The year in which things are really happening

This is the year in which resolutions and good intentions are finally paying off. So far.

Last year, for various reasons, was something of a wash. Designs floundered and sank, never to be seen again. The baby became a toddler, which meant that there was no longer semi-leisurely writing time or knitting time while he batted things around on a playmat. I started some volunteer commitments; one worked, and one imploded. And I went back to work at a very, very leisurely pace (four hours per week).

It took me a really long time to make heads and tails of those situations. It’s March 2015, though, and I hold out hope that things will be really sorted by the time the month is over.

For starters, I’m launching a new design next week. It’s a slouchy hat, and it will come in mega-slouch and baby-slouch styles. There will be coordinating mitts, though my attempts at those have so far been highly uninspired. Maybe when I try to put something together on an appropriately-sized set of needles with more than three hours of sleep, something will gel!

But look for more in this space soon. I’m scheduling blog time each week. Stay tuned, readers, and thanks for taking a look.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming

Hello, all! It’s sadly been almost a year since I touched the blog, but look! I remembered my password on the first go! I think I’ll have a cookie.

It’s been a busy year. We had friends and family visit from the Midwest, we bought a house, we had an addition to the family in the form of a second child, and then more family and friends visit… and somehow, in all that, I managed to keep knitting. Not writing, but at least knitting.

And now I’m back to designing. I have a cowl and hat in the works (and actual charting software of my own!), a very nice pat on the back from a national name in knitting, and a child in school full-time. (That last bit is important because it means I theoretically can use Child Number Two’s naptime to work on patterns without interruption. Note my use of the term “theoretically.”)

So look for more in this space shortly. Those socks still aren’t done and are sitting in much the same state that I left them last spring/summer, but I have hope.

Knitting mojo: lost and found

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I have been fighting a total lack of knitting mojo since early February. I picked up two projects that I had been thinking about for a while – a sweater for Kidlette and turning a ball of sock yarn into actual socks – and they’ve both blown up in my face. Kidlette’s sweater is cute as can be in baby/toddler sizes, but totally incorrectly sized for preschoolers (way too wide and way too short).

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The sock yarn was awesome in the ball but has muddy, splotchy stripes once it’s actually knit up.

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The sock pattern is in time-out while I redo the chart and requisite math. And give it the stinkeye and beat myself over the head about realizing that some things really, truly won’t just block out.

In the meantime, I drank the Color Affection … uh… powdered soft drink (if you know what I mean) and am on section two. Rather pleased with it so far, though a part of me wishes that I had been bolder and used blue as the main color rather than the contrast. (This is in Malabrigo Lace – natural, azul profundo, and lettuce.) I totally get why this is so addictive now; every single time I pick it up, I find myself chanting, “Just one more row… just one more set of stripes…”

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Sock pattern progress (ETA: well, kind of)

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Teaser pic: sock pattern by ArbreDeJosue
Teaser pic: sock pattern, a photo by ArbreDeJosue on Flickr.

Super Secret Sock Pattern is back from time-out. I finished the leg of the second prototype sock about six weeks ago but was stuck on the heel. The stranded colorwork pattern is fairly bold, so I needed a heel that would complement the design without distracting from it. I messed around with two colors, slipped stitches, stripes… I knit and ripped back the heel flap twice before deciding that it was probably best to just stick with what I know best – a no-nonsense single-color heel flap.

I’ve also decided to develop a second chart. I’ve been working off the initial chart for the better part of two years, and there are some things about it that annoy me a bit – puckering, uneven stitches, and the like. There’s a relative lot of empty space in the original chart, and it’s hard to keep an even tension. So the second chart is a little less HD in its design, but it may ultimately be the more viable option.

For now, though, I’m sticking with the original chart and soldiering on. I’m finally pleased with how the heel gusset and sole are shaping up, and the stitch pattern I’m using is a nice, bold complement to the main design. I’m finally at a point where I can take a picture – what you see above is the “sea lamprey view” on my 9″ circular needles. Yarn is Cascade Heritage Sock; needles are size US 1.5/2.5mm 9″/23cm circulars.

ETA: I think the original chart is officially on its way out the door. While I will have a beautiful sample sock upon completion, it does not fit – again – and I don’t want to insert stripes/checkerboard between panels as a stretch/size cheat, since the initial design is busy enough. *sigh* However, this is why one does prototypes and test knitting. As the Mythbusters say, failure is ALWAYS an option!

End of weekend: recipe break

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As previously stated, we live in a part of the United States that is particularly kind to people who like food. Especially good restaurants, seafood, and fruits and vegetables. In the nearly four months since our arrival, our diets have improved drastically – there are vegetables and fruit EVERYWHERE, so we buy more of them. Just that simple. And not just carrots and broccoli – no, we’ve developed what some might call a disturbing taste for Brussels sprouts, spinach, cabbage, and all kinds of other green goodies. (Plus apples. My gosh, I had never even heard of some of these varieties before we moved out here! In season, I see an average of seven different kinds when I go to QFC – our local Kroger/Dillon’s affiliate – and that’s not counting the Big Three of Granny Smith, Red Delicious, or Golden Delicious.)

Well, we decided to take it a small step forward and check out CSAs. There were maybe two or three back in our part of Kansas, and their spots for reservations filled quickly and weren’t quite diverse enough for our tastes. One of the first things I did when we got here was to Google “CSA [our city name here]”… and I got something like 22 results. Most of the CSAs require that you pay for the whole season in advance, which is a chunk of change. With in-laws who are farmers, I understand why and support that system… but our budget does not currently support it.

I was really pleased, then, to find Klesick Family Farms. They’re local, and they make organic produce home deliveries year-round. There are several different options for boxes – from 6-8 people down to boxes for individuals who just want fruit – and you can go week-to-week, or even just order a box once or twice a year. Flexibility is key – and much-appreciated. I decided to give it a shot last week and ordered a Northwest box (produce for 2-4 people, and it’s all from the Pacific Northwest). Holy cats. It was the best produce assortment I’ve ever had dumped in my lap. We got some familiar items (pears, apples, parsnips, potatoes) and then some items that I had to Google before committing to the week’s box (sunchokes – aka Jerusalem artichokes – and watercress).

One of the items we got was dinosaur kale. It’s super-dark kale, and it’s very good for you – but I don’t like kale in soups, only as a small percentage in salads, and we had never tried cooking it on its own. Not wanting it to go to waste, I decided to put Captain Google on the case and found this recipe: dinosaur kale with baby potatoes. If you have doubts about kale but want to give it a try, this recipe is an excellent gateway. Even Kidlette – who, at four, is deciding to test every boundary possible – devoured it. Go for it. It’s healthy, flavorful, and definitely does not taste like it’s good for you.

Spring is here… sprrrrring is here…

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… and no, I will NOT be poisoning pigeons in the park (YouTube link), though that song gets stuck in my head around this time each year and I fervently hope that I don’t start singing it with the car windows down. (If you don’t happen to know the song, just Google the lyrics and you’ll see why.)

It is a gorgeous day out today, the kind of day that makes you feel like you can wield a trowel, drop seeds in the ground, and prepare yourself for the magic to happen! I went to our local farm/country store and attended a talk on seed starting, because although I have somewhat successfully started seeds before, Kansas killed them all (usually right before it was time for the plants to bear a harvest that we hoped would keep us from having to run up our grocery bill).

But not this year. No. We live in the Pacific Northwest, just a few miles south of an area that is in the top 2% worldwide – yes, worldwide – in terms of agricultural production and potential. The odds look good. I bought seed starter soil, seed trays, all seed packets except for brussels sprouts and leeks (I’ll hang out and wait for the seedlings later this spring and summer), and I hoped to be able to also grab my supplies to make a first foray into canning as the first apple season of the year ends. I went down the canning supply aisle, carefully measured the quart jars to see which canner would be best to use… and… there it was, on the side of the canner. “NOT FOR USE ON GLASS-TOP STOVES.”

GUH. Guess which type of stove our rental house has.

As it turns out, glass-top stoves can be risky prospects for canning. I don’t feel like tempting fate, so I’m now looking at double-burner propane camping stoves for doing the canning outside on the deck. One of the country-store clerks was incredibly helpful in walking me through the idea, but I did laugh when she said, “Yeah, it just gets so hot in summer here, you’ll be glad for the opportunity to can outside!” *snerk* Uh-huh. So hot. Maybe 80 degrees on a really bad day. *snerk*

So for today, I contented myself to bring the gardening stuff home and to puzzle out the canning tonight while Kidlette watches a movie. I braved the chilly, very windy day and finished weeding almost all of one flower bed and sections of its neighbor. I would like to cordially strangle the person who put a fiberboard-bottomed planter out in the garden and let its paint and fiberboard rot – that’ll be an entire section of soil that has to be dug out and replaced by new topsoil. Tomorrow will be grocery shopping and planting day for the first round of seeds. I have a couple of things that can go out in the garden or raised beds in early May, and it’s almost time to get those seeds in grow trays! Wish me luck!

A knitting post! Again! Twice in one month!

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Milo straps by ArbreDeJosue

Milo straps, a photo by ArbreDeJosue on Flickr.

Before I say anything else, I’d like to start off by joyously exclaiming that I am SO GLAD I’M NOT IN KANSAS RIGHT NOW. As I told friends, I miss how pretty the snow can be. I do not miss Wichita drivers “proving” their driving skills in the snow. (I’ve been told that Seattle-area drivers are just as bad, for what it’s worth.)

Moving on, let’s just say that the knitting force has been weak with me lately. After frantic holiday knitting, I’ve been a little bit more focused on getting to know the area better and doing the garden planning. Hard to believe there’s a chance that the garden might actually produce food this year… I was shocked at how disgustingly healthy my garden plan is. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that it’s stuff we love and will gobble furiously. On the list: beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, kale, leeks, lettuce, and radishes. I was considering fruit and onions/shallots/garlic, but those are both kind of ridiculous. As far as fruit goes, we have two giant blackberry tangles by our house, and the produce stand four blocks south of the house is pretty aewsome; for the onions/shallots/garlic, it’s the wrong season, and I don’t want to invest the time in them if we might be pulling up stakes and buying a house next winter. But I digress.

I was thrilled to start a shop sample for Pinchknitter last week. Pictured above is the start of a Milo vest (Ravelry link). It’s in the 6-month size, and it’s in a cotton/acrylic blend that is actually not unpleasant – Jeannee from Plymouth Yarns. The yarn is super-soft, and although it’s slightly splitty, it does tink and rip pretty well. You might ask how I know. What you see is actually the second incarnation, the first having been ripped out at about the 2/3-of-the-way-to-completion point last weekend.

But I’m much happier with this one, after having ripped it into nothingness and restarted with smaller needles. Nothing like floppy, inelastic garter stitch and lifeless cables to make it obvious that the needle/yarn/pattern combination just isn’t going to work. Now that the fabric is nicer, I can appreciate the genius of the pattern that much more. I really appreciate Georgie Hallam’s large range of sizes (it goes from newborn to age 6!!) – I bought this to make for Alex before she turned 1, and, um, she’ll be getting a 6-year-old size this summer.

Super Secret Socks are still here. I need to swatch a new iteration of the design because I’m not terribly thrilled with the chart I’ve been working from for the better part of four years… but I need to finish a sample sock and block it before I make that decision. Blergh.

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When the going gets rough…

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When the going gets rough...

… it’s just a better idea all around to go to the beach, don’t you think?

This lovely place is called Iverson Spit Preserve, and it’s really just as awesome as the photo. What the picture fails to communicate is that between you and the water – for about three-quarters of a mile – there’s a thirty-foot wide band of driftwood. Not just nice little branches. Entire trees, construction signs, drifting plywood and pieces of boat or dock… it’s incredible. And great fun with kids as you hop from tree to tree and try (and fail at least once) to avoid giant tidal mud puddles under the driftwood.

So, aside from the “hi, we’re from Kansas and anything other than flat prairies is new to us!” situation, it was very cool to witness the tide going out for the first time. Kidlette and I were making our way north along the beach (once you get past the driftwood, there’s a narrow sandy beach – the sand is rare in these parts, and it’s a real treat to have found one with shallows), and then decided to turn back around because it was starting to get windy and cold. As we made our way south, I realized that… there were five to ten feet more of beach than there had been when we walked north. So that was an amazing observation and opportunity for an impromptu science lesson!

I love the Pacific Northwest.

Um, ow.

Um, ow. by ArbreDeJosue
Um, ow., a photo by ArbreDeJosue on Flickr.

My superpower is being able to injure myself or get injured with even the most innocuous of everyday objects. Tripping over nothing when I walk? Almost daily. Music stand to the face? Not my fault, but yes. It is such a normal thing that even my French family calls me “Grace” as a nickname.

Yesterday, I sustained my first serious injury in the line of fiber arts duties. I fell into a bin of yarn. I was walking through the craft room, bumped unexpectedly into a box, and down into a lovely pillow of worsted-weight yarn I went. Apparently I scraped the inside of my right arm against the side of the bin – HARD – as I went, because this is one hell of a bruise. It’s not as pretty as it’s going to get later in the week, but you can already see its ugly greenish-purple shadow inside that blue circle (the Sharpie cap is there to give you an idea of the size).

At least I didn’t fall into my needle/hook bin, right?

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Horsefeathers, Redux – This Time, It’s Alpakka

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Horsefeathers, Redux - This Time, It's Alpakka

I’ve been invited to teach a class at the LYS using my Horsefeathers Cowl pattern. (It’s slightly modified to meet the shop owner’s request that it use just one ball of sport-weight yarn – I only had to remove one repeat of one chart from each side of the cowl!) Aside from the lace modification, I also had to make some blocking modifications. When I made the original from Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool, the finished cowl was able to be gently tugged into shape. It dried crisply and with absolutely no need for pinning. This version of the cowl was made in Dale of Norway’s Royal Alpakka, a sport-weight 100% alpaca yarn. I wet-blocked it and tugged it into shape, just like I normally block items… and discovered that wasn’t going to cut it with this cowl. The alpaca is lovely, the shape is pretty good… but that horseshoe lace in the middle gets lost and looks pretty dumpy if you don’t pin it out. So I wet-blocked it again, laid it out on my blocking boards, and pinned out the ripples and horseshoe lace. Much nicer result the second time around!

If you’re interested in taking the class, check with Pinchknitter Yarns in Stanwood, WA. I’ll be teaching a Monday session and a Saturday session; dates and fees will be posted shortly.