Saturday, December 27, 2008

Getting a few things done...

Here's the wreath I made by twisting a few leftover Xmas tree branches around a coat hanger and anchoring them with tin ties.

Given the weather, it was a miracle that our visitors arrived more or less on time, their luggage intact. It has been wonderful to have another knitter around. My sister brought 3 pairs of loosely knitted slippers with her and we felted them in the washer. I've never had so much fun sitting around the basement. The slippers fit well, and will take the shape of our feet, but in the beginning they looked like they were made for the Cat in the Hat. I like them all, but especially the ones on the left. Which pair is your favorite?

I heard that a few of you tried making shortbread. How did it turn out? Is anyone willing to fess up in the comments?

I've finished the Lace Ribbon Scarf and sent it off to Ottawa with Christina. Poor thing. Her plane back across the lake keeps getting delayed in increments of 1 hour. Maybe we'll have her back for the night and felt the knitting needle case that she's been working on.

... and continued on with socks and the Hemlock Ring Blanket. I'm in the last 5 rounds before the long cast off. There are almost 800 stitches in each round. It's absolutely mind numbing. I think the colour change is working out though...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Getting in the mood

I've come to realize that wherever you live in a cold climate, snow is a much bigger deal if you are dependent on a car. If you live in the city and rely on public transportation, snow can be a pain, but it's not all that bad. I bussed it to work for 20 years and I still laugh when I see the reporters on TV standing in front of the local freeway, commenting seriously about 6 inches of snow. I am coming to realize why they do it though, now that I am more dependent on a car. Snow really does throw drivers for a loop. You have to worry about the condition of the car, the tires, gas, etc. It's taken me 10 years to get this through my noggin, but I think I'm finally catching up with the rest of the world. 

We had some intense snow yesterday but we were OK as we only live 8 minutes drive from work and have 4 wheel drive. If we had to we could have slogged home on foot. Personally, I love the snow. I do. Today, the sun came out and we enjoyed a bit of shoveling.

Then we drove out to get an Xmas tree.  

The prices have really gone up so we just go a smallish one that sits on a table top, just big enough to create the right atmosphere. At Powell's out on Marsh Road, they had a lovely fire going inside where you go to pay for your tree. I took some discarded branches to make a wreath for the front door.

Finally I could avoid it no longer and have started to clean the house. In the process of cleaning downstairs, I went through about 6 bags of knitting that were stuffed into nooks and crannies around the couch and put away a rather precarious pile of books and magazines. I found a tape measure (always a good thing), a tube of toothpaste and a shameful amount of yarn leftovers. I straightened out all the wips and put them in their own cloth bags which I then stuffed back behind the couch. Hah!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In Which Helen Tells How She Makes Shortbread Cookies (in great detail and without apology)

Someone will be interested in how I do this. If you are  not, then just blog on. 

Warning: butter is involved. In large quantities!

This is the one thing I still make around Xmas time. This recipe yields about 100 stars, diamonds, moons, etc.

I start with 1 pound of butter which I cut up into chunks and place into a large mixing bowl. I don't pay particular attention to whether it is cold or warm, but I think it's on the colder side when I do this...

These are fairly fine chunks. They don't have to be this small. Anyway.
Then measure 4 and a half cups of your favorite white flour, about a half a cup of ground rice and a cup of sugar.  The faint of heart should move on now. If the butter is unsalted, then I add a bit of salt at this point.

An aside about Ground Rice: This ingredient is no longer available in North America ( if it is, then I want to know where) but it is not strictly necessary to the recipe. You can replace it with another half cup or so of regular flour. Don't bother with rice flour. It's bogus. Ground rice really improves the sandy texture of the shortbread. This year, I bought Ground Rice in the Good Life shop in Wooler, but in the UK you can buy it everywhere. In Montreal, they used to sell it in the Steinberg's in Westmount but they stopped carrying it there in the 1990's. I have bugged the Wegman's folks here in Rochester with no success. It did occur to me when  put this into my suitcase that it looks a bit suspicious but nevermind. So far it has come through unscathed...

Sift the dry ingredients into a big heap over the butter, in no particular order.

Take a medium sized knife and cut said dry ingredients into the butter until the pieces of butter are quite small, rotating the bowl as you cut. Aim for pea sized, but just do it for as long as you can bear it. Stay calm.

Now, give your hands a thorough wash, remove any rings and bracelets that you may be wearing and dig in. Knead the dough slowly but surely, just like you're making pastry, until the butter absorbs all the dryness and the dough can be shaped into 3 or 4 large balls. This could take 10 or 15 minutes.

An aside about methods: Don't even talk to me about machines to do this. I come from people who couldn't bring themselves to buy a refrigerator as recently as the 1980's. Lalalalala...

Pastry making is the Pilates of the kitchen. Some people hate doing it. They try it once and quit with aching muscles, declaring it a failure. Be patient, move intentionally and rhythmically and think about something nice, maybe about your knitting. If your hands or arms hurt, just stop and look out the window for a bit. Then have another go. Don't despair, the butter WILL eventually absorb everything without the need to add liquid. You can do it.

Once it becomes sticky like this...

...then push it together into 3 or 4 large balls, cover the bowl with a tea towel and set it aside in a cool place to stand for about an hour. A cool corner of a back room will do. Only use the fridge for this if your apartment is really hot. Houses aren't hot these days, are they?

Prepare an area on the counter or table to roll it out. If you don't have a rolling pin, use a cold  bottle of wine. Spread a little flour on the surface and get out one of your balls of dough. It will require a bit of handling before it warms up again and you are able to roll it out to a thickness of your liking. Don't panic. Just keep picking up the pieces and rolling them out again.

I like to roll it out to about a quarter inch thick or less, before I start using the cookie cutters on it, but some people like it as thick as a half inch or more. 

These people are traditionalists. They roll the dough out, put it into a pan and then cut it up into fingers after it's baked. Some people, like my sister Christina do this. It's delicious.

I give a lot of shortbread away each year, and I don't want to kill anyone, so I shape the dough into many small cookies.... 

This year, my lovely neighbour Emily gave me a new cookie sheet. Message received. 

I bake my cookies at 325 F for 5 or 6 minutes, just until I begin to see a faint, slightly darker outline around the edges. You have to watch these things like a hawk or they burn.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's all worn off...

... the effects of my wonderful October vacation, that is. My vacation glow lasted until Thanksgiving week, when I caught a bad cold, now more or less gone. I'm left with sore ribs on one side. Coupled with dark cold weather, lots of spreadsheet duty at work, and waking up in the middle of the night with a pain in the side, I became convinced that I'd be lucky to get off with walking pneumonia at best. Lung cancer, more likely. 

I've had this feeling before. I usually ignore it and it goes away, but this time it was quite severe, so I went to the doctor. After much poking and prodding and running up and down the hallway with something attached to my finger, the doc informed me that I have inflammation of the ribcage cartilage. 

Go home and take ibuprophen, you've been coughing too much. 
I have Not been coughing. 
Well, sometimes people get it without coughing. 
What else makes them get it?
Well, maybe nothing at all, it just happens.
Could you get it from Rolling Like a Ball?
Say, what?
It's an exercise where you curl up and roll back to strengthen your core...
Well, I suppose it's possible.
Oh, well then I won't do it...

Nifty the way I worked that out, eh? I hate Rolling Like a Ball and I am glad not to do it for a while. I do like most of the other Pilates exercises. I go away feel nicely stretched out and relaxed. 

On the knitting front, I've also hit bottom. I abandoned all my projects and knit 4 good hats and then 2 not so good ones. A kindly knitter at the RKG talked sense into me on Monday night.  I had started another 1840 Nightcap using Sockotta on size 2.75mm (2 US) needles. "It's a bit too open, isn't it? Even for a chemo cap.." She was very gentle. I put it away.

The next day, I took the little boy's sock that I had been working on for a colleague's son with me to work. The son was there and he tried it on. Skin tight it was. It would have fit him until New Year's and that would be it. Into the frog pond it went.

I started another nightcap, a plain one for someone who has been bugging me about it for months. Another hat on the needles. It must be finished by Monday. 

I also continued work on the Ribbon Lace Scarf but am not enjoying it. The Malabrigo Lace yarn is very fine. This project feels endless but I know it will look stunning. I am sticking to it as it's my one bit of Xmas knitting and it must be finished . 

Somewhere, I have a sweater body and arms, knit in the round up to the part where all you have to do to finish it is the fair isle yoke...

At one point, I picked up the near finished Hemlock Ring Blanket. I only have about 40 rounds left before casting off. Figured I'd get a lift from that - a quick finish. Not. I ran out of yarn. 

I did do a few Xmas cards and made a list of everywhere that has to be cleaned and everything that must be done before Christina (my sister) and Nadia (my daughter) arrive.  

In my mind, I'm very  organized. See how I keep a positive outlook? Nifty, eh?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Dark Side?

I forgot the current nightcap (a plain blue one for a man to wear at night) in the car and now it's locked up in the freezing garage. I'll have to start another and retrieve that one tomorrow. Or Monday.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mittens in the Mail

Primetime Knitter is a modest and shy soul, but I'm going to thank her here on the blog anyway. 

Sarah Southgate  of the RKG wrote me last night to let me know that Primetime's Target Wave mittens have arrived here in Rochester, NY. A good home will be found for them. I understand that we now have met our goal of 300 mittens for the schools. We can now stand proudly with the knitters of the 1930's

If any of you Rochesterians out there who are reading this, know any details of the mitten distribution to the schools, please do write something in the comments.  I'll see what I can find out at the Guild meeting on December 8th.

Many thanks, Marjorie for your contribution and  inspiration! Here's a summer's day for you. Wish I could give you a real one!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Noro Nightcap

Yes I did.

Can you recognize the 1840 Nightcap pattern in this winter hat? As Franklin suggests in the pattern instructions, there are many possibilities. I made a few modifications.

The yarn is some kind of Noro, knit with a strand of Be Sweet Extra Fine Mohair. I'll have to look at the tag to see exactly which kind. It's around here somewhere. Oh. Oh. Oh.

The hat is knit over 91 stitches. I tucked up the edging and hemmed it under so that it looks like it's peeking out from underneath the brim. I used the double knitting stitch on page 26 of Barbara Walker's First Treasury to knit a hatband out of some leftover Regia Silk sock yarn. When the band got to be about two inches wide, I knit the live stitches of the band onto the inside of the hat, along the edge of the folded brim, taking care to spread the finer gauge stitches of the band evenly around the bigger gauge knitting of the hat itself.

Knitting this hatband was very fiddly. The double knit stitch has two rows over an odd number of stitches. The first row is k1, sl1, end k1. The second row is k1, p1, end k1. It seems to grow very slowly because of the row with the slipped stitches. Try this with leftover sock yarn on size 2 mm needles. Gads. It's like knitting your own waistband elastic. The resulting fabric is luscious and thick, however. Just the thing to keep the ears warm.

For the peak, I did a four point decrease. Here it is stretched over the fruit bowl...

And that Russian knitting news I posted about last time? Nasty business that. Reminds us not to take our knitting too seriously.

I only have one project on the go for a Christmas present so I'm not under too much pressure. It's Veronik Avery's Ribbon Lace scarf from the Spring 2008 Knitty. I'm using Malabrigo Lace yarn. Veronik says says it's a small project and equates it to sock knitting - something you could take out and knit when you have just a few minutes. I'm not finding that. It's taken me quite a while to memorize the pattern completely. I need a cheat sheet for it.

Makes me want to get shod of some of these cardigans that are weighing on my conscience and get back to lace shawl knitting.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Moscow Knitting News

Here's a loose translation of an article from


Moscow Knitting Class Robbed

Two residents of Moscow's Northern District have been charged under article 162 of the Criminal Code (robbery). As reported on the website of the Moscow police department, a 73-year-old retiree and her daughter robbed an organization offering knitting classes.

The retiree and her 35-year-old daughter appeared at the office at No. 1 Yamskoe Pole Street and demanded the return of 10 thousand rubles (about $400) the daughter had paid for a program because she wasn't happy with it.

A secretary, who was alone in the office, suggested the women request reimbursement in writing, which would then be passed on to the management. Instead, the retiree took out a taser and attacked the secretary. The women left, taking a purse containing 34 thousand rubles (about $1200).

The police detained both women.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hats, Hats, Hats

I'm up to 4 and a half hats by and have 3 to show here. They are all for a friend in Montreal, a librarian who first hired me as a student back in the dark ages of print indexes and rubber modems with receivers that looked like suction cups. She is now undergoing chemo sadly, but never mind. I hope these will cheer her up.

The first is a tidy little red number in Katia Mississippi 3, a fingering weight cotton acrylic blend. This should be very practical.

This green lace hat is more glamourous. The yarn is Louisa Harding Nautical Cotton. The woman in the yarn shop said, "I wonder why they call it "nautical?" and looked at me. I didn't say anything then, but now I know. I think it has something to do with it being a bit like rope, beautiful, shiny, shapely rope, yes. But nonetheless it does have rope-like qualities. It was a bit hard on my fingers, but it was worth it in terms of the texture, unlike some cottons which just lie there afterwards looking like washed out garments from the Sally Ann, even before you've worn them once. Cotton is tricky, isn't it? The pattern is the Complimented Lace Hat.

The third hat is for fun and comfort too. Here is my 1840 Nightcap. I used Cabin Fever's Cotton Tweed, another cotton acrylic blend. A nice one. I bought it at the Guild meeting last month when the Fever Sisters were down from Orillia to tell us what's what.

I cast on 117 stitches instead of the 208 called for and used a 3.5 mm needle. I'm planning on knitting it again as a winter hat (maybe in some kind of Noro, knit in with Be Sweet mohair?) and adjusting the top so that it's slouchy and rounded. Theoretically, one could put ribbons or i-cord through the eyelets. The edging and eyelet sections shape the hat.

I'll mail them all as soon as the glamourous one dries.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lost it

The first time I saw an email telling me about Daily Lit, I deleted it. The whole idea of reading a novel on email seems anathema, abominable, even blasphemous, doesn't it? Well, I've caved. I've signed up.

Essentially, Daily Lit is a service that sends you a few paragraphs of a book each day on email. You select the title (many are free) and tell it when and how often you want to receive installments. The default is daily. When you finish your daily bit, you can click on a link and have the next day's paragraphs sent to you immediately. 

I'd been trying to re-read The Pickwick Papers in connection with a translation I'm working on, but I wasn't not getting anywhere with it. The Pickwick Papers, that is. So I've signed up for Daily Lit and will see how it goes. No guarantees.

Unable to leave it at that, I just noticed that on Librivox, which provides free audiobooks from the public domain, read aloud by volunteers, you can now have a chapter a day sent to you. I signed up for that too. They have many options.

In knitting, I've also wandered off my set path and am now producing hats. I've lost track of the cardigans I was working on for the time being. Having finished 2 quick chemo caps and several pairs of socks, I am currently knitting Franklin Habit's 1840 Nightcap.  I had a skein of Cabin Fever Cotton Tweed (45% cotton, 55% acrylic) that I wanted to try out and know a few people who are probably just desperate enough to wear a cosy nightcap. I'll tell them they can wear it while watching Masterpiece Theater or something. Honestly, even though I'm in the last quarter of the knitting, I'm not sure how it will look. The edging is somewhat larger than Franklin's.

It's a DK weight and the pattern calls for something that knits up at 8 stitches to the inch. The edging motif is a 1 stitch repeat and once you get past that it just has to be divisible by 4 so you can pretty much figure it out through swatching.. I was getting 5.5 stitches to the inch with my Cabin Fever on 3.5 mm needles so I adjusted the pattern by casting on 117 stitches. Sorry no pictures yet.

Snow is back on the ground here in Western New York.  

Sunday, November 9, 2008

On the needles

I'm not as far along with my knitting as I thought I would be but this is not unusual. I thought I would finish the Heart and Sole socks at the conference and start another pair. I thought I would finish the cardigan fronts that I was working on and  cast on for the sleeves. No and no.

I did quite well with the cardigan fronts, finishing them off on the flight back from Charleston, but I left the printed pattern in my luggage and I couldn't remember what to do about the sleeves so I read a book, Virginia Nicholson's Singled Out: how two million women survived without men after the First World War.  This is a very interesting book, written almost entirely as a string of anecdotes. This makes it a good book to dip into and put aside. I keep flipping to the index and the notes were, fortunately, published with the book and not slung out on a web site somewhere. 

The print in my paperback copy is very tiny. I can't wait for my new glasses to come later this week. Anyway, this book is keeping my attention partly because I am so often reminded of my grandmothers and their sisters. Grandma Tina started a typing business in the 1920's or early 1930's and employed women at typing up electoral lists, advertisements, etc. The anecdotes in the book allow one to fill out some of background of the lives of one's own relatives, as least in imagination. I link to the Amazon UK site here because the reviews are more interesting than on the US or the Canadian Amazon. Also, the British edition has a slightly different subtitle. 

So here are the pieces of the cardigan so far. I am putting my trust into the anonymous designers of Twilley's of Stamford, but I do wonder whether this will fit or not. I also wonder how the colour pooling will seem when the different pieces are out together. I'm not going to worry about it nd that's that.

I didn't finish the socks either. I'm coming to the outside part of the skein of mohair and it's coming out a bit tangled. It requires occasional massage to make it come out straight and that is what has slowed me down. Looking at this picture makes me wonder if I wouldn't be better off inserting something into the center of the mohair skein to keep the thread unravelling neatly rather than pulling off in bunches.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Playing Hooky

I'm posting from the airport at Charlotte, North Carolina, on my way home from the Charleston Conference. This is the best connectivity I've had all week.

I was in Charleston for voting day, which was so exciting for everyone. I watched from my hotel room and went out into the lobby after 11 thinking it would be packed with revellers but it was dead quiet. I guess South Carolina is a red state. Anyway, I later had several exciting conversations about it with taxi drivers. People are really happy and hopeful.

To prime ourselves for our own presentation, my colleague and I went for a walk along The Battery. It was a beautiful day.

On the way back uptown, we stopped twice. First, we practically stumbled across the Unitarian churchyard.  We found it only by peering down a leafy narrow passageway and then daring to go in further. Annabel Lee of Poe's poem supposedly haunts this place...

Then we stopped at Knit on Wentworth Street. Of course we did. I finally bought volumes 1 to 3 of Nora Gaughan, some wooden needles for a sick friend and 2 skeins of...oh dear, I can't think of the name. Beautiful indigo laceweight merino though. Right. Malabrigo, that was it. They have obscenely overflowing bins of Malabrigo and Koigu. We ran into FiberLibrarian 
and had a good chat with her. Running out of battery power so I'll stop here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Catching up

Wow! While catching up on posts I missed on my favorite blogs, I see that Prime Time Knitter has posted about mittens she is knitting for the Rochester Knitting Guild mitten drive! 

Thanks, Marjorie. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Time is going by so quickly. I'm home for just one week before going to a conference and there's so much to do. A few too many things on the old to do list, ya know. 

Still. I do feel nice and relaxed after my vacation. I've started on my own pair of mohair/sock yarn socks and I'm on the second one of the pair. It's gotten cold here and I've gotten all my hand knit socks out to wear. They're not for everyone, but those of us who like to wear them, really like them. They are so cosy and comforting. 

Here I am using Red Heart Heart and Sole sock yarn, purchased at Michael's. It's very much like knitting with Regia.

What did I knit while away? Well, not as much as I thought I would. I took the Pine Tree Palatine with me in my hand luggage, taking the needle out and putting it onto a piece of yarn instead. Waste of time. Didn't touch it. 

Aside from finishing Michael's After Golf Socks, I knitted the back of a cabled cardigan using Stylecraft Freedom Spirit, shade 506 (Air) and have now started on the fronts. It's more or less a light blue yarn. It's what I expect Lopi Lite would be like. It wouldn't pass Marian's strength test, but once it's knit up, it's seems very nice. I bought it at The Wool Shop in Alnwick -  a very nice shop. The pattern is one of those where they expect you to knit it exactly as they say, counting row by row, rather than telling the knitter, do so and so until the piece is such and such a length. I'm finding the row counting very difficult. It's going quickly though. After this, I should get back to the Wedgette, really. Then theoretically, I will have added two nice pieces to my wardrobe.

Must. Not. Get. Distracted.

The weather here is turning cold. We even had snow flurries today. There is much work to be done in the garden, cleaning up and getting ready for Spring. I may have lost the Dahlia roots. There were reportedly two hard frosts while I was away. Oh, it went by so quickly. I wish I had had time to get together with you, Helen, Anne and Jo. Where did the time go? Don't worry, I'll be back!

Here is a photo from our Sunday walk around the Quaker Pond trail at Mendon Ponds.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Home again, home again...

I'd been hoping to post more while I was visiting my Auntie Margaret in and sister Frances, but it wasn't convenient due to dial-up and a wonky modem. Wherever the past two weeks went, they went very quickly. I had a very relaxing time and feel ready to face the world. That might be a dangerous thing to say. Let me take it back!

I split my time away between Northumberland and London. First, let me say the the socks I made for Auntie Margaret and Michael were a big hit. Remember how I knitted in a strand of fine mohair? I finished Michael's the day before I left for London (Thursday) and left them on his chair a bit damp. As we set out for the Alnmouth train station, I noticed that he had them on the dashboard. He had spread them out there to dry with the intention of putting them on later in the afternoon after his golf game, at which point his feet would be cold and wet. Well, he was still wearing them when I returned 5 days later. Hmm. What better compliment could I wish for?

Auntie Margaret reports that she has put her pair through the washing machine with no ill effects. I've started a pair for myself as I still have a good bit of the mohair remaining, pairing itthis time  with Red Heart Heart and Sole sock yarn. It would be nice to get a pair of gloves out of it too. Now I'll shut up about the socks.

Northumberland is an incredibly beautiful place. Like the Canadian Maritimes however, generation after generation has left for economic reasons. People  have mixed feelings about returning, saying it's very bleak, etc. Most families have relatives in Canada, the US or Australia. Those who remain are not unhappy with this state of affairs - the less people, the better, they say. 

In the Fall, a series of village fairs culminates with the Alwinton Show. This year, it fell on October 11th and as usual featured sheepdog trials, terrier races, wrestling matches, and the like, including an industrial crafts tent where entries are judged. It's kind of like the county fairs in the US, but with less rides. 

Oddly, sheep featured hugely, but no one was selling yarn or fleeces that I could see. If I missed it, it must have been quite a minor endeavour. Here are some pics I took of the entries in the Industrial Arts Tent. Sorry I missed the carved walking sticks. 

May I say that if it weren't for a certain Mrs Marshall, knitting would have been poorly represented indeed.  She won in almost every category. There was only one pair of Gent's Socks entered. Northerners, get knitting!

I think the tea cosy I knit this summer could have contended with this lot...

Some knitted dolls...

I like the stitching around the raglan seams on this winning pullover:

And here are some cute hats...

The fruit and vegetable creatures are always fun:

And check out the serious veg...

Auntie Margaret and I concentrated on the terrier show and races. Everyone brings their family dog and has a blast. It's a party for terriers, really. Here is our Fudge prematurely trying to snatch the fox tail on her way to the starting line:

Fudge won her first race but then got off to a bad start in the final. She is getting older and will soon be joining these retirees on the sidelines:

Here's a photo of the course itself, with the pups leaping over the barrier.

I don't know about you, but I'm going to get back to my knitting now....

Monday, October 20, 2008

Big Baby in the Big Smoke

We're in England this week. Down in the Big Smoke for the craft show, Origin, me an' Big Baby. I was last here in 1991. Back then, when you washed your face after a day out, the water down the drain was black with grime from the air. London was famous for it's smog, but no longer. Makes me feel like Rip van Winkle (not unusual for me, I'm finding). I've been wearing Big Baby, my February Lady cardigan, every day and she's proving herself to be very adaptable indeed.

Anyway, we've been all around, Big Baby an' me, notably to the posh craft show Origin at Somerset House. Here we are at left, leaving our mark in the crafting space. Passers-by were invited to write a phrase on a pice of translucent ribbon and weave it into a 3.6 meter high wire frame.  I contributed "Stitch by Stitch," not very original, but I wanted to keep moving and take in the rest of the exhibits.

My sister Frances and I visited during week 2 (the exhibitors change each week) and made a beeline for the textile exhibitors. To be brief about what appealed to me: lace stitches knit up in fine yarns on a machine, left unblocked and then lightly felted. Picture the Fir Cone stitch. Never mind, just Google it. More later.