Friday, March 30, 2012

Halfway House

I'm in the process of working on the edits for Gore Street, a pattern that will be out in a couple of weeks in the Spring 2012 issue of Twist Collective. Twist's April Newsletter came out today with yet another sneak peek. The editing finds me in the same place as many a Canadian writer--fighting to use Canadian spellings instead of American ones. Twist allows designers to use British or Canadian spellings, so long as they're used consistently, but it appears that my technical editor's computer program hasn't caught on (neither has mine for that matter--I'm constantly having to undo its efforts to change what I write).
We Canadians are a stupidly stubbornly  prickly people when it comes to spelling. Presumably, it's because we have a need to feel that we're not getting sucked into the great cultural vacuum south of the border. In fact, we're halfway to being there in most things, including spelling. Here's the site I use to check on mine. Notice how in some cases we've retained British usage, and sometimes we've adopted American ways. My kids, raised in Washington, DC, just don't bother with Canadian spelling at all and consider my attitude rather quaint. (They do, however, call me "Mum", not "Mom".)
At the centre of today's edits was the word "centre" and its stranger cousin "centreing". I'm hopeful we'll get our wooLLen problems all sorted out in good humOUR, without fueLLing any sCeptisim or rancOUR, so that in due course we can all enjoy the next instaLment of this truly marveLLous magazine. Take that Microsoft Word!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Toy!

Along with Natalie's surprise package yesterday, I received a new toy in the post. Here it is:

It's a new spindle from here, and I love it. As you can see, I've begun the mesmerizing process of turning fleece into yarn. I have no idea yet whether the end product will be useable; only time (and some plying) will tell.
If it seems that I'm into green rather a lot lately, it's a false impression. See?

 I'm not ready to show more of this; it's early days...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bowled Over

Dear Natalie,
                     When a package arrived in the post today, I thought, "Oh, good, it's the Loft I ordered last week from Brooklyn Tweed", until I realized that 10 skeins of Loft probably wouldn't fit into such a small space. Then I saw it was from you, and I ripped it open to find this.

It's a Hitchhiker scarf with a note saying that you had knit it for me after reading my Hitchhiker post a few weeks back. The yarn is Nyoni, from Fleece Artist, and I just read your post featuring this yarn yesterday. 
In your note, you wondered if the green was my type of green and it is, even more than the green that was in Isabel's scarf. I love the bluey-green striations and the just-bright-enough glow of the lighter bits.

No one has knit anything for me since I was a kid, and I'm so, so touched. Thank you.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pocket Trick

My steeking class on Saturday went smoothly. One student went so far as to say that the class had changed her life. Wow! At one point I put my camera on the table to remind myself to take a few photos of the group, but somehow, I managed to forget, so sorry, no photos of the class.
I'm working on a little project with Brooklyn Tweed's Shelter.

The colourway is "woodsmoke". I love the yarn's earthy quality, deriving from the fact, I think, that it is woollen-spun. It's delightfully soft and airy.
That's a pocket in progress, utilizing EZ's "thumb trick", whereby you knit the stitches that will form the opening onto a length of waste yarn and then re-knit them in the working yarn before continuing along the row. Later, the waste yarn will be removed, revealing live stitches waiting to be worked up (in the case of the lower stitches for the pocket border) or down (in the case of the upper stitches for the pocket lining). So simple.
On another subject, Turbo Tax has finally solved our log-in problem, and we're on our way to e-filing. No celebration though until the process is complete.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


This coming Saturday, I'll be teaching a class in steeking at Wool-Tyme here in Kingston, so today, I'm doing my homework. I'm making up a swatch to use for demonstration purposes, preparing the class handouts, and gathering together all the supplies I'll need, including my trusty Bernina sewing machine. Incidentally, I have the most basic model on the market. It isn't computerized and doesn't do anything fancy. I love it, just the same. The little motor purrs along in a way completely unlike the clunker of a Singer I struggled with for years.
Last night I went to a lecture at Queen's by Ralph Nader. While I don't always agree with him, it was enjoyable to hear him, so full of fire and energy at age 78. During the talk, I sat in the back row and worked on this.

I'm sampling some shetland lace stitches from Martha Waterman's "Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls". This is an oldie but goodie. Although the photos in this book are of rather poor quality, this is still my favourite shetland lace book--not for patterns, but for design information. I'm toying with the idea of a sampler shawl. Nothing complicated, but something fun to knit and useful to wear. And great for knitters like me who get bored easily. If you're in my class on Saturday, see you there.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


For the last month, I've had a sort of on-again, off-again relationship with the idea of spinning. Note that I didn't say actual spinning. Yes, the idea has been intriguing me, but the reality I'd experienced never lived up to the idea. The idea piqued my interest enough, though, to send me to the internet for Abbey Franquemont's video version of her book Respect the Spindle. As they say, a video is worth a thousand words.
I followed Abbey's advice, and spent a lot of hours "parking and drafting". She recommends 2 or 3 weeks of practice at this activity, which breaks down the motions of drop spindle spinning into manageable components. She asserts on the video that if you practice for 30 minutes a day for a few weeks, suddenly it will all come together and you'll be spinning with relative ease. Well, guess what? It only took a few days. Yesterday it happened for me. It's magic.

Now, does anyone know where I can get a nice high-whorl spindle with a notch? OK, and maybe a low-whorl spindle now that I think of it. I'm addicted.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spring Thaw

Went to the concluding event of Queen's University's Pianofest yesterday evening. Very enjoyable to hear so many solo piano works by Grieg and Liszt played so ably by Derek Yaple-Schobert. I chose a seat at the rear of the hall on purpose so I could do a little knitting without disturbing my fellow concert-goers. Does anyone else have strategies for knitting discreetly in public? I'm making progress with Quince & Co.'s Chickadee.

Today is strangely warm for March. It's hard to know whether our non-winter this season is the result of climate change, but one thing's for certain--the fact that Lake Ontario failed to freeze over was highly unusual. Just a few miles north, however, the Rideau Lakes not only froze, but are still mostly ice covered even though our air temperatures this weekend are in the 50s and 60sF.

Yes, this is the remains of an "ice road".
Today, the ice has that translucent look it gets just before the break-up, which will probably occur very quickly. With the air temperatures so balmy, laundry is being put out to catch the spring breezes.

Speaking of the spring thaw, I hope you've checked out Brooklyn Tweed's new collection of the same name.
Any favourites?

Friday, March 16, 2012


Yesterday I decided to give Turbotax Online a try. In the past few years we've used accountants, because our tax situation in Bill's transition from the World Bank in Washington, DC back to Canada was a little complex. Now things have settled into a fairly straightforward path, and so it seemed a good time to take on the task ourselves and save the hefty accountants' fees. So, I opened an account, logged in, and began to enter our data. I took advantage of the company's online chat system to ask a technical question, and then it happened---when I went to log in again, I got an error message. I phoned the customer service number and got someone with a strong Indian accent on the line who, after about half an hour of trying, was unable to solve the problem. She eventually told me that my problem was being "escalated" and that I would receive an e-mail and a phone call when the problem was solved. Well, here I am 24 hours later and, after yet another phone call to wherever and another online chat, I've been told that it may take up to 5!!!! business days to fix my log-in problem. Five!!! Do you sense my frustration? My data is out there somewhere and I can't connect to it! And I have no idea what "escalated" means in this context.

All right, I'm taking a deep breath. We're having one of the best soups in the world for lunch--Deborah Madison's potato soup from here. Hard to believe something so divine comes from only a handful of simple ingredients. And I love how she says it's a great soup to make to "build up your soup confidence". I could say I've made it in anticipation of St. Patrick's Day, except that wouldn't be true. In spite of Bill's Irish ancestry, we don't really celebrate. I might make James Beard's Irish soda bread tomorrow, but that'll be about it.
I have something green to show, though. Here's the Hitchhiker Scarf on its recipient.

Now I'm off to "escalate" my knitting, that is, if this definition is accurate--"Become or cause to become more intense or serious."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Woke this morning to the sound of the Wolfe Island ferry foghorn. The unusually warm weather we're having (+10C early this morning) had wrapped us in a heavy fog.

View from the park across King St. toward the lake.

Our first prime minister peering through the mist.
Gave Isabel the finished Hitchhiker scarf at her birthday dinner yesterday evening. It was hard to give away, since when I tried it on myself, the green in the scarf made my green eyes pop. When you're over 50, anything that makes you look better is an asset. I think Isabel sensed my difficulty because after she thanked me for it, she offered to let me borrow it now and then. 
The chocolate cake lived up to expectations. For those of you interested in the recipe for what we think is the world's best chocolate cake, here's the recipe. Note that it is butter and egg-free--not because I'm opposed to butter and eggs, just because it is. The cake is a moist, dense, rich dark chocolate. We like it made 2 ways: 1) as a layer cake with de-seeded raspberry jam between the layers (this is how we had it last night), or 2) as a bundt cake with a dusting of cocoa powder.

Chocolate Cake

3 c unbleached flour
½ c unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 ½ c dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2/3 c canola oil
2 ¼ c water
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F and prepare pan(s) with cooking spray. Choose either one bundt pan or 2 layer cake pans.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients together. Add the wet ingredients and mix well, using an electric mixer for best results. The batter should be quite smooth. Pour into the prepared pan(s). For a bundt cake, bake for about 45 min; for layer cakes about 30 min. When done, the edges of the cake will pull away from the sides of the pan.

Now the sun is shining and the mist, like magic, is completely gone. A good day to begin the spring garden cleanup. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hands, Heads, and the Value of Work

In addition to being a knitter, I'm a musician. I did two music degrees before attending law school and, to be honest, I never fully adjusted to being an office worker. I've always been good with my hands, and so one of the things I most resent about today's world is the presumption that being good with one's hands means that one isn't equally adept with one's brain. Why can't we convince society that the hands and the brain are inter-connected, and that therefore we should value those with skilled hands? I'm leaving visual artists out of this rant, since we have generally valued their skill. I'm referring to those who labour in skilled crafts and trades--carpenters, bakers, mechanics, electricians, gardeners,etc. Notice that these are mostly (but not all) jobs of the type that don't end up going overseas. They're generally not part of the globalization trend. When you need an extra bathroom on your main floor, you don't get someone in China to do the work.
I'm reading Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford. When his book first came out, I was lucky enough to catch a radio interview in which he talked about the creative problem-solving required in repairing motorcycles, and the satisfaction he experienced in achieving a concrete result at the end of his efforts. That seems a far cry from the frustration and cynicism bred in the offices of our public service, where many of my former law school colleagues toil (those that are not on mental health leave!).
On a related topic, CBC Radio ran a story a little while ago on the decline of cursive writing. One of the interviewees made the point that when we write, different parts of our brain are engaged than when we type, and we are in fact able to think more creatively. Probably that explains why Isabel likes to work on her novel in longhand, rather than at the computer, even though she is a computer science major. She and her brother, James, were fortunate enough to attend a private school in the Washington, DC area that emphasized the acquisition of good handwriting skills.
Our affinity for working with our hands should come as no surprise, given our evolution. Our hands and their connection to our brains are at the heart of our "humanness". Our ability to think and fashion tools, and then to make those tools beautiful has set us apart from our fellow creatures and given us mastery (for good or ill) over our environment.
I contemplate the value of manual work everyday in the built environment of the neighbourhood where I live. For instance, I am surrounded by a proliferation of beautiful domes, the legacy of Kingston's brief time as the capital of the united Canadas.
Back view of City Hall, with melting ice rink in the market square.

Front view of St. George's Cathedral.

Back view of St. George's.
Wrought iron fence post in shape of a bishop's mitre.

Dome atop Frontenac County Courthouse.
Canada is currently experiencing a shortage of skilled tradespeople, and our federal government is moving toward fast-tracking immigrants to fill the vacancies. I only wish that at the same time we could convince our fellow citizens of the value of skilled manual work so that our own sons and daughters might be given more opportunities and encouragement to participate in the long tradition of working with their hands as well as their heads.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Longish Detour

Tuesdays and Fridays are my usual grocery shopping days, so this morning I hopped in the car and headed out---and out and out. Somehow, with the sun shining and the promise of spring in the air, I found myself on the road to the Glenora Ferry and Picton. The lake was mostly ice-free due to our non-winter, but there were chunks of ice in the Bay of Quinte.

The ducks and geese didn't seem to mind.

While the ferry made its way across the bay, I worked on my "car knitting", the Hitchhiker scarf (see link a few posts ago). Here it is against the dashboard of my Passat.

The spectrum of greens in it isn't showing up at all well.

This view from the ferry shows the Ontario Ministry of Fisheries hatchery.

Picton, settled by loyalists fleeing the American revolution, is in Prince Edward County, an almost-island that juts out into Lake Ontario. Its rolling countryside, vineyards, and extensive shoreline make it a popular place for summer homes. There are some grand old houses as you approach the town. This one has been turned into an inn.

After a visit to my favourites, Miss Lily's cafe and the Rose Haven Farm Store, I did the return trip and eventually bought the groceries. Now, off to cook a pasta dinner.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Sneak Peek and Other Random News

1. Last week I ordered some Chickadee from Quince & Co. Yesterday it arrived, and now it's sitting in the living room awaiting transformation. Sometimes, anticipation is the very best part of knitting (and maybe life in general!)

2. Yesterday, much to my surprise, Trellis made it onto Ravelry's top 20 most viewed designs list. For a little while it was actually in the top 10. Today, it's dropped off the list and back to a more normal anonymous life.

3. Today is exceptionally windy; it's the same weather system that brought tornadoes to the U.S. midwest yesterday. The surf on the lake is rather scary.

4. If you received Twist Collective's Spring 2012 Newsletter, then you've had a preview of another one of my designs, one not yet seen on this blog. You can check the Newsletter out here. See the top right-hand photo? OK, all you can see is the neckline. Only a few more weeks to go, though.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Trellis Waistcoat Now Available

Trellis, the pattern, is now available as a Ravelry download. I've already got 2 balls of Kauni to make one for myself in a different colourway from Isabel's. If you look up Kauni Effektgarn on Ravelry and click on a colour you like, then click on "projects", all sorts of things will pop up using that colour along with others. It's a great way to explore your options. If you're in Canada and your LYS doesn't carry Kauni, you can order it here.
 Have fun!