December 27, 2010


For me, the holiday season is spent alternating between two modes: revelry and crafting lock-down. I enjoy them both, but I must admit that I'll be relieved when January rolls around and I can operate on a less frenetic pace. The revelry is fun and offers a distraction from the cares and burdens of normal life, but the crafting provides me time to think, plan, mull and relax.  I relaxed so much this year that I couldn't seem to get off one project type: hats.  It's almost become an addiction, but one that's that's healthier than wine or bourbon or easy men.

Some of these hats were were made with particular loved ones in mind, but others came about only because I wanted to experiment with specific yarns or techniques.

Pattern: My Own
Yarn: Frog Tree Alpaca Chunky
Needles: 5.0mm/6.5mm
Started: December 23
Finished: December 24

What I've learned about alpaca is that it makes terrible pullovers (because it's super warm and gets itchy) and its really drapey, both qualities that I thought would make it suitable for a slouchy winter hat.  I really liked Kim Hargreaves Kat hat, but I wasn't in the mood to spend $26 on a pattern book, so I improvised this hat with the help of a stitch dictionary.  I used somewhere in the neighborhood of 120-130 yards of the Frog Tree Alpaca.  Love it!  Loved it so much that as soon as i finished, I whipped up another.

Pattern: My Own
Yarn: Rowan Rowanflek DK Tweed (held doubled)
Needles: 5.5mm/9.0mm
Started: December 24
Finished: December 25

While I'm happy with this project overall, I'm not great fan of the yarn.  It's a wool cotton blend, but it's oddly stiff and unyielding.  I had to use large needles to prevent knitting a super stiff, icky fabric that would result in more of a helmet than a hat.  It's hard to tell from the picture, but the yarn is tweedily flecked.  I wanted to make a black because so many of us have black winter coats and colorful scarves, it's sometimes helpful to have one accessory that can fade in to the background a bit.

Both the yarn and pattern for this next project were selected specifically for it's recipient.  David married one of my besties, Lauren, last summer.  He's a fun and handsome man who hails from Portsmouth, England who, more than almost anyone else I know, is always super psyched  to get a handmade gift from me, be it a cake, mix CD or knitwear. Since the UK is known for being damp and chilly, a hat was in order, and given this location, tweed seemed quite appropriate as well.  Cables don't seem like his style, so I decided to go with a simple ribbed hat. 

Pattern: Marsan Watchcap, by Staceyjoy Elkin
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Donegal Luxury Tweed Aran
Needles: 4.5mm
Started: December 12
Finished: December 15

I modified the pattern so that I worked in a k1tbl, p1 rib, which results in awesome stitch def.  What makes this so neat, to me, is that when you've completed the brim, slip, turn, flip inside out move that results in your knitting in the opposite direction. This means that when the brim is flipped up, the visible rib is the same, not the reverse, of the rib on the body of the hat. Genius!
This next project started as something else entirely, and was, in fact, a completed project.  The first iteration was a slouchy beret that had no slouch. It was awkward, at best, so I ripped it out and started on a pattern I've been wanting to make for a a few weeks now.

Last Minute Slouch by Madelinetosh
Yarn: Manos del Uruguay Silky Blend (held doubled)
Needles: 5.5mm, 6.0mm
Started: December 25
Finished: December 26

Not so slouchy, but I have a big head.  None of the photos that I took capture the depth and shine of this yarn.  If you've seen it, you know what I mean.  This hat is the polar opposite of the slouchy black beret, and by that I mean it demands a neutral scarf and black coat. Bright and shiny, this one would be good to wear to a parade (easy to spot).

 Pattern: Scarab, by Jane Richmond
Yarn: Jade Sapphire Mongolian Cashmere 6-ply
Needles: I'm guessing 4.5 & 5.5
Started: December 8
Finished: December 11

I'm petering out here, so these last two will be brief.  This yarn is amazing.  I want pillows made out of it.  I want a hat out of it.  I want a bra made out of it.  This pattern utilizes a folded brim (attached to the body via  picked up stitches) for extra warmth around the ears, and extra luxe in general.  Faux cabling every 4th row meant an easy and satisfying knit.  The yarn was a bit of a splash out, but the recipient, Megan, has been a friend since 1985, so she's earned it.

This last one was the first of the holiday batch that i made.  Easy pattern that results in a well textured hat with a pattern that's noticeable yet subtle.  I really like the soft  effect of cabling without the use of purl stitches.

Pattern: Isotope Cable Hat by Tonya Wagner
Yarn: Rowan Lima
Needles:  didn't make note, but I'm guessing 5.0mm
Started: November 13
Finished: November 15

This really isn't a Christmas gift. I was a bit lax with one of my birthday presents last year, so this will be going to Lauren, wife of David of the green tweed hat as part of a belated anniversary of your birth gift. Lauren's lovely with long dark hair, and I'm thinking she'll look a little like Ali Macgraw back in the 70's.

Cute, right?  Steve McQueen knew how to pick 'em.

I'm beat now.  Need a wee drink and then to bed.  Happy New Year!

December 24, 2010

December 13, 2010

Little Queen

There are a lot of chic people in New York City, and fall and winter are the chic seasons.  Spring is flirty and summer is sexy, but fall and winter are when style takes center stage.  Sweaters and tights and corduroy and boots and coats and scarves: there are a lot of elements, including textures and colors, to consider when dressing oneself for cold weather.  It's easy to look clownish, which I sometimes do.

Lately I've been finding myself enraged when I see impossibly chic women with gigantic scarves and cowls wrapped round their necks.  I want! I want! I want!  And sometimes, the best gift to give is one that you would like to receive (assuming, of course, that the recipient would enjoy it as well).

Pattern: Snickerdoodle, by Lindsay Ingram
Yarn: Quince & Co. Puffin
Needles: US 15/10mm
Started: November 22
Finished: November 28

When I saw this pattern, I freaked out a little bit because it was EXACTLY what I'd been wanting, and I also knew it would be perfect for my friend Amy. Initially I planned to use the yarn called for by the pattern (Rowan Cocoon) but in the end I decided to use Quince and Co.'s Puffin, a bulky yarn that comes in a beautiful variety of colors. Peacock is the one I selected.

Working on this was a little tricky, as the recipient is my roommate; I couldn't exactly knit it up while we were sitting on the couch watching 30 Rock.  Fortunately, some friends asked me to house and dog sit while they were away over thanksgiving, so I decamped to their home and knit this linen-like stitch demonically for four days. I was both sneaky and productive.

I was worried about blocking it, but she Amy was called out of town for work and I seized upon the opportunity to wetblock (I always wetblock) the 56" long cowl and dry it on the floor under a fan.  The stitch opened up a bit with blocking, but it didn't grow a tremendous amount, which was a relief, as it was sizable to begin with.  The yarn did soften a bit, though, which was nice.  It's soft and flexible, yet has good body.  There's definitely going to be more Quince & Co. in my future.  Amy's going to Minnesota tomorrow for the Christmas holiday, and since it's been blizzarding out there (I'm not joking; their football stadium collapsed under the weight of the snow), this should prove quite useful.

A few of my knitting pals and I got together on Sunday to say "Bye for now" to one of our ranks who is heading to India for two months.  It was a lovely afternoon and I took advantage of the daylight to snap these photos. I was excited to see the cowl (dubbed Little Queen", another homage to Heart) on women of different heights, sizes and coloring.

Thank you to all of my sporting models. And good luck with your holiday knitting!

December 6, 2010

On presents and scarves and 70s rock legends

I'm not a crazy Christmas nut, and I deplore much of the excess of the season, but I do really enjoy selecting gifts for people. Mind you, I don't give gifts to a ton of people, as that's not fun and makes each gift less special, but I enjoy the process of thinking about a person and what would make a nice present for them.  I like it so much that I considered working as a personal shopper at one time.  But that's another story. 

The key to picking a good gift is obvious, but often overlooked: what's important is the recipient, not the giver.  It's inevitable that the gift that I give will say something about me, but first and foremost it should be something of use to, needed by or desired by the recipient.  Or maybe something which the recipient has never seen, but which is so totally them that when they unwrap it, they can hardly stop marvelling at it. You know, cashmere mittens are luxurious and wonderful, but I would never give a pair to my Uncle Roger, a dairy farmer.  He'd smile and appreciate them and then they would sit on a shelf in his closet, never used.  Buy him a Thinsulate lined wool cap that would be useful in the barn during a Minnesota winter and he'd brag on that gift for weeks. 

Since this will be my last Christmas in New York, I've been giving a lot of thought to my friends and their presents.  This year's gifts will be equal measure Merry Christmas, I love you and I'll miss you. I've been busy making stuff, but I've purchased a few items as well, because while knitting brings me endless joy, there are only so many hats with which I can surprise someone. One of the most exciting gifts I've purchased so far is a flower pin from Emerson Made.  So festive, so femme and so her.  I'd love to have one myself  to jazz up my many all black, I've-lived-in-New York-since-1995 outfits. Someday.

I also received a package this weekend from Brooklyn based natural skin product maker, Soapwalla Kitchen.  I've been eyeballing her products for about a year now, and this holiday proved the perfect excuse to place an order for a couple of friends who, like me, worry about the preservatives and petrochemicals contained in so many bath and beauty products.  The woman behind Soapwalla Kitchen has Lupus (an autoimmune disease) and started making things out of her own need for healthier skincare products.  Right on, I say.  If you can't find what you want, make it yourself!

In addition to prezzies, I've been busy shopping for holiday cards.  Some years I make my own, but last year and this, I decided to hand the reins over to talented letterpress artisans so that I can focus on under-the-tree items.  I won't give away this year's designs, but last year I ordered sweet New Year's cards from Ink and Iron, and some Christmas cards from Ruby Press.  I'm rather particular when it comes to stationery and I like to write, and receive, letters, and I like my holiday cards to express this (this is one part of my holiday season that's almost entirely about me).

One might get the impression that with all of this shopping, I've been left with little time for knitting, but that's not the case;  I've managed to work up a gift or two, including this:

Pattern: Quick, Easy-Peasy Scarf, by Nicole Okun
Yarn: Berroco Peruvia Quick
Needles: US 17/12.75mm
Started: November 20
Finished: November 21

Quick and easy is right.  I knit this giant in 2 days, and I'm not a particularly fast knitter.  The pattern as written called for a lopi style yarn and US 11/8.0mm needles, but I decided to follow Terezka's mods and use heavier yarn (held double), bigger needles and add fringe.  I wanted a warm and dramatic scarf for a tall and lovely friend who lives in Paris, and I could not be happier with the results. 

Thanks Amy for modelling!

I call it Barracuda, a wee homage to the Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy, aka Heart. I don't "heart" heart, I love them.   Powerful, sexy, dramatic, talented rock and rollers. I mean, look at them!

I know they've rocked their fair share of loooonnnng scarves in their day, so the name seemed appropriate.

When Barracuda was finished, I decided I had to have something similar for myself, and while it was a fast knit, I couldn't stomach the idea of working that 2 row stitch pattern again so soon, so I went in search of scarves with similar vibage, and came up with this:

Pattern: Chunky Alpaca Scarf by Jane Richmond
Yarn: Malabrigo Chunky
Needles: US 9/5.5mm
Started: November 28
Finished: December 2

Your basic feather and fan stitch pattern got me what I wanted:  a cozy scarf that would fold and scrunch nicely around my neck while looking a bit more feminine than garter stitch.  This took exactly four skein of Malabrigo Chunky (colorway Glazed Carrot, although one friend labeled it Persimmon).

I wanted the scarf to be as long as possible, but I also knew that I wanted fringe, so when I finished knitting the third skein, I made fringe with the fourth skein, attached them to the cast on edge, made the same number of fringe (fringes?) for the other end then knit with the remaining yarn until I ran out.  Easy and stress free.  I call her Bebe Le Strange.