Thursday, August 30, 2007

Food Meme

This comes from Troy Boy via Poppy Mom.

Favorite Gourmet Item: Illegal Cheese--It's illegal to import any unpasteurized cheese that's less than 60 days old. If you know the code and have a dealer, you can get it though. My cheesemonger used to call me up and tell me he had some "really fresh stuff." Keep asking for "fresh" stuff, and maybe you'll find it.

Favorite Snack at Home: At the moment, Penzy's Chip & Dip mix w/ rippled chips.

Favorite Fast Food item: McDonald's French Fries w/ two salt packets.

Favorite Food when Driving: Arby's Ultimate BLT Wrap

Favorite Food with a Beer (or other libation - please specify): Welsh rarebit, with the beer cooked in it. Either that or beer-braised rabbit. I'm not much of a beer drinker and prefer my hard liquor on an empty stomach.

Favorite Food for Invoking Romantic Intentions: Red velvet cake

Least Favorite Food: Beets. Can't do it. No way.

Food that Conjures a Childhood Memory: Cupcakes made in ice cream cones and open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches with smiley faces made out of ketchup.

Food that Conjures a Sad Memory: Swiss chard. There were definitely threats of violence if the plates were not cleared.

Food that Conjures a Happy Memory: tapas--from a college trip to Spain and from our wedding. Either that or soft-shell crab sandwiches with mayo on white bread.

I tag Carrie, Peggy, and Annie. I think TroyBoy wants to hear that you responded.

Popping out Babies

Just a few days ago, I was in need of a baby.

Conveniently, I have now met a baby. Well, I haven't actually met a baby, but I met someone with a baby. She doesn't actually have the baby, however, but I've been assured that she will soon. And I don't exactly know her, have never met her in fact, but I will, next Wednesday apparently.

So, FO#1 has found a home.

And yesterday, I talked about a baby whose mother had on knitted undersleeves. I love how she's hiding behind the baby, peeking out to see if the photographer is finished yet.

So today I ran across another baby, whose mother is also hiding, but this time, quite oddly, under a shawl. I love the expression on the little dear's face, and check out his knitted sweater.

I'm pretty sure all this baby contact won't rub off on me, but I hope it's not an omen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tomato Soup Cake

For Carrie:

Tomato soup cake is basically a spice cake (cinnamon, allspice, ground cloves) with a can of condensed tomato soup added in. I also added some chopped dates and pecans. Frost with a cream cheese frosting. Hopefully make it prettier than I did. I was not expecting to take pictures, and the heat yesterday was making the frosting slump.

It's a pretty good cake, and the tomato soup doesn't really make a noticeable difference in texture, color, or flavor. Depending on whom you're serving, you may or may not choose to reveal the mystery ingredient. The revelation was not well received last night, I must say.

A quick online search will turn up a jillion recipes, but mine came from an old edition of the Campbell's Soup Cookbook. Next on the menu will be the Rosy Chiffon Cake (also made with condensed tomato soup) and the Steamed Pudding (also made with--you guessed it!--condensed tomato soup).

I have a surfeit at the moment.

Obligatory knitting content:

Currently, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City is having an exhibit on the origins of American photography.

I cannot go, alas, but they have a nice online tour of the exhibit with features to zoom in on photos with great detail. Zooming in on the c.1855 photo to the right reveals that the woman is wearing knitted undersleeves.

To see details, go here, click "enlarge image" and then zoom in two or three times.

The sleeves are really interesting in that they seem to be done in garter stitch, but of stripes made of different fibers, not just different colors. I don't know how else to account for the sheen on the alternate stripes. The cuffs looked ribbed with a crocheted border, but something seems unusual about the rib stitch. It's possible they're done in a twisted stitch by knitting into the back of the loop. It's really hard to tell, but the baby may also be wearing a knitted undershirt.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I've had at least three FOs floating around for the past two weeks that I haven't blogged. Dunno why.

What was I saving them for? None is a surprise. There's plenty of stuff in progress to talk about, so it's not like I'll run out of things to say and need to fall back on these. I wasn't feeling lazy about them.

It was definitely a hoarding situation, which is foolish. There's a great quote about writing from Annie Dillard: "One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time."

So, in that spirit, I present FO#1, a garter-stitch baby sweater.
I don't actually know any babies at the moment, but I got some free fuzzy yarn at Stitch n' Pitch. I got two balls actually, and this tiny sweater made barely a dent in it. Still, I did use up some pastel yellow acrylic that I inherited from my grandmother, which probably means the yarn is from the 1960s. I suspect the buttons came from around then too. The armband happened when it occurred to me that I might be dealing with a different dye lot.

If I don't suddenly meet a baby, off it will go into the charity pile.

FO #2 is a hemp shopping bag.

The pattern is from Knitty, the yarn from Rachel. I used it this weekend at Tower Grove Market where it admirably held 2 pork chops and some skirt steak.

I loved working with the hemp and was surprised at how soft it ended up being. Getting the cord through the toggle was a major pain in the ass and involved yarn needles, vice grips, and lots of grunting and swearing. Even LB gave up at one point, but dammit, that cord was going to go through that toggle.

The toggle also gave me the chance to remember the twisty little dealyboppers we tied at the end of our dock-siders back when it was cool to wear a turtleneck, a polo with the collar turned up, and an oxford cloth shirt, with a ragg sweater knotted "casually" over the shoulders and an add-a-bead necklace draped over it all.

FO #3 is my favorite, the sock monkey monkey socks:

A baby sweater when there's no actual baby is fairly foolish, but sock monkey monkey socks are foolish beyond belief.

You can actually go to the store and buy Red Heel socks. I have several in my sewing room waiting to be made into sock monkeys. Utter foolishness to knit such things.

The brown yarn is from Regia, the solid from Brown Sheep, and the pattern is my own. I suspect the two socks don't entirely match. In the future, I'll learn how to do a short-row heel. The current heel is a flap heel and involved me graphing out the heel diamond.

I made them for LB, my own personal sock monkey, and yes, his feet are that long and narrow.

Meanwhile, the gator scarf progresses.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Non-Typical Antler Growth

This week should be more hellacious than the past, and I don't expect it to settle down for awhile, so I'm trying to get my Monday post in early.

On Friday, we went to an exhibit at Webster University's Cecille R. Hunt Gallery. The link gives show information, hours, etc, and uses a lot more jargon than I would.

Basically, I'd say go. It's cool. As long as you aren't turned off by dead animals. Or by acrylic yarn and crochet.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Period Shawls

I've had a couple of messages in my inbox lately about nineteenth-century shawls, so I'll try to address them.

First, how did women find shawl patterns? Women's magazines and needlework books had plenty on offer, but many were poorly edited. The shawl on the right, for example, came out of Mrs. Beeton's needlework book. If you try to follow the directions, you'll realize that the lace pattern on the back is not the same as the illustration. Worse, there is some sort of huge error in row two of the border lace, making it impossible to complete.

This particular shawl pattern appears in several period sources, each copying or compounding the errors of some ur-shawl.

I am certainly all for going to period sources, but do expect some degree of frustration.

Another option knitters used was to look at other women's shawls and try to copy them or even one-up them. There's a great quote from a period diary about a shawl craze in one southern town where local women vied to create the most vivid, intricate borders.

So a second option is to look at period-CDVs for inspiration.

The simplest option might be to design your own within period parameters.

Read enough period patterns and you'll start to get a feel for period yarn sizes. No one will yell at you for lace weight, fingering weight, or sport weight. If you want to go heavier, be prepared for an argument. I'm not saying no, but I am saying that some folks have made up their mind on this matter.

It should go without saying to use natural fibers for period knitting, not blends. Some fibers to avoid or be prepared to defend are silk, mohair, or angora. Wool is the most defensible, and since shawls were designed for warmth, cotton would be an unlikely choice. Wool. Definitely wool. Wool is safe.

Needle sizes should be proportionate to your yarn, allowing it to drape when knitted. Size 5s are a good bet. If you're knitting at home, go ahead and use those circular needles or blue aluminum, but at an event go for an appropriate needle: wood, bone, steel. For long projects, they used many sets of double pointed needles. Once a shawl gets to a certain size, I just tend to work on it at home.

The basic shape to aim for is a triangle. I have yet to see a period shawl that is circular. Again, I'm not saying there weren't any, but I'd want to see a period photo before spending dozens of hours knitting something incorrect.
The most basic shawl would be like the one above (which is shown folded in half). It's done in garter stitch (all knit). Cast on 5 stitches. Increase 4 times every other row--once at each edge & once on either side of your center stitch. I like a yarn-over increase as it makes a pretty lace effect. Stripe as you will. Consider slipping the first stitch on each row for a tidy edge and to make fringe easier.

Why start with only 5 stitches and work your way wider? At first, it doesn't seem to make sense, for each row will get progressively longer, and potentially more tedious. I know; I knitted this shawl myself. By the end, I never wanted to see garter stitch again.

The advantage, however, is that you don't have to worry so much about gauge or running out of yarn. You simply knit until it's big enough.

That's pretty much it. Don't forget to send photos.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bitten by a Gator

This scarf, so far, has been seriously addictive, although I probably have issues with that anyway.

First, there was the instant gratification of the nostrils (I seriously doubt that sentence has ever been uttered before). In ten short rows, there they were.

I was desperately curious to see how the eyes were done. A quick forty rows and I knew.

I'm bumping along the back now, which may take longer, but there's such a temptation to complete a 16-row unit each time I sit down, that I expect the whole thing to go relatively quickly.

Knitting is usually so two-dimensional, like a piece of paper. Knitting has tubes, of course, but a tube is basically a rolled piece of paper. Even a four-year-old can make a telescope or megaphone out of a piece of paper.

This gator scarf is more like origami.

For me to be this excited about what is essentially a garter-stitch scarf says a lot of the creativity of the folks at Morehouse Merino.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Best Laid Plans

School is back in session as of Monday, and I have a lot of good intentions. I had resolved to shake things up in the classroom this semester, try a lot of new activities, let go of others, conference more with students. That at least is going swimmingly.

I intend to get back to daily updates. They're good for me. On Monday, I was halfway home before I realized I hadn't posted. Today? Same thing.

I have resolved to make more of an effort with my appearance so I don't fall into frumpiness. I got showered and fully dressed this morning before noticing that my cute sleeveless top revealed that I had forgotten to shave my armpits for what looked like a few weeks.

I had also resolved to take care of myself, make sure to eat breakfast, and have at least a reasonable idea of dinner plans. I was halfway to work today before realizing I hadn't eaten breakfast, had no money for lunch, and was facing back-to-back student conferences until 3 p.m. When I got home, head pounding, nauseated from no food, I realized I had forgotten to plug in the crock-pot.

I had resolved to stay away from fast food, but the crock-pot failure smashed that resolution as well.

I had resolved to go on a yarn diet, complete unfinished projects, work down my stash, stretch my creativity and use of colors. Then I spotted an ad for this scarf from Morehouse Merino.

Thank heavens I never resolved to abstain from eating extra salty french fries with a double cheeseburger and knitting at the same time.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cooped Up

When I'm cooped up in a windowless conference room listening to academic after academic drone on about assessment, goals statements, or the jargon of the moment, and especially when knitting in public is out of the question, it helps to know that somewhere out there the sun is shining.

Welcome to the August edition of huck towels.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Process or Product?

I don't know if I could write a compare and contrast essay on the writing process and the knitting process, but I do know that process, any process, is a funny thing.

On the product end, sooner or later we stop getting graded on our writing projects and no one grades us, thank god, on our knitting projects.

On the process end, we all have plans for projects in the pipeline: a letter to a friend, an email to our boss, a novel; new socks, a baby blanket, an aran sweater. But the funny thing about process is that you can sit down, intent on cranking out a certain project, and then without warning, something completely different appears.

It's almost magical sometimes.

I wonder how she did it, J.K. Rowling. What she has pulled off has so many layers of meaning, is so intricate (although occasionally simplistically symbolic), that it boggles the mind. My big question is how did she know to lay clues so many years ago for things that would come together in her seventh book?

  • The book scarf is done in double knitting in fingering weight on 1s. I did think it up by myself, but it turns out a lot of other people had the same idea.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Knitting in Public

Whenever I'm asked--do I or don't I--when and where--I usually say that the one place I don't knit in public is at staff meetings. I know I'm fully capable of knitting and paying attention. In fact, I don't even look at my hands when I knit. Nevertheless, non-knitters usually don't get it, and staff meetings are not the place to prove one's point on the matter.

Today, however, I broke that rule and happily cast-on, knitted, and cast-off a "fur" collar for my niece. Actually, I don't know who it's going to; I just knew I had to make it, particularly this morning.

The collar got me through an introduction to our new president, a talk on the self-study the school is doing for re-accreditation, a lecture on how we need to be nice to the reaccreditation people or we could all lose our jobs, the presentation of awards to outstanding part-time teachers (if they're so freaking outstanding, hire them why doncha?), a rambling talk from the chief of campus police about what to do in the case of a campus shooting (essentially--run!), a perky talk from the campus communications director on how to avoid being interviewed by CNN after said shooting, and then a series of fairly idiotic audience questions from the same adjuncts who monopolize the Q&A every single blessed year.

In tribute to all the advice being offered to me this morning, I offer you this--staff meetings where no higher ups in your department are present and where you can hide amid hundreds of coworkers are great places to knit in public.

The pattern is from Lion Brand (free registration required). The model is not my niece. She's from Lion Brand too. My collar is white.


Note to Rachel & Annie: Now imagine it in Mardi Gras colors!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pattern Translation

I had a long chat this morning about intellectual property and the role of the internet in the resurgence of knitting's popularity. The latest issue of Vogue Knitting, it turns out, has a group interview with knitting's old guard (Alice Starmore, Meg Swanson, and more) about this very matter as well.

One of the things we and they discussed was the spread of free patterns on the internet. Many are beautiful and incredibly inventive, but pattern writing is a difficult thing, and sometimes you get what you pay for.

Then this afternoon, I got an email asking for some pattern translation. It's a cute pattern for a lace scarf* but it assumes a degree of knowledge on the part of the knitter.

Q: What is seed stitch?
A: Seed stitch is a stitch pattern where you K1P1 across the row. Then on the other side, you knit the purl stitches and purl the knit stitches. The end result is like a tiny checkerboard, a nice sturdy pattern that will help prevent the scarf from rolling. Some people find it tedious, but it's one of my favorite stitch patterns both to knit and wear.

Q: What is stockinette stitch?
A: This is a basic stitch that you see on most store-bought sweaters. The front side is knit and the back side is purled. If you knit in the round, you are also making stockinette stitch. Turn the sweater inside out, and you have reverse stockinette stitch, which simply means that the purl side is on the outside. In the case of a chart, stockinette stitch means knit on the front side, purl on the back.

Q: What does five-stitch repeat mean?
A: This means that the building block of the pattern (say a leaf, or a zig-zag, or a lacy thingamajig) takes five stitches from start to finish. If you want your scarf wider or narrower, you need to add or subtract using multiples of five. Knowing the pattern repeat is really helpful for finding your mistakes as well. Some people put stitch markers between each repeat to help them keep track and find their errors more easily.

Q: What is "slip, slip, knit"?
A: This is one of my favorite decreases. When you knit two stitches together (k2tog), your decrease will angle to the right, like this: /. A slip, slip, knit decrease (ssk) will angle it to the left, like this: \. Using both techniques gives you a pleasant degree of symmetry.
* To ssk, slip the first stitch onto the right needle as if you're going to knit it. Do so again for the second stitch. Then, put the left needle into the front of those two slipped stitches and simply knit them together.

Q: Any tips for reading charts?
A: I wasn't actually asked this, but let's pretend shall we? First, hooray for you! Charts seem a lot more intimidating than they really are.
  • Start the chart in the lower right corner. The odd numbered rows will be the front side of your knitting, and the evens will be the back.
  • On the front (odd) side, you will follow the pattern from right to left. On the back (even) side, you will follow the pattern from left to right. In the case of some lace patterns, the designer won't even bother printing the even rows as they're usually simply purl rows.
  • Use a post-it note to mark the row you're working on and keep moving it up as you go. Pretty soon you'll have the pattern memorized.
ps--in honor of the coming semester, let me offer the following: There's no such thing as a stupid question.

*I'm not posting a link to the pattern because I do have sympathy for how hard it is to write clear patterns. Lord knows, it prevents me from putting my stuff out there.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Knitting for the Troops

I've been reading on the social history of knitting of late. During war times--Civil War, WWI, WWII, and today--knitting has an upsurge. Today, we're told that going shopping is our patriotic duty, rather than gathering to knit for the troops, but helmet liners are being knitted nonetheless.

Here's an 1861 pattern from Peterson’s Magazine for socks:

Editor’s Table
How To Knit Stockings

A fair correspondent asks for directions how to knit woolen stockings. Take bluish gray yarn, No. 22, and needles, Nos. 14 and 15.

Set up twenty-seven stitches on each needle; knit two plain and two seam rows alternately, until the ribbing is three inches long; then knit plain seven inches for the leg, remembering to seam one stitch at the end of one needle.

To form the heel, put twenty stitches on two of the needles, and forty-one on the other-the seam stitch being in the middle. Knit the first row plain, the next row seam, and so alternately until the heel is three inches long; then narrow on the plain row each side of the seam stitch for five plain rows, which will leave thirty-one stitches.

To close the heel, knit the last seam row to the middle of the needle; knit the seam stitch plain; then fold the two needles together, and with another needle take off the seam stitch. Then knit a stitch from both needles at once, and bind the seam stitch over it. Continue knitting in this manner until but one is left and the heel closed.

Take up as many stitches as there are rows around the heel; knit one round plain; then widen every fifth stitch on the heel needles. Narrow once on every round at each side of the foot until there are twenty-seven stitches on each needle; knit plain six inches, narrow at the beginning and end of each needle on every third round, till you have seventeen stitches on each; then narrow every second round till you have seven – then every round until the foot is closed.

One pound of yarn, costing from seventy-five cents to one dollar, will furnish four pairs of socks.

Monday, August 13, 2007

It Begins Again

School starts a week from today, which means I am working really hard at work avoidance.

I've nearly completed one top-secret knitted object and already begun its twin. And, no, it's not socks, although I've turned the heel on the second one of those as well. I'm also almost done a mohair sweater.

I'm at the phase where I actually carry my text books around with me, periodically open them even, but quickly toss them aside.

Since I just used teaching to postpone jury duty, I suppose I should do my civic duty by the little darlings and figure out what I'm going to say to them this year.

How's this?
  • There's no magic to becoming a good writer
  • You have to write, revise, and write some more
  • And in the end, remember this: Better done than perfect.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mohair Tip of the Day

My knitting teacher taught me many years ago that when it comes time to run the seams on a mohair sweater, don't bother trying to use the mohair itself. Use DMC embroidery floss instead. It comes in hundreds of colors and glides easily through your stitches. The end result is nearly invisible and there's no danger of breaking your thread as with mohair.

Mohair Tip #2: When it comes time to knit a mohair sweater in August ... DON'T.


It's that time of year:
  • Tomato and white wine sauce over pasta for dinner last night,
  • Fried green tomatoes for lunch today
  • Cherry tomatoes for an afternoon snack
  • And tomato jam simmering in the crock pot even as I type.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Stitch N' Pitch

It was hot--Africa hot.

This was my original seat. Faces have been obscured to protect the nice folks on either side of me, but the problem should be fairly obvious.

After the excitement of the ten-run fifth inning, I realized I was doubled over with my elbows on my knees, looking and sweating for all the world like I had a bad case of the trots. We were so wedged in I wasn't even sure if it was my own sweat I was feeling.

Fortunately, the heat had driven off a lot of less intrepid fans, so I moved up a few rows and stretched out.

The haul (plus 2 other skeins of yarn that I already stashed):

Work accomplished:

Go Cards!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Freedom Crossing

Yesterday, I cashed in on my trade of a knitted sleeping cap for a guided tour of civil war sites in St. Louis.

No photos, but I do have links.

We started in Carondolet, looking at historic homes, some dating back to the early 1850s, and visiting the first kindergarten in the United States. We got so distracted by all the homes that we almost didn't get out of the area. It's easy to forget Corondolet's history. It looks just like any other neighborhood, but it was actually well settled even before the Lewis and Clark period and was annexed by the city of St. Louis in 1870. Cool local sites include the several mansions, one of confederate General Bowen, a convent that had been in the city since the 1830s, limestone laborers' homes, the site of where Eads made ironclads, and more.

Next, we went to Benton Park and the monument to Friedrich Hecker, one of the Forty-Eighters.

Nearby, covering a two- by three-block area, was Fort No. 4, the site of a massacre of Confederate prisoners in retaliation for earlier abuses of Union prisoners.

Fort No. 5 bordered Lafayette Park (scroll down for history), and we ate lunch at Soda Fountain Square (any place that wants to charge $8 for a corn dog had better be damn memorable--and this ain't. It's not bad, but eminently forgettable).

After lunch, it was up to Fairgrounds Park and Benton Barracks. It's amazing to think how many tens of thousands of troops were quartered there.

We finished up by visiting the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing, an underground railroad site. It was woefully under-marked and very difficult to find, but find it we did, and climbed all the way down to the river to view where the runaways had crossed in the hope of freedom. Really well-written PDF here.

Thanks Doug! I know we barely scratched the surface, but it was an inspiring day and made me so glad to live in St. Louis