Archive for the 'Wool gathering' Category

The Search for the Perfect Scarf

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

What constitutes the perfect scarf?  I imagine that every knitter of scarves (and wearer of scarves) would answer that question differently, but for me, my perfect scarf combines softness, warmth, an ideal size and weight, and (of course) a beautiful pattern and wearable color.  I have yet to achieve my perfect scarf, although I have come close and continue to strive.

I knit this red scarf many, many moons ago and although it is a great color (RED!), I didn’t give full consideration to fiber content and so it is a bit scratchy.  (Some uncharitable persons might say quite scratchy.)  It’s also a little too bulky for everyday wear.

I made this rust colored lace scarf several years ago when I started knitting again. (Obsessionally, as it has turned out, but that’s a post for another day…)  It’s made of a cotton/alpaca yarn, and while it has a great weight and hand, it’s a little scratchy and a little too skinny to be really warm.  Great color, though, and a nice long length.

This scarf is made out of Morehouse Merino laceweight–in some ways the perfect scarf yarn, being at once lightweight, soft, and warm.  However, the pattern I chose here (feather and fan) and the narrowness of the scarf are not the perfect foil for the yarn.  Like other very lightweight narrow lace I’ve experimented with, the pattern creases up vertically and the beauty of the lace is lost.  Plus, this scarf is really too light to really be warm; it’s more in the nature of a pretty but not-very-functional accessory.

This pink scarf is knit out of a beautiful wool/silk yarn, and I chose a simple open ribbing pattern that has a great thick and scrunchy texture.  The yarn is wonderfully soft, but unfortunately so soft and loosely spun that it quickly began to get fuzzy and pill-y.  The color was gorgeous in the skein, but started to look pretty dingy after one season of wear.

My sister knit this for me several years back, and it is wonderful in several ways.  The yarn is a very soft wool that doesn’t itch, and the scarf itself is long and dramatic, good for wrapping around the neck several times and pretending one is a chic and urbane Frenchwoman.  And then there are those wonderful ruffles that look like something you might find on a coral reef.  Problem is, it’s sooo long and dramatic that it’s not really an everyday sort of scarf, and those wonderful ruffles make it hard to tuck into a coat.  And, it has this:

See that little hole there?  While I’m a super knitter, I’m not such a super fixer of knits.  Too lazy, alas.

This is my favorite scarf, the scarf I wear almost every day, and to date the nearest I have come to scarf perfection.  It’s made out of that aforementioned perfect scarf yarn, Morehouse Merino laceweight, in a simple open ribbing pattern that is dense and scrunchy and stretchy and warm.  The color goes with everything that I wear, and it’s the perfect length to fold over once, tuck the ends through the loop, and poke the free ends down the front of my winter coat.  Only one problem:  in really cold weather it’s just not that warm because it’s not quite dense enough and allows cold air down the front of my coat.

There are other scarves, of course, some that I’ve made for other people, some that are actually smoke rings or Mobius strips, some made of handspun, some that are even (gasp!) woven.  They all have their place and their time.  This winter I made two scarves–one a very manly scarf for my brother-in-law out of a tweedy charcoal wool/silk/cashmere blend and the other a reversible cabled scarf out of handspun.  They are both very nice, in their way, although perfection in this as in all things remains just out of reach.


Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Or 10 Cheering Thoughts for a Cold and Snowy February Night

1.  “What’s terrible is to pretend that the second-rate is first-rate.  To pretend that you don’t need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you’re capable of better.”
–Doris Lessing

2.  Read this poem. 

3.  Watch this video.  If you have children or grandchildren, do you remember when they laughed like that?

4.  Look at your yarn.

yarn 2-21-08

5.  Pet your fiber.

fiber 2-21-08

6.  “Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”
–Robert A. Heinlein


7.  Make Caramel Sauce
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, place 1 cup sugar.  Allow the sugar to sit, undisturbed, until it begins to caramelize.  Stir with a metal spoon until all the sugar is liquid, golden, and no longer grainy or opaque.  Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, heat 1 cup of heavy cream until small bubbles appear around the edges of the pan.  When the sugar is ready, remove the sugar pan from the heat and pour the hot cream into the sugar.  Be careful!  The cream/sugar will bubble and froth violently.  (Be sure to use a big enough pan from the get-go.)  Stir the caramel with a whisk and place back over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the caramel is smooth.  Allow to cool before using.

I typically store this in the fridge in a Pyrex measuring cup and heat it up in the microwave to pour over ice cream.  That is, what I don’t eat outright with a spoon.

Oh, and you can make caramel in any amount you want.  Just use equal parts sugar and cream, and start caramelizing the sugar using only 1 cup in the pan.  Add more sugar in 1-cup increments when the first bit is caramelized.

You really should make this at least once in your life, just so you can brag to your friends about it.  (And because it is totally and deliriously delicious–way, way better than the caramel sauce you buy in a jar.  Trust me.)

8.  Check out some cartoons. 

9.  “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.  They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
Isaiah 40:31

10.  Live in hope. 

Go ahead. Make my day. Sarah-style.

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008


My picks for 5 favorite blogs.

OK, here goes:

1.  The Panopticon
The unbelievably hip (and hilarious) adventures of Franklin and Dolores.

2.  WandaWomanKnits
This woman makes beautiful stuff, and she looks gorgeous modelling it, too.

3.  Stash Amassed Beyond Life Expectancy
Beautiful knitting, beautiful photos.

4.  JoLene Treace Unraveled
Wonderful designs and thoughts on designing.

5.  Redhead Ramblings
Lorinda’s a delightful person who has been a friend to our blog since the very beginning.

There they are–my five picks.  Enjoy!

The Road

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

I have been reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and it has put me in a disturbingly apocalyptic mood. To be fair, it is an excellent book, very powerful…but be prepared. Soon, you’ll be seeing signs of the coming apocalypse everywhere.

Case in point: between McCarthy’s vision of a post-apocalyptic America, my own personal health insurance fiasco, the miserable prevalence of SUVs in our neighborhood alone, the burgeoning worldwide human population, and American stores stuffed to the rafters with pleather easy chairs, Sno-Globes, and underpants made out of petrochemicals, I have spent the last few days pretty thoroughly convinced that the human species will be extinct within a few generations.

And when have I ever been wrong? That’s right. Never.
Um, I can think of a couple of times. Like when you wouldn’t let me eat that groundhog I killed. You were WAY wrong that time. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Right or wrong, though, it’s been a dangerous frame of mind, not only because it has been very demoralizing, but also because I’m really just a hair’s breath away from spending my afternoons standing on the street in Harvard Square ranting about socialism.

See? Dangerous.

Like any good American, however, I’ve been distracted a bit from my role as “Prophet of Doom” by consumer goods, although I have eschewed the pleather and, heaven knows, the SUVs.
As far as I am concerned, this is the sock yarn dye-job to end all sock yarn dye jobs. I just love this yarn and I can’t wait to knit with it. And after all, when the apocalypse comes, we’re going to need warm wool socks, aren’t we? Preferably in attractive colors.

And who do we have to thank for this exquisite stuff?
Madeline Tosh. Yarn shown here in colorway Peony.

And of course, I have continued to knit my second Ice Queen, which I want to finish even if we are all going to go extinct. Because, look, even long term extinction does not relieve us of our immediate mandate to “look good, kick ass, and take names.”

Which, now that I think of it, would be hard to do while ranting about socialism on a street corner.

And then there’s Shelley. Nothing keeps you honest, grounded, and fully in the present like a dog. The other night, we were watching Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man together and Shelley was sleeping at my feet, as is her wont during home film screenings.

Those of you who have seen the film will certainly remember the scene of the two male grizzly bears fighting quite violently over a female. As soon as the fight commenced, Shelley sat bolt upright, ears at full mast, and stared intently at the television screen. She cocked her head to the left, then the right. Left again. Right again.

Then she looked at me as if to say, “Well, I’ll be—if you’ll pardon the expression—doggoned. How’d you get them miniature bears in that box?”

I said, “Shelley, Miss Puppy, the same species that got those miniature bears in that box are the authors of the coming apocalypse. And that’s just the awful truth.”

She looked at me quizzically and gave my hand an affectionate lick. Then she yawned and went back to sleep.

Full of an interesting thing

Monday, January 28th, 2008

From the Department of Superb Packaging:

My friend Andrew brought this back for us from Japan, where he spent two weeks over the academic break. I think it is brilliant, especially considering that the contents were Steam Cakes—a kind of Japanese Twinkies—and the English-language product copy on the wrapper gives you…absolutely no clue that you have just received a box of delicious Steam Cakes.

How refreshing that somewhere in this world there is still a commitment to preserving a sense of wonder and mystery! At least for English speakers.

On a more linguistic-philosophical note, I like to think that “Osaka is a town full of an interesting thing,” is not really a mistake, but rather a change of heart. I imagine the copy writer sitting at his desk, thinking about how many interesting things there are in Osaka, how the city is fairly bursting with interesting things. Bursting! He begins to write, “Osaka is a town full!

Then he comes thudding back down to earth. He can actually only think of one interesting thing in Osaka. Crap.

“…of an interesting thing.”

I empathize. I have had the same experience with my dissertation chapters. “I have written a chapter full!

Oh, crap.

“…of an interesting thing.”

Minimizing losses

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

Happy New Year everyone! A bit belatedly, I know, but you are now talking to someone with two completed dissertation chapters and a third in gestation, but who is now, I’m afraid, officially a “fallen-away blogger.”

Better blogging times are coming, Lord, we just don’t know quite when…

Meanwhile, my university welcomed me to 2008 with some warm, fuzzy, and deeply American news: they would be cutting off my health insurance, in spite of the fact that I am now, and have been for the past five and a half years, a graduate student in good standing at Berkeley who has always been judged by my department to be making what they call “good progress” (towards what exactly is a larger philosophical question that shall not be addressed here).

The precise details of this health insurance debacle are, as all things with this “industry,” byzantine, maddening, and very difficult to convey. I shall attempt, nonetheless, to summarize: in order to finish a Ph.D. at Berkeley in any field that requires research away from campus (and that would be, ahem, many), a student will—for bureaucratic purposes and to save her department big, big cashola—be placed on what is called “withdrawn” status for two semesters while she is away. During this time, she has to buy her health insurance through the university as a separate fee, which costs her approximately $3000 for the year.

Since her stipend is somewhere between $15,000 and $18,000 per year (pre-tax), this poses a serious financial “challenge,” but one that can be surmounted by eating nails for a couple of months and never turning the heat above 50 degrees.

So far, so good!

You with me? Now, right before the student gets her Ph.D., she spends ANOTHER semester on what is called “filing fee” status, another bureaucratic category into which she is placed, like it or not. Under this status, she is also required to buy her own health insurance.

Here’s where things go off the rails. The insurance company that “serves” the university has made a rule that a student may only buy into health insurance through the university for two semesters. But this is in the extremely fine print, of course.

Those of you keeping score at home may have already realized that to finish the program the student has to buy health insurance for three semesters.

Folks, with “service” like this, who needs enemies?

I noticed this rule on January 14th, one day before my health insurance from last semester ran out. So I gave the folks out in California a friendly call to investigate.

Me: So I read this rule about the two semesters on your website and I’m calling because I wondered if I was reading that right.

Insurance Elf: Yes, you are.

Me: Well, that’s funny because my program—and I’m guessing many others—puts a girl on this kind of status for THREE semesters, not two.

Insurance Elf: Well, I’m sorry, but we have been enforcing the two semester rule.

Me: May I ask why?

Insurance Elf: We did a study and we discovered that the group of students who buy insurance while they are on withdrawn or filing fee status is small, but it is a high claims group. We needed to minimize our losses.

Me: (Pause to take in the wildly inhumane magnitude of this statement and to tear out a chunk of my own hair) So what do you suggest I do for health insurance then, Insurance Elf?

Insurance Elf: There are plenty of outside plans you can buy as an individual.

Me: Dude, I have researched those “plans” in the past. They have terms like, say, $2000 deductibles. You take a financially marginal person and give her insurance with a $2000 deductible and you have given her nothing but disaster insurance. There isn’t any “health care” about it. That’s just insurance so that you won’t have to eat mealworms and live in a refrigerator box for the rest of your life if you fall on the ice and break your arm. You can’t go to the doctor unless it is clearly a matter of your imminent death. You got mild asthma? Go home and f*cking gasp, little friend.

Insurance Elf: Well, we do enforce the two semester rule.

Me: I think you’ll burn in hell for this.

Actually, I didn’t tell the Insurance Elf she’d burn in hell. But I think she will.

So at the moment I have the disaster-only insurance. There is a chance that the insurance elves will make an exception in my case, but while they deliberate, I have to have some kind of coverage. (Revisit specter of a lifelong diet of mealworms and a refrigerator box home.) And the coverage can’t lapse or the health “care” industry will shaft me on the old pre-existing condition clause.

Now, without boring you with all the ins-and-outs of this matter, I can assure you that one way or another this will be resolved by February 15th such that I can have usable health insurance. But only because I am married. That is, either Berkeley will relent, or I can get onto Alex’s insurance.

So this isn’t really about me, even though my situation is all, all, all wrong.

This is about a broken, inhumane, indecent health “care” system that has been turned over to rapacious businessmen who prey on people who need medical attention and take decisions about health, healing, and well-being out of the hands of doctors and nurses and place it into the hands of people who only want to make a buck.

This is wrong. It’s wrong that companies are “minimizing losses” by making it impossible in practice for people to go to the doctor when they are sick or to get their medical care covered if they do. It’s wrong that we have so many people who are completely uninsured and so many who are underinsured and therefore in constant danger of financial ruin.

It’s wrong in a country where we have so much money and so many resources that we would allow this to go on. If ever a thing were immoral, this is.

I’ve been in such a toot about this that I have contacted all the major Democratic presidential candidates to offer my services to help them sort out this health care nightmare. I have told them that I will get my Ph.D. in December and will be available—just in time!—in January.

Unaccountably, none of them have had their people get back to me.

Everybody must be at lunch.

Or on the phone. Arguing with their insurance companies.

White, white, white, white Christmas

Friday, December 21st, 2007

I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that in my blog-absence, I have nearly finished another chapter of my dissertation. And if you are not pleased, I gotta tell you: I am.

Looks like we’re on track to have a mighty white Christmas here in the Commonwealth:
Photographic evidence, in case you think I’m just whistling Dixie. This is my backyard. And no, that apple tree does not fork right where it comes out of the ground. Normally.

Ain’t no way, no how all that snow is gonna melt in four days. We are just walled in, people. We’ve had three big snowfalls in the last week. Lord help us, this is getting to be like Antarctica in the winter, but with about 45 extra minutes of sunlight a day. And praise be for small sunlight favors!

You know how the “Polar Powers That Be” give a girl an extensive battery of mental health testing before she winters over in Antarctica, to make sure she is robust and fit enough not to go stark raving mad midway through the long, dark, cold winter ordeal and start shooting up blameless Adélie penguins while waving around a bottle of Sailor Jerry spiced rum and screaming about how global warming is a liberal conspiracy?

Yeah, well, I’m going to recommend to the Governor of the Commonwealth that the same battery of tests be given to anyone who wants to live in Massachusetts. Especially if they are coming most recently from California.
Shelley stalks snow birds in the japonica. All is merry and bright for the large predator.

I have no idea what you are talking about. I am a lady and I have crossed my paws to prove it.

I’ve actually done tons of knitting, but it is all a holiday secret, so I’m afraid no photos are forthcoming.

In lieu, I give you the Balerstein Christmas tree…
…complete with a dog rummaging through the packages in hopes of finding a pig ear or a large bone.

Happy winter holidays, everyone—and I mean whatever you may choose to celebrate to ward off the bleakness of December, even if it’s just the fact that you have a decent snow shovel, a huge pile of wool, and a working furnace. Stay warm, jingle your bells, and, of course, good luck with your own cadre of difficult people!

This is, after all, a time for family to gather ’round.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007


Soft Horizons

Friday, October 26th, 2007

There are probably many reasons to come to Eugene, Oregon in the fall, but this is not the least of them:
What I need to emphasize is that this is simply a representative tree. There are hundreds of trees like this. I can’t get over it.

If you get under the tree when the light is coming through the leaves, it looks like this:
I never tire of fall leaves, and this is why.

The University of Oregon makes its home here and it has a lovely campus:

The youth of today soaking up sun. And no doubt knowledge.

Downtown Eugene is also home to a remarkable yarn shop:
Soft Horizons Fibre.

The sheer amount of stock in this shop is remarkable. I’m almost glad Sean didn’t see it, because even for me, a minor, part-time employee of Woolcott, the envy was difficult to manage. Soft Horizons occupies an ENTIRE VICTORIAN HOUSE! The ENTIRE first floor—must have been five large rooms—is devoted to beautiful yarns, every kind of needle and tool you can imagine, knitting books, fleeces, and spinning wheels. Floor to ceiling fiber goodness and more Ashfords than you could shake a stick at.

As I was browsing this shop, I had an ugly realization. Back in Cambridge, we are selling yarn out of a closet.

I hasten to add that it is a very nicely appointed closet, we do an excellent job with our space, and we have many, many beautiful yarns. To paraphrase one of our profoundest philosophers of the modern battlefield—whose name I have actively repressed—we are going to war with the army we have.

I showed great restraint, inspired more by the already bulging suitcase I am travelling with than any genuine yarn asceticism:
Alpaca Sox in a colorway I could not pass up and Bryson Rosewood needles, the latter purchased both because they are so pleasing to the touch and because Bryson is a Eugene company. Supporting local industry and all that.

So if you are in Eugene, make sure you stop in to Soft Horizons. Here’s the info:

And now, I gotta catch a plane. Reporting from Boston again next week…

In which I win my bet

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

A brief note from Eugene, Oregon—a lovely place, though rather overcast—where I am conducting an oral history as part of my dissertation research.

There will be photos and updates very soon about my week on the road, which has included stops in Houston and College Station, Texas, and now Eugene, but with the first game of the World Series set to begin shortly, it seems only fair to point out that I have won my sock yarn bet with Laura.

Granted, this occurred last Sunday night, but it seemed in poor taste to mention it until the immediate sting of the Indians loss had worn off.

So, Laura? Pony up?

Oh, and, I’ll say this just this once, but if you bring it up later, I’m going to vehemently deny it: “Go Sox!”