Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book Problem

Do you, like me, have a book problem? A bad book monkey on your back? A book jones?

Since I've become a stay-at-home mom, I had to give up my old way of getting books that I want, which was to thoughtlessly load up my cart on Amazon.com and order whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, sight unseen. I got some great stuff, I got some "meh" stuff. I have some books that I got years ago and have yet to read... shameful, and my new year's resolution (well, one of them) for 2011 is to read them all during 2011.

My new, el-cheapo book acquisition system is great. I get books I'm interested in from the library (the wonderful, incredible, massive King County Library, which I adore) and read them, then if I love them, if I have to have them in my library or if they require more than one read, I go on eBay, Amazon, or my new favorite, Thriftbooks.com and buy them used, often for a few dollars, or even less than a dollar. As I mentioned, I recently scored Maggie Righetti's glorious Sweater Design in Plain English for 99 CENTS on eBay. It is such a wonderful book, I had irrational pangs of guilt while reading it for acquiring it so cheaply.

The best part about my new fave, Thriftbooks, is that all shipping is free AND they are based in the Seattle area, so shipping is hella fast and I am supporting a local business. They have no idea who I am and are not paying me to say this, I'm just a fan. I love to share wonderful local businesses, which you'll notice I do quite a bit on my other blog, Culinary Hijinks, where it's apparent that I am a full-on Full Circle Farm fangirl. It took me a long time to love the Seattle area after moving here 7 years ago, but now I totally love it here, despite the atrocious weather. I don't know if we'll always live here, but as long as we do, I plan to enjoy the hell out of it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

His and Hers Baby Blankets

My babies and my husband are about the only things that I love more than making stuff. Above all, I like to make stuff for babies, particularly mine or other babies in the family. So I had to make something special for my new niece and nephew (TWINS!) that are due to be born sometime in the next several weeks.

For my first nephew and my daughters, I was still working full-time so I had the money to go all-out and make the Big Bad Baby Blanket from Stitch n' Bitch in Koigu KPPPM (about $100 per blanket). With two kids of my own and being a stay-at-home mom, I knew there's no way I'd have either the money or the time to knit two Big Bad Baby Blankets. Heck, with my second daughter, that blanket was a photo-finish. I finished the last two rows and bound it off when I was about 6 hours into labor!

So I thought of the perfect solution. What's fast and easy to pick up and put down? Crochet! I had recently made my oldest daughter a granny square afghan, but I hated seaming the million 4-inch squares together. Then I happened to be reading the Purl Bee and saw this brilliant idea: a gigantic granny square! The Purl Bee's giant granny square is, once again, in the delightful, amazing Koigu KPM. I couldn't afford to do that, so I went for my go-to acrylic, Lion Brand Vanna's Choice and Vanna's Choice Baby.

I hate most acrylic yarn. I'm not a yarn snob or a fiber nazi, but I do prefer natural fibers just because I prefer the way they feel and they are what I like to knit and wear. That said, there is something about Vanna's Choice that transcends its 100% acrylic content. It's just better than any other acrylic I've found. It's soft, cushy, shiny, has an unbelievable selection of colors to choose from, it's even softer after washing, launders extremely well and can often be found on sale at Joann's or Michaels for $2.50 a ball or less. What's not to love? I made my daughter's granny square afghan using it and I also made her a sweater using it that random bypassers comment on, the Theodora Sweater. Since I already knew I loved it and could afford to make two blankets with it, Vanna's Choice was Sara's Choice for this project.

Et voila... Baby Boy Blanket



And Baby Girl Blanket



I thought others might love a sure-fire, easy, affordable baby blanket, so I wrote it up as a pattern, which is a free download from Ravelry. Since it's so simple, it's a perfect first crochet project, if you're thinking about testing the waters and giving crochet a try. I have only been crocheting for about a year and a half, but given its speed, ease and versatility, I am (har har)... hooked!

Here are the details on the pattern:

Yarn: Three balls of Vanna's Choice Baby/Vanna's Choice. I used:

Girl’s Blanket: 1 ball each of Vanna’s Choice Baby in Angel White (A) and Pink Poodle (C)
1 ball of Vanna’s Choice in Pink (B)

Boy’s Blanket: 1 ball each of Vanna’s Choice Baby in Angel White (A), Aqua (B) and Little Boy Blue (C)

Hook: J/10 – 6.00 mm

You'll also need a tapestry needle for weaving in the ends.

Gauge: Not terribly important for this project. The blanket should be about 30 x 30 inches when you're done. For me, this took 19 rounds. If your gauge is tighter and 19 rounds doesn't make the blanket big enough, just crochet a few more rounds. I only used half a ball of each color for each blanket... you could get two of these blankets out of 3 balls!

Download it free right here: download now

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Obsessions

Periodically, I'll become obsessed with something, beyond my constant, 5-year-long, neverending obsession with knitting. Painting and embroidery are two of this year's obsessions. Sometimes I'll become obsessed with a particular facet or technique of knitting, or a particular fiber. My husband recently became obsessed with learning how to play the banjo, and after a little more than 2 months, he's getting really good.

I think these things are encoded in your DNA, like little bombs waiting to go off. You hit a certain age and BAM! OK, you knit now. Now you crochet. Now you paint. Now you play the banjo. It's like when a baby can't do something one day but the next day they can suddenly, like walking, talking or crawling. My husband and I call those "developmental downloads." Recently, he said he thinks those don't stop after you're a baby, that they keep going, hence the banjo-obsession and my sudden, desperate need to learn to knit 5 and a half years ago. I think he's right!

My great-grandmother crocheted, embroidered, tatted and painted on ceramics. I learned this after I developed my fiber arts obsessions and remembered sleeping on some really lovely pillowcases that she embroidered when I was a kid, waking up with a relief of the embroidery imprinted on my face. My dad's side of the family was loaded with artists, something I learned after I started painting last spring. It's encoded in my DNA.

Now I'm suddenly obsessed with Fair Isle knitting after a flash of inspiration came to me while falling asleep the other night (I love those!). I am actually working on a pattern to submit for publication. Since I'm planning to submit it to a magazine, I won't be able to talk much about it here, but let's just say it was inspired by Frida Kahlo and some Blue Sky Alpacas Sport Weight. (An obsession within an obsession! I just can't stop with the Blue Sky Alpacas!)

So now I'm reading all I can about Fair Isle technique from knitty, from the library, everything I can get my hands on. I have to devour it all fast, because the submission deadline is next month. Late next month, thankfully.

I have this (possibly delusional) belief that I can do anything, and so far that nutty confidence has never let me down. Hopefully my luck will continue this time!

Friday, October 22, 2010

More inspiration

To further my goal of making knitting, fiber arts and art my career, I've decided to go after something that I've been considering for years: Becoming a TKGA-certified Master Knitter. It fits exactly with so many of my other goals and I know I can learn so much from this program that will bring me closer to my goals, so I am now embarking upon the Level One program. This will be so much fun! I love knitting, I love a challenge, and I love following directions anal-retentively (I know, I AM a weirdo, always have been!). That's why I was a software tester for so long!

It is freaking me out how much of my experience and knowledge gained from testing software can be applied to knitting and to my ultimate goal of making my living from knitting, sewing, crocheting, embroidery and other fiber arts. One of those "connecting the dots looking backward" things. Steve Jobs is one insightful, wise dude. (See this speech, if you haven't read my earlier posts and have no idea what I'm talking about).

So what am I knitting currently? I finished my daughter's mittens and have one partially embroidered. I'll finish that this weekend. Now I'm knitting the front of a pillow case for my younger daughter, which I'll embroider, then sew together with the back half (soft, satiny fabric), sew on a zipper and voila, a personalized, totally unique, handmade pillow. I have another pillow case for my older daughter in the works, too.

I love combining multiple fiber arts!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A new low?

So how pathetic is it when you use your laptop's display for light so you can knit in the dark?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Inspiration in my Own Backyard

I had been lamenting the lack of a craft store, fabric store or LYS (local yarn store for the uninitiated) in my hometown of Maple Valley for the longest time, thinking I had to drive to Renton, Kent, Bellevue, Issaquah or other parts to get my fabric, yarn and other stuff. Then I stumbled across Taylor Creek Quilt Studio about 5 minutes from my house and the lady who owns it told me that Quintessence, a mere 3 minutes from my house, sells yarn! My jaw dropped. Yarn! Really!

I went to check it out last weekend, expecting nothing special, maybe some acrylic mainstream brand stuff. Nope. I was totally wrong. I walked into Quintessence, a large, lovely, unique gift shop at Four Corners in Maple Valley, having driven past it for a year never having any idea that they carried yarn, and was blown away. They have an enormous section of their store dedicated to yarn and other knitting and crochet supplies. And not just yarn, most of my favorite yarn!

They have Malabrigo (I sigh a little when I utter the word "Malabrigo!"). Misti Alpaca. Brown Sheep. Cascade! And not just one or two types of each company's yarn, they had everything. Or at least nearly everything. Many different lines of Malabrigo (worsted, lace, Rasta, more!), Brown Sheep (Lamb's Pride, Cotton Fine, Burly Spun, more!), Cascade (220! 220 Superwash! more!) and Misti Alpaca (tons!) are available here.

If they carried Blue Sky Alpacas and Koigu, they'd carry ALL of my favorite yarn. This is amazing. And it's been right here the whole year I've lived here!

And they don't just have nearly all my favorite yarn, they also carry my favorite needles, Brittany and Addi Turbo. They also have a great selection of notions, like stitch markers, cable needles, row counters and more, plus a sizable collection of books.

I was in heaven. I am so excited that Quintessence has this amazing selection of all the stuff I love, and that they're right by my house! I will be going there for everything I need from now on, because I want them to stay around and to keep that wonderful section of knitting stuff!

While there, I grabbed 5 hanks of Tahki Cotton Classic in bright orange and a light orange from their clearance section for 40% off. I saw this yarn and it was instant inspiration. Immediately an image of a tank-dress with embroidered accents for my older daughter popped into my head, so I snapped the yarn right up. It was a total of $18. What a deal.

In other inspiring news, today I got an e-mail from Knit and Crochet Today (or Now, or whatever the heck the show is called) and in it was some news about some cool-looking new sock-knitting books and also a link to a very cool, very inspiring blog called Knitta Please. I immediately laughed at the title (very creative, especially since every possible joke substituting "knit" for "shit" has already been done on other knitting blogs) and clicked the link. There I found yarn graffiti, yarn bombing... enormous, beautiful works large enough to cover buses and Airstream trailers! Crazy and cool. Definitely go there and see what this chick is up to, it's really cool. I'm going to add it to my blogroll over on the right.

And with that, I leave you to make my second afterthought thumb.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mother-Daughter Knitting

The title of the post would lead you to believe that one of my beautiful, currently tiny daughters is knitting already, but no, not yet. I do all I can to spark their interest, by knitting them blankets, hats, mittens, sweaters, everything, and by letting them see me knit and crochet and explaining to them what mommy is doing and why. I have heard and read many times that knitting helps kids learn, particularly math. Then I saw a segment on Knit and Crochet Today (which I DVR because it airs at like 3:00 AM... LOVE that show!) about a professor named Dr. Linda Williams who was studying the beneficial effect that knitting and crocheting has on learning. It was a fascinating segment, from episode 244, "Teens Get Stitching." Here is a little info about it. I am not finding much more about it, so maybe she hasn't finished the study or published her findings yet, but as the mother of two very smart, creative, inquisitive children, I am very interested in her findings!

The title of this post didn't even come about because of that, that was just a bonus! The title came about because yesterday while designing and knitting a pair of mittens for my three-year-old, I had a fun moment of realization that I was using knowledge and techniques developed by a mother and a daughter, namely, Elizabeth Zimmerman and Meg Swansen, both of whom I look up to and have learned from immensely. First off, I am knitting the mittens in a stripe pattern in two-row stripes, in the round. Knitting stripes in the round results in an annoying "jog" at the beginning of color-change rounds, since knitting in the round is really knitting in a spiral. I have tried other methods of eliminating this jog, like slipping the first stitch in the second round after a color change. I didn't like that, though, because I found that the slipped stitch created a small hole and thought it didn't really look all that much better than just letting the jog be. Some additional Googling a few weeks ago led me to this far superior (in my ever so humble opinion) method, developed by Meg Swansen. In this method, you make your color change, finish that round, then at the beginning of the next round, you grab the first stitch of the last round in the previous color, put it onto the needle, and knit it together with the first stitch of this round. BRILLIANT! It looks beautiful and results in nice, firm, non-holey fabric. (BTW, the above link explains it way better than I am).

Later, I wasn't entirely sure where to put the thumb-hole and since my daughter was napping and (though it crossed my mind) trying the mitten on her while she was asleep surely would have woken her up, I decided "Screw it" and kept on knitting so I could try it on her later and make an "afterthought thumb," which was one of Elizabeth Zimmerman's brilliant ideas, from Knitter's Almanac. This is similar to EZ's thumb trick, of which I am also a huge fan, and which I will be using on the second mitten, now that I know where I'm putting the thumb. Since it requires cutting your finished handknitting (just one little stitch!), it is a bit scary and takes a little bit of knitterly balls. It is really no big deal, though, and is just as easy as the thumb trick, in my opinion.

This was the first time I'd ever cut my knitting. I have not yet ever made a steek, and the thought makes me absolutely shudder. I find the photos in the article on steeking in the link above hard to even look at! Someday, though, I'm sure I'll have to make one and I'll undoubtedly kvetch about it here!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Taylor Creek Quilt Studio!

Until Saturday, I thought there weren't any fabric stores anywhere near Maple Valley, nevermind right in Maple Valley, mere minutes from my house. I thought the closest fabric store was Joann's in Kent, and to find specialty, unique and designer fabrics, I'd have to go all the way to Bellevue or Puyallup.

Turns out there is an AMAZING fabric store right in Maple Valley, which is Taylor Creek Quilt Studio! I've been driving by it for years and thought it was just a place to buy finished quilts. It never crossed my mind that they'd sell fabric, thread, patterns, trims, stabilizers, you name it. Then Saturday I met the owner, Joanne Lee, at the Covington Quilter's Guild farmer's market stall and I took one of the flyers for the store. I was so excited to see what they sold there! Sunday I got my husband to watch the kids for an hour so I could go over and take a look, and what a revelation. Gorgeous, inspiring fabrics, nothing ordinary, boring or run-of-the-mill. It's the total opposite of a chain fabric store, which I've learned are good for basics but not much else. This place is just wonderful. Aside from all the quilting and sewing-related stuff, they also sell some really cool locally-made, Northwest Native-inspired jewelry and art cards. This is definitely a LOCAL shop... aside from the Northwest Native stuff, they have many Asian-themed or influenced fabrics. There is a wide array of classes offered, too. It's just wondrous, and it's in my backyard.

I'm definitely going to join the Covington Quilter's Guild. You get a 10% discount at Taylor Creek Quilt Studio if you're a member, and it will be great to meet some like-minded fellow crafters!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Connecting the Dots

As Steve Jobs so brilliantly puts it in his Stanford Commencement speech that I linked to in a previous post, you can't connect the dots looking forward, only looking backward. This means that although something makes no sense at the time or that you learn but think you'll never use in the future can end up proving incredibly useful or even critical later on.

I always wondered why I toiled so many years doing tech support (I shudder even thinking about it). I wondered why the hell I was a software tester for so many years after that. As a creative, free-spirited person who hates being told what to do, what was I doing there, in such rigid, left-brained positions? Then it hit me today. To start my own business and make it successful, I would need to know how to provide excellent customer service. I would need to have anal-retentive attention to detail and an understanding of what quality truly is, and how unbelievably important quality is. I had to work in tech support and software quality assurance to learn these things. Now that I have finally, after a year away from the corporate world and from those jobs, figured out what I want to do, I can apply everything I learned during all those years in which I thought my job was pointless.

It was the opposite of pointless, it was critical. It served its purpose and taught me what I needed to know.

With that, I give you another pattern, written, proofread over and over, and extensively tested. I combined a couple of my passions in this pattern, namely babies (particularly mine) and knitting. It's written for one of my favorite yarns on earth, a glorious, uber-soft, wonderful, highest quality yarn that I am nothing short of addicted to, Blue Sky Alpacas Worsted Cotton. It's as soft as a cotton ball, is grown organically, and holds up brilliantly wash after wash, so it is the perfect yarn for baby stuff. Expect many more patterns written in this yarn, because I can't get enough of it.

Here is a pattern for a baby hat and mittens set, knit in Blue Sky Alpacas Worsted Cotton, with instructions for both a boy's and a girl's hat and mittens, complete with detailed, photo-illustrated instructions for making the "lazy daisy" embroidery on the girl's hat and mittens. The pattern contains instructions for four different sizes: newborn, 3-6 months, 6-9 months and 12 months.





Cost: Only $6

Friday, October 8, 2010

Knittters are so Knice!

With the rare exception of a nasty person found in a blog's comments or a message board, I have never met a knitter I didn't like. Knitters are just so nice, such giving people. We want to knit something for every new baby, for charity, for our families. If we're stressed, we knit so we don't kill people. It really helps, God knows what I would have done if I hadn't knitted daily when I still worked full time in corporate hell.

There are so many warm, friendly, inviting blogs, where negativity is simply not seen, like my favorites, Yarn Harlot and Knit and Tonic. Even the Knitting Curmudgeon seems like she's actually very nice. And then there are the books... Elizabeth Zimmerman's and Barbara Walker's warm, charming, conversational tones and hilarious senses of humor convey their brilliant knitting knowledge and ideas in such a way that you feel like you have a new friend when you finish one (or all!) of their books. And I've recently found a new knitting friend, Maggie Righetti. I am only 50 pages or so into Sweater Design in Plain English, and already I want to give her a big hug. Yet another knitting instruction book by yet another author with a warm, conversational tone and a great sense of humor. What is it with us knitters? Are we warm and friendly by our very nature, since we love to make warm, snuggly things out of warm, snuggly fibers? Kindness must just come with the territory, I think.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Noro Kureyon Felted Latte Sock ( Hot Coffee Cozy) Pattern


I'm not usually a big fan of "cozies," but I am a big fan of coffee and I'm not a big fan of burning my hands on hot coffee in a paper cup, insulated only by a thin, disposable cardboard jacket. For this reason, I decided to knit and felt my own eco-friendly, reusable Latte Sock. It insulates as well as a pot holder, since it's felted wool, and wool is naturally very absorbent, so it catches any drips of hot coffee before they can burn your hands. It's also stylish as all hell, and you can make it in any color of Noro Kureyon that you want!

The pattern is quick, fun, and uses less than a quarter of a ball of Noro Kureyon. It's easy and is a great first project to knit in the round, to try out double-pointed needles for the first time, and to try felting for the first time! Since Kureyon has many subtle color changes in each ball, you can knit several from the same ball, and they'll all be different! It's just big enough to show off about 3 color changes in each Latte Sock.

Yarn:
Way, way less than 1 ball of Noro Kureyon

Notions:
size 8 double-pointed needles, or size needed to obtain gauge
tapestry needle for weaving in ends

Cost: Now FREE!

Get it here: download now

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

One Day Till Etsy Shop Launch!

Getting ready to launch my Etsy shop tomorrow. This is really exciting! The ideas are positively exploding out of my head and I'm so busy finishing and photographing everything to get ready!

Meanwhile, I scored a copy of Maggie Righetti's Sweater Design in Plain English for 99 cents on eBay, so I'm feeling very encouraged and unstoppable!