, but now I can report that the fabric had an interesting grid texture that stood out from its background. It was a result of cleverly alternated knits and purls, exacting in their clarity.

Not meaning to say it out loud, I breathed out, "I could never make something like that..." I just couldn't hide my awe.

Suddenly, a hand reached up and snatched my left wrist. It was her. The red lip lady. Her eyes were brighter than ever, if that were possible.

"You can do this."

I stared at her for a moment, stunned. "I don't know. It's so beautiful..." I was at a loss for words.

"Yes, you can!" She still held my arm. I squeezed the quilt in my right arm closer. She was so certain, almost severe. I began to wonder what was happening.

"You go to JoAnn's Fabrics, you buy the book, you buy the yarn and you do it."

She was insistent. She was sure. She seemed to be trying to transfer secret knowledge from herself to me through squeezing my arm. Was there an electricity forming between us? Some secret knitting bond?

"When I was a child in Germany, I used two pencils and learned to knit. I knitted scarves, socks, sweaters. And lace. They don't make patterns for lace like they used to."

What did this all mean? Was I supposed to be knitting? Was I ever going to get my arm back? Did the baby just kick? Was this turning into some Jedi-Yoda moment? Was she going to call me "grasshopper" next?

A vacuum was forming, a tunnel. I lost all peripheral vision. I expected at any moment that she was going to blindfold me, give me a pair of knitting needles and hurl yarn balls at me, commanding me to use my mind to deflect them.

By this time, the red lady had stopped talking, I got her name--Mona--and that she had been knitting for about 175 years. Rough estimate. She just kept staring at me, as if she was waiting for me to understand something. Something really, really important.

I stared back.


Then, she suddenly relaxed--as if all the necessary information had been transferred from her to me. I looked at her. I didn't buy the layette.

I stiffly told her it was nice to meet her. My husband and I left. Then, wandering as if in a dream, we went to JoAnn's and bought the commanded book. My husband picked out the yarn. We didn't know how to figure out how much to buy, so we just sort of eyeballed it and bought a few skeins of brown and pink verigated Red Heart Sport acrylic. Probably too much.

I was in a trance, a glorious, blissful trance. Something had happened, something wonderful. Was it so big and life altering that it would surpass my love for my husband, family and friends? Even God? Of course not. But meaning can be found in so many places--it may even poke you with a light saber. Sometimes things happen that can only add to your deepest contentments. Enrich you in ways you never realized.

Joseph Campbell, American philosopher said, "To find your own way is to follow your bliss. This involves watching yourself and seeing where real deep bliss is--not the quick little excitement, but the real deep, life-filling bliss."

Sometimes we just need a little help to get there.

Watch for it. Find your bliss. You never know where it might be. Or if you are missing it all along.

March 15, 2012

Why "The Knitting Muse?" An Essay.

Let's start our year end celebration with a question: what the heck is "The Knitting Muse" supposed to be, anyway?

In a blog that I know is filled with stories, pseudo-reports on local events, and sprinkled with real knitting and thoughts for my personal future regarding knitting, it is probably challenging sometimes to discern what I mean for this blog to be.  So let's shed some light on my goals for this blog.

Here is one thing I cannot do: Be another Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.  While I do love writing and knitting, I am sub-par in this category. My best writing "talent" is probably the same one I have in life: I can turn a conversation about any subject into one about myself. This sometimes creates a sort of weird, Janelle-might-really-think-she-is-the-center-of-the-universe vibe. While I am really attempting to relate to the outside world with personal anecdotes, I don't know if it hits the mark, and I am not exactly ready for prime time.

And even if I master the writing end, I will probably never have the chops to match the Y.H. when it comes to breakneck speed knitting with accuracy that could be likened to that which was required for Robin Hood's arrow to split another arrow down the center at target practice. Even knitting for the rest of my life (which I fully intend to do) will never get me there--some have "it" and some don't.

And let's face it: no one wants a poor imitation of anything. And I hope The Knitting Muse is never that.

When I decided on the title of the blog, it was for several reasons.

First, The Muses are the mythological ladies that, according to ancient Greece, inspire art and literature, among other things. Let me say here that I was not trying to say in the title of the blog that I alone posess a special connection with these creatures of old. Neither do I mean to imply that I am like them, inspiring others in some ethereal, lofty way in their knitterly journeys. Let's face it, I am more like an Imp than a Muse--I am more likely to create mischief and chaos than inspiration.  And while we're being honest, I will admit that my impishness can even become harpi-like at times, especially on Saturday mornings--pre-coffee--that follow full work weeks.

But before this conversation becomes hopelessly dark, let's take a little turn.

The Knitting Muse, while I hope is at least mildly entertaining to people, is a place to talk about knitting. To muse about knitting and life from a knitter's perspective. I love recounting my journey--and sometimes the journeys of others--into this wonderful world that I have now been venturing ever-farther into for three and a half years, now.

Finally, if there is any inspiration to be had in this blog, I hope it for those who struggle--for new knitters and those considering the lifestyle. (I say lifestyle because, for most of us, knitting consumes our thoughts, and is impossible to call knitting a mere "hobby") It is an important skill to be able to struggle and make it through an endeavor. With each new effort, there should be a renewed faith--an increased confidence--that the struggle will almost always be worth it when learning something new. This is something that can both endured and enjoyed time and again in knitting as we weave our way through the miriad of seemingly endless skill possibilities.

And how do we endure to get to the end? We laugh at ourselves along the way, knowing that there are oh, so many of us persevering through the same trials. That is how life works, right? Support from others, commiseration in the good and the bad, and sharing joy that comes with each triumph.

As I said earlier, I will never be Ms. McPhee, nor will I ever aspire to the status of someone like Elizabeth Zimmerman. No, I will be small. And quiet. I cannot ever be The Opinionated Knitter...

maybe I can just be the optimistic one.

One Year Old? Let's Celebrate with a Giveaway--Any Ideas?

Hello, friends!

The Knitting Muse blog will be one year old on March 26th! In order to celebrate this miniscule milestone, I would like to do another blog giveaway like last year's.

I would like some ideas for this year's giveaway, the details of which will be announced in about a week and a half. Patterns? Which desingers? Yarn? What brand? Shawls, socks, what? Since last year, I have learned much from the great knitting folks in my life, some of whom are my BKFF's, and some of whom I have never even met, such as Nancy Bush, Ann Budd and the great editors at Interweave Knits and Vogue Knitting.

Nevertheless, I want to hear from YOU! Ideas will be seriously considered from the comment form on this post. Here are some things to consider: I live in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area, I was at Sock Summit and more recently the Rose City Yarn Crawl here in town and we have many, many local dyers and designers. Just a thought!

Check the blog out on 3/26/12 for details on the giveaway.

In addition, this month I will be organizing stories and articles out to the right side bar by cateogories and re-posting some of the most popular ones. 

This is just for fun and because I believe that all knitters are full of good will and optimism. 

For those about to knit, I salute you.

Love to all of you,

Janelle of The Knitting Muse

March 14, 2012

I Gave Up Buying Yarn for Lent

The Devil himself must live in these skeins
Lent. You don't have to be catholic to know the word. You probably already have ascribed a meaning to it as you read it a moment ago.

Most people know it as a time to give something up between Mardi Gras (which most know, too) and Easter. People use it as a reason to better themselves, to be better people, to be healthier or more frugal.

For anyone who may wonder, Lent is a time largely for identifying with Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness before starting his earthly ministry. There he fasted, prayed and was tempted by Satan himself for all of that time. While we who are catholics fast, pray and give something up, it's kind of become a time of solidarity in a way for everyone to be, well, better.

Does it always work out for us? Some really do feel better at the end, some start out with grand intentions only to fail early to meet their goals and some of us struggle with the whole thing.

I have no trouble, usually, with the fasting rules: Eat two meals a day and one on Friday, the one being vegetarian to remind us of the hungry around the world. Sometimes I might forget as old snacky habits die hard, but overall it's okay.

Where I land into trouble is when I try to give something up. (Incidentally, you can also add a positive behavior such as reading scripture daily, but I am trying to give up verbosity and increase brevity. And reduce the use of obnoxious, specious terms.)

Every year I am riddled with anxiety on Ash Wednesday. What can I give up?

Coffee? Hell, no. (I am also working on giving up cursing) It's not that I am physically addicted. I don't get a headache if I don't have it, or shake uncontrollably. I suppose that I have some loss of concentration, but that happens all the time. Where was I?

No, my addiction is one of emotions. And one of time and space. That's right. Let me explain.

During each of my five pregancies, I had to give up coffee, at least for a time. The thought, smell, sight and flavor of it grossed me out to the max. I couldn't even walk with friends on coffee breaks at work to the local Starbucks because the experience would leave me sick for an hour or more. At home, very little coffee was made for the same reasons.

And I was miserable. Why?

My habit forms grid of my life. My schedule for my biorhythms absolutely depended on this hot drink of the gods. If I didn't have coffee, it was like being stuck in a Las Vegas casino indefinitely. No clocks, no windows, no news casts blaring the date and time...I was in a vortex. I was late to things, I didn't know when to wake up, I felt blurry and fuzzy all the time. And then there was the cozy factor.

I need the cozy factor for security and comfort. If I don't have it, I am worse off than Linus without his blanket. Take away the blanket from the already anxious child and you have a catastrophic meltdown.

I tried every placebo I could think of. Hot drinks--cocoa, tea, lemon water, fancier teas, cheap hot chocolate from Nestles would not do. I tried other caffeinated beverages like Diet Dr. Pepper but the caffeine, not being the real problem, did not help.

If I ever gave up coffee for Lent, I would not be holier. I would just be a distracted and unreliable wreck. I wouldn't even know when Easter had come and gone. If I ever give up coffee for Lent, I have become a saint or I am dead.

Now let's talk about knitting. The activity, the yarn, the addiction. The scent of newly hand-dyed yarns, wound into glorious, glorious hanks of ecstasy. The feel of extra fine merino sliding through one's fingers as a magical object comes out of it before your very eyes. The zen-like peace that comes only from the meditation that is the art of knitting. Give it up? Same outcome for me. Distracted, crazy, living in my own filth in a corner. No.

I can rationalize these potential Lenten sacrifices away with ease every year.

Then the other day, I was on Ravelry (also not giving it up) and I saw a post on a forum off-hand. It was in the middle of a conversation of which I was not a part. Someone just said, speaking of some new yarns, "Oh, those are so beautiful! But I can't have them because I gave up buying yarn for Lent."

Can't have them? Possess them? Can't squish them into your cozy little (large) stash of maybe never-to-be-knitted-yarns? The ones you just get out to gaze at in wonder? In my world, this statement must have been deceptive or absolutely saintly.  Who could live without new yarn smell? It's another part of my cozy factor and, as I read this woman's statement, I thought, my word! I should be having an epiphany! This is like God talking to me right out of the computer! Me, who just bought four skeins of Madelintosh Prairie and Light Merino and posted a photo of myself smelling it on the internet!

I paused, considered sending this Raverly gal a message offering her my grandest regards for all time. Or were deepest condolences called for? I stared for a bit longer. I was defeated.

No, it was beyond me. And that's going to have to be okay. I'll just keep eating my vegetables on Fridays.

There's always next year.

March 10, 2012

The Optometry of Knitting

I went to the eye doctor this past Wednesday for my regular yearly checkup.

I sort of dreaded this for two reasons. First, the last time I was there, my doctor told me that I may be looking at bifocals in the future. Second, my eyes and glasses have been really bugging me. Over the last few months, they have become like a bad couple who have stayed together long since realizing that things were not working anymore: they know they should break up, but how?

With these things in mind, I entered Dr. Z's office last week with a little trepidation. Dr. Z is one of those people who looks much younger than she is. She is sweet, kind and conscientous. You trust her the instant you meet her and know she has your best interest at heart. I knew she would be a good relationship counselor for my eyes and lenses--if she couldn't keep them together, at least she could console the glasses in their loss, as I knew I would probably be leaving them behind.

I had to bring Amy Rose along, who just turned three, as it was my day off and she and I always spend that day together. The ladies in the office love her and I knew they would like seeing how she has grown in the past year. After the niceties, "Amy Rose! You are so big!" and "She was just a baby when you started coming in here!" it was time to get down to business.

Dr. Z, Amy and I went down the hall to the dark little cozy room where eyes were judged. I hoped for the best. And no bifocals...

Dr. Z ran some routine tests for glaucoma and macular degeneration  (THAT doesn't make you feel old...), and then set up her equipment to check out the prescription for my lenses.  After learning that I do not have cataracts--yet--we began trying to figure out why my eyes and lenses had been so at odds.

Several slides and "camera 1, camera 2's" later, Dr. Z said "hmmmmm..." and rolled back in her chair. She fixed her own lovely eyes on mine. They were set in flawless skin, radiating goodness and health. I thought she resembled Glinda, the good witch. I looked back at her with my irritated eyes, set in what I imagined to be older looking, make-up-less skin, now furrowed with a little worry after the "hmmmmm...."

Dr. Z gazed for a moment, then said, "Have you not been wearing your glasses lately?" I realized I had forgotten to put them on--because I had indeed not been wearing them. Busted. "No. They have just really been bugging me. And I just love my readers. They are so cute and they come in lots of cute styles and colors."

She tapped her foot. I realized that her arms were crossed. "I think I know why you haven't been wearing them. Your right eye is actually a lot worse."

Rrrrrrrr.....I thought...what now? The bifocals?I am doomed.

"The good news," she continued, "is that your eyes are healthy and that you are right on track for your age."

What does THAT mean? Hey! This was about my eye-lens problems. She was supposed to counsel THEM.

Dr. Z  continued, "I don't think you need bifocals yet..."


"...but your job is pretty hard on your eyes...are you wearing loupes?"

I have a pair, but the frames are broken. Being a hygienist is definitely tough on your eyes--we work really hard to see every little thing, and we work in micro-arenas, as in millimeters. Even one can make all the difference.

I said, "No, they are broken."

Dr. Z looked at my knitting on the floor in my bag. Her good nature came through as she chuckled, "Could you maybe consider another hobby? How about cross country skiing?"  At this, she burst out into a hearty laugh. She knows me. That would be like asking a Baptist to consider atheism.

I am sure there was horror on my face as I irrationally wondered if I would go blind from scraping teeth and knitting tiny yarn into tiny stitches....I do so love socks. I mentally wandered off for a moment, wondering further how I might remember the feel and look of Lorna's Laces on those new Lantern Moon size 1 dpn's I just bought the previous weekend once I was sightless. At least it would be worth it, not like a result of the more unpleasant, yet legendary, "soap poisoning," as seen on A Christmas Story.

While feeling thankful for my relatively clean language most days, I looked at Dr. Z. I had to laugh, too, since she was giving me permission with her own jolliness. I dismissed my momentary daydream. "I am willing to live with pop-bottle glasses in the future if that is what it takes."

She understood my meaning. She laughed again, "Well, I think you should wear your loupes. And you can wear readers if you really want to, but they don't help your astigmatism. I think some stronger lenses will surprise you. You probably won't need the readers."

Was that good or bad?

We went out into the front of the office, where I left my old lenses behind. Even if I was "on track for my age," and may run into more problems in the future, at least I would get cute new frames. And I would not be forbidden from knitting. Maybe not ever.

Small disasters avoided this time, Amy and I headed out to the parking lot on a sunny day. I plopped my bag containing a few eye strain culprits into the passenger seat. My eyes were at peace. And I knew my old glasses were in good hands.

March 6, 2012

Crawling Around Portland for Yarn

My 12 yr old: "Mom, is this your dream come true? Coffee
tea, AND knitting?"
 Portland. We do love our city so with its local crazies (you should have seen the "Ben Hurt Mini Bike Chariot Races" under the Hawthorne Bridge lately... see YouTube) and our truly fabulous handy crafters and artisans.

The spinners, dyers and local yarn shop owners are some of the local faves to those who love wool. To those who revel in the amazing S and Z shapes formed by hand spun yarns. To those who know what plies are and how they dance together to help shape knitted fabrics. To those who think of walls and walls of yarn when they hear the word, "epic..." You catch my meaning.

Inside Knit Purl
In fact, if you recognize terms like gauge, Chibi, bias, kettle dyed, ssk, lacework, Madelintosh and Malabrigo,  you might even have been there last weekend, right along with us.

Last weekend, Portland was the site of the annual Rose City Yarn Crawl. And it was epic (insert visions of yarn mountains here...). It was four days of knitted bliss across the city.

There were 19 participating LYS's opening their doors, providing free patterns, giveaways (unbelievable baskets of goodies!) and general goodwill. The stores could not have been this busy even if it were Christmas. There were people in every corner of the tiniest of shops in this great event to promote LYS's citywide.

And there are plenty.

To give you an idea of the popularity of knitting and other fiber arts in Portland, consider this: There are about 10 LYS's in approximately a 3-mile radius around the Hawthorne area alone, not to mention that there were 3 more within walking distance of each other in the Pearl District in downtown. There were also several outlying shops--which means they were a few miles away, but still close--that were well worth checking out.

The Yarn Crawl event was four days long--Thursday to Sunday--and if you work out the math for time spent driving, time spent in each shop, time spent chit-chatting with other knitters and time spent in front of the fabulous wood stove at Happy Knits on Hawthorne just knitting as if you lived there amidst the books and yarns, it is a wonder that anyone could have seen all 19 shops in any significant way.

Seeking energy and inspiration in the bottom of an Americano
My BKFF, Tina, shares my freakish love of knitting. We both are relatively new to the sport (you guys know what I mean--you all know the likenesses...don't pretend you don't) and yet have taken to it like girls who just fell of the wagon and right into the best liquor store.

Tiny Tina (as we like to call her) and I decided that this was the perfect excuse to do some serious--if accidental--shopping while posing as knitters who just want to support our LYS's. We only had a few hours free on Saturday, five to be exact, so we made the best of it.

Happy Knits' storefront on Hawthorne Blvd
We mapped out a plan of attack in advance, initially hoping to check out all 19 stores. We penciled it out and realized that, even if we could time travel between stores with no driving, five hours would only allow 15.79 minutes (rounded up) in each store. This also did not account for our voracious appetites that would surely come from all that space-time leaping--and knitting. We also needed build in cozy coffee time.

We compromised our plan containing delusions of grandeur to be more like a vision of reality. We decided on five yarn shops that tickled our fancies for one reason or another. I had always dreamed of visiting Knit Purl and, after spending a day sitting next to the manager of Happy Knits (named Melinda) at Sock Summit, I really wanted to go there, too. Tina was more open. She had not really ventured out to the LYS's and was glad to go anywhere.

Tina grins at the thought of yarn
Thus, our other selections were made according to location. We picked the first shop as an on-the-way stop to downtown, and then two more shops blocks away from each other in the Purl District downtown, er, Pearl... The final shop selection was Yarn Garden shop near Happy Knits. This way, we had minimal stops in the car.

After a quad-grande-americano-with-room-and-2-sweet-and-lows from Starbucks early that morning, we hit it.

Setting foot inside Close Knits, our first pick, we stopped short. The tiny store was wall to wall people. We paused, taking it all in. In the far corner, there was an antique table set up with examples of a Portland designer's work with exquisite vintage belts, hats and gloves. We could tell there was also a book for sale on the table, too. Nearer to us was a knitting area with a charming golden-toned rug and vintage overstuffed chairs. The knitting area was surrounded with samples hanging from tall shelves of yarn. Glorious yarn.

Smell the yarn...
I looked over at Tina for a moment. She was inhaling deeply, eyes closed. She opened them and looked at me. We both realized I had been doing the same thing. We whispered loudly at the same time, "That smell! That yarn smell!" It was heaven. We may have died and gone there, but we weren't sure. Nor did we care. We were sucked in.

From that moment on, it was a whirlwind of sock yarns, wildly varied hand dyes, single plies with gentle color changes, bubbly looking double or 4-ply yarns...laceweights, clever yarn names like "Wicked" (I bought that one) and just all around good will from so many knitters.

Everyone was orderly and friendly, in spite of the obvious revelry of so many other knitters who occasionally (and absentmindedly) bumped into each other while dreaming alone in such a crowded room. Such an encounter would each time prompt a story, a shared experience.

After a day of bonding with absolute strangers, it felt good to know that one was not alone in the world. That people like those on Ravelry are real. And they are really nice.

The FOX Tower in downtown Portland
We really saw Melinda at Happy Knits (my fave store of the day, by the way) and enjoyed ourselves there immensely. There is a very large classroom in the back complete with a huge table and a wood stove at one end, as I mentioned earlier. What a great place to contemplate our day and the lofty notions that were running through our heads--notions of people and potential projects for our dreamy new yarns.

As we plopped down on cushy couches and put our feet up, it hit us: we had not really died after all. We were hungry. This made us a little sad because it meant the time had almost come for us to end our journey. We headed across the street to McMenamin's Barley and Brew Pub, defeated by the restrictions of mortals. There really was time, hunger and a life to get back to.

As we sat eating burgers and fries, we listened to conversations all around us, and quickly realized they were knitting conversations, that there were still other knitters among us.

What a day. What a great, great day.

We grinned at each other and took out our needles as we waited for our food.