Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Twist on the Turban

If you're hoping to hear anything about anything other than knitting (and stuff I've bought), it's likely going to be a while. If I knit constantly between now and Xmas eve, I might finish what I've got on the agenda. And certain people, ahem, keep asking me to make them sweaters. For Xmas. Are they high on drugs?!

Anyway, while my goal is to keep some mystery alive, I cannot resist sharing with you a little pattern that is a) flattering, b) compact and c) really easy. Seriously, and assuming you have basic knitting skills, if this thing were any easier it would knit itself:

My version of the Parisian Twist 
Yeah,  it's a turban. Get over it. Cuz I swear this is rather chic (if different). I like it so much (I, who have a major aversion to head covering - which looks hideous on me 96.2% of the time) that I'm going to make another for myself. Hopefully before the cold weather abates.

A few things to note about the pattern:

  • It calls for worsted held double when knitting. This means a few things: The turban is bulkier (than it needs to be), larger than the dimensions purport to be (once most blocking is factored in) and it eats up more wool than you might imagine (but still not more than 200 yards).
  • I recommend, to adjust for two of the three issues above, that you go down to a size 9 needle (it calls for a US10) and use DK yarn. Of course, gauge swatching isn't a bad idea. And if you do, don't make my mistake: Gauge swatch using two strands! If I'd read the pattern in any detail, I'd have known this. But no, I didn't re-swatch. These projects get one, wet-blocked swatch and then it's showtime.
  • You can't easily alter the size of the turban by using different stitch numbers (my usual trick) or by messing with the double strand because both are key to the way increases and decreases are worked in this pattern. These increases and decreases are quite ingenious, really, you knit into each strand of a stitch when making an increase and decrease by giving a strand to the preceding or following stitch.
  • The buttonhole is bigger than I'd like (though it will be smaller when next I make this with thinner yarn). As instructed, you need at least a 1" button, so keep that in mind.
Anyway, I think this is a really good idea if you've got a lot of presents to make and you're looking for something practical that also has boutique appeal.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Useful Information, Knitters...

Y'all may know that my LYS (local yarn store) is Ewe Knit - a Toronto-based boutique that is insanely well-stocked (esp. given its size) and beautiful to boot. FYI, there's also a blog which is regularly updated and filled to the brim with yarn-porn photos.

What I didn't know, till I read today's blog post, is that the store ships yarn all over the place - and it does so at very reasonable rates (the Kristin gold standard of good vendors, as I'm sure you all know).

Moreover, they're having a special, in-store sale on Thursday - 10 per cent off everything except books and mags - and 10% off 6 gorgeous sock yarns online.

Alas, no one's comping me to tell you this - though I'll happily take some free yarn if anyone connected is reading :-) The alternative is that I'll end up buying sock yarn on Halloween which, now that I knit socks that everyone steals, will no doubt come in handy.

Here are a couple of choices that seem very promising:

Sweet Georgia Tough Love

Madeline Tosh Sock - I am totally addicted to this brand...
Whatcha think?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hip To Be Square

What does it say about me that 2 independent blog friends sent me this link within 15 minutes of one another?

Am I that transparent??

Of course, it took me all of 10 minutes to cave and to buy a yard of the cream colourway of the Riley Blake* bra-themed fabric - with another yard of cream dot to complement it. What?! You never know when you're going to need a contrast colour for like, making and then lining a bag or a knitting sac or something. I'm endlessly fascinated by the world of quilting fabric which is made in different but complementary patterns (having the same colourway) so that you can be sure to find different - yet entirely aligned - yardage from which to make squares. The quilters seem strangely like the knitters in that they are highly organized and care deeply about their materials (how they're made and sourced, who they're made by etc.)

Sure, I said I'd never make a bag but I'm far less disinclined to make a bag than a quilt - and I've got to find some way of reveling in the cotton fabric so closely associated with both of those items.

So, today's question: What do I make with this? (Or any quilting fabric, really.)

*See, look how name-dropper I've become all of a sudden. Moreover, this fabric is part of the Think Pink collection (breast-cancer month themed, I assume). While I'm usually entirely disinterested by the plethora of things adorned with the pink ribbon brand, or by any cutesy things, for that matter, I can't ignore how perfect this pattern is for me.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Here I am, back again, to tell you about 3 new purchases which fall into the stress reduction shopping category. Note: Before we get there, there's a big-ass preamble about my yoga practice and Iyengar props. If you're disinterested in those topics (and I won't hold it against you), but love new stuff, then head on down to the section called Here's the Loot...

Big-Ass Preamble

Y'all know I'm working actively to reduce headaches and all of the other miseries associated with hormonal transition. (Don't want to overstate the badness of hormonal transition, BTW. The majority of my issues is more irritating than miserable.)

I wrote recently about doing 45 minutes(ish) of yoga 5 days(ish) a week. In my immoderate fashion, that's turned into an hour and a half, more or less daily, which is, on the one hand, taking up a ridiculous amount of time but is, on the other hand, having a notable impact.

How does 45 minutes turn into 90? Truth is, Iyengar yoga is a deliciously creative undertaking. Depending on the desired action (not outcome), I often work into poses over a variety of variations, using all kinds of props. Add in 20 minutes of inversions and it's almost impossible to practice for less than an hour. Time really does fly.

Moreover, there's nothing like being with an awareness of one's body, for hours at a time, to add to the creative process. Or to make one aware that the yoga room needs a bit of new-prop enhancement. :-)

Don't misunderstand (and I suspect you don't): My sewga room is very adequately stocked. I have more props than most, likely because I practice the kind of yoga, the founder of which is, if not the inventor, then certainly is the refiner of the concept of  "the modern yoga prop". Partly, I'm just the kind of girl who believes in that adage about the best tools for the job. Partly, my body requires these props to ensure that I'm maximizing the deep experience of a pose while minimizing any risk of injury to my physical structure. 

I should probably segue briefly here to clarify that the Iyengar method doesn't employ props primarily as a remedial tool. It uses them for all kinds of reasons (alignment, precision), in all kinds of ways. The same prop, applied differently in the same pose, can make that pose far "simpler" or far more "complex" than the version one does with no prop at all. And it goes without saying, I'm not speaking about the prop basics that have been integrated into the broad yoga world: the mat, the towel, the odd block, the belt.

In fact, if I didn't think it would be the least read post ever, I'd list out an inventory of yoga props, in order of usefulness (from my perspective, of course), with the aim to help others in planning for home practice. Part of the issue, when it comes to popularizing props in the broader yoga community, is that most yogi(ni)s - even those with long-standing practice - have not been schooled in their use. It's all well and good to be philosophically on board - and knowledgeable about asana - but it takes quite a bit of time to learn how to competently use the broader and more complex range of props (which are then applied zillions of ways). But enough about this.

Here's The Loot...

My yoga stash is rich - though not bloated - in blocks and boards and bolsters and rounds and sandbags etc. What it needs an upgrade in is belts. I'm kind of embarrassed to tell you I've been using the same two belts (only one of which I really like) for YEARS.  I've tried, occasionally, to replace the one I like, but I haven't been able to find another one anywhere. Well, that is, till I went on eBay and typed in every ridiculous key word I could think of. Having said this, I just looked it up and it appears that Yoga Accessories has almost every kind of belt in the world, and at excellent prices.

Here's what it looks like:

6' Pinch Buckle Cotton Yoga Strap
Why do I like it? That pinch clasp is the best thing ever. Have you ever been pretzeled 5 different ways and needed to free yourself, like, right now? Undoing a stiff cinch belt can be inelegant to say the least. The pinch clasp is a quick release option! Note: I can only speak for the one I've had for 15 years, but the cinch has never popped open (even when I was in a pose in which I put the majority of my body weight against it).

One other belt I bought, having multiple adjustable loops, and the sort of which I've never seen before, is this one by Yogue Yoga:
Belt and Photo found here...
I bought mine on eBay for a much better price than the one sold on the proprietary site, so look around if you intend to purchase one of these... Strangely, there's a whole form of yoga dedicated to this strap which looks, let's be frank, like some sort of sex toy. Whatevs, I can predict many uses (of the yoga variety) for this particular belt. I'll keep you posted on how it works...

Alors, the pièce de résistance is, natch, the expensive prop. It also happens to be tremendously useful for me at the moment given that I'm aiming for 10 minutes of headstand daily - and my body frequently goes into days-long muscular spasm (every muscle you can think of becomes a rock) concurrent with the onset of a migraine. I have to do everything I can NOT to precipitate the muscular spasm and putting lots of weight on my head/arms for extended periods of time can push me over the edge. Weirdly, I can do active shoulder stand and variations with little concern. Note: "Body spasm", as I affectionately refer to it, often occurs when I do nothing at all, but it's also caused by anything you can think of. I do unsupported headstand when it seems viable, which these days is not often. For the foreseeable future, this is going to save my ass.

What am I talking about? The Feet Up headstander by Yoga Matters:

BTW, you can do so much more with this prop than a headstand, so you should def check out the website. I am exceedingly pleased with it and have used it daily, in a variety of ways, since it arrived.

A couple of key things:
  • The shipping on this was offensive - £63.00, people (aka $106.00 CDN), for a thing that ships flat and weighs 11 pounds. And the prop itself is not cheap. Despite my every effort to get it delivered more affordably, I was thwarted at each turn. If you're in Canada, good luck defraying the shipping. US vendors, of which there are very few, wouldn't ship it to Canada. If you find a system, I want to know! On the plus side, the headstander arrived in 3 business days, beautifully packaged and in perfect shape. And, as props go, it's not ugly.
  • This is an example of a prop that makes a pose "easier" and more accessible, for sure, but it still takes quite a lot of core strength and yoga experience to use this thing - even if you set it up at a wall. So, if you must have one (and really, I think everyone must! :-)), please make sure you know the principles of active headstand first. This is not a toy - well, unless you do lots of yoga!
I suppose I should stop now - this post is a veritable book, but if you want more deets about any of these props, let me know in the comments. 

Today's questions: Do you use yoga props? If yes, which is your go-to? Do you think spending 250 bucks on a headstander is insane? Let's talk.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Showing My Stripes

Or M's as the case may be. Here's the scarf I'm knitting for her:

More deets in this post...
I have to say, now that I've learned how to do stripes, I don't know how I'm ever going to knit anything monochrome again! I've got about 12 colour schemes in mind, including nature's perfect combo - beige and navy.

M saw me working on this (she asked for yellow and red, and this is as close to that garishness as I could bring myself to sit with for 10 plus hours) and said: That looks very Harry Potter.

You should know, I missed the whole Harry Potter thing. I didn't read the books. I didn't watch the movies. Sorry, I just don't care about Harry Potter. But a quick Google search does corroborate her perspective.

I nonchalantly tested the waters on this. So, said I, Is Harry Potter not cool? I swear, you can never tell with this child what's old and crappy. I held my breath cuz I'd spent 70 bucks on this yarn and a few hours, at this point.

I am pleased to report that Harry Potter is awesome, and whomever thinks otherwise sucks. Apparently.

A Bit About the Construction:
  • I used this tutorial (with hand out) to figure out how to carry the non-working yarn because I have no appetite to weave in 70 plus ends. It's worked very well. You can see the yarn on the wrong side of this scarf, but because I have slipped the first stitch on every row (to neaten the edge), the last stitch curls to the back slightly and totally hides it.
  • "Slipping the first stitch" has never seemed particularly impactful to me (yeah, I hate that manufactured word also, but I'm too lazy to search for another) but I'm really seeing it in this plain, stockinette pattern. The tutorial, linked above, explains how to align colour-work with "neat" edge stitching technique when you're knitting FLAT, not in the round, but it doesn't articulately distinguish between the two basic scenarios you'll encounter when knitting a stripey scarf, in stockinette, having clean edges. Those are:
    • Scenario A: Rows when you switch from one colour to another
    • Scenario B: Rows when you're continuing, from the previous row, in the same working colour
  • Very briefly:
    • Scenario A: You actually knit the last stitch of the row prior to your "new colour" row in the new colour, to get things set up. Then, turn the work, slip the first stitch of the next row (for neatness). Only then, between first and second stitches, do you wrap the non-working yarn over the working yarn to "carry it up" from the previous row, so when you need it again, it will be there. Then, natch, start knitting with your working colour.
    • Scenario B: On rows when you're not switching colours, on the side that has the loose, non-working strand (generally the right-hand side of the knit row, but not necessarily), you'll still need to wrap the non-working yarn over the working yarn after the first (slipped) stitch. Otherwise, you're not "carrying it up".
  • When I started to knit, I vowed I'd never make a boring, plain scarf - that seemed like the worst way to learn given my nature - but as I know more (and as I can apply the techniques more confidently), I realize that a plain scarf can have a lot of appeal. Particularly when knit with the right yarn.
  • And speaking of yarn, I used the Madeline Tosh vintage yet again. You know I like this yarn, since it's over 20 bucks a skein and I've bought 4 skeins in the last 2 weeks. I don't know how to explain its appeal. It's not super soft. It's not the most beautifully dyed yarn I've ever seen (though the dye is expertly applied). It's not "good value" yarn. But it knits up beautifully. I can tell, already, that it isn't going to pill. It's got excellent spring which produces that beautiful stitch definition and awesome recovery. There's no halo (I hate hair halos). It doesn't lose its shape in blocking. It's durable, but refined. It's a joy to knit with. 
When I think of comparisons between the Tosh yarn and others I've knit with, here's what comes to mind:
  • The yarn has much more spring than Cascade 220 - and I'm not dissing on Cascade (which is affordable for most and very adequate, if cheap and cheerful). It's spun more tightly. (Note: I have NO idea about how things are spun, so feel free to tell me I'm high on drugs. I'm going by how it feels...)
  • It's MUCH less scratchy than Brooklyn Tweed - but then, just about everything is. It's also less delicate and softer. It doesn't have that hipster-meets-granny appeal, however.
  • It's a lot like Quince in some ways - it's got that same kind of springy thing happening and very nice, if not "high-end" hand. But Quince's colours, while saturated and delightful, do not come close to the saturation and complexity of Tosh yarns. Of course, Quince isn't hand-dying tiny batches. It's affordable yarn for the masses.
  • When first I started knitting, I was extremely drawn to Debbie Bliss. It was so soft, affordable, pretty - and I still think the fingering is quite nice to work with, especially for baby things. However, I knit many things with Bliss yarn - every one of which grew stupidly the minute I blocked it - and never reverted to normal size or previous shape (well, everything except the gauge swatch). On reflection, Bliss yarn, with its whacky plying, is a bitch to knit (I'm using the last of my aran stash now, which is how I know). It splits ridiculously. The Tosh yarn would not understand splitting if you showed it a video of someone knitting with Debbie Bliss yarn. It's like "fit" yarn. It's beautifully symmetrical and toned.
So, anyone else here worked with Tosh who wants to weigh in? Do you like the scarf? Let's talk!

Sunday, October 20, 2013


I am seriously thrilled with this project:

Are you aware that 1 yard of 44" quilting fabric will make 3 eye pillow covers and a bolster cover? In 2 hours from start (ironing fabric) to finish (threading through the ribbon).

If I went out to buy something like this, it would have cost a LOT more.

Furthermore, it's practical!  And pretty! And cheerful! And it matches my freakin' yoga mat?!

I didn't use patterns. I just looked at my already-made objects and figured it out. (It's very simple - no need for special super powers.)

In fact, for future reference, I need to remind myself:
  • Eye pillow: Finished: 4.5" x 9". Cut 4.5 x 10 cuz you fold one side down 1" inch and the other, you cut 6/8 off of and turn under 2/8 and top stitch. Ensure you serge the tops of the pieces before turning under and then serge the three other sides.
  • Bolster: Finished: 32" (L) x 29" (W). Cut piece 34" x 30". Serge all sides to even and finish edges. Fold down W sides one inch each side. Press. Top stitch at edge of serging to create channel. Use .5" SA on L edge. Stop sewing 1 inch from bottom of channel top stitching. Feed ribbon through channel.
The bolster itself is 28.5" long, 29" in width circumference and 5" high.

It's great to have a "colour scheme" when it comes to interior-design because I had all kinds of ribbons that could have matched the fabric. I chose my easiest option - and the one that blends best - sea foam green seam binding. Threaded it with a safety pin through the channel and then gathered the channel fabric (as if I tied the ribbon) and cut the ribbon 18 inches from the edge of the circular closure. No need to measure its length. I suspect it will be surprisingly durable but, if it craps up, I'll just switch it up for something else.

My workmanship on this is quite adequate. It's neat, strong and unfussy. I've made it to last, not to look couture. But I'd be comfortable showing off the inside, which is a mark of a nicely-made object, IMO.

Have you ever made covers for yoga props? Do tell...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pretty Is As Pretty Does

You can tell it's a dreary mess in TO, cuz I just bought a ridiculous amount of yellow...

For a bit of backstory, Andrea and I met at Ewe Knit (this place is like a very courteous crack den) and spent 2 hours looking at yarn and cotton lawn (which they LYS has just started to sell at a very reasonable price) and drinking coffee (really good, made on site and provided gratis, for us!) and talking together and with Claudia (the owner of Ewe Knit). It was about the best way to spend a dull, grey yuckball morning that ever there was.

I knew what I was after and I stuck with the program:
  • Yarn to make M a scarf (she never wants knitted objects from me but the Madeline Tosh Lolita sucked her in)...
  • Double pointed needles for gloves I'll be making for Scott (Gail, you won me over...)
  • Cotton fabric to make a new yoga bolster cover and eye pillow cover. The bolster cover I have now, which came with the bolster, is 25 years old and it was hideous from the get go. Gotta wonder what took me so long to do something about this given all the quality time I spend with that thing.
But enough talk.

Here's a pic of the scarf I will make for M:

Striped Up Scarf and photo by Jacinta Grant
 I actually love this colourway, but M wants red and yellow in her scarf. Which is why I've gone with these skeins:
Madeline Tosh Tern (Gray), Lolita (red), Candlewick (Yellow)
My intention is to use the gray as the accent on the rib band. Andrea suggested it and I think it's a great idea! This is the second time I've used the Lolita colour - that purple, red shade. It's like the best shade of autumn flower and it looks amazing with the yellow. I am a convert to this yarn.

This isn't a colourway I'd choose, but I think it will be very nice for M. And this kid better wear the thing cuz the yarn is 21 bucks a skein, before tax.

My other fun purchase was a yard of this:

I can't remember the fabric name (quilters know the names and designers of the fabrics they buy, if you can believe it). It's on the selvedge but I'm too lazy to walk upstairs...

I think this will be a cheery upgrade to the "burgundy" cover I've used since the beginning of time. And the matching eye pillow cover will be an alternative to one that my sister made me for Xmas last year. (Finally, I can wash it!)

One yard of 44" wide fabric, at the cost of $12.00 will get me both of these. I'm not working from patterns. Just copying the construction of the former covers. I don't need to reinvent the wheel.

So, thoughts or feelings? What do you think?? Let's talk.

Just Like Honey

I'm off to the yarn store with Andrea this morning (where they now sell GORGEOUS quilting cotton aka lawn - and for which I've finally discovered a use). Hopefully I'll have pretty textiles to show you in a post later on today. And some info about what I'm using the cotton to make.

In the meanwhile, cute yourself out with version 2 of the Honeycomb hat:

This is the bigger version (though still smaller than the pattern's small) for my older niece
I seriously can't get over how adorable this is. I think everyone needs one!!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Heads Up

Have y'all heard of Amy Herzog's latest venture: Custom Fit.  (Brief backstory for new or non-knitters: Amy is a very well known pattern designer who believes that sweaters need to fit optimally in order to flatter (no arguments there). She's supported her philosophy with a book and a Craftsy course (very well received) and now with this new web application. Please note: I have no affiliation with this new site and have not tried it. I'm merely reporting what I've read from launch materials...

In short, here's how it works:
  • You set up an account (free).
  • You enter in a zillion measurements - there are videos to guide you, as necessary (free).
  • You enter swatch info (which calculates gauge MUCH better than your eyes can) (free).
  • You choose a design from a few templates (aka a V pullover style, cardigan etc.) - or get a custom design (not sure about how this works but I think it means you develop a template based on a choice of parameters) (still free). The templates are kind of like blocks, to use sewing terminology, that you scale to your own dimensions.
  • And then, when you're sure you've inputted all of the correct info, and you like what you've got, you click to create the pattern.* At which point it costs $10.00.
You only have to enter your measurements once (unless they change). You can keep the swatch info on file - so that you choose your preferred yarn rather than having to use another yarn, simply cuz it's in the right gauge for the sweater you want to make. It works with swatches other than stockinette (and can even predict some ribbing gauge on the basis of the stockinette info you input).

That sounds totally genius to me. But then, I've spent the last 2 years doing the math!

Look, I've never knit an Amy Herzog pattern (though I have been a long-time appreciator of her blog and techniques). She's very popular and her fitting method seems to work well. (In truth, I think I prefer more negative ease than she does, but that's a personal choice thing and can be accommodated,I suspect, within the spectrum of the new application by slightly underestimating one's actual dimensions. And by choosing the "close fit" option). I do hope that she'll design additional templates. By design, I'm sure, the current crop is quite basic, like blocks are. (Mind you, there is an adequate assortment of basic shapes, in the current templates, so that an intermediate knitter could add exciting details to - like peplums and collars and cuffs and pockets).

The application allows everyone, theoretically, to be able to make a sweater that will fit optimally. It can be as simple as a stockinette pullover or as complex as a fair-isle cardigan with cables. (Don't quote me on this, I don't know how fancy the algorithm gets on stitches or colourwork.) How democratic! And the price seems very reasonable if the site works as well as I hope it will. Oh, and you get to keep all of your patterns on the site, for reference, and/or copy them onto your hard drive.

This is a concept I can't resist. If only I didn't have a zillion things in the queue right now...

So, if you've ever wanted to make a sweater, but have resisted because you're sure you won't be able to conquer fit, this site is for you. What do you think - crazy gimmick, or new frontier?? Have you tried it? Were you a beta tester? Will you try it? Let's talk.

*The system creates bottom up sweaters with set in sleeves (not the top down raglan ones that are so popular these days), because fit is more accurately approximated, especially in the armscye, using this construction style. Apparently, they do intend to expand functionality to raglan sweaters eventually.

Monday, October 14, 2013

This Was Not Stress Shopping...

This, my friends, was premeditated:

Empreinte Ophelia in Ardoise

And here's a closeup of the cup construction, lace and depth. Lord this thing is gorgeous.
I'm trying to be contrite for having spent so much money on this that it's scandalous. I didn't wait for a sale. I didn't buy from the UK (well, I didn't buy this set from the UK, but I shored it up with an extra thong that my fabulous "importer' friend is going to send to me).

Thing is, I've been waiting since I saw this post, which provided me with this first glimpse (from Curve NY), 8-freakin' months ago:

Photo from here
People, it's navy blue, with undertones of smokey slate. The undies have a shallow ruffle front - totally cute but also restrained. You will be unimpeded in those skinny jeans. The ruffle is repeated on the straps (but again, it isn't puffy so the bra is versatile).

The bra is, frankly, perfection. I don't know how Empreinte sources lace with such delicateness, such sexiness, which somehow still manages to support and lift optimally. One's boobs are front and centre - in no way splayed to the sides so it's a) slimming and b) very complimentary to the deep bust. Oh, and it's comfortable.

As mentioned - and is the case with most Empreinte styles, the shape is deep and suits narrow roots best. If you have a shallow shape and wide placement of the breasts, stay away. If you have projectile boobs, this one's for you. I sense it fits a bust of even fullness best, though slightly top or bottom heavy would be accommodated. If you're at either extreme, the bra may not work. Mind you, it's not particularly closed at the top.

I've decided, since I could technically desist from buying another bra till 2023 (and I'd still have enough to see me through), this will be my only purchase this season. That is, until the next batch of mega-sales when I may be required to do my share of market research.

So, whatcha think?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Xmas Knitting: And So it Begins

As I've spent the last week planning a rush of hand-knitted Xmas presents, my husband reminded me (with amusement) that I have this weird compulsion to make things for Christmas. There was that year I forced him to bake (and then deliver) 20 pies. I always make cookies and candies to give away. Just ask my friends for whom I've written poems (ok, not since university, but still). When I started to sew, I sewed gifts. And now, with knitting, well I've hit my stride with the perfect Xmas craft.

Little helpful tip: If you think you might get a Christmas gift from me, don't look at my Ravelry page for a while.

In some ways, I'm as insane about things as ever - 14 gifts between now and Dec. 20, though 3 are already complete. Mind you, this is the year I found hats. And hats, my friends, they're very fun and fast - and practical, and cute. Really, what was I waiting for?? Note: I'm making some hats and some other things. Not all gifts are hats.

The truth is that it's all about me. I have a pin-head, fine hair and a pixie cut: hats tend to look terrible because they're all massively huge on me. It's put a bad taste in my mouth. Happily, though, I finally realizedthat making hats to-fit is a piece of cake by comparison with fitting a sweater or a pair of pants or, let's say, a bra. I won't get too much into it but I'm using drape and yarn tension to my advantage - in addition to accurate measurements of head circumference and crown depth. I don't go from the pattern instructions. Patterns like to make huge hats. I figure out how big I want the thing to be, what drape I'm looking for, and then I do the math. The end result is a hat in the size I want which is to say the size I'm anticipating. It's just key to scale the pattern so that you can divide the number of stitches you use by the stitch repeat and get a whole number.

No, I haven't been knitting size-test gauge swatches and I know that's risky (esp. when I'm unfamiliar with how a yarn will block). The thing is, I measure often as I'm knitting in the round so I know my gauge constantly and I'm willing to do some fancy footwork on the fly. My objective is to knit a hat with about 3 inches of negative ease. That's more than any pattern (I've found) allows for, but I find that yarn can stretch ridiculously. Even if the hat blocks small, there's more than enough room when a person wears it. I'm infinitely more attuned to the likelihood that a hat will be too large than too small.

At any rate, I've been knitting hats for about a week and a half. Don't take my advice on anything!

Here's a hat I knit for my niece:

Honeycomb Cable Cap by Jennifer Hagan
Is this not the most adorable thing ever?! I used Madeline Tosh Vintage, a new-to-me yarn that I seriously love. The yarn didn't thrill me initially, but it's springy and soft and the colour is so berry-beautiful. It's got lovely hand-dyed colour-saturation variations. Remember when I hated shit like that?? :-)

The yarn is not cheap. You can do approximately as well with Quince, in terms of the springy nature of the yarn, at much less cost. But it sure is nice to pick up a skein in the store and just start knitting.

I used the smallest pattern size and then sized it down considerably more by cutting out one row repeat and using a smaller needle. Yeah, I realize this looks like a toddler hat, but my nine year-old niece is SO tiny that she still sits in a car seat and a modified high chair. She weighs like 50 pounds. Note: My sister, as a child, was little like this and now she's taller than me.

The proportions of the honeycomb will look better in my next version, to be made for my other niece (who has a slightly larger head). I'll be able to do another cable repeat and the ratio of cables to crown decreases will favour the cables.

I should also say that this design is very simple. The cables are a bit fussy but they happen for 2 out of 12 rows, so it's barely a blip. BTW, the K1P1 rib threw me a bit when I was tired. I somehow managed to flip the work inside out and knit backwards - basically short rowing half the hat circumference. Which means, when I realized this (2 half-rows later) I had to short row on the other side of the hat to restore row equilibrium. OK, I could have ripped back, but my solution seemed more efficient, no?

So, today's questions: Have you knit this cap and, if yes, do you love it? What do you think of Madeline Tosh yarn? Are you Xmas knitting and, if yes, to what extent? BTW, you can see some of my planned projects in my Ravelry queue if you're interested... Let's talk!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Where Stress-Shopping Meets Stress-Busting

I have a lot I want to say right now about the naturopathic regime I started a couple of weeks ago (on the heels of learning about my hormone panel results), but I feel I need to work my topics in the "right order". I sense it's best to start with this post, wherein I discuss a modality I'm using, in addition to supplementation, to manage headaches, by first managing the hair-trigger, hormonal fluctuations of late-stage perimenopause.

That modality, no surprise, is yoga. Specifically it's Iyengar yoga, which happens to be the kind I am certified to teach and with which I resonate most, though it's certainly not the only kind I've practiced. While usually I'm happy to speak about yoga "in general" - after all, there's an argument to be made that all yoga roads lead to the same place - in this instance the specific method is germane.

Sure, all yogas may lead to the same place but they get there very differently. One style of yoga may be more efficient than another in accomplishing a specific aim. Iyengar yoga is known for a variety of efficiencies, produced by:
  • Approaching practice in such a way that the body is highly supported (when and as necessary) to achieve long-holdings of well-structured poses
  • Approaching practice with an awareness of and attention to the role of hormones in supporting all bodily functions. 
Undoubtedly, it's impossible for me to describe the breadth of the Iyengar philosophy in a blog post. One approaches it from many vantage points, depending on the desired aim (note: I don't mean "goal").

But at this time, in this instance, I am using the Iyengar method specifically to support and maintain reproductive endocrine function. In order to do this I need to consider certain things in my practice, perhaps none more important than holding certain poses for a LONG time (which is where supported versions come in). Ten minutes is fairly standard, fwiw. Moreover, the poses one holds for a long time are the ones that stimulate, tone and support particular glands. These poses are generally the back bends and inversions, though forward bends play an important role too.

One must also practice very regularly to experience the gains on the endocrine system. I now practice an hour a day, 5 days a week. Some days I do an entirely supported practice. Other days I do a combo of active, standing work interspersed with inversions and forward bends. It depends on where I'm at in my cycle and how my body feels when I begin.

The advantage I have is 25 years of yoga experience behind me. It means that, even as I am bringing a focus to my practice that has not been there for a long time, my body already understands the poses. I know how to support them a) abstractly and b) specifically for myself. I have the props, the space, the knowledge. I'm not starting from scratch. I'm reconnecting with poses as long-time friends. (OK, in truth, some of them are frenemies.)

But enough about me, how does this correlate with shopping? Well...

Though I'm rarely satisfied by books on yoga - there are so many mediocre ones around - I've come by 2 recently that have been extremely useful to me. One is pretty new and the other is an oldie but goodie.

Proviso: It's unlikely, in truth, that either will be of exceptional use unless you are a) very familiar with the Iyengar approach, b) a yoga teacher, c) a serious student, or d) someone who just loves reading about these things.

Book 1:

Yoga Sequencing by Mark Stephens (about whom I know nothing, fyi)
This book is excellent. Full stop. It's marketed to teachers but it includes a wide variety of practices (well-illustrated by thumbnail photos) - some of which are geared towards women in various "womanly" life-stages. The beauty of this book, other than the fact that it is well-written and well-designed, is that it provides 65 practices (not specifically "Iyengar" in approach) that are fantastically sequenced! For those of you who don't do much yoga, you may not know that the sequence of a class is pivotal to the overall physical, mental and psychospiritual aim.  You know those classes that transform your life? Those are a result of great sequencing.

Sequencing is an art and science - it takes more than just experience of yoga and teaching to understand the complexities involved. Every class is its own organism, as is every practice. If you're a new teacher, or one who wants a potentially new perspective, definitely buy this book.

What really appeals to me is that it sequences the range of poses that are optimal for regular practice - those which are modifiable for practitioners of different levels (though it doesn't talk at all about how to modify or how to do the poses.) Sure, lots of books show lots of crazy-advanced poses (and this one shows a few), but the majority of the practices are within the realm of the householder yogi(ni), which makes it a great book for an experienced yoga-doer who wants to improve in his or her home practice.

One other thing: It's ridiculously under-priced. Seriously, it should cost twice the amount it does - maybe even more. So it's a deal. And Toronto peeps: You can borrow it from the library as an e-book. No joke.

Book 2:

Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause by Suza Francina
This book has been around for a long time. I first read it when it came out and promptly forgot about it. Funny how relevance plays a role.

To disclose: It's got a crunchy-granola element. It's also got a lot of good info about Iyengar practice and endocrine balance (more than most other books) but if wise-woman spirit stuff irritates you, you're going to have to tune it out. Intriguingly from my perspective, it interviews a variety of Iyengar teachers about their experience of menopause in light of long-standing practice. Over the years, I've met many of them and/or know quite a lot about them because they were at the height of their careers when I was early in my yoga days. The teacher interviews interest me now because I seem to have become a very long-time student. :-)

Its real plus is in giving some well-articulated info about how the specific poses influence the glands to promote hormone health. It also has an interesting chapter about using yoga in recovery from breast cancer.

It's weakness, IMO, is in the practices it illustrates. It's true, that the most useful poses for hormone-stabilizing are specific and not outrageously diverse. But really, this book includes 10 poses that it rehashes over a dozen practices for a dozen different things. I think Ms. Francina could have been more imaginative on that account. Mind you, if you don't know those poses - explained in the supported Iyengar fashion - this is as good a place as any to learn more about them.

I'll finish with one more anecdote about my first teacher from many years ago:

She was extremely true to the method, one of the elements of which was "special practice" for women with their periods. Not to delve too much - and I know philosophy has softened over the years - but many schools of yoga posit that women with their periods should not do inversions (for a variety of reasons - some more scientifically supportable than others). Some go a step further in the belief that menstruating women are best to do a specific practice full of - wait for it - supported back bends and forward bends. This is to support endocrine function and to allow for quietness in practice at a time when some women have very little energy.

Mind you, other women do have energy. For example, me at the age of 18 and 20 and 25 etc. I could get with special practice (sort of, sometimes), though I often envied the people being active in their active class. What almost threw me over the edge, however, was the fact that I was often further moderated, by my teacher, who believed that I wasn't using props adequately to "soften" the poses. (Note: Softness is a complex concept in yoga, but you don't need to be familiar with it to appreciate the story.) We clashed over this on a few occasions. Neither of us was the shrinking type.

What I finally just realized - this week, after years and years - is that my teacher was teaching me from the vantage point of one going through extensive hormonal transition - a woman who (as I now truly understand) was highly invested in poses and supported variations to stabilize hormones - perhaps even to the point that she projected her investment onto others. The huge irony is that, just now - after years of being vaguely irritated by certain poses because of this - I am SO advantaged by that teaching. My body somehow remembers everything I was taught (technique I rarely used in my own yoga - because it wasn't the right season). And finally, after so much time, it makes perfect sense.

Now that's yoga, I'm happy to relate.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Is This For Real??

Um, yes, apparently. Norwegian TV station, NRK, intends to broadcast, uninterruptedly, 5 hours of competitive knitting. Look, I'm a girl who can't tell you the rules of hockey (a Canadian girl!), but I am watching this, dammit.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Genetic Lottery

Today's good news wends its way to you today via North Carolina: My mother tested negative for the BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations. 
Lord, that's merciful.

The first reason it's wonderful is that my mum will not have to consider prophylactic bi-lateral mastectomy and the removal of her reproductive organs (these are the areas most likely to be affected if one has the gene mutations). It will mean that she has to have radiation - which would not have been necessary after a double mastectomy. To my mind, that's the less invasive path.

The other reason it's wonderful is that it means my sister and I will not need to be tested (there is no reason to believe that my father is a carrier of the mutations). The statistical risk is on my mother's side and, if she doesn't have the gene mutation(s) to pass along to us, then we are exceedingly unlikely to have either.

I can only speak for myself - and talk is cheap - but had I discovered I was a carrier of either mutation, my intention was to have both a bi-lateral mastectomy and a full hysterectomy. Let me say, neither is high on my list of elective surgeries.

Of course, this is a decision that every woman must make for herself (if, regrettably, she is put in the position) and every path is right for someone. But the idea of declining surgery, thereby chancing contraction of reproductive or breast cancer in the range of the 80th percentile, just would not work for me. With that knowledge, I'd have had to act. It only adds ballast that, when I asked my mother's oncologist what she would do were she to discover that she had the gene mutation(s) (and she was extremely measured throughout our 2.5 hr appt.) her immediate response was: I would not walk out of the doctor's office without an appointment with a surgeon. Sure, she has a particular perspective on life and on cancer. But her philosophy, in this respect, strongly resonates with mine. 

Small sidebar: I'm still not sure where I stand, theoretically, on the issue of breast reconstruction - and I continue to speak only for myself, of course! When first I started doing research, I was in favour of tram flap reconstruction. But I've read that it can take a real toll on your abdominal muscles, apparently, and increases body scarring (as you then have scars on abs and ass in addition to breasts). Don't know what I think of that, on balance. Or the many additional surgeries required. I know I wouldn't do implants (saline or silicone). I have always been freaked out by the idea of putting something plastic into my body. It makes me squeamish. Faced with the hideous decision, I might actually opt to channel my inner Patti Smith. Which would be some irony, I realize, for a woman who LOVES bras as I do and who, let's face it, is pretty identifiable as that girl with the breasts.

Look, I'm no idiot. The likelihood, based on numerous factors, is that my mother's cancer is somewhat genetically motivated (though presumably not to the same detrimental extent as the BRCA gene mutations). It's telling that 2 sisters have had the same rare kind of cancer in the same exact spot (which is not an area where breast cancer generally occurs). This means I have to be vigilant. My sister has to be vigilant. Our combined children (all girls) will have to be vigilant. (BTW: My sister and I were no slouches before my mother's diagnosis, btw. But now we've got to amp it up still further.) Oh well. There's another loss of innocence. (This adult shit is ridiculous.)

Fortuitously, now we, and our children (once they're in their 20s) will likely have access to regular breast MRIs and ultrasounds. Though the radiation level produced by mammograms is low, it's significant for women, those who may be prone to breast cancer, who are having them yearly. MRIs are more likely to detect issues early in high-risk women, though of course they bring other challenges (like higher rates of false readings requiring unnecessary biopsies). You know, I'll take that, given the alternative.

Just call me extremely grateful but not taking anything for granted.

Thoughts or feelings?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Jack and Jill

Here are the hats I knit for my parents this weekend:

Bus Hat (dark blue, for my dad) by Kylie McDonnell-Wade / Sideways Grande hat (for my mum) by Laura Irwin
I will write more about them individually, and there's info on both on my Ravelry Projects page.

I'm quite happy with each from a size perspective. The Bus Hat was knit with stash yarn (Cascade 220). The Sideways Grande was knit with a new-to-me, Canadian yarn called Zen Yarn Garden. It's merino and cashmere DK (which I knit using a double strand to approximate chunky weight).

So, what do you think?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Updated with Photo: Liberty

Quick post to tell you that my mum just Face Timed me and she's bald (got her hair buzzed). And she looks really freakin' awesome. People, I am not just saying this to put a brave face on things. Seriously, she looks 10 yrs younger (not like she looked her age in the first place), with a complexion that is healthy pink, and a face that's entirely symmetrical. And her head is a great shape.

After weeks of agonizing over what covering to wear, she's opted to just be bald. And since then, a haze of anxiety has lifted. Today she and my (now also totally bald) father went to the food store, the lipstick store and the Apple store. With nary a care! (Happily, she has much more energy today than she has had since she started chemo. In truth, last week was like a really bad drug trip that went on  for a fucking long time.)

It's a rare person who looks as good bald as with hair and I'm really grateful that my mother falls into this category. As is she.

Update: So that you can see I wasn't lying, my mum sanctioned posting this photo:

See what I mean?!

Wound Up

You thought I was joking about the stress shopping.

The one thing I can say in my favour is that I tend to buy affordable things. I mean, I'm not buying a fur coat. (Um, scratch that. I'm not buying another fur coat.) In general, I keep it to things that I use for my crafts, that I've carefully considered for a while, but haven't yet made the leap to purchase. And I try to keep everything within the $10-50 dollar range, though what help is that when one's shopping in volume?

But while we're discussing it, here are my prime stress-shopping categories:
  • Potions: Etsy is great for these. I also love Sephora, truth be told. And the health food store.
  • Treats: I love Whole Foods Market and the zillions of fab independent bakeries in Toronto.
  • Patterns: Well, we've discussed these recently. I don't discriminate.
  • Yarn and Fabric: Need we say more?
  • Gizmos: That's what this post is about (see below)...
  • Books: Sure, these days I borrow as many titles as possible, but sometimes a book is so instructive that I need to have my own copy.
Let's just say it's good that I don't have a thing for jewelry. Or real estate.

A propos of this, I have a little story that I imagine many a knitter can relate to:

I buy a lot of yarn - ok, not a LOT of yarn, but I make a lot of stuff and I need yarn to make that stuff. I buy locally, often at EweKnit, for example, and I also buy online. Really, whatever gets me the yarn I need at the best price in the most environmentally sustainable way, is the option I choose. But often, when I buy, even at a TO shop, I don't wind the just-purchased hank. For one thing, I don't know if I'll use it - in which case I want the option to return for store credit. For another thing, I don't like to wind balls prematurely, leaving them to languish and, potentially, to overstretch. Sometimes the store doesn't offer the "we'll wind it for you" option - or they make you come back to get the wound ball the next day (totally inconvenient).

All this means that my husband has acted as a yarn swift on SO many occasions, it's not funny. And his urge to complain about this never gets old - for him.

For you non- or new-knitters. This is one version of a yarn swift:

Via Etsy...

It's used in tandem with a ball winder, one type of which looks like this:

Also via Etsy...
I won't get deeply into the mechanics, but these both clamp to a table (and are easy to collapse/store when not in use). The hank is positioned onto the opened swift (it collapses when not in use) and a yarn end is threaded into the winder. Using the right hand to wind the ball, the left hand gives some tension to the strand of yarn that goes between the swift and the winder. As the winder winds, the swift turns too. What takes Scott and me 15-plus minutes per ball, takes these machines under a minute to achieve. Which when you're winding 9 balls at a go is a meaningful time-save. Not to mention that no one complains.

Though I've been knitting for more than 2 years, and though I've gone through a couple hundred balls of yarn at this point, I've never bought a swift and ball winder for 2 reasons:
  • They can be quite pricey.
  • You have to store them and set them up.
I have also, somehow, convinced myself that "only serious knitters" need these gizmos. Um, when do I count in that category??

Anyway, I've seen - in stores and online - swifts that go for more than 200 bucks and ball winders (gorgeous, wooden ones) that cost upwards of $600.00. While I love them - and if I were going to keep them out all the time I'd consider them for their design, careful construction and longevity - I cannot justify them in my house with no room to display.

About Ball Winders

I've done quite a bit of research on this, and truly, a home-knitter doesn't need more than a good plastic ball winder. Even used consistently, it will last indefinitely. The best known brand is Royal. While I've linked to Knit Picks (which I've never shopped at because I can find what I need cheaper, given the shipping charges), it is a reputable online store. Etsy, Ebay, Amazon and local yarn stores also sell these. On sale, with free shipping, you can get these for under 30 bucks but they often cost more in the range of 50 or 60 after shipping.

It will not surprise you to learn that I have taken the plunge and purchased a winder - and a swift, (why not give the whole story away in one swoop?). The winder I purchased, photoed above / link to vendor is in the caption, is not a Royal brand, but has the same general structure. I suspect they're all manufactured in the same place, in China, and different companies brand them differently. Of course, I might be wrong about this... The one I got cost 28 bucks (reduced price) and then a mere 5 bucks for shipping. It was the most economic option - and I got to shop on Etsy, a preferred platform.

Note: An integral part of stress shopping is seeking out the best deal and the most desirable purchase scenario.

About Swifts:

There are many brands and shapes of swifts, produced in different materials. Dharma Trading Co. and Knit Picks both sell affordable options (the Knit Picks one hasn't been highly rated in the scheme of things). Many are made by independent vendors or by mystery corporations. A propos of this, often, one cannot determine the brand of a swift when purchasing on Etsy or Ebay (or even on Amazon or through online big-bulk knit stores). Most seem to be brand free, which is not something I love. I like to be able to research what I'm thinking of buying.

I finally decided on an unbranded one, purchased (again), via Etsy - photo/linked to above. I figured, since I wasn't going to know which brand I'd be getting under any circumstances (the branded ones were more money than I want to spend), I would opt for birch wood and a Canadian vendor. Including shipping, mine cost 50 bucks which is MUCH cheaper than I could have purchased it in a shop or online (once shipping was factored in). I thought I'd have to spend more like 100 bucks.

There are some spatial factors to consider when choosing a swift:
  • Height of swift (as space consideration)
  • Circumference of swift (to accommodate the circumference of the hanks you will wind)
  • Clamp height (the maximum span of the clamp which will determine which tables you can affix it to. This is a factor with the ball winder too, fyi.)
In the end, I went middle-of-the-road, by getting a mid-range, mid-sized swift. Mine will open to a max circumference of 72" (larger than any hank I've wound yet), and will clamp to something about 1.5 inches thick (I checked some tables to confirm I have viable options). Update: The Etsy listing mistakenly shows a 24" circumference. After communicating with the vendor I have confirmed that the swift actually opens to 72" circumference.

A duo that could have set me back almost a grand (if I'd gone high-style), or easily $150 - $200 (if I'd just purchased from any vendor without cost or delivery consideration), cost me 80 bucks, all in, for new merchandise (not that I would have been averse to "vintage") and it'll be delivered to my door.

Then there's the value of having occupied my mind for a few hours. And the fact that Scott is beside himself with happiness. Apparently, he's calling this an Xmas gift :-)

Today's questions: Do you own this combo - or a similar set up? If not, how do you wind your yarn? If yes, how much did you pay (sure, it's nosy but I want to know!)? Do you feel you got value? Let's talk.