Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cables and Cashmere

About three years ago I bought the book Knitter's Stash and immediately put a bookmark in the page for the Cable-Wise Cashmere Pullover. I hadn't yet discovered Colourmart yarn, so cashmere seemed far too extravagant, but I envisioned the sweater in a merino or alpaca. Then other sweaters came along, plus a long spate of lace knitting, and I forgot about it. In the meantime I had succumbed to "a few" cones of Colourmart cashmere, and made the Sprinkle Lace Cardigan (plus its accompanying shell) from 100% cashmere DK, which didn't break the bank. A recent reorganization of my stash revealed 4 cones of a Colourmart cashmere-merino blend, and this sweater leaped to mind and was swatched and cast on practically before I could catch my breath.

Pattern: Cable-Wise Cashmere by Karen Damskey and Leslie Storman in Knitter's Stash
Yarn: Colourmart Cashmere/Merino 8/28NM DK Weight - color Air Force - approx. 400 gm
Size: XL
Needles: Denise US #7 and #6

The pattern required a little tinkering because the maximum size was too small, and because the initial swatch indicated that there would be some shrinkage after washing and blocking. (Like the Colourmart 100% cashmere, the cashmere/merino requires washing in hot water to remove the spinning oil and fluffing briefly in the dryer.)

The sweater as blocked and worn looks a little different from the one in the photo in the book. The reverse stockinette bands surrounding the cables are much more evident, both on the body and on the sleeves, but I don't think that detracts from the sweater at all, even if it isn't exactly what the designers had in mind.

Lesson Learned from this project: Weave in the ends, but don't snip them off before blocking. I keep finding little endlets peeking out on the right side.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A running start on Cobblestones

Much to my surprise, my husband recently hinted that he would like a new sweater. It was only a surprise because he has a lot of sweaters, including several well-worn ones that I made for him in my previous incarnation as a knitter too many decades ago to count. Most of them are "bought" sweaters, though, and he is beginning to appreciate the difference between handmade and commercial knitwear. Oddly enough, the fall issue of Interweave Knits had a beautiful men's sweater and I had turned down the page "just in case." It is the Cobblestone Pullover by Jared Flood (a.k.a. Brooklyn Tweed). Not only is it a gorgeous sweater, but it is done in the round with no seams. And Webs had a closeout on Queensland Aran Tweed in a scrumptious brown that reminds me of chocolate tossed with flecks of chopped pecans and almonds.

This sweater had to wait a few days after the yarn arrived because my Denise needles were occupied by the Cablewise Cashmere sweater from Knitter's Stash. Unfortunately, this sweater does NOT have a seamless construction, so it may be a while before it gets pieced together. The only thing that may encourage me to do the dreaded seaming is that the yarn is a soft and luscious 50/50 cashmere-merino blend, and I am anxious to wear it.

The one drawback to seamless sweaters is that they become a bit cumbersome to carry around. I was afraid the Cobblestone sweater-in-progress wouldn't fit in my pocketbook for the trek into New York yesterday to see The Marriage of Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera with Bryn Terfel. (It was fabulous, in case you're interested.) An hour on the train each way plus intermission time provided a good opportunity for knitting, but even my quite commodious pocketbook has its limits. So a day or two earlier I started another sweater, Oblique from this month's Knitty. This seemed like a good choice, because I have taken a brief respite from lace knitting, and this cardigan is constructed from several lace patterns, though it is done in worsted-weight yarn. I had bought some EllaRae Classic Wool from Webs (who can resist a sale???) when I ordered the yarn for R's Cobblestone, and it was the perfect gauge for this sweater.

And then I remembered... Lace, even in a heavy gauge, is too hard (at least for me) to knit in public, certainly on a moving train. So the Cobblestone gained a few more inches after all – and it did manage to squish into my Save Your Back bag after all.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Knitaly '07

It has taken me a week at home to write about Knitaly '07, Jane Thornley's knitting adventure in Tuscany. How to describe perfection? Spending 10 days with a congenial group of woman (plus one lone husband), staying in a castle on a Tuscan hilltop, eating fabulous food, and learning new ways of thinking about knitting... Even the weather cooperated, with unseasonable warmth and sunshine every day and not a single drop of rain.

After a few days in Florence (which I won't describe since I have written about it before) we stayed at the Castello di Gargonza, a 14th century castle between Siena and Arezzo. The castle and much of the village have been renovated with modern plumbing and heating. The accommodations are simple but comfortable, with fireplaces and even kitchens. My cousin Barbara and I stayed in the guard house just outside the castle walls, a short (uphill) walk to the main building.

Everywhere we looked the scenery was like a picture postcard. This is the view from the garden, but everywhere the views were like picture postcards. One hardly knew where to look first! What was particularly striking was the colors... the palette of Tuscany was uniform, no matter where we went, with its greens, browns, and terracotta. This time of year the colors are a bit more subdued than in the summer, when the landscape is ablaze with right yellow fields of sunflowers. But the more subtle October palette was beautiful in its own way and provided an inspiration for our knitting projects.

Jane's knitting workshops involved "free range knitting," wherein one ignores almost all rules, and combines different fibers, colors, and textures in an imaginative way. As Jane says, "Remember that knitting free-range style requires a different approach than regular, pattern-driven knitting... Free range knitting is about following your own knitting spirit and letting go." For somebody as left-brained as I am, that is a tall order!

Our projects consisted of a scarf/shawl inspired by the colors of Tuscany. Jane provided us each with a pack of gorgeous yarn before the trip, and each one was a little different. The basic yarns were assorted colors of La Lana Bombyx Silk, with a variety of ribbon and novelty yarns thrown in. We were encouraged to supplement the yarn with bits and pieces from our own stash, but several of us had nothing that was suitable and stuck to the yarns in the pack. We were told to cast on 30 stitches, increase for a while and then decrease for a while to make the center section, and then to knit straight on one end, then pick up stitches and knit straight on the other end. Of course, since Jane doesn't believe in rules, she fully expected (and probably hoped) that some of us would totally ignore even those simple guidelines.

The results definitely provide an interesting fabric, though I'm not entirely convinced that I would wear something with that much color. I still have about 1,000 ends to weave in – a definite drawback to the multi-yarn approach – and some embellishing to do with beads, so it is still very much a work-in-progress. Isn't it amazing how we all started with similar yarn and came up with such different results?

Of course we spent a lot of time sight-seeing, visiting San Gimignano, Siena, Volterra, Chianti, Cortona... There was a twist, though – on the bus there was always a lot of knitting going on, either on our Knitaly project or other projects we brought from home, and our shopping expeditions included yarn and bead shops whenever possible. And nobody said "Are you knitting again???" There is a lot to be said for travelling with other knitters!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Finished Green Objects

September was a month for finishing green objects.

The lovely Bee Fields Shawl is actually a springlike green-and-yellow mix that makes me smile whenever I look at it. The hand-dyed laceweight merino from Wooly Wonka Fibers is a perfect fiber for this stole. It has a beautiful drape and the subtle color changes do not at all detract from the complex lace pattern.

Pattern: Bee Fields Shawl by Anne Hanson
Yarn: Hand-dyed merino laceweight by Wooly Wonka Fibers, approx. 1200 yds.
Colorway: Tupelo Gold (actually greener than gold, but lighter than it looks in the photo)
Size: 74" x 36"
Needles: Addi Lace Needles #US 5

This may have been the most difficult lace project I have ever knit. The instructions were comprehensive and detailed, even when they seemed to make no sense at all, they were right. I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to doing more of Anne's patterns in the future.

Another green project completed in September was the Filey Sweater by Alice Starmore. I was inspired to knit a Gansey by Liz Lovick's Gansey workshop in the EZasPi group. After poring over patterns and books my eye always came back to the Filey style. I found this pattern in Alice Starmore's Fishermens' Sweaters, which had been on my bookshelf for quite some time. The only problem was that the pattern was written for a Rowan yarn that has 20% shrinkage in length, and the yarn I had chosen for it had very little shrinkage. (Even less, it turned out, than the swatch, which I must have washed more aggressively than the finished sweater.)

Pattern: Filey by Alice Starmore in Fishermen's Sweaters
Yarn: Frangipani Guernsey 5 Ply Wool from Frangipani approx. 1.5 cones for XL size
Needles: Denise US #5
Modifications: Much recalculation was necessary because of the difference in gauge and shrinkage rate of the substitute fiber. Additional seed stitch panel added on sides after I initially failed to take into account the effect of gauge of cables.

My calculations weren't quite right so the sweater is a little bigger than it should have been, but it's hard for sweaters to be TOO big... I imagine wearing it with two layers underneath once the weather turns cold.

As if that weren't enough green, I decided to use some of the leftover yarn to make this hat:

Pattern: Gretel Beret by Ysolda S. Teague
Yarn: Frangipani Guernsey 5 Ply Wool from Frangipani
Needles: Denise #5 & 7
Size: Slouch (largest of three sizes in pattern)
Modifications: Because of an error and various efforts to compensate, the top of the hat isn't quite right, but I still like the way it looks.

There is still one green UFO awaiting completion, the Fiddlesticks Garden Shawl, whose edging goes on and on and on... Maybe October will be the month to finish that one.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Icelandic Lace Shawl photos

It never ceases to amaze me how much magic is involved in the blocking process. Here are some photos of the completed shawl.

It is soft and light and beautiful and should be a pleasure to wear. Or maybe I should just leave it folded over the sofa as an objet d'art.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Icelandic Lace - Ready for Winter

The beginning of fall is always a difficult time for me. It means that the glorious warm sunshine of summer is coming to an end, and the frigid gloom of winter is about to descend after a brief autumnal interlude. On my personal calendar we have two months each of spring, summer, and fall, and then six months of winter. O that it were reversed!

This year I greeted fall, which begins, according to my personal calendar, on the first of September, by knitting the Icelandic Lace Shawl. The yarn isn't terribly heavy, so it isn't difficult to knit even when the weather is still warm in summer's last gasps. The neutral colors – cream and several shades of gray and brown – are certainly reminiscent of stark winter landscapes, a real contrast to the spring-like light green and yellow of the Bee Fields Shawl!

This shawl was finished in record time, but I'm not sure why. The pattern wasn't difficult, though I did make several mistakes, and despite some serious tinking there are still a few which will remain. It may just be that I was able to spend more time on it than usual because it didn't require heavy concentration.

Here are a couple of before and after (blocking) pictures. You can see why the errors didn't show up clearly in the "before" state.

(The pinkish and yellow colors in the photo on the right are from the blocking squares under the shawl and not the shawl itself.)

I did make several changes to the pattern. About half way through I became nervous that it would be too small. Because of the interesting construction it was tricky to figure out if I could just add some extra rows, but in desperation I tried. I also switched from #6 to #7 needles at the same time. In the "edging" part (the edging is a rather wide section beyond the wide white band) I added a couple of extra rows to the brown bands and then repeated the medium and dark gray bands (though narrower than in the first part). (I also used the dark gray for the final bind-off instead of black.) I did the optional edging at the top in order to obtain another inch, but I think it finishes off the shawl nicely.

After all that, the final dimensions are very close to the dimensions given in the pattern (76" x 37"). That seems odd, because I used the yarn called for in the pattern, I was using #6 needles instead of the recommended #4's, and my gauge is generally average (though I confess to not swatching this time). It may be that a more aggressive blocking would gain another inch or two in each direction, but that decision will have to wait until it is completely dry and I can try it on.

Even if it is a little smaller than I would like (and how often that seems to be the case!) I expect to get a lot of use out of this shawl when the Season of Suffering arrives this year.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

'Tis easier to knit than to tink

One advantage of a shawl that starts at the tip and gets wider is that if you make a mistake before the pattern is firmly in your head, it is no big deal to tink out a few rows. But if the pattern begins with "Cast on 339 stitches" it is another story. And so it is with the Icelandic Lace Shawl from Knitting Daily. It is a beautiful shawl and promises to be nice and cozy in the Jaggerspun Main Line that Sarah's Yarn kindly put up into kits for the Icelandic Lace Shawl KAL. This yarn is fingering weight, and since I am also working on the Bee Fields Shawl in very fine merino at the same time, this one seems like a fast and easy knit.

Maybe that's the problem: since it isn't too complicated, maybe I don't give it the attention it deserves. On Thursday night, I was knitting while watching the Channel 13 tribute to Luciano Pavarotti – a replay of a wonderful production of l'Elisir d'Amore from the early 1980's. I didn't think it would be a problem knitting this shawl while keeping an eye on the subtitles of the opera, though I knew that it would be out of the question with Bee Fields. Unfortunately I overestimated my multitasking capabilities, and after doing one the the last gray-beige section realized that the whole row was one stitch off in the second row, throwing the whole lace pattern out of whack. So, stitch by stitch, I worked my way back to were the first error was made. What a tedious process! When I finally got to reknit these rows, it because clear that it takes much less time to knit than to tink the exact same stitches.

Meanwhile, work proceeds slowly on the Bee Fields Shawl by Anne Hanson. What a gorgeous design! What a difficult thing to knit! The first sign of trouble was the instruction to p2tog tbl (purl two together through the back loops). I could never have figured out how to engage in this particular maneuvre without Anne's explicit explanation, and I still feel like I am doing a backbend when I do it, but it seems to be right, because the Bee Swarm section does (with a little imagination) look like a swarm of bees.

If I thought that was bad, the third section asked for a knitting move that I couldn't imagine doing until I had the needles in my hand. It involves a series of multiple yarnovers and dropping of yarnovers and picking up of multiple rows of dropped yarnovers... It is almost like magic how it all works out to look sort of like bees after the 6-row repeat is completed. (See the "bees" just below the needles in the above photo.) The yarn, from Wooly Wonka fibers, is absolutely scrumptious, and the shading of the green and yellow is even more subtle and interesting than it looks in the skein.

I am knitting this shawl (gasp!) without lifelines. I usually put in lifelines at least between sections, on a row that is plain K or plain P... but there are no rows that simple in this pattern. So I spend a lot of time holding my breath while knitting. Does that count as multitasking?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Swan Lake Update

Here is Swan Lake, displayed as worn by the best available model:

I'm sorry I doubted Melanie's design – right up to the moment of draping it over the hanger. I really wasn't sure about the "asymmetry thing."

Pattern: Swan Lake Stole ("Mystery Stole 3) by Melanie Gibbons
Yarn: Colourmart Smooth Silk 8/56NM, doubled, 220 gm
Needles: Addi Lace Needles size 3.75 (US #5)
Size: 23" x 85"

According to Melanie's description of the pattern, the pointed end begins with the traditional Wings of the Swan lace pattern, which splits in half and continues up the sides of the point and along the edges of the first two thirds of the stole as a border... In the ballet, "there are several dances by the swan maidens, but this one is done by four dancers, each holding to the next one, moving in unison doing the pas de chat step. Pas de Chat means literally step of the cat, so using the Cat’s Paw lace design seemed natural in this stole. The final third of the stole is a wing. It obviously fits as the swan part of the theme, but the single wing with the more formal first part of the stole also alludes to Odette’s cursed existence as both swan and princess."


If you haven't seen the ballet recently, here is an excerpt with Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn:


and an excerpt from an alternative version by the Rudolf Nureyev and Miss Piggy:

and another from the extraordinary Ballet Trockadero:

Added at 7:15 PM:
In response to a comment, here is a picture of the back of the stole:

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Last Days of the Swan

Today is a milestone. The Swan Lake Stole (the stole formerly known as "Mystery Stole 3") is officially finished. It has been pinned out on puzzle blocks with blocking wires and pins and is waiting patiently to dry. What a back-breaking task! (Who ever said that knitting isn't hard work???)
The jury is still out on whether I like it or not. The "wing" section is beautiful; here is a close-up:
In fact, both sections are beautiful – I'm just not sure I like them together. I can imagine doing two more stoles, one using a symmetrical version of the first part, and another with two wings. In fact, when Melanie writes up the pattern for sale, I think she is going to offer all three options. The true test will be to see it worn, after it is finished blocking.

And now onto other things!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Trouble Visualizing

Now that Clue 6 of Mystery Stole 6 is complete, I am really having trouble visualizing it, perhaps even more so than before. The "wing" (the section on the left in the photo) indeed looks like a feathered object, but how it is going to fit together once the final section is added is a Major Mystery. And how the finished garment is going to be worn is an even greater Mystery! But onward we knit, all 6,000 of us, or at least some substantial percentage of that number that hasn't given up (or is waiting to see photos of the Early Birds' finished objects).

While in between clues, R's gray-and-white socks received Finished Object status. Here they are, modeled by the recipient:

They are Queen Kahuna's Crazy Toes & Heels socks, knit together on two circular needles. This poor pair of socks was a long time in the knitting. They kept getting lost (misplaced? stored carefully in a clever location?) and spent 3 days keeping me sane during a surprise hospital visit in May. The yarn is scrumptious Lisa Souza hand-dyed sock yarn, knit on #1 needles. This was my third pair of CT&H socks, so they should have been easy, but maybe I just had too many bad associations with where I had worked on them, so it took a while to get around to finishing them. And then finally came the bind-off, as always too tight. Now that they are finally done, they are a perfect fit, and R is very pleased with his first pair of hand-knit socks.

As for that bind-off, the first time I just tried binding off with a larger (#4) needle. That didn't do it though -- he couldn't even get it over his instep. Next I tried K2 tog, return to left needle and repeat (there may be a name for this bind-off but I don't know what it is), but that was also too tight. Finally I discovered Peggy's Stretchy Bind-off, and that did the trick. For K2,P2 ribbing this involves K2, M1, P2, M1, etc. across the row before the bind-off, and then doing a regular bind-off but slipping the M1's instead of knitting them. The M1's are created by creating a half-hitch loop, so you are essentially adding extra yarn to the edge before the actual bind-off. I may try this technique on lace that is going to be heavily blocked, since tight bind-offs can be a problem there too.

After all that gray I was feeling color-deprived so I cast on for another pair of socks in blue and green. Again based on CT&H for the basic pattern, these have the garter rib on the top and the cuff from Charlene Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks. They are really zipping along quickly, but I had reached the point where it is time to start the heel turn when we were about to head off the the wilds of New York City and I needed something simple for knitting on the train, so I started another pair:

Never having used self-striping yarn before, I thought it would be a good idea to start both socks at the same place in the yarn repeat. But look what happened... they aren't the same. It looks like one ball was wound in the opposite direction from the other. NOT that anybody would notice once they are on the feet, but it is interesting... I also decided, several inches along, that the garter rib didn't look good in this yarn, so they were frogged back to the top of the toe and started again in plain stockinette.

For somebody who always thought that knitting socks was a waste of time (who can see them, anyway?) I seem to be becoming addicted. It's nice wearing non-black socks that look interesting and actually fit properly!

Friday, August 03, 2007

While we wait...

While we were waiting for the next clue of MS3, I finished the Merging Colors Arioso Scarf by Candace Eisner Strick. Unfortunately, the photo doesn't do it justice. Knit in lovely fine merino wool with three strands at a time, the colors are changed one strand at a time, with the result that the color changes are very gradual. I actually eliminated the last color, because the scarf was already long enough. The pattern is easy to knit, though there were several errors in the instructions, but once I figured out how to fix the errors it was a good in-the-car or knit-in-public project. (I must confess that I was extremely irritated to find errors in a pattern purchased as part of a kit. If errors are reported, it wouldn't be difficult or expensive to send retailers an addendum to include with the kits.) Only three rows of each 30-row repeat require close attention, and the rest is easy. Much though I dread the coming (too soon) cold weather, I am looking forward to wearing this scarf.

This morning we got Clue 5 for MS3. Though I had needles poised and ready when it finally came out at 7:30 AM, I gasped when I read through the instructions. Melanie has done something very unusual and mysterious this time with the design. The theme has been revealed to be Swan Lake, and the next part of the stole is to be shaped like a wing. All my brain could say was "Does not compute." There is always the option of repeating the first half and grafting the two sides together to make a symmetrical shawl, which certainly be some participants' choice, but the intended design may be wonderful, as Melanie's designs have been in the past. In response to the pleading of several bewildered KAL members, Melanie posted a schematic of the complete stole, which cleared the fog somewhat, so I am ready to plunge ahead, but anxiously awaiting the early photos of the fast knitters in the KAL group!

Friday, July 27, 2007

A case of startitis

Startitis is defined, more or less, as a condition wherein one achieves a sense of euphoria by beginning a new project. The longer the condition persists, the more projects metamorphose into UFO's (UnFinished Objects), which can languish indefinitely. There is no known cure.

I have been suffering from this ailment for a while, but this was an especially bad week. I have been working diligently on Mystery Stole 3, but Melanie took off a week in honor of the release of the Harry Potter book, so I finished Clue 4 a week early. I could use that time to finish the Endless Edging of the Garden Shawl, R's nearly-finished socks (which I keep misplacing), the Hanne Falkenberg jacket that has been about 85% finished for two years, the alpaca shawl I started in the spring (but is too fuzzy to work on in the summer)... I actually sank so low as to order a kit for the lovely Bee Fields Shawl – in spite of my long "To Do" list and rapidly increasing stash.

The photo on the left shows MS3 completed through Clue 4. The one on the right shows more detail, and it is the first photo in which the beads are visible. The evolving design is beautiful, and I am enjoying the Kit-along immensely, in spite of the huge volume of email it has generated.

The other consequence of having to wait a week for the next clue is an increase on reading time. Inspired by Roberta's recommendation, I decided to eliminate one of the many lacunae in my literary education and read Beowulf. This particular edition, translated by Seamus Heaney, is extremely readable. In fact, I am finding it hard to put down. One of the most fascinating things about it is that the original Old English text is printed alongside the translation, and the occasional glimpse at the original shows very little correlation to modern English. Languages, we are told, change all the time, and a thousand years is a long time, but I am still astonished that there is almost nothing in the Anglo-Saxon text that is recognizable.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Of Singing and Knitting

Last week we went to the 18th Annual North American Jewish Choral Festival. In all those years I have missed only two, and every year it is surprising how fabulous it is. It is four solid days of singing, going to workshops, listening to performances, and eating worse-than-mediocre food (but then we keep reminding ourselves that "it isn't about the food"). Workshops and performances covered 500 years of Jewish choral music in every conceivable style, from Italian Renaissance to "hot-off-the-presses" American and Canadian. This year's honoree was Theodore Bikel, storyteller, actor, activist, and folk singer par excellence. He spoke, he sang, and he charmed all 500+ attendees, whose only regret was that his time on stage was limited to one afternoon session and an evening performance.

One thing that was different this year was amount of knitting going on during the brief "down" periods between sessions, or while waiting for something to begin. Waiting for the first "community sing" session to begin, I was knitting the cuffs of the almost-finished socks and the person on my left said "phooey, I should have brought my knitting too... I left it in the room!" Then somebody sat down on my right and started knitting on a hat. At almost every session I spotted somebody nearby knitting something, and many were people I had known for years without knowing they were knitters. Question to ponder: Why is it that this was the year we all brought along our knitting for the first time?

Not surprisingly, this wasn't the time or the place for knitting lace, but I couldn't bear to get behind on Mystery Stole 3 – especially since my decision to redo Clue 1 with a double strand (on the night before Clue 2 was released) meant that I was already behind. (Yeah, yeah, I know it isn't a competition.) So lace-knitting time was restricted to 5:30-7:00 every morning. Clue 2 was finished within an hour of the release of Clue 3 on Friday morning!

The decision to restart was a good one. I am much happier with the look and feel of the doubled yarn, and the 6/0 silver beads are more visible than the 8/0 beads on the single-stranded version. (Trust me on this, despite their invisibility in the photo.) The design is starting to take shape and is looking really beautiful.

Before going away I finished the Alix's Shawl from the Interlacements merino sock yarn that had a previous incarnation as the too-pink-for-a-boy baby sweater. It knit up very fast, and like Myrna Stahman's other patterns, it is nicely shaped to fit easily over the shoulders without slipping off. The 500-yard skein was just enough for a smallish (54" x 28") shawl which will be perfect for a birthday gift for my mother, who often wears these colors and frequently suffers from the cold in over-air-conditioned Florida. If I make this pattern again I will make a few more pattern repeats to make it larger.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Second Thoughts

This morning I finished Clue 1 of Mystery Stole 3. I liked the way the swatch knit up on #4 needles, but I am wondering if the fabric isn't a bit too loose now that the first 99 rows of the actual pattern are finished. Since lace always looks really crummy before it is blocked, it is hard to tell for sure. There is time for a do-over before Clue 2 is released next Friday, but do I really want to do that??

On another front, the beginning of MS3 coincided with the end of Icarus. I will always think of this as my "Florence shawl," since most of it was knit during the far-too-many hours in airports and on airplanes on the way to and from Florence last month. This was a wonderful project for traveling, because the yarn squishes up to almost nothing and can be tucked away into a corner of a purse, and the pattern for most of the shawl is simple enough to memorize. (I have to confess that the more complicated charts were done at home after the trip and could never have been done on an airplane.)

Pattern: Icarus Shawl by Miriam Felton, Interweave Knits, Summer 2006
Yarn: Jaggerspun Zephyr - Aegean blue, just under 100g
Needles: Addi Turbo US #5
Size: 80" across the top; 37" top to bottom

I finally got my invitation to Ravelry this week. What a fabulous site! I have started entering a few projects in my notebook, but mostly I have been browsing. It was nice to see how other people's Icarus shawls and MS3 beginnings turned out in other yarns and colors, and the site is set up in such a way as to make that easy to do. I wish Jessica and Casey much luck with this endeavor.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ready, Set, Go...

Today the first clue for Mystery Stole 3 was released. I was ready... yarn purchased, swatches knit, beads ordered, tools lined up.

New tools for this project include new Addi Lace Needles, a crochet hook with such a tiny hook that it is practically invisible, and highlighter tape.

The Addi lace needles have lovely sharp points, but they are not so slippery that the silk yarn slides off promiscuously. So far, they seem perfect for this project.

The #14 crochet hook looks like something you might find on the dentist's tray. The hook is so tiny that it is nearly impossible to see with the naked eye. It has to be that small to fit the holes in the beads. Fortunately, it is possible to do this by feel rather than by sight!

The other new item, which I had read about but could never find locally, is Highlighter Tape. It is wonderful for lace charts – just put a strip of tape above the line you are knitting, and move it up as you knit. It is far superior to my previous solutions: Post-It notes, strips of paper held with a paper clip, and even magnetic strips on an old metal document holder. The tape comes in several colors, and it is easy to move when you want to move it, but it sticks well when you don't want it to move. I had looked for it locally but never found it, and I finally ordered it online. Highly recommended!!

The beads are beautiful, but they are tiny (size 8/0), silver-lined clear glass. I haven't figured out how to handle them without dumping them all over the floor... it happened once, though fortunately I had put a few of them in a little plastic medicine cup, so I didn't lose too many. Maybe some kind of little mat would work better than grabbing them from the cup with the hook – this is my first experience with beads, and some experimentation may be in order.

I did swatch for this project, but I knit the swatches before the beads arrived. I chose these beads to create a subtle effect against the silver-gray silk, but I am now wondering if the effect is too subtle. (They don't show up well in the photo, but they don't show up well in real life either!) I also have some larger (6/0) beads that I ordered by mistake, and I am considering using those in the center section of the stole. More experimentation in order...

This stole, like Mystery Stole 2, promises to be a challenging project but extremely engaging. It is compelling to knit "just one more row" to see how the design is evolving, even when there are other things to be done.

The first few rows did not get off to a good start. I was having a lot of trouble maneuvering the two ends of the needle, the yarn, the crochet hook, and the bead without dropping any of them. O to be an octopus! It is getting easier, but another hand or two would still be helpful.

Thanks, Melanie, for the opportunity to be part of this community of over 3000 knitters from all over the world working on a project that will be interesting to knit and will result in learning new techniques... and will, undoubtedly, be beautiful when finished.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Shopping in Florence

Anyone who knows me knows that shopping ranks on my list of enjoyable activities down around cleaning and ironing. But occasionally shopping (or, more accurately, browsing) can actually be enjoyable – especially in a foreign country, when you don't actually have to buy anything.

As a knitter, I sought out the two yarn stores in Florence. One of them, Campolmi Roberto Filati (not far from the Duomo), is actually a manufacturer, with a large array of colors in several different fibers, mainly cottons, acrylics, and some wool, though the wool didn't feel especially soft. I may have been overtired and overheated by the time I got there, so I didn't find anything especially compelling, but it looked like there were some real bargains, and I would definitely check it out more carefully on another visit.

On the other hand, one of the highlights of my week was the visit to Beatrice Galli's shop in the Oltrarno area, right on the "other" side of the Ponte Vecchio. The charming Beatrice has run her shop for 40 years, and despite her claims of not speaking English, she has customers from all over the world. I got there just as she opened in the morning and was the only customer, and she patiently endured my primitive Italian for over half an hour as I looked, fondled, and lusted after her gorgeous skeins in wool, silk, and blends. I didn't buy anything, but I promised to return in October with some knitting friends and a clear idea of patterns and quantities – and a spare suitcase.

On another morning, I went to the Mercato Centrale, the large market near San Lorenzo, which is truly a feast for the eyes. This 19th century building houses a huge array of butcher shops, cheese shops, and stalls selling prepared foods, dried mushrooms, pasta, wine, and olive oil. The upper floor has stall after stall of fresh produce, with the aroma of basil wafting throughout. (Click on the picture for a brief slideshow.) It was hard not to be seduced by the beauty of the various displays and to walk out empty-handed. Of course, I didn't. After tasting several varieties of olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, I bought a bottle of each... but I did manage to leave behind the fresh black truffles at €25 each. And then the cheese – after tasting several samples of parmegian reggiano I bought a large wedge that weighed in at over 2 kilos. When the woman behind the counter asked which I wanted, I said "non troppo grande, non troppo piccolo," but when she weighed them I kept thinking that bigger would be better, since it keeps well, and I would be sorry later if we used it up too quickly.

Even the little markets on quiet side streets provided pleasant surprises. A close look at the purple flowers reveals that they are artichokes! Inside the little shop we succumbed to a basket of tiny fraises des bois, the intensely flavored wild strawberries that are almost impossible to find at home.

And then there were all the jewelry shops on and near the Ponte Vecchio. My favorite time there was in the morning, as the shops were just opening. Other times it was so crowded that there was no temptation to linger!

Walking around Florence is a treat. The markets, the amazing artwork, the huge centuries-old palazzos, the nice little shops in unexpected places on side streets... You can even see art in the making – sidewalk artists working hard to create copies of masterpieces for the pennies people throw into a basket as a donation. This artist was working all day. When we walked by in the morning, he had just finished the head, and in the evening he was still working on the almost finished picture – the same Leonardo da Vinci that was on the wall in our hotel room.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A week (almost) in Florence

It was really the Trip from Hell. A late departure from Newark, missed connections, cancelled flights, lost luggage. After 26 hours (and an unexpected 4 1/2 hour bus ride from Milan to Florence), we finally arrived at the hotel. I kept asking myself why I thought it was a good idea to accompany R on this trip. Art and history only get you so far!!!

After the nightmare of the trip, the taxi dropped us off on a dark little street close to the Duomo. There was a scary moment when we thought the hotel didn't really exist, but we found the buzzer and someone did open the huge door to let us in. Then we saw it... a little sign that said "Hotel Centrale on the second floor." Can you imagine anything I would like seeing LESS than a huge flight of stairs at that point? Not only stairs, but Florentine stairs. This is a former palazzo, and each flight of stairs is about a mile up. (And in Europe "second floor" means two flights up from the ground level.) Of course we had no suitcases to carry, so it could have been worse! I almost expected the hotel to say "You were so late that we cancelled your reservation" – but for once everything was in order, and we were shown to our room, which was simple but pretty and spotless, with a copy of a Leonardo da Vinci painting on the wall. By the way, I would recommend this hotel highly.

Despite the crowds (June already being peak tourist season), despite the heat, and despite the horrible time we had getting there, Florence is still a wonderful city. It is small enough that you can walk everywhere, though the cobblestone streets can be hard on the ankles. R was busy with the conference every day, and my job was to play tourist. It wasn't hard to do – it was just hard to narrow down the choices!

The conference seems to have been a big success for the participants, quite a few of whom R has known for decades, and some of whom (along with their wives) I met many, many years ago. One day I spent wandering around the city with three of the wives, one from Argentina who has lived in Italy for many years, one from Belgium who has lived in Switzerland with her Scottish husband for many years, and one Belgian. The common denominator, of course, was English, and all of them speak it fluently, so I felt linguistically inferior but enjoyed the fact that they could all communicate with me anyway. I tried to rejuvenate my somewhat pathetic Italian, and it was really a pleasure to hear the music of the language all around me, even when I can't understand what people are saying.

My obligatory visit to the Uffizi was, as expected, delightful. With a reservation I was able to walk right in at the appointed time and stroll leisurely through, though I was told that without a reservation there would be a 3-4 hour wait to get in. Unfortunately, the museum (like Florence in general) suffers from far too many tourists per square meter. There were some rooms where it was impossible to see the artwork, though patience paid off – usually after a wait of a few minutes the crowd would disperse and I could catch a glimpse before the next surge.

One night there was a lovely banquet at a restaurant in one of Florence's many, many converted palazzi, and the food was wonderful. The guest of honor, whose 65th birthday was the excuse for holding this conference, seemed truly touched by the very nice (and brief, and in one case extremely witty) speeches made about him. Another night, also as part of the conference, there was a concert of piano music for 4 hands. We met two professors from Florence for dinner first ("American style," a.k.a. unfashionably early) at a little out-of-the-way trattoria with wonderful authentic Florentine food. A day of fabulous art, food, and music... what could be better?

Our last three nights we had dinner in three different restaurants. Twice we went with Italians to little trattorias we would never have discovered on our own, and the food was excellent at both. The other night we went back to Acqua al Due and it was just as wonderful as we had remembered. We had "assaggio di primi" -- a tasting of 5 different kinds of pasta, and then shared bistecca fiorentina al aceto balsamico, a steak with balsamic vinegar. We then shared an "assaggio di dolci" -- tasting of 5 different desserts -- which we would have skipped except that the couple with us was an evil influence!

R was busy at the conference every day except Sunday, when we did a lot of walking and visited both the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (see the amazing choir loft by Della Robbia here) and the church of Santa Maria Novella, which has some phenomenal artwork by many of the Big Names in Italian Renaissance art like Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Filippino Lippi, Ghirlandaio, etc. Our favorite is the Lippi fresco of St. Phillip driving the dragon from a Roman temple. It is a stinky dragon, and you can see people holding their noses, and the king's son actually faints from the smell. You can see it here. The decision of what to do that day was made easier by the fact that most museums are closed on Sundays, and the churches are open to tourists only in the afternoons. In the late afternoon we walked over to the Piazza della Signoria to take a last look at the wonderful statues out in the open, including a copy of Michelangelo's David and my favorite, Giambologna's amazing Rape of the Sabine Women. Nearby is a Cellini bronze of Perseus holding the head of Medusa plus a variety of other really gory statues.

All in all, it was an interesting -- though far too short -- visit. The conference attendees all seemed to agree that it was an exceptionally good conference, and the spouses had no problem keeping ourselves entertained. It may be the City of Aching Ankles, but it is also a city that is imbued with the history of art, the history of science, and fabulous food. I can't wait to go back. (But maybe on a different airline next time. After all the trouble they gave us on the way to Italy, Continental/Alitalia also managed to lose one suitcase and damage another one on the way home.)