Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mea Culpa

It's not that I haven't been writing (or knitting) but I'm having trouble balancing the demands of writing for a living and writing for three different blogs. The truth is I'm probably a natural one-blog-is-more-than-enough girl but somehow I've found myself committed to three of them. One is my non-knitting blog. One is the blog nine other authors and I launched a few weeks ago called Romancing The Yarn. And then there's this one.

I can't for the life of me decide what knitting chat should go here and what should go in RTY. I feel like I'm shortchanging this one when I ignore it. And I feel like I'm not holding up my part of the bargain if I shortchange RTY. I guess I'm going to have to start copying posts between the two in order to keep up.

Today's mail delivery was like a visit from Santa. Two of Lucy Neatby's brand new knitting DVDs arrived and I'm beside myself with anticipation. I've sworn I won't touch them until I finish the novella I'm writing but I'm not quite convinced my will power is up to the task. Dallas sent the Vogue Knitting on the Go Shawl book, the one with the gorgeous bright multi-color pinwheel delight on the cover. Be still my heart! She also tucked in two skeins of Regia Bamboo which boggles the mind much as Soy Silk does.

Oh, brave new world! Can you believe there was a time when the only yarn on my horizon was Red Heart?

Now I don't mean that as an insult. I remain a stalwart and devoted supporter of Red Heart. I've spent many happy hours working with their various yarns and think Baby Clouds is probably one of the most difficult washable yarns to crochet with on the planet. I've made a number of baby blankets with it and the comments, much after the fact, are always the same: "The baby cuddles with it all the time!" Isn't that the point? If the baby loves it, I am beyond delighted.

And have you felt the stuff? It is SOFT. Wonderfully soft. Washes and dries like a dream. And looks scrumptious all done up.

Yes, I love my Noro but my Heart will always be a little bit Red.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

REVIEW: Why You Need Wendy Knits (The Book)

There's good news and there's bad news.

The bad news? I'm not an impartial reviewer. I'll admit that right up front. I've been an avid reader of Wendy Knits (The Blog) for three years now and I had extremely high expectations for Wendy Knits (The Book.)

The good news? Wendy Knits (The Book) exceeds those expectations.
I thought writing this review would be a snap but to my surprise it's turned out to be a whole lot harder than I thought. What can you say about a book that works on every level? Not much, as it turns out, besides a loud and enthusiastic, "BUY THIS BOOK NOW!"

Wendy Johnson is an extraordinarily gifted knitter. Visit her blog and you'll see examples of lace work that are otherworldly in their beauty and perfection of form. She is also a gifted and talented designer. Flip through the pages of Wendy Knits (The Book) and you'll find patterns for everything from delightfully simple scarves to classic tank tops and pullovers to the wickedly intricate Grape Arbor Shawl.

But here's where Wendy separates herself from the other wonderful knitters out there: Wendy has the ability to explain the most complicated knitting maneuver in clear simple language that even a terrified beginner can understand. The patterns are well-thought out, beautifully written, error-free, and it that's not enough, she offers charts, too. What more can a girl ask for? I hope this is just the first in a long line of knitting books by Wendy Johnson. Wendy could easily do an entire book on the mysteries of knitting lace, another one on socks, maybe one on various Scandinavian techniques. The list is endless as is her talent. But I do have one complaint: if ever a book cried out for color photos and hardcover treatment, this is it.

Wendy Knits is truly one-stop shopping for beginning and experienced knitters alike. I was a Wendy fan before and I'm even more hopelessly devoted now. Spend a few minutes with this book, a pair of bamboo needles, and a skein of something luscious and you'll be hopelessly devoted too.

(And no, I'm not related to Wendy. I just know a great knitter when I see one.)


Sunday, July 23, 2006

My Self-Control Ends Today

I have a confession to make: it's been over one week since I picked up a pair of needles.

You see, I'm kind of an all-or-nothing kind of woman and that defect in my personality really comes to life when I'm knitting. When I start I can't stop. I'll knit until my arms fall off, my family starves, we run out of clean laundry, the bills go unpaid, my books don't get written, I run out of yarn. (Run out of yarn? Have you seen my stack? Can't happen.)

Anyway, I had revisions to finish on my March 2007 book and it was either find myself sucked into finishing the second Bulky Fixation sock or actually doing my work. Now I'm not particularly virtuous by nature but the Muse was on my shoulder for a change (I think she must've locked the Demon Internal Censor in the basement) and I knew what I had to do: hide the knitting and embrace the laptop.

So I did. The revisions are finished. Yes, I have another project in need of my full attention but right now, this afternoon, I need a knitting fix and I need it bad.

I make my living with words but I can't even come close to expressing the deep comfort, the thrill, the sheer encompassing delight I feel when I'm knitting. Is it the feel of the needles in my hands? The beauty of the yarns? The way a pattern engages mind and soul and body all at once?

I haven't a clue.

All I can say is I've missed it terribly this past week and am hereby cutting this post short: I have a sock to finish.

This is a big needle afghan I made for a close friend's new grandson last year -- Light & Lofty yarn on #17US; Light & Lofty crochet edging. Yes, it goes all the way around; I think I folded it in half to take the photo. Pattern from the book Big Needle Knit Afghans by Jeanne Stauffer.

VIP: Check for errata!

Barbara Bretton

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Goldisox Rides Again: A Rant

I have nicknamed my beloved husband Goldisox. He isn't crazy about the nickname but even he has to admit it fits. This Search for the Perfect Fit is a bit like a dog chasing her tail except for the fact the dog has better odds of catching her tail than I have of ever ever making a sock that fits him perfectly.

Now I'm not saying anything I didn't say to him (and at extremely elevated decibel levels) but when a man with an 11" long foot says to begin the toe decreases at 11" so there will be lots and lots of "extra room" and you do exactly what the man says and measure out a 13" long foot (with a round toe because Goldisox says they're roomier than grafted toes) that even my limited math skills say provide 2" ease for wiggle room and shrinkage and he puts them on and says -- and I quote here verbatim -- "They fit but just barely," --- well, would you blame me if I strung him up by the Bulky Fixation and hung him outside to dry?

Here are some basic sock knitting truths:

  1. You have to truly love someone to knit them plain black socks
  2. You have to truly love someone to knit them plain black socks when they have big feet
  3. You have to truly love someone to knit them plain black socks when they have big feet and a certifiably insane fear of having their toes restricted by said plain black socks that are infinitely more comfortable, roomier, and toe-friendly than any other skimpy, stretchy, nasty nylon sock he's ever owned.

I think I actually shrieked something like, "I'll never knit you another sock again as long as I live! Never! Never! Never!" but I can't swear to it.

The embarrassing thing? I cast on a new pair an hour later. I am going to knit the perfect fitting pair of socks if it kills me.

Or him.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

REVIEW: Cool Socks, Warm Feet - Lucy Neatby (book)

Cool Socks, Warm Feet by the brilliantly talented Lucy Neatby is the book that opened up the world of sock-knitting to me. As strange as this may sound, the layout and feel of the book broke down my defenses and calmed my raging sockophobia.

This book is spiralbound and that makes a surprising difference. When you're struggling with needles and yarn, you shouldn't have to struggle with the pages of your book as well. What a pleasure it is to flip to the page in question and have it lay flat. Sheer bliss. The book is beautifully laid out. The color photos are luscious. The directions are clear, direct, and easy to follow. The patterns are varied in style and experience level. The various design changes possible within a pattern are spread out before you like desserts at a buffet. Choose one! Choose all! Round toe? The directions are there. Kitchener? It's there. Wedge? Of course. And same goes for heels. There are cuff choices. Cast-on options. Cast-off methods I'd never heard of before.

And the Chimney Toe! You'll find great instructions for this innovative toe grafting method on Lucy's website.

Sock books used to intimidate me. The information might as well have been written in ancient Greek for all that I could understand what they were saying. Lucy makes the incomprehensible crystal clear. I began with her basic sock on page one and I instantly made the pattern my own. Now I'm not the kind of woman who writes in her books but I found myself scribbling notes in the margins, circling my size options, adding technical data for the changes I found myself making spontaneously and -- to my amazement -- with great success.

What can I say? Some books are simply perfect: the way they look, they way they smell, the way they sit in your hand, the way the photos leap out at you and practically dance on the table top. For me, this is one of those books. I don't know how she did it, but somehow Lucy Neatby reached out from those pages, squeezed my hand, and said, "You can do it! You can knit a pair of socks."

And she was right.

You can find Lucy at her Tradewind Knits website.

But beware. Once you start knitting socks, there's no turning back.

Barbara Bretton

(Originally post to Romancing The Yarn)

Friday, July 14, 2006

So What's Stopping Me?

That's the Katia Razor Shell pattern from Tara Jon Manning's Mindful Knitting and I don't know why I'm so afraid to cast on properly and actually knit it.

I grabbed some Debbie Bliss I had lying around, cast on, and swatched a few inches of the pattern just to see what it looked like, how it felt. I loved it. Actually I loved everything about it.

So would you tell me why I haven't done anything with it? I have some gorgeous creamy white Alpaca that would work beautifully in this pattern and I don't know anything about it. For some reason I'm intimidated by this pattern and I can't seem to push past it.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Other Blue Sweater

See that blue sweater? The photograph is less than a year old. The sweater itself is 36.

I know. I can't believe it either. I was married a little over a year when I made it. The Air Force had sent my husband off to Southeast Asia for eighteen months and I was back home in my parents' apartment in Queens.

What else could I do but turn to needlework?

Actually needlework has always been my comfort and refuge. I don't know how people who don't embrace the needle arts get through life with their sanity intact.

The sweater was made during the summer of 1970 from a pattern I found in the late and deeply lamented McCall's Needlework Arts and Crafts, a huge oversized magazine (the way magazines were in thsoe days) filled with dreams. The pattern was for a man's crocheted tennis sweater in crisp white yarn with navy trim. The model was an impossibly preppy looking fellow who clearly didn't have a worry in his whole college-bound, draft-exempt world. I hated him on sight.

But I loved the sweater and decided it was just the thing for my sergeant husband to wear in 100 degree/100% humidity summer days on The Rock.

Clearly I was crazy at the time but I went to Ackerman's on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, bought the only yarn I could afford, then sat down and crocheted myself a sweater to keep him safe.

I guess it worked. I still have the man and he still has the sweater. Can't ask for more than that.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Everything But Time

Right now I have everything I need but time. I'm determined to finish the fourth "snuggles" blanket for Rebekah's drive before the day is over. The plan is to mail them out tomorrow with some Lorna's Laces to use as a prize. That way even if I don't manage to do the two more I'd originally planned, everything else will be on the way before the deadline.

It's not perfect but it's something.

I also have the KnitPicks Options needles sitting here staring up at me, begging to be used. And a HiyaHiya circ demanding attention. And the second Fixation Bulky sock which has been ignored for days. And the 873 balls of sock yarn looking to be transformed into something wearable. And the Lopi in the basement . . . and the Denim Silk upstairs in my office . . . and the Schachenmayer Only Stretch all over the place . . . and the Noro Implessions that nobody but me seems to have ever heard of . . . and that's just for starters.

Are you wondering about that Blue Blob up in the lefthand corner of this page? That's the Notorious Phentex Sweater which I believe might be New Jersey's oldest (and yes I've had it carbon-dated) UFO. I began it in North Babylon on Long Island in April 1986 and it is now July 2006 here in central New Jersey and it is still unfinished.

I mean, can you blame me? Do you see that monstrosity? What was I thinking? Okay, so I couldn't afford anything terrific when it came to yarn but did I really believe my husband would ever wear that color? And why, since I'm asking unanswerable questions, did I choose that color when sixteen years earlier he showed great reluctance about wearing another sweater (that one crocheted) in the same mind-blowing shade of blue. Really, there are times when I think I must have a Knitter's Death Wish.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Withdrawal Symptoms

I exhibited amazing restraint yesterday and refrained from casting on a new pair of socks. I didn't even pick up the Bulky Fixation rope socks (I swear you could use it to tie down the Queen Mary.) The only thing needleworthy that I accomplished was a few inches on a pet blanket for Rebekah's very worthy shelter dog/cat endeavor.

The good thing is that I'm getting some writing done. The bad thing is it's cutting into my knitting time!

See that white sock? That was my second foray into the World of Fixation. #1US Addi Turbos, plain pattern, unbelievably durable. We've been tossing them into the washing machine and then the dryer (yes, the dryer) and except for some shrinkage, they've survived their first year. I've decided to eliminate the dryer from the equation and purchased some sock blockers from Elann (yes, Elann) and right now they're hanging in the doorway to the dining room like bizarre fiber wind chimes.

The Queen of Decorating, I'm not.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Elann: an occasion of sin

If I had any will power at all, I would eliminate all links to Elann from my computer and then have my own personal memory bank erased.

A box of goodies arrived a few minutes ago and I'm practically dizzy with delight. They had Fortissima Colori on sale last week and I did major damage to my bank account. What is it with sock yarn anyway? Why is it so irresistible? I ordered Step (the lanolin-infused sock yarn) from the Patternworks catalogue and would basically like to roll around on it for a few years before I get around to knitting with it. It is pure sensory delight. I can only imagine how wonderful the socks will be. (Again, no credit due to yours truly. Once again the sock yarn provides its own magic.)

Spiral socks are probably among the most basic of socks out there, but I found doing the After Bertha spiral sock from Socks Socks Socks to be absolutely fascinating. The fact that I lucked into exactly the right yarn for it didn't hurt matters either: Regia 4 Fadig in Cacao, a beautiful blend of medium cocoa and that pure slightly earthy blue that works so surprisingly well with cocoas and pure browns.

Stats: 66 stitches; Addi Turbos #1US; worked 3K3P pattern that takes a step over every fourth row. Couldn't be simpler. I did a round toe (embarrassingly simple but very pleasing aesthetically), wove in the ends, and I was done. They were a birthday present for Sandra and once again I'm reminded of how deep the connection is whenever I make something for someone I love. I'm probably the least Zen-like woman you'll ever meet but there is a mindfulness to the process when you're knitting something for someone you love, a focus of concentration that eludes me far too often in real (read: non-knitting) life.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Five and You're Out

Five blog posts and I vanished. That must be a new record for Bad Blogging. I'll spare you my work woes, computer fiascoes, and the generally chaotic nature of my life these last twelve months and focus on the one thing that's kept me sane: fishing.

Sorry. I couldn't resist.

Knitting. Of course, I meant knitting.

Currently on the needles: Fixation Bulky socks (black; how dull) for my husband Goldisox, he of the "they're too tight" refrain. I have templates of his feet. I have measurements. (I'm tempted to take a plaster cast of his feet a la 1970s era rock groupies and other appendages.) I follow his instructions to the letter, even when my needles threaten to stage a mutiny. He wants 'em an inch longer than they should be, I give 'em to him. They're still not long enough. Let me tell you there is nothing worse than knitting plain black socks and then finding out (post-grafting) that despite fittings and measurings and revamping they're still TOO TIGHT.

I may be forced to knit him something daring (like black and grey Regia) and put him in his place.

Last year Sandra sent me a truly world-class birthday gift: Fortissima Colori sock yarn. I was still in my Fear of Socking phase and circled that gorgeous yarn for months, afraid I would be able to do it justice.

Well, practice really does make improved (if not perfect) and in the upper lefthand corner (for your viewing pleasure) you'll find my gorgeous socks. I claim no credit for their gorgeousness. The yarn did all the work. I just went along for the ride.

Quick stats: Magic Loop. 40" Addi Turbos US #1. 56 stitches. K2P2 ribbing.