Friday, November 13, 2009

Whispery Shrug Thingagummy

Sometimes I'm tempted to post only the good stuff. The other stuff gets shoved in a corner and I don't even bother to photograph it. But not today. Today I bring out the bad and the ugly.

For my first foray into the "Ugh, why did I knit this" category, I present to you another shrug.

Pattern: "Whisper Cardigan" by Hannah Fetig
published in Interweave Spring 2009

Yarn: Colourmart Silk Cotton 4 ply
3/4 cone (approximately 825 yards used) in colorway Sand

Needles: US8, US5 and US2

Actually, it's not so bad. In fact, when I was knitting it, I loved it. It's a cool design and I love other people's versions on Ravelry and the interwebs. If you click on the link above, you can see the professional photographs from the magazine. Go on, look. Cute, huh?

But not so cute on me. Here are my issues:

1. The sleeve is a really wonky length for me as it hits right at my elbow. It wants to be a 3/4 length sleeve or maybe it wants to be a short sleeve. It's not sure. It could just simply be that I have weird arm proportions. Shrug (pun fully charged and deployed).

2. In addition, the sleeves flare out quite a bit. This combined with the unflattering length of the sleeves just makes it all a big yuck.

3. It's way too long on the torso. This is totally user error. I wanted something to cover more of my backside so I lengthened the body without taking into consideration that this is a shrug. It's supposed to be short. In order for a longer length to work, I would have had to change the front of the garment as well. In other words, it would have ended up a cardigan. I think in my mind I envisioned something that I could wrap around myself. This ain't it.

Looks better from the back... but in my mind anything that covers my derriere looks better from the back. (Yarn Widower would probably disagree.)

Thankfully none of my concerns are fatal flaws. I can easily pick up stitches on the sleeve and knit an impromptu cuff to lengthen them. And it's no big thing to rip back some of the length.

Like I said, the pattern is a cool knit. It's well written and introduced me to a new sleeve construction. It looks great on other people and hopefully will look great on me after some modifications.

As for the cardigan that looked so great in my head, I think I may take a stab at winging it and knit sans pattern. I think I'm old enough to make my own rules (and maybe write my own pattern).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Baby Ella

Not only do I have a grown-up friend named Ella, but now it turns out that I have a smaller blonde version as well.

Here she is: 7 months or so. Ella Louisiana Philpot Buvel. All cheeks.

The shirt says it all.

But let me direct your attention to her cardigan.

That's right, gentle readers. That's a handknit gift from yours truly. Beautifully styled and modeled by Cheeky Ella.

Pattern: Baby Shrug by Debbie Bliss - another freebie courtesy of the interwebs

Yarn: Rowan Bamboo Tape (discontinued) in Antique Rose
3.5 skeins

Needles: US 7 for the ribbing; US8 for the rest

This is a quick and easy project. You start from the back hem and knit it all in one piece all the way to the front hem. After the main body is done, you seam the underarm and sides before knitting on the ribbing. The pattern is well written and rather elegant in construction.

And the end result is adorable. Both the model and the garment. Cute!

Friday, October 30, 2009

NYC - eating and shopping

Recently, I made my annual pilgrimage to New York City.

Some highlights:

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 First Avenue (between 10th and 11th sts)

This place was awesome. We had the famous pork buns (which were good) but the shitake buns were even better - thin slivers of crispy cucumber nestled in sauteed shitake mushrooms. Yum. We also had the Momofuku ramen which I have to say is damn good ramen. It makes me want to watch Tampopo again. The only downside for me was the dessert - sweet potato and pie crust soft-serve. Normally I love soft-serve. But the pie crust was more salty than sweet and I found the whole thing to be too gimmicky to end an otherwise slamming meal.

My friend Becca was kind enough to get an advance copy of David Chang's new book:

So far, I've only read the introduction. But the recipes beckon... I'll keep you posted.

Joe's Shanghai
9 Pell St.
Chinatown - Manhattan

Soup Dumplings. Good.

Joe's Shanghai is famous for these dumplings. The soup is inside the dumpling. Here is a picture of Becca tearing into one. Despite the look of pain on her face (they're hot!), I think she enjoyed them.

333 Henry Street

A small but very welcoming Japanese restaurant. I ordered the fresh tofu which came in a small glass bottle - like yogurt. It was deliciously custardy and paired beautifully with a light soy bonito broth (I think that's what it was). For my main course, I had the Chirashi which is basically slices of fish served over sushi rice. I always judge the quality of a Japanese restaurant by its Chirashi. I know I'll get the ubiquitous salmon and tuna but it's always interesting to see what else the sushi chef includes. Octopus, yellowtail, sea urchin...

Red Bamboo
271 Adelphi St.

It's billed as "vegetarian Caribbean soul food." So I had to try the Jamaican Jerk Mock Chicken. I'm a fan. Mock meats (seitan, wheat gluten, tofu etc) are great bases for delicious sauces just as long as you don't expect them to taste just like meat. It's nice to know that Jerk spices translate well to the vegetarian palate.

Brooklyn General Store
128 Union St

A good sized yarn and fabric store. How could I resist? I perused their piles of yarn and admired their bolts of fabric. They even had a wall of roving for all the spinners out there.

Purl Soho
137 and 147 Sullivan St.

One address houses the yarn and right down the street lives the fabric. Both places are pretty tiny which made it hard to maneuver. But I didn't care. Both are beautifully organized shops with great attention to the smallest of details. I was particularly enthralled with the fabric. They had lots of whimsical cotton and linen prints from Japan which are hard to come by in South Florida.

Ooh, pretty.

Originally I had planned to go to Mood Fabrics. But alas, it was closed the day we were in the Garment District. So we visited another fabric megastore instead.

Paron Fabrics
206 West 40th St.

When we got there, we had only half an hour until closing time. I had my very own "Project Runway" moment as a little voice in my head said, "You have $50 and 30 minutes, designers."

Lately, the little voice in my head sounds just like Tim Gunn. Huh. Go figure.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Caribbean Blue Bolero

Knitters tend to be fond of shrugs/boleros/short cardis. Almost as popular as the ubiquitous lace shawls. Every knitter must knit one. It's a rite of passage.

Here's my first shoulder cover-upper.

Pattern: Ribbed Lace Bolero by Kelly Maher
Yarn: Blue Heron Rayon Metallic 3/4 skein
Needles: US6

The pattern is a freebie available on Kelly Maher's blog. It's well written pattern in which she explains how to calculate the dimensions for a custom fit. It's also a great design - elegant in its simplicity. Basically, it's knit as a rectangle and finishing involves seaming the ribbed portions together like so.

The yarn had been hiding in my stash for a few years. I had bought it on a trip to St. Michael's Maryland with the vague idea of knitting it into a shawl. Recently, Yarn Widower and I went on a cruise, a first for both of us. After much thought, this was the project I brought along. I'd sit out on the lower deck near the water and watch the clouds drift by. The yarn in my hands looked like the ocean on a sunny day. Clear blue at times with hints of golden sunshine playing off the waves.

When we got home, Yarn Widower's mom asked, "Did she actually knit on the boat?" Yarn Widower hates to be conspicuous, a trait he gets from his mom. Me, I tend to be shy but I've long since gotten used to the amused looks on stranger's faces when they see me knit. I responded, "Of course I did. Why would I go anywhere without my knitting?" Sheesh.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lana Lace Cardigan

Lest you begin to think that I have been neglecting the knitting...

Pattern: Lana Lace Cardigan by Louisa Harding
from Jaeger Handknits Book JB35 (out of print)

Yarn: Jaeger Siena - 100% mercerized fingering weight cotton
10 skeins (1530 yards) in color 431 Sage
(Jaeger is no longer in operation - too bad as this was one of the nicest cottons I have ever used)

Needles: US 1.5 for the garter stitch trim
US2 for the main body

I ended up charting out the lace pattern which made it much easier to negotiate the various increases and decreases. Other than that, the pattern was well written and I encountered very few problems.

The yarn was very smooth and pliable. I know a lot of people don't like knitting with cotton, but I love it. Used in lace patterns, it's very versatile in garments since it doesn't get too heavy with wear. This is a particularly nice cotton yarn and I'm glad I stockpiled a bunch before Jaeger closed shop. The one big drawback of cotton and other non-wool items is that it's more difficult to join skeins of yarn since it lacks the "grabby" quality of wool. Therefore, it's ill suited for knitting in the round where there are no seams to hide the ends. Which is fine with me - I like seaming. It must be the seamstress in me but sewing up flat pieces of knitting to make up a three dimensional garment is not an onerous task at all. Plus I think seams give a garment some strength especially in the shoulders. Less potential for unsightly saggage.

Yes, knitting with fingering yarn and Size 2 needles takes a bit of time. But it was worth it. I'm very pleased with the finished product. It was fun to make, fits nicely and looks great.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Resplendent with Raisins

Lately, I have been hankering for cinnamon raisin bread. But I'm never really happy with the ones I get from the store. They're either too light and airy or too thick and dense.

I'm picky. I want a lot of things. I want something with just enough chew to support the additional weight of some walnuts. I also want raisins in every bite with a swirl of cinnamon sugar in the middle. But not too sweet. This is bread after all, not cake.

So after hunting around the net and the library, I settled on a near perfect recipe. It's from The Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart (culinary master of all things leavened and someone far more persnickety than me). The nice folks at google even provide a free copy of the recipe. It's a pretty straight forward recipe that makes two loaves, one to eat right away and one to freeze for later. Yarn Widower likes his with peanut butter. I like mine toasted and slathered in butter.

I don't recommend using a standing mixer. Even with the proper dough hook, I don't think the bread gets kneaded all that well. Kneading by hand is a good deal of effort but it's effort well spent. Bread dough is a deliciously tactile thing, especially towards the end when the dough is silky smooth and studded with raisins and walnuts. Even though I have yet to obtain the "windowpane" test, the loaves end up looking, smelling and tasting wonderful. So I wouldn't worry too much if yours doesn't stretch paper thin. I know that the bran in whole wheat can interfere with the formation of gluten and I wonder if cinnamon can do the same.

Regardless, this is one great cinnamon bread. Try it!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

American Gothic Dress - pitchfork not included

I find myself wearing dresses quite a lot. Not so much the fancy kind (although I do love me a nice silky frock every now and then), but the good old utilitarian, throw-on for a throw-down sort. Something I can get muddy in. Yet pretty too. Something that would have made the couple in American Gothic put down that pitchfork and maybe do a jig on the front porch.

The Prairie Girl Dress by the pattern company Favorite Things was just what I wanted. A relatively easy pattern that I could figure out on my own, it's a slip-over-the-head dress with ties in the back. This also means that it's pretty forgiving around the midsection and I can make it as loose as my ice cream habit necessitates.

The ruffly sleeves were easy to do after I got the hang of gathering in my last dress project. I also made the optional dickie and sewed it into the dress to keep it from flapping out of place.

The fabric is from a local quilting store. It's from the Nouveau collection by Moda. Ocean Blue Garden - here's a close up.

I'm pretty happy with the dress. It came out just as I had envisioned and it's light and airy enough to wear on even the muggiest days here in South Florida. It's the perfect thing to wear when gathering freshly laid eggs from my chickens. That is, if I had chickens - maybe someday.

Bad Blogger

Holy smokes! It's been over a month since I've posted.

Life gets busy. But really that's no excuse. The busier one's life, the more there is to post. On the other hand, the more there is to post, the less time there is to do just that.

Well, whatever. I finally got around to getting some photodocumentation. So here come the posts!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Basic Sewing II - Girl's Dress

What is it about little girls that makes everyone get their girly-girl on? All of a sudden, even the most diehard tomboy holdout surrenders to the pink and frothy when faced with a baby girl. Or more specifically, little girl dresses. And really who can resist - all that insane cuteness. Bring on the poufy!

For my second sewing class with Ondrea, we set out to make view C. Quite possibly the cutest of the cute. Nothing sweeter than a Peter Pan collar and puffy sleeves.

I thought long and hard about the fabric selection. I wanted something that would toughen up the dress, give it a little bit of an edge. Skull and crossbones? Too subversive. Palm trees? Too Lily Pulitzer. In the end, I settled on this modish flower print in very girly colors with just enough Merrimekko to make me happy.

Did my two year old niece like it?

I think she did. Almost as much as the little bird I made from the scraps - that's what she's holding in the pictures. I was planning to make a whole bunch for a bird mobile. But someone stole all my birdies.

New Look 6309
Easy Dress for Kids

Fabric: from Joanne's

Bird pattern: free from Spool's blog. See sidebar for a linky to the pattern.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sewing Lessons

When I was in middle school, I made a pair of madras shorts from a pattern that was reassuringly marked "easy". It was easy and it felt exhilarating to make something that I could actually wear. I wore those shorts to shreds and sadly they are no longer in my possession. However, I still have the baby blanket that I made soon after. Actually, my mom made. Once she saw that I was interested in sewing, she decided to take over. She had been a seamstress and had taken sewing lessons when she was younger. She vetoed my fabric choices (alternating pink and blue squares) and insisted on a blue gingham coordinated with with a blue floral print. She tut-tutted my sloppy stitches and noted where my squares didn't completely match up. When I wanted to finish the blanket with a simple binding, she usurped the blanket and sewed up the matching ruffle herself. In retrospect, her color choices were probably more tasteful and the ruffle did give it a very nice finished look. However, I lost interest in sewing with that blanket. A hobby that required me to spend any more time with my overbearing mother was clearly not the hobby for me.

Years later, I bought myself a sewing machine with the vague ambition of throwing together some curtains and pillows for my new apartment. I used it a few times and then let it sit in its case gathering dust. When I started knitting again, I thought about sewing but never got motivated enough to dig out my Kenmore. I couldn't remember how to thread the machine anymore and the manual had always been an intimidating read.

And then a few months ago, I happened to walk by a vacuum and sewing machine store. Why do vacuums and sewing machines go together? "Hi, I'm looking to replace my old Miele. Oh, is that a Babylock Imagine serger you have there? It just so happens that in addition to vacuuming, I do all the mending too." There was a sign in the window about sewing lessons. Sometimes I act impulsively with good results. I signed up for Basic Sewing: Make a fun Apron! Here's a picture.

An action shot:

I got reacquainted with my sewing machine and found that I could still drudge up dormant knowledge stuffed into the Home Ec file in my brain. Sewing was fun again.

The class was taught by a hipster girl just recently graduated from FIT in NYC. She has a PhD in pattern making or something like that. She also has a cool name: Ondrea Bonvecchio (but alas she has no website or blog that I could reference here. You'll have to email me if you want her contact info).

As for the apron, I'm quite pleased with it. I spent hours at Joann's until I finally settled on this fabric printed with cartoony trees in colors that make me smile. However, I did make one huge uncorrectable error. I cut the pattern out upside down.

Oops. However, I figured it was okay and I could live with it. Here is my rationale: when I'm wearing the apron and I happen to look down, the trees are right side up. Brilliant!

If I were to make this apron again, I would use a heavier weight fabric - maybe a decorator weight or even an oilcloth. The calico cotton I used was just too flimsy. But overall, a great first project. Next up: Basic Sewing II: Make a little girl's dress.

Laura's Sewing and Vacuum (they don't have a website either)
3958 Northlake Boulevard, Palm Beach Gardens, FL

McCall's pattern 2947
Misses apron
View F

Fabric: Print was marked "Made exclusively for Joann's"
Pocket and bias straps made from solid quilting cotton also purchased from Joann's.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Broken Hearted

I really miss Harry. I think about him every day. My therapist Terri says this is the price one pays for love. I wish I could say that I pay it willingly but it's kind of rough missing him so much. The other day I had a minor meltdown when I was cleaning his nose smudges off the glass patio doors. One minute I'm spraying Windex. The next minute I'm sobbing so hard that I have to sit on the floor.

Grief is painful. But necessary; I can't imagine not grieving for Harry. I keep telling myself that the loss I feel is a testament to the friendship. The greater the friendship, the greater the loss. But sometimes the grief is so intense that I wonder how I'll get through it.

But I will. Grief is universal. Talking to my friend Stacey I complained that every good dog story ends the same tear-jerking way. Stacey reminded me that it's not just dog stories; it's every story.

I've found that certain things help. Seeing other dogs, petting them, watching them play sometimes brings tears to my eyes but always a smile too. Swimming in the ocean helps. Floating on my back while the waves bob me up and down, I find it easy to enter into a meditative state. I feel completely in the moment. No past to burden me, no future to worry me. Yoga helps in the same way although lately it's been hard to get myself to the mat. Sometimes my yoga practice is like that - quiet, dormant.

Writing helps. So does reading, cooking, knitting, and daydreaming. I've been spending a lot of time at the sewing machine lately, puzzling over different seam finishes and whatnot. It's both soothing and satisfying to dream up something and then sit down and make it.

Harry used to get upset with me when I cried too loudly. It alarmed him. He would nudge me with his nose and then bark at me, as if to say, "Come on, already! That's quite enough now. Let's go for a walk!"

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Goodbye old friend

Our best buddy Harry passed away last week. He died in my arms, my face buried in his fur. The Yarn Widower was there too with his hand resting on his head. I don't think Harry quite knew what was going on as he had been confused for a while so I pray that he wasn't feeling too much pain and that he knew he was loved and cherished.

Harry was fifteen. Old for a Jack Russell. Along with his canine dementia, he had spinal cord impingement and was unable to walk without help. In the last week or so, he couldn't get up or even stand. I like to think that we helped him as best we could. But he cried a lot. Even with the pain medication.

Two months ago, the Yarn Widower built him a wheelchair so he could still get outside and go for his walks. It gave Harry enough support so that we could mosey over to the fire hydrant and he could mark it as his. He seemed to like it, I think. He would patiently wait to be strapped in so he could gad about.

Nice wheels, Mister H!

He'd always been such an active guy. True to his terrier nature, he could chase the ball with the best of them. Often he would tire me out before he'd even dream of quitting. I think his eyesight and back legs failed him before his enthusiasm for the hunt waned. Squirrels and tennis balls the world over have less to fear now that Harry is gone.

He was a great friend and confidante. He made me happy when not much in this world made me happy. He chased away my loneliness and fear. He gave me comfort and unlimited love. I will always be grateful for him. No matter how much sadness I feel at his loss, I thank whatever gods may be for sending Harry my way. Rest well, sweet Harry. We'll meet again in the next life.

Harry Kim Schmidt

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sea Grass Clapotis

I started this project back in October when the Yarn Widower first asked me if I wanted to live in South Florida. Sure, why not? But what do Floridians knit? A brief polling of my DC Stitch-n-Bitch came up with: tank tops and bikinis. Tank tops are fine. I'll reserve judgement on knitting a bikini for now.

But what about scarves? Not the thick woolly muffler kind. I was thinking more the thin wispy breathable kind. And I already had just the perfect yarn for it.

Pattern: Clapotis
Yarn: Tili Thomas Voile de la Mer in color Forest
Silk and SeaCell
Needles: US2

The yarn is actually much more beautiful than my paltry photography skills allow. It's a lustrous combination of soft greens, browns and dark beige. It reminds me of the plantlife that grows along beaches.

This is my Move to Florida Scarf. I worked on it before, during and after the move. This is also the project that I brought on the long drive from Philly-DC-Atlanta-North Palm Beach. When I wasn't driving or holding Harry in my lap, I would knit a few rows before I fell asleep. It was a nice feeling - having the Yarn Widower in the seat next to me, Harry sitting in the back and this yarn flowing through my hands.

That was more like a sabbatical...

Moving into a new house is fun and exciting. But also hard (stripping yucky wallpaper) and time-consuming (again, yucky wallpaper). Now the walls are painted, most of our stuff is unpacked and it's finally starting to look like Our Place.

Our sewing room/guest room mid-intervention - damn you, wallpaper border!

And after

Ah, now I can relax by the pool.

And enjoy the view.