Tuesday, November 22, 2011

We have a winner!

The winner of the signed copy of The Knitter's Book of Socks by Clara Parkes is...
ptraci, who said:
"My favourite socks are more than 30 years old, red, high, with toes and belonged to my mom. A schizophrenic aunt of mine knitted them for her all those years ago and despite the wear, they are still going strong.
I haven't learnt to knit socks yet, but I've been willing to try for a while now :D"

Congratulations!  Please send me a e-mail at knittingworkshop@comcast.net with your mailing address so I can send the book to you.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Contest for Sock Lovers!

Remember a little while ago, when I told you about ClaraParkes’ talk and book signing at a Verb for Keeping Warm? And I raved about her wonderful new book, The Knitter’s Book of Socks? (It would be wonderful even if I didn’t have a design included in the book, but I do, so that’s even better.)
Well, I just happen to have an extra copy of the book to give away. And it is signed by Clara!
That’s right!  Clara’s erudite and entertaining exploration of socks, with an emphasis on the yarn that makes them luscious, plus 20 outstanding sock patterns from designers you know and admire, can all be yours.
All you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling me about your favorite pair of socks, and what makes them your favorite. Leave your comment by Monday, November 21.  On Tuesday, I’ll randomly pick a winner and send the book to you.
Good luck!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's a Soup Kind of Weekend

Sometimes I just need to make soup.  When autumn comes, and there is a cold wind blowing, nothing is warms body and soul like a pot of  homemade soup simmering on the stove.
Today's soup is one of my favorites, Butternut Squash. Easy, healthy, hearty and delicious. This recipe is an adaptation of one that appeared several years ago in Real Simple magazine.

Butternut Squash Soup
1 3-lb Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes (or cheat like I do and buy 2 packages of already cubed squash at Trader Joe's - those suckers are hard to cut up. You need about 2 lbs of cubes)
3 tbs olive oil
1/4-lb bacon
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
about 6 large leaves of fresh sage, chopped
4-6 cups chicken broth (I like Trader Joe's Organic Free Range, or Swanson's Natural Goodness)
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oven to 400. Toss the squash with 2 tbs of olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread it on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
While the squash is roasting, fry up some bacon in a heavy soup pot (my 6 qt LeCruset Dutch Oven works perfectly). 4 slices will do, though I usually cut up an entire pound and cook it all, because you can never have too much bacon on hand.
Set the bacon aside, pour off the fat, add the last of the olive oil to the bacon fat that clings to the pot, and saute the onion, celery and sage until the onion starts to caramelize and the celery is soft.
Add the roasted squash and the chicken broth and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes.
Puree the whole thing - I have an immersion blender, so I do it right in the pot on the stove.  If you don't have one, use a regular blender and puree in batches. Check the seasoning - you may need to add salt, depending on how salty your bacon was.
Serve with a sprinkle of bacon bits and grated parmesan.  Don't skip this part - the smoky salty is a great balance for the sweetness of the squash and onions.
This makes a big pot of soup - It keeps well sealed in jars in the fridge, though I usually end up giving some away to friends.
Slices of toasted baugette spread with goat cheese are a perfect accompaniment.

On the knitting front, I sent off a new design to my friends at Kollage Yarns this week, and I have to say I'm happy to see it go.  For this project, I wrote up the pattern, then handed it off to Pat the Wonder Knitter.  When it came back, it was wrong. Just wrong. Too long, not hanging correctly, just bad. Not Pat's fault - the design was flawed. I begged more time from the client, ripped the whole thing out, re-worked the pattern and started again.

This design is made in Kollage's Milky Whey, a 50/50 blend of milk and soy.  The yarn is soft, with an incredibly fluid drape. This design was intended to make the most of that drape, but my original pattern included borders which caused constriction along all the edges, and spoiled the effect.  Now it works. Here's a sneak peek for you.
This was one of those projects that fell into a hole in the space/time continuum. It took 3 times longer than I thought it should.  In all fairness, I should point out that I am a master of self-delusion when it comes to how long a project will take. Still, this one is done, and it looks the way I want it to, and the client will love it (right, Susie? You do love it, don't you?).

Now I'm making swatches and sketches for a bunch of new designs, and plugging away on my handspun cardigan, which can only be worked on during 49er games (I get to work on it this afternoon. Hooray!).
I'm spinning the Rambouillet/Alpaca blend I bought at the Boonville Wool Festival a couple of months ago. This is some beautiful fiber - spinning it is pure joy. I'm spinning the singles as a fine semi-woolen, and plan to make a 3-ply that should come out to about sport wieight. I only bought 8 oz of fiber, and I'm thinking I should call Morgaine and see if I can get 8 more.

Heads up - the new issue of Twist Collective goes live on November 15!  I have a new design and an article in this issue. As usual, Kate's styling is spectacular, and the issue is packed with designs you'll want to knit.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sockupy Oakland!

Last night, my friend Clara Parkes was the star of a talk and book signing at A Verb for Keeping Warm. (Just Verb to its friends). The event was a dual celebration – Verb’s one year anniversary in their lovely, light-filled retail space near the Oakland-Berkeley border, and the publication of Clara’s new book, The Knitter’s Book of Socks.

First, let me brag a little – see the colorful sock on the cover? The one on the far left? That is Hummingbird, my humble contribution to Clara’s fabulous book. (Hummingbird also appears on the spine of the dust jacket, so I’ll be able to see it when the book joins it siblings on the shelf – how cool is that?)

These socks were specifically designed to use wildly variegated or stripey sock yarns. The arrangement of yarn overs and decreases breaks the surface of the fabric into chunks which can tilt and rotate (like tectonic plates). This lets the rows, and the stripes of color contained therein, swoop and bend. I made two versions of this pattern.

This one is knit in Step from Skacel, a commercial dyed yarn with a subtle stripe.

This one is knit in Crazyfoot from Mountain Colors, a variegated hand-painted yarn.

Go on. You know you want to knit a pair.

Of course, the book is about far more than my socks. Clara, the publisher of Knitter's Review.com, and the uber-geek of all yarny goodness, explains the qualities a yarn needs to make excellent socks. She discusses twist, ply, moisture management and abrasion resistance in a way that is technically thorough, but never boring. After reading this book, you will understand why your favorite socks are your favorites, why some have let you down by wearing out prematurely, and why some end up sitting in the drawer because something about them just isn’t right.

And then there are the patterns. This book contains designs from Cookie A, Kathryn Alexander, Karen Alfke, Marlaina Bird, Cat Bordhi, Ann Budd, Nancy Bush, Jane Cochran, Jared Flood, Norah Gaughan, Jennifer Hagan, Anne Hanson, Sivia Harding, Stephen Houghton, Melissa Morgan-Oakes, Lucy Neatby, Cirilia Rose and Jayme Stahl. Also me, and Clara herself. Cables, lace, colorwork, twisted stitches, double knitting – it’s all here.

If you haven’t already done so, buy this book or put it on your list for Santa. Check your local yarn store or independent bookseller first, but if you can’t find it there this link will take you to Amazon.

Clara is always superb company, funny and intelligent whether one on one or in front of a large crowd. The knitters who gathered last night had the pleasure of hearing Clara tell about her journey as a knitting writer. I was pleased to be able to spend some time with my buddies WonderMike and Carson Demers, and to meet Rachel Herron, Maureen Hefti and Brenda Patipa.

If you find yourself within 50 miles of Verb, it is worth a side trip. They have a lovely collection of natural fiber yarns and spinning fiber, much of it hand-dyed, including their own beautiful line of yarns. There is also a corner of the store devoted to fabrics, mostly printed cotton. Verb offers a full schedule of knitting, spinning and sewing classes as well. Check them out.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Friends are Sheeper Than Therapy

I had the great good fortune of spending last weekend as the featured teacher at the annual retreat of the Sheeper Than Therapy Guild of Fresno, California. Let me tell you about it.

The retreat was held at St. Anthony’s Retreat Center, in the Sierra Foothills just outside Sequoia National Park. We arrived for lunch on Friday, then headed into the town of Three Rivers for some yarn shopping. The guild provided each attendee with a $25 gift certificate for Creekside Yarns, a lovely yarn shop with a beautifully chosen collection of fibery delights.

See the stars hanging from the ceiling? The shop had arranged a special sale just for us. After choosing what we wanted to buy, we were invited to pull down a star. Each opened to reveal our discount percentage, ranging from 20-100%! Many skeins of yarn found new homes that afternoon.

When we’d had all the shopping we could handle, the group congregated on the patio at the retreat center to knit, chat, and enjoy the autumn sunshine. While an early winter storm was bearing down on the East Coast, Central California was enjoying 75°, clear skies and a light breeze. No, I’m not gloating.

After dinner, we moved into our meeting room for a class on Mastering Gauge. Then it was on to a spirited round of Last Knitter Standing. Have you played this game? It is a whole new way to have fun with needles and yarn. We had three different tables going at once, and it got pretty rowdy.

Later that evening, we retired to the lounge for wine and conversation.

The most unexpected treat of the weekend happened Friday night. The night was clear, there was very little moon, and the sky was thick with stars. The priest at St. Anthony’s is a knowledgeable amateur astronomer. (I didn’t write down his name – let’s call him Father Gallileo). Father Gallileo set up his telescope and invited all who were interested to join him for some stargazing. He showed us Jupiter’s moons, and the Andromeda Galaxy and the Pleiades. Father Gallileo spoke with great passion of supernovas and star clusters, recent discoveries about the movement of our own solar system within the galaxy, and the fact that we, like all we could see through his telescope, are made of stardust. It was impossible to resist being drawn into his sense of wonder and awe.

Contrails at sunset

Saturday morning began with a session on Essential Chart Reading Skills, then we jumped into Making Your Dream Shawl. The students had selected a pattern from a list I provided in advance. About half the class had chosen Summer Flies. Many had bought their yarn the day before at Creekside. A few had already started, but most waited until the retreat to cast on.

About halfway through the morning, Gisele pulled a crumpled mass out of her bag and asked “how do I block this?” It was a completed Haruni knit in a blend of merino and cashmere. We had a sink in the classroom, and her roommate had bought blocking wires the day before. We scrounged loads of pins from the other students and did an impromptu blocking demo right on the floor of the classroom. By dinnertime, her spectacular shawl was dry and ready to wear.

Saturday evening was time for more wine and the “Dirty Witch” gift exchange. I managed to score a Namaste circular needle case (which I can really use – the case I’ve been using is about the give up the ghost).

Now, it’s not every retreat that includes an after-hours party, but this one did. When sensible people went to bed, the rest of us gathered our wine and moved to Sheila’s room. Fortunately, what happens at St. Anthony’s stays at St. Anthony’s, and there are no photos which might be used as evidence at a later date.

Sunday morning was all about making progress on our shawls. I sorted out pattern issues, picked up dropped stitches, found errant yarn overs and generally tried to make myself useful. After lunch, we went our separate ways.

This was one of those weekends where I was reminded of how very fortunate I am to make my living among knitters. Thank you, ladies! I had a great time.