Friday, December 29, 2006

Year-end knits

I finished my Christmas knitting!

My brother received his socks on Christmas Day, blocked and wrapped. Here he poses with them up on his new parka:

Brother's knee socks 1 Brother's knee socks 2

Pattern: basic stockinette socks based on measurements of my bro's feet and legs
Yarn: Knitpicks Swish (Superwash!), 3 balls in Copper plus small amounts of the colors Fired Brick and Deep Ocean
Needles: size 5 bamboo circular in a length long enough for magic loop
Time: about two weeks
Thoughts: These were a lot of fun to make. And much faster with worsted weight than they would have been otherwise. My brother (as y'all probably saw in the comments a while back) liked the colors, and the socks fit him well, too. Yay! Mission accomplished. I hope the Knipicks Swish works out well. It's machine washable - a must for gift socks, I tend to think. I was a bit displeased with the yarn, though. A few times there were a lot of splits in the plying, so I had to cut the yarn and rejoin in order to prevent problems later of the whole sock falling apart on my bro's feet.

My other Christmas knit finished up just two nights ago: my mom's scarf!

Mom's boucle scarf
It's very long!

Pattern: Basic Biased Scarf
Yarn: 1 skein Lorna's Laces Grace Boucle Mohair in "Douglas Fir"
Needles: Knitpicks Options size 10.5 on the 24" length
Time: about a week and a half
Pattern for biased scarf: Cast on desired number of stitches. Knit 1 row. Next row (R1): K1, K2tog, K til second-to-last stitch, KFB, K1. (R2): Knit. Repeat til desired length. Bind off. Etc.

Mom's scarf
Tied up on a lamppost

Thoughts: Mohair yarn isn't exactly easy to knit with. Your needles poke through the little loops and pull and get stuck! Luckily the Knitpicks needles are niiice and pointy, so I eventually got better at going through the correct loop. You can use the cast-on tail to keep track of when to do the bias row, doing that row whenever the tail is on the right. I love this pattern. It's mindless knitting (so long as you keep track of which row is biased) and it works really well with multicolored or semi-solid colored yarns and creates a very nice effect when finished.

Now that Christmas knitting is done, I have a little something to show you:

Clapotis increase section

Clapotis! I've become kind of obsessed by this knit. The colors and softness of the yarn and the promise of future intentional dropping of stitches (wheee!) make for yummy knitting time. (Thank you, dear Coffeeboy, for such a wonderful gift!) I've done 5 increases so far, and i'm anticipating doing 1 and maybe 2 more, depending on quantity of yarn and desired width. My Clapster will be smaller than the original, because I'm using thinner yarn and much smaller needles (size 4 for sport weight yarn? Have I become a loose knitter or something?). I'd like it to function as both a wrap and a scarf, so I'm going for some kind of intermediate width (16-18 inches or so would be ideal).

Question: The next two skeins contain one that's somewhat darker (darker blues, darker browns) than this skein, and one that's about the same. Do I: 1) attempt to exchange it for one that's more in keeping with current colors? 2) Use it because I like the darker colors and a) put it in the middle between the two lighter ones or b) put it at the end? (I wish I'd snapped a pic of the two other skeins for you all!)

Clapotis curls
My but we're curling a lot, aren't we!

Needless to say, I'll be bringing this one on Coffeeboy and my trip to Panama.

Yes, you read that right. Tomorrow, we head off to Panama to visit some very dear family who've moved there in the last year or so. The temperatures will be in the upper 80s and very humid (say the weather websites), so I'm not sure how much knitting I'll feel like doing in those conditions. We'll be there for 10 days, though, so I plan to bring all the yarn for the Clapster, plus enough for 1-2 pairs of socks. I think that should be enough, given weather, sightseeing, and my inability to knit in a car without feeling ill. I promise to take lots of pictures of Panama! Heck, I'll have internet access and my computer, so you might even hear from me while we're away.

On that note, I think I will wish you all a happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Yarn, glorious yarn

I hope you all had wonderful Christmases if you celebrate, and if you don't, I hope you at least had a nice day off from work! Thanks for all your holiday wishes over the past month! This blog is being brought to you courtesy of my same trusty old iBook, but now with a bigger (and oh-so-much brighter!) new screen! I have to say, working, blogging, and looking at pictures of yarn will be so much nicer with such a pretty screen. Thanks, Mom!

It's been a yarn-happy holiday month here at chez Lazuli. From my birthday, to Hanukah and Christmas, I've been the very, very happy recipient of plenty of nice yarn.

Take the following, for example, from Coffeeboy and my MIL:

Holiday yarn haul

We have 2 balls of Waterlily (a beautiful variegated blue, perhaps almost enough for a hat of some sort?), and then 3 skeins of Brown Sheep Wildfoote sock yarn ( do we see Coffeeboy socks somewhere?), and a turquoise-colored ball of Mega Boots Stretch, all from my wonderful MIL. In front to the left, we see some lovely Lorna's Laces (yay! LL stash enhancement!) in the Gold Hill colorway after which I've been lusting. Next to the LL, finally, is a most wonderful present, from Coffeeboy (with the additional encouragement courtesy of a birthday coupon for my LYS): 3 skeins of sport-weight Claudia Hand Painted yarn in the very Lazuli-like Blue Sky colorway. This last one, my friends, is destined to become that phenom of the knitblog world, Clapotis.

That's right. I've never made one, and I've recently been introduced to the joys of the Clap - o - T by some of the wonderful ladies at my SnB. I'll be starting on that pretty much as soon as I finish my mom's Xmas present, which should be in the next day or so.

Given the yarny happiness that's been happening in my world, I've decided to join Knit From Your Stash 2007.

I've never officially put myself on a yarn diet before, since I've always considered my yarn acquisitiveness to be not bad enough to quite need a diet. But now, with so much wonderful yarn already in my stash, I think it's a good idea to basically make myself use some of it. I have many many pairs of socks in there, several shawls or scarves worth of lace-weight yarn, and even yarn for a sweater hiding in the stash.

What rules will I be following? Let's see:
  1. My yarn diet lasts until March 31st, 2007. (It's not *that* long, but it should help me to knit some things I've been planning to knit, but won't exhaust my stash or my patience. It should also give me enough time to breath before, say, the Maryland Sheep and Wool so I don't go totally nuts at the festival.) The deadline may be extended (but not shortened) as willpower permits.
  2. Regarding sock yarn: Sock yarn in Lazuli-like colors is not allowed. However, if I find sock yarn that's in a great colorway for Coffeeboy, I may buy it, because with the exception of the Wildfoote pictured above, I'm short on Coffeeboy-colored sock yarn. (If I start using this proviso as an excuse to buy lots of sock yarn, then I'm no longer allowed to buy it.)
  3. I am allowed to receive gift yarn. (Going to a yarn store and having Coffeeboy "buy me yarn for a gift" doesn't count.)
  4. If a need for a gift comes up that my stash really just won't fulfill, then I may buy it.
  5. If I need yarn to complete a project, then purchasing more is also permitted.
  6. Finally, like Wendy and L-B, I will allow myself one "oops! I bought it!" moment.
Wish me luck and happy knitting from my stash!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A knitter's Christmas

My all-time favorite Christmas poem is Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales. In the middle of his wonderful poetic sojourn into the Christmases past of our imaginations, the small boy pestering the narrator with questions insists:

"Get back to the Presents."

A litany of various woolen items of questionable quality follows:

"There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a substance like silky gum that could be tug-o'-warred down to the galoshes; blinding tam-o'-shanters like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes; from aunts who always wore wool next to the skin there were mustached and rasping vests that made you wonder why the aunts had any skin left at all; and once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us. And pictureless books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles' pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why."

Until I became a knitter, I never quite saw the insult in these descriptions of woolen gifts; I hope mine surpass these, and become not just Useful (if odd) gifts, but the ever more enjoyable "Useless Presents," such as:

"Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies and a folded flag and a false nose and a tram-conductor's cap and a machine that punched tickets and rang a bell; never a catapult; once, by mistake that no one could explain, a little hatchet; and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow; and a painting book in which I could make the grass, the trees, the sea and the animals any colour I pleased, and still the dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the rainbow-billed and pea-green birds."

When all is said done, though, the last lines capture this winter month for me:

"Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept."

Merry Christmas in this darkest time of year, these days of solstice. Whether or not you celebrate this particular holiday, I hope your darkness is holy (whatever you consider the holy to be) and that all around you feels close with comfort.

Not to mention - may all your knitted gifts be not only finished, but useful and thoroughly enjoyed!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Notions of Knitpicks

Are Knitpicks and Babies R' Us associated in some way? Because inside a package protected by this:

Odd wrapping choice

one finds this:

Options needle case
the Knitpicks options needles, from my MIL

I'm very excited, because I've been wanting this set ever since deciding I liked the classic circulars earlier this fall.

Eager to test out my new needles, I cast on for a very last-minute gift: a simple biased scarf for my mom, made of some of the boucle yarn she gave me for my birthday.

Cats are so helpful, aren't they!

This scarf is knit using the size 10.5 needles and the 24" cord. I love the flexibility of the cord, the pointiness of the needles! They're great!

Except... one of my size 5s didn't screw onto the 32" cord, which I was all set to use to finish up this gift:

Xmas WIP
Knee socks of brotherly love

I did some testing and figured out that the needle, rather than the cords, was the problem. I've contacted the company, and they are sending me a replacement needle. I've read that people have had some problems with the set (usually where the cord attaches to the metal part that the needle screws into), so I wasn't terribly surprised to find a defect. I'd also heard that Knitpicks has very cooperative customer service, which I found to be the case (so far). The woman immediately said they would send me a new needle; this was on Wednesday and I'm hoping it arrives soon!

Happy holidays, and merry Christmas eve's eve to all!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Finished Hanukah knits!

I can't reveal several Christmas knits yet (besides, they're still being worked on) - but I can reveal two finished Hanukah items!

First, the one that has been gifted, my husband's socks. He loves them so much he won't allow a proper photograph so I had to capture the socks hiding on his feet, under his jeans and slippers. I guess that makes them a partial revelation of holiday knitting:

Mountain colors Bearfoot socks

Pattern: plain ol' stockinette, 60 stitch circumference, 2" ribbing on cuff, heel flap, wedge toe, kitchenerned off.
Yarn: Mountain Colors Bearfoot, in the color "Yellowstone" (isn't it pretty!)
Needle: Knitpicks Options size "1" (so, 2.5mm or 1.5 by "normal" reckoning)
Thoughts: I love the colors on this yarn! It's so soft, with the wool, mohair, and nylon. Maybe that's why he's barely taken them off his feet since I gave them to him on Friday? The softness made it a delight to work with, and there was definitely no awkward pooling or striping. The colors are gorgeous, browns and deep reds with little bits of gold flashing through.

Secondly - The recipient of the super-secret-sock is now in her car winging her way north for a brief visit en route further north, so I can post her socks now!

Red herring socks

Pattern: Red Herring by Knitty
Yarn: Elann's "Sock It to Me" yarn (4-ply), in colors 7139 and 9800, a black and a burgundy red. I used one full ball of the black and only part of the red ball, with one full ball of black left over.
Needles: size 2 for the colorwork, size 1 for the rest.
Thoughts: This is such a fun pattern! (Thanks, Cookie!) The colorwork - which was a new experience for me - was really fun. I think it was made easier by none of the floats being more than 3 stitches long, making it easier to keep tension even. I do think that I probably pulled the floats tighter than necessary. They've evened out some with blocking, and will do so more, I expect, with wearing. You can see the floats here, on the left:

Red herring - inside and out

I hope she likes them! But now, back to work and to Christmas knitting! I'll have a few Hanukah gift pictures to show you over the next few days, pretty yarn and intriguing new needles from Knitpicks (oops, did I say what it is?!). Did you know they use paper from Babies R' Us as protective shipping material? They do. I have pictorial proof coming in the next post!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

My cookies look like Whitman

I had a very nice day Saturday. I spent the afternoon cleaning house in preparation for a party, doing a bit of reading, and talking to a dear friend about the holidays. In the evening, Coffeeboy and I hosted a latke party. About 10-11 friends, mostly from my department, came over, and everyone seemed to have a good time. It seemed to be a good mix of people, with enough in common to have something to talk about, and enough new people and topics left unexplored to have something to talk about. Coffeeboy, being the Jewish half here, served as latke chef, and cooked up some delicious latkes. Yum-my! Everyone ate lotsa latkes, and we sent a few home as leftovers. (I served as dishwasher, cleaning up the grease afterwards).

No one, however, commented that my cookies look like Whitman, as the title of this post implies. (Don't worry, I didn't expect them to). That only happens within the strange confines of my brainwaves, apparently. I'm not joking either! Look at this:

The snowman has a crooked hat... Whitman has a crooked hat.

Sand tart snowman

Santa has a beard... Whitman has a beard.
Snowman's beard

I even showed the first Whitman image to Coffeeboy, who confirmed that I'm not just seeing things in the snowmen.

Or maybe I am.

Holiday knitting pictures will return soon! I have a Hanukkah knit to show you all (after I remember to photograph it, if I can borrow Coffeeboy's feet long enough), and pretty soon a semi-super-secret sock FO. Stay tuned! I hope your weekends are going well!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Interfaith holiday cookies

As I mentioned in my last post, Coffeeboy and I have been working on making holiday cookies. Yum! Actually, these were done on... Monday (?) night; I've just been slow about updating my blog.

Un-iced cookies

Christmas cookies

Turning into... iced cookies!
Iced cookies
Between baking and icing, these took a long, fun, worthwhile evening!

Iced cookies close up Dreidels
Santas, trees, stars, and dreidels!
So they're not totally interfaith... we don't have any pagan symbols for Solstice or images for Kwanzaa or, well, you get the point!

This December has been a strange month. I have all these illusions of free time that I'm forgetting are really quite insubstantial. I'm only auditing one class, so it hardly feels like the semester is ending. I've been trying to get myself sorted out for finishing two incompletes I have, both of which require writing 15-20 page papers. I'm not feeling terribly inspired by either of them, since they're not in my major area of interest and have little to do with possible future dissertation topics. Thus, I'd much rather be digging around in potential dissertation topics right now than working on the incompletes! Nevertheless, I've been working on both papers a lot, leading to things like forgetting to blog about cookies, falling behind on holiday knitting, and the like.

In between sorting out what I'm actually writing my papers on, there are all the holiday events: parties, concerts, shopping, family arriving later this coming week, etc. Every time I think, "classes are over! I have two weeks to work on papers before we go away at New Year's," I forget just how little working time there will actually be in these next two weeks!

Regarding commenting: I've read if you hit "preview the comment" (or whatever it says) that's one workaround that lets folks comment. I suspect the real issue, though, has to do with signing up for a Google account to replace one's old blogger account.

Hanukkah starts tonight! Have a happy Hanukkah to all those who celebrate it!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Comments in blogger beta

As I said in my previous post, I've switched to blogger beta now. I've already heard from Danielle that comments aren't functioning properly - but they're obviously working for some of you. I've checked my settings and everything looks ok, so we'll just have to play it by ear. Thanks for your patience!

Monday, December 11, 2006

O, arboreal friend!

We got our Christmas tree - excuse me, our arboreal friend, as Coffeeboy has been calling it on behalf of the cats - this weekend! Thus far, the kittens like it a lot; they're extremely pleased with "their" new toy:

Juniper strikes Fascinated cats

Actually, they've been very good. They haven't drunk from the tree's water bowl. They haven't knocked over the tree or electrocuted themselves on the lights. They've only crawled under the tree skirt and taken naps there... a few times in the last day or so. But hey, since the tree hasn't fallen over, I'm happy!

Decorated tree

I love the holidays. We're an interfaith home here at chez Lazuli and Coffeeboy, and it's been an interesting and enjoyable process learning to celebrate our two traditions. We always adorn our home with lots of light - on the tree, around the menorah, framing the windows, along the fireplace, up the stairway railing. I love how the light looks in the darkness, how whether it comes from a menorah's candles or a fireplace or even a colorful electric glow - for a short moment at least, the light drives out the darkness of the winter and the world.

Tree by light Menorah and lights

Tonight we engage in my other favorite part of the holidays - baking cookies! Tonight we'll make a type of cookie that my mom's family has used for generations (well, at least back to my great-grandmother), a sour milk cookie cut in shapes of Santas, trees, dreidels, and Jewish stars. We used to call them the "Santa Clauses and Christmas trees," but now I don't know what to call them, since that list of four holiday symbols gets rather long! Over the next few days, I promise there will be lots of baking going on in the Lazuli household!

(Apologies to those using blog aggregating services: I've switched to blogger beta, and now it reads "26 posts" in bloglines! All should catch up soon; let me know if something isn't working.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Holiday knitting progress

I'm using:

knee sock yarn.JPG
this Knitpicks Swish yarn

to make a knee sock of gigantic manly proportions for my brother. It's coming along quite quickly; since taking this picture a couple of nights ago, I've already done 12". Such are the glories of size 5 needles and worsted weight yarn.

Knee sock begun
Cell phone included for size comparison

I'm a little concerned, though, that the colors are a little too on the funky side. That bright blue looks very interesting next to the "copper." Coffeeboy has kindly called them "very 70s colors" - true indeed. I think my brother will like the colors. They're for keeping warm around the house (so far as I know) so if they look a bit like strange lederhosen, that might be quirky in a good way. I'm planning to do one sock with blue ribbing and toes, plus red heel, and the other with red ribbing and toes, and a blue heel. Maybe that will balance out the brightness.

The secretive sock project continues along nicely. This spoiler picture is a little garish from the flash; sorry about that.

Mystery sock progress

I have a few more holiday gift projects in the works (3, to be exact) which I'm confident of finishing in time for Hannukah and Christmas. 2 of those 3 are started; the third isn't, but it should be pretty simple (a simple boucle scarf on the bias).

Thanks, everyone, for all the kind birthday wishes!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Birthday! (aka Yarn Pr0n Day)

Today, in case you're curious, I stop getting older, at least according to usual women's reckoning. Yup, for the rest of my life, I will remain 29, at least if my mom is any example. I don't feel old yet. The sense of impending change of decade (in about 365 days) hasn't quite hit me yet, and for now, I think I'll just enjoy the yarn pr0n that came with this birthday!

First of all, we have the sock yarn:

Birthday sock yarn.jpg

Left to right: 2 skeins of Koigu, 2 of the new Colinette yarn, and 1 of Cherry Tree Hill. Coffeeboy picked out the really bright blue and colored one in the middle, and the others were from the yarn store trip with my mom last weekend. Thanks, both of you!! It'll be fun to try the new Colinette Jitterbug yarn and see what it knits up like! Three of those future pairs you saw poking out of wrapping paper last week; now they can come out of their shells!

Bday yarn 2.JPG Bday yarn 3.JPG

And then, of course, the non-sock yarn:

Bdyarn 4.JPG

The boucle (Lorna's Laces in Douglas Fir) is destined to be a scarf for my mom. The Rowan I've set aside for... something nice. Hat? Scarf?

Finally, knitting books:
Bday knit books.JPG

Coffeeboy gave me the Knitting Vintage Socks (yay!) and my friend Ivory Needles sent Knit One, Kill Two, a knitting mystery for some fun, light reading!

Those are just the knitting presents! I had a few non-knitting presents that were also very nice, but less interesting to a knitting blog. We had a quiet day: slept in, went out for brunch, played with presents yarn. We braved the holiday malls and were singularly uninspired (Hannukah starting on the 16th means we have to think early about what to get half the famiily... Christmas gives us a little bit more time for the others!) We discussed various means of introducing large, upright greenery to the house despite the presence of rambunctious kitties. While Coffeeboy cooked me a nice birthday dinner, I read over a paper for a friend. We watched a Star Trek movie (#4, the one with whales), and afterwards started putting up a few holiday decorations.

All in all, a lovely birthday. If the weatherpeople are correct, I might even get some snow tonight for my birthday, too - but I'll have to wait till tomorrow to see.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Don't cry over spilled milk!

Yes, I've finally gathered enough info to give you the second installment of the Spilled Milk Saga. (In case you missed Part 1, look here.)

When last I posted on this topic, my clothes and knitting things were covered in milk, and the Barnes and Noble manager had promised to reimburse me with a gift card for damages. I received the estimate from the dry cleaners on Thursday, the day after the spillage and the day before I left for the conference in DC. It would have paid for, let's say, a medium-priced knitting book. I received a gift card from the manager and told him I was still working on the fate of my knitting and my knitting bag (which he was pretty sure would be irreparably damaged).

I picked up my clothing from the dry cleaners on Tuesday (before Thanksgiving) and noted that while my knit top and corduroy pants were fine, my beloved corduroy blazer (with a shiny purple lining, the best part!!) still had crusty milky bits in it! That was definitely quite annoying, and worth a call to B&N.

I meant what I said about milking this for all it's worth, folks.

I called the B&N guy and told him about the jacket and its value. He asked about the milk-covered knitting bag, which he thought had looked totally ruined. I explained that yes, I washed it and it still had milk in it, and gave him the value of the materials I'd used to make it. (I didn't tell him that it's actually fine, but since he was so certain it would be ruined, I figured... as far as he knows, it's ruined, right?) The knitting I'd been doing was actually OK, so I didn't include that in the total.

The end result is that another gift card is on hold for me, worth about 2-3 more knitting books. My birthday is this Sunday - I think I just might enhance my book stash, courtesy of B&N!

As they say, "don't cry over spilled milk" - especially if it brings one knitting books! There's no crying here, that's for sure!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

You can't please everyone!

I gave my Toastmasters speech tonight. It went well, mostly. I went with the topic I mentioned the other day - why the study of American religious history is important - and asked the Toastmasters to pretend they were college students thinking about taking my course. The project was to "persuade with power" - ie, to learn how to make a persuasive speech.

Now, first of all, if someone in class really asked me why they should take my class rather than an economics or biology class (something "practical"), I wouldn't launch into a 5-7 minute speech. No way! I'd ask the class why they think the topic is important and turn it into a brainstorming session.

Nevertheless, I gave the speech. I slipped into lecture mode. Oops. I didn't even know I had a lecture mode, but apparently that's what I did. I paced back and forth. I looked at the floor while I gathered my thoughts. All of this felt very natural. My evaluator told me it broke the connection with the audience and was detrimental to my sincerity and conviction. Here I thought appearing to stop and gather my thoughts would look more convincing. Oops!

You see, Toastmasters aims to help people with their public speaking skills, which in turn should help one with one's professional goals. They don't like it, though, if you give a speech that conforms more to the norms of one's professional role than to the specific Toastmasters situation of giving a 5-7 minute (or however long) prepared speech. How frustrating! Apparently I can't experiment with lecture styles at Toastmasters, and I don't quite think that the "emotional connection with the audience" my evaluator wanted works well for lectures! Yes, it's good to be an interesting, engaged speaker when lecturing, but it's not the same thing.

You can't be all things to all people, I guess, and I should do the Toastmasters thing at Toastmasters, and practice lecturing in other situations. I guess I thought I could combine the two, but it appears that you can't please everyone! Maybe I should have given a persuasive speech on why Toastmasters needs to be open to a variety of speaking styles, especially ones that pertain to people's jobs! :-)

I did get a bunch of knitting done on the somewhat mysterious sock, which was fun!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Knitting: The New Arts and Crafts? (part 2)

A few weeks ago, I posted about an upcoming Toastmasters speech I was going to give. I wanted your thoughts regarding a comparison between the late-19th century Arts and Crafts movement and the contemporary resurgence of knitting. Several of you asked to see the speech, and at last I'm getting around to editing it to reflect what I said rather than what I'd written ahead of time. Here you go!

Do you have a hobby? Perhaps you have a vegetable garden, or you like quilting and sewing. Maybe you really enjoy fixing your car or doing do-it-yourself projects around the house. Maybe you visit your local farmer’s market because you enjoy the organic produce you can purchase there. Perhaps you enjoy baking your own bread, the heady, hearty smell of yeast floating through the air as it bakes – so much better than Wonderbread!

For me, my hobby is knitting. I’m wearing some of my knitted items right now, which I’ll talk about throughout my speech. Tonight I’d like to tell you why, for thousands of young women like myself, knitting is the new Arts and Crafts. Yes, as Tony told me before the meeting, it's been a hobby for many years (he mentioned socks made for soldiers back in World War I), but it seems to me that despite this older popularity, knitting is indeed experiencing a resurgence of popularity among young women and even a few young men. Maybe you’ve heard of these book titles: Zen and the Art of Knitting [laughter] or At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much. You might have seen a news article calling knitting the “new yoga." [laughter] We knit, it seems, because it puts us in touch with something real, something physical, something more important than purchasing a sweater at a store. Take, for example, this shawl that I’m wearing. Whenever I wear it, I think about the process of making it: I started it on a trip to my in-laws, and finished it months later in time to wear to the wedding of two good friends.

Since I’m a historian, I often find myself thinking about past precedent for current practices. Specifically, I call knitting “the new arts and crafts” because of how it reminds me of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century. What’s that, you may ask, and what does your handout have to do with knitting? Hang in there, I’ll tell you.

Let’s have a look at the handout. [See footnote below for links to the images I used].* The Arts and Crafts movement was a late 19th century movement that started in Britain with elite men who wanted to escape the sense of alienation and malaise brought on by industrialized society. Buying tables and chairs at stores rather than making them themselves made these corporate leaders of an increasingly capitalist world uneasy. So they went back to the land, or at least to the workbench, creating beautiful tables, chairs, chests, and other works of art. They aimed for simple yet elegant designs that stood in stark contrast to the flowery, ornate complexity of much of Victorian art. Think of the turrets and spires of Victorian-inspired mansions still around today, or the enormity of the famous houses of the Vanderbilts or Rockefellers, and you get an idea of what I mean.

[looking at bottom half of handout] The handout also includes some contemporary resonances for the 19th century Arts and Crafts movement. For example, the image of the brand of home repair tools that you can find today actually borrows from a major Arts and Crafts journal called “The Craftsman.” You’ll see images of both there on the handout.

Of course, knitting isn’t exactly home repair or microbrewing. However – and this is my main point for tonight – just as supporters of the Arts and Crafts movement were attempting to get back to something real through their handiwork, knitters of today are seeking to be in touch with the stuff of life. Just look at what I’m wearing, and what I’ve brought with me: hand-knit socks, a shawl, this sweater, and even a cell-phone holder just for kicks. Would it be cheaper to buy socks or sweaters at Target, or even Macy’s? Certainly it would be. Knitting isn’t about doing things for cost-effectiveness. My husband could tell you, however, that whenever I finish a pair of socks, I do a little dance around the house, staring in glee at my feet. [Here I started dancing around the room in a rather ridiculous fashion]. "Look honey, look what I made! Look at my new socks!"

One of my fellow knitters spoke of using her great-grandmother’s needles as she knits her own projects; knitting for her becomes a connection with her family, her past, and her present. We knit, several friends said, because we want to feel connected to the very physicality of the world around us. We want more of a connection than we get handing over the credit card at the big-box store. We want a chance to give actual material shape to our own lives outside of the limiting confines of the mass market.

In short, I, and dozens of knitters like me, knit for the same reason we all go on hikes, travel the world, bake our own bread, grow our own veggies, or learn a new skill. Like the men who participated in the Arts and Crafts movement, we knit for connection, for a chance to experience the world in a slightly different way.

What’s your new Arts and Crafts?

*Basically, I googled for Arts and Crafts images to use on a handout. Here are the ones I used: a Frank Lloyd Wright chair, a Greene and Greene chair, and this plant stand.

At the bottom of the page (for the contemporary resonances) I included the following: the turn-of-the-century Craftsman newsletter, the contemporary Craftsman brand of tools, and a microbrewery logo that plays on the Arts and Crafts ideal.

It was a lot of fun using the handout, as I kind of felt like I was in class. For that matter, it was fun to take off my shoes and dance around wearing a handknit pair. I've never quite danced at Toastmasters before, and the audience seemed properly amused by my performance! They even bought that I used these entirely non-knitting-related images to discuss the contemporary appeal of knitting!

I have another Toastmasters speech this Thursday. The project is to "Persuade with Power." I think I'm going to pretend that it's the first meeting of a class on American religious history and a student has jsut asked why he/she should take this class rather than something more practical or concrete like Econ 101 or American "regular" history. My job will be to convince the student/audience of the importance of knowing about the history of religion in America, using both logic and emotion to support my position. In order to keep it relevant, I might use this time of year - holidays and consumerism - as examples, thus keeping it relevant to the people in Toastmasters, most of whom are not students. In other words, it's the 5-7 minute oral exam I'll never have, but without professors!

Happy belated Turkey Day!

We spent the long weekend at my mom's house in the San Jose, California, area. We arrived on Wednesday just in time to start cooking! Seeing as two of us are fishetarians (fish-eating vegetarians), we had a nice slab of salmon in addition to the inevitable turkey. T, my mom's boyfriend, had the rather effective (plus entertaining) idea to remove the large bones with a pair of pliers (click for the larger image to get the full effect!):

Pliers for the bones
Take that, Alton Brown!

As usual, the table was set in full fall-colored Thanksgiving splendor:

Thanksgiving table

We ate: soup, salmon, turkey, vegetarian stuffing, stuffing from the turkey, candied sweet potatoes, Del Monico potatoes, green beans, salad, and of course, pie! Pecan and pumpkin (which we actually dug into on Wednesday night, dubbed "Thanksgiving Eve." A tasty new tradition has been born!)

We did: Coffeeboy plugged along on his dissertation. We all went wine tasting on Friday, and out to sushi in Los Gatos on Saturday. Several of us went to a woodworking shop and glued together little bumblebee toys the store was donating to homeless children. We spent a good deal of time patting Stinker, our 15 year-old cat who's now blind. We think he has kidney failure and arthritis, and he can only make it halfway up the stairs before he needs a long nap. He's a sweet old cat and I'm glad he made it to this Thanksgiving, as I don't know if he'll be around when next I visit.


We shopped: The only Black Friday shopping I engaged in took place at a LYS I tend to frequent when I visit my mom, Knitting Arts in Saratoga. (There were several other shops I wanted to visit, but I didn't want to bore my relatives. Next time, then!) This store was having a graduated sale, with 30% off if you arrived at 6:30 AM, and 25% off if you arrived between 8:30 and 10:30 am. I discovered the sale at about 9:35 am, and at 9:50 am, my mom and I were in the car, zooming over! Since this coming Sunday is my birthday, my mom offered an early present of yarn:

Yarn haul
Mmmmm, pretty colors!

She even wrapped the yarn so I'd have something official to open on the actual day, but she left the ends open in case the security people at the airport needed to look inside. After I "open" them on Sunday, I can show you more than a glimpse!

All in all, it was a restful, enjoyable long weekend. We're back home now, and I'm slowly getting back to the reality of the world and work after exams and conferences and travel - oh my!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Conference and FOs

I'm home from the conference. It went really well. Coffeeboy feels good about the interviews he had, and I managed to catch up with some very good, old friends as well as make a few new ones, not to mention the inevitable meeting of various scholars. In general, I felt very freed by my post-exams state: it gave me an easy topic of conversation and a zillion books were relatively fresh in my mind. I bought a few books, including one 3-volume set that cost more than I would've liked (including a 50% discount) but is a set I'll have to read as I move towards the dissertation. I heard some good news from professors about exam #2, and even had a couple of conversations with friends and others about possible dissertation ideas. Yay!

For the first time, I knit during the conference sessions - a sock for the husband, knit out of luscious Mountain Colors Bearfoot in "Yellowstone":

Yellowstone sock
Lucky husband... but he's worth it!

I also bounced around Washington, DC, sporting my newly knit tam:

Blue tam

Pattern: Tam from Hats On (in size medium)
Yarn: Andean Silk from Knitpicks
Needles: size 7 for the main part of the hat
Time: oh, about a day - very fast and recommended!
Thoughts/Mods: I changed the brim a bit, making it a 2x2 ribbing with a simple cable in the ribbing. I think it turned out quite cute!

I also finished up my Fuzzy Feet. Here are the images of before and after felting:

Fuzzy feet before Fuzzy feet 2

Pattern: Fuzzy Feet from Knitty
Yarn: Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride bulky (though the pattern calls for worsted, oops)
Needles: Size 10.5
Thoughts: Yes, I ran out of yarn and ended up with slippers of different colors. Oh well! They're also a little big for my feet, as you can see. Maybe that's because I used bulky yarn? They took 3 trips through the washer to felt, at which point the stitches were still a little visible but they were getting to be just the right length for my feet, so I dared not keep going. They will be coming with me out to California to visit my mom for Thanksgiving.

Fuzzy feet 1
These slip's are made for walking, and that's just what I'll do...

How's that for productivity! Woo-hoo! Now that I'm back from the conference, I can also work on washing up the Spilled Milk Saga...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Knitting, with spilled milk

Last night at SnB a milk carton exploded all over me! Specifically, my pants, my blazer, a few drops on my sweater, a few on the hat I was knitting, a few on the scarf I was wearing. It felt gross, annoying, and even a bit funny. It splashed, most impressively, all over my knitting bag, enough so that 10 minutes later after we'd cleaned up the mess and relocated to another table, the bag was dripping milk on the ground. I kid you not:

Photo courtesy of Dawn's camera phone

Anyways, we were at a Barnes and Noble, in the cafe. After the milk splashed all over me, the cafe folks couldn't find paper towels (WTF?) so I grabbed a pile of napkins from the table, and started moping myself off. Fellow knitters Jessica and Dawn kindly rescued knitted items from the sopping bag, and concocted all sorts of issues with how the milk had spilled on my irreplacable alpaca from the steppes of somewhere.

The store manager, who arrived during all this, clearly doesn't know much about either dry cleaning or fiber arts, and was prepared to be footing a large bill to cover the damages - a bill that would most likely take the rather nice form of a gift card with which to buy, well, knitting books, of course! He was clearly pleased that I wasn't screaming and shouting at him or about his staff (I'm not that kind of person.) Actually, the situation was pretty darn funny. At a certain point, I found myself trying not to laugh, having to make myself appear seriously concerned about my knitting bag and yarn to merit repayment for damages. Yet I really just wanted to let loose... I mean, I've been spilled upon by cafe staff before, but for some reason, it's never been this funny!

Needless to say, I'm milking the situation for all it's worth.

Har-har-har. I think I've used that line about as much as I can, now.

There is more to the story, of course! But I need to go pack and get organized for the big conference I'll be at this weekend in Washington, DC. I also need to felt those clogs! And take pictures of my newly finished tam. Stay tuned for Part II of the Spilled Milk Saga next week, when we all get to find out about the sum total of my remunerations knitting book fund.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cats in the bed

No, I don't mean "in the bed" as in taking cute, snuggly naps there or sleeping with us at night. No, I mean little beasts who lie on their backs and claw holes in the bottom cloth cover of the box spring, and then make the brilliant discovery that they can go in the box spring and take naps there! That they can crawl around inside there, making noises that sound more like advance-guard squirrels than little cats!

Ever since I realized they'd been inside the box spring, we've been trying to keep them out of the bedroom, at least at night. Finally on Saturday, after my exams were over, we did something about it. First, of course, we had to assess the damage:

Inspecting their handiwork 1 Inspecting their handiwork 2
Juniper is pleased with the damage she inflicted

After some debate, Coffeeboy and I had decided that rather than simply put a new cloth cover on the boxspring - one which sooner or later (and probably sooner) would be clawed into - we would put some lightweight sheets of wood under there. We removed the flopping cloth, and the cats, not satisfied with simply checking over their destructive handiwork, climbed inside, one last time.

Cats in the boxspring 3
Mage is pleased that even though the bed is standing up, she can still climb in... for now

We put down some kind of woody substance, basically like pegboard but without the peg holes. I forgot to take a picture. When the cats found that their secret hideaway was truly gone, we saw them glowering under the bed, scheming up a plan, no doubt. Thus far, our nights have been free of disturbing squirrel-like noises.

On the knitting front: Work on everything is temporarily stalled. During a bit of shopping yesterday I tried on a tam, and I thought it looked pretty cute! But why buy one when I could raid the stash? Besides, Angel had whipped one out, so why - in a vast fit of copy-cat-itis, I guess (thanks for the inspiration, A!) - couldn't I? That's what I did last night, minus getting up to the start of the decreases and realizing it was one size too big. Not to mention starting over three times as I fiddled with a simple cable on the brim. (Argh!) I think I'm finally back on track, though. Maybe I can finish it tonight at SnB!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Done, done, and started

Done #1: I'm done with my second general exam! Yay!!! Friday came and went in a flurry of typing, and I was finished! There are still 2 papers left that count as exams, but I'm done with the 8-hour, slogging through it, type of exam! Woo-hoo! I think it went about as well as the last one (which means I think I passed). Yay! I am a bit nervous because, well, one prof asked for "bolder claims and statements" so I pretty mucg finished off one essay with a few "what the field needs is this" statements that read rather obviously as loose dissertation thoughts. This makes me nervous, especially when I don't know when I'll hear back about the exam.

Done #2: I also finished ths socks I mentioned in the last post:

Opal socks

Yarn: Opal something or other
Needles: Knitpicks 0s with magic loop
Time: oh, too long (you can tell I really keep track of these things, can't you)
Thoughts: This self-patterning yarn knits up strangely. I have no idea if the yarn was supposed to knit up like this, but it does, and it's rather odd. I think the recipient - who so far as I know doesn't read this blog - will like them, though. I still have yarn, so I'm considering making some very basic ribbed fingerless mitts to go with the socks. A big *thank you!* for all the suggestions about what to do with the too-tight gauge. I appreciate all the support, and meant to write something in response sooner, but obviously, there was the test. Also, I was at the toe (so, the end) of sock #2, so there was really little point in measuring, and I just wanted them done. In retrospect, I think that mindset was inspired by my exam; had I not been working on them right before the exam, I might have frogged the foot and knit it differently. Oh well. They've been blocked, and I think they will fit. If anything, they'll start out tight and then loosen up over the course of a day.

Started: What have I been doing to relax now that my exam is done? Knitting, of course, and a good bit of sleeping! Besides finishing those socks above, I started these, a vaguely-secret sock project:

Mystery sock

I knit a couple more inches beyond that earlier tonight, sitting by a fire while Coffeeboy and his brother watched football. We've done a lot of playing games (mostly Starfarers of Catan) since the BIL came into town yesterday afternoon; while we played, I did a bit of easy knitting, finally finishing up my Fuzzy Feet! Now, all they need is felting. But I'll save the details for another post.

I'll also save the details (ie, pictures) of how the cats clawed a hole in the boxspring of our bed, started hanging out inside it, and needed the vacuum to scare them out of it, and of what we did to keep them from getting in there, for another post, too. In other words, I'm playing blog- catch-up. Yay!