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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The oceans and pangea – see ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya

June 3, 2011 § 11 Comments

I haven’t written about the 4th Leipziger Wollefest at all, and it’s almost been a week since that particular event of the year. Truth to be told I’m still slightly overwhelmed – I haven’t even gotten around to unpacking and stashing my purchases yet, although that might also be attributed to a distinct lack of space.

I spent an awesome Saturday in the truly packed garden behind the Strickcafé. It was kind of insane – when we got there at 11am, the line to get in went all the way to the street. So many people. Even more yarn.

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Oh, and what yarn! I think apart from Wollmeise, all the major players on the German handdyer scene were there, and honestly, even the Wollmeise couldn’t have improved the yarn selection available. (Also, let’s face it: as breathtaking as her colors are, she isn’t exactly adventurous with her fiber selection. So, yeah.) (I don’t mean to snub her, really, but having Wollmeise available to me on a regular basis has sort of taken the edge off the hysteric fangirling.)

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I swear, the Dibadu stand was crowded all day. I have no idea how I managed to get this photo, but it had probably something to do with it being fairly late.

I was especially delighted to see the gals from DyeForYarn/DyeForWool, whom I’d discovered a couple of days before on Etsy, and one of which, as it turns out, wrote the pattern for the stole I’ve been planning for one of the yarns I bought in Berlin. Go check them out; they’re two separate stores, but they work together and they’re absolutely equally amazing. Both the yarns and the women. One of them was wearing a gorgeous blue shawl, and Saskia and I spent a good half hour debating which pattern it was. It was a good thing the Wollefest is one of those rare places where you can just go up to someone and ask about their clothes, and people are delighted instead of confused or freaked out. It also turns out that Saskia was entirely correct in her ‘Aeolian shawl with narrow edging’ analysis. I’d say that the student has surpassed the master, but I’m too petty for that. Also I’m still the better knitter. Neener-neener.

Anyway, my haul this year, overall a slight departure from my usual color scheme (i.e. no green this time):

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from top to bottom: dibadu BFL roving; DyeForYarn fingering-weight BFL; some dreamy orange alpaca/merino/silk lace yarn (from Kreativmitwolle) that was my first and most impulsive purchase of the day; blue/maroon/rust-colored merino lace yarn from DyeForYarn (again, I left a lot of money there); a gorgeous merino lace yarn from dibadu; four and a half cakes of Jamieson and Smith; and the breathtaking purchase of the day: a 70% cashmere/ 30% silk lace yarn from DyeForWool that I’ve been fondling to a point where I find myself creepy. It’s gorgeous, and smooshy, and most of all DISCONTINUED, which is the most magical quality a yarn can have. (They still have a single skein in a chocolatey brown in their shop. Act fast if you want it!)

What I like about the DfY/DfW crowd is that they give their yarns awesome names: they had an ‘Ex-Peacock’ that was named for the Dead Parrot Sketch (I asked); the merino lace is called Trauriger Harlekin (sad harlequin) and there’s a Death of a Harlequin colorway too; the cashmere’s called ‘fading lichen on a graveyard’ (I had to pull it out to verify. Excuse me while I go fondle my yarn. Again. Did I mention it’s discontinued?) and the BFL’s name is ‘Shadowstorm at dusk.’

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(in the background: Saskia’s Malabrigo shawl. It’s really soft. How I know? Well, let’s just say she does this thing where she comes up to you and very subtly announces ‘oh wow, this shawl I’m knitting is really, really soft TOUCH IT.’)

That one, by the way, was one of the two skeins Saskia and I wound to balls right there and then, chilling out next to the spinning wheels while Annelie was producing some wacky art yarn or other. People seemed to be confused by the fact that we were winding manually instead of using one of the winder/swift combos that were set up all over the place, but I like winding by hand. Although in retrospect it might have been advisable to wind at least some of my yarn with some mechanical support instead of insisting on winding three skeins of very, very thin lace yarn by hand. I kind of went on a lace rage there. Saskia also went crazy, albeit not quite as crazy as I did.

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But still fairly crazy. Wollum is never far away, no, he isn’t, my precioussssss…

Speaking of crazy. They had this awesome friendship spinning wheel there which I kind of want? Except let’s not kid ourselves, what would I ever do with it. Except brag about it to everyone I know, and some people I don’t, and land myself in a mental institution two months later. So, uh… maybe next year.

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It’s this ingenious contraption where one person treadles, but three people can spin at the same time. I don’t know how that would work out in reality – my passing acquaintance with a wheel has shown that regular stopping and seeing what the hell you’re doing is of utmost importance at least for a beginner – but apparently there are also wedding wheels, where the spinners sit next to each other, and that’s just too adorable for words.

But yes. I got to show off my Armada…

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… Annelie got to show off her mad spinning skillz and baby belly due to an evidently miscalculated due date…

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… and it turns out that as opposed to the Wollefest two years ago, where I had to cajole and threaten Saskia into going there to bring me more money, and she was bored out of her mind, this year she got to show off some lace knitting of her own and also do wacky yarn stuff with me.

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It turns out that if you don’t have any knitting friends, a little yarny bribery goes a long way in creating some brand new ones. In your own home! With items commonly found around the house! Go try it today.

Ooh, baby it’s cold outside

May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I knit a hat and a pair of socks.

It isn’t every day you get to say that, and this absolutely instant gratification is one of the reasons I’ve been bitten by the baby bug big time. Apart from alliterations, this induces major squee from all sides and even more frantic work that’s resulted in two jacket-hat-bootees outfits that are both as heartbreakingly cute as they are quickly knit. Also, being able to squeeze a whole matching set out of one ball of yarn? Is pretty fantastic, not to mention frugal.

However, before I start showing off my super-cute baby knits at length, I’d like to say a word about casting off. (Not a tutorial though; there are people who do that far better than I ever could, e.g. TECHknitting.)

Now, I’m a relatively loose knitter, which is why it always comes as a surprise to me that I’m a fairly tight binder-offer. This surprise is usually coupled with a tedious undoing of the cast-off edge, which is why I switched to the ssk-bind-off as a standard bind-off, i.e. [k2, * insert left needle into stitches on the right needle, perform the ‘k’ part of ssk, k1, repeat from *], and I’ve never had to worry about a too-tight cast-off ever since. But last night, I came across something I didn’t think I’d ever see in my life.

A cast-off that was too loose.

I was making Saartje’s Booties, which, by the way, are the manifestation of cute – except that the first one didn’t come out quite as cute as the ones in the pictures. Which was a shame, really, because we’re after all talking about bootees that are supposed to look like this:

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Anyway, in a rare moment of maturity I decided not to blame the pattern, but instead wondered whether it was maybe my fault. And also, because these things take two hours at most to whip up, I decided that I could always make three. And it turns out that what I got was this:

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That’s the first bootee on the bottom and the second one on the top. They’re identical except for the cast-off method. It doesn’t look like that big a difference, doesn’t it? Those couple of millimeters the cast-off was looser (and looser is better, right? Right?!) should barely be visible.

Well, let me show you the two of them side-by-side.

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So, what do we learn from this, I wonder? Well, first, trust your instincts. If it looks too loose, it probably is too loose. Second, sometimes the simplest approach is the right one. And third, for  future reference: If a pattern goes to the length to specify a cast-on or cast-off, by god, listen.

***

Anyway, so this is what the rest of the outfit looks like:

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That’s the BSJ I made back in March, then a Heartbreakingly Cute Pilot Cap from Knitting Outside The Lines (to keep in lines with the origami theme, albeit not with the garter stitch), and to finish it off, Saartje’s Booties (sans buttons). It’s all very plain, cute in its simplicity and clean lines (or so I like to think), and in a rather dreamy Scottish wool/linen blend I got in Berlin. I still have what feels like 25 g or so left, which is always nice.

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And that’s the other one! I’m not usually one to mix crafts – mostly because I hate crochet with a fiery passion that hasn’t abated much with work on this set, but it was totally worth it. This set’s even tri-craftual, with a bit of (very basic) embroidery thrown in just for kicks.

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Or tetra-craftual, if you count making Dorset buttons. Which, by the way, are super-fun, dirt-cheap, easy to make, always a perfect match for your yarn, and very well explained in this tutorial.

I might have mentioned the Heart Hat that gave me so much trouble – mostly because I’m a dolt who can’t read patterns – but it turned out rather well in the end, and I’m quite enchanted by it. It’s hopelessly anachronistic in its bonnet-style, but at least I didn’t make the one with the hilariously padded ruffle. (Now that I think about it, I might have to make that one though. I already pity the kids I might have someday.)

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And, of course, the wee shoesies. Those are rather ingenious, if I may say so myself – they’re mostly regular socks, except they’re knit flat (because I hate garter stitch in the round) and near- invisibly seamed up along the side.

So, yeah. It’s all slightly ridiculous and probably much too warm for the coming summer months, and by the time the weather will be appropriate, the kid will have almost certainly grown out of them. But I’ve had the pleasure of making them, and oh, what a pleasure it’s been.

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Now excuse me, I have some booties I’d like to cast on like a madwoman.

Starting now I bat a thousand

May 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Well, it looks like I’m starting to get my mojo back.

I’m sure everybody’s had that phase where all their knitting motivation was being sucked down into a black hole, and where their knitting progress was taking similar dark and dingy roads into nowheresville.

It’s the time where you open your stash cupboards and discover that despite several kilos of yarn lurking behind the harmless wooden façade, you have a big pile of nothing to knit.

Then you look through your pattern books and Ravelry and discover that every pattern in the world is too something: too fussy, too boring, too big, too small, too frumpy, too modern, too intricate, too plain, too triangular, too this-doesn’t-go-with-any-yarn-I-have or worst, too I-have-a-yarn-that-would-go-with-that-but-I-really-don’t-want-to-waste-it-on-that-because-it’s-not-the-perfectest-pattern-I-have-ever-seen-in-my-life.

And so I cast on a sock or two and trudged through my super-secret project – which was technically fun, but to someone who’s usually so meticulous about keeping their Ravelry project page updated, it’s just plain depressing to do so much work without being able to share it. (Because, well, that’s sort of the definition of super-secret.)

But then I finished the SSP on Tuesday morning and went to the pub with Saskia on Tuesday night, and since I didn’t have any pub knitting (because ugggggh, socks), I cast on Multnomah with my ocean-colored handdyed sock yarn. Which was technically not the best idea, because knitting with dark yarn and dark needles in a dark pub produced garter stitch that was positively riddled with mistakes, but on the other hand, I feel like this yarn must have magic properties. No, really.

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Magic. I’m almost done with what has to be the most entertaining garter stitch portion of a shawl in the history of the universe – I’m so charmed by the colors emerging and mingling and I know I’m blowing my own horn to the point where everyone around me (including myself) is starting to turn deaf, but, but… it’s just gorgeous. I’m in love. I have no idea how I did it, except that I dumped a lot (and I mean a LOT) of color on that poor skein of sock yarn, and that the amount of time it spent in the microwave would’ve probably roasted a whole turkey. (Well, almost.) And I can barely wait to start the feather-and-fan section.

So here I am, chilling on my floor since the SSP is currently occupying the sunny spot on my bed, ogling my pretty handdyed, and considering reprising this morning’s Best Breakfast Ever.

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(SpongeBob Squarepants bowl? check. Delicious oatmeal? check. Enough fruit to cover the whole bowl of delicious oatmeal, plus some chocolate? oh, you bet!)

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…

Ay, macarena

April 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

I don’t know what it is with this week, but knitting-wise, it’s been pretty meh. I have a Baby Surprise Jacket that I just need to sew together; I have a heart hat that somehow doesn’t work and I have a sinking feeling it’s not the pattern; I frogged my Sherlock scarf that I didn’t even take pictures of because the pattern and the yarn didn’t work together after all; I have a sort of awesome project going on that’s all hush-hush and classified information, so I can’t randomly post pictures and be excited about it.

I did, however, watch Annelie steek an Icelandic cardigan last night, which was more than a little insane. I have it here, in all its ‘holy mother of crap AND THEN SHE TOOK SCISSORS TO IT’ glory, so that Annelie could take a day off to breathe without being tempted to just get it over with. I dare not move it for fear I could destroy something (the one stitch I was coerced into cutting ended up being cut wonkily. so much for my steeking prowess), but here’s a picture of the pretty, pretty color. In situ.

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The bag it’s in, by the way, is my super-awesome Ravelry bag I got the other week. I’d ordered one for Saskia and one for myself, along with some stickers, and I’m pleasantly surprised at the fact that you can indeed stuff a whole, rather bulky sweater in there.

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Also, now I can finally tell my calender and my diary apart at a single glance. It’s scary how many times I’ve accidentally tried and packed my journal only to discover my horrendous mistake when I wanted to check my schedule or what I’m supposed to be doing or the million other things I put down in my calender. Because I’m lost without the damn thing. Especially in this semester of frantically running around the city like a chicken with its head cut off.

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So that’s what I’m posting now, instead of the super-secret project I’d much rather like to show off. Not that there’s tons to show off, but. I have a good feeling it’s gonna be totally awesome.

SPEAKING OF WHICH. I have no idea if there are any Gleeks who read this, but if there are, I hope y’all like Blaine. Cause look what I got the day before my Ravrav package arrived — what a week that was!

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Now I just need a blue blazer. After I finish the super-sekkrit project, that is. And finish the bazillion other things I have going on.

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.

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