PunkconformityLife, history, and the pursuit of knitting.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Complaints about complainers

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One of my biggest pet-peeves is people who take the joy out of knitting through their complaints or by saying, "You can't do it that way, it doesn't work and it's not the RIGHT way to do it."

The first group of people are the ones who pick out and knit a pattern, and when they're done criticize it not in any constructive way, but for all the things that make it that pattern.  If they knit the Jaywalker socks, they might complain that they're too stripey or that chevrons are ugly.  If they knit a Clapotis, it would be too ruffly and they can't imagine that the designer possibly thought this through all the way.  That kind of criticism is absolutely pointless, but if the person saying it is a well-respected blogger, it can cause needless damage to the pattern designer's reputation as all the people who read the blog come away with the impression that there's something wrong with the design, when in reality there's something wrong with the blogger's expectation.

There's nothing wrong with legitimate criticism, and I have no problem with someone commenting that the pattern had a lot of errata in it, or that it would make more sense to do this step before that one, etc.  That's useful information, as it helps the designer create a better pattern next time.  But it's ridiculous for you to choose a pattern to knit out of the thousands that are available on Ravelry, and then lambaste it for the things that make it that pattern and not any other one.

The other group of people are the knitting police, who think that their way is the only or the best way.  The awesome thing about knitting is that as long as you're happy with the end result you get, then you did it "the right way."  There are always different techniques to learn, but that's all they are - different.  You might decide that they are better in particular instances, but in no way is any technique inherently better than another one if you prefer the result the other one gives you.  For example, I've read and been told repeatedly that casting on over two needles to get a stretchy cast-on is dumb, and that it doesn't actually give you a strechier cast-on.  But every time I do it, I get a stretchier cast-on.  So even though the knitting police tell me that it's "wrong," I'm going to continue to do it, because I'm happy with the result it produces.

I guess the reason both of these types of people bother me is that they both seem to assume that their view is right, and that people who don't adhere to the same view are wrong and somehow less because of it, and that bothers me.  Knitting is about sharing joy, not making people feel bad for not doing it the same way you do.
Saturday, November 9, 2013

Podcast love

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When we moved, back in March, my commute went from 12 minutes to 45.  That definitely took some getting used to, but one of the things that has made the drive easier has been podcasts.  Getting to spend the drive listening to other people geek out about yarn and nerd stuff and Shakespeare as much as I do has made the drive go by so much faster.  While I think most of these are fairly well-known, I thought I would share my favorites all the same.

1) The Knit-Knit Cafe.  Abby is so personable and funny, and she has the greatest laugh.  It's really like getting to hang out with a close friend.  Just be prepared for the fact that the audio levels vary wildly between her titles and when she's actually talking.

2) The Knotty Girls.  Jen and Laura might be my favorites, just because their sense of humor and range of interests align pretty much exactly with my own.

3) The Knitmore Girls.  Jasmin and Gigi remind me a lot of my mom and I, except they manage to finish a lot more projects than we do.  They're very educational, and I've learned a lot of new techniques and fun terms from listening to them.

4) Craft-lit.  I don't listen to this one as often because I have a hard time staying focused on my driving during the "lit" part of the podcast.  I get too involved in the story.  But it's a great podcast, and if you don't have that problem, you should listen to it.

5) The Knit Picks podcast.  I really love listening to Kelly think through her knitting goals, and she often has the best interviews.

6) Never Not Knitting.  Alana is super sweet, and I love the stories from listeners at the end.  Plus her theme-song is really funny.

Non-knitting podcasts:

1) The Giant Bombcast.  Video-games, geek culture, and humor.  Generally full of swearing and mocking one another and the rest of the world.

2) Chop Bard.  The tag-line is "The cure for boring Shakespeare." I never thought Shakespeare was boring in the first place, but Ehren does to Shakespeare what I do to medieval history, which is to take off the white gloves, pull it down to our level, and treat it like it was meant to be treated, instead of like this reified, sacred thing.  It's AWESOME.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013

St. Denis

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Let's talk for a minute about the tragedy of my new yarn obsession.  St. Denis Boreale is the most wonderfully textured, beautifully colored 100% wool I've ever laid my hands on.  It knits up so neatly, and has an incredible springy texture that makes you want to squoosh your knitted fabric every couple of minutes.  The colors are gorgeous.  It doesn't make me want to scratch my skin off the whole time I'm wearing it.

And it's been discontinued since the fall of 2012.


Luckily, Webs has the last of their stock for sale, so I've done what any sane knitter would do.  I've purchased four sweaters' worth of Boreale for the stash.

Oatmeal, Red, Balsam, and Eggplant


(which actually came from the lovely autumnsky on Ravelry, as Webs sold out of this colorway before I could convince myself of the wisdom of this splurge)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On the needles V

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What I'm doing: It is peak advising season at work, so mostly what I'm doing is meeting with 8-12 students a day to help them plan their schedules for next semester and talk through how to make their long-term goals a reality.  It's incredibly fulfilling, but also incredibly tiring, which is why blogging has taken a bit of a back-seat.

What I'm reading: I just finished Cotillion, which is one of my favorite Georgette Heyer books ever, and which I hadn't read since high school.  I've started one called The Women of Britain, which was published in 1941 by a Polish diplomat's wife who was living in exile in London during the height of the Blitz.  She describes the differences between the WAAF, the Wrens, the MTC, ATS, and other branches of female employment for the war effort, and includes personal accounts from women in each branch.  So far it's very, very interesting.

What I'm watching:  Not much.  We've both been so exhausted when we've gotten home at night that focusing on a television show has been a bit beyond us.  I did watch the Boris Karloff Mr. Wong movies the other day, from the late '30s, and they were quite good.  I was expecting all the Asian characters to be played by European-Americans in eye makeup, as the last thing they were worried about in the '30s was ethnic stereotyping.  But surprisingly, Karloff was the only instance of that sort of ridiculousness.  All the other Asian characters were played by Asian-American actors.

What I'm knitting: Hugo, by Veronik Avery, from Brooklyn Tweed.  I'm working this up for the Boy in Berroco Vintage, because it never gets cold enough here for him to be comfortable in a 100% wool sweater.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Indie Designer Gift-a-long

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Christmas knitting can be stressful.  Every year I say to myself, "This year, I just won't do it.  I love my knitworthy friends, but I can knit for them during a much less busy time of the year."  And then every year I wind up deciding to knit six or seven things just weeks before the holiday.  But this year, there's the Indie Designer Gift-a-long going on on Ravelry to give me the extra push I need to plan things early.

From Nov 1 through Nov 15, a bunch of really talented indie designer are offering their patterns for 25% off their regular price.  Once you've purchased a pattern (or seven) you can participate in the Giftalong (which runs until Dec 31) and be entered to win prizes for completing projects you needed to complete anyway.  It's a win/win situation.

You can find all the awesome patterns here, on Pinterest, but here are just a few of my favorites:

1) Myrna by Kristen Hanely Cardozo - regularly $6.50

2) Oak Park by Laura Aylor - regularly $5

3) Lempika Headband/Hat by Ash Kearns - regularly $6 CAD

4) Magickal Quidditch Socks by Jennifer Dassau - regularly $6

5) Ink by Hanna Maciejewska - regularly $6.00

All project photos are taken from the individual Ravelry pattern pages unless otherwise noted. No copyright infringement intended.
Monday, September 9, 2013

American Duchess Claremonts

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I don't do this sort of thing very often (make posts encouraging you to buy things, I mean.  Except yarn, obviously), but American Duchess is worthy of the attention.  Everything Lauren produces is incredibly well-researched and of such high quality.  Basically, her shoes are amazing, comfortable, and awesome.

I will be making a post soon about the wonderful 23Skidoos I got for my birthday and how beautifully they painted up and how comfortable they are to wear. But for now, let me show you the Claremonts.

If I could have dreamed up the perfect shoe, this would be it.  I love 1930s and 1940s footwear, and I completely trust that these shoes will be comfortable enough to wear while teaching, because Lauren knows her stuff, and my 23Skidoos are so well balanced I can dance in them (which cannot be said for most heels).  The pre-order is running right now (all  American Duchess shoe designs are crowd-funded), and I need enough people to buy it that she is able to make a run of the equally awesome black version, because yes, I will, in fact, probably end up buying a pair in each color.

You can also enter to win a pair here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hand-dyed inspiration

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I took a two-week vacation from work, in the hopes of not injuring the incoming class of freshmen with my bad attitude (born of too much rah-rah orientation spirit and not enough me-time).  While some of this time was spent at the beach, at least a day of it was spent dying wool with my mom.

We've done dying days before, with rather less than stellar results.  Either the colors weren't quite right, or the yarn didn't take the dye evenly, or in the end it didn't align with the vision I saw in my head.  So this time, we changed up our system, worked a little more diligently and patiently, and came out with four skeins each of yarn that made us (for the most part) quite happy.

I thought I would share the photos that were our inspiration, and the resulting yarn.  All of these are on KnitPicks bare bases, some of which have been discontinued since we stashed them.

source: pinterest.

source: pinterest.

source: Pyrex Collective via pinterest

source: pinterest
Sunday, August 25, 2013

On the needles IV

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What I'm doing: School started this week, so I have been busy helping students ensure that all is right with their schedules before they are permanently locked.  While our office usually requires that students make an appointment, during the first week of classes we allow walk-ins, which is exciting but very tiring; we can see anywhere from two to eighty students in a single day.

I've also been attempting to fit exercise back into my daily schedule, which is less fun, but probably better for me.  I have a whole rant that I'll make on some other day about how we have produced a society in which it is okay that work take precedence over personal health, and where it is just expected that you will be on the brink of exhaustion almost all the time.  It's really quite horrible, and I'm trying hard to nip my couch-potato-ism in the bud now, but it is an uphill battle (literally and figuratively - the goal for this week is to be able to jog up the hill behind the health center without getting out of breath).

What I'm reading: I just started Ahab's Wife, which is the retelling of Moby Dick from the perspective of the young wife Captain Ahab left behind.  Thus far, I must say I am less than impressed - in the first vignette alone there is a fairly unbelievable description of childbirth, someone freezes to death, and a young slave escapes across the river √† la Eliza in Uncle Tom's Cabin (an artistic choice made for no apparent reason at all).  It seems to be a lot of the author saying, "Look how much I know about 19th century literature!" and not enough of the author saying, "Look at this choice I made because it was an integral component of the narrative!"  I know 19th century literature, and you, madam, are no Harriet Beecher Stowe.  At this point, you're not even a passable Emerson.  I'll give it another 50 pages, but unless it gets significantly better, I will be taking this one back to the used book store.

What I'm watching:  We're still in the process of finishing up the last season of Fringe.  I almost don't want it to end, because I have so enjoyed having Joshua Jackson in my life again.  But once that is completed, I think we'll move on to Broadchurch, about which I have heard only amazing things.

What I'm knitting: The Trimmed with Roses Cardigan, with a few modifications.  I'm knitting in the round to the armholes, and I added two red stripes above the ribbing.  I cannot explain how much I love this yarn, and how beautiful I think this pattern is going to turn out.  I haven't decided if I'm going to do the short-sleeves of the jumper or the long-sleeves of the cardigan - I think it will depend on the amount of yarn I still have when I reach that point.  I might also do fewer buttonholes when I get to the button-band.  We'll see.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: Thames: A Biography

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I love London.  Some might say I am a little obsessed.  My first project as a research assistant was to help design a course that tied early novels to the geography and social structures of London.  So when Peter Ackroyd uses the city (or in this case, the river Thames) as a backdrop for his wild, outlandish, pet theories, I get a little peeved.

I just finished Thames: The Biography, and as the Boy can attest, it left me spitting mad.  Having read several of Ackroyd's other works, I should have known that this would happen, but every time he sucks me in with the promise of interesting anecdotes about my favorite city, and then disappoints me with bad scholarship and poor argumentation.

His particular bug-a-boo in Thames is the idea that the river has been used for religious rites throughout history, and that the modern incarnations of religious houses, commercial buildings, law-courts, etc, that border the Thames are there due to some sort of primordial understanding of the river as a spiritual medium.

Okay, I'll follow you down that rabbit hole, Peter.  What's your evidence?

1) There are lots of churches dedicated to Mary along the river, so that is proof that the river is connected to some sort of ancient fertility goddess.  Huh.  As opposed to the numerous churches dedicated to Mary that aren't along the river?  Somehow those are just churches, but these are tied to internalized remembrances of our ancestors?

2) Lots of the great early modern English astronomer-philosophers lived along the river, which suggests that the flow of the river has always inspired people to look to the heavens and investigate the stars. Sure.  Or, you know, it's darker along the river, because it's a place on which humans find it harder to build things.

3) The existence of henges, cursus, barrows, etc, along the Thames (in conjunction with our modern buildings of power) suggests that for thousands of years, "the Thames remained a sacred and highly charged area." (65) Maybe.  But considering that the most famous henge is on a plain 72 miles to the west, maybe it's just that England is an island, and after multiple thousands of years of human habitation things start to pile up.

He also makes the statement that "London Bridge is Falling Down" was a nursery rhyme dating to the 11th century, when Aethelred the Unready's Viking ally, Olaf, pulled the bridge down with his boats.  The 11th century destruction of the bridge is a highly contested "fact" that is attested only in skaldic verse (which, due to embellishment and generic tropes, has more in common with fiction than with history), and most folklorists agree that the rhyme dates from the 17th century (though it builds on medieval children's games).  So it is extremely problematic that Ackroyd chooses to state these things as absolute fact, with no qualification and no sourcing.

The fact that he includes these unsubstantiated "facts" and makes such poorly substantiated but somewhat titillating arguments suggests to me that he is not confident enough in the significance of his subject matter. He's afraid no one will really care about the Thames qua Thames, that the river only matters to moderns in some larger, Ancient Aliens kind of way, as a gateway to our past beliefs.  He clearly thinks that no matter how tenuous his argument in support of this bosh, it will still be more engaging than an actual history of the Thames.  And that is what makes me the most angry.  The river doesn't need Ackroyd's pet theories to make it more interesting; between 17th century frost fairs, mudlarks, London Bridge actually falling down, Battersea power station, Jerome K Jerome (to say nothing of the dog), the disappearance of the Fleet, Ceasar's incursions into Britain, and all the other amazing things that the river has produced/experienced, why would you ever feel the need to embellish it with bad history and even worse argumentation?

So save yourself the frustration and gnashing of teeth I experienced.  If you're interested in the history of the river and its human inhabitants as they were and are, and not as someone with an obvious ideological agenda wants them to be, read something by a different author.
Monday, August 19, 2013

The Garden

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This year I decided it would be fun to plant a real garden.  The townhouse has a back patio that actually gets sun, and has a spigot to make watering a breeze, so I thought the time had come to try growing some veg.  We eat a lot of potatoes (as good Irish folks do), and I think we consume our weight in spaghetti sauce and salsa every month.  So I planted a small container garden of potatoes, tomatoes, chili peppers, zucchini, and herbs (rosemary, basil, parsley, sage, and cat-mint).

Shortly after I planted them, it looked like this:

But sadly, things did not quite go as planned.  I combated the bugs - beer traps got rid of the slugs that were eating all my basil.  I fertilized and Mother Nature watered consistently.  And still, the veg did not appear.  The plants grew green and tall, but without fruit.

Apparently, my back yard does not get quite enough sun to truly be full-sun.  So a few weekends ago I pulled out the tomatoes and the potatoes.  The zucchini strung me along for another three weeks, blooming with gorgeous yellow-orange flowers in the morning, which promptly fell off by dinner time, before finally turning yellow all over and dying. 

Now the growing season is over and I have no veg.  But that's okay.  You win some, you lose some.  At least it was a convenient excuse to by a spray-nozzle for the hose that not only has different settings, but has an honest-to-goodness throttle on it, which is, without question, awesome.

And at least the herbs are happy.
Sunday, August 18, 2013


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We have a new member of the household.  Having both grown up in households that couldn't say no to an animal in need, neither the Boy nor I were capable of saying no to this face when it appeared on our facebook feed:

Especially not after his initial rescuer, (one of my co-workers, who found him under a van) informed us that she was naming him after ol' blue eyes, Frank Sinatra.  Since we already have Sammy and DeanMartin, we decided it was a sign.  We picked him up as soon as we got back from our honeymoon.  He's about 7 weeks old, at best guess, and is suffering from all the typical signs of abandonment (fleas, worms, ear-mites), but has had his first round of baby-shots and will be going back for boosters soon.  He is the snuggliest little dude and loves to sleep on chests.  He's also very playful; he loves to fish things out of the toy bucket and run them all over the house.

The household is...adjusting.  DeanMartin is cautiously interested, but Sammy wants the intruder to disappear and never come back ("when's this baby's momma coming to get it?").  It's been less than a week, though, so I'm optimistic that another couple of weeks will find everyone getting along swimmingly.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

On the needles

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What I'm doing: I am half a week away from a two-week vacation.  Why is it that the week leading up to the vacation is so hard to get through? You'd think it would be easy, since you know the respite is coming, but in fact it's harder, because you have to work the whole week to get there.  While I will be playing with fiber and we have a beach trip planned (during which we're probably getting married), the thing that I'm most looking forward to is the fact that I will have two whole weeks in which I can catch up on this ridiculous sleep deficit I'm currently experiencing.

What I'm reading: This weekend I started and finished both Maise Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman.  They were both excellent, although I found the narrator of Ocean more compelling than Ms. Dobbs, whose new-age self-reflection and unlikely rags-to-riches story I found rather unbelievable, despite the otherwise convincing depiction of WWI-era Britain.

What I'm watchingBomb Girls.  A Canadian period-piece about a group of women working at a munitions factory during WWII.  It is on-par with Land Girls or Island at War for soap-opera quotient, but that's probably why I mainlined the first three episodes in one sitting.  Meg Tilly is fantastic (I know everyone always goes so crazy over Jennifer Tilly, but I think Meg is a much better actress), and the other young ladies have the same semi-wooden, yet somehow compelling, acting style that appears in most Canadian tv.  I doubt it will win any awards, and it's certainly no Foyle's War, but it's entertaining, and worth watching if you're interested at all in homefront life during WWII.

What I'm knitting: Just finished my Debonair Jumper, which turned out to have more positive ease than I was expecting.  I think, much as it pains me to admit this, that I'm going to have to start washing and blocking my swatches before I start on my projects.  I knit more densely than most people seem to do, and so as soon as I wash the FO, it loosens and spreads.  So if I want garments with predictable negative ease, it seems I must swatch and block, rather than just swatch. Yuck.
Sunday, May 26, 2013

Stashbusting: Pea Soup Sweater

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I've had this Brown Sheep Cotton Fine cone in my stash since...2007 or 8.  It was part of a Patternworks sale that seemed like a good idea at the time, because I was convinced of my wool allergy (which turns out to be an issue solely with lower-micron wool - pretty much anything that comes from Peru makes me itch just looking at it) and thought cotton was the only alternative (this was before I learned about Amy Singer's No Sheep for You).  Clearly, as it has been languishing in the stash since 2007, it was not such a great idea.  Four cones of lace-weight, unmercerized cotton might be perfect for weaving, but it's not as awesome for knitting.

But finally, as part of the great stash-busting event of 2013, I took some time to match these cones with projects, and found the Pickle's Plain Cardigan pattern.

I made the smallest size, and even with the yarn held tripled I still didn't manage to use up the whole cone.  The only changes I would make if I knit this again is to make fewer button-holes, and to make them smaller.  They sort of overwhelm this small garment, and it makes it difficult to find appropriate buttons.  I'm still searching - I think dark brown wooden or faux leather would look nice, but I haven't found anything I'm completely sold on yet.

Overall, the yarn turned out to be much more pleasant to work with than I was expecting, and produced a fabric with much more drape than the feel of the cotton on the cone led me to expect that I would get.  For my first major Knit the Queue project of the year, I think it turned out quite nicely.  And it worked up in a single weekend, so I definitely can't complain about that.
Friday, May 24, 2013

Bayerische Socks

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Based on Eunny Jang's Bayerische pattern, but knit with Blue Moon Fibers Socks that Rock Mediumweight in Strange Brew.  The pattern calls for an almost lace-weight fingering, to accommodate the 90+ stitches you're supposed to cast on, but even using needles which were far too small to use comfortably with the thicker STR (1.5 US), there was no way I was getting down to that kind of gauge.  So I cut out two of the charts, and replaced them with a ktbl, p1, ktbl combination.  I was also concerned about yardage issues, since I was knitting these for the Boy, whose feet are rather larger than mine, so I knit mine from the toe up, rather than the top down.

For those interested in doing the same, my mods are as follows:

Magic cast-on 22 sts.  Increased to 61.
For top of foot, worked chart D2, ktbl, p1, ktbl, chart B, ktbl, p1, ktbl, chart D1.
Continued in pattern until approx. 2.5" less than desired length (for the size 11s I was making, that was 5 1/2 repeats of chart B).
Worked gusset to 51 sts, then worked a short-row heel with twisted knit stitches (which I achieved by a sl1 as to knit, p1 across the right side).
Worked the leg pattern over 64 stitches, as chart D, k1tbl, p1, k1tbl, chart B, k1tbl, p1, k1tbl, chart D,  k1tbl, p1, k1tbl, chart B, k1tbl, p1, k1tbl.
Worked a twisted k1tbl, p1 rib for the cuff.

It required some finagling to match up the transition from the half-charts of D1 & D2 to the full D charts, but I think it turned out nicely and is the part of the sock I'm the most proud of:

I have heard a lot of talk about how complicated Bavarian twisted stitches are, but if you can cable and you can twist stitches, then there's no reason why you can't do beautiful things with Bavarian twisted stitches.  That being said, you might not want to be crazy like me; I knit these while watching panels at Kalamazoo, and while I  managed to keep track of my charts without too much trouble, it's not really something I recommend.

I am thrilled with how these turned out, and how easily the pattern converted from top down to toe up.  And the Boy is actually wearing them!
Thursday, May 23, 2013

On the needles

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Sometimes I struggle with the idea of blogging.  What is appropriate to post and what isn't?  If people come expecting to read about knitting and yarn, is it okay if some days I'd rather talk about the fact that I'm struggling to decide if I ought to flip my classroom in the fall, or that the potatoes in my garden clearly think that we live in northern Ireland this year?  Because I don't always have yarn-related things to talk about.  Having recently begun the adventure of cohabitation, I find (like all my foremothers) that my knitting time is being severely impinged upon by the responsibilities of a good housewife (and my thoughts on that are something best saved for another day).

I suppose the reality is that it's my blog, and I can write about whatever I want.  If I want to rant about Steven Moffatt and his desecration of the Doctor Whoniverse (don't get me started on River Song, or the repetition of the "impossible girl" trope, or even how he kind of ruined the Weeping Angels through overuse), I can do that.

What I'm doing: I just returned from the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, which was quite an experience.  I split my time between panels about things I teach and panels about things I enjoy, meaning that I learned equally about the role of Jews in medieval society and how to analyze textiles from extant images.  My favorite thing about the whole conference was that during the textile panels (put on by DISTAFF), over half the audience was knitting, and one of the only questions I received throughout the entire conference was about the sock pattern I was working on (a highly modified form of Eunny Jang's Bayerische pattern, about which more will be said later).  Knitters.  We are everywhere.

What I'm reading: All the things.  My attention-span is shot lately (conference nerves, mostly), so I'm jumping between Fighting the Great War: A Global History, Victorian and Edwardian Fashion: A Photographic Survey, and Fitzgerald's The Lost Decade.  The only thing that's actually holding my interest is something I'm reading for work: Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe (which is a popular history that is rather suspect in places - his interpretation of Carolingian religious practices concerns me - but which references quite a few primary sources I had not come across.  This will, of course, soon necessitate the long and painful process of translating things from the Minge Patrologia so that I can inflict them on my students).

What I'm watching: Doctor Who, obviously.  We just mainlined the last of Series 7, and will soon be switching over to Game of Thrones.

What I'm knitting:  I'm working on secret knitting, which will be given as a gift next month (at which point I'll show a picture of it).  What I can say about it is that it was intended to be a stash-busting project, using a giant skein of Caron One Pound that had been lingering in my stash for ages.  For so long, in fact, that Caron has since switched the color of the yarn that goes by that name.  Which means that what was supposed to be a stash-buster has resulted in the purchase of three more skeins in the hopes of finding one that matched.  We have finally decided that said project will be ombr√©, and it will be a design feature.
Friday, April 12, 2013


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You guys.  In school, they warn you about pot by telling you it's a gateway drug.  How come nobody ever warns you about knitting?  It's totally a gateway craft.  Without knitting, I would never have learned to crochet, to needle-felt (not that I enjoy that, particularly, but it's a life skill I now have), or to dye.  And now, the gateway has opened that much further.

I've started learning how to spin.

Now, perhaps not all of the blame should be put on knitting, as a craft.  Some of the blame belongs squarely on the shoulders of my YEE (yarn enabler extrodinaire, to use the Jimmy Beans' phrase) mother.  I mentioned to her a few weeks ago that I was considering learning how to spin.  As she is an avid spinner herself, I probably should have known better, because when I stopped by for dinner last Wednesday, there was a braid of GnomeAcres Merino/Silk blend in Gnomey Nights waiting for me.  We promptly sat down at my mom's wheel and she showed me how to spin.

Here are the results of my first thirty minutes of spinning:

I realize these are terrible pictures, but it was late and this was my only chance to take the shots.  It runs the gamut between lace and sport weight, but is more consistently at the lower end of that spectrum.

I have already learned that I prefer to spin off rolags, rather than the braid, and I had a fit over the color transition from blue to yellow (I think the yellow dye damaged the fiber slightly, as it isn't drawing as evenly or easily, no matter how much I open it up before-hand.  You can see the lumps it created.  I'm sure eventually I'll be adept enough to prevent that, but this was only the result of my second time at a spinning wheel).  I'm a short-draw spinner, and I'm working hard on learning how not to overtwist.  But dang, it's fun!

And just to cement the habit, on Saturday, at the Fiber Fest, I picked up these:

Now I just need to buy my own spinning wheel.

Monday, April 8, 2013

NC Fiber Festival

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If we liken being Cold Sheep to being on a yarn diet, then this weekend I binged.  I binged like someone who'd given up chocolate for Lent does on Easter.

This weekend was the NC Fiber Festival.  I had always planned to end my final three months of Cold Sheep this weekend, but I was thinking about it in terms of the last few years, when there were a handful of great sellers, but mostly a bunch of people trying to sell their 90 yd skein of worsted weight for $28 (I have no problem with people who charge reasonable prices for their work, I just object to 90 yd skeins - what are you supposed to do with that?)

But this year was not like the last few years.  This year, they moved it down to Sanford, which is a rather odd location in the middle of nowhere, about an hour away from anything else you might want to visit.  And while I'm not a huge fan of the new layout, it certainly seemed to me that there was an improvement in the quality of the vendors, much to the detriment of my wallet.

The results of the binge:

From the top: Delly Delights Farm merino roving (in the bag), Delly Delights Farm O So Soft Alpaca sport in Gray, Unplanned Peacock Superwash Merino Fingering in Coral, Knitting Notions Merino Superwash Sock in Ironstone, Taylored Fibers Merino/Silk braid, Cozy Rabbit Farm Merino/Tencel roving, and GnomeAcres House Gnome Sock in Polyjuice Potion (received as a gift).

For those curious about the roving, I may or may not have learned to spin on Wednesday and purchased all of this on Saturday.  More on that later.

On the one hand, that replaced all the stash-down I've done since Christmas and then some.  On the other hand, I have ideas for everything I purchased, so while I binged, I binged more thoughtfully than I would have pre-Cold Sheep.  And honestly, I can't feel guilty in the face of all those pretties. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go snuggle my skeins of alpaca.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On the needles

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What I'm doing: The reason for posts (and knitting in general) having been so scare is that I'm moving.  One of my goals for the year has happened - the Boy and I now have a place together.  But that means that a lot less knitting has been completed while I've been doing a lot of this:

One more week and we'll be fully established in the new townhouse, with its natural light and spacious patio.  But until then, life is taking a back seat to boxes.

What I'm reading: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  This was the book chosen for this year's freshman read, so I'm trying to knock it out before the summer starts and the freshmen get here.  It tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman who died of cancer in 1951, and the "immortal life" of the cells taken from her without her permission or knowledge, which have been used by scientists the world over to develop things like the polio vaccine, chemotherapy drugs, and otherwise make the drug industry quite wealthy.  I'm half-way through, and I must admit that the writing style is incredibly accessible and compelling, despite dealing with cell types and scientific research.  The tension between the treatment received by the Lacks family at the hands of the medical establishment, and what Rebecca herself is doing in writing the book, is fascinating to me.  I think the book works on so many levels, and even as a historian, recognizing the importance of accepting the past for what it is, I still can't imagine how scientists ever thought it was okay to treat people they way they did in the '50s and '60s.

What I'm watching:  Where Soldiers Come From - a documentary following a group of friends from their carefree existence in northern Michigan to sweeping roads for IEDs in Afghanistan and back home again.  I feel like it's only as groundbreaking as everyone claims because modern Americans have distanced themselves so far from the realities of war that the idea that young men go off to war and come back changed (and not always for the better) is a shock.  In the past, I think societies recognized that as a simple reality, and didn't need to make documentaries so people could "understand the horrors these young men have gone through."  You can't understand it.  You weren't there.  No amount of documenting and voyeuristic journalism is going to make you understand what it's like to be those men.  And honestly, I imagine if you asked them (or any of the millions of soldiers who came before them), they wouldn't want you to.  That said, it was an interesting documentary, and is worth seeing if only to get a better feel for how we treat our veterans.

What I'm knitting: Finished up my squares for Knitters for Newtown.  Managed to get them sent off on Friday, and will now switch gears back to queue-reduction knitting.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Expectations, great or otherwise

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You know the saying "caveat emptor?" I feel like that is doubly true since the invention of the internet and the proliferation of monitors with different color profiles.  When you fall in love with the image of yarn on your screen, you can't always be sure that the color you're seeing is the color of the yarn itself.  We've all purchased yarn we thought was a certain color, only to find out it was in fact five shades darker or greener or what have you.

This is doubly true of hand-painted yarns, where each skein is unique anyway, without the added burden of color profiles.  However, I recently received a skein where it was not simply a matter of it being a just different shade or hue than had been illustrated on the screen.  This was a matter of it being almost a completely different yarn.  I ordered what I was expecting to be a vibrantly saturated yarn that resembled green rolling hills, and received yarn that looked like a sad Easter Egg.

I am not going to name any names, because we all have off-days.  These things happen.  But I will admit to being extremely disappointed when I opened up my package and saw pastels staring up at me.  This was not the yarn I wanted when I excitedly purchased it lo these many weeks ago.

So being a good diy-er, I decided to fix it myself.  I soaked it in vinegar and went at it with some blue dye, and this is what I ended up with: 

Which was maybe slightly more vibrant than I had intended.  This is why I don't judge.  Dying yarn is hard, yo.  But I'm much happier with my shocking blue yarn than I was with my pastel Easter egg yarn, and already have the perfect project in mind for it: Regina, by Carina Spencer.

However, those of you who intend to do this yourself, take note - BFL felts.  Which probably shouldn't have been as surprising as it was, but I am impatient, and like to touch my yarn while it's soaking.  That was a mistake.  As you can see, the yarn is still servicable, but it certainly roughed up and each strand got cozy with its neighbors while it was drying.  I had to do some gentle tugging to separate things as I was rolling up the ball.

So note to self: when rinsing out hand-dyed yarn after defacing it, don't swish.
Thursday, February 21, 2013

Vintage Pattern Acquisition

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Interestingly, being cold sheep does not actually seem to have saved me a lot of money.  The money that was previously being spent on yarn simply gets diverted into pattern acquisition.  And not just your average pattern acquisition, but fairly expensive, vintage British patterns. My relationship with pdf reproductions of vintage patterns is fraught with tension - I like that they provide access to rare patterns, but I hate having to search around them when looking for originals, and am also leery of the copyright issues involved.

 It should probably surprise no one that as a historian, I love vintage patterns.  There is something very thrilling about holding in your hands a pattern that a knitter from a previous generation liked enough to purchase and preserve. I find that the thrill is particularly strong for WWII-era British patterns.  Knowing the hardships that women of that period lived through, and the shortages and privations they had to deal with, I imagine that knitting booklets were one of the only bright spots in a frequently difficult, stressful existence.  When I hold a 1942 issue of Stitchcraft, I imagine the woman who originally received it with her post being as excited as I am to receive an issue of Interweave, and rushing inside to put on the kettle so she could sit down for twenty minutes to leaf through the patterns with her cuppa.

Bestway, Sun-Glo, and Stitchcraft are my favorites - all of which are on the pricier end of the spectrum, of course.  I love Stitchcraft in particular because of the adverts, for wonderful things like Potato Pete's Recipe Book or Bunco's Toilet Paper ("We ask your indulgence if your retailer is temporarily out of stock").

Material culture is fantastic, and as a medievalist, it is not something I'm used to possessing, so I have been - and still am - willing to spend ridiculous amounts in order to own original vintage patterns.  I just can't allow myself to spend time on Ebay and Webs within the same month.

Monday, February 11, 2013


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Not all that long ago, I came across the Downton Abbey Luxury Yarn Club, hosted by Woolgirl and Curious Creek Fibers.  Now, while I recognize that it is a luxury yarn club, with awesome extras like Wee Ones Dowager Countess stitch markers, $550 is FAR outside my price-range for any club (no matter how much I might have wanted it).  So I lusted, but did not purchase.  

Since the pattern I was most interested in was the Mr. Bates socks, I decided that the next best thing would be to go ahead and design my own.  So I did.

I present you with Bates:

Constructed toe-up, with a combination of cables and twisted stitches on a reverse stockinette stitch background.  I had originally envisioned using a staggered cross cable (one with uneven numbers of repeats between each cable-row - to call to mind Mr. Bates' limp), but found that oddly, the roundness of the cables did not suit the design at all.

The heel is short-row, with a twisted stitch heel flap.  These are men's size 9, but were knit fairly narrow.  The pattern can easily be sized up, however, to account for more robust foot and leg circumference.

The yarn is Malabrigo Yarn Sock, in the Piedras colorway, which was meant to call to mind the khaki uniforms of the British army in the Boer war, when Mr. Bates was the Earl's batman.  This was my first order from Loopy Ewe, and I plan on buying more yarn from them in the future, if only for more adorable sheep drawings.  However, I think the pattern would hold up well in any gently variegated yarn.

The pattern is still being edited, and will be out for test-knitting soon.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Stash flash #1

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Hi.  My name is Caitlin, and I have a knitting problem.

Well, not so much a knitting problem, because if the knitting were the problem, the stash wouldn't be.  Let's say I have a yarn problem.

It looks a little bit like this:
Pardon me for *ahem* flashing my stash.  But even this is actually quite an improvement over the state of the thing at the beginning of January, before I buckled down and got organized.  Now each yarn is in a plastic bag, and if I know what I plan to make with it (and I do for about 70% of the yarn in that pile), the pattern has been printed and put into the bag.  And a half hour after this picture was taken, all the loose yarn you see was similarly corralled into ziplock baggies and placed into the storage bins you see in the background.

But no matter how beautifully organized it now is, it's still an overwhelmingly large stash.  Especially because more than of it than I would like is squeaky acrylic or dry and halo-y cotton, which won't cut it for the vintage patterns I now love to make.

I tried going Cold Sheep (ravelry link) last year, which went quite well until it...didn't anymore (yarn is a perfectly acceptable way of rewarding oneself for being a successful grown up, what are you talking about?).  My goal was to make it from the end of May to the end of December.  I made it from May through the end of September.  In penance for falling off the wagon - and boy, did I ever? -  I have signed back on for another three-ish months (til the NC Fiber Fest, in April) of being totally cold sheep, and, as I've already noted, I've pledged to spend 2013 knitting from my stash.

And in attempt to stay accountable to myself, I am also making myself accountable to you.  I will periodically flash my stash, to show that it is decreasing rather than increasing, and will have to publicly shame myself by announcing it here if I do add any new yarn.  Hopefully, you will help to keep me honest and on the wagon for the duration of 2013.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013


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Look what was in my mailbox today!

Not too terribly long ago, I donated to Three Irish Girls to help get them out of the studio of horribleness. In exchange for monetary support of a certain amount, Sharon and co promised a skein of a special colorway.
And lo and behold, this lovely appeared in my mailbox today:
The colorway is Moondance (as in "a marvelous night for...") and is on the Adorn sock base.  It is beautiful and I can't wait to see how it works up.  Sometimes 3IG's yarns can be a bit...exuberant, but this looks promisingly sockworthy.
Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hazel Knits

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I am a sucker for hand-dyed yarns.  The colors, the vibrancy, the blends!  The frequently unexpected way it works up (although that is not always pleasant, as Jean noted today)!  The joy of watching each new color appear as you stitch.  It is, not to be too much of an aesthete, a transcendent form of knitting.

I have plenty of favorite dyers:  Three Irish Girls (I think I've put one of Sharon's children through college),  Nerd Girl Yarns, Sweet Georgia, the Verdant Gryphon (her yarns are so squishy!), Dragonfly Fibers.  They all do fascinating things with color blends and produce yarn that is fantastic to work with.

But today...today I found some of the most beautiful semi-sold yarns I have ever beheld.

Hazel Knits.

Image (c) hazel knits.  Artisan Sock in Nickel.

Image (c) hazel knits.  Filigree lace in Jay Blue.

I am sadly Cold Sheep (more on that soon), and cannot buy any of these lovelies until April.  But you should.  You absolutely should, and then come back and tell me about how pretty it is so that I can live vicariously through your yarn acquisition.  Because this is seriously the most gorgeous yarn I've seen in ages.