A Year of Knitting Dangerously

Post by Sarah
January 28th, 2010

I lead a fairly quiet, safe (not to say staid) life, all things considered.  I never really have to worry about where my next meal will be coming from, I have a lovely little house that is warm in winter and cool in summer, and my life is full of people who love and care about me.  In fact, perversely, the lack of exciting danger in my life at times weighs heavily on me.  (I suppose that is a comment on my character, if not the human condition, but that must be another post.)

So, in the interest of creating excitement and upping my adrenaline, I have declared this year to be “The Year of Knitting Dangerously.”  I am inordinately in love with that phrase, but I had to ask myself (quite seriously, actually), exactly what that would look like.  What creates excitement and danger in a largely comfortable life?  The short answer–change and challenge.   In fact, the very things that also create anxiety and discomfort, and promote personal growth.  (Huh.  There you go–another perfect example of “Be careful what you wish for.”)

Nevertheless, and without further ado, here are my “Knitting Dangerously” goals for 2010, designed to produce the maximum amount of excitement, danger, change, challenge, anxiety, and (dare I say?) growth in my knitting and personal life.

1.  Learn something new.
I am not trying to puff myself up when I say that, knitting-wise, there really aren’t that many things I haven’t tried.  The usual suspects (cables without a cable needle, lace with thread-like yarn on tiny needles, socks and more socks, stranded knitting) are all things that I do on a regular basis.  However, there are a couple of techniques that I’d like to tackle this year:  entrelac and twined knitting.  These seem worthy goals.  (Please do not unkindly point out that I have not included intarsia in this list; I feel that intarsia should not be asked of anyone.)

2.  Finish it off.
Like many prolific knitters, I adore starting projects.  Not so much finishing projects, though.  I think this has somehow to do with the difference between creative energy (start energy) and stamina energy (finish energy).  I tend to have lots of the first, and not so much of the second.  This is especially ridiculous when I consider how many projects I have lying about that are within a few hours of finish.  This seems not just a lack of stamina on my part, but ultimately a sad lack of conclusive energy.  So, the goal is to finish some of those almost-there projects lying forlornly in bags.

3.  Use what you’ve got.
Really, there’s not that much to say here, except that I’m not yet 40, and I believe I’ve already achieved SABLE.  (Oh, and that I never put all the stash in one room so that I can maintain the comforting illusion that there really isn’t all that much.)  For the love of God, use some of it up, Sarah!

4.  Create something of your own.
This is the hard one.  For some time, I’ve been wanting to branch out, design my own stuff, dye my own yarn and rovings, open my own etsy shop, market my own line of patterns.  So why don’t I?  When I’m feeling self-pitying or self-indulgent, the answer that I give myself is that I’m too busy, I have too many other commitments, I have so many other things that I do.  But when I can manage to look at myself even a tad bit truthfully, (ah, the anxiety!), the answer has everything to do with fear and inertia.  Fear of failing.  Fear of making changes.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of working a little harder than I really want to.  After all, I may not be challenged or fulfilled (or even very happy) in my professional life, but I’m pretty comfortable.  I know exactly what to expect, and I usually get it. 

Change and challenge. 

The goals:  Design, design, design.  Build an etsy shop.  Play with dyes.  Develop patterns. 

Knit dangerously.


The Search for the Perfect Scarf

Post by Sarah
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.


Remember Rumpelstiltskin?

Post by Sarah
August 20th, 2008

I am somewhat embarrassed to say that Rumpelstiltskin has been finished for many weeks now, but not blocked.  Until last weekend!  When, overcome by the shame of having a project finished but not-finished, as you might say, I washed and blocked the durned thing.


This undertaking was somewhat hampered by the fact that I could not find my blocking wires, which naturally meant that I had to tear my house apart looking for them.  Because, you see, Rumpel was already washed and waiting to be put on the rack, as it were.  While I was instituting this search, I was talking on the phone with a friend of mine, giving him a blow-by-blow account of the search.  “Look under the bed,” he said.  “Isn’t that where blocking wires can usually be found?”  (He had no idea what blocking wires even were until our conversation that night.)  “No, they’re normally found in the hall closet!  Ha! Ha! Ha!” I laughed.  Guess what?  They were in the hall closet.  Huh.  Go figure.


But!  Isn’t he gorgeous!  (If I do say so myself.)  I am very, very pleased, which is a good thing, because if I weren’t pleased after the hundreds of hours I spent on him, I would…well, I don’t really know what I would do.  Bang my head against the wall.  Stick a knitting needle in my eye.  Run screaming into the woods.  You get the idea.



Final specs on Rumpelstiltskin:

Yarn:  Knit One, Crochet Too Douceur Swirls 70% baby mohair, 30% silk
purchased from Elann

Pattern:  Diamonds and Triangles (slightly enlarged) from Victorian Lace Today

Finished size:  about 4×8 feet

Time to knit:  forever



I see the world through rose-colored wool

Post by Sarah
June 24th, 2008

I recently finished spinning some rose-colored Corriedale which I acquired from the lovely folks here.

uncombed rose-colored wool

First I combed it with my small handcombs,

combed rose wool

Spun singles on my Ashford Joy,

rose wool on bobbin
(Ok, it looks more purple-y in this picture, but that is a false reading.  I swear.)

Then turned it into a two-ply.

rose wool unwashed
These three skeins have yet to be washed, and there was a good bit of lanolin left even in the dyed wool.

rose wool washed
These two have been washed.

I realize it’s hard to see in photos, but there really is a vast difference in the washed and unwashed skeins.  (Somewhere here there is a joke about the “great unwashed,” but I just can’t get to it.)

I washed those two skeins in the hottest water I could run out of my tap (pretty hot) and used plain old laundry detergent on them.  Then I rinsed in the same temperature water, spun them in the washing machine, and hung them to dry unweighted.

In this picture you can see how this finishing treatment really made the yarn full and took up the length.  The washed skein is above, the unwashed below. 

rose wool washed and unwashed

What you can’t see in the pictures is how much the yarn bloomed, softened, and rounded.  I almost want to keep a small sample of unfinished yarn just so I can keep comparing the before and after.

And now, I know, the next logical question is “What am I going to do with this yarn?”  The answer is, “I have no idea.”

This brings up an interesting side question for me.  Now that I live in a small house, what in the world can I do with all my yarn, both the yarn I already own, and the yarn that I continue to make?  My little house can only hold so much, and it’s reaching maximum capacity as we speak.

Ellen, would you like some rose-colored wool?


Happy Belated Birthday, Sis!

Post by Sarah
April 8th, 2008

A week ago Sunday was Ellen’s 40th birthday, which I missed here on the blog because I was co-chaperoning 11 teenagers for three days 200 miles away from home.  Yes, I wanted to stick a pin in my eye.

Anyhoo, please join me in wishing Ellen a very, very happy belated birthday.

Happy Birthday, Sis!  I love you!



Post by Sarah
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. 


Sockward ho!

Post by Sarah
February 14th, 2008

I am a sock-knitting addict.  There, it’s out.  The first step to healing is admitting the problem.  To make my addiction worse, I quite self-centeredly knit almost all my socks for myself.  Selfish, selfish, selfish.  I offer the following proof:

First up, a finished pair of socks in Regia cotton.

Regia striped socks
I finished these several weeks ago and have been wearing them happily since.

Next, another pair in Regia cotton, first sock not yet finished.

Regia socks in progress 
This colorway of the Regia just called out to me from the nest last week, and I was compelled to cast on.  I think it has something to do with the gorgeous, summery saturation of those reds in the middle of this neverending cold winter.

In a similar fashion, last week I was also compelled to wind this black/grey superwash handspun off into a ball and cast on for yet another pair of socks.  (You see, in my world, it is not necessary or even desirable to finish one pair of socks before starting another.  Come visit!  My world is a happy place!)

handspun sw sock
This first sock of the pair lacks but the final grafting at the toe.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, when I was heading out to my spinning guild meeting, well, I had to have something to take with me to spin.  Something new!  Something beautiful and impressive!  (Naturally I could not take something I was already working on.  How could you even think that?)  I did a little digging and came up with a black and red superwash mill end roving and another red superwash roving.  I combed them together on my handheld combs and out came:

combed maroon superwash
this maroon roving.  Definitely greater than the sum of its parts.  It has a kind of shimmery beauty that I was certainly not expecting.

maroon superwash on bobbin

maroon superwash on wheel

What will I make out of it?  Why, socks for myself, of course.


Go ahead. Make my day. Sarah-style.

Post by Sarah
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!


Go ahead, make my day

Post by Ellen
February 5th, 2008

Shoot, I kinda feel like the popular kid for once. Both Hanna and Karen have bestowed upon us the…

I am deeply touched.

We are now “it,” and therefore shall now bestow in turn the “You Make My Day Award” on ten other blogs. My five are below and I trust that my sister will shortly add her share.

1. Affiknitty: She’s smart, she’s funny, and she’s just got that certain je ne sais quoi. And also…who’s going to argue with irrational exuberance since 1969? Which is nearly as long as I’ve been irrationally exuberant. Or just irrational.

2. Enchanting Juno: Here’s a woman who knows the uses of enchantment! Also edgy, funny, sharp as a tack, and the proud possessor of a powerful bullshit detector. Love that!

3. Mama Urchin: Beautiful—and I do mean gorgeous—photographs, a marvelous appreciation of the wonders and varieties of food, great cook (again, from the looks of those pictures), kind, gentle, sweet, and smart.

4. Sean’s Soapbox: Okay, maybe a little unfair because he is a real-life friend and a very good one, but I enjoy seeing what he’s knitting and hearing about what he’s up to on the days I don’t see him in person. He’s a fabulous knitter. One of the best I know.

5. Yarn Tails: Diane shares my love of animals, knitting, beautiful things in the outdoors, and people who either shoot straight or keep their safety on. So to speak. A lovely person and knitter to have gotten to know through these internets.

And a sixth: not knitting, but if you just wanna go, “Aw!” check this out: Odyssey of the Tot. Yeah, I have to admit that sometimes I watch the little videos of my friends’ incredibly cute baby over and over…and then one more time. I challenge you to find a cuter kid.

Everyone else can make my day—at least if he or she lives in one of the 22 Super Tuesday states—by voting in the primaries.

Oh, and last, but not least, I’m nearly done with the second Ice Queen:

Scrumptious close-up:

I love it just as much as the first one.


To teach, to learn

Post by Ellen
February 4th, 2008

I had an exciting and fun new experience last week, which is an exceptionally good thing at this point in the winter when so much seems dreary and tired.

I taught a sock knitting class at Woolcott, specifically a class on how to make socks on two circular needles.
Here is my little class sock.

I feel that everyone should know this technique, which is my standard practice. Even if you decide to go back to your DPs or to magic loop it (or to switch between all these methods), it’s worth knowing about the two circular needle method. Good to have options, you know?

I had five students, all very focused and eager to learn. Although not all that eager to be photographed—perhaps some of them are in the Witness Protection Program?—which is why you don’t see them here.

Teaching is as much an art as a skill, I think, and teaching something intellectual (read: abstract) is vastly different than teaching something primarily physical and applied (like knitting). I’ve done way more of the former than the latter, so I have to admit that there are certain challenges, although I like to think that meeting them will make me a better teacher in the long run, no matter what I’m teaching.

For one thing, there are special difficulties in conveying a skill that relies, ultimately, on having a “feel” for how much tension to keep on the yarn. And with socks in particular, on conceptualizing how what you are doing now in the knitting contributes to the architecture of the finished product, on “seeing” in 3-D and allowing that to guide you in your next steps.

It can be hard to find the right words or metaphor to make these things clear. Especially when these are things you have been doing since you were a rather small child. In other words, in some ways, I find it harder to teach something that now feels “natural” to me (even though it isn’t at all) than something I could still viscerally deconstruct into its component parts.

So these are things I try to be mindful of and work on as I teach. Teaching knitting, though, gives me a greater appreciation for what we do as knitters. Because handcrafts are really quite devalued in our culture at this stage in the game, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that this is just some little thing we do, that it is no big deal, that it isn’t special, that anyone could do it.

Which they could. But for most people, it would take a lot of patience and a lot of practice to get really good at it.

So if you’ve gotten really good at it, you should take pride and give yourself some credit.

And if you are just learning, you should give yourself some time and space not to be perfect for a while. In my experience at the shop, adults have a hard time allowing themselves the time to proceed up the learning curve because they are used to having mastery in most of the things they do. They get frustrated learning knitting in a way that kids, who are used to having mastery in almost nothing, don’t.

If I had one piece of advice to give beginning adult knitters, it would be: allow yourself to learn at your own pace, give yourself credit for learning something new, and accept that there will be mistakes and that those are—if I may be a little “Miss Mary Sunshine” for a moment—opportunities for learning.

Eventually, you’ll get really good at knitting, too. And the rewards of that, believe me, will be worth all the difficulties.