Coming up for air

The less time I have to knit, the more I wish I could do nothing else but. Seeing everyone’s wonderful pictures and videos and recaps of Rhinebeck doesn’t help – I am so envious! I didn’t discover knitting until I’d moved away from the east coast, so I’ve never been, but am SO determined to get there one of these days. (I enjoyed this video quite a bit – so fun to see everyone’s Rhinebeck sweaters.) Probably in reaction, last night I found myself reading through the Vogue Knitting Live program for NYC in January, and wondering whether we could swing that. I’m sure it’s a completely different vibe from Rhinebeck, but I wouldn’t mind an excuse for a weekend in NYC, either. Has anyone ever gone to Vogue Knitting Live? What did you think of it?

Anyway, since I last wrote, not much and quite a bit has happened, knitting-wise. My attempted Lena tee remains shoved in a project back awaiting frogging. However, I did finish (mostly) the sweater that began as a swing cardigan that was too big, and got frogged – meet 80s Lipstick (wrinkled as are all my sweaters when I photograph them):


This is Lipstick by Joji Locatelli (called “80s Lipstick” because the idea of teal lipstick just seemed so 1980s to me). It’s made out of Malabrigo Rios in Teal Feather, continuing my obsession with what is not the world’s most practical yarn for the desert (worsted-weight wool). So I chose this short-sleeved cardigan, thinking it might be a bit more climate-appropriate. So far, I’ve only worn it once (to travel to a cooler climate), but it’s wonderfully comfortable. The color is a little more green than it looks here – it was hard to photograph. And while the skeins were all bought from the same place at the same time, I did end up alternating them – in my first try with this yarn I realized you could see where the skeins changed. I’m actually really happy with how uniform the fabric looks here.


I have to finish putting on the buttons (I bought gorgeous sleek silver buttons from Purl Soho but can’t find them right now, so the ones in the picture are a couple of placeholders). At the moment the front edges tend to curl open, due to the reverse stockinette panel (you can get a sense of that in the top picture), which I find annoying, but I made buttonholes the whole length of the front so I think once I get all the buttons in place I can deal with that better. Also my blocking game has been hindered by SMALL FURRY PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO EAT YARN, so this was mostly just washed and left to dry away from cats – you can see below that none of the lines that should be straight actually are.


As always, I had lots of help when I was trying to take pictures.


(At least he’s not eating it.)

Now my dilemma is this: my sister saw this and absolutely adored the color, which makes me want to make her some kind of sweater for Christmas (probably something completely different in style as she’s skinnier than me and goes for fitted over loose). But she refuses to wear wool, and I don’t know of any non-wool yarn that quite reproduces the beautiful tonal variations you get in yarns like Malabrigo and Madelinetosh. Any suggestions?


Cabin fever

Cabin fever in the summer just seems wrong. Coming from cold places with what it’s fair to call dreadful weather, I’m conditioned to expect cabin fever in the winter. There’s a logic in it that makes sense to me – the cold, wet, ice, and snow,  the short dreary days – they drive you inside, where you do what you can to create light in the darkness, and heat in the dark, to foster the illusion that you didn’t really want to go outside anyway.

But cabin fever in the desert (at least, my desert) comes in the summer, because it is simply much too hot to go outside. You spend your time going from one artificial climate to the next, trying to avoid contact with the outside world at all costs. Even walking out into the dark of night is like walking into an oven, which seems very odd when you’re used to thinking of the shade as cool. Your skin isn’t burning from the sun and you keep thinking you should feel cooler, but you just really don’t.

And the worst is that this is the time of year when I expect to be able to go outside. Summer is vacation and a break from school and relaxed schedules and picnics and swimming and hiking and biking. It’s freedom in a way that winter, in a cold climate, is not – the freedom of long days and golden twilights extending the time you can spend in all your summer pursuits.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that the freedom of summer is illusory in many other places, too. Massachusetts and Minnesota can both get ridiculously humid (not helped by a dearth of AC, either because buildings were too old and never retrofitted, or cheap bastards figured AC wasn’t worth it for the three to five weeks it was truly necessary), which leads to MOSQUITOS. There’s nothing like collecting 32 bites to your ankles while waiting in line at the outdoor ice-cream stand to convince you that summer is actually kind of a pain.

But the northeast and Midwest still fit that glossy magazine ideal of summer better than the desert, which is winter cabin fever turned on its head. (And don’t get me started on how the bugs here can be worse.)

Which is all a long drawn-out way of saying that the summer is making me a bit nutty, which may be why this:


Has now turned into this:


And I swear that when I sat down to write this, I didn’t even realize my last post was about (potentially) ripping things back, too. For some reason it’s clearly on my mind these days.


Question of the day: what will compel you to rip back a sweater? What do you do when your momentum on a project comes to a screeching halt?

My most recent knitting project has been the Lena Tee, by Carrie Bostick Hoge. I started knitting it because I am a sheep: Karen Templar of Fringe Association linked to this Instagram of a finished Lena, by danabarath. There is something indefinably inspiring about that garment in that shot, and I thought, self, you NEED to make that sweater.

The pattern calls for fingering weight in something drapey, and I decided to use some stashed Malabrigo Silkpaca, which is laceweight, held double. Silkpaca is (shockingly) silk and alpaca, so drapes beautifully, and I thought it would be soft and light for a summer tee. (Of course, alpaca is really warm, but eh.)

So I cast on.


The color is Zarzamora, which is this wonderful kind of mottled steel-gray/purple/greenish stormcloud color.

Except that it is also handdyed, with all the beautiful variation that accompanies hand-dying.

See, I had originally bought 2 skeins (back in 2013), intending to make some kind of infinity scarf. I then decided that knitting an infinity scarf in stockinette on small needles was tedious even for me, so bought two more skeins to make a lace cardigan. I bought the second pair at a totally different time and totally different place from the first, and yet they ended up pretty much an exact match.

Then when I decided to make this sweater holding the lace double, I realized I needed a couple more skeins. They arrived. They are beautiful. But they are way more PURPLE.



It may look like the top is just in shadow, but I promise that it’s not – there’s a really distinct line where the new skeins started and the sweater turns decidedly more purple.

Hence the post title.

So I find myself at a crossroads. I’m really – well – cross, because I only have a few more inches of knitting to go, and might have been able to finish the sweater this weekend (you knit from the bottom up in the round, then divide front and back; I finished the front and have been plowing away on the back). I was really looking forward to a finished object, I really really don’t want to start over. Also, this is laceweight held double on size three needles, and even for a basically sleeveless tee, that’s a lot of knitting. Further, frogging (mostly) alpaca is not my idea of a great time.

BUT. Will I really wear this sweater if most of the body is lavender-gray and then the top third-ish is purple?

Frankly, I don’t think I will. It will bug the heck out of me.

It’s not a hard fix, at all, in theory – frog and start over. Especially since I’m holding the laceweight double, I can then mix and match holding skeins together and end up with a much more uniform fabric.

I just have to frog and start over.

Or, if I can’t face that, I can just finish it, and wear it with the big purple stripe effect.

So. What have I done? Shoved it in its project bag and cast on something new (which is itself an example of halted momentum: I knit the entire yoke and an inch or two below the armholes of a swing cardigarn, then figured out it was too big). Someday I will come back to this one and decide what to do.

Till then, I have lots of other yarn.

New neighbors

A new couple has moved in to the arroyo across the street from our apartment.


I keep seeing them when I’m out with my iPhone, but someday I’ll have to stalk them with my telephoto lens, in the hopes of getting a better picture.

They look like young creatures to me – full grown but not quite filled out, with that semi-adolescent lankiness. But then, maybe all coyotes look like that. These are certainly the first ones I’ve got this close to. And they seem at home in the arroyo – this is my fourth sighting in probably as many weeks.

They’re lovely graceful creatures, with their low loping stride, slipping into the invisibility of the long grass and sand that lines the arroyo at a moment’s notice. They worry me, though – the arroyo is in the middle of a city (admittedly not a massive one), surrounded by homes and a semi-industrial/warehouse patch. The coyotes probably shouldn’t be as at home here as they are, if they want to stay here.

I’m told that the arroyo was fixed up by the Department of the Interior not long before we moved here – it used to flood every monsoon season, so it got graded and drained and whatever else you do to arroyos that flood. Apparently it used to be much wilder and overgrown, and home to much more wildlife. I’ve seen javelinas out here (but only once), tons and tons of birds, lots of little lizards, and once a bearded dragon-type creature. But these are the first coyotes I’ve seen.

Interior also built a nice walking path around the arroyo, with landscaping making it all pretty, and a huge draw for the neighborhood. There are people I regularly see walking the path in the morning when I go to work, and in the evening when I walk myself. I’ve learned to recognize people by their dogs. I’m sure the coyotes aren’t going to mess with the largest German Shepherd I’ve ever seen who lives a few blocks away (he’s like the size of a Newfoundland), but there’s a yippy Shih-Tzu that regularly slips its leash, and lots and lots of cats that roam free.

There’s also a bike park, with human-built obstacles, like a skateboard park but for BMX bikes. That’s where the coyotes are in the picture above. The one is sitting on a dirt obstacle, and there are a bunch more obstacles to the right, out of the picture. At the very far end of the circuit was a kid with his bike. Clearly he could see the coyotes, because he stood next to his bike, just watching them, waiting to see what they would do. In coyote v. BMX, it’s pretty clear who’s going to win.

It’s a little unnerving, though, to see the coyotes quite so close. You know they don’t want to mess with humans, but you also don’t know whether they could get aggressive, or if they’re just fragile enough that encountering us could harm them – the way that touching butterfly wings is so tempting, because they are so beautiful, but cripples the butterfly if you can’t resist.

I love seeing the new neighbors, at the same time that I want to tell them to run far, far away.

Product v. process

I have always been a product knitter – I almost invariably knit because I want the finished object (and since it’s me, because I want to wear a particular sweater). I regularly frog projects partway through if it becomes clear that I won’t wear the finished item, and out of this “the right final product is what I want” mindset, I also frog projects that I’ve finished and worn and have decided don’t really work for me as is. That takes a little bit more resolution, but I’m pretty comfortable with those decisions (in fact, I am considering frogging my Boxy & Buttony pullover – it’s amazingly comfortable but it’s quite a lot of fabric, possibly too much to be really flattering on me, and I think that this yarn would benefit from being knit at a tighter gauge – maybe something like this, or this, or this – or at least something with seams. No rush on deciding, though, since it’s too hot here to wear wool sweaters for the next 6 months again).

Which is why I was kind of surprised recently to find myself pushing the items I want to own and wear to the back of my queue in favor of items I simply want to knit, for the sake of knitting them.

Craftsy had a big sale in the last week or so and it included Malabrigo Rios. I first encountered this yarn when I wanted to make a baby blanket for a friend and their stone-colored gray-yellow-beige colorway was perfect for my friend’s gray and yellow nursery.


But then I went and made myself a sweater out of the leftovers because I loved knitting with it so much. I don’t normally knit worsted weight stuff, and I haven’t even been able to wear the sweater yet because it got too warm before I finished, but I love having the sweater and I loved making it. This yarn is just so lovely and soft and squishy and yet bouncy and a joy to knit with. It’s probably not as springy-bouncy as your average non-superwash, but it was still amazingly fun to work with, and it created a lovely fabric that had a nice amount of drape without being droopy or draggy. I don’t need super-hardy tough-as-armor sweaters, and I don’t like wearing those kinds of fabrics. This stuff was great.

So there I was, at the Craftsy sale, finding that Rios was on sale for less than I’d ever seen it, and finding myself powerless to resist buying a swack of it. In Teal Feather, because I’m a sucker for a good teal, and a semi-solid seemed more practical than the beautiful but harder to wear variegated stuff.

(I’m also in a particularly labor-intensive, energy-draining, confidence-beating moment at work – which is why I’ve had no time for blogging or even photo-taking – so the yarn was a promise of good times to my future self. Which is a whole other ball of emotional wax, of course.)

And now I just want to make things with this yarn for the sake of making them, not having them. Right now I am obsessed with the idea of making the Waking Tide pullover by Courtney Spainhower.

Waking_Tide1_medium2Photo © PinkBrutusKnits, borrowed off Ravelry; will happily remove if requested.

I just love this sweater. I love the yoke, I love the way the body of the sweater falls from the yoke, I love the minimal eyelet trim at the hem, I love the amount of ease, I love how good the pattern looks in a tonal or semi-solid, I love that it’s knit in the round and in one piece, I love that there’s lots of stockinette but that there’s also the yoke for a bit more challenge, I love that the yoke provides texture and movement but that the sweater is still fairly minimal and not fussy.

And don’t get me wrong, part of why I love it is that I think it would look decent on me – I have broad enough shoulders to hold up a sweater without shoulder seams, my bust is very average-sized so I don’t run into the problems busty ladies face in trying to figure out where a yoke should fall to be flattering, I like having the visual interest closer to my face, I like that it’s not fitted around the waist, and the length and hem treatment should work with my pear shape.

But chances are good I would wear this maybe five times a year. I would only be able to wear it to work on days I don’t have to wear a suit/jacket (i.e. no meetings), and I would only be able to wear it in comfort during our very short winter. It’s not the most practical choice for my lifestyle, is what I’m saying. Honestly, worsted weight wool, period, isn’t the most practical choice for my lifestyle but there are workarounds (I think a cardigan would be more versatile weather-wise than a pullover, especially something short-sleeved or shorter with some lace; or I could go for a short-sleeved pullover).

Nonetheless, I want it. Because I want to make it; I want to see the shape develop under my needles, I want to see how the transition to the yoke works, and what kind of shaping creates the yoke and the neckline. I want to see what this yarn will look like in this sweater. And I want to see what the sweater looks like when it’s done, and what it looks like on me.

For maybe the first time, that’s enough. Maybe I will make this sweater and try it on. Maybe I will love it, and keep it, and treasure it for those few times a year I can wear it. Maybe I will love it, and put it in a drawer, and nonetheless frog it a year later to make something else with the yarn. Maybe it will be meh, and I’ll decide right away to frog. But whatever I decide, I will have had the pure pleasure of making, which seems to be what’s hooking me now, more than the pleasure of having.

(Or maybe instead I’m hitting my annual discontent with the desert and want to knit this as an expression of homesickness for places that have what I think of as a normal climate. With winter. And cold. And a legitimate need for wool sweaters. That, too, is a whole other ball of emotional wax.)

California dreaming


Last weekend, I traveled to Amy Herzog’s retreat (PDF), held at the lovely Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, California. How to describe it??

This was my first knitting retreat – and, actually, my first experience of formal knitting classes ever. I took a beginner’s spinning class once (at Fancy Tiger Crafts, my favorite yarn store ever – Denver, I still miss you). But otherwise, my mom taught me the knit stitch sometime when I was a kid, and I’ve managed to teach myself everything else via the glories of the internet. It was also my first time in northern California, so between these two things, it was a bit like entering a parallel universe.

The classes were great (though I have to share that I totally embarrassed myself, chatting with Norah Gaughan at check in, when we talked about being on the same flight into Monterey, because I totally did not realize who she was at all. At the end of the conversation I introduced myself, she rEllie’s, “And I’m Norah,” I said, “Nice to meet you,” and took two steps out of the registration building and went, “OH!!! THAT NORAH!!!!” So that was why she’d looked kinda familiar in the airport. Gulp. To be fair, it was kind of interesting then to think about how some designers are instantly visible because they model all their own stuff, and how some designers are much more behind the scenes – I find those kinds of marketing choices fascinating. I still couldn’t help but wonder if I’d been completely gauche though).

But anyway, the classes: my first was Norah Gaughan’s “Creative Geometric Design,” which was an engaging glimpse into how one designer approaches her projects, and a really fun way to think about coming up with design ideas. I don’t know if I will ever actually design sweaters (I fantasize that I will, but also suspect that fantasy is better off staying a fantasy), but it was also helpful for looking at schematics and thinking about what I might want in a sweater. The amazing part was how she could take a rectangle or circle of fleece, cut armholes in it, toss it on a model, and after about 30 seconds of tweaking, transform it into the roots of a beautiful garment.

Also she had a dark green alpaca sweater that looked good on everyone in the class and was the most amazingly comfortable, snuggly thing to wear, and everyone at the retreat is waiting with bated breath for the pattern to come out.

My second class was Julie Weisenberger (aka Cocoknits)’s “European Finishing Techniques,” which was a compilation of many tips and tricks. I was familiar with some of what she showed us, but many of the techniques were great and I will definitely use them (especially her middle-of-a-row bind off and shadow short wraps). The atmosphere was at once energetic and relaxed, with a lot of answers to individual questions. I’m still not convinced that her method of picking up stitches (to pick up and knit) will work for me, but I need to get the proper tools to try it properly on one of my own projects. My only regret is that by the end of her class I was fading fast, as the day had been full of learning and interaction with strangers, and my introvert brain was exhausted.

Also her sense of style was amazing.

My third class was Clara Parkes‘ “Know What Your Yarn Wants to Be,” about how different fibers and yarn construction result in yarns that work better for some projects than others, and some of the general things to keep in mind. She was as charming in person as she has always seemed online, and the depth of her knowledge is crazy. I’ve read her The Knitter’s Book of Wool, as well as a lot of other general discussions online about yarn and how to match it to a project, and while I’d never claim to be an expert, I wondered a little bit how much of the information would be new. And the answer was: plenty! For instance, sure, I knew that alpaca was a very slippery, smooth fiber, and that therefore it tends to “grow” because the stitches don’t cohere very well in finished fabric. But that was just a useful background for her discussion – a starting point, not the sum total.

Also now I want a pair of wool sneakers.

My final class was with Amy Herzog, “Sweater Design Intensive,” looking at different shoulder constructions for sweaters (drop shoulder, raglan and modified raglan, yoke, and set-in sleeves) and how to modify the different kinds to fit your shape. There was math, and I can’t claim I absorbed it all, but it made sense at the time and Amy Herzog explained it beautifully. What was really helpful – in a way that books can’t be helpful (though I have and value her books) – was seeing the actual real sweaters, which she wore, and used to demonstrate common modifications and fit issues, and passed around so we could see the construction and fabric.

Also she has the most beautiful speaking voice.

One of the things that thrilled me most about the weekend was how, well, ecumenical all the instructors were about methods and approaches and designs. No one was dogmatic or restrictive or scolding about what knitters should or shouldn’t do, instead emphasizing that while they had strong beliefs about the best way to do things, the important thing was that as knitters, we have accurate expectations for what a given yarn/pattern/design could achieve, and achieving that in a way that made us happy.

I also appreciated that there was quite a lot of diversity in style on offer. To date, Amy Herzog has emphasized fitted, set-in sleeve sweaters with waist shaping, and honestly, I felt a bit of an imposter when I showed up, as I never knit sweaters like that (I hate fitted tops and waist shaping). But she has started to offer Custom Fit designs without waist shaping (if you’re unfamiliar with Custom Fit, go take a look at the link), and is about to introduce an A-line option (previewed at the retreat). She explained that she was moving into more variation on sweater shapes, and in her class, she showed a number of examples of these new-for-her constructions from her next forthcoming book, which all thrilled me.

Norah Gaughan’s explorations of geometric shapes were further along that spectrum, nearly as far from the traditional Herzog sweater as you can get. But while the result was garments that were loose/non-fitted, even frankly voluminous, they remained flattering and not sloppy (and much more to my taste).

Even opinions about gauge and sweater fabric were varied. Amy Herzog was pretty decided that all yarn has a gauge that is right for that yarn, and I think Clara Parkes would tend to agree. (I found particularly interesting the argument that drape shouldn’t be about knitting a yarn at a loose gauge, but about the inherent qualities of the fiber.) But in contrast, Julie Weisenberger talked about how a lot of her designs used a very open gauge.

So all in all, it was a successful weekend. It was a little daunting attending by myself, but everyone was very very nice and it was pretty easy to fall into conversation with people. I find it a bit exhausting to talk to strangers for four days, and I had tiny flashbacks to high school social anxiety at meals, as there’s a dining hall that serves you cafeteria style, and then you have to scan the room and decide which table to plop yourself down at that day (did you sit with people who know each other already? are you interrupting their chance to get together and catch up? are they amateurs like you or semi-pros? are they perhaps esteemed local designers/dyers which you don’t realize until the end of the meal? ACK).

Conversely, though, something I found incredibly welcoming was how, if you were tired out from making conversation, or didn’t see someone you had already met, you could sit by yourself (at events more than meals, I should say), and as long as you were knitting, you were part of things. The way that knitting made you a part of the social fabric, even without being sociable, was kind of amazing.

I also loved that in every class, at least half of the students were knitting away the whole time. I know people who knit at conferences or work meetings, but I’ve never been in a position to do so, and have always had a sneaking feeling that to do so was rude. But here it wasn’t! How could it be rude to knit at a retreat centered on knitting? It was just lovely – both to have more knitting time, and to see what so many others were knitting, and start up a conversation about their yarn, or pattern, or needles, or so on (this happened with all the completed handknits people were wearing, too. Sadly, I didn’t actually bring any of my handknits, because they take up a ton of room and my suitcase is small).

So. That is an incomplete (though not short) description of my weekend away. It was truly very very far away from my daily life, and a lovely immersion in Knitlandia.

IMG_3495It was gray and cloudy-to-rainy the whole weekend, except late afternoon on Saturday, when the photographers with their tripods descended on the beach like seagulls. I was surprised to realize that although I didn’t grow up on the coast itself, growing up in a northeastern coastal state was enough to instill in me the belief that the sun should rise, not set, over the ocean – and when I saw the sun sinking into the Pacific it just looked wrong!


I don’t think you have to like cats to like knitting, or vice versa. But a lot of knitters out there seem to have cats.

And if you are a knitter with cats, the following pictures, taken while I tried to photograph my Mountain High sweater, may be familiar to you.


These guys are an absolute MENACE to my knitting. In particular, the gray boy is obsessed with everything yarn: he pulls knitting out of my work basket, he tries to drag handknit sweaters out of my laundry basket (…through the holes in the sides), and one of the first things he did after we brought them home was find some bright pink Cephalopod Yarns yarn and start to eat it, chomping away with strings hanging out of his mouth like pasta.

img_2733It’s a good thing they’re cute.