April 2008


The other night I watched Karate Kid, for old times’ sake (and because it was free On Demand).  Not Part II or III – the original; not as if it were the weekend movie on TBS or something, but straight through and uninterrupted with proper movie-night focus.  I watched it with a my fiancé, a.k.a. Bidie-In, and his tween daughter, Squeezer (my step-daughter-to-be).  Neither of them had ever seen it.  I know, I know.  Bidie is Scottish, as in, grew up there, so let’s cut him some slack, because maybe this bit of pop culture didn’t make it across the pond.   Shocking, yes, that anyone could make it this far along in life without giving props to Mr. Miyagi, but it’s true.

Anyhoo, we remedied this.  Squeezer had been quoting lines from this movie for a while, but only because she was quoting me (“Wax on, wax off!  Daniel-san! Paint the fence!”).  I think the Squeeze had a hard time getting her head around the fact that people used to going around looking like this on purpose (like any classic, the movie does come off a *teensy* bit dated, what with the feathered hair and the 80s guitar riffs and all), but she did like it.  And, she can quote her movie lines with a bit more oomph behind them.

Oh, Ralph Macchio.  So scrawny, and so much older in 1984 than Danny LaRusso was supposed to be, but still so lovable.  Seing those lanky limbs again triggered the memory of my long-since forgotten pre-teen admiration.  It was like running my finger over an old scar.  I couldn’t actually feel the former sensation, but the recollection of having felt that way back in the day was fairly acute.  Only upon seeing the movie, you understand – it’s not like I walk around fantasizing about Ralph in the here and now.  I’m don’t even want the “where is he now?” lowdown – better to leave it alone.  In any case, I can’t deny that once upon a time I’d have given away my Walkman (AND my Like a Virgin cassette tape) to be Elizabeth Shue during the victory scene where she runs up onto the karate mat with a towel around her neck, spiral perm curls bouncing.  Who among us wouldn’t have, I ask you?

I know that Squeezer wasn’t too impressed with Daniel-san‘s feathered hair, but she did like the karate part (she’s now demonstrating her prowess at every opportunity). 

Squeezer is one in a million.  In addition to being ridiculously cute, she’s quite the little crafter.  If you upend a shoebox full of random craft items (bits of paper or fabric, pipe cleaners, sequins, googly-eyes, Mod Podge…you know the type), add some Tacky Glue or a needle and thread, Squeezie could put it all to good use in making something impressive in no time flat.  It’s amazing.   She doesn’t spend time planning it all out (like I do with everything, to the point of paralysis in getting started) – she just does it.

One day she snuggled up to me and asked me if I would teach her to knit.  Oh joy!  I was delighted.

She jumped right in.  Her first creations were posh canine duds for Lainey – her tiny chihuahua-terrier mix – each a wee sweater, and every one of them a hit.  I’ll post these gems when I can get my hands on the pics.  For the moment, allow me to share her WIP, her first article of clothing for herself.  She chose “Two-Tone Ribbed Shrug” from Fitted Knits.  She’s using Cascade 220 Superwash in lovely bright shades: rose pink and lime green (both very Squeezer shades).

Great progress so far, with only one little road bump on the back:  the KFB (knit 1 front and back) stitch has tripped her up a bit here and there in terms of lining up row upon row.  The pic below shows where she stopped (we’re off by a row starting at the spot where I poked in my gold stitch holder).  Very difficult to fix the boo-boo without frogging back to the row with the problem (although you can bet I tried).  Squeezer’s learned basic recovery of dropped stitches in stockinette, but this was a toughie, so I told her I’d make the problem go away.

We’ll give it a little love and report back later.

Silly me.  Now I’ve got Karate Kid on the brain.  Specifically (and annoyingly), I’ve got “You’re the Best (Around)” stuck in my head, with the evil mumble “sweep the leg” reverbing in the mix.  A fine mess I’ve gotten myself into!

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Whew – taxes are done, and not a minute too soon. Finally blog-posting does not = procrastination.

Today I introduce you to my favorite FO (Finished Object – my goal is define each term when I use it for the first time here) at this stage of my knitting career. It was also the project that’s taken me the longest, but like the title says, it’s a long cardigan.

Let me just say that it took me forever to find just what I wanted for a cardigan, or at least my first cardigan. This is not surprising considering that it often takes me yonks to make a decision.

I’m tall, and part of what I love about knitting is that I can custom-make the length of sleeves (to accommodate my monkey arms) and also the torso.  I have a lot of things in my closet that inconveniently hit just above my waist instead of at or below like they would on anyone else (I can’t help myself when it’s so cute hanging on the rack – I want to buy clothes in stores like other girls!).  In this case, I figured I might as well take the long idea and run with it, just because I could.

I didn’t expect to be so picky (I never do) – I searched high and low before I found what I wanted.  I definitely bookmarked a few favorites that I knew I’d like to make later, including several with more detail – nice cabling or other patterns – but for this one I found myself craving simple lines, a go-to cardigan that achieved “fashionable” as opposed to “frumpy”, as is often the concern with cardigans.  On the other hand, I wanted to actually be able to wear this puppy regularly, like to pull on at work when I’m chilly, so I didn’t want to land at too high-fashion.  If it turned out that noteworthy, people would start saying, “Is it just me, or does she wear that same sweater every day?”.  I needed it to be classic-looking, and easily blendable with the varying color palette of different outfits.

You with me on this?

Before I even began searching for the perfect cardigan pattern, I admit I had my mind already set on the color.  I went to the black end of the spectrum and chose a dark charcoal gray (a.k.a. a shade of black).  Not surprising, if I give you a little history.  Black is a former flame of mine, the kind that still gives me butterflies when I think about those heady days.  My time living in New York and London left me with quite a penchant for wearing all black, all the time, a practice I thoroughly enjoyed and didn’t trouble to deny it.  I’d still be in that camp if it weren’t for:

  1. My family telling me to lighten up already with the black. Enoughget some color in that wardrobe, sister.
  2. Everyone in my new West Coast workplace telling me I was too “East Coast”.  Loosen up, you’re scaring the natives with that look.

No matter what they say, I really like the power suits and French twists that were frequently associated with the all-black attire, but alas, I have attempted to ease up on all accounts.  I really try to save the black for my now infrequent nights out on the town, when I really must be allowed to feel city-fabulous.  I’ve also invested in two pairs of (long length) khaki cords that I occasionally wear on Fridays (impressive, right?); and, I’ve actually gone to job interviews with my hair down (gasp!) instead of tied up into a formal twist.  Hey, it’s progress.

But I digress!  The point is – I do make an effort to pull in more color to my repertoire, and knitting’s a big part of that, so it’s a good thing I’m addicted to it.  True – but actually, the point is this:  although I do make that effort, it didn’t extend to this project.  Right.

I landed on the Patons pattern Long Fitted Cardigan from the SWS pattern book, “The Look”.  It’s kind of an obscure pattern; I don’t know how I Googled my way to it.  I saw the cover picture and knew that was the one, so I picked the pattern booklet up on eBay.  I really liked the long straight lines and no-nonsense yet sexy appeal.  Largely stockinette, but that contributed to my classic, not-too-fussy goal.  I also liked the bling/accessories the model was wearing, so maybe, sadly, I was swayed by that as well.

I chose Dale of Norway (Dalegarn) Free Style as the yarn for this project.  Don’t ask me why, as this was another obscure choice – I think I was being super-conservative with the gauge on substituting exactly, and this was a spot-on match for SWS.  I booted the SWS yarn as suggested for a couple of reasons.  The online reviews seemed positive and it was very affordable, but in the end I was focused on a) not using toocheap a yarn for a project I would spend a lot of time on and hope to wear quite a lot, b) sticking with a superwash wool for the supposed durability (although now that it’s done, I can’t imagine ever putting my baby in the washer).

Plus, it didn’t come in black.  

Although I liked the look of the pattern with the variegated color of several of the SWS colorways, I wanted to avoid ending up with Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat, which on a tall bird like me can be a bit hard to pull off.

That said – VERY straightforward pattern and piecing.  I liked the yarn surprisingly well, and although I’ve been wearing it frequently for well over a year now, it’s held up very well (few pills of course, but a couple of sweater shavings have kept it in good condition).  I avoided selecting too soft of a yarn in order to achieve this durability, and I’m pleased with the results.  It’s wonderfully warm, as wool tends to be, and holds its shape quite well.  It’s a tad scratchy, but I’m always wearing something under it.  Call me crazy, but I like the tiny amount of scratchy – feels suitably authentic in the way a wooly jumper should.  I know…I’m weird.

Overall, I’m delighted with what my little hands turned out.  I’ve kept the pattern readily accessible (as opposed to lost amongst my mostly scattered and unorganized other patterns and books and yarn and needles – save me, Ravelry) in case I get a wild hair to make one in the future of the Technicolor Dreamcoat variety.

Kidding. 

If I make another one, it’ll definitely be in another shade of black.  ;)

 

Before I stick a fork in my commentary on the aforementioned leg warmer fun, I can’t help but share the cherry on top of that project.

My oldest niece, Maizy, is currently rounding 2nd base on her way to the 3-year-old mark.  She’s got personality coming out her ears, and tends to ham it up regularly in her toddler social circle, as well as for her general public.

When I finished up with my leg warmers (100% infatuated with my quickie creation), I was just about to head out on a trip to see my sister for the weekend.  I had a few hours on the plane ahead of me and (shock!) nothing from my queue suitably organized to cast on, so I decided to grab from my stash yet another cheapie fun yarn from a Webs closeout to whip up some Maizy-sized leg warmers on the journey.  I finished one on the way there and the other one during my stay.

As I was leaving I presented Maizy with her mini-warmers, and in a flash she had them on, striking poses and strutting her stuff around the living room.  She channeled the dancers from Fame pretty well considering her lack of exposure to that decade.  I was so proud.

After I returned home, my sister sent me a few photos.  Her husband had dressed Maizy in full 80s regalia – not just the leg warmers, but complimentary striped tights, knit shorts, and sneakers – and took her out for a promenade downtown.  Apparently she was quite a hit, with teenagers and moms alike stopping to comment on her fashion sense (and the flourish with which she worked it).

She’s a sassy one in the making.  I love it.

So this is my current WIP (Work In Progress – I’m thinking I’ll go ahead and define the acronyms the first time I use them, since as a newbie I was lost). 

When I found Stefanie Japel’s Fitted Knits, her approach really clicked with me.  Smart!  Tweak your work to fit perfectly.  Not that you couldn’t mess around with it based on your own intuition and come up with a better fit, but this book makes you want to put significant thought into it ahead of time and get it right. Why wouldn’t you want to do this if you’re investing so much time (and money) in a project? 

Speaking of investing money, Stephanie established a lot of credibility with me by including reasonably-priced (yet still high-quality) yarn suggestions throughout the book.  If you’re feeling blingy you could always trade up to fancier fibers, but isn’t it nice to have a designer be down-to-earth enough to acknowledge her designs will work up nicely in a broad range of yarns?

I’m working on the Perfect Periwinkle Turtleneck Tube Vest (you’ll find an overview of the pattern and a nice write-up of the book here on Volkstricken). 

I like it.  The swooping line down the side from the neck down around the outside of the bodice has a very clean but sexy look.  Simple enough to wear under a suit jacket for work; kicky enough on its own to be a fun summer top.  I’m a big fan of turtlenecks.  I guess I just like the look. Even when it’s a sleeveless design (I have a few of these), it’s handy for layering – when it’s warm out, you’re cool enough with bare arms, but when the sun goes down a cardigan layer fits the bill.

This is the first top-down project I’ve done.  Very cool.  I like the idea of knitting it all in one piece.  I’ve gotten used to the idea of stitching seams (at first I didn’t realize that knitting almost always involved a bit of sewing) and I don’t have a problem with seams comfort-wise, but maybe I’ll get hooked.

I won’t lie to you – this pattern jumped out at me in large part because of the Periwinkle.  I’m a periwinkle freak.  I’m on a conquest to find the perfect shade, as I define it.  There’s a lot of controversy over what actually constitutes periwinkle.  I tend to consider Crayola the last word, but I haven’t actually gone back to check to see if my memory serves me correctly.  I’m kind of afraid to, since I’m very much enamored with the shade I have in mind (and I don’t know if I could allow my faith in Crayola to be tarnished over a misunderstanding here).

I have a suit jacket that I bought at Nordstrom years ago (gosh, that makes me sound really old) when I started my first verybusyandimportant job.  I have come to think of this jacket as the perfect shade of periwinkle, and will stop at nothing to find it in cozy lovely yarn.  I like to buy my yarn over the internet (which, by the way, it took me a long time to start doing), and sometimes I’m too impatient to get a colorcard, if one is even available, so after a lot of deliberation I usually just order it up and hope for the best.  I justify this because I know even if it’s even close I’ll like the color for some project or another.  Or maybe just for me to gaze at lovingly as a new entry to my blossoming stash.

I started with Baby Alpaca Brush in color 1620 (Baby Blue).  It looked a lot more periwinkle in one of the online pictures than it actually was, but what the heck – who doesn’t love baby blue?  (Note to self: if color is called Baby Blue, it might actually be baby blue).  I made a wonderfully soft sweater from the Yarn Girl’s Guide to Simple Knits and was very proud of my first true I’ve-cut-my-teeth-with-knitting genuine item of clothing.

Then I went with Morehouse Merino Farm’s bulky in Periwinkle.  Great yarn, really lovely.  I made a decadent sweater (Rowan’s Charity), but the color had a little too much purple to be my perfect periwinkle.

I’m not convinced yet that Cascade 220 can scratch my periwinkle itch – we’ll see.  I tried pretty darn hard to find a way to order a complete color card, and although there were a couple of recommendations I found online to track down the surprisingly obscure item, none of them seemed like it was any longer a viable option.  Weird.  After a while I cut myself off from looking; I was burning a lot of time (as I tend to do) in making a decision on what color to buy among the several candidates from Cascade that looked close.

After all that – for the Turtleneck Tube Vest project, I settled on Cascade 220 shade 7809 as suggested. It was called “periwinkle” by Fitted Knits, but I suspected would be on the purple-y side of my periwinkle. 7809 was labeled as “violet” or “light violet” by some vendors, and another called it “blue-violet”.    In any case it looked fantastic in the book (on the model anyway) so I just rolled the dice.

Indeed, it is on the purple side of periwinkle for me, but I really like it none the less.  I have to admit Cascade 220 is becoming a bit of a go-to yarn for me (I’m in good company).  I used the Superwash for the first time to make the Debbie Bliss Cable Baby Blanket in Cascade 220 color 836 (which was just the perfect not-too-pale but not-too-obnoxious pink I was looking for) and liked the texture and feel a lot for a new wool.  I also got into the Heathers collection with color 2449, which I used to make the quickie “weekend” tank top in my Yarn Girl’s book.  Good stuff, that Cascade.

Alas…the search for the perfect periwinkle continues, but I can’t say I’m not enjoying the journey.

Cara, that is.  I’m in a groovy kind of mood this afternoon, and I feel like waving my 80s flag around a bit.  I’ve decided that today’s topic is going to be (cue the Flashdance music):

Leg warmers.  Sing it to me, sister.

When I saw the pattern in Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, I felt the inevitable tug of bygone days: my bare feet dancing around on shag carpet with our “Thriller” album cranked up, my off-the-shoulder sweatshirt unraveling where I’d ripped off the arms, and my smokin’ hot leg warmers inking the deal.

It’s true that these really don’t even require a pattern, and in fact I didn’t buy the pattern (sorry, Joelle), but rather took the inspiration and ran: home to my leftover yarn from a previous project – Cascade 220 Heathers, in a nice shade of pink.  I dug the idea of adding some mohair as the pattern recommended, and added a darker maroon color that I’d snagged just one ball of during a major closeout at Webs.  Voila!

I’m off to a slow start in establishing credibility here with my knit-ability, but I’m easing myself into blogland here.  I am looking forward to getting my collection of happy projects out here to show you (and in time we may be close enough for me to share some of my flops).

Anyway, the leg warmers are completely freakin’ awesome.  I don’t care if they’re not back in as big of a way as they were before (although I’ve seen many a tween sporting a pair these days).  I wasn’t exactly pining for them, until I was seduced by the pretty photo.  In any case – why not indulge?  It’s so much fun.  I like them with leggings and ballet flats, or just to wear around the house (so warm! wool is so good at being warm).  I want to strut my stuff wearing them with a denim mini, but I need to wait until a) winter decides it’s done, and b) 10 pounds decide to drop off of my thighs.

Will report back to base with a photo if I do make it to the catwalk of downtown in the aforementioned mini.

So I’m a blogger!  It’s all terribly exciting, even in the absence of another living soul knowing about it yet.

My glee at this moment contrasts with years of wonder at what motivated anyone to author a blog.  It just seemed too exhibitionist, for the likes of the girl next door, anyway, to be an activity undertaken with such gusto by so many people.  Even allowing for the puppy love that struck so many, I couldn’t imagine how the upside could justify the effort in the long run.  Wasn’t this quite a time-sucker for these already busy people, plunking away every day on their blogs?

Ultimately, I stopped wondering. I became powerless to reason.  I fell in love.

The object of my affection made itself known to me quite unexpectedly, as is often the case with such things, one sunny Saturday morning as I was exploring a new neighborhood in the city.  I meandered in and out of little shops along the street, weaving through the happy coffee-holding, dog-walking, North Face-wearing people and landed in front of an endangered species:  the indpendent urban bookstore.

I stepped in.  I wandered through the neatly-displayed tables and shelves until I found myself in the crafty section, as I occasionally do in bookstores.  I picked up Built by Wendy’s Sew U and felt creativity start to tickle my brain.  I’ve dabbled in sewing, fueled partially by the embellished memory of past successes with sweat pants in Home Ec, but mainly by the ubiquitous Bernina of my childhood that churned out many a first-day school outfit by my mother’s capable hands.

I set Sew U aside to accommodate another book that had inexplicably jumped off of the shelf and into my hands.  The Yarn Girl’s Guide to Simple Knits.  Knitting.  It was always such a mystery to me.  How did they get the yarn to hook through with each stitch?  Shouldn’t there be some kind of hook involved?  Mom was a crochet kind of gal (after flirting with macrame in the late 70s), but even then, yarnplay took a back seat to the Bernina’s charms, and the wily ways of knitting were lost on me.

The Yarn Girls had compiled such a pretty collection of pictures.  These projects all looked so do-able!  And just my speed, fashion-wise: designs that were simple yet surprisingly sexy (like me, right?).  Anyone could learn, they said.  Well, I was a crafty person – I may not have hit the domestic mark *quite* the way my mother had dreamed, but there was still hope for me.  

Decision time.  Should I take a chance on this overpriced book, right here and now?  Even though my buddy Amazon could cut me a better deal?  The creative tickle in my brain teamed up with my inability to resist temptation and succeeded in permeating into the thrify section of my brain.  In the end, crafty won out.  I left the store beaming, with the Girls cozied up to Sew U in my shopping bag.

Teaching myself to knit was fun.  Not always pretty, but fun.  I didn’t even think to consult anyone else on my technique, because I was confident in my laser-like focus on my Yarn Girl’s how-to.  My early projects were very gratifying – look what my hands fashioned out of this oddball clearance yarn – a scarf! 

I consulted the internet here and there to seek simple (read: free) patterns and clarify a few things I managed to miss with the Girls (e.g., aha! that’s why my scarf was much bigger than anticipated…there’s something called gauge I need to consider).  In large part, however, I remained oblivious to the ginormous knitting community out there in cyberspace.  

Let’s just say it took me a while to find you.  Even though no one actually knows about me here.  Yet.