Thursday, June 28, 2012

Never Too Old

When Brookline came out in Twist Collective last April, a knitter wrote to me asking whether I thought a woman over 40 could wear this design. I designed the prototype for Isabel, my 20-year-old daughter, shown here in an alpaca version.

I wanted to give these photos a dressed-up, party feel. Isabel is very petite and admittedly, looks good in just about everything. At the same time, I only ever design and knit women's sweaters that I would wear myself, so the answer to the reader who asked if an older woman could wear Brookline, is a definite yes. I am 55 and I love this design. Not only is the shape extremely forgiving, but it can be worn dressed up or down and it's perfect for those tricky "transitional" seasons. For example, here it is shown with a 6-year-old J.Jill sleeveless linen blouse and equally old J.Jill blue jeans.

       Wondering about accessories?
Silver earrings from "Sterling" here in Kingston, ON.
Bracelet from recycled silver spoons purchased at P'Lover.
 Eyeglass holder/necklace from J.Jill.
Slightly beat-up but very comfy Naot clogs.
This is a great look for browsing at Kingston's City Market on a Saturday morning or meeting up with friends for knitting at a local coffee shop.
When I want to be a bit more dressed up, I button Brookline over loose knit black pants and a knit black tee, both from Cut Loose.


Earrings purchased at Catch Can in Washington, DC.

Tilley hat (expensive and worth every penny), Clark shoes, and scarf bought at Chris Reynolds in Westport, ON.

I can't finish without showing my fave bag. You wouldn't believe how many compliments I get about this, and not just from knitters who admire its capacious interior. Everyone thinks it's a $300 leather bag in a rich red. Wrong. It's vinyl faux leather, available at Pinecone in Westport, ON. Now you know!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Comfort Food

Mostly I don't want to spend a lot of time cooking in the summer; who wants to heat up the kitchen and use up a lot of electricity? But today is cloudy and pretty cool--cool enough for a wool sweater, especially near the lake. So it's a good day to make a favourite recipe of my own invention. This is comfort food at its best, and it's even good for you.

Mediterranean Shepherd’s Pie (Vegan)

4 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, quartered, then sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
1 19 oz can lentils, rinsed and drained (or 2 c cooked puy lentils)
1 small can tomato paste mixed with 2 empty cans filled with water (makes 2 c tomato sauce)
2-4 potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths (enough to yield 2 c mashed)

Place the potatoes in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, then simmer until tender. When done, drain most of the water off and mash the potatoes with the remaining water. Keep them on the thick side since they will absorb sauce from the pie while it bakes.
Meanwhile, sauté the onions in the oil in a large skillet. When softened, add the mushrooms and salt and cook until most of the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated. Add the garlic, carrots, thyme, and pepper, and sauté for a few minutes, then add the tomato mixture and the lentils. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Preheat oven to 350F.
Pour the lentil mixture into an 8x8 baking dish and top with the mashed potatoes. Sprinkle additional pepper over the top.
Bake, uncovered for 20-30 min. Hint: place the casserole on a cookie sheet to catch any drips.
Makes 4 generous portions.

Why puy lentils? Because they hold their shape and don’t have the mealy quality of regular brown or green lentils. The last time I made this I confess I used half puy and half green lentils, and it was still good.

Doors Open Ontario held its Kingston events on Saturday. Since we live next door to one of Door Open locations, we were treated to a jazz band for an hour.

I puttered around the garden, getting it ready for Kingston Blooms while enjoying the sounds. I think things are starting to look great, for a garden that's only one year old.

While we watched Zen on PBS last night (the first TV I've watched in months!), I plied the third skein for my DSK project. This little huge project is giving me a fantastic amount of practice at producing a consistent result with my new spinning skills. Each of my approximately 50g skeins has roughly 95 yards. I estimate that there'll be enough for a nice vest.

It's all I can do to keep my hands off it while it dries. I might have to start knitting before all the spinning is complete.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


I hardly ever knit pullovers; cardigans and jackets are my thing. I like their versatility, and they're often more flattering. So, I thought I'd explain how I sew on buttons. I don't think anyone actually likes sewing on buttons, but I have a way to make it easier. You probably already do this, but for the record here's what I do. I use ONE long length of yarn. In the case of Murney, which I knitted out of a chunky weight yarn, I used a length of Kauni doubled in a co-ordinating colour. (The Kathmandu Chunky felted easily and wasn't up to the wear and tear of holding on buttons.) Leaving an end to weave in, I sewed the first button on through its shank a few times, then pulled the sewing yarn to the wrong side and made a stitch through the spot on the back where the button was attached to anchor it in place. Then I slid the needle through the knitted fabric to the spot where the next button was supposed to be and repeated everything until done. Finally, I wove the beginning and ending yarn ends in. Much nicer to have only two ends in total to deal with, and since each button is secured at the back with an anchor stitch, even if one works its way loose in future, the others will remain secure.
With Murney done, apart from the writing up, I'm already moving on. Deb Gemmel of Cabin Fever, sent me some Belfast, a linen, cotton, acrylic, silk blend last week. I'm in the mood for something summery, so I'm working up an idea I had a few months ago.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of interest in the knitting world right now in Gansey patterns, probably because they don't typically involve any waist shaping. Nonetheless, I think they're wonderfully suited to summer yarns--maybe it's the nautical connection. My current fave book for swatching is this one by Sabine Domnick.

On the spinning front, the DSK project continues, with a second 50g skein plyed and wound, ready for action. Here's my giant plying spindle attached to a centre-pull double-stranded ball in the process of being plyed.

And here's a little bit of fun from yesterday-- a test run to see if I could spin some laceweight in merino/silk blend. It's "Glacial Green" (doesn't that sound nice and cool on this hot, hot day) from Louet.

It worked! It seems that my spinning skills continue to improve.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Strawberries and Cream

To celebrate the coming into season of our local strawberries (the small, round ones that are juicy red all through), yesterday I made strawberry shortcake (recipe at the end of this post).

To make it even more delightful, I invited my friend Margaret and her daughter, Carolyn, over to knit and crochet while we drank tea and enjoyed the berries. Margaret and I met less than a year ago, but our lives seem to intersect in many ways. She'll be one of Isabel's computer science professors next year at Queen's. She grew up in the DC area, where we lived for 16 years and where Isabel was born. She and Carolyn are both stunningly talented musicians--it must run in their family because I learned yesterday that her parents were both musicians in the National Symphony Orchestra. Margaret and Carolyn and I all played in the Queen's School of Computing annual concert last year. Margaret is a knitter and took my fair isle and steek classes last winter; Carolyn crochets, is a computer science grad student, and has published sci fi short stories (under a pen name). We had such a fun afternoon.

Strawberry Shortcake

2 c unbleached flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp butter or non-hydrogenated margarine (I used Becel)
1 c yogourt or buttermilk
½ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400F. Mix the dry ingredients together. Cut the butter (or margarine) into the flour mixture. Add the yogourt or buttermilk and vanilla and blend lightly with a fork. Do not overmix. Drop spoonfuls of the dough onto a parchment covered baking sheet. Makes 8-12, depending on desired size of shortcakes. Bake 12-15 min or until golden brown on the bottom.

1 quart strawberries
1 tbsp sugar (optional)

Clean, hull, and slice the strawberries (leave a few whole for garnish). Mix with the sugar (if using) and allow to sit for 15 min while the berries release their juice. Stir once more.

Whipped Cream
2 c heavy cream

Whip, using an electric mixer (or by hand) until stiff peaks form.

Temperature of components is critical. The shortcakes should be warm (heat them if necessary), the cream cold, and the berries room temperature.

Split the shortcakes, fill them with strawberries, and top with cream and a few whole  berries.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Get it right."

"Get it right". These are EZ's words in Knitting Without Tears where she writes about her seamless saddle shoulder sweater. She was talking about creating the slope of the shoulders, but her words echoed in my brain all morning and afternoon today while I was sewing the buttons onto Isabel's jacket (still unnamed). Actually, I sewed on buttons, took them off, walked a couple of blocks to Gwyn Gryffon for new buttons, and then sewed again. Fortunately, this is the ONLY sewing needed for this jacket, 'cause I'm all sewed out.
I loved the original buttons, and so did Isabel. There was a sort of "elvish" quality to them, as if they'd been designed for LOTR. However, after I'd sewn on three, it  became apparent that they were way too heavy for the jacket. In fact, each button weighed this much.

That means that seven buttons would have come to almost 50g! The collar would have flopped uncontrollably. The new buttons weigh in at 4g each, or 28g all together. Much better.

This morning, before the whole button thing got going, I walked down to the market, where there seemed to be a lot of action.

Check these out. Too bad I don't have any little feet to buy for.

More action this afternoon when Kingston's gay pride parade went past on a nearby street,

complete with a military tank.

Time to chill with a little spinning and a mug of tea (Barry's, in case you're wondering).

Friday, June 15, 2012


My DSK (design, spin, knit) project continues. Yarn management is a big issue for drop spindle spinners. Here's the wool progressing from fluff to a single twisty strand.

Below you can see how I get my singles from spindle to (toilet paper roll) bobbin. I wrap rubber bands around my ball winder before slipping on the cardboard roll to help it stay in place.

When I have two bobbins of singles, then I use my shoebox kate to hold them while I wind a double-stranded centre-pull ball from which I ply to produce this.

I haven't yet knitted up a swatch of my homespun; I think it looks as if it might knit up at about 5 stitches per inch, which would be perfect for the design I have in mind. Annie Kelley, of Kiparoo Farm, dyes her grey blue-faced leicester a rich shade of blue. I'd love to learn how she does it...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Let the Games Begin!

If you know me at all, you know that I love to knit top down. I like being able to try on a garment as it progresses, I like not having to cast on a ton of stitches at the outset, I like being able to control the final length of the body and sleeves. So, why am I making a bottom-up jacket? Well, I wanted to make double-knitted pockets to begin with. And I wanted to be able to make the cable run smoothly up the sleeves and saddle shoulder and neck (possible top down, but not quite as easy). And I wanted to be able to control the final height of the collar. And most of all I want the FUN of following Elizabeth Zimmermann's instructions in her classic Knitting Without Tears for a seamless saddle-shoulder sweater.
This morning I loaded up my 32" needle with the body and sleeves and now I'm eagerly looking forward to an afternoon of fun, fun, fun (OK, I also need to water and weed the garden, but that's not too horrible on a lovely June day).
On Friday we rented a car and drove to Ottawa, where Bill met up with a colleague at the University of Ottawa. I puttered about New Edinburgh, the part of the city adjacent to the Prime Minister's and Governor General's residences. This is where I grew up. Once a village in its own right, "the Burgh" boasts vintage Ontario Victorian architecture, like these two homes on MacKay (pronounced Mac-Eye) Street.

Yesterday, not wanting to waste our two car days, we drove to Prince Edward County and visited Waupoos Vineyard. 

The day was misty and cool, and the road had the feel of a coastal road along the sea, which I suppose it was if you consider the size of Lake Ontario.

Today has the promise of heat. With the students gone and the tourists not yet here in droves, this is the quietest and best time of all. Let the knitting games begin!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Momentum Is All

I'm writing today's post on Bill's Mac since my 10-year-old desktop PC seems to have been taken over by some sort of phishing virus that none of my security measures has been able to zap. In the last 48 hours I've changed my passwords for everything, cancelled my credit card, notified my bank, etc. No suspicious transactions have occurred, so I'm hoping I've nipped this horror in the bud. Perhaps this is a sign that it's time to ditch the old clunker.
To distract myself from the thought of forking over the bucks necessary for a laptop (I'd like to go with a Mac Pro), I've been slogging away at the second sleeve of Isabel's chunky tweedy jacket. Maintaining momentum is all for me. I can lose interest or become distracted all too easily.
And here's my chief distraction (apart from the afore-mentioned computer nightmare).

This is a full lb. of oatmeal blue-faced leicester which I intend to spin into enough worsted weight yarn to make a vest or maybe even a sweater. When we lived in DC, I used to visit Kiparoo Farm where Annie Kelley works her creative magic with her blue-faced leicester sheep to come up with some of the most inspiring yarns and patterns I've ever encountered. This spinning/designing/knitting project of mine is definitely a long-term thing. Is this an example of hubris, or am I merely ambitious?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Out to Dry

It turns out that music stands are handy for more than just holding music.


This is some merino I spun over the last couple of evenings and plied after lunch today. At first, I thought I had over-plied it because it twisted back on itself rather horribly, but after a little soak in some warm water and Eucalan, it's hanging loose and straight. Whew!
I'm really not on a pink jag, even though from this next photo you might think otherwise.

Isabel's chunky, tweedy jacket proceeds apace.

Monday, June 4, 2012

All Thumbs

As promised, here are the details of my version of the Newfoundland Mitts pattern (see link in last post).
1. I used US#5 dpns, not US#3's.
2. I ribbed for 20 rnds. Couldn't stand more than that. Boring, boring, boring!
3. For the thumb opening, I used a backward loop CO. I worked into the slightly loose CO sts normally, as if they were regular knitted sts on the succeeding row, BUT see below for how I treated them when picking up for the thumb.
4. I worked a total of 11 little portholes, windows, honeycombs, whatever you want to call them for my hand.
5. The thumb needed 18 sts rather than the smaller numbers suggested. I picked up 7 sts from the sts on hold on waste yarn, 7 from the backward loop CO, and 2 at either end. I worked into the BACK of all sts except for the sts on the waste yarn. This effectively closed any gaps for a nice, neat thumb join.
6. I worked the thumb for 19 rnds, counting the pickup rnd, then, because I wanted a more tapered thumb, I worked *k1, k2tog, rep from * on the 20th rnd.
7. For the 21st rnd, I knitted 2tog all the way around before drawing up all the remaining sts.

That's it.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

An Old Newfie Standby

Just a quick post to show the first of my mitts made with a combination of commercially and hand spun yarns.

It's still thumbless (the opening is on the other side). The pattern is the classic Newfoundland mitts with my own modifications (I'll let you in on those in my next post). Ridiculously simple to make, for all that they look impressive, and fantastic for colour-changing yarn. Can't believe that the soft pinks and mauves were nothing but fluff a few days ago! And doesn't it match the background of almost-in-bloom thyme well?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Q and A

Did we make an offer on the house with the amazing interior?
No, but it was a close decision. We went out to dinner and slept on it and then realized that we don't just live INSIDE our homes. Yes, we could use another bedroom as an office for Bill, and it would be lovely to have an eat-in kitchen, but not at the sacrifice of the streetscape and surrounding area. The house in question is north of Princess Street (the wrong side of the tracks), where there are quite a few pockets of gentrification in progress. However, this particular house is more or less on its own and not yet part of one of these "colonies". Where we live now, our pre-Confederation home will continue to increase in value; the house that was under consideration will not necessarily increase in value at the same rate.

How can a house with four bedrooms not have any parking attached to it?
If you're wondering this, you've probably grown up in suburbia. Bill and I both grew up in old, close-in neighbourhoods and we've continued to favour similar places over the years. In cities that were laid out before the advent of cars, like Kingston and Washington, DC (where we spent 16 years), dedicated parking is a rarity. In DC, we had only on-street parking, while here we have parking, but to get to it we have to squeeze through a narrow carriageway. We now regard this as a luxury. Most homes in historic Sydenham Ward where we live have no parking at all. It's not as critical a problem as you'd think, since everything is within walking or biking distance. This shot of a house up the street from mine gives some idea of how the downtown area of Kingston was originally developed.

The house in the foreground was at one time the stable for the larger, grander house to the rear (facing another street).

How do we live with no closets?
It's true that we have almost no closets in our current house (we do have three fireplaces though). We live like Manhattanites, with armoires, underbed storage, and hooks on the backs of doors. It's workable, and worth it if you like old houses. And it does force one to eliminate unnecessary possessions. No hoarders allowed here. Even my stash has to be kept to bare bones.

Have we decided on a new vehicle yet?
No. We might put this off for as long as a year. Although Kingston is too small to have a car-sharing company like Zipcars, we can easily rent a car one weekend a month to do daytrips. This is what I did last weekend using my Visa card points. Not a bad arrangement at all.

This morning, before the rain arrived, I walked with my wagon to our local supermarket, bought the groceries and headed home. I always try to take my camera and it's a good thing I did today, because these beauties won't survive a downpour.


Don't they remind you of the Karl Larsson painting of the woman picking pale pink peonies? The great thing about getting about on foot is that you have time, literally to smell the roses, or enjoy the peonies, or even the lilies.

These are right outside my front door along the sidewalk in front of the property next to ours.

Have I indeed gone over to the Dark Side (as suggested by Sharon in Surrey), now that I've become fascinated by spinning?
Not clear yet. Yes, I find spinning particularly soothing when life's pressures start mounting. The process is mesmerizing and seems to cause my brain to go into some sort of meditative state. I think knitting does too, but it depends on the project.

Here's my latest effort--merino from Fleece Artist. Even at my beginner level, I can appreciate the difference between working with BFL and merino. I'm on a learning curve.  Not tempted to go for a wheel. It's the low tech aspect of the endeavour that seems to appeal to my Luddite instincts!