Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Of Seattle, Stash and Socks

Sorry for the lapse in postings. I just returned from a week in the Pacific Northwest where I visited friends Judy and Pete-- whom I met while living in Barcelona--, my brother and my step-daughter. Of course, I also visited yarn shops and did a bit of knitting. More of that later.

Here's Judy lounging over her kitchen counter--her first passion is excellent food and another of her passions (after husband, Pete, and their kids) is knitting. She and I spent many hours knitting in Turo Park in Barcelona, drinking Claras (a combination of beer and lemonade), cafes con leche and cava (Spanish champagne). Ah, for the good days... I had a fabulous time eating Judy's outstanding food, participating in her ever-busy daily life and enjoying her warm company.
Judy and Pete always have more projects in the works than any ten sane people. This isn't to say that Judy and Pete aren't sane--it's just that their projects are larger than any knitting project I can think of. For example, they purchased a new house this summer to use as a type of B and B. If you think the house is gorgeous, you should see the river, the woods, the pond, etc., etc.
And the beds--made by Pete himself. He had to build a step platform so ordinary humans can get into the bed!!
And, I can't withhold a photo of the pond with waterfall. Judy and Pete also cut trails through the woods, down to the river that has a swimming hole not far away.
Don't tell Judy and Pete, but the real reason I went to visit them is to see their little Westhighland Terrier, Chica, who was acquired in Barcelona. Chica is the cutest, spunkiest, funniest little animal who tears around her acres of property acting like the Queen of Everything. She is the first dog I felt I could live with.
Judy and I took time for a Seattle yarn shop crawl one afternoon. However, we only hit two GREAT places before my money and space in my luggage were depleted. First, we stopped at Weaving Works , a shop that has everything for the weaver and knitter. I bought the regia sock yarn and some On Line purple sock yarn. The second store we visited, Hilltop Yarn ,was having a sale--I purchased Debbie Bliss Merino DK (40% off!!!) for making two (or more) color mittens for Christmas presents and
LaGran mohair for making Christmas-present scarves. There is something about the end of summer that makes me buy mohair. I think it's because when I was in high school mohair cable knit sweaters were in style. They were made with BIG needles and were very airy, but warm and beautiful. I longed for one. I decided to make one as my first knitting project when I was as freshman in high school. I didn't know anything about gauge. So, I purchased fuschia mohair and about size 5 needles. For some reason, my cardigan didn't look anything like those airy sweaters that were in vogue.

For knitting at Judy's house, I decided I had to show off my skill and willingness to make something a little out of the box. I decided to show how I could make one of Lucy Neatby's sock patterns from Cool Socks, Warm Feet.
So, I selected some gorgeous Opal sock yarn, with lots of turquoise blue. After making about 50-60 pairs of socks using the flap heel technique, I was ready to move up to Lucy's garter stitch heel and the Mermaid pattern. Unfortunately, the garter stitch cuff shown in the pattern is significantly narrower than the garter stitch cuff I made--following the directions. My cuff is big enough for a scarf!!! Also, my spiral fishtail pattern narrows the sock significantly--contrary to the lovely photo in the pattern book.
I have already frogged the spiral fishtail portion and completed heel, and added more stitches for the new fishtail section. The photo shows the second attempt. this time the sock fits better, but I'm not sure if the additional six stitches will result in a fuller heel that actually fits my foot's heel. I will keep you posted. (but, don't tell Judy that I had problems with this sock. She told her friends that I was a fabulous knitter (blush, blush) and I don't want to ruin my reputation in Seattle!!)

This next photo shows a location in Seattle--can anyone guess what it is?? I visited this location with my brother. I also did a bit of knitting in its coffee shop!

I leave you with this photo from Flower World in Maltby, outside of Seattle. If you want to see more roses, plants, trees, ground covers, etc., than you have ever seen assembled in one place--go to Flower World. Almost worth the trip to the West Coast in itself.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Blocking the Violets by the River Shawl

Praise the knitting spirits!!! I have finally completed my second (replacement) Violets by the River shawl. As with the previous (lost) shawl, I knit most of it in Barcelona Spain. This time, however, I also did a substantial amount of knitting in Paris and back here in the US ofA.
For those who fear blocking lace shawls, here is how I do it. Note that I do not have fancy items such as a blocking board, blocking wires, etc. I am of the school of knitting that says you must make do with what you have with you on the sofa or in your closet.

First, I gather my supplies. In my case, I use a Lauren sheet (on sale years ago) that is divided into regular squares. I vacuum the carpet and spread the sheet out on the floor to serve as a blocking board.

Second, I wash out the bathroom sink and then put the finished object in a sink full of cool water. I then go do the dishes, iron some clothes, begin another knitting project or make dinner. The idea is to let the item soak and relax a long while, at least 30 minutes --or until your leaking drain plug lets all the water out of the sink.

Third, I find an old, clean towel and plop the wet finished object in the middle--after gently squishing out some of the water against the edge of the sink basin. Do NOT wring out the item. Be gentle--it is still relaxing from its long soak.
Fourth, I roll the ends of the towel in and then dance on the "package" for a while. As you can see from the wet spots by my toes, the water from the finished object squishes out into the towel.
Fifth, I spread the finished object out on the sheet. "Oh rats," I exclaim, I made the thing too narrow and too long."

"Not to worry," my inside experienced knitter reassures me, "you can stretch the %$#*&* out of it."
Sixth, I try to stretch the **&%#$ out of the thing, without overextending the item. Be gentle. Make sure the center of the entire shawl is on a straight line. Take a deep breath. It will all work out just fine.
Seven, I begin to stretch out the top of the shawl, to each side of the center line, making sure that the top stays on a straight line. Below you cans ee how I have opened up the cute honey bees on the top edge, the official insect of the State of Wisconsin!! The Violets by the River shawl represents the state of Wisconsin.

Eight, I begin to work on the sides. "Double Rats!!! Bigger Rats!!! Mother-eating Rats!! I did it again!!! When will I learn??!! I bound off the edges too tightly. While I thought I was being ever so loose and light on the needle and tension when I bound off, the bind off was TOOOO TIGHT.

I can't do it. I can't rip out the bound off edge to use the quick and easy bind off that I developed for the shapely shawlette border when the same thing happened with that shawl. (Note to self: whenever you use a yarn that is NOT 100% wool, use my new and improved extra stitch shapely shawlette border bindoff. I used Blackberry Ridge's silky merino, an absolutely gorgeous lace weight 50% merino 50% silk for this shawl. It is spectcular yarn, but it doesn't stretch like 100% wool.)
In the case of the Violets by the River shawl, it would be very difficult to rip the bind off edge because one goes from the bind off along the sides immediately to the cute but futsy honey bees along the top. Therefore, I would have to frog the bees and the side edge. I couldn't do it. This is my second VBR shawl because I went and LOST the first one. How careless can a knitter get?? So at this point, I engage in denial, bring out the spray bottle and give that **&^&%$ edge a good soaking. I stretch that baby as much as I dare, easing everything into place gently.

Oh my, can you see those rivers along the edge? The Wisconsin, the Fox and the Mississippi?? Can you see the little wood violets in the center--the state wild flower?? I did it! It worked!! And, the edge doesn't cut or bind when I'm wearing it!!! Yahoo!!!!
Next post, I'll show a photo of me wearing the thing. I plan to attach a chain to my wrist so that I can't lose this one!

And, for a little peace of mind after that stressful stretching and blocking, here is a lovely lotus flower from the botanical garden in town.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Family Reunion and resurrected shawl

My family reunion has taken precedence over everything, including blogging and knitting. Beginning 10 days ago, family members began arriving to celebrate my parents' 80th birthdays. Sister Terese and her 9 year old son were the first to arrive. Four days later Sister Annette, brother Mark and my mom and dad arrived. Two days later her husband John and son Carl arrived. With my brother Jon and his wife Robin living in Madison, we were at full strength.
My ex-husband, also named John, is now an amateur group photographer. So, he took lots of family photos in a park, which I will put in an album for my parents. Here's a shot of all the women, plus Jack, with the fans I brought back for them from Barcelona! We spent some time practicing snapping the fans open and closed. Jack, as you can see, took the opportunity to ham things up!!

In the late 1960's our family (mom, dad and five children) lived in Northern Nigeria for two years. During that time, we came to love chicken curry--brought to Kaduna by the British. My brother Jon made a huge pot of curry one evening and we had a fabulous dinner at his house where I completely ignored Weight Watchers point limits and ate three helpings. Here is helping #3. (Note: Weight Watcher points were also ignored for cakes, ice cream, fruit tarts and real cream in coffee! I skipped the WW meeting this week!!!)

Knitting took a backburner to cooking, planning, organizing and celebrating. But, I was able to finally finish the shapely shawlette shawl I made to take to Barcelona earlier in the summer. I used soy silk yarn from Southwest Trading. I had two problems with the yarn. First, the balls had knots!!!!! I sent an email message to the company and they told me that I had some old skeins of yarn and that the new yarn did not have knots. Let's hope "knot"!! Second, the yarn is completely inelastic. I used the yarn happily, however, because I liked the drape and the light weight.
Knowing that the yarn was inelastic did not stop me, however, from using the recommended double bind off from the pattern. I have made about 5 shapely shawlettes in my time (they are wonderful, easy knits that stay on one's shoulder!!) and never had problems with the bindoff before.
Well, this time the shawl "bound" my shoulders when worn. So, I frogged and applied a horizontal lace pattern to the live stitches on the edge. Knitter's error in deciding how many stitches to use for each row of the horizontal lace resulted in another in-elastic edge. I took the thing to Barcelona anyway. It was so hot that I never took the thing out of my suitcase!
When I got home to the U.S. I finally solved the problem. I frogged the recalcitrant horizontal lace and took matters firmly into my own creativity. I needed an edge that would stretch, but not result in a curly mess. I needed more stitches. So, I *bound off two stitches, put a backwards loop on the needle and used it as a stitch to bind off* and repeated across the long, long edge. Voila--a beautiful, non-curling but elastic edge!!

I still haven't worn the shawl, but when the weather cools off, I will.

In my nest post I hope to show you the completed Violets by the River shawl!!! I am now on the honeybees, the top edge. Six rows on 368 lace stitches and I'm done!!!!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ch. 3: Knitting in Paris

The Violets by the River shawl was very happy to visit Paris. She grew on the airplane from Barcelona to Rome, in Rome waiting for the plane to Paris, and on the plane to Paris. she thanked her lucky stars that she was riding in my purse, because the suitcase containing all of our clothing, my medication, my shoes, etc., stayed in Rome for 2.5 additional days!!
Here in a cafe on the rue Cler in Paris the shawl didn't mind being stretched out to catch some fresh air. The air in the hotel room and close to my body was getting a little ripe from the same outfit being worn for three days!!!
Finally, after the errant luggage arrived, the shawl breathed a huge sign of relief. Here in the Jardins de Luxembourg she enjoyed the beautiful flowers and statues.
We loved the gardens and spent nearly one full day sitting in the sunshine with the Parisians and the tourists. We even rented a little sailboat to set out in one of the ponds, with the little kids. I was easily old enough to be the grandmother of ALL the other sailboat captains, however I had a great time pushing the sailboat with my long stick.

I've already told all of you about La Droguerie, the fabulous yarn/button/ribbon/bead shop in Paris that does NOT permit the taking of photographs in the shop. I found another little shop that sold mainly buttons, and managed to take this shot of a small portion of the button display! I let my 14 year old select a button as a souvenir, but it took her so long to make up her mind that she could not re-locate the first button she had wanted.

I am embarrassed to admit that while in Paris I knitted in the Eiffel Tower, in cafes and during the final World Cup match of France v. Italy. We were at a sidewalk cafe and I held the table, drinking wine, while he stood in front of the TV with dozens of cheering Frenchmen and tourists from all over. I had a better time than they did, in the end, since France lost and I worked many pattern repeats on the Violets by the River Shawl.
Back in Barcelona I resumed my quest to photograph the best or the most windows. I got carried away with photographing the decorations between the windows and the ironwork. This spectacular balcony is separated by a center radiating ironwork that looks like a sundial against the plasterwork.
This is the Bottom of a bay window!!

We have been back in Wisconsin for two weeks and I've barely been outside since our return! The temperatures are in the mid 90's with high humidity. Too hot for working even on my Violets by the River shawl. I spend most of my time sweating, even in the air conditioned house. However, our airconditioning unit is more than 50 years old and, the poor thing, it is stressed to the max. Therefore, we keep the temperature high so as not to cause it to collapse. Nevertheless, the a/c in our 13 year old minivan gave up this week and is in the repair shop. Thus far we have spent $390 and they haven't even located the problem!!!!