Wednesday, April 30, 2008

All In a Day's Work

There is fiber-related activity going on here, I swear.

There is knitting:

There is spinning:

But I may be in sort of a fiber rut at the moment. Progress is happening, but it's the sort of progress that happens while they're installing the pipes and wires in a house--important, but not all that interesting to watch.

I was reading Li's blog this morning, in which she related the story of an embarrassing job interview. She asked if anyone wanted to share a story. I left this comment (below), and now I'm wondering where this falls on the continuum of awful job interview stories. Anyone else want to share?

Most embarrassing experience of my life:

I am a former diplomat. Joining the Foreign Service is a lengthy process which begins with a written exam, and if you pass (which few people do), you get the pleasure of taking an eight hour "oral exam" several months later. If you pass this (and even fewer people do), you have to pass background checks, medical exams, etc., and then you are placed on a waiting list. If you don't get hired within 18 months after that, your name drops off the list.

My oral exam was scheduled for the day after I graduated from college. It was early in the morning and my very first "event" was an hour-long interview with a panel of three senior foreign service officers who looked like they had never cracked a smile between them. I sat with my legs crossed tightly, dressed in a short skirt and uncomfortable heels and was grilled on world events and history and politics and social issues. It did not go well. (At one point, asked what Nelson Mandela's wife's name was, I responded painfully, "Mrs. Mandela".) When they finally, finally released me, I stood to leave, took one step, and discovered abruptly that my foot had gone to sleep. I pitched forward and fell flat on my face in front of all three interviewers. I will never be able to forget staring at the industrial blue speckled carpeting and thinking, "In 20 years, this will be funny, but I don't know how I'm going to get through the next 20 seconds." It was awful. Awful. One of the interviewers came rushing over in horror, one stared at me like I was a particularly repulsive bug, and one laughed. (And I didn't pass the exam that year. I did get hired two years later.) It's been 17 years and it's still not all that funny. Maybe in another three...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dryer Woes

I do the laundry at my house. I figure, since I sort it all, load it into baskets, haul it downstairs, wash it, dry it, fold it, haul it back upstairs, and put it all away, the other inmates can be responsible for emptying their own pockets and putting the discarded clothing in the hamper. This seems reasonable to me, even generous. And for the most part, the other inmates hold up their end of the bargain. Dirty clothes usually end up somewhere in the general vicinity of some receptacle intended to hold them until laundry day. As a rule, money, pens, and small animals have been removed from the pockets. (The fact that I have a strict rule that I keep any money I find in the laundry may have something to do with this.) But once in a while...once in a while I find things in the dryer that just don't belong there.

The Crayola Incident is burned into the collective memory of my family. It was directly responsible for The Great Crayon Ban of 2001. And there was that time my sister was visiting and I found a whole lot of shredded coconut and raisins in the dryer. I will never forget the expression on her face when she said: "That looks like the trail mix I had in my pocket...but what happened to the burrito?!" Indeed, my Maytag appears to have digested half a breakfast burrito in its entirety, leaving no evidence behind. (I never did get a straight answer about what half of a breakfast burrito was doing in her pocket in the first place.) I won't even discuss The Diaper Years and their attendant laundry surprises, because I have been largely successful in blocking them out of my mind and prefer to keep it that way. There are the inevitable pocket knives and magnifying glasses and other people's socks--which would be weird if I didn't always have other people's kids at my house. Boys seem to be universally opposed to keeping their socks on their feet. I have pulled innumerable empty tubes of Neutrogena lip balm out of the dryer, their waxy contents having been evenly distributed over every square inch of fabric. And my husband doesn't wear clothes speckled creatively with large black ink splotches as a fashion statement.

I can usually identify the source of unusual laundry markings at first glance. Today was another story. I did five loads of laundry without incident. But when I went to pull the sixth out of the dryer, I was greeted by an unexpectedly minty odor. As I opened the dryer door, I felt that sinking feeling at the sight of gooey dark smears coating the inside of the dryer and large oily blotches on the freshly dried clothes. Initially I diagnosed a double-whammy lip balm-and-ink pen disaster. But on closer inspection, I am convinced that Someone (and I'm not pointing fingers, even though there was an awful lot of sticky lint in Younger Son's pants pocket) left a pack of sugarless gum in a pocket, which melted, coating the laundry and the interior of the dryer, and then became encrusted in dryer lint. It's sticky, smeary, and fuzzy, all at once. As I write, an undoubtedly toxic combination of household chemicals is marinating in the dryer, melting off the fragrant gum-and-lint tapenade (I hope).

But as I was kneeling on the tile floor, upper body in the dryer, inhaling an unhealthy volume of 409 fumes, I began to wonder: what's the weirdest thing you've ever found in the wash?

Going Green--Part II

Just to prove that it's not all about fiber and complaining about high gas prices and predicting the fall of Western civilization around here, I thought I'd share another "green" project.

Before (note the absence of vegetation in our vegetable garden--and that gorgeous wisteria over my garden gate!):


Tomatoes, snap peas, beans, squash, eggplant, cucumbers, strawberries, lettuce, peppers, basil, chives, and zucchini:

And after:

Our perpetual garden resident seems to approve:

For those who might be wondering, he's an endangered California Desert Tortoise. I inherited him from my aunt, who rescued him from a poacher some thirty years ago. By law he cannot be re-released into the wild or removed from the state, so when she moved to Colorado a couple of years ago, she left him with me. He is at least thirty-five, maybe older. No one really knows how long they live, but 75+ years is a conservative estimate. He just came out of hibernation.

And just because she looked so darned cute:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Going Green

Just in time for Earth Day, I finished the back of Sligo. I know it looks long. It is long. It is 28 inches long, in fact. The pattern diagram, which is not entirely correct, by the way, calls for a finished length of 26.5 inches. I added the extra inch and a half because I am unusually tall. I generally add two inches, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it, for fear of ending up with a lovely-but-unwearable lace dress.

And it is lovely. The color is hard to photograph accurately. It's a bit more gold than it looks here. Now that I have worked out the kinks (in myself, not the pattern), it is rolling along quite nicely. I can work it almost as quickly as stockinette--except for the cable rows, which still require intense attention and minor acrobatics to pull off.

And lest ye think that Sligo isn't "green" enough for Earth Day...

I also planted a tree.

Monday, April 21, 2008


That's how much we paid yesterday to fill up our gas tank. It took two credit cards, since the pump cuts off at $60. Am I the only one who thinks this is crazy? Am I the only one who thinks this is somehow connected to the record profits the oil companies have been posting for the past several years? Am I the only one who thinks having a "former" oil man in the White House whose cronies all benefit from high gas prices and a Congress whose members are all among the country's super-rich is leading the country down a path that will inevitably crush the middle class while swelling the ranks of self-serving billionaires? Am I the only one who thinks that an electoral system that requires candidates to spend millions and millions of dollars--for which they must pander to special interests (read: oil and pharmaceutical companies)--just to compete is not the best way to ensure a government that serves the interests of the people, instead of corporations?

Really--am I?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Pattern For a Cause

If you've tried to access the Erica pattern in the past few days, you will have noticed that it is no longer available as a free pattern. That is because it is now available for sale--to a wider audience--as a pattern to benefit Knitters Without Borders/Doctors Without Borders.

Sue at Little Knits has put the pattern up on her site as a pdf which can be downloaded for $2.50. For each pattern sold, she will make a matching donation of $2.50! (Read about it here.) How cool is that? Every penny will go to KWB/DWB, and a running tally will be posted on the Little Knits site! The pattern can be ordered here.

I know those of you who already have the pattern have no need to purchase it, but if you have friends who want it, I'd really appreciate it if you could direct them to Little Knits. $2.50 won't even buy a latte at Starbucks, but DWB can use it to help save a life.

I'm very pleased to have my very first "published" pattern benefit such a great cause. Your wonderful and supportive comments on the pattern motivated me to make it available to more knitters, so thank you!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What the Heck is "Siddhartha"?

You're Siddhartha!

by Hermann Hesse

You simply don't know what to believe, but you're willing to try
anything once. Western values, Eastern values, hedonism and minimalism, you've spent
some time in every camp. But you still don't have any idea what camp you belong in.
This makes you an individualist of the highest order, but also really lonely. It's
time to chill out under a tree. And realize that at least you believe in

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Keeping My Head Down

After my recent string of knitting disasters, I'm just keeping my head down. I finished a sock:

I'm hoping the Knitting Goddess will accept the kitchenering of the toe as my penance and let me off the hook already. But I doubt it. I had to cast on the second sock four times before I got it right. It's a simple k2, p2 rib, but I tried to cast on with a single circular, and apparently my brain doesn't work that way. I knitted two different mobius cuffs before I gave up and cast on with dpns, then knitted it onto a circular.

I've also accepted the fact that Sligo is not going to fit. I only came to this conclusion after I knitted several more repeats of the lace pattern, so I'm not feeling too bright about that either. I was heading for a 34" chest, and based on my swatch, it wasn't going to grow any with blocking. I was using size 5 needles and the knitting was pretty tight. I couldn't bring myself to actually rip out all that lace, so I pulled out another ball to swatch yet again. It turns out I can get perfect gauge on size 7s--exactly as the pattern recommends. Who'd have thought? And although the fabric is a little looser than I would like, it is acceptable, and probably the only way I'm going to get a sweater that fits. I've cast on (for the third time) and I'm quietly working away, hoping to escape any more unwanted attention from the KG.

Maybe one of you could...oh, I don't know...start knitting without swatching, or buy only exactly as much discontinued yarn as the pattern calls for, or loudly proclaim your disdain for the KG and distract her for me for just a little while. Please?

Friday, April 11, 2008

FO: Come Sail Away--and another Free Pattern!

This has been done for...a while. I've been frustrated in my efforts to get a decent picture. It took less than a week to knit and was really fun.

Pattern: Come Sail Away baby blanket (my design)

Yarn: Knit Picks Swish Worsted (superwash wool) in Delft Heather. About 7.5 balls.

Needles: Size 7 Knit Picks Options circulars

Gauge: 18 sts. x 24 rows to 4 inches after washing

Finished Size: about 28" x 32" (but this yarn really, really grows when it hits water; it was smaller before washing.)


Cast on 120 stitches. Work in garter stitch until piece measures two inches, ending with RS row.

Boat pattern:

Next row (WS) and all WS rows: k10, p30, k5, p30, k5, p30, k10

Row 1: k16, p18, k17, p18, k17, p18, k16
Row 3: k15, p20, k15, p20, k15, p20, k15
Row 5: k14, p22, k13, p22, k13, p22, k14
Row 7: k13, p24, k11, p24, k11, p24, k13
Row 9: k12, p26, k9, p26, k9, p26, k12
Row 11: knit all stitches
Row 13: k12, p14, k1, p4, k16, p14, k1, p4, k16, p14, k1, p4, k19
Row 15: k13, p13, k1, p5, k16, p13, k1, p5, k16, p13, k1, p5, k18
Row 17: k14, p12, k1, p6, k16, p12, k1, p6, k16, p12, k1, p6, k17
Row 19: k15, p11, k1, p7, k16, p11, k1, p7, k16, p11, k1, p7, k16
Row 21: k16, p10, k1, p8, k16, p10, k1, p8, k16, p10, k1, p8, k15
Row 23: k17, p9, k1, p9, k16, p9, k1, p9, k16, p9, k1, p9, k14
Row 25: k18, p8, k1, p9, k17, p8, k1, p9, k17, p8, k1, p9, k14
Row 27: k19, p7, k1, p9, k18, p7, k1, p9, k18, p7, k1, p9, k14
Row 29: k20, p6, k1, p9, k19, p6, k1, p9, k19, p6, k1, p9, k14
Row 31: k21, p5, k1, p9, k20, p5, k1, p9, k20, p5, k1, p9, k14
Row 33: k22, p4, k1, p8, k22, p4, k1, p8, k22, p4, k1, p8, k15
Row 35: k23, p3, k1, p7, k24, p3, k1, p7, k24, p3, k1, p7, k16
Row 37: k24, p2, k1, p6, k26, p2, k1, p6, k26, p2, k1, p6, k17
Row 39: k25, p1, k1, p5, k28, p1, k1, p5, k28, p1, k1, p5, k18
Row 41: k25, p1, k1, p4, k29, p1, k1, p4, k29, p1, k1, p4, k19
Row 43: k25, p1, k1, p3, k30, p1, k1, p3, k30, p1, k1, p3, k20
Row 45: k25, p1, k1, p1, k32, p1, k1, p1, k32, p1, k1, p1, k22
Row 47: k25, p1, k1, p4, k29, p1, k1, p4, k29, p1, k1, p4, k19
Row 49: k25, p1, k1, p3, k30, p1, k1, p3, k30, p1, k1, p3, k20
Row 51: k25, p1, k1, p1, k32, p1, k1, p1, k32, p1, k1, p1, k22
Row 52: work as WS row

End of boat pattern

Knit all stitches next 9 rows (ending with RS row).

Repeat boat pattern (beginning with WS row).

Knit all stitches next 9 rows (ending with RS row).

Repeat boat pattern (beginning with WS row).

Work two inches in garter stitch and bind off.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

In Which the KG Takes Her Revenge. Again.

Two hours. That's how long it took me to produce this swatch.

Two hours, and three needle sizes, and a flip chart for the lace pattern. It's not as easy as it looks. Not only is this a "true" lace, in that every row is a pattern row--no resting on the wrong side--but it also incorporates an "eight stitch cable" that requires not one but two cable needles to execute. You have to slip one stitch to the front on one needle, slip six stitches to the back on another needle, knit one, then work the six back stitches in a knit and purl pattern, then finally knit the first stitch from the first cable needle. If you didn't quite get that, imagine my struggles to figure out how to execute it without using any cable needles. I did, eventually. It requires some interesting acrobatics that leave my wrists a bit sore, but it beats trying to hang onto all those different cable needles.

Imagine, then, how long it took to produce this:

Now double that, because I knitted it twice. Not for fun, you understand. In all that swatching (and I even washed my swatches and measured them after blocking), I came to the conclusion that I liked the yarn best knitted at a somewhat smaller gauge than the pattern called for. After a bit of quality time with my calculator, I decided that I could use my gauge and just knit one size up and end up with the right size. So I cast on for the L/XL and worked about 25 rows. 25 140-stitch rows. Of lace.

Now I'll admit that it never really looked right. From the first row, I was questioning the sizing. It looked big. But I checked the numbers and everything worked out. So I kept knitting. It continued to look big. I checked the numbers again. I checked my gauge. I was a little off--maybe one stitch over four inches. But with a gauge of 26-28 stitches to four inches, this didn't seem terribly important. By the time I was nearing the end of the first lace repeat, though, there was no denying that this thing was going to be huge. I stopped and measured again. And now I was getting the original gauge specified in the pattern, and was in fact knitting a 42.5" chest for my 35" bust. There was nothing to do but rip it all out.

I bit the bullet and ripped. Then I turned on American Idol and cast on again, this time using the S/M pattern. By the time Simon was slinging his final insult, I was feeling pretty good about my progress. I did notice that some of my stitches were not as tight as they should be and made a conscious effort to tighten things up a bit.

Which may be why, when I pulled it out again today, it looked a little...small. Yes indeed. I am now knitting a size XS. Instead of a 37.5" chest, I am knitting a 34.5" chest. I am a little miffed. I'm not a slave to gauge. I see it as a suggestion rather than an absolute. I don't worry too much about my knits growing or stretching a bit, because that is the nature of knitting. It stretches. It grows. It changes when exposed to water or steam or normal wear. So it doesn't matter all that much to me if I'm off by half a stitch over four inches or a couple inches in the finished product, which is why I generally don't swatch some knitters do. But this time I did swatch rigorously. I swatched and I washed and I blocked and I calculated, and the end result is just as screwed up as it could possibly be had I thrown caution to the wind and just started knitting.

So the obvious dilemma is this: I have now knitted this sweater in both the S/M and L/XL sizes, and there was eight inches difference between the two with the two entirely different gauges I seem to have gotten with the same yarn and same needles. So what do I do? Keep working on the current version and trust in the magic of blocking? Rip and re-knit the larger size, even though I know it will probably end up being way too big? Rip the thing and pretend I never saw this pattern? Throw myself on the mercy of the Knitting Goddess, who is clearly not done with me yet, and beg her forgiveness for ever daring to cast on in the first place? After the endless labor of Death By Cables and the unfinished disaster of the Retro Ribby Shrug, I could really use a win here. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


So I got to feeling a little guilty about the Retro Ribby Shrug. You know, what with the cheating and all. And I got out my darning needle and scissors and began sewing it up. I sewed the sides, and the shoulders, and set in one sleeve, and even sewed up the sleeve seam. I started setting in the second sleeve, and then I went off to the wedding and left it behind, figuring I only had a few minutes work left to do. I had some weird dreams while I was gone. I kept dreaming that I had done Something Wrong on the sewing. Which is weird, even for me. I don't usually dream about knitting. Well, I do, actually (although I try not to talk about it, at least among the Muggles), but I don't usually dream about finishing. It's not that exciting. This time, though, I had two distinct dreams warning me that there was Something Wrong with the finishing of the RRS. I put it down to simple exhaustion, after running all day and staying up with the bride until midnight, getting very little sleep before I was up at dawn to hose down the bride again and keep her within reasonable bounds of hysteria.

When I arrived home Sunday night, I was too tired to even consider finishing the few minutes of work I had left. It wasn't until Monday afternoon that I picked it up again. I finished setting in the sleeve and began making my way down the sleeve seam when it hit me, forcefully, that there was indeed Something Wrong. My shrug did not look at all the way I remembered the picture looking. It looked...different. Square. Slowly it dawned on me that the shrug in the picture was decidedly not square. I pulled out the book, and after a few hard looks back and forth, I concluded that I had, indeed, screwed it all up. I had sewn the fronts on completely wrong. Absolutely.

I began picking out the right side seam stitches, grateful, at least, that I could salvage the sleeve sewing and wouldn't have to set them back in. I finished picking out the side seam I was working and watched in horror as the right sleeve...fell off. Yes, I had picked out the wrong seam by mistake. I took a deep breath and decided to start over on the left side while I regrouped. Do I even need to tell you that the left sleeve suffered the same fate? Cursing quietly as I examined my new "vest", I decided my plan was doomed and that a complete reboot was necessary. I carefully picked out all the remaining seams and started again with all the pieces.

I sewed the right side, the left side, set in the right sleeve and sewed the sleeve seam, set in the left sleeve and began to sew the left sleeve seam. I held up the shrug. It looked a lot like the picture. Emboldened by my apparent--long-delayed--success, I headed for the bathroom mirror to try it on.

I have knitted a freak of nature.

It doesn't fit me. I don't think it would fit anyone. There seems to be an unusual amount of fabric gathered at the front of each sleeve. Sort of a puffed sleeve look, with the puff unaccountably shifted to the front. I don't think it's my sewing. I don't think it's my knitting. The measurements are all correct. I followed the finishing directions. And yet...there is most definitely Something Still Wrong.

I was momentarily tempted to soldier on and assume it would all come out in the blocking, but even a moment's rational reflection convinced me that this is not the case. There isn't enough blocking in the world to fix this. And I'm at a bit of a loss for any other solution, short of re-knitting the whole thing. And truthfully, I'm not even sure how that would help, since my pieces all match the pattern measurements perfectly. Clearly I have missed something important--some detail that would make all the difference in the finished product. But I'm afraid I lack sufficient interest at this point even to attempt to figure out what that might be.

Into every knitter's life, an occasional accursed project must fall. That is what the back of the yarn closet is for.


Monday, April 7, 2008


It's come to this. As if cheating on Death By Cables with the Retro Ribby Shrug weren't bad I'm cheating on the RRS with Sligo. Shameless, that's what I am. A project hussy.

The RRS is done. At least, the knitting part is done. It has a back, two fronts, and two sleeves, just waiting to be blocked and sewn together.

Usually, I'm pretty gung-ho about finishing. I don't like the sewing (if I wanted to sew, I'd, you know, sew), but I generally hop right to it once the knitting is done, because--let's face it--you can't really walk around with the individual pieces pinned to your shirt and call it a sweater. (Although some of us may have been tempted to try it.)

But even though the RRS was an exciting fling, and a very quick knit, the thrill is gone, and I'm seeing it in the harsh light of day with its curlers and its house coat, and I'm getting that wandering urge. I'm having a hard time resisting the siren's song of Sligo (so green...). And Death? I've sent Death on a long vacation while I reconsider the relationship . I'm going with Bea's reasoning: "you have to look at your WIPs in relation to the season, WIPs for fall and winter 'stay' in that season, when spring comes, you start over at 0." Have you ever heard such a piece of knitterly brilliance in your life? Even the Knitting Goddess can't possibly argue with that reasoning!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Llamas in Cyberspace

The internet is a funny place. I don't mean the Google results you get if you put in a search term like "dirty sheep." I mean, funny in the way it creates such unexpected connections between people. How many of us have become friends with people we've met on line? People who live so far away and in such different circles that we would never have met in real life? I, for one, have traveled to another city to meet up with a knitter I had never laid eyes on, and I'm sure (really sure, because I read your blogs) that I am not the only one.

And what about all our on line relationships? I've never met Becky, or Romi, or Melissa, or Kristin, or Heather, or any of you for real, but I know a lot about you and your families and your lives. More, actually, than I know about most of my neighbors. I genuinely care about my blog friends. I worry about you when you're sick, or having financial troubles, or moving house. I celebrate with you when you get a pattern published, or start a new etsy shop, or have an anniversary. Doesn't that count for something? Doesn't that make for friendship, of an unorthodox sort?

The internet is a funny place. In one way, spending a lot of time on the computer makes you kind of a recluse. In another, though, it opens the door to a whole world of friendship.

The other day, I got an email from someone I've never met. Normally I don't open unfamiliar email (it's taken several hard drive reformattings to teach me that particular lesson). But the subject line of this one read "mini llamas" and there was no way I could resist. This is what it said:


I was actually doing a search for a bloodline for a llama stud that I thought was in CA when I came across a blog from a woman who has or had llamas and someone (you) mentioned mini llamas –which is why this blog was in the search. Anyway you commented how you wished someone would “make a backyard mini llama” and I do. I’ve raised them for 9 years now.

Thought you’d like to know is all.

Julie Chapman

when inches count, count on us

Well, yeah. I would like to know. Because, really, who'd have thought? I certainly didn't! Check this out:

How can you not love a face like that?

Or this. Don't they look happy, enjoying their hay al fresco?

Julie and I corresponded by email a little. She sent me the pictures above, and some others, and I visited her website and browsed around for a while. Sadly, even a mini llama is too big for my tiny Southern California backyard (apparently, they're not big swimmers). But yesterday I got the next best thing in the mail:

Llama fiber! In red and chocolate and tan and white--some 100% llama, some blended with mohair (also from Julie's farm), and some blended with wool. It's marvelous stuff, soft and colorful and calling my name loudly from the yarn closet, where I had to put it in time out until I finished this post. (If you want some of your own, you can order it from her website.)

Yes, the internet is a funny place. Aren't we lucky?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Why We Love Nana--Reason #3127

This is the scene we stumbled upon when picking up the kids at my mom's house after our weekly "date night." Down the hall, Older Son was simultaneously practicing his saxophone--Nana was moving from room to room, giving lessons!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fiber is Fiber

It's shedding season around here. (Real photo of my real floor--an hour after vacuuming.)

I don't mind, though. I don't think of it as "shedding" so much as "free fiber".

And fiber is fiber (yes, that's dog yarn on the bobbin). Now if I could just figure out how to spin it directly off the dog...