In Other News

I don’t have much new knitting to show you, partially because I don’t want to show pictures of Matt’s scarf until it’s done & in his hands, and partially because I haven’t had much time for knitting lately — the start of the school year is, as always, a monstrous timesuck. But I do have some interesting pieces of textile news to share with you.

First of all, the Poetry Society of Britain is apparently celebrating its hundred-year anniversary by organizing the knitting of an enormous (secret) poem. A project like this seems calculated to delight me, a scholar of poetry and avid knitter, but the font choice is singularly uninspired. I would be much more on board with this project if each knitter got to design her own letter, resulting in a poem that would look like the most beautiful ransom note of all time. But apparently you have to follow their chart, and their chart sucks. However, if you are so inclined, there may still be time to send away for your letter kit & send it back before October. I am completely mystified by that last photo, however — what word are they spelling?? What letter could that sheepish fellow in the middle possibly be holding?

Second of all, a cloth went on display earlier this week at the American Museum of Natural History that was woven from the silk of over a million wild spiders. That gold color is apparently natural; that’s just what silk looks like when it comes out of these special fancy spiders from Madagascar. “[Simon] Peers came up with the idea of weaving spider silk after learning about the French missionary Jacob Paul CambouĂ©, who worked with spiders in Madagascar during the 1880s and 1890s. CambouĂ© built a small, hand-driven machine to extract silk from up to 24 spiders at once, without harming them.” — Peers went on to build a replica of this machine, which was used to milk over a million spiders over the course of several months. Let us pause to think about this feat: were there little harnesses? Apparently spider silk has amazing properties; it’s “very elastic, and it has a tensile strength that is incredibly strong compared to steel or Kevlar,” according to Peers, the mad spider-milking genius behind this scheme. I just might have to go see it in New York the next time I’m in town. As a fiber geek, I will want to pet it, but that’s probably not allowed. The spiders in my shower had better watch out, is all I’m saying.

Hamsa Scarf, and the Start of Fall Knitting


I loooooove this scarf. Love love love. It may be my favorite FO ever. I had fun knitting those shawls this summer, and they are much more technically complicated than this, but that’s exactly the problem — they’re a little too fancy to bust out for everyday wear, whereas this is something I forsee myself wearing a whole lot. Plus wearing a shawl at all is a little weird for a woman in her 20s, whereas wearing a scarf is cute and French, or something.


The yarn, to remind you, is Curious Creek Fibers Meru in the “Mysterious Night” colorway. It’s 50/50 merino & tussah silk, which is a raw silk fiber from wild silkworms, which means that instead of being smooth and slippery like silk, it’s got a slightly rougher texure. I chose this pattern (Hamsa by Anne Hanson) because the colorway is quite variegated, ranging from dark blue to very pale green, and I thought the bold lines of the lace would stand up to the changing colors well. And it did!


What I love about this lace pattern is that it’s intricate without being fussy. This is a scarf I can wear without feeling prissy. I knit it quite a bit longer than 9 repeats that the pattern called for; I think I knit about 14. So instead of blocking out to 45″, mine is 60″. And here’s something weird: while I was blocking this yesterday, I started having a series of vivid memories about riding the New Jersey Transit trains — the old ones, with the yellowish-brown seats — to and from NYC when I was a teenager. And I gradually realized it was because the yarn when it was wet smelled exactly like those traincars — kind of a musty smell, very different from the fishy smell that regular silk sometimes has. I wonder if this is a property of all tussah silk yarns? I guess I’ll find out when I get around to using that yarn I got at the Verb for Keeping Warm studio.


The scarf is long enough and wide enough that I could even wear it as a wrap if I wanted to; here I’m setting up for a shot with it worn that way. But Pat takes a lot of pictures while I am in the process of setting myself up for the “official” shots, and this time around the candid shots came out a lot better than the normal ones where I am smiling at the camera, so that’s all you get. But we figure it’s a way of compensating you for the fact that every single set of pictures on this blog is taken in the same patch of grass behind our apartment — variety in poses if not in backdrops.

I’ve also been working on my Nadine tunic, slowly but surely:

nadine blocking

I finally got the two lace panels successfully grafted to the front, and now the front and back are blocked, and I “just” have to graft them both together and weave in a million billion ends. This pattern has an interesting construction, and it was fun to knit, but HOLY BABY JESUS is the finishing on it a pain in the ass. You know the Kitchener Stitch graft that you use to close the toes of socks? The thing that you have to look up every time you do it because it’s so complicated, and it takes you like 20 minutes to do it to the 12 stitches on the toe of your sock? This tunic has FOUR 80+ stitch Kitchener grafts, each of which has been taking me like an hour and a half to complete. On the plus side, I will never have to look up the directions for the Kitchener Stitch again.

I’ve also started Ysolda’s new Damson shawlette in one of the skeins of Malabrigo Sock that I recently picked up:


I know I was talking smack about shawls about three seconds ago, but hear me out: this one is very plain — almost all in garter stitch — and it’s small enough to be worn as a scarf. So I’m optimistic about its wearability. Also I love the color of this yarn; it’s called “Arbol” and it reminds me of the forest floor. I have a skirt that is more or less exactly in these colors, and I wear a lot of brown, so I think this is going to work out. The other thing on my plate for autumn is this:


Two skeins of Shibui Knits Merino Worsted, in the Pagoda colorway, destined to become a scarf for my friend Matthew. Back in late spring, he requested a red-orange scarf, which sent me on long quest to find the perfect yarn. One of the most interesting things about knitting for me, believe it or not, is these color-searches — getting a particular color in my head and looking high and low for the perfect physical instantiation of it. It means I get to drool over a lot of yarn, for one thing, but it also means I get to explore the work of various dye artists. Probably I should learn how to dye myself at some point, so I don’t have to rely on other artists to make my dreams into reality. But Matt & I are happy with what I’ve found, so I’m off to wind this yarn and start swatching!

Terra Shrug


And now back to your regularly-scheduled knitting content. Talk about instant gratification! I started this shrug maybe a week ago, and voila! That’s what knitting aran-weight yarn on size 13 needles will do for you. Also, it’s pretty small; I used maybe 220 yards total. But since I only had 300 yards on hand, that’s more or less what I was looking for. The pattern is called Gaia, and since I knit mine out of a yarn called Terra, I figured that naming this project “Terra Shrug” would work on a couple of different levels. Check out the texture of the yarn close-up:


I just can’t get enough of it; how much more earthy can you get? And it’s super soft, what with being composed of merino, baby alpaca, and silk. It was a yarn-and-pattern match made in heaven.

I followed amsknits‘ suggestion to add crochet edging to the sleeves as well as the bottom of the shrug. I cast on for the larger size, which is indicated for bust sizes 38″ – 44″, because mine is about 41″ — but I should have remembered that most of those inches are, ahem, in the front. (I knit my Whisper Cardigan, which also didn’t have a front, in the smallest size based on my back measurement, but the Gaia shrug didn’t supply back measurements.) So I pinned it together and tried it on when I got to the length indicated for the small, and it fit, so I stopped there.


The extra width doesn’t seem to be a problem; if anything, I’m happy having the slightly longer sleeves that casting on for the large size gave me. So I’m pleased with it, but given the heat we seem to be in for next week, I think it’ll be a while before I get a chance to wear it. I was sweating my ass off wearing this thing for five minutes this afternoon to take these photos! Weirdly, September and October are often the hottest months in southern California; I guess it’s the Santa Ana winds.

I’m almost done with my Hamsa scarf; it’s at the point where every time I finish a repetition of the lace pattern, I try it on and say “just one more, just one more.” So any day now I’ll have that to show you, and then I’ll be off and running with the things I’ve got cued up for autumn! (Such as it is, here in California.)

My Heart on Cassette

Warning: this will not be a knitting post. I wanted to put it somewhere public, but not as connected to my professional self as my academic blog, so here it is. Originally I’d planned that this blog would have non-knitting personal content, but this is the first time I’ve really gotten around to doing that. So if you can deal with the lack of pictures of yarn, then please stick around. I promise to be charming! But I’m going to hide the post under a cut-tag, because it’s incredibly long and incredibly self-indulgent. Continue reading

Hold Everything

The only permanent casualty of my car troubles over Labor Day weekend was my car stereo, which got permanently fried. Pat & I bought $20 iPod speakers at the Ft. Bragg Radio Shack before leaving town, and spent the 10-hour drive home listening to tinny, static-y music, which was better than no music at all. Certain bands sounded much better than others through those treble-heavy speakers. Good: King Khan & BBQ Show, Go Sailor, Modest Mouse. Bad: Okkervil River, Wilco, the Libertines. You know, in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

My old car stereo was the bottom-of-the-line factory model in 1997 when my car was manufactured, which meant it had a radio and a cassette deck and nothing else. When I bought the car in 2004, I hauled all my cassette tapes from my parents’ house in New Jersey out to my new home in California, where they all took up residence in my car. Suddenly I was listening to Paula Abdul and Nirvana and Elastica again, and it was awesome. I spread the word to my friends that since I only had the ability to listen to cassettes in my car, I’d love it if they made me mixtapes, and I received some excellent ones. So I was a little bit sad to let go of all that when my stereo got fried over the weekend, but it’s frankly delightful to have a new stereo now that plays CDs and that I can plug my iPod directly into. Previously I’d had a cassette-to-digital adapter that I’d purchased for about $5 at a sketchy electronics store in NYC Chinatown, which basically worked but was a serious pain in the ass and was becoming moreso in what turned out to be its last days. And I was especially delighted to only have to pay $70 for it at Best Buy; I had been resigned to spending multiple hundreds of dollars getting ripped off by some sketchy car-audio specialist in Costa Mesa until Pat suggested them. I was so delighted, in fact, that after getting my new stereo installed (which Best Buy can actually do for you!) I proceeded directly to The Container Store next door and bought this:


A stash basket, to hold all the pretty yarn I’ve been accumulating this summer! (Note that I also have a “craft dresser,” two drawers of which are stuffed with yarn, but that’s basically all leftovers from previous projects waiting to be recycled into something fabulous.) And look how well I’ve been doing at buying colors other than blue! (Except for the basket itself, hehe.) In this shot you can see my three newest acquisitions — three skeins of Malabrigo Sock, along the top, left, and right sides. The newest LYS in town, Knit Schtick, sent out an email alerting patrons to a new shipment of Malabrigo including their sock yarn, which no LYS near me has ever carried, so I went to check it out, figuring I’d get a skein of it for Ysolda’s new shawlette, Damson — and I ended up with three skeins because it was all so gorgeous. The reddish-greenish-brown one on the right is the Arbol colorway, and is the most likely to actually become a Damson. The purple one on the top is Rayon Vert, and the purplish-green one on the left is Primavera. I’m strongly considering doing something that would pair the Rayon Vert and the Primavera together, but I may decide to use them separately; we’ll see. Also, I don’t think that any of them will actually become socks; they’re too pretty not to be lace, I think.

So the basic idea of the stash basket is to get my pretty new yarn out of the bags on the floor where it had been living, and turn it into both a decorative element and a constant reminder that maybe I should not be buying any new yarn for awhile. Heh. Here’s hoping.

I mentioned last time that I was putting that Fibre Company Terra yarn to work already, which is why you don’t see it in the basket above. Here it is:


It doesn’t look like much right now besides a chunky scarf knit on too-large needles, but it’s on its way to becoming a Gaia Shrug, I swear. I do love how it’s knitting up, with the rustic texture and flecks of blue, and believe it or not I’m over halfway done already. Though I’m on the home stretch with my Hamsa scarf and I’m mired in the million-year-long seaming process for my Nadine tunic (which I will bitch about at a later date), I figured I’d sneak this project in for some instant gratification. The next time you see it, it will look very different!

Brokedown and Beautiful


I finished my Aeolian shawl, as you can see. I had to stay up until three in the morning the night before we left on our trip up to northern California for the wedding, but I finished it. This shot was taken at the Pacific Star Winery, where our friends’ wedding was held, and it was absolutely gorgeous. I also finished my dissertation chapter, for those of you playing along at home — so, missions accomplished.

The shawl turned out great. The size 11 beads were perfect; they didn’t weigh down the cobweb-weight yarn, but they added some lovely sparkle. And all my worrying that the shawl was going to turn out too big was for naught; the skinniness of the yarn balanced out the extra repeats of the yucca chart that I had to do due to my failure to count to eight, and it came out just about right. This was my first adventure in beading, and while it’s not my favorite technique ever, I became proficient enough at it that I was able to do it on the airplane coming back from the east coast. This involved keeping my little tupperware from spilling during turbulence and holding my crochet hook and my right knitting needle in the same hand, all while while simultaneously watching a brain-rotting romantic comedy, which I think qualifies me for minor knitting-deityhood.


I finished the bindoff at about one in the morning the night before our trip up north for the wedding, and faced the question of whether to block it then and there, or to pull the classic blocking-in-the-hotel-room stunt that so many lace knitters before me have had to do. I opted for the former, because as much as depriving myself of sleep right before a seven-hour drive sucks, trying to block in a hotel room and realizing that I’d left some crucial blocking supplies at home would suck more. When the piece was soaking, I asked Pat if he had any old sheets lying around that I could use (since the shawl came out significantly larger than my blocking board), and he produced this checkered sheet that is clearly going to be my blocking-surface-of-choice from now on. (As many of you know, it’s very helpful if your blocking surface has a grid pattern on it because that helps you shape your piece evenly.) Despite my joy at KnitPicks cheap modular blocking boards, it’s become clear to me that a sheet pinned to the carpet works just as well, if not better.

Here’s a shot where you can actually see the beads. Note also my ghettotastic use of safety pins, because this thing far outstripped my supply of proper rust-proof T-pins:


You can also see the subtle variations in the color of the yarn in this shot; it’s really quite lovely. Despite my love of lace, I’m reluctant to knit in true solid colors, because there are just so many interesting hand-dyed yarns out there. A nearly-solid color yarn with subtle variations like this offers the best of both worlds; it has some visual interest without competing with the lace pattern. The yarn, to remind you, is Stitch Jones Nirvana Lace in the “French Blue” colorway. It’s 70% baby Alpaca, 20% silk, and 10% cashmere, which makes it 100% delicious, let me tell you. But it’s not for the faint of heart — it’s cobweb weight, and I had to work this shawl on US 1s to get the density I wanted. That link will take you to Knitty Noddy, where I ordered the yarn, and which I again recommend highly for their excellent customer service.


On our way up to the wedding, we spent a few days in Berkeley, where I got to visit the Verb for Keeping Warm studio. Shortly before my trip, I ordered a skein of yarn from them that turned out to be not quite the color I was expecting, so I sent them an email asking if I could come exchange it in person, to which they happily obliged. It’s a lovely little shop set up in what are essentially two adjacent garage spaces — one is where they do the dying, and the other is where they sell the yarn. Kristine was very helpful, explaining the dying techniques involved as I fondled her yarns. I chose this, because I was trying to not end up with another blue/green/gray scarf or shawl — lord knows I have plenty:


It’s their “Wishing” laceweight yarn in the Persimmon colorway. It’s 65% wool and 35% tussah silk, which is exciting. And the dyes are all natural! I’m thinking that Anne Hanson’s Hillflowers scarf/shawl might be just the thing to show off its texture and colors.

That was going to be it for my fiber adventures — I wasn’t even going to force Pat to go to Imagiknit again, which required considerable self-restraint! — but at the wedding-rehearsal barbecue I spotted a girl in what was clearly a Noro sweater, and when I sidled up to her to talk knitting she informed me that the Mendocino yarn shop, which she loved and had not been able to find a replacement for in all of Chicago, was having a 20 – 50%-off sale because they were moving. So the next morning I teamed up with my friend Julie, who is also a knitter, and we dragged several of our non-knitting friends to the shop. And this was my haul:


So yeah, I didn’t exactly succeed in my goal of avoiding blue-greens. But this Terra yarn from The Fibre Company just had such a compelling texture that I couldn’t resist. It’s 60% merino, 20% baby alpaca, and 20% silk. I think the blue chunks are the silk, actually. I bought 300 yards of it figuring I’d make a scarf, even though I wouldn’t wear a scarf that heavy very often in southern California, but when I got home a stumbled across what just might be the perfect pattern for it, which I’ve already cast on — I’ll show you next time. The tan-colored yarn is Louet Mooi, another interesting fiber blend that I’ve been lusting after for several months and was happy to snap up on sale — it’s 15% bison, 15% cashmere, and 70% bamboo.

But all was not sweetness and light. After the wedding, we discovered that I’d left my headlights on, and when one of the bride’s friends generously offered to give us a jump, he connected the wires incorrectly and fried some circuits in my car’s wiring. We called triple-A, who were unable to help us, and furthermore informed us that since it was Labor Day weekend in a tiny isolated town, we were unlikely to find an open mechanic until Tuesday. We had only booked our hotel through Saturday night and had planned to drive back on Sunday & thereby miss some Labor Day traffic, so we were in a tight spot. We managed to extend our stay at our hotel, and the bride & groom were sticking around Mendocino through Labor Day, so we had people to hang out with, but it was still a harrowing couple of days. The triple-A guy had said some terrifying things such as “your car’s computer-brain might be fried, which will cost lots of money to repair and will require you to be towed a hundred miles to Santa Rosa where the nearest Hyundai dealership is,” and faced with that possibility I realized just how precarious my financial situation is — I can take care of all my normal expenses just fine, and I can occasionally go on vacations, and I can occasionally splurge on yarn, but I just don’t have a spare couple of thousand dollars lying around for emergencies like this. I also realized how weirdly much I love my car. I paid for it my damn self, over the course of about four years via a loan from the bank — in that time I never missed or was late on a payment, and I was incredibly proud when I finally paid it all off. The idea of losing it after all of that was pretty awful, no matter how hard I tried to think about it like a Buddhist.

Fortunately, it turned out about as well as it possibly could have. On Sunday, we called every mechanic in both Mendocino and Ft. Bragg, and they were all closed, so Pat and I decided to go on an adventure on foot through Ft. Bragg to Glass Beach on the north side of town.


And on our way back, we followed signs to a Labor Day craft fair where I bought this to use as a shawl-closure:


The guy who made it was asking $18, but he said “it’s the end of the day, so make me an offer” and I offered him $10, which he took. So, yay. Sunday evening we had a lovely time partying with the bride and groom and some of their other friends who were still on town, and then on Monday morning we called every mechanic in town again, and the one who answered the phone happened to be the groom’s family’s trusted mechanic of many years. So though we had to pay triple-A $40 to tow us to Mendocino from Ft. Bragg, we figured it was worth it to both know what the damage was sooner and to go to a guy we knew wouldn’t rip us off. He turned out to be able to fix the car in a single afternoon and for much less than we had steeled ourselves for, so we were mobile again by Monday night. Here I am knitting on my Hamsa scarf to pass time time on the Mendocino headlands while we wait for word from the mechanic:


All in all, not a bad place to be stuck!