Archive | October, 2007

Pumpkin Carving

31 Oct

I think the last time I actually carved a pumpkin (pre-Doug, that is) was probably when I was about 8. We used to paint our pumpkins because they would last longer and were far less messy (mom was practical, I have to say).

So, the whole pumpkin carving thing, while fun, seems like a lot of work. I never know what to carve and actually get a lot more pleasure out of watching other people create their designs and (literally) dig in. This is a rare thing for me, because I hate to be left out of anything crafty. But in this case I feel that pumpkin carving is better left to the experts.

On Sunday two of my SnB friends, Johnnie and Peggy, had a pumpkin-carving party. It was really fun, and I so loved seeing what each person came up with. Doug wound up carving our pumpkin because he is truly good at it in a way that I can never be. He decided to make a castle with a moon and clouds behind it (on the back side of the pumpkin). Lit up it looks really cool!

Castle

And then there were all the others — a cat, some scary faces, a tree.

Behold the makers!

Jenna and cat
Top L-R, Peggy, Johnnie, Jen, Sarah; Bottom, Jenna

And, no party put on by Johnnie and Peggy is complete without tons of yummy food! There were spider cupcakes, a pumpkin grave cake, and my favorite — fingers!

Fingers

Oh, and Atticus the kitten even got into the mood (perhaps wishing he were all black for the occasion??)…

Atticus

More on Sweaters…

30 Oct

So, in a previous post I put up some of my earlier attempts at making a sweater. Even though I used to make sweaters and make up my own patterns, something has shifted within recent years since I once again picked up knitting (I took a 6-7 year hiatus from crochet and knitting at one point in time)…

I bought a pattern book, The Yarn Girls Guide to Simple Knits.

Maybe it was the allure of the lavender-colored bulky yarn on the cover or the wide range of sweater types they have patterns for, but I thought about, lusted and saved for this book for a couple of months a few years ago.

I have been unable to think up my own sweater patterns since.

It’s not that I don’t have ideas, it’s just that I realized that in terms of technique I had gone as far as I could go. Straight lines and whipstitched seams are fine for a while, but I knew I had to tackle raglan and set-in sleeves as well as invisible seaming at some point. I also knew that I had to learn about the different shapes and styles out there to expand my understanding of sweater construction. Even so…

Almost every sweater I have made from a pattern since then hasn’t really turned out as well as I would have hoped. There is just something about trial and error and going with the flow that appeals to my sense of sweater-making. The good thing, though, is that because I am inherently lazy, I am finding new ways to seam, make things in the round, pick up stitches, and work raglans top-down.

So that maybe some day my sweater-making mojo will come back with some fun and innovative ways of doing things.

On another note, I notice that a lot of people I know are afraid to make sweaters. It might be the fact that it’s such a large project or that the seaming is daunting. I say start making sweaters as soon as you can. You can always knit them straight and seam using whip stitch for your first attempt or, if the sweater is bulky, use embroidery thread and crochet the seams together.

Another way to learn about sweaters, design and construction, is to make baby sweaters. Most of us have little ones we want to knit for, and a baby sweater is a small investment in terms of time, yarn, and energy. It’s really motivating to have a completed project in hand without worrying about being completely perfect. (I mean, is the baby or his/her parents really going to care that you haven’t seamed perfectly?)

With this in mind, I decided to tackle my ultimate least favorite aspect of sweater-making these days — mattress stitch seaming, (How I truly pine for those days of whipstitch ignorance!) and decided to make a sweater for my little one-to-be, Alex.

It’s a basic pattern from Simple Knits for Cherished Babies. (A book which I have to say has a bit of an unrealistic view of babies — most of the patterns call for cashmere blend yarn — can you imagine handwashing sweaters all the time what with the ever-present mishaps kids have???) It was a great way for me to practice seaming and other things that I have avoided mastering.

Baby sweater
Alex’s First Sweater

So, for all you sweater-phobes out there, I totally recommend that you start off simple (cardigans are really fun, but also a basic drop sleeve pullover can be a great way to start.) If you don’t have a baby to knit for, there are so many charities that accept baby sweaters to give to preemies and underprivileged kids in hospitals such as Stitches from the Heart.

Oh, and as an aside, when I was sewing in ends for this at SnB the other night, everyone was commenting on how tiny this sweater was (newborn size). But my thought was, “Wow, something with shoulders that big has to somehow get out from inside of me!”

As with most things, I guess, size is relative.

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There be (or were) mountains

26 Oct

Here in LA County most of our fires have been contained. The Santa Ana winds have died down. People are going back to their homes. But one huge problem still remains…

The air.

Four years ago the fires were really bad, so bad that the sky literally looked like a Hollywood Armageddon-like film. You could literally see the smoke hanging above the mountains. But at least you could still see the mountains.

Yesterday I looked out the window of our apartment. We usually have a really clear view of Mount Wilson, the observatory up top and the radio towers.

mountain there
Usual View

This was our view yesterday (and not much has changed today).

Mountains
Mountainless view

Yep, our mountains have disappeared into the haze. There is so much particulate matter in the air, it reminds me of being in Bangkok or any other SE Asian city where pollution laws don’t really exist. In fact, on the weather website we usually check, instead of the normal designations of cloudy, partly cloudy, clear, or rain, the weather condition was listed as smoke.

So, here’s what I’ve had to do to avoid getting too much of this stuff into my lungs..

  • Close off the apartment. I figure the extra money we spend running the AC for part of the day will offset the co-pay and prescription costs (not to mention time waiting) to go to the doctor’s office to be treated for bronchitis.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible. It’s so hard for me to do, but it’s not just my health, but little one’s, that depends on it. A little stir craziness might inspire me to finish up a tutorial for my new job, some knitting, and heaven forbid, some cleaning.
  • Breathing only through my nose. Sounds pretty simple, but there it is. Four years ago I tried the surgical mask thing, and it didn’t work out so well for me. I figure that my nose will do it’s job provided it’s not made to work over-time.
  • And…my favorite…the neti pot.

    neti

    This is the best thing in the world! Just a half tsp. of salt, some warm distilled water and a sink, and you have the best nasal cleaner there is. It freaks Doug out a bit to watch me, but it really helps my nose.

  • For those of you suffering from allergies and bronchitis here in SoCal, I recommend you go to your local yoga studio, health food store, or Whole Foods and pick up one of these babies right away!

    Hopefully the air will clear up enough so that I (and all of us in SoCal) can enjoy the nice warm weather soon. And hopefully the fires will be put out so that the evacuees can return home.

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Too hot for… Sweaters! (A gallery of early projects)

23 Oct

While the temps are pushing 100 and the fires are raging here in SoCal, I thought I would regale you all with my very first ever knitted projects — sweaters.

Yes, I know that most of us start off with something simple like a scarf (I think I might have knitted something that resembled one in high school, but it was more like a long series of really ugly acrylic yarn swatches sewn together that never ever made it out of the house. In fact, it was one of the reasons why I really hated knitting and took up crochet instead). But for my first real ‘project’ several years later, I just jumped in head first. I had a knitting book by my side to tell me how to knit, purl, increase and decrease and some yarn.

It began when I was living in Kosice, a town in eastern Slovakia teaching English. For some reason I had thought to bring my crochet hooks (had, by then made 3 or 4 sweaters, so I knew how to construct one and some really basic design principles). I also brought a book about knitting which my next-door neighbor, Brian, eventually put to good use, following the basics of knitting enough to make his own sweater.

When I first got to Kosice I noticed that every single woman was decked out in handmade sweaters with really rich colors in absolutely beautiful yarns. Even back then (1990) in the States, yarn was pricey, so I was curious to find out the source of these gorgeous yarns. Turns out, they were everywhere — yarn shops, textile stores, department stores. Knitting was a basic part of life for all the women I met, and the latest issue of ‘Rebecca’ was a prize that was passed around circles of friends like a treasured heirloom (because, being a foreign magazine, it cost a lot to purchase it).

Being a crocheter, I immediately headed out to the yarn store, picked up some light green acrylic/wool and started in on a sweater. It took a while, but within a couple of months, I had a new light green sweater that has seen a lot of use throughout the years. (And, having stretched a bit, still accommodates my changing shape..)

The next project I wanted to do was a crocheted sweater with a lot of color work. I found a snowflake pattern somewhere, adapted it, and started in on the sweater. I hated it. It was bulky and so very 1970’s I wanted to scream. There was no other course of action except…

To knit.

So, using my yarn from the snowflake disaster, I drafted up a simple pattern of stick figure boys and girls, adapted a colorwork pattern from the knitting book I had and came up with this…

First sweater
First Sweater

First detail
First Sweater Detail

A fair-isle sweater of sorts with drop sleeves. I had somehow managed to figure out some very basic neck-shaping and arm increases as well. Needless to say, this sweater has gotten a lot of use and love over the years (hence the odd shape, but 16 years of use will do that to anything.)

After this project, I was totally into knitting sweaters (seeing as I was then living in a place where it was cold enough to wear them). My next project was a cotton sweater in moss stitch with slightly kimono-like sleeve shaping (a whim that works out okay when it’s being worn) and easter-like pastel colors.

Easter Sweater
Easter Sweater

Easter Sweater detail
Easter Sweater Detail

The desire to knit sweaters waned for a year or so once I moved to Florida, but in grad school I figured knitting would help to keep me sane, so, after discovering larger needles (I worked mostly on 6 and 9) I made up these two sweaters really quickly…

Nordic Sweater
Nordic Sweater

Nordic Sweater detail
Nordic Sweater Detail

 

Greek Tile Sweater
Greek Tile Sweater

Greek Tile Sweater Detail
Greek Tile Sweater Detail

Nowadays these sweaters tend to live in my cedar chest, it being too hot in LA except for a few months in winter to pull them out. The first two sweaters come out about once a year, and the Nordic sweater sees a few days each year since it is fairly meshy having been made on larger needles. The Greek Tile sweater accidentally found its way into my dark laundry 10 years ago, got slightly felted and I have yet to find a way to reuse it or bring myself to cut into it.

All of the sweaters were made before I knew anything about seaming — it was the joy of knitting and putting something together that inspired me. Even though I am excited to be learning real finishing techniques, part of me longs for the days when I was able to just slap a few pieces together and have something to wear. Now most of the sweaters I have knitted are sitting in the bottom of my knitting basket waiting to be ‘properly seamed’.

Maybe one day I’ll find joy in that part of the process too!

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A lighthouse, some navy guys and family

16 Oct

This weekend we went on a little trip down to San Diego to meet up with Doug’s brother and family.

We ate lunch in La Jolla and visited the Cabrillo National Monument where there is a really fun lighthouse that was in operation from 1855 to 1891 (that’s old here in California).

new
Doug at the lighthouse

We realized while walking around town on Saturday that Doug’s “Stop Wars” t-shirt may not get the best reception seeing as San Diego is the home of the Pacific Fleet, but luckily no one bothered us.

We met up with the family and headed out to Mission Beach and then had dinner in Old Town San Diego. Old Town is super touristy, but really fun maybe because of the kitschy aspect of it.

The next day we headed out to Coronado Island where we saw SEALS. Not the cute harbor seal with big eyes (which we saw in La Jolla the day before) but Navy SEALS being trained to row rubber rafts.

navy guys

navy guys 2
Navy guys training

Even though it’s interesting, it always makes me a little sad to see things like this, though, knowing that so many of these people will more than likely be going off to a pointless war. We also saw a guy getting totally chewed out by the person in charge. He had to roll around in the sand for something like 5 minutes straight and not only were all his comrades watching but a lot of nosy civilians too. How embarassing!

We took a couple of pictures of the family, including me with my tousled humidity-hating hair and ever blossoming belly.

family

family 2

Book signing and a few other fibery things

12 Oct

So, yesterday I found out from one of my Stitch and Bitch friends, Catherine, that Laurie, aka Crazy Aunt Purl, was doing her very first official book signing here in LA to promote her book, Drunk, Divorced & Covered in Cat Hair. For any of you who read her blog regularly, you will find the book just as witty as her blog posts. This was her first book signing and I have to say that Laurie was her usual witty and very Southern self (in the good way — you know the way that all non-Southerners think is cute on people who don’t wear Red Man chewing tobacco hats or have tall bouffant hairdos). She did a great job and there was a really nice turnout of all the SnB peeps from the area (some I haven’t seen in while). Kinda like a SnB reunion of sorts.

I think that her book will do really well. She may be the next Yarn Harlot. (Maybe knitting books could actually become their own genre — instead of Chic-Lit, we could have Stix-Lit???)

I didn’t get a whole lot of pictures, but here is one with her and book in hand. (And no, she’s not drunk or demonic, I just haven’t figured out how to work the red eye feature in my camera yet. )

Crazy Aunt Purl
Crazy Aunt Purl aka Laurie Perry

I have to say that Laurie is truly an inspiration in terms of writing & I hope the rest of her book tour goes as well as this signing did!

Aside from that I have a few leads on jobs (kinda hard to job-hunt at 5 months pregnant, I have to say!) and I have…been…knitting and spinning! Yeah! It’s been so nice to have cooler weather and a little more time to get things done (aside from working on the 2 pairs of socks I’ve had going since March).

So, here is my main WIP, a baby blanket for our future little one, who, by the way, is a girl. (I wanted to have primary colors and big shapes that were not gender-specific…)

Baby Blanket

Baby Blanket WIP

It took me a while to decide what I wanted to do for this. I really love primary and contrasting colors for kids, and although I usually crochet blankets for my friends’ & relatives’ kids, (because they are so much faster to make, sorry to say) I decided that my kid’ll have a knitted one. Most of the patterns in the books I found were really super pastel-like or required gobs of expensive yarn (hard to do on my current yarn budget these days). So, I opted for choosing a few squares, doing them in Cotton-Ease, and modifying the patterns as needed from Debbie Abraham’s afghan square books. It’s been a while since I’ve done any colorwork, (fair isle) so doing intarsia was a really nice (albeit tangled) change.

Originally I wanted to make up 12 squares altogether, the border squares being stripes and such. But then I realized I’d have to seam all of those suckers and, unless I’m doing whipstitch or crochet, I really hate seaming. So right now I’m trying to figure out what to do for the borders.

I also finally set the twist in my first skein of wheel-spun yarn. It turned out okay — overtwisted — but fine for a first attempt. Would love to get back into spinning on the wheel but have do something with my bobbins — all of them are filled with singles! I’ve also done some handspun on the spindle with the rainbow roving I got in Toronto.

help
First Handspun on Wheel

rainbow
Rainbow Handspun (on spindle)

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Breaking the news…

8 Oct

So this is another piece I wrote a bit ago about telling Doug we were expecting. He has been after me to post it…

Here are just a few scenarios I pictured when I was younger that I might one day use in the future telling the news to my partner/husband that we were expecting (reminiscent of the Hallmark Channel/Hollywood-esque cliché).

Scenario #1

Knitting baby booties and having the husband look up at me and ask what the booties are for. I give him a knowing glance with a sly grin and say, “Well, dear…”

Scenario #2

Interior. Evening. Tall taper candles are lit on the table, three-course dinner is waiting to be served. Husband walks into the apartment.

Husband: Wow, this looks incredible! What’s the occasion?

Wife: Oh nothing, this is just a little something I put together to show how much I love you.

Conversation and banter continue throughout dinner. Dessert is brought out. The wife takes her husband’s hand and says.

Wife: Honey, I have something special to tell you.

Husband: What is it, did you get the new promotion at work?

Wife: No, dear, this is something much more wonderful. (She smiles coyly, looking at him with loving eyes.)

Husband: I can’t imagine what it is. Can you give me a hint?

The wife glances shyly down at her abdomen. Smiles and says…

Wife: You’re going to be a father, we’re expecting!

After a brief moment of shock, the husband jumps up, sweeps his wife into his arms and carries her off into the bedroom.

Okay, in truth I actually never envisioned myself doing or saying any of these things. First off, scenario number one would never work because I’m constantly knitting baby booties, afghans, hats and toys for friends’ and relatives’ babies. The second scenario is just far too cheesy, but one of the books I’m reading actually suggests something like this. Not only would it involve keeping the pregnancy a secret for a bit of time (impossible for me) but it would also mean that I’d have to somehow explain how I would be serving a wonderful dinner complete with meat (which, up until I became pregnant was pretty much a non-existent entity in my diet) but without wine. (Just tell me how a wine lover would explain that one without giving up the game??).

Oh how reality is so totally different!

Here’s what really happened. So far gone from the romantic notions of ‘breaking the news’.

Scenario #3

Interior. Hot humid day. Fans blowing in the background. Katie is in the bedroom looking up information on the internet about pregnancy, eyes swollen. Doug enters living room.

Doug: Hey, I’m home!

Katie doesn’t answer.

Doug places mail on the table. Starts walking toward the bedroom. Katie comes out of the bedroom. Doug looks at her red face – obviously something is wrong.

Doug (concerned): Hey sweetie, what’s the matter?

Katie: I… Well… (She gulps for air). Um…

They are standing on opposite sides of the room. Doug moves closer.

Katie: Um… You know how I said I was feeling really terrible the past couple of weeks?

Doug: Yeah.

Katie: Well… After meeting you for ice cream this afternoon, I went ahead and got a pregnancy test, just in case. And…

Doug: Yes?

Katie breaks into sobs, moves, heaving and crying to the sofa. She seems inconsolable.

Katie: I… I…took the test.

Doug: Oh, you should have waited for me!

Katie: I just wanted to do this alone. So, I took the test… and… (sobs and gasps for air) It’s positive!

Silence. Doug wraps his arms around Katie.

Doug: It’s okay.

Katie: You don’t understand, I feel so guilty. Like it’s my fault this has happened right now! I know we were planning this for later, but… now, just before the wedding???

Doug: Oh sweetie! It’s okay. Maybe this was in God’s plan for us.

It may not have been the most romantic moment in the world, what with red and bloated eyes and tears running down my face. But this was how it happened. No candles, no knitting, just the two of us holding each other on the sofa, awaiting the next challenges this news would bring.

 

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