Friday, August 31, 2007

Review: Romantic Hand Knits

You've probably already come across reviews of this book in blogland, maybe at Claudia's blog or at Wendy's or [Jen]La's or, well, there have been lots. (Thanks, Random House/Potter Craft for sending out so many copies to the bloggers!) Romantic Hand Knits, by Annie Modesitt, is a beautifully designed hardcover with 26 patterns and loads of pretty pictures. It's also a bit of a niche-knitting book. These are ultra-feminine garments -- mainly tops, skirts, and dresses -- with lots of lacy details, ruffles, and figure-conscious shapes.

In the book's introduction, Annie explains her take on "romance": rather than being all sexy lingerie and rose petals in the bathtub, she writes, romance is "about dreams. It's an idealized vision of something ..., a belief that a certain type of perfection is possible within our imperfect lives." This notion guided my reading of the book, in that -- for me -- these designs aren't for knitting. They're for dreaming. That is, I'm not going to make anything in this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed looking at the pictures and reading each scene-setting pattern blurb (e.g., "you'll swear you've drifted into a Dorothy Sayers novel in 1930s London when wearing this vintage-styled shirtwaist dress"). The thing is, if I were to knit, say, the Bishop's Wife dress (which I quite like), and if I were then to put it on and go out for the day, I might feel like a Dorothy Sayers character for a few minutes until I realized I wasn't standing in an English garden with a wispy hairdo, but rather that I was sitting on the bus with a big backpack and feeling oddly inappropriate in my lovely long sport-weight dress. This doesn't mean it's not a good dress. It just means that I'm more of a realist than a romantic, and that this book has more value for me as a pretty picture book -- "an idealized vision of something" -- than as a practical collection of patterns.

Figure 1: The Bishop's Wife

As for the actual mechanics of the patterns, it's nice to see a wide range of sizes: the West Side Story skirt, for example, can be made to fit a 22-inch (!) waist, a 48-inch waist, and four sizes in between; the Notorious top can be made for a 25.5-inch (!!) bust and a 56-inch bust alike. The photos are generally good at showing the garments, and many patterns show more than one view. When we get to accessories toward the end of the book, though, photos are somewhat lacking: Vertigo is described in the text as a "long scarf," for instance, but in the single photo it appears to be some kind of shallow wrappy-tube. Too bad, because there are probably a lot more knitters willing to knit lace gloves or a scarf than will commit to, say, a full-length skirt.

Figure 2: Vertigo

I've had some excellent luck this week, winning a couple of blog draws, so I'm going to pay it forward. Would you like my copy of Romantic Hand Knits? Leave a comment, and on Monday night I'll randomly choose a winner. Meanwhile, have a good weekend!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

La Bobineuse

Kate and I ventured off the beaten yarn-store track this morning, to la Bobineuse de Laine (translation: the Wool Winder) on Mont-Royal Avenue East. It's hard to describe this place -- there's a good blog post here about it. This is not brand-name yarn. The store is filled with cones of yarn that they sell by the pound. All of the prepared yarns are made up of several very thin strands, but they're not spun together; or, you can choose your own combination of various fibres, and they'll wind them together onto a cone on their huge old machinery. (Yeah, it's hard to explain.) There are lots of acrylics, but they also have cotton and wool, and it's crazy-cheap.

I figured it was a good place to buy cotton for a shopping bag: this one, for example, or this one, or maybe this one. At $10/pound, I couldn't really go wrong. (One needs about half a pound for a bag, in case you were wondering.) I was looking at some boring dark blue, but Kate pushed me (nicely) toward the métallique mélange cones, and I ended up buying an 8-ounce cone of a white-&-silver mix:

Grocery shopping is about to go glam, people.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hey, guess what? The creator of the quilt kit I just made is giving away a kit on her blog. If you leave a comment for her, you might be able to make one too -- for free!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Big girl's blouse*

Last Sunday I had the house to myself all afternoon while Bill played golf, and I decided to sew. I've had this Built by Wendy pattern ( 4112) for a while, and I decided to make a mock-up version out of a thrifted sheet to see how it looks before spending any money on fabric. It's a very easy and fast project. (For me to finish something is one day is almost unheard of.)

When I finished I modelled it for Bill, and he said, "I don't really like the individual elements of it, like the sleeves or the belt, but it actually looks good on you." I think that sums things up pretty well. I think it is flattering, in that it gives the illusion that I have a waist. The giant bell sleeves are pretty extreme, but somehow they work.

I will definitely use this pattern again. I think it will look good in a more conservative fabric, to counter its flouncy-ness -- a dark stripe, for example. I'm not sure I'll wear this version. If I do, I think the key will be to de-flounce the rest of the outfit so as not to suggest that I am indeed wearing a flowered bedsheet.

I lacked the patience for buttonholes and wanted to try snaps. Unfortunately, the pearl snaps I chose are way too heavy-duty for this fabric (especially because there is no interfacing in the front facing), so I have to undo them very carefully. I do like a pearl snap, though. More pearl snaps, I say! I'll leave you with my favourite shot of the day -- got the whole outfit in, from head to toe:

* Big girl's blouse is a phrase I heard for the first time just a few years ago, when I was working with Australian Danny in Taipei -- most likely while listening to triple j radio in the office -- and I think it is hilarious. (Being a grammar avenger, much of the hilarity for me arises from the ambiguity of the adjective. Is big modifying girl or blouse? Plus the word blouse is just funny, like slacks.)

p.s. Mooky looks much better today -- thanks for your sympathy. He can open his eye and there is less pus and swelling than yesterday, which is a huge relief. I know it's not nice, but I hope the other cat looks worse.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sad cat

Just wanted to let you know that your Mooky-love is extra appreciated today, as the Mook is feeling blue. He was beat up last night and has been sleeping on his flying carpet ever since. He suffered a few cuts on his nose and around one eye; he came in bleeding and is now just swollen and oozing. Sigh. It's only about a 2.5 on the Digit-o-meter Feline Injury Scale™, but it's still upsetting. We decided not to take him to the vet today, since he hates the car so much, and I don't think he needs any extra stress. I pried open his swollen-shut eye and I can tell that he can see with it, so I'm just going to let him sleep. He has antibiotics left from his last fight, so we're giving him those; of course, if his eye gets worse, we'll go to the vet tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A quilt, a cat

"Hmmm, what's this?"

"I want to look at the back. Ooh, pink stripes!"

"Soft to sit on, and I do like this polka-dot binding..."

"I is in yr quilt, makin u say Awwww..."

All done and laundered! I'm pleased as punch with this little starter quilt. (Keep in mind that Mooky is a mammoth cat -- the quilt measures 35 inches square.) Now, photographing a pink-and-red quilt against grass is not the best way to capture accurate colours, but there's nowhere inside for me to spread it out for pictures. I've Photoshopped, but the colours still look a little washed out.

Let's review: I sewed the blocks together on the machine and then did all the quilting by hand. If you're interested, click on the little photo to see (roughly) where I quilted. The three rows around the outside are a little excessive design-wise, but I just wanted more practice. And to conclude: I love quilting! My favourite part was attaching the binding. I think I'll make another small one -- I'm still enamoured with the Scrap X Quilt. Ultimately I want to make a quilt for my bed, but I don't quite feel ready for that.

Mooky thanks you in advance for any comment-love you wish you give. Over and out.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Catching up

I'm back in Montreal, and so tired! I don't know why sitting on a train for five hours is so exhausting. At least it is also very good for knitting. In Toronto, I picked up two balls of pale blue Dale Baby Ull, and now I'm just over halfway through a wee cardigan for the newest baby in my extended family.

The pattern is from an old Patons pattern book, Baby Styles by Beehive (no. 117). I love its simplicity, and the side-to-side short-row construction is quite genius.

So... what else? I waited too long to buy my ticket for that Stitch n' Pitch Jays game (described here by Stephanie), so I went to Lettuce Knit that evening instead and knit with Laura, Jen (whom I didn't link in my mind to her blog until the next day, duh), and other nice people. I also had lunch two days in a row with Dr. Steph, as we were both on the U of T campus.

Things went well at the rare book library. I didn't come away with a fully formed thesis topic, but I did have lots of fun reading postwar scandal sheets. Did you know there was a huge preoccupation with morality in the late 1940s? It makes sense, as the war was over and efforts had to be made to establish the social supremacy of the heterosexual nuclear family. Even knowing this, I was a little shocked at the apparent obsession with indecent exposure, as seen in the content of tabloids like Justice Weekly. Hardly a week went by without a major headline about a "sex pervert" -- they were everywhere, it seems! In movie theatres, in Eaton's, in the park, in their cars, exposing themselves willy nilly (so to speak). Crazy times, crazy times.

Anyway, it's nice to be home, and it's Saturday! I finished my little quilt last weekend before I went to Toronto, so it just needs to be washed and dried before it's really done. I'll do that and then show you. I'm pretty excited about it...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


I'm in Toronto, doing some research at the U of T library. Finished a Charade sock and got caught up on Q podcasts on the train yesterday. Dropped into Lettuce Knit yesterday afternoon to pick up some wool (Bill's nephew's baby decided to arrive a month early, and I'm unprepared!) and got to meet Laura and Megan there. Thinking of going to tomorrow night's Stitch n' Pitch Jays game, despite the event's incorrect punctuation.

OK, I'm off to one of my favourite places, the rare book library! Shhh...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Massive night

We went to see The Hold Steady play last night (at Sala Rossa), and it was fan-tastic. Other than the handful of overenthusiastic superfans who seem to have travelled from Toronto just to stand right at the front and scream every single lyric back into Craig Finn's face, it was just a great, great show. Well worth today's temporary deafness.

1. new video for "Stuck Between Stations"
2. mp3 of "Your Little Hoodrat Friend"
3. "A Citizen’s Guide to The Hold Steady & their newest recording"
4. one of Cari's posts about the band from way back when (I owe my Hold Steady fandom all to Cari)

Monday, August 06, 2007

A lesson in values

I haven't done much in the last week, but I did finish my Blue Herring socks. They fit well, and I'd recommend the pattern (Red Herring, Fall 2006 Knitty). And I've certainly learned something about putting colours together! The concept of colour value is something I'd never thought about before I started reading about quilting. Here's the definition from

Color value refers to how dark or light a color is. Pieces of quilting fabrics cut from colors of the same value blend when sewn side by side. Fabrics of contrasting color values have clearly defined edges when sewn together.

It's easy enough to pick up two balls of yarn, hold them together, and think the colours look good together (which is how I chose the yarn for these socks). But then it's very weird to knit them up and watch them just kind of blend into each other (which is, as you can see, exactly what happened).

Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining. I'm happy to have learned this lesson, and I like my socks, too. This would be a good first-Fair Isle project, I think, since the pattern is so consistent and the yarn is never carried farther than two stitches. I know you want to have a look behind the scenes:

I knit these, as I always do, on a circular needle (magic loop). I used a 2.50mm needle for the leg (since it has very little stretch) and my usual 2.25mm for the ribbing and foot. The yarn is SandnesGarn Sisu: two 50g balls of blue (#7133) and one ball of camel (#2543).

Up next: Charade. I've already cast on and knit about four inches on the first sock, using a very dark brown (Scheepjes Invicta Extra). I have some blue Sisu left over from these blue herrings, and I'm going to use it for contrasting heels and toes -- because it actually will contrast with the dark brown. (See? I'm learning.)

I worked on my quilt yesterday, and I'm almost ready to attach the binding. Re: my last post, I just wanted to say I'm not against machine quilting per se, and I do want to learn to do that too. But my current quilt is only 40 inches by 40 inches, and I wanted to learn to handquilt first. It's like learning to do long division by hand before starting to use a calculator, or something like that.

It's only 18 degrees outside right now, but last Friday it was so hot that Bill and I gave up trying to work by noon; we set up the fan in the living room and watched nine episodes of The Sopranos in a row. We're getting pretty close to the end...