Its fleece was white as snow

August 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

People, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is: I’ve had the second part of the Mitten saga mostly done and in draft form for about a month, and with handing in my Bachelor’s thesis, the urge to procrastinate and write 1700 words on mitten cuffs has sort of evaporated. I’ll try and get to it sometime soon, I promise.

The good news is: not only did I get the Gryffindor mittens as far as I wanted to in time for Adam, but it was a very good thing I didn’t entirely finish them: I had to rip back the tips and add almost 2 cm to each hand to make them fit. I can’t even imagine the pain of unpicking the woven-in ends and splicing new yarn to the whole shebang.

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It’s really hard to find a flattering pose for both gloves and the recipient’s face. I managed to fail on both counts.

The best news is: within two hours of arriving in Leipzig in the middle of the night (i.e. 6.42 am) last Friday, Adam had learned the knit stitch, and over the next days proceeded to knit like a madman, first on a little green garter stitch practice swatch, then on a project that made not only me go ‘holy shit, now that’s one hell of a first project!’: Susie’s Reading Mitts. Even with substituting the picot edge for a more manly straight edge, those mitts have it all: working in the round on DPNs, knit, purl, increase, decrease, yarn over, counting rows, fixing mistakes, casting on and binding off, sewing a hem down on the wrong side… and probably a couple of other things.

When knitters will have taken over the world, I’ll have done my part. Nobody spends more than a couple of hours here without at least trying a couple of knit stitches, but to say that he took to it like a fish to water is sort of an understatement.

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I remain suitably impressed, as I wistfully glance in the vague direction of my abomination of a holey, green cotton garter stitch first-time scarf…

But yeah. Apart from showing him around the city (and boy, did I go all-out on that. I think the walking tour around the city center took a good three hours), I tried imparting as much knitting wisdom as I could: from how to use stitch markers to the brilliance that is the Yarn Harlot, from medieval knitting guilds to the boyfriend sweater curse, from how to wind yarn cocoons to washing your woolens, from the story behind the Spanish Armada shawl to how to spend more time on Ravelry looking at patterns instead of actually getting any knitting done. Although come to think of it, he didn’t need all that much instruction for that last bit…

I also took him for an afternoon at Annelie’s, where I quickly plied my yarn and then proceeded to coo over the baby and tell her the story of Bilbo and the thirteen dwarves, switching between English and German every time I was distracted or needed for some light interpreting, because I could never remember which language I’d started off with. My sanity didn’t take too well to the constant language mix – it’s a good thing I’m not becoming an interpreter after all. But spinning always makes the confusion a bit better. (Also, shininess.)

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Anyway. I had a wonderful time, and I hope he did as well. There’s a slightly upsetting lack of photos, since he doesn’t have a camera and I seem to have very localized dementia when it comes to gadgets, but I made sure to get at least a couple of us, over the roofs of Leipzig.

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And let me just say: I’ve never had quite as much alcohol in as short a time period as the last week. Holy moly.

Hope that you can keep it, my dirty little secret

June 9, 2011 § 7 Comments

(A short note before we start: if there’s anyone here who just wants to read the pattern notes or snag the chart, scroll down and click ‘read the rest of this entry’)

Blog, I have a confession to make: there’s a secret I’ve kept from you. Well, I’ve dropped the odd reference to a super secret project here and there, but fact is: the downside of knowing that people actually read your blog is that people actually read your blog, and if you want to keep a secret it’d be counterproductive, to say the least, to put it in your blog.

The thing is, I’m usually a terrible secret keeper. I guess I’d rank only marginally lower on the Most Inept Secret Keepers than Peter Pettigrew, because I love hinting and making other people anticipate whatever it is I’m planning that they can never know about. But this time, I kept my trap shut all the way; I’m seriously proud of myself. Neither I, nor Saskia with whom I collaborated on this, lost a syllable of what was going on. And it was really, really hard, because as the astute among you might have noticed, I’m slightly obsessed with knitting, and yarn, and when I love a project all I want to do is to post photos every other row to document my progress. I usually rein myself in just in time to spare you that painstakingly boring ordeal, but if you can’t tell anyone, the temptation becomes almost unbearable. But I persevered!

And now, you may wonder, what was this secret project?

It was a baby blanket. And it’s one of the most gorgeous things I have ever knit. Which is only fair, considering it’s going to the most adorable baby I have ever seen.

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I started knitting on April 21, but the plan to make a baby blanket is a bit older, and developed somewhere around the time we came back from Berlin. I’d found this gorgeous two-color geometric border in a Greek mosaic in a museum, and I kind of wanted to make this double-knit blanket with the border chart I’d created from the photos. This project, ultimately, fell through for two reasons: a) making the blanket in the 6-ply sock yarn I’d planned to use would’ve cost me well over €60, and b) I realized the baby was due the end of May, and the last thing it was going to need was a double-knit wool blanket.

So I put my blanket plans on the back burner and started on BSJs and hats and bootees like a madwoman, and it was all well until after our road trip to the Hamburger Wollfabrik, when Saskia purchased a cone of gorgeous, cream-colored cashmere/merino/silk yarn. And two weeks later, when she was on vacations with her parents, I found the perfect pattern: Quilt (Square Counterpane with Leaves) (or here for non-Ravelry folks), a gorgeous Victorian lace blanket knit in fingering-weight yarn, made in separate squares and sewn together, with a border that was picked up around the edge. This meant short rows and portability (at least for the middle section), and also that Saskia and I would be able to knit at the same time.

So I, and I’m not particularly proud to admit this, snuck over into Saskia’s room, grabbed the cone, slithered back into my room humming the ‘Mission Impossible’ theme, and cast on the first square. And finished that in about a day, then, without breaking the yarn and with every intention of ripping the thing back if she didn’t want to go along with it, I wrote Saskia an email with a photo attached and an explanation of what the hell I was doing with her yarn, and spent about a day agonizing about having to wait for her reply.

Fortunately, she loved it, and contributed not only the yarn and ribbon, but also a couple of squares and a row or two of the border. And even better for her, there’s enough yarn left over for her to make the shawl she’d planned for the yarn as well.

I was a bit anxious that we wouldn’t get done in time – what if the child came before the due date? – but my worries proved to be unfounded, to say the least: instead of two weeks too early, little Anna was overdue by more than a week.

And today, we got to meet her, coo over her, and finally give a still slightly groggy and sore but glowing-with-pride-and-happiness Annelie two bags filled to the brims with two jackets, three hats, a large blanket-pal rabbit with a truly enormous red bow tie (that one’s Saskia’s), several pairs of bootees, a bundle of mini-skeins of back-up yarn in case of accidents, and last but definitely not least, the blanket.

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(approx. 300 g of Hamburger Wollfabrik 50% cashmere, 35% wool, 15% silk 3-ply yarn, on 3 mm needles. Final measurements, approx. 1.20 m x 1.20 m. One square weighs about 22 g.)

I’d originally intended it to be something to wrap the baby in, or a pram cover, but somehow it turned out to be this huge, enormous thing that comfortably covers mother and child from shoulder to toes while nursing, which is, you know. Not the worst use for a blanket.

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Although I have a feeling I’ll regret my offer to wash and block it much sooner this way. Ah, the miracle of life.

Now, I have extensive notes on the miracles you can achieve with some yarn and an array of 3 mm needles, but I’ll put it behind a cut to spare those who aren’t prepared for 700 words of tips and annotations. That’s the kind of benevolent dictator I am.

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I feel the Earth move under my feet

May 16, 2011 § 2 Comments

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Do you know like we were saying, about the earth revolving? It’s like when you’re a kid, the first time they tell you that the world is turning and you just can’t quite believe it ’cause everything looks like it’s standing still. I can feel it – the turn of the earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour. The entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty seven thousand miles an hour. And I can feel it. We’re falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world. And, if we let go… That’s who I am.

These days I barely realize how fast time flies by, until another week has gone by and I’m going square dancing and barbecuing and doing yarny stuff over at Annelie’s and taking guided tours around my neighborhood and having business lunch with my friends and climbing up church towers and saving our little grill from the sudden downpour. My Ravelry project page certainly reflects that – I just updated it with a shawl I finished on April 4th, but other than that I just have a ton of half-finished projects flying around. I did finish the socks I started when I needed something to knit for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I back in, uh, November, and I’m almost done with a precious little baby set in red and yellow – it’s funny how Elizabeth Zimmerman’s patterns totally work if you actually follow them.

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Also, this week Annelie and I finally got around to dyeing some yarn, with easter egg dyes, Kool-Aid and onion skins. There was a whole rainbow of little skeins of wool that she’d inherited from her great-grandmother, and then five big skeins that we met up to untangle and wind into balls just yesterday.

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(from top to bottom: kool-aid, easter egg dye, onion skins first skein, onion skins second skein. yes, I am aware of the fact that these are only four skeins; Annelie had already started winding one)

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I love winding yarn into balls, or in my case flat yarn cakes that don’t roll around quite so absurdly. It’s a very social thing, absolute teamwork, with one holding the skein and the other one winding the ball, and while you’re connected to thousands of years of history, you have tons and tons of time on your hands to just talk. And with five 130 g skeins of fingering-weight yarn, that’s quite a lot of time. Good times. We split the onion skeins fraternally (or sororically) and are planning on a glove KAL; the blue-and-green skein is mine and mine alone, yes yes my precioussss, and Annelie promptly cast on another Baby Surprise Jacket with the Kool-Aid skein.

I cannot stress how heartbreakingly gorgeous the first onion yarn is. The second, paler one is still quite pretty, but the first one… It’s like spun gold. Which quite frankly I hadn’t expected from onions. Of all things, really.

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And so, life goes on and on. Down from the road where it began. (speaking of which, today is the first day of Sherlock shooting in Cardiff. I can’t wait for the second season!) There are two weeks left until the Wollefest, two months minus one day until I have to hand in my Bachelor’s thesis. And before I’ll know it, summer will be over and done with, and the leaves will turn to gold, and nothing gold can stay. I feel the earth move under my feet…

Jitterbug

April 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

“My father was a beekeeper before me, his father was a beekeeper before him; I wanna walk in their footsteps.” And their footsteps were like this: [running wildly from imaginary bees] “I’m covered in bees!” (Eddie Izzard)

Like all knitters, I’m fairly concerned about moths. And when I say fairly concerned, I mean absolutely hysterical if a moth just shows so much as the tips of its wings, regardless of whether it’s an actual wool-eating moth or just a butterfly that prefers to stay on the nocturnal side of things.

But apart from moths, I don’t have any particular beef with the generously-legged part of the world population, as long as they’re reasonably small, don’t try and suck my blood, and don’t flutter hysterically into my face. (Or are behind plate glass.) I have my windows open 24/7 as soon as the weather allows, so it’s only natural that between April and September, a fair share of small insects gets confused by my lamps and decides to pop by for a visit.

As far as insects go, my favorites are the stripey ones. Wasps just look really cool in their sleek, patterned body-armor. Bumblebees are fuzzy and adorable, and look ridiculous when their hind legs are so thickly covered in pollen they can barely lift off. And bees are also fuzzy, with the added bonus of making honey.

So when a bee flew into my room the other day, hung around under my desk for a bit and buzzed off again, I didn’t pay it much attention. And when it (or another bee with a very strong family resemblance) came back a couple of times, I still wasn’t worried. I was annoyed, yes, at some point where a bee headbutted me in the knee at 5.30 in the morning until I was very much awake (at 5.30. ngh.), but, y’know. What was a bee gonna do under my desk? Climb in through the back of my stash and build a hive? Absurd, right? Hah, hah, haaa…

My diabolical laughter suddenly rang hollow in my own ears. I opened the lowest drawer of the three, the one most accessible from the back, since the backing doesn’t go all the way to the bottom. I saw… nothing. Poked around a bit. Still nothing. Lifted up a bag of alpaca roving. Wondered whether alpaca roving was generally supposed to buzz, until a fairly enraged bee popped up and flounced indignantly out of the window, calling my mother names while doing so (I imagine).

Under the alpaca roving, there was a second skein of the yellow yarn I made the Swallowtail Stole out of, and nestled carefully among the eggyolk-yellow extrafine merino, I found this:

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I feel a bit conflicted, to be honest. I mean, obviously I can’t have a beehive in my room. But on the other hand, I’m destroying the work of what as far as I could tell was a single, lonely bee, slavering away for days and days, having found the perfect, cozy, dark spot with a narrow entrance and lots of space inside, and now trying to build a new future.

Still, I did the only sensible thing.

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HYSTERIC AMOUNTS OF TAPE.

Man, I could’ve shown you the cool stuff I ordered from Ravelry, or how I’m getting back in the lace groove, or the tons and tons of yarn I bought on our road trip to the Hamburger Wollfabrik. And what am I blogging about? Fuckin’ bees, man.

But hey, at least it wasn’t a moth.

Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms – Oh damn!

March 24, 2011 § 4 Comments

I’ve been taking full advantage of the beautiful spring weather. It’s been a balmy 15°C with lots of sun and barely a cloud in the sky, so yesterday while I had the Armada pinned out on my bed I went to the park with Saskia, to soak up sun and eat delicious Middle Eastern snacks while wearing a skirt, a t-shirt and ballerinas. After we had enough of the park we had coffee in front of our favorite café just around the corner from our house, and I didn’t even mind going back home because this is what greeted me when I stepped into my room.

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Turned out it blocked out to slightly bigger than 1.20m, but I could pin the slack down on the side of the mattress. Thank god for the aluminum rods! Using them on all four sides would’ve been too fiddly (not to mention the injuries I probably would’ve suffered from tripping over the two protruding bits) but two sides was perfect.

What I love about lace, apart from the general and obvious gorgeousness, is how small it folds. Even hairsprayed into oblivion (I’m paranoid when it comes to blocking and like to fixate with a bit – or half a can – of hairspray before pulling out the pins), it was still barely bigger than my Moleskine calender.

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And then today, I grabbed Saskia by the hair and dragged her down to the canal and forced her at gunpoint to model the shawl for me. I might have been more of an asking-nicely thing than brutal blackmail, but, y’know. Anything for a dramatic hyperbole.

Anyway, she did a beautiful job, and oh my, I’m so in love with this yarny monstrosity. It’s like the Big Green Monster v.2. I don’t even know how to wear it. But it’s amazing.

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So this is it. Spanish Armada by MMario with an edging by Utlinde (I’d love to link to the PDF, but I got it from her personally and it’s neither in her nor in Mmario’s patterns). This shawl measures approximately 127 cm by 127 cm (about 4’2″ by 4’2″) and was knit in 81 days with an entire skein of Filatura di Crosa Centolavaggi (100% merino, 1400m/100g, color 151), mostly on 3mm bamboo needles. I say mostly because for the last quarter of the edging, I gradually switched down to a 2.25mm DPN and one 3mm tip of the circ because yarn was getting scarce and I was getting scared.

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In the end, I was more than glad I went down a couple of sizes because I finished with nothing at all left over and a half-corner that consists of about half the short rows normally required. ‘Tight squeeze’ doesn’t even come close. I spent about a week frantically weighing and re-weighing the little ball of yarn that got even smaller at an alarming rate, and the adrenaline rush when I just barely made it had me woozy for at least half an hour.

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I cast on with Fleegle’s Cast-On For Circular Shawls, which is insanely difficult if you do it wrong and a revelation once you hold the yarn the way you’re supposed to.

[UPDATE: I saw that people have been searching my blog for a good way to cast on for this, and I’d like to add that while Fleegle’s Cast-On is awesome and I’ve used it many times to great success, TECHknitting has a disappearing loop cast-on that works the same way, only you can cast on an even number of stitches, eliminating the need to sneak an increase in somewhere.]

Modifications: I added one ‘leaf’ repeat to the Print o’ the Wave. I wish the chart had lined up so I could’ve changed some of the k2tog to ssk to get nicely defined lines like in the edging, but spilled milk and all that. I think I added about a repeat and a half to the English Mesh just for the heck of it, and skipped the very last chart in favor of the sideways edging. It was originally for a triangular shawl, so I stared with the middle row of the corner chart after the provisional cast-on. After the first corner was unsatisfyingly loose in the middle, I started to wrap & turn and do a [pick up wrap, k2tog] row instead of the charted middle row for the other corners and they came out much, much better. I had to fudge away a couple of stitches here and there and I’m pretty sure the amount of scallops is different on each side, but there’s enough of them for me not to be too bothered by that. The entire edging took 35g, but with two or three grams more there would’ve been a lot less stress and a much smaller number of shortcuts.

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Now that it’s all nice and blocked, the ratio between the Print o’ the Wave and the English Mesh doesn’t seem as off as it did pre-blocking, for which I am intensely grateful. At times, the only thing that kept me from ripping back half the edging, the Mesh and the extra repeat of the Print o’ the Wave was the fact that I was on an already tight schedule, and it turns out it works just fine like this.

I think this has been my most challenging project to date. This was partly due to the pattern being difficult to grasp intuitively, so that I had to work each row with intense concentration and even more intense counting. But although I’d knit lightweight lace before, I’d never worked with yarn that fine before: my usual lace yarns run somewhere around 600m/100g, and even Misti Alpaca Lace is only 800m/100g, which is still 600m less than the Centolavaggi. The thing that had worried me most, the >800-stitch-long rows towards the end, ended up being the least of my concerns. I’m not a patient person by nature, but with lace I can scrounge up a surprising amount of the stuff. Also Centolavaggi is a thoroughly enjoyable yarn to work with, I’m intensely glad I have another skein (apple green this time) in my stash. I guess since lace shawls are relatively impractical by nature (compared to, say, socks), I turn into somewhat of a process knitter when working on them, whereas with socks I have the biggest trouble psyching myself up for the heel because it takes so long.

Now, after all this serious!knitter stuff, for the most famous reindeer of all:

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What’s come over me? Whoo! Here it comes again!

March 22, 2011 § 11 Comments

Warning: this post contains a thorough bitching-out of a pattern. on the plus side, shawl pictures!

The trouble with resolving to wait with blogging until something has happened is that knitting is such a slow type of magic that sometimes it takes forever for something blogworthy to happen. Especially with lace, the progress feels huge but it would have been perfectly tedious to constantly update you with pictures like this one:

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No, really guys! I totally just finished another repeat of the badly-charted Print o’ the Wave!

But the miracle has happened: today is not only the second day of spring, but also the day I finished my Spanish Armada Shawl (aka Fear and Surprise, Surprise and Fear). It was the first thing cast on in 2011, it’s given me tons and tons of grief over the course of the last three months, and after a week and a half of hair-raising, paranoid border knitting that drove me to the brink of insanity, it’s DONE.

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I’ll be blocking it tomorrow, and preliminary, cursory pinning experiments suggest that it’s just barely small enough to be blocked on my 1.20 m (4′) wide bed. I can’t wait! But at the same time I’m extremely glad I have my aluminum rods for blocking, because bending over for an hour to individually pin down all those scallops (on four sides no less) isn’t exactly my idea of a fun day, if you catch my drift.

I’ll hopefully be posting beauty shots of the blocked shawl tomorrow or the day after, so let me voice my nagging here and now:

The finished shawl is gorgeous. Truly stunning, a joy to look at and touch and fawn over. It is, however, not remotely as fun to knit. In fact I’d rather pull my own teeth out than knit this, or any other pattern by MMario again. This is not because the different patterns that make up this shawl (Spanish Tile, Print o’ The Wave, English Mesh Lace) are particularly challenging, although the Spanish Tile is certainly a smidge tricky at times, mostly because it patterns on each row.

The problem with this shawl isn’t construction errors, or tons of misprints in the pattern. It’s the terrible, terrible charts. If you can even call them that. I realize I’m being harsh, and I’m sure the author has put a lot of effort into this design. I know charts can be tricky, especially if the beginning of a repeat shifts, like with Print o’ the Wave.

But here’s the thing: to me, as a knitter, the main purpose and the biggest advantage of charts is that they show what the knitting is supposed to look like. How everything lines up. How it all fits together to make a congruent whole. To enable me to spot knitting errors at a glance and to spare me the frantic re-counting and wondering if what I’m doing is right or if I have to tink back the entire 800-stitch row.

And these “charts” don’t. Or rather, the last two of them do, and the one I did was a simple 6-stitch two-row mesh lace, and, yeah,  I could’ve done that from written directions. The rest is just basically the written instructions rendered in symbols, including brackets to indicate things like (k2tog, yo, k1) 3x – although the author substitutes k2tog with N in the written directions for apparently no reason at all, and yo with O. (At least that one got a laugh out of me, because there’s tons of KOK in the pattern and I let myself be immature enough to grin at that.) Also, rows that are knit plain aren’t shown, except when they are, and if you’re anything like me and pay much more attention to the actual rows than the row numbers, that means tinking back a perfectly executed lace row because there’s supposed to be another two plain rounds in there somewhere.

My point being, the charts manage to completely miss the entire point of charts, which is probably an achievement in and of itself.

The Spanish Tile being tricky to chart I can understand, because the stitch count fluctuates hugely between rows and it would probably ridiculously complicated to get that into a coherent chart. But the botched Print o’ the Wave chart? Really? Seriously? Chart-making isn’t that hard. Especially for a pattern that’s been done about thirty zillion times since the dawn of time, where you could go and look at somebody else’s chart to see how they did it. As, by the way, evidenced in the exponentially better edging chart by Utlinde, where it suddenly all makes sense and is easy to commit to memory.

I’d love to rate this in Ravelry, but I honestly have no idea which criteria to use. Is the result gorgeous? You bet it is. Even if I threw off the ratio a bit by making the Print o’ the Wave longer, which wedges a relatively narrow piece of English lace between that and the edging, but I can deal with it and it’s my own fault anyway. But the charts are catastrophically bad, to a point where I’d rate it somewhere in the ‘pretty difficult’ range but then again the patterns themselves aren’t difficult per se, but just, y’know, badly charted.

So that’s that. Spanish Armada, baby.

***
In related news, I turned 22 recently and among other things got amazing handmade gifts from Annelie. She sewed me a fleece-lined green cowl that I’m sad to probably have to put away until fall – the weather has been absolutely stunning – but the best thing ever is the knitting bag she made me. I’ve been using it for Armada, but I’ll certainly get a lot of wear out of it.

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It’s such a clever design: one short handle you can twist, and a long one to stick through the loop. Snag-free due to a pronounced absence of zippers and buttons, reversible (the inside is plain green to match the cowl!), and just the right size for a shawl or scarf project, or maybe half a sweater depending on the yarn.

I’ll be casting on an orange scarf for choir once I’m finished blogging, so that’ll go nicely with the green. This bag shares the title of best birthday present ever with the pie dish I got from Saskia. Looks like I’m up for the Housewife Awards again this year.

You’re just a cannibal

March 5, 2011 § 5 Comments

It’s funny how I constantly blog when there’s absolutely nothing going on, but as soon as I’m actually doing stuff, all my motivation for keeping a log just kind of circles the drain.

The long-overdue Berlin recap: Berlin was four days of walking in the wrong direction, getting lost, discovering wonderful things because of a total lack of a general sense of direction, and buying lots of yarn and even more books. I have no sense of self-discipline, I swear. Also, we totally discovered a pub called The Oscar Wilde, and had a drink in his honor there.

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(Also, I tweeted Stephen Fry about it, and he tweeted me back saying he already knew it. On the other hand, HOLY SHIT STEPHEN FRY TWEETED ME BACK.)

We visited a total of three yarn shops: Loops at Prenzlauer Berg, Fadeninsel in Kreuzberg, and handmade Berlin in Mitte. All of them were amazing; Loops and Fadeninsel carried many of the same yarns including two different brands of laceweight (always a surprise to find), handmade Berlin was just stuffed with luxury yarns. Oh my. It was amazing, tons and tons of cashmere and silk and alpaca and stainless steel and paper and Fiber Artist and Handmaiden and more cashmere.

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(and this is just one wall, in one of two rooms. Heaven, I tell you!)

My total haul (minus a little skein of purple silk that I bought for Saskia; it was so slippery we didn’t manage to wind it into a ball):

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(clockwise from the top: Handmaiden Casbah, Blue Sky Alpaca alpaca/silk, rosewood 4mm circs, handmade Berlin Yarn Edition Scottish wool/linen blend on the cones, Sheepland lace yarn, ggh Baby Alpaca, Kia Ora NZ merino/possum blend). I’ve already knit up half of the Yarn Edition (more on that later.)

However, on the whole I went rrrrrelatively light on the yarn, because we discovered not one, but two full-size English bookstores: one inside Dussmann, and another one right across the street from Loops which happened to be a used-book store that was crammed full to the stucco. It was amazing.

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We went there twice, and I bought a total of eight (I could’ve sworn nine) books there, the most expensive costing €7 (that’s the Wilde bio), the others all under €5. The clerks were stupendously nice, and the beat-up chesterfield was the comfiest sofa I’ve ever sat on.

The downside: dragging it all back to Leipzig.

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Berlin also has a button shop that isn’t hard to find if you don’t first walk a kilometer in the wrong direction (guess how I found out). It’s also crammed full, which seemed to be an ongoing theme that I heartily approve of. It’s also very convenient to know there’s a button shop in a city closer to me than London.

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My special favorite are the two Aslan buttons. I almost keeled over with joy. The big horn one’s already on my Girl Friday cardi, and the three little sunburst buttons are also already on knitwear. (again, more on that later.)

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**

So that was Berlin. Since I came back, I’ve made some considerable progress on the Spanish Armada, I’ve finished the sock I started for Berlin and got regrettably little knitting time on while actually there, although I couldn’t yet be arsed to cast on its twin, and I’ve knit a pattern that is well-loved by many, and as I find out, for a reason. And that reason is that it’s so. damn. clever.

I’m talking, of course, about Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Baby Surprise Jacket. Annelie recently found out she had a knitting neighbor, who loaned her a couple of EZ books. And one of these books, I discovered to my endless delight, has the BSJ pattern in it. Hallelujah! After the disappointment of the Knitter’s Almanac not featuring it, that was a real miracle right there.

And the BSJ is kind of ridiculous, if you think about it. Actually, it’s ridiculous the whole entire time you’re knitting it, because you’re making this… this misshapen piece of fabric. Which looks so unlike a baby garment that the pattern specifically states, “Work will start to look very odd, indeed, but trust me, and PRESS ON.”

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The whole time I was knitting it, I was trying to figure out how to fold it, and only on the last third or so did it approach something approaching sensibility. But when you’re done, and you’ve cast off, the magic happens. You fold it…

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… and fold it again, and sew up the shoulder seams, and attach a couple of buttons, and holy shit it’s about the cutest baby jacket ever.

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It’s so cute that when I was done making it up and photographing it, I pulled out another ball of fingering-weight yarn and started casting on another one… and then gently reminded myself I had more pressing projects. I still see a couple more of these in my future though. SO CUTE. Both of my flatmates, upon entering the apartment and seeing the BSJ drying on the rack, dissolved into helpless squeeing. While sewing I occasionally caught myself cooing embarrassingly at the thing. It’s terrible.

So there’s that. BSJ, and I’m currently reconstructing the pattern of a shawl Annelie’s great-grandma knit way back in the day. It’s garter stitch, and my first try was knitting the center triangle and then knitting on the edging in two pieces. Turns out, when I was staring at it during breakfast at her house just after I’d proudly shown off my swatch, that it’s all in one piece, and still every bit as clever as I thought. Good times.

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