Monday, November 30, 2009

I'm over at P/Hop today...

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Tina Wins!!

To listen to this blog post read by Annie, click here: /112709.mp3

Tina is the winner of 400 Stitch Patterns - woo hoo!! There's a hot ol' celebration going on at Tina's house right about now, this is the biggest thing to happen all morning, I'm sure!

Tina - shoot me an email at annie at modeknit dot com with your address and I'll have this right out to you!

Thanksgiving was very low key. Quite nice, but quiet.

The most exciting part of the meal were the small tarts I made, using cranberry jelly as the filling. I didn't melt it first, which I'll do hencforth.

It gave me a cookie idea. I think I'll melt the cranberry jelly with a little bit of spice & some orange peel, then spoon it into a ball of nut cookie dough to make a sort of spicy thumbprint cookie for a new holiday treat!

There's a cookie exchange I'm attending in a few weeks - now I have something besides my old standby, the Hanukkah Gelt Cookie!

We had a small feast, no friends were over, and due to my insistence that we have champange at the meal (why?) Gerry and I were so sleepy afterward that our walk at the dog run didn't happen.

Instead I did a lot of work on the ball wrap (yes, I do understand the double entendre - haven't you learned yet that I'm a 12-year old boy at heart?) and think I have it to a good point. I'm going to release this pattern early, too, as it's a fast knit and I think it would be a lovely New Year's Eve or Holiday Party addition!

When I put it on Hannah she said, "This looks like something for a winter Bride!" Smart girl!

I'm working it up in 2 sizes, with an adjustable ribbon at the neck, so it should fit EVERYONE from the merest slip of a girl to those built more like Scots/Dutch me (aka, "sturdy girls" - go ask Gwen Bortner... she'll laugh!)

Just as well - we've both been dealing with pain, he with back and hip pain (it's increasing, and it's a worry. We go to Mayo next week) and me with this danged joint pain that haunts me like Banquo's ghost.

It's probably just the residual aches of this long-lasting cold/flu I've had. It seems that when I get something, it REALLY settles in. My frustration at this is great, and I've been as circumspect and careful as I can be.

I take my vitamins, I've been eating better than ever, I exercise every day and I'm generally a very healthy person. But when I get a bad cold it just wants to take up residence.

Ever since I had Lyme disease back in the early 90's I tend to get odd fevers. When I'm ill they come in the evening, like a child's fevers, and last about 2 hours. It's been that way with this go-round, too, and the body aches have become so bad that I began worrying something more serious was at hand.

After some blood tests at the doctor it seems that I'm in excellent shape, no new auto immune deficiencies of note, no RA (which was kind of haunting my dreams) but my Lyme titer is a bit elevated. This is to be expected - once you've had it, the test results don't go back to low/normal range - but nothing to be too alarmed at.

But I ache. Is it age? The drop in temperature? It's been absolutely lovely here - in the 40's - but it's moving into the 30's now and we may be seeing snow. I look forward to it, I love snow.

This long-winded catalog of my aches is a way of explaining why I'm taking so long to blog these days. I'm canceling appointments and engagements with wild abandon, just trying to rest as much as I can. But that's no reason to avoid my blog!

I'm recording this blog post - and I'll catch up the last post in mp3 format. I've been SO stuffy-nosed that when I tried to record the last post earlier this week I sounded like an adenoidal bar mitzvah boy.

Baruch atah Nyquil.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Tiered Shrug

To listen to this blog post read by Annie, click here: /112309.mp3

My latest piece for History on Two Needles is based on the painting of Alexandra Amalie von Bayern by Joseph Karl Stieler.

The 1840's were a unique time in costume history, the hair alone could be among the most strikingly un-flattering ever seen in the history of hair. Why every woman suddenly wanted to look like a spaniel is beyond me, but I'm glad I didn't live then with my round, round face.

But Miss Bayern's hair is lovely in this painting - lucky her! - but I was more interested in the top of her ball gown. The lace layers are striking in their simplicity, and I thought it would make an interesting layered shrug. I'm going to call it a "Ball-wrap" just to see if the name catches on.

It worked up VERY quickly in a lovely, lovely yarn. It's Beaded Mohair by Artyarns, and I used some Ultramerino 4 to create the ribbed under-structure

Yes, as floaty as it seems, there's an under-shrug upon which the ruffles are built. If the ruffles were structural, they couldn't be so free. Many things that seems to be weightlessly floating on air are secretly supported and well grounded - a truism I learned in millinery and carry over to many other aspects of life!

And, because it worked up so fast, of course I have to change it. I'm going to remove the middle ruffle and move it to the bottom, thereby echoing more closely what is actually happening in the painting. Then I'll add the sleeves and figure a very nice closure in the front, a pearl?, and one more project will be done!

Useful? Useless? Pretty? Who knows.

This is something I could see myself wearing on a cool summer evening over a sun dress, or on New Year's Eve over a strapless gown. The layers give surprising warmth, and the yarn makes it like wearing a bit of shimmery snowfall.

Chart BIG!
Nothing makes me sadder than running across what might have been an exceptional book - except it isn't.

I find this most often happens when a book is the product of a committee (design by committee are the words most feared by those of us who really enjoy good design) or when an unspoken goal of the book is a misdirected quest for "standardization" above intelligence or individual consideration.

All of these seem to play a part in 400 Knitting Stitches, a book by Potter Craft (a reworking of 400 Points De Tricot published by Marie Claire, 2007)

I was sent a review copy, along with some other Potter or Random House books. I've been giving them away on the blog - it only seems fair - and I'll be giving THIS one away, too.

It's a pretty book, the swatches are all worked in either off-white or dark (making contrasting patterns easy to read), and the size of the photos are good.

The charts are well designed - I really like the use of row numbers on the left and right sides to note the direction of the work - but the charts themselves are SO tiny they're almost a joke.

When I looked through this book I felt such sadness at what MIGHT have been. I'm afraid common sense was the servant of a book design decision.

I like charts. I know some folks don't like them and won't use them - but even if you're in the latter camp it must be acknowledged that charts are an amazing tool in knitting. They leap over a gap that language sometimes has a hard time bridging.

I think several things have combined to make our current surge of interest in knitting alive for 10+ years: the internet, sock knitters, fashion-forward designs and an embrace of different ways of creating knit fabric.

But - for me, at least - COMMUNICATION of knitted patterns is key to greater enjoyment in knitting. This has been accomplished by the [now] almost universal use of charts and schematics in a more visual route to comprehension.

I'm a fan of Edward Tufte and his books on creating comprehensive information storage using visual cues.

I find his work dovetails very nicely with my own thoughts on knitting & comprehension (I only wish I could afford to hear him speak when he's in town!)

Charts are a visual representation of the Right Side (public side) of the fabric - nothing more, nothing less - and there can be variations on how charts are written. There are esoteric symbols that are only used once in a blue moon, and more common symbols that you see in just about any chart.

Some charts omit Wrong Side rows for space considerations (and as long as the WS row is all St st or Rev St st, that makes sense to me!) but this is usually made clear by the row notations along the right edge of the chart (the numbers would read 1, 3, 5, 7, etc.)

Learning to read a chart isn't hard, but it IS a skill that takes a bit of time to develop. There are tricks (using post it notes placed ABOVE the current row, drawing arrows to note the direction you'll be working in any given row, etc.) but just spending time with a chart is usually the best way to begin to wrap your mind around it.

Having said all this, if a chart is too small, it's useless. Charts should be as BIG AS THEY CAN BE! Sometimes there's a space limitation in pattern books and magazines, but one of the graces of the internet is that charts can be as big as they need to be.

When one is creating a book of knitable stitch patterns, charts are essential. Once a commitment has been made to include charts, they should be done well (big) and clearly.

I understand that a certain amount of white space is necessary in book design, but not at the expense of clarity. It seems to me that an executive decision was made that all charts should be based on the same size stitch cell, so that even if there WAS a nice space to make a larger chart, a smaller one was used to adhere to a not-very-useful book design decision.

Overall I give this book 3 stars out of 5. I'd give it 5 if the charts were bigger, and if it were ring or spiral bound. But one can't have everything!

I'm giving this book to a random blog reader who isn't terribly fond of charts. Just leave your comment and whether you'd like to be in the draw, and I'll announce a winner by this Thursday. If you're the winner, email me and I'll send the book right off to you!

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Winners, Patience & Spritual Sections

To listen to this blog post read by Annie, click here: /111309.mp3
Winning Section
The winner of the Lily Chin book is Jill. I threw a dart at the computer and it landed on her. Now I have to get a new screen. I've emailed her, and I'll send off Lily Chin's Knitting Tips & Tricks as soon as I get Jill's address.

THANK YOU to everyone who left a comment or tip. What a great idea, a TIP exchange! I loved reading them, and feel like I learned SO much.

You readers are a font of information, thank you.

Patience Section
I'm FINALLY coming in on the end of Anne Boleyn. I swear, I feel as if I've been working on this thing longer than she was queen. But I'm doing the bottom edge now, and I'll have some nice photographs in my next blog post.

I'll also have a new contest for a totally non-knitting related audio book. The book is John Irving's Last Night In Twisted River. I like Irving, but at the same time I also don't like some of his stuff. Which is probably as it should be.

I've long felt that we don't have favorite authors, artists or designers, or fall in love with folks because the recipient of our affection is the BEST writer / person / musician / designer we know.

We fall in love because the author / musician / designer suits us, makes sense to us, in a way that no one else does.

As much as I love Gerry - and I adore him - I love him not because he's inherently good, but because we suit each other so well. Likewise with Irving. I like him as an author because his work resonates with me, but I don't necessarily love everything he writes.

So I'm excited to listen to this book and think up a compelling (?) question to pose that will get everyone involved and won't limit the contest to only Irving fans. It will be a few days, but patience is a virtue.

Horoscope Section
Speaking of patience, I read my Virgo Twitta-scope again. Once again, it seems eerily on track for me. Here's today (Friday's) message:
Clarity is beginning to return, but it still may be too soon for you to make any big decisions. Your emotions continue to cloud your normally cool analytical style, even if you can tell where the current situation is leading.

Attempts to make changes today won't likely be very effective, for they could get lost in the larger shifts that are coming your way. Avoid impulsive action that is motivated by frustration; patience is now your best friend.
Okay, that makes sense to me and really fits with what I'm struggling through right now in design terms. Keep plugging along. And I will.

But it was my scope for tomorrow (Saturday) that really got to me:
It's all about communication today, but sticking with detached analytical facts will likely leave you feeling unsatisfied. You must dig a bit deeper now in order to get past your logical filter that can keep you from fully engaging with your experiences.

You may not understand the reason for everything that's happening, but you'll have time to put your amazing day into perspective later if you just let it unfold without resistance.
Spiritual Section
You see, tomorrow the kids and I (and Gerry for part of the day) will be attending a weekend retreat held by our temple for families of B'nai mitzvah candidates. Max's Bar Mitzvah is scheduled for next January (2011) and Hannah's Bat Mitzvah is ... in a holding pattern.

But I'm thinking this weekend may be a very good chance to introduce both of them to the part of Judaism that I've been missing for quite a while. The community part.

For whatever reasons - various and non-specific - we've had a hard time connecting with the temple here. We attend services every now and then, the kids go to Hebrew School, but we're not engaged in the way we'd like to be. The last time Gerry and I both felt fully engaged in a congregation was back in Brooklyn when we were members of the budding Kolot Chayeinu.

I'm not Jewish, Gerry and the kids are (we're Reform, please hold back the comments that the kids aren't REALLY Jewish, we're proponents of patrilineal descent, or perhaps bilineal descent..?) and we have a casually Jewish home.

I'd like us all to take the holidays a bit more seriously, but Gerry's initial and painful exposure to a 1960's Hebrew School experience (sadly, not unusual) soured him a bit on the whole raising-the-kids-as-Jews thing.

I think the fact they have this descent is a gift, and should be treated as such. I don't care what path they follow as they grow older, I just want them to learn all they can at this point so their future spiritual decisions are made from an intelligent and well informed place.

I'm hoping this weekend will awaken some questions from the kids, light a bit of a fire, and maybe even bring Hannah to a point where the idea of her Bat Mitzvah isn't so totally foreign. We'll see. Obviously, the most important thing is that Hannah is a good person, and I don't think ANY religion (or philosophy) has cornered the market on that.

One doesn't need religion to be "good", one just has to be considerate and respectful of the needs of others. I think religion can help us put that in perspective, but we've also all seen examples of religion binding folks' eye's from the obvious truth that you should treat those around you with the same love and respect you'd like to be shown.

So I'll hold the horoscope to this tantalizing promise,
You may not understand the reason for everything that's happening, but you'll have time to put your amazing day into perspective later if you just let it unfold without resistance.
and we'll see what this weekend brings.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

And the winner is...

To listen to this blog post read by Annie, click here:/110909.mp3

In a purely un-scientific and entirely random selection, the winner of the audio book, Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone, is RevL!

Congratulations to Rev, and thank you to everyone who commented. Harry was, indeed, looking into the Mirror of Erised, looking at himself flanked by his parents.

Your comments were unexpectedly thought provoking. What would I see if I looked into the mirror? At one time I would have said a husband, a few kids and work that filled my soul and hands. Well, I have all that -

I think at this point in my life my heart's desire is to develop the gift to deal with change. To accept what is beyond my control, and to jump in when I feel that my input would make a difference. How would that be demonstrated in a mirror?

Maybe, in a professional sense, my heart's desire would be me on the set of my crafting TV show? I think when I'm calm and perfectly honest with myself, that is something I'd love to do. But I don't know if I'd love to do it forever...

Family Trip?
One of my heart's desires is to see my family travel. I've realized that going places with my family brings me more joy than almost anything else. I was so fortunate to be able to go to Paris with Hannah, and Scotland with Gerry.

And now an opportunity to go to Western Ireland has popped up (a woman who is interested in a house-sharing trade in mid-May 2010 has contacted me) but I'm not certain that there are enough frequent flier miles left in the pool to cover tickets for the family.

So I'm on the hunt for inexpensive airline tickets to Ireland.

Or perhaps I could put together some teaching engagements in Ireland and that would help me offset the expense of taking my family over? Any thoughts on this are welcome - encouraged!

The kids will only be young once, and - as with every human being - our time together as a family is a finite thing. We're generally so painfully frugal, with good reason, that these flights of fancy dreaming about family trips are fun just for the planning part!

So here are two questions for my blog readership at large:
  1. Does anyone have a good source for inexpensive flight info?
  2. Does anyone know if there would be interest in classes in Ireland?
    I'd be happy to sponsor my own (a la Edinburgh) by renting a space and holding classes there, if necessary.
I'd been hoping that a chance to swap houses with someone in Scotland / Northern England would come through for August, because I'll be teaching at the UK Knit Camp in Stirling from Aug 9-13, 2010. But if I could wrangle this Ireland thing I'd be happy with that, too. Greedy.

And Another Giveaway!
If you've ever had the good fortune to take a class with Lily Chin, you KNOW what a font of knit and crochet information (and slightly off-color, hilarious jokes) she is.

Lily's a treasure, a wonderful teacher, and any knitter who wants to improve their skills would be well advised to get Lily Chin's Knitting Tips & Tricks. There are a few books that I recommend every knitter get (Vickie Square's Knitter's Companion; Ann Budd's Handy Book of Patterns; Priscilla Gibson Robert's Knitting in the Old Way among them)

I'm now adding this book to the list. It's THAT helpful!

I will have a VERY hard time giving this one up (As a matter of fact I think I'll be getting another copy myself after this one leaves my office.)

I love her section on basics, the math-based way she describes a cast on and the ribbon yarn "dispenser" is a kick! This book is filled with lots of great nuggets of knowledge presented in a clear way with excellent illustrations. It's small enough to carry around, and sturdy with it's hard cover.

If you'd like to be in the pool for this book, please leave a comment with a knitting tip. I'll draw a name at random on Thursday (so leave your tip in comment form by this Wed at midnight) and I will publish the name of the lucky winner. Then we'll correspond privately so I can get the book to them.

The tip you leave doesn't have to be complex, just something that you like to do that helps your knitting bring you a bit more joy.

Because, when all is said and done, isn't THAT is why we knit? To bring ourselves joy.

More Joy
I've been nursing a cold the past few days, Gerry encouraged me to get to the doctor EARLY this time so I can nip it in the bud before it goes into the lungs. My doctor agreed, so it's a bit more rest for me, fluids, airborne and some anti-biotics. I will NOT let this turn into bronchitis!

The time in bed, although a bore, is a boon to any red-blooded crocheter or knitter.

I've been working on some felted plaid using my slip stitch plaid technique and Malabrigo yarn. I'm very happy with it, now I just have to figure what I want to DO with it. I'm thinking a series of bags (clutch, backpack, tote, etc.) all matching that can be made in a set or individually.

Doesn't the swatch look great in my sunny, sunny office?

I'm also getting a lot of work on the NEW and IMPROVED Anne Boleyn jacket, and the sunny office is helpful for that (black single crochet can be hard on the eyes!)

Off to the right is a photo of the yoke and a sleeve, it's coming along very well!

Coming back from the doctor on the amazingly beautiful Fall day I felt so danged good that when I got home I whipped up a squash pie. It's cooling on the back porch, who wants to come by for a piece?

(I used low-fat milk and cut the sugar, I'm interested to see if it's okay? I figure if it's not sweet enough, well, that's why they invented vanilla ice cream, right?)

I'm trying to be thoughtful about my food choices, and so far with Weight Watchers I've lost about 12 pounds. It's not astounding, but I do feel more in control of my appetite and what I'm eating. I love being able to keep track of my points on line, I find that very helpful.

Okay, so if I feel well enough to bake a pie, I guess I'm well enough to be back at work. You caught me.

The pie, the day, the sunshine, the promise of some excellent work ahead of me today AND our new kitten snuggling with Shiloh all combined to make this a Monday for the books. Jeeze, louise, I love living here.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Audio Bonanza!

To listen to this blog post read by the Annie, click here: /110509.mp3

In celebration of my decision to begin recording my blog posts* (I reserve the right to ONLY do this when I feel like it...) I'm giving a gift to a lucky blog reader!

We all know Harry Potter, many of us love Harry and his friends, but more than anything I adore Jim Dale's interpretation of JK Rowling's brilliant tale.

I have a NEW copy of the 10th anniversary recording of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone from the fine, fine folks at Random House Audio and I'd like to give it to a blog reader who can answer the following question:

In the picture to the right, what is Harry looking into?

Actually, anyone who posts a comment will be in the pot for the prize, I'm easy. I'll pull a name at random and the lucky winner will receive the boxed set.

I will pick the winner on MONDAY, NOV 9th, so be sure you comment before midnight on Sunday night!

Fine Print: Do NOT post your address, email, or any of that stuff. If you're the winner I'll post your name (or nickname) here on my blog and also on Twitter, and at that point the winner should contact me and we'll communicate privately so I can get the pertinent info to send this out.

Be warned, you will NOT get this lovely set unopened. Why? Because I'm listening to it right now (well, I couldn't NOT listen to it...) so you'll get it pre-listened to. But only once!

So post your comment - answer the question if you can - or just say something nice. If you say something mean you will NOT be in the pool for the prize.

I have more prizes coming in the next few weeks, lots of wonderful books have ended up on my doorstep and I'd like to share the wealth, so stay tuned!

*Audio Blog Posts
Starting with my Oct 29 post, I'm going to record my blog posts when I'm able because it seems like it will be fun. If it's not, I'll stop. If I'm bored, I'll stop. If I'm boring, don't listen...

I, myself, don't read as many blogs as I might because I get sidetracked and have a hard time reading text online. It's probably just me, but I like hearing things better. So I'll be recording my blog posts and putting a link at the top of the post. Maybe I'll roll them all into a podcast at some point, but that's just too overwhelming right now.

I have to go have a lie-down on the fainting couch.

This probably should have been item one on the blog today, but I have a habit of burying the lead...

I HAVE AN OFFICE!! And this time I'm going to make it stick!

We have a squatter's rights ethos in the house, and I'm not leaving this office except to eat and other stuff.

Originally we needed a 4-bedroom house because one room was going to be MY office. But when we moved in Gerry's health took a nose dive, and he needed a place to call his own for his own purposes (mostly researching Multiple Myeloma, communicating with folks, etc.) so he kind of took over the office.

As he began getting stronger I kicked him out of the office and moved Max in there (it was larger than his bedroom) and took over Max's old room as my shiny, bright, new office.

But I neglected to plant my butt in there and - by default - it slowly became Gerry's office again. THAT'S what I get for going out on those danged teaching trips.

Well, I've kicked him out AGAIN! I'm not going to let this slide, and the onus is on ME to be in the office, work in the office, and make it my space.

After one day I'm already feeling much more focused, more able to think things through, and less distracted by the mailman, the cat, the kitchen, dirt in the hallway or folks passing through the living room (which is where I did most of my work before)

I'll still knit in the living room, crochet in my own corner, bead in my bed... But the WORK I need to do (writing, making charts, research, emailing) will take place as much as possible in my office. Huzzah!


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Alison's Scarf
Link to pdf file of cable/trellis lace scarf

Hannah's Poncho
Link to pdf file of multi-sized poncho


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