Monday, November 29, 2010

More On the Majesty of Mattress Stitch

(Ok, so the alliteration ran out there...)

Loving the comments on my Knittyblog post about Mattress stitch. Some very helpful suggestions!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Precious: Snowflower Shawl

For several weeks this summer I was working on a secret project... That's the (only) problem with knitting designs for publications - I can't blog about them.

This was a big project. By yardage, it's one of the biggest things I've knit, calling for about 1500m of lace weight cashmere. And being 1500m of lace weight cashmere, it's also one of the most precious things I've knitted.

It's finally been published, and I'm thrilled to be able to show it off...

The Snowflower Shawl, for Yarn Forward Magazine Issue 31.

(All images courtesy Yarn Forward Magazine, copyright St Range photography/Darren Strange.)

It's the last part in a three-part series on how to expand your lace knitting skills.

The first was the Double Diamond stole, in issue 29.

The second part was the Falling Leaves triangle shawl, in issue 30.

And the finale is this circular shawl, based on Elizabeth Zimmerman's Pi shawl shaping.

One of the reasons I love designing for Yarn Forward - other than the fact they send me such gorgeous yarns to work with - is that the publications are available digitally. The publication is based in the UK, but anyone can buy a copy, and the issues remain for sale long after the print copies have sold out.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Harumph, I say; harumph!

Minor guilty confession of the week: I read the Dear Prudence advice column on Slate.

Or at least I used to.

In a live chat column she wrote this week, a reader enquires:

  • Q. Help! Advice on Gift-Giving: I am a knitter who is knitting socks for my son's preschool class. I intend to give these socks as Christmas gifts this year. I am keeping them a secret as I would like them to be surprises. The only one who knows is the teacher as I needed her help getting the kids' feet sizes. My question revolves around the note I am going to include with the socks. Of course it will include washing and drying instructions (cold water and low heat); however, I am stumped about how to ask for the socks back if the kids don't like them, so they can be redistributed. Now, I don't really want the socks back for my own son; I would like the socks to go to someone who'd actually wear them. What would you do in this instance?
I'm mostly with the questioner - although I'd feel weird asking for the socks back for redistribution.

It's the answer that made my hair stand on end:
  • A: In this instance, I would stop with the socks and knit a sweater for my own child. While many people enjoy handmade scarves, there's a reason people stopped wearing lumpy, itchy, droopy handmade socks as soon as industrial looms were invented. It's sweet of you to want to make gifts for the entire class, but you're investing way too much time in a gift that won't be appreciated. If you want to do something handmade, maybe you should bake some treats. Or you could offer to come in and do a knitting lesson for the kids. Unless you're making socks they can hang by the fireplace for Christmas, no one wants handmade socks in their Christmas stocking.

On behalf of all the sock knitters in the world, I am truly offended that Ms. Prudence thinks that the socks we make are "lumpy, itchy and droopy". Perhaps we should launch a campaign to send her some socks so she can see the quality of what we make - and understand how very very wrong she is.

What do you think?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Someone Else's FO: Kureyon Basic Triangle Shawl

Another lovely example of my Basic Triangle Shawl, in Noro Kureyon. Gorgeous - and thanks to Kathleen for the picture. I do so love this yarn - look at those stripes!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Heel: For Feet Worthy of Hand-Knit Socks

Earlier this fall, I handed a giant bag of my hand-knit socks over to a friend... my sock drawer sat practically empty for a couple of weeks, as the temperature dropped. It was a bit scary, I have to admit. I had to resort to wearing store-bought socks for a while.

And why on earth would I do something so silly?

My socks went off to modelling school to become famous.

The lovely people at Soak have just launched a new product - Heel - a wonderful foot cream - "for feet worthy of hand-knit socks". (I've been using it for a few weeks, and it's great.)

They needed some socks for the packaging art, and I'm honoured to say that they chose mine!

There's a great post on the Soak blog about the photo shoot, and some really gorgeous shots.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Off Topic: Christmas Cake

Updates: No nuts, no! The original recipe doesn't call for them, and although I love them, hubby has some allergies. Re: loaf pans & sizes. I've used a variety of pans and it works great. 8 by 8 square plans, big loaf pans, small loaf pans.... I don't worry about the size of pan, I just start checking for doneness at the 2 hour mark.

I've been tweeting about this often enough and had enough questions that I figured I should just blog about it...

Like many Canadians, I'm an immigrant in a culturally mixed marriage, and Norman and I try to honour the holidays and traditions of both our cultures. One cultural tradition I've brought to the relationship is fruitcake. I absolutely adore fruitcake. I know it's not to everyone's taste, but I also insist that many haven't tasted it the way it's supposed to be made.

And in my opinion, that's boozy. (Apologies to the non-drinkers in the crowd. I know and respect that there are some who don't drink or use alcohol. You can actually get a very similar effect by using a mixture of strong coffee and fruit juice for soaking the fruit, and then soaking the cakes in fruit cordials and syrups.)

My Mum makes the "proper" cake every year, the one we eat during the actual festive meals. I make what I've come to refer to as the "standby" cake. The one we can eat in the run up to Christmas, the one we can offer to guests, the one I can cut up and take to parties and get-togethers during the season. Although Mum's is more traditional, the way I love it, I've found that many fruitcake skeptics enjoy my slightly unorthodox (pun intended?) version. My cake is very dark, sticky and fudgy in texture - and fairly moist with dark rum.

As I tweeted, the recipe I use is, oddly, Canadian. When we first arrived in Canada, my Mum bought of a copy of the now-out-of-print Madame Jehane Benoit's Encyclopedia of Canadian Cooking.

Shortly after I finished university, I decided I wanted to try making fruitcake, but being an inexperienced baker with a minimal kitchen and budget, I wasn't sure I was up for trying the full thing. Mum found me a recipe in Madame Benoit's book - called, amusingly enough, My Mother's Fruitcake.

I've been making it for years now, and I think it's pretty good.

The book seems to be long out of print, and so, with full credit, here's the recipe:

“My Mother’s Fruit Cake”
from Madame Jehane Benoit’s Encyclopedia of Canadian Cooking

2 cup currants
2 cups seedless raisins
1 cup mixed peel
1/4 cup rum or orange juice
2 cups butter
2 cups fine granulated sugar
6 eggs, well beaten
2 cups molasses
7 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cloves

Put fruit and juice/rum in a bowl and soak for 12 hours, covered, stirring a a few times.

Preheat oven to 240 deg F. (Yes, very low.) Line cake tins with greaseproof paper.

Cream butter with sugar until very light. Add eggs one by one, stirring hard each time. Add molasses.

Sift together dry ingredients.

Add half of flour to creamed butter, mix well.

Add rest of flour alternately with fruit.

Stir until thoroughly blended.

Bake for 3 hours or until cake tester comes out clean.

My notes:
1. I play fast and loose with the fruit. I usually cut back on the raisins and currants and make up the amount with dried cranberries (or glace cherries, but the cranberries are better). I put some finely chopped candied ginger in one year, that was nice. If you don 't like the mixed peel, ditch that and use more cranberries and even dried cherries and blueberries.

2. 1/4 cup juice or rum for 12 hours.... I use about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of booze – whatever is in the bar: rum, gold tequila, rye, bourbon, Southern Comfort, cheap scotch, brandy – and soak for about a week.

3. I use strong dark molasses – the blackstrap variety – because I love the dark and slightly bitter taste it brings. If you’re less about molasses, use the lighter kind.

4. I bake it at least three or four weeks early then store it in the fridge in containers and pour dark rum on it every few days. It will seem fairly soggy, that's ok. Stop watering it about a week before you want to start serving it so the top dries out a bit. This is really the key to making it more interesting and fun than "normal" fruitcake.

5. The batter gets very hard to stir once you’re adding the flour & fruit in. Use serious wooden spoons. I usually lose at least one spatula or wooden spoon to it every year.

6. I bake in loaf pans and it takes 2 to 2 and a bit hours. It’s hard to tell if it’s done – I do the tap the underside trick, like loaves of bread.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On The Road Again: Shall We Knit

This weekend I'm back to teach some classes at Shall We Knit in New Hamburg, just outside of Kitchener.

I had a marvelous time when I was there in April, and I'm thrilled to have been invited back.

I'm teaching my ever-popular Fearless Finishing class, and my Yarn Knowledge class. Yarn Knowledge is a newer class on my list, and I developed in response to the questions I hear regularly from knitters - newer and established alike...

  • Mystified by all these terms - double knitting, worsted, aran? Unsure whether fingering is a potato or a yarn? Wondering why you should care about whether a yarn is superwash or not? How do you go about finding a substitute yarn for a pattern? This class will explain yarn terminology, help you understand yarn substitution and gauge, and make you a more confident yarn shopper and knitter.

Info on both classes here.

Some spaces are still available.

And I'll be back there in January for Continental Knitting, and my wild and crazy Two Socks In One Class.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Qiviut Sock Yarn

Go look at today's Knitty Blog post - Qiviut sock yarn! And if you don't know why that's exciting, that's extra reason to read it.

The Naked Sheep: So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

Yesterday I taught my last class at The Naked Sheep in Toronto. I've been teaching there since it opened, in mid 2004.

This wonderful little yarn shop in Toronto's Beaches district is closing this month, and I'm sad to see it go.

I am so very grateful to both Lorena, the original owner,

and Lisa,

the current owner, for the opportunity to teach there all these years.

The Naked Sheep gave me my big break - it was the first shop I taught at. The Naked Sheep introduced me to Noro. The Naked Sheep allowed me to mingle with so many wonderful people. I will miss my classes there, and my Sunday morning gang, and the excellent team who worked there.

It's thanks to the Sheep that I am the knitter and teacher and designer I am. Without the Sheep, I'd still be stuck in a cubicle somewhere in IT-land, wishing I could knit during conference calls.

The Sheep was one of the first of the current generation of knitting shops in Toronto - shops that appeal to newer knitters, to a younger crowd. In the 1990s in Toronto many of the knitting shops closed down, and only a few hardy stores remained. When she opened in 2004, Lorena had a store that appealed not only to established knitters, but also created an environment that lured in younger non-knitters. The Sheep's beginner classes and Wednesday knit nights remained amazingly popular all throughout the life of the store. When Lisa purchased the store, her enthusiasm and energy took the store to a new level and she did an amazing job of running it while holding down a full-time job and being a mother to two very active kids.

Many, many knitters in Toronto are knitters because of the Sheep.

All I can say is thank you.

Friday, November 05, 2010

My Old Nemesis, We Meet Again

In the fall of 2005, I knitted a scarf with KidSilk Haze.

The idea was that since I had a winter coat that was fairly... err... bold in its patterning, I needed black accessories to go with it.

It may well have been the single most miserable knitting experience of my life.


The post I wrote back then seriously undersells the pain I suffered. I refrained from grumbling about how many times I changed needles to find ones that worked well with the yarn. I never did find a needle that made it an enjoyable experience.

It was so awful I remember it well. Bitterly. I shudder at the thought.

And I was desperately unhappy with the finished result - it wasn't wide enough, I'd stopped short of the intended length, and the cast off was too tight. I put it away, and swore never to use the yarn again.

I had such a miserable time that I regularly warn people away from the yarn.

I nearly staged an intervention once when I saw a mother teaching her daughter to knit with this yarn.

But then, oh then... I found the scarf again this fall. And I wore it for the first time since the fall of 2005.

Oh dear god, it's gorgeous. It's light, and ethereal and warm and actually very nice. It's still too narrow to wear as I had intended, but it looks really rather great as a little cravat sort of thing.

So... as I'm noodling on a project I need to demonstrate the use of biasing to a newer knitter, I ponder again my garter stitch scarf. Am I crazy to think I should recommend this (with firm notes on appropriate needle choice and pointers on how not to lose your mind) to new-ish knitters?