Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jellybeans, Redux

I've finally finished them, the Jellybean Socks I posted about a bit back. If I didn't enjoy cables and little nuances, I'm pretty sure I would just knit socks like these all the time - they're lovely and simple and quick. And I do enjoy having a knitted sock, despite the fact that some of them you have to hand wash. My mother was sweet enough to model them for me, in our very frigid dining room. Today it's only five degrees (F) outside, and probably only close to 50 or 55 inside, which, to me, is quite chilly. I've been walking around the house with a cardigan and three layers on, not to mention the knee socks and house slippers.

The photoshoot would have gone a lot easier had not these two rascals been shoving their way into every picture. Cats, naturally fascinated by everything they're not directly involved in, are excellent at blocking good camera angles. At least they're sweet. The big orange tabby on the bottom is Rus, though she also goes by 'Russie', 'Roodles', 'Rusylin', and 'Chubs'. She was Dempsey's companion, when we brought him home, and was getting quite lonely (and fat) without anyone to play with. This holiday we stopped by and picked up Leopold, who goes simply by 'Leo', and is pictured near the top. We aren't exactly sure what kind of cat he is, being that we picked him up at the shelter, but I like to fancy that he's a British Shorthair with a buff colored coat. Handsome little fellow, and the most loving cat you'll ever meet. He loves being carried around, and looks like he'll be a real bruiser when he gets bigger - Russie is a year old, while Leo is only six months, to give you a clue.

I've been busying myself this holiday wrapping up my knitting for the new year. One of my big resolutions is to finish all my Ravelry 'works in progress' before moving onto anything new. While I've been doing well - I mean, look, half the mitten finishing is done - some things are awfully tempting, and I'm having a hard time not starting on the Gwenydd scarf I've been wanting to make, or one of the many sweaters on my list. Is it horrid that I've been tempted to buy enough yarn for yet another sweater that's yet to be started?

When not knitting, I cruise around our small town, often stopping in the antique store to have a look at their books, postcards, and miscellanous nonsense. Yesterday, I stopped in and checked out the 1/2 price table, to find a pile of knitted children's clothing. While a lot of it was garter stitch and cleverly designed, none of the yarn was worth salvaging (mostly acrylic, probably Red Heart) - until I came to a little knitted hat. It was a baby-sized toboggan hat, all garter stitch with little ear flaps, and made out of cream-colored acrylic. But, on the very tip-top of this cap, was a lovely, wonderful, real-rabbit-fur pom! At only 75 cents, I knew at once that it was coming home. I had the girl at the counter clip off the hat and I took home the pom, already dreaming of possible colors that it would look lovely atop. I'll have to knit a hat truly worthy of this treasure, that much is for certain!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Visit from a Friend

Here's Devin with myself and Danielle, who is 'soimpossible' on Ravelry

One of the great disadvantages to living in the Midwestern US is that everything seems so much farther away. Despite that, on the east coast, you may travel from New York to Kentucky and it might take you upwards of many hours, you still feel closer to New York than you would if traveling from Iowa to Oklahoma. Or Denver to Chicago. The Midwest is, in short, very very wide. It's a big place, and the people are more spaced out than in more populous areas of the country. So when I go online to Ravelry and read how so many people know each other from such-and-such knitting group, and are traveling to so-and-so's to visit their LYS, I can't help but feel a twinge of jealousy. A twinge, I believe, that is shared by many of us Midwestern knitters.

Today, however, I got to relieve that twinge, when the administrator of the Malabrigo Swap group, Devin F, came to visit me and enjoy some gift exchanging in the spirit of mod-to-mod adoration. I run the Malabrigo Junkies, and the Swap is sort of our 'sister' board - many of the members float back and forth and know each other well from both groups. Devin is great fun - she was hilarious and a pleasure to have over, and even though her dogs kept trying to escape her husband's backyard wrangling, and Devin had to deal with a very large, very fat cat trying to make her into a personal chair, I think it was a good time. And she brought me such lovely, perfect presents!

First, some of Devin's own famous salt caramels. They're much talked about on Ravelry by swap partners who she's spoiled, and, after trying one, I can see why. The caramel flavor mixed with salt is unusual and exquisite - not to mention that the caramel is the absolute best consistency. My favorite part is that they're wrapped in brown wax paper, and look so lovely and crisp sitting in a little row.

She also brought me two lovely packets of buttons she found on Etsy. After she left I took them out and really looked at them - so many interesting shapes that I couldn't stop photographing! There are about a zillion other pictures of them on my flickr, if you care to look. (I could look at them for hours but figured that my blog readers might not find a button-centric post quite as intriguing as I might.) Along with these, there was a set of little aromatherapy to help with sleep - it's scented chamomile and lavender and I'm already endeared to it! She also gave me some stickers in a funny little Japanese envelope I utterly adore, but that wouldn't photograph at all. Perhaps I'll try it in natural lighting later.

And, of course, there was yarn! A skein of Mariposa Malabrigo Merino Worsted (so gorgeous!) And another skein of Indecita silky Malabrigo - this one is a little darker than the original two I've got so I'll figure out something awesome to make from it separately.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Very Merry Holiday

I love holidays. Holidays of all types, really, appeal to me - mostly because I'm not required to go anywhere or do anything in particular. But Christmas has the added bonus of being done with finals, gathering your time around family, and both giving and receiving things that you've wanted all year, from the people who know you need them most.

With the economy the way it is, this year was probably a practical Christmas for most of us. I got a beautiful new winter coat in a sunny mustard yellow, some new pajamas, an electric toothbrush (an idea I have been resisting vehemently but now will admit is probably all right, after all). But there were other things that I wanted, rather than needed, that I got too.

First on my list (and perhaps the 'least likely' to happen, in my mind), was a ball winder and swift. Every knitter out there knows that this is an invaluable item, once you own one. If you've ever seen one at work in a yarn shop, you'll certainly know why. It turns those strange spirals of a hank into a neat little yarn cake that winds from the inside out while you're working with it. They're lovely - and the best ones are made of wood, with a little Royal brand ball winder being the standard accompaniment. I got both. And spent all afternoon today making little yarn cakes and stacking them up like so many blocks. It took a little practice to get the tension just right (let's say that a few of these cakes will be standing up all the way until the end of the ball), but it is so fun! I can't wait to turn all of my stash into little blocky cylinders!

Those of us who are still buying our schoolbooks realize quickly how exorbitant and luxurious owning our books, rather than simply borrowing them from a library, really is. My father is an avid book collector - paperbacks, hardcover volumes, and even a few leather-wrapped tomes line the shelves of his small office-library. When we were young our parents would always buy books for us, but now that I'm older, the books I love generally come strictly in hardcover, or the paper they're published on increases their price (I have a thing for glossy photography.) So to receive books on a holiday is, for me, the very purpose of Christmas - to give something to anyone who doesn't need it, but very much wants it, is so much in the spirit of the season. This year, one of the books I wanted more than anything was Jane Brockett's "The Gentle Art of Domesticity". Mrs. Brocket writes a blog of which I (and many people) am fond, Yarnstorm. When she released her first book earlier in the year, I craved her photography, insight on quiltmaking, cake-baking, and sock-knitting.

A book I didn't expect, but have recently come to love, is Domino Magazine's realease 'The Decorating Guide'. It is a step-by-step guide to finding your inner inspired decorator and translating your 'style' into every aspect of your home. The book walks you through the different sections of your living space - dining rooms and foyers, bedrooms and home offices, to help you achieve what you've always wanted with either things you have or things you buy. I'm finding it very inspirational, and am already holding consultations via my own dining room for the neighbors. A necessity until I have my own space to decorate!

More to come soon - including the ever-secretive Christmas knits! Happy holidays to you all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shrug it Off

So, I bought the Fitted Knits book by designer Stephanie Japel some time ago - it's a great collection of pretty, practical and actually flattering patterns that are designed for most body types or can be altered to fit you, no matter how you're built. My friend Danielle had already made the Two-Tone shrug from the book and, after trying hers on, I had major covet. It wasn't until I lined all my stash up side by side that I realized just two skeins of my favorite yarn - Malabrigo worsted - was more than ample to make a garment. The shrug fits beautifully and is warm, not itchy, and probably going to become a wardrobe staple on chilly weekends at home, for certain. It works great over a tank top, too - a great way to extend your summer stuff.

Two-tone Shrug by Stephanie Japel
Yarn: Malabrigo Worsted in Roanoke and Paris Nights

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Sad Farewell

He was a good cat. A great cat. When we were picking them out at the shelter, we noticed him immediately. His super-soft fur and big, pleading eyes. He had been found in a dumpster, fighting for his life while his mother and litter had abandoned him - we named him Dempsey, after Jack Dempsey, a prizefighter. That's what Demps was. A fighter. He was a sweet, sweet little kitten. He loved lap and sunshine and cuddling up against you when you were sleeping. If you were feeling sick, he'd sit with you on the couch all day. Having had a taste of human food at an early age, he was always trying to beg your food - no matter what it was. 

He was only a year old, but we could notice definite changes in his behavior. This november, around Thanksgiving, he wasn't eating right - we took him to the vet and put him on antibiotics, and he seemed to recover. The aversion to eating came back this December, and we took him back to the vet - he wouldn't eat anything. Not kitten treats, not baby food, not specialty food, not wet food - nothing. And he wouldn't drink any water. The vet did an x-ray and revealed that one of his lungs was nearly collapsed, the other filled with fluid. Feline infectious peritonitis, an uncurable congenital defect, was claiming our tiny beloved kitten. So we had to do it - what else could we do? He will be missed, but certainly not forgotten.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Earthly Scents, Sights, Sounds

If there's one thing that I adore about winter (and yes, I do adore something about this horribly cold, miserable season), it's the way that it makes you feel alive. There's no denying that you are a living being when you take in a deep breath of searing cold in the morning, or feel your face tingle back into warmth after you hurry inside. For me, it's all about feelings and textures - the sights, sounds, and scents of wintertime.

I love the smell of juniper and the way snow reflects ice in the most appealing and dangerous way. I love how, upon entering a gather of trees in the wintertime, their boughs filled with snow or ice or simply nothing at all, they stand stoic and quiet. Trees are quieter in winter than in the summer, certainly.

I think in the winter I'm more drawn to knitting, painting, drawing, smelling, listening to things that have earthly tones. Lately, the new Alison Krauss/Robert Plant collaboration, entitled 'Raising Sand', has been repeating on my iPod. There's something remarkably human about Plant's voice, while Krauss has always had an ethereal tone. It somehow seems like the merging of the season to me. Especially the songs Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us, and Killing the Blues.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas is Coming

And I'm just trying to finish up a few things before it gets here. Finals, obligations, and so many more things have been demanding my time. At least I'm almost finished with all of it. When I get home, I'll heave a heavy sigh of relief.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Baby Beluga

I promised you a swatch. Yes, that is a wee white wale. Yes, those are little starfish. Yes, there's going to be a lot more on the pattern than just this. In fact, a lot, lot more. But I didn't want to give too much away. One thing I will say, though, is that the Dos is a dream, absolutely wonderful to work with. The softest sportweight yarn I have ever touched, and when it comes out I'm pretty sure it'll be a staple yarn for most baby garments.

Seriously. It's just that good.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Jellybean Socks

There is nothing so satisfying as almost being finished with a pair of socks! This has been my in-class, doctor's-office-waiting-room, visiting home and watching movies project for the last week, and they're almost finished. Self striping yarn is wonderful! All you need is a basic sock pattern, a set of double-pointed needles, and some free time, and you'll have yourself a pair of socks that look amazing. The colors remind me of the Jelly Belly jellybeans, with their bright colors and interesting flavors. I'd say that these socks are flavored strawberry, mango, lemon and blue raspberry.

Tomorrow look out for a swatch for the new mitten pattern!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Weather Outside is Frightful

I hate riding the bus, and not really for any good reason. Generally, the Cyride (Iowa State University and the city of Ame's joint transportation system, for those of you not in the loop) is clean, timely, and travels pretty much anywhere you want to go. The buses are warm and they don't smell funny and the drivers are, if not pleasant, quiet and not mean. It's not the ride I hate, or the bus, but waiting on the bus that I don't enjoy. It's freezing outside! Horribly, horribly cold, and all that the Iowa wind makes me want to do is curl up into a little ball on the sidewalk and shiver my insides out. Or possibly just go inside and knit all day instead of attending classes.

Neither of which are viable options.

The actual bus ride, for me, is more fascinating than anything else. Every passenger on the bus goes out of their way to avoid eye contact with the other riders, staring either at something in their own hands (cell phones are a popular choice), or off into empty space, giving many of the bus' patrons a blank, robotic appearance. I'm usually absorbed in some music or other on my iPod, and I'm always amazed to note how people's movements tend to mirror the feeling of the music for me. I sometimes wonder if this is pure coincidence or if my mind naturally prefers music with life-like fluidity. This theory is still up for grabs.

When I don't have music, though, my mind wanders into the realm of the creative, and I spend the bus ride thinking up some design or other. It's always a treat to come home and find the yarn I'd bought a week ago sitting in the house's mailroom, where I can gather it up and open the packages as I retreat to someplace warmer, and generally friendlier.

Today, I found the remaining two skeins of Malabrigo Dos I need to begin design on a pair of colorwork mittens. Here's a sneak peek of the colors, at least. Sketches to come later.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Inside Out Toque

I finished this project awhile ago, but didn't get around to taking pictures of it until today. It's originally the Big Blue Beret pattern by Kelly Maher (find it here), but instead of knitting and using the 'proper' side, I decided to turn it inside out and not include the pom. Knitted in Malabrigo worsted, of course - the colorway is Polar Morn, a gray with pink undertones.

Today I made a trip to Target and had to make that perpetual choice between new sunglasses (don't say their un-needed, even though it's winter. I have a serious addiction,) or new music. I was brave and chose the new music - Jenny Lewis' CD 'Acid Tongue', which I mentioned in my last post, the new Death Cab for Cutie CD 'Narrow Stairs', and Beck's new release, 'Modern Guilt'. I'll review them and get back to you, but I will say that the packaging for Acid Tongue was adorable - a little sleeve like a mini record, complete with fake 'polaroids' of studio shots. Very cute.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Inspiration Notebook

I'm in the middle of something, and there are several names for it. Inspiration. Enlightenment. Happenstance. It started with a project for one of my classes - a notebook based on how we derive inspiration for our fashion designs based on the world around us - either the media, or magazines, or nature, or photography, literature or art or music. It was during this process (and the after-process, which included standing up in class today and presenting said 'Inspiration Notebook' to the class) that I realized my methods of inspiration are very important, and they very rarely show up on this blog.

When I began writing on here, my intention was for it to become a catch-all for my thoughts. But as I'm finding more and more, when my thoughts get really busy or really interesting, I have a habit of trying not to catch them. So I'm trying something new. This little blog is going to get a little makeover. No, I won't be changing the heading (yet), just the content. While everyone else went through their period of enforced inspiration last month, for NaNoBloMo, I'm enforcing my own PaDaBloMo (Personal Daily Blog Month), in which each and every post that I put on here has to be something interesting, and something relevant, and something I felt inspired by during the day. Starting now, I'm going to start carrying my camera around to school. I'm going to start looking again at little things and carrying a sketch book to write down notes and cut out pictures.

And most exciting of all, I'm going to start listening to music again. I wasn't able to for awhile (though, some friends in particular will claim that I have no excuse, since I've got a computer...), because my iPod decided to go kaput, but now I've gotten a new one. It's pretty and orange, and lightweight, and it has a lovely display and all kinds of nifty features, including a maze game that is excellent for playing in boring lectures. But the best part is, after all, music!

So, what am I listening to? Right now, I would highly recommend Roisin Murphy, and her album, Overpowered. The whole thing is just a masterpiece mix of jazz, electronica, synthesizer, and her amazingly rich, dreamy vocals. You should really check out the show she has posted on her website - she plays a lot with sound. The same-titled track is one of the best on the album, but I'm equally in love with Sinking Feeling from her earlier, Ruby Blue CD.

Of course, my love affair with Jenny Lewis and her various incarnations (The Postal Service, with the Watson Twins, Solo, Rilo Kiley...) isn't going to end anytime soon, and I'm currently digging the new sound that is 'Acid Tongue'. I haven't downloaded the whole thing from iTunes yet, but I'm quite addicted to the samples I'm getting from Youtube and Pandora Radio.

On the knitting front, I've been wanting to design something based on this painting by Max Ernst, and worked up in the new Malabrigo yarn I'm testing: Gusanito. The word, I've been told, means 'little caterpillar' in Portuguese, and I will certainly agree - soft and squishy and just the right amount of fuzzy, this yarn certainly reminds me of something adorable I'd find munching away my herb garden. I bought it in several colors, but only the Malachite colorway is going to become something surreal. Something with i-cord. And cables....