Monday, August 31, 2015

Snakes and Ladders

The next pattern from my Edgewater Collection is out. It made its way stealthily onto Ravelry yesterday, a Sunday afternoon in late August, and I assumed it would languish for a bit, but I guess you knitters out there are in the mood for fall knitting, because when I woke up this morning the design was in the top 20 "most viewed" list. Another surprise (at least for me)? I took the first two photos on my brand new smart phone. The quality was better than with my little Canon.
The pattern notes read:
The stitch pattern in these socks is a scaled down version of the Cornish “Snake Cable” gansey stitch. I love the way the sinuous vertical cable pops out from the horizontally patterned background, then fades into smooth stocking stitch to allow the sock to fit comfortably inside shoes or clogs. The whole thing turns out to be incredibly simple to knit, with almost every other round worked in plain knitting. The cushy garter stitch short row heel, worked on 60% of the sock stitches, fits a wide range of foot shapes, and echoes the garter stitch in the leg pattern. The star toe is cinched instead of grafted. All in all, a surprisingly quick, fun, and practical sock. 

I want to use this opportunity to say how much I love Kelly McClure's "Ramble". The merino/nylon fingering yarn is currently available exclusively at Rosehaven Yarns. In Kelly's own words,
"each skein is lovingly hand-dyed in Bloomfield, Ontario. Bohoknits uses a glazing technique, giving the yarn lots of depth and there are many semi-solid colours to choose from. Bold yarn for bold knitters!"
I encourage you to try out this gorgeous sock yarn, and also to explore Kelly's shawl and hat designs, available on Ravelry.
To download a free Snakes and Ladders Socks pattern, click here.
To order Bohoknits Ramble, click here.
To visit Kelly's Ravelry page, click here.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

On the Doorstep

It seemed symbolic of the changes about to happen in our lives that I took photos of Isabel on our front doorstep yesterday afternoon. She's heading off to grad school; I'm mentally preparing for her departure. It's a big step in a new direction for both of us.

This is "Glenora", an unstructured variation of "Petrova". I think it's going to be my go-to  sweater for fall. The unfinished edges and generous ease in the lower body mean it will be both comfortable and attractive. This version is knitted in Cascade's Eco+ in "Irlande", a lively green. I used 6.5 mm needles to create a relatively loosely knit fabric that drapes well. The wooliness of the yarn helps it to look beautiful at a gauge of 3 1/2 stitches per inch. I knitted the entire thing in 5 days without breaking a sweat -- a truly quick knit, knitted all in one piece without any picking up of stitches or finishing other than grafting the underarms. I think I want one in charcoal grey to go with my new chocolate jumper. The only question is whether to wear it with a shawl pin, or with button loops and large buttons, as here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

ROM Recap

So, here I am back in Kingston with Isabel, at least until Saturday when I'll drive her to Ottawa to catch a flight out to grad school (she'll be studying artificial intelligence--she's the brains of the family). I did go to the ROM's exhibit on Pompeii, but confess that I was underwhelmed. I don't feel I learned as much as I would have liked, although I enjoyed the jewellery (Canadian spelling, FYI), and the sculpture portraiture. The sculpture in imitation of the earlier Greeks wasn't so impressive to me.
It was the first museum exhibit I've been to where photography was actively encouraged. Since I had a brand new phone, I tried it out.

Mosaic guard dog on chain.
A most life like bust. My favourite piece.
After the ROM, I trotted along Bloor St. to Eweknit. What a pretty window! The Toronto streetcar knitting tour people were doing their thing on Saturday--the shop was briefly mobbed by knitters who descended en masse on the shop, then quickly made their purchases and left.

I was sorry to hear that the shop is relocating this week to a location less accessible by foot from the U of T area (where I mostly hang out).
Now I'm back in Kingston, putting the finishing touches on "Glenora", a sweater about to be modelled for us all by Isabel. Here are the new buttons, again photographed on the new phone.

Now I'm off to sew them on.

Friday, August 21, 2015

ROM or Romni?

I'll be in Toronto tomorrow, to meet Isabel as she returns from California. With an afternoon to kill in the big city, should I go to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) to catch the Pompeii exhibition, or spend the time at Romni Wools?

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Finally, the pattern for these is available. For free. I'm eliminating the complications created by taxable income!

The pattern info from Ravelry reads:
Fingerless gloves have always had an aura of romance for me, conjuring up images of nineteenth-century heroes and heroines in chilly garrets or country houses, but until recently, I avoided wearing them. They seemed impractical—not enough coverage to keep fingers warm on a cold day outside, and unnecessary indoors. Then I moved into an early Victorian limestone house with a frosty third-floor library. Now I’m a convert. With these gloves on I can type or knit, and with warm wrists, the rest of me stays toasty. The snug fit ensures they don’t get in the way of busy hands. A thumb gusset positioned slightly toward the palm prevents the patterned back from torqueing out of alignment, and detailed instructions ensure a tidy join between thumb and hand. The stitch pattern is adapted from the gansey stitch, “Filey Steps”. Note that in order to maintain the feel of the original stitch, the cables are deliberately not mirrored within each glove; instead, each glove mirrors the other. By switching yarn weights and needle sizes, a single set of instructions becomes a “one size fits most” pattern, from small women through to medium sized men.
Like socks, these gloves are knitted on smaller needles at a firmer gauge than usual for the suggested yarns. They are intended to fit closely and slightly stretched. Choose your needle size based on the needle size you would need to achieve the following sweater gauges,
S: 24 sts = 4”/ 10 cm
M: 22 sts = 4”/ 10 cm
L: 20 sts = 4”/ 10 cm
S and M take 1 skein of Chickadee. L takes 2 skeins of Owl or Owl Tweet, although only very little of the second skein.

Several kind knitters have written in to describe these gloves as "sweet little things", which indeed I think they are--but I hope you won't lose sight of the fact that the pattern is UNISEX, without lace or flowery motifs that might be off putting to those of the masculine gender. Knitted in a tweedy yarn, like Owl Tweet, they might just be the perfect stocking stuffer come December.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Reading and Knitting, Knitting and Reading (and Listening Too)

Confession time. I really, really enjoy reading/ listening to mysteries and (gasp!) romances. I'm feeling a little less guilty today after reading NPR's and the Washington Post's stories on romance reading. Books are my favourite form of escapism, and sometimes I'm not sure whether I'm listening while I knit or knitting so I can listen. I probably became a reader/listener because I grew up in a household where I was read to every day, always. My grandmother was the reader-in-chief, and she read from her collection of childhood favourites (her own childhood editions in many cases), including Frances Hodgeson Burnett's "The Secret Garden" and "The Little Princess", and the Oz books. I can vividly recollect hiding under the blankets while Dorothy and friends were chased by the head throwing Scootlers. I must have been quite young, aged 3 or 4, because once I could read for myself, Granny was done as a narrator. The habit of forming pictures in my mind was developed, and by the time I was a teenager, knitting had become the perfect accompaniment. While the rest of the family drove off to church on Sunday mornings, I stayed behind knitting and listening to CBC Radio's "Sunday Edition". I still listen to it, 40 years later. And I'm usually knitting while I listen.
(As an aside, I followed Granny's example with my own kids, and have happy memories of the summer when I read the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy to Isabel, aged 6, and James, aged 9.)
For years, I relied on my local library's audiobooks. The limited selection meant that I often tried out authors I never would have selected otherwise (think Diana Gabaldon). Now, thanks to and smartphones, listening is easier than ever. So, here are my top ten favourite books perfect for some light summer entertainment. As the NPR piece points out, not all writing has to be immortal. That said, all the books below are well written by highly intelligent and thoughtful writers. I hope you'll give one or more a try while you stretch out at the cottage with a glass of iced tea and some relaxing knitting.
Mysteries, mostly historical
1. Silver Pigs, by Lindsey Davis. Set in first century Rome and Roman Britain. This is the first of 20 novels in the Didius Falco series by the Oxford educated Davis. It's really more a commentary about modern British society, with the cynical, plebeian Falco falling for Helena Justina, a Senator's daughter. Lots of action, humour, and complex characters, who continue to develop as the series progresses.
2. He Shall Thunder in the Sky, by Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Mertz). This is really the fourth in her "Quartet", a set of four Amelia Peabody mysteries that form the heart of the series. Peters, who I heard speak on NPR as well as live at our local Barnes and Noble, received her PhD in archaeology from the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute in an era when women could not get hired in the field. She married, then divorced, then became a much-loved mystery writer until her recent death. She travelled to Egypt, the scene of most of the Peabody series, frequently with her narrator Barbara Rosenblatt. In her NPR interview, Peters admitted that she eventually came to hear Rosenblatt's character voices in her head as she wrote. It should be noted that in an incomparable feat, Rosenblatt manages to do the voice of Peabody's son, Ramses (a nickname) from when he is a small boy through to a grown man. Much of the writing is a parody of the adventure writing of the period (1880s-1920s), but the final book of the Quartet, He Shall Thunder etc, at times takes on a more serious quality when Peabody's comical self assurance gives way to fears and doubts. A roaring good listen, especially if you precede it with The Falcon at the Portal, its immediate predecessor. Also consider reading/ listening to Night Train to Memphis, the best of Peters' Vicky Bliss novels, set in the 20th century and related to the Amelia Peabody series. More Egypt, more romance, and a wonderfully complex relationship between the no-nonsense Vicky and her art thief lover.
3. A Surfeit of Guns, by P.F. Chisholm (pen name of Patricia Finney). Not available in audiobook format at the present time, but a wonderful read. The main character, Sir Robert Carey, was a real person living at the time this Tudor/Stuart mystery/romance is set. This, too, is part of a series by the author, who has a history degree from Oxford.
4.What Remains of Heaven, by C.S. Harris. This is part of her Sebastian St Cyr regency mystery series. As she puts it, think Mr Darcy meets Sherlock. The author, a former history professor, shows off her research in this carefully crafted series, often building plots out of little lacunae in history. (One of her novels is plotted around the fact that there was a gap of several weeks between the outbreak of the American Revolution and when news of it reached England). The series is read by the supremely talented Davina Porter (also the narrator of Outlander, below). How she manages to make Sebastian, Viscount Devlin, drawl so sexily is beyond my comprehension, but I just love his voice!
5. To the Hilt, by Dick Francis. It's really tough to choose just one of his mysteries, there are so many brilliant ones. He's the only male author in this entire list, and perhaps that's because he had the knack of writing and thinking about characters in the way a woman author might. Was it his wife's influence? Whatever the reason, his preference for characters who break the mould of a class-based society while solving difficult problems with courage and resourcefulness makes his books and this one in particular so satisfying.

1. Venetia, by Georgette Heyer. Heyer more or less single-handedly invented the modern Regency romance. She is as close to Austen as it gets, and her characters speak with an unmatched authenticity. Her romances are refreshingly free of the now-mandatory sexy bits, and instead rely on witty dialogue and nuanced manners to move the relationships along. I was introduced to Heyer by my Great Aunt Siddy (actual name Isabel), who frequently had one of Heyer's books on her nightstand. The novels take different forms, from hilarious romps through the countryside, to romance/mysteries, to the bittersweet tones of Venetia, which is apparently a favourite of many, according to NPR's list. The books were out of print for ages, then became available again through (surprise!) Harlequin. Acquaint yourself with Heyer's world for a summer treat.
2. Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase. I had trouble choosing between this Scoundrels book and Mr Impossible, one of Chase's Carsington Brothers series. The knife-sharp dialogue between Dain and Miss Trent is so memorably entertaining that one read/ listen won't be enough.
3. It Happens in London, by Julia Quinn. Quinn, with her Harvard degree, is proof that smart, educated women read and write romance novels. She writes with a somewhat contemporary voice, with much humour and just the right touch of poignancy. If you like this one, you should follow it up with Ten Things I Love About You, which involves many of the same characters.
4. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. This is another author I've heard speak in person. The book and series defy categorization, but are beauifully written, and narrated by the ever-magical Davina Porter. Better than the TV series, in my opinion. BTW, I chose not to watch the last episode of the latter, out of fear that the graphic sexual violence would be too traumatizing. Sometimes, you can handle these elements better in book format. The time travel element would have kept me from giving this a try if it hadn't been the only set of audio cassettes left on the library shelf back in the days when we were still using those. I was hooked. Try the spinoff Lord Grey novels for an equally good read. I'm sure I'm not the only person to have had my view of gay men altered forever by Gabaldon's fascinating portrayal of a lifestyle which at the time was extremely dangerous.
5. Lord of Darkness, by Elizabeth Hoyt. OK, this one has some seriously erotic scenes, but that's not what the book, or the series is really about. I love the period, the 1730s, which is so well portrayed in all its excess, and the story is touchingly poignant. The entire Maiden Lane series is delightful, in spite of, or perhaps because of its fairy tale mix of romance and gritty realism. This is my fave from the series.

My biggest beef with the last category? The covers. Why do publishers insist on ridiculous covers featuring semi-naked men and historically inaccurately dressed women? If they think these are a turn-on, they're wrong. Amazingly, only Harlequin has managed to come up with charmingly tasteful covers for its new editons of the Heyer novels, thank goodness!
P.S. Fingerless gloves available now on Ravelry; I'll do a post about them tomorrow.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Wanted: a Good Chunky Yarn

It's tough to find a nice chunky yarn for sweater knitting these days. What am I looking for?
1. A yarn that knits at 3 1/2 sts per inch. Not 3, not 4. For instance, the wrapper on Cascade's Eco+ says the gauge is 3 1/2 sts per inch, but in reality, it looks better at 4. Similar problem with Quince's Osprey; the label says it works at 3 1/2 sts per inch on US 11's, which should be clue enough to tell you that it really knits better at 4 to the inch on a US 9.
2. A wool that isn't superwash. If you don't know this already, superwash is unpredictable after washing. It can grow ridiculously. Often manufacturers tell you to put it in the dryer (horrors!), for 15 minutes, then lay it flat to dry. The trouble with that is that you lose all control over shaping, and the fibre loses body and goes limp. Case in point--Ella Rae Chunky Superwash. I knitted a swatch in it a couple of years ago, and the swatch grew to almost twice the size of the original.
3. A wool or wool/natural fibre blend. I want warmth and elasticity, even lightness. I loved Elann's Peruvian Highland Chunky, now no longer available. It was lightly spun, airy, and perfect, apart from the fact that it came in 50g balls, thus requiring a lot of splicing. I don't want too much alpaca in a blend, because alpaca makes a heavy garment.
4. A soft yarn, so that collars won't itch against the neck.
5. Lucious colours, either solids, heathers, or tonals. It seems that all the otherwise suitable chunky yarns out there are space dyed.
So, why am I on a quest for the perfect chunky? I've just finished knitting this.

The yarn, Galway Chunky, is lovely, but it falls down a bit in the colour department. The button makes up for it, though.

Celtic horses, from The Ram's Horn Studio, purchased at Rhinebeck a few years ago. The knitting was fun and quick. This is really a new, unstructured version of Petrova, so the pattern will be quick to write up. If only I could find the perfect chunky to go with it...
P.S. I ought to have added price as a criterion. Few knitters can afford to make an entire sweater with yarn that costs $20 a skein!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

To Err Is Human...

Went to the Kingston Sheep Dog Trials yesterday, 2015 version. Entrants from all over the continent.
The clock is running in the background.
White dogs are easier to see at a distance.
Newly sheared, semi-wild sheep from Waupoos Island are skittish and not cooperative.
Julia, one of my test knitters working on a vest for her Dad.
No water bottles for sale; it was a bring your own and fill it for free event.
Came home and attempted a little sock photography,

then discovered this glaring error on one leg. I'd been proudly showing off the socks to fibre friends at the Trials, but no one mentioned this. It's hard to believe no one noticed it. Really, folks, next time let me know the truth. I can take it!

This morning, I snipped open the offending non-cable,

 returned the stitches to the needles, made the cable twist,

grafted everything back into place and wove in the ends.

To err is human, but to repair feels divine!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Edgewater Tam

Finally, the first item from my Edgewater Collection is up on Ravelry.

Here's what the pattern intro has to say:

When you consider the fact that I’m not much of a TV or movie fan, it’s remarkable how many of my designs have been inspired by those media. This tam owes its existence to the 1993 version of “The Secret Garden” and actress Kate Maberly’sfloppy rust-coloured woolly hat. I loved the way that tam draped down over the collar of her little coat, even though sometimes you could see where the seam lay.
Needless to say, there’s no seam at all in my tam. And to eliminate any garter stitch jog, I’ve added vertical lines of slipped stitches, giving the whole something of the look of a spider’s web. There’s a regular-fitting, slightly slouchy version, and a big, super-slouchy one. In both, be prepared to adjust the needle size of the cast-on band to match the size of your head. It should be slightly snug, since the biggest problem with tams is that headbands tend to grow over time.

You can easily make one of these in a day of on-again-off-again knitting. Perfect for gifting, with no danger of “second hat syndrome”! The only difficulty will be choosing an embellishment for the top.


We're going to get tons of wear out of these quick little toppers! Click here for details.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Wow, readers, your interest in being test knitters has me bowled over! My Ravelry message box started to fill up just minutes after I posted my last entry. I haven't been able to respond to everyone yet, but will. Unfortunately, I only need a few testers, so I hope those who don't get to help out this time won't be discouraged.
To keep your enthusiasm going, here's a preview of what's coming tomorrow...

Yes, I mean the actual pattern will be up on Ravelry. See you then.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Test Drive, Anyone?

Just putting the finishing touches on the written pattern for the Snakes and Ladders Socks. If you think you'd like to try them out before they go public, send me a line on Ravelry, username emccarten. Feedback on pattern-writing is always useful, and you only need to knit one sock in order to provide that (although I hope you'll want to go ahead and make the second).

Depending on where you're located, I might even be able to send you a skein of the actual yarn. I have it in two colourways, Oktoberfest (pumpkin) and Sari (a bright teal, more green than my camera is showing). Let me know which colour you'd like.

The "Colonel Mustard" colourway is out of character for me, but a good thing, perhaps influenced by early August's garden colours,

or maybe my character is changing!