Lovely, Lovely Lace

What with Melissa finishing up her move to Santa Cruz and the wrap-up work on my summer session class, I haven’t been knitting much of late. But when I do get time to knit, I’ve been working on lace shawls. Why? (As if one ever needs to ask why with knitting.)

1. The perfect books.

Traditional Lace Shawls

Knitting Lace Triangles
I actually only have a copy of the first one, but I’ve also done some leafing through the second, courtesy of my friend Chris, and I can’t wait to have a copy that’s mine! all mine!

These books don’t just give you patterns, they elucidate the whole lace shawl business in clear, pick-up-your-sticks-and-knit language. The first includes circle, half-circle, square, and triangle shawls. the second focuses on square and triangle shawls. If you’ve ever leafed through a stitch dictionary, dreaming of turning some of the stitches into a floating, airy wrap, these are the books that will make that possible.

2. The perfect yarn.

That would be Cascade Handpaints Heritage Sock Yarn (scroll down to get to the handpaints). This yarn is delicious in every way: delicious to touch, delicious to look at, delicious to knit with. The colors have wonderful depth and change in different lighting. I’m working with 9872 right now, which looks grey at first, but then blossoms into wonderful blues and greens as the light strikes it from different angles.

The yardage is generous enough that I was able to knit a half-circle shawl, including a knit-on border, with just two skeins. This yarn has great stitch definition, even with the variegated colorways. More good news—it’s mostly superwash wool, but with none of that teflon-y hardness that some superwashes seem to have.

3. The perfect opportunity.

I’ll finish off my summer session work today and have been clever enough to block off three-and-a-half days in the next week just for writing up patterns. I’ve had shrugs and shawls and fingerless gloves and hats dancing about half-designed in my head for months now, and this coming week will be dedicated to cranking out patters so as work gears up with the start of the new school year and I become increasingly inept at knitter’s math, I can nonetheless be knitting up my own designs.

It Must Still Be Tuesday Somewhere Mewsday: Poor Mr. D

Poor Damian did not like moving from Oakland to Santa Cruz. When Melissa let him out of the carrier, he slunk off, all oozy-creepy-kitty-like to hid in the litter box (which, as you can see, was a tight fit for our big boy).

We are happy to report that he’s started to settle in now, has stopped spending nights under the bed, and is back to sleeping on Melissa’s face and drooling contentedly on her as he snores. He particularly appreciates the fact that his clever mama places his climbing structure next to the staircase, which sort of makes the steps part of one enormous jungle gym.

No Original Pictures…

There’s a good reason for that. Melissa has been moving to Santa Cruz, which has been absolutely lovely for my quality of life except in the area of getting to boss her around about making photos appear on my blog. Since she has completely boxed up her whole life and brought it to my town, I need to be gracious and give her lots of time for unpacking with me focusing on what she needs, rather than me buzzing about saying “when will you upload…?,” “have you uploaded…?,” “how about uploading…?” (You see what she has to put up with? And still she loves me—I am a lucky, lucky gal.)

Someday, I will have my own pictures again and will show you
• the shawl with a knitted on border that I just finished
• various other WIPs and FOs
• the yarn I bought in Pennsylvania during our honeymoon
• the yarn shop whence this yarn came
• maybe even a wedding picture

Meanwhile, I will suck up various pics from on-line and show you some of the new pattern booklets that have me drooling.

Check out the Lace Pullover from Classic Elite’s Autumn, Book 1:
Montera pull-over

Their Autumn, Book 2 is equally yummy.
Duchess pull-over
slip stitch yoke cardi

Nashua Handknits is starting their own magazine, and the first issue is full of lovely pieces. It’s got cardigans galore, both casual—
foliage cardi

and formal—
bringing home the bacon cardi
(This one is called “Bringing Home the Bacon.”)

Nashua’s Mohair 3 has texture galore. This dressy cardigan is a particular favorite of mine.
mohair cardi
It’s hard to tell from this thumbnail, but the sweater has a great lace stitch along the bottom half of the sleeves and the body and is quite graceful in its shaping.

I have been inundating Margaret at The Golden Fleece with emails: Can you order this booklet? Can you order another booklet? Oh, and how about one more booklet?

While I look at these wonderful new designs by other folks, I also dream about the patterns I’d like to work up. I have marked out three-and-a-half days in early September for nothing but pattern writing and have been doing some sketching and jotting notes as opportunities arise. We’ll see what I can come up with.

Brave Knitting

Remember when you started to knit? Remember the panic that your first sighting of PSSO inspired? Maybe you didn’t panic. But I did. Anything that took four letters, four capital letters, pretty much had to be rocket science. Or brain surgery. Or maybe brain surgery on a rocket.

When I started knitting a friend did my first cast on, showed me the knit stitch, then set me loose to work on a scarf. She also cast on scarf number two for me. On scarf three I did my own casting on. By then, I was absolutely sick of garter stitch, so I bought a stitch dictionary and started dreaming. I loved looking at all those stitches, but also trembled with fear when I looked at the abbreviated directions.

I knew P meant purl and had a vague memory from my childhood of a purl involving sticking the right-hand needle sideways into the stitch, so I picked a simple K/P pattern to start and got to work doing what I fervently hoped was a purl. As the rows progressed my scarf looked like something, but not like the pattern in the book. I was using a bulky chenille, mind you, so the whole stitch definition thing was a bit iffy, and I just kept going. My project was turning into a scarf, so at least I had that much right.

As that scarf was finishing up, I mentioned during a phone call to my mom that my purl stitch didn’t look right. She asked what I was doing, I described it, and she said, “You’re doing a stitch, but it’s not a purl stitch. The stitch you’re doing is called ‘knit to the back.’ To get a purl, you have to move the yarn to the front of the needle.” So, I’d bollixed up that pattern, but now I knew three stitches, and I did have another scarf that wasn’t exactly in garter stitch. Whee!

With the purl mastered, there followed a long spell of knitting scarves in pretty much every K/P pattern I could dig up. Purls distributed about a knit background in zig-zags and boxes and grids and hearts and what-have-you. I kept flipping through my stitch dictionaries (I had several by that point, of course), looking at the stitches with that imposing PSSO and longing to try them, but fearing to try them. Until one day, instead of just shuddering at the sight of all those capitals and flipping back to the easier stitches at the front of the book, I figured it couldn’t hurt to read the key and find out what PSSO meant. Oh, “pass slipped stitch over”; I can do that.

My knitting life has been full of little breakthrough moments like that. I want to try something, want to try something, want to try something… but I’m so convinced it will be absolutely beyond me that I don’t give it a go. Until that day when, shazam!, I stop fretting, actually look at how it’s done and realize I can do that.

Knitting in the round? Terror, terror, terror, shazam!
Picking up stitches? Terror, terror, terror, shazam!
Knitting a sock? Terror, terror, terror, shazam!

Knitted-on border? Terror, terror, terror….

I got Victorian Lace Today two Christmases ago, but hadn’t started any of the projects in it because all the prettiest ones required knitted-on borders. The problem that really sent me to a screeching halt on last summer’s mystery stole was the move over to the swan “wing,” which required, in essence, a large, diagonal, knit-on border that became the second half of the stole. I’ve been admiring the lacy edges on the wonderful shawls my friend Chris knits and longing to make similar things myself, but… knitted-on borders.

Now, Chris has been trying to tell me for some time that knitted-on borders aren’t scary. But I wasn’t ready to believe her. Of course Chris finds them easy, I thought, she’s an amazing knitter, not a mere mortal like me.

… terror, terror, terror…

shazam! Yesterday was the day. Having read up on the topic the night before and with my friend Chris looking supportively over my should, I began my first knitted-on border—a lovely wave-like curve along the hem of my Fan Stitch Half-Circle Shawl.

Not only am I knitting on lace, I re-graphed the pattern so that the lines of the lace would fall ideally along the edge of my shawl, and I added a fine strand of black alpaca to the yarn I was using to give a darker cast to the lace that would help it stand out from the body of the piece.

A year and a half of worrying, ten minutes of courage, and the impossible is not only possible, but fun. How many more times do you suppose I’ll learn that lesson in my knitting life?

P.S. If all this talk of knitted-on lace has inspired you, click here for a wonderful assortment of stitch patterns.

The Shakespeare Game, Again

Two years ago this month, I wrote a piece on what I call “The Shakespeare Game.” It comes out of the writing class I teach every August in conjunction with Shakespeare Santa Cruz in which the writing focuses on plays—reviewing them, examining the scripts, exploring individual plays’ production histories.

The Shakespeare Game involves coming up with a new directorial concept for a Shakespeare play. Think of the Danes/DiCaprio Romeo + Juliet, set in gang-ridden Miami, for example. This year Shakespeare Santa Cruz is doing two Shakespeare plays, Romeo and Juliet and All’s Well that Ends Well. It’s pretty easy to play the Shakespeare Game with R&J; directors have been doing it for years: inter-racial versions, christian/muslim versions, christian/jewish versions, Civil War versions, and on and on. AWTEW presents more of a challenge.

Simply put, AWTEW isn’t one of Shakespeare’s finest plays. It’s purportedly a comedy, but the ending is not necessarily happy and the characters have questionable motivations and are rather difficult to like. The plot goes something like this:

Helena, an orphaned daughter of a doctor, falls in love with the nobleman Bertram. Bertram is completely uninterested in her because of the difference in their classes. Helena cooks up a scheme in which she will use the knowledge she gained from her father to cure the king of France of a fatal illness, asking for the husband of her choice in reward. She cures the king and chooses Bertram who marries her unwillingly and vows not to consummate the marriage and not to live with her as a husband until she can prove she’s pregnant with his child. He then heads off to fight in a war in Italy as a way of avoiding her. Helena follows Bertram to Italy, where he is romancing Diana, a widow’s daughter. Helena befriends the widow and daughter, wins them over to her plan, and spends a night with Bertram, who (it being night and dark and all) mistakes her for his current infatuation. Bertram returns to France, where, after various upheavals and misunderstandings, he discovers that he has fathered a child by Helena and therefore must live with her as her husband.

This play raises all sorts of unanswerable questions, among them Why would Helena want to waste her time with Bertram? Why does Bertram ditch his Italian love? What hope is there for a happy marriage between Helena and Bertram? and What on earth was Shakespeare thinking of when he wrote this play? Reading the script, I mostly just find myself wanting to whack Helena up the side of the head and point out that her actions are going to bring her nothing but long-term unhappiness.

So—how to play the Shakespeare Game with AWTEW? How to produce this play in a way that won’t leave the audience feeling disgusted with and distant from the characters? I’ve actually come up with two possibilities.

1. Present the play as a farce and set it in Jane Austen’s England. Make Helena one of Austen’s foolish types, more impressed with a man’s exterior than the person inside. Let the audience enjoy the play by allowing them to feel both wiser than the play’s main characters and simultaneously affectionate towards their foibles. In this kind of a production, Diana can serve as a foil to Helena; she’s far too sensible to waste her time chasing a man who is both superficial and socially “above” her.

2. Set the play in the U.S. in the 1950s. Make poor Helena a woman obsessed with becoming a trophy wife for a wealthy executive who’s too preoccupied with work and too misogynistic to be a real partner in any romantic sense. She can’t see the limits of this role nor can she see how ill-suited she is to it and how illy it will serve her. Again, Diana can be a foil to Helena. In this case, make her and her mom ahead-of-the-curve hippies, who have left these worries about marriage and traditional gender roles behind.

What do you think? Which production would you rather see? What might you do with the script? If you were playing the Shakespeare Game, how might you produce some of his other plays?

New Pattern: Shazam!

Here’s a quick, easy pattern that yields a trickier-looking-than-it-is scarf if you knit it up in the right yarn. I’m calling it Shazam!

I was lucky enough to be at my LYS a little over a week ago, when a shipment came in from Rowan that included several bags of the new Kaffe Fassett yarn, Colourscape Chunky. It’s a 100% wool, self-striping yarn in Kaffe’s fabulous colorways. I took one look at it and said “that would make a great scarf in a chevron stitch!” Margaret, the owner, tossed me a skein, and I got going. (Lovely what the rewards of being in the right place at the right time can be.)

Here’s the finished product:

And here’s the pattern:

Shazam! Scarf

Yarn: Rowan Colourscape Chunky, 1 skein (100 grams, 175 yards per skein). You may substitute another chunky-weight self-striping yarn and use the pattern as written. If you substitute a lighter-weight yarn, you’ll need to add additional pattern repeats in multiples of 14.
Needles: U.S. 11 circulars, 24″ or longer (you’ll be knitting back-and-forth, but the scarf is knit lengthwise)
Notion: Yarn needle for weaving in ends

Chevron Stitch:
Row 1: K1, Sl1 K-wise, K 1, PSSO, K5, [YO, K1, YO, K5, Sl2K-wise, K1, P2SSO, K5] repeat bracketed pattern cross until 9 stitches remain, then work YO, K1, YO, K5, K2tog, K1
Row 2: K7, K3tbl, [K11, K3tbl] repeat bracketed pattern across until 7 stitches remain, then K7

Sl1 K-wise: slip one stitch as if to knit
PSSO: pass slipped stitch over knit stitch to its immediate left
YO: yarn over
Sl2 K-wise: slip two stitches together as if to knit
P2SSO: pass two slipped stitches together over knit stitch to their immediate left
Ktble: knit these stitches through the back of the loop

Cast on 241 stitches loosely (use a larger needle is this helps keep your cast on loose, then switch to size 11 when you begin working the chevron stitch).

Work 19 rows in 2-row chevron stitch pattern.

Bind off loosely (again, use a larger needle is this helps keep the bind-off loose).

Weave in ends. Block as needed.

Easy-peasey! You’ve got an interesting, great-looking scarf ready for gift-giving or cold-weather wearing.

Tuesday Mewsday: Consumer Goods Edition

Quite a while back, when Melissa and I were cruising art museums in San Jose and came across a street fair, I bought this little coin purse. I didn’t have particular plans for using it, and it sat in a drawer, lonely and unfulfilled, until just the other day, when I realized it’s the perfect size for the little ipod shuffle I now have.
Cat purse
It delights me every time I pull it out of my purse.

FOs, WIPs, and an Excellent Book

Remember the Cozy in Cables vest and sweater from Stitches of Violet that I was working on for Afghans for Afghans a while back? Here are the finsihed products.
Green vest
Red sweater
They were both fast, fun knits—and I’ve been so pleased to be working through my extensive stash of discounted Lamb’s Pride, knowing that my knits will wind up on children who really need them. (If you stop by Stitches of Violet, check out her Summer Spice Gansy, another of her original knits. I’m hoping she may post the pattern someday, but whether or not she does, it’s still an inspiring piece of needlework.)

And here are the two Impressionist Cowls (pattern by FiddleLee)—the blue in Classy from Dream in Color, the raspberry in Traditions by Joann.
Two knit thingies
The Classy, of course, was an absolute joy to knit with. That yarn has such a wonderful bounce that knitting with it feels like skipping about a sunlit garden (I mean, I really love how it feels). The Traditions wasn’t bad either, for a more-acrylic-than-wool blend, and the colorway is quite pleasing.

My LYS, The Golden Fleece, has been getting in some lovely new yarns lately, and lucky for me I’ve got a bit extra in summer session pay, so I can indulge. One of the new arrivals is Heritage by Cascade. The color I purchased is a variegated brown, greenish-grey, mahogany that isnn’t pictured on the web site. I’m using it to knit up the Fan-Stitch Half Circle Shawl from Martha Waterman’s Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls (Interweave Press).
Traditional Lace Shawls
This is an older book (copyright 1998) and deserves a look if you’re not familiar with it. Not only does it offer some lovely shawl patterns, it really elucidates the whole genre of shawls. The book opens with chapters on the history of knitted shawls, materials, design strategies, and construction (with formulae for all the familiar shawl shapes). These are followed by a library of stitches, including allover and edging laces. The patterns at the end of the book walk you through circular, half-circle, wedge, and square shawls with the goal of allowing you to move on to designing your own pieces. If you enjoy (or want to enjoy) lace or shawl knitting you need this book.

I also picked up several skeins of Cascade’s Rustic in a wonderful cranberry color. The blend of wool and linen gives a mix of matte and shine to the yarn, and I expect it will have lovely stitch definition. I’m thinking of using it for something like LaLa’s Simple Shawl (sorry, I could only find the Ravelry link) that will be warm and substantial, but not boring.

Tuesday Mewsday: Where the Wild Cats Are

My friend Ellen (actually I have three friends Ellen; this is my virologist, bird-watching, opera-loving friend Ellen), sent me a wonderful pair of photos taken by her trip leader on a recent birding jaunt to Brazil. This is no zoo animal. It’s an honest-to-gosh jaguar in his (her?) natural habitat, stretched out along a tree branch for simultaneous relaxation and prey-spotting.



Look at the size of his nose and ears and paws, so clearly the tools of an alpha predator. Not to mention the enormous muzzle—the better to bite you with!

Ellen’s email to me noted that “[The photographer] took them standing at the back of an open boat about 18 feet long. I was sitting on a bench seat near the front of the same boat. I don’t know how big a telephoto lens he was using, but these are stills from his videocam.”

Addendum by Melissa:
Damian is not impressed by the jaguar.
Damian yawning

He says anyone can see that the jaguar is so much smaller than he is. He has NO idea.

iKnitting Anyone?

No, not I-cord—iPod. Miss Sparkles and her family gifted me with an iPod shuffle, which Melissa set up for me this past weekend. Being the luddite that I am, I tend to thrust anything electronic at Melisssa with a pathetic and inarticulate “this thing go you that make it?,” and she graciously consents, then explains its workings to me over time in carefully apportioned bits designed not to overload my miniscule eAttentionSpan. (As opposed to my kAttentionSpan, knitting of course, which is a great deal more expansive.)

I’ve been wanting an iPod for some time now specifically so I can listen to science podcasts. (Yes, yes, no patience with actual electronics, which seem like a reasonably scientific sort of thing, but an unlimited appetite for scientific ramblings being pumped directly into my ears.) It has taken only two days for me to become exactly like my students with the little gizmo clipped to my clothing and the earbuds (how do I even know that word?) in place. I am already asking myself questions like, “Is there an iPod it’s safe to listen to in the bathtub?”

I have downloaded programs on Linnean taxonomy, the evolution of flounders, statistical analyses of Noro virus outbreaks. I’ve even taken the grand risk of moving beyond science to download some podcasts on MacBeth that are available from the Folger Shakespeare Library. The genre I haven’t really gotten going with yet is the knitting podcast, which leads me to today’s question…

Which, if any, knitting podcasts do you find particularly worthwhile? I’m more interested in information than entertainment, so I’m looking less for witty repartee and more for clear information on techniques or detailed book reviews. I’d be grateful for your suggestions.

P.S. I just ran my bathtub query by Melissa who suggested wearing a hairband in the tub, to which I could clip the iPod. Either she is clever and loves me very much or she is a gold-digger hoping to cash in on a quick inheritance.