Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sandhill Cranes

I haven't been doing much knitting during my time off, but I did spend the last couple days birdwatching. I spent the night in Lodi, something I have wanted to do for several years, to see the Sandhill Cranes that winter there. I'd never seen one before-- they stand three to five feet tall and have a wingspan of up to six feet.

These photos are early morning shots of the birds at the ecological preserve where they roost at night. I actually arrived the previous evening just in time to stand in the rain and watch hundreds of cranes fly in. The flocks are so massive that at first I thought I was seeing an approaching helicopter.

(To see truly amazing pictures of Sandhill Cranes, check out Adventures in Birdland.)

They are quite vocal and make the oddest sound, almost like a purr. It's hard to see in these pics, but they have a patch of bald red skin on top of their head. I mainly took photos from the comfort of my car because it was COLD there, something I don't often experience. I don't knit a lot of warm wool items because they just aren't needed where I live, but in Lodi I was wishing for a thick warm scarf and hat. Brrrrrr.

Fortunately I don't have to return to work until Tuesday, so I have several more days to get out and do more birdwatching. It's a nice way to end the year.

Wishing you a very happy new year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Taking Refuge

I love being home, especially in the winter. I like to hang out in my pajamas, curled up in bed with the cats and a book, doing a little knitting here and there. There was a time in my life when I had a passion for travel, but these days I mainly want the peace and quiet of home.

But after being cooped up in my apartment for five days in row, exhausted and trying to shake off a cold, I wanted to run away from home. I couldn't stop thinking about my job and other subjects not suitable for one's vacation, and almost (but not quite) wished that I hadn't taken this week off because I really wasn't enjoying it.

Then everything changed.

I took a two hour drive to my favorite wildlife refuge. I swear that place is magical. Every time I go there, which is usually once a year, I ask myself why I don't visit more often. Spending time surrounded by wetlands and wildlife is so healing; it profoundly lifts my spirits.

A big storm is coming in today, but tomorrow I plan to get back on the road to visit another refuge. I wouldn't quite say my passion for travel has been restored-- I'm not ready to jump on a plane or anything-- but I have rediscovered a joy that somehow slipped through my fingers. Again.

If you live in the states and would like to visit a refuge, check out the National Wildlife Refuge System for more information.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Wishes

Today is the day I've been waiting for. It's my last day of work until next year.

I feel like my life has been a whirlwind since Thanksgiving and now I can finally stop and catch my breath. This time off between Christmas and New Year is so important to me for rest, rejuvenation and reflection.

It has been a truly wonderful year. I treasure the friendships I've made through blogging and look forward to deepening those friendships next year.

I'm going to take a break from blogging until after Christmas. I wish you all a very happy holiday and peaceful new year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Introducing the New Techniques 2011 KAL

* The New Techniques 2011 KAL Ravelry group is now available and going strong. Everyone is welcome! Feel free to join at any time during the year. *

Tonight while playing around with an idea for a knit coin purse, I started thinking about how reluctant I am to learn new knitting techniques. Yet once I take the time to figure it out or find the courage to ask for help, the technique usually turns out to be quite easy and incredibly helpful.

For example, I used to avoid patterns that involved short rows because I didn't understand how to wrap and turn. But once I was shown how to do it at my local yarn shop, it turned out to be fairly simple and opened up a whole new world of patterns I can now knit.

So I started thinking. I've been looking for a knit-along (KAL) to join in 2011 and haven't found one, so why not start one myself? I'm a little nervous no one will want to join, but I'm going to put it out there and see what happens.

My idea is each month we will learn a new technique of our own choosing to build our skills and confidence, and we'll share what we learn on our blogs and/or our Ravelry group. It will be up to each person to figure out how they are going to learn the technique (from a written tutorial, YouTube video, workshop, knitting friend, DVD, etc.) and you can use the new technique to knit whatever you want-- an accessory, clothing, toy, decoration, swatch or whatever.

I came up with a list of possibilities, but you can choose to learn any technique you want. Here are some ideas:

Picking up stitches
Magic Loop
Short Rows
Crocheted Edging
Stranded Knitting
Slip-Stitch Color Knitting
Fair Isle
Mattress Stitch
Kitchener Stitch
Knitting in the round
Continental Knitting
Provisional Cast-on
Picot Bind-off
Three Needle Bind-off
Knitting with Wire
Tunision Crochet
Duplicate Stitch

Would you like to join? I hope so!

Here are the loose guidelines for the KAL:

-The first week of each month, post to your blog and/or the Ravelry group the technique you have decided to learn.

-During the month, occasionally give an update with info such as where you learned the technique, how long it took you, challenges you faced, tips for others who want to learn it, etc. Post photos of your project if you want and any other details you care to share.

That's about it! The KAL will start in January and be open all year to anyone who wants to join at any time. And if you get busy and need to skip a month, that's perfectly okay.

12/19 Update #1: I created a group on Ravelry called New Techniques 2011 KAL . Feel free to go there and join the group!

12/20 Update #2: I woke up this morning and discovered that 32 people have joined the Ravelry group so far. That's wonderful!

12/21 Update #3 : We're up to almost 100 people on Ravelry. I'm so excited. Thank you to all who have joined!

12/23 Update #4: Please feel free to grab the button off my sidebar and link back to this post.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why you should start blogging

I noticed that the beginning of a new year is when many people start blogging. With 2011 right around the corner, I want to offer encouragement to anyone who might be thinking about creating a blog but is still on the fence.

There are plenty of reasons to start blogging:

-To connect with other people who share your interests and passions.
-To establish an electronic journal of your daily life.
-To keep family and friends informed of what is happening with you.
-To promote your products or services.

But the best reason of all is that you don’t need a reason.

Your blog is like a blank canvas that you can fill any way you want. Write about your kids, your cats, your garden. Post pictures of your travels, your neighborhood or an ordinary day in your life. Focus on your favorite crafts or recipes. It’s up to you. Your blog can have a central theme or be a hodge-podge of thoughts, photos, and ideas … a little of this and a little of that.

It’s okay not to have reason for blogging, and it’s okay not to know where blogging will take you. You can just start and see what happens. Like some bloggers, you might end up being published in a magazine, becoming a long distance runner, or swapping houses for an Italian holiday. Or you might simply discover a sense of quiet enjoyment that has been missing from your life.

One of the wonderful things about blogging is connecting with a network of people who appreciate your art, encourage you to pursue your dreams and offer support during your life journey. Bloggers are the kindest and most generous people around.

Your blog will touch others and can change their lives without you ever knowing it. Your words matter, your thoughts matter, your art matters. So come and join us.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Simple Lace Scarf Pattern

I wrote about this scarf last month, but wanted to officially post the pattern with decent pictures. That's my sister Hil modeling the scarf after I gave it to her last night. She's just starting to get a baby bump.

It's a simple one row lace scarf knit on big needles. The Malabrigo yarn that I used is pillow soft. I'm sensitive to wool and usually can't wear it next to my skin, but this yarn didn't bother me at all when I tried on the scarf.

After I washed it in rinse-free Soak and blocked it, the pattern opened up and it got quite a bit longer. (Flora-scented Soak smells SO good. )

If you want your scarf narrower or wider, just be sure to cast on a multiple of four stitches. I think this pattern would also look good in a fine weight yarn using much smaller needles.


Two skeins of Malabrigo Merino Worsted

Size 15 needles


K2: knit two stitches

YO: yarn over

PSSO: pass slipped stitch over

To knit the scarf:

Using size 15 needles, cast on 16 stitches.

Row one: *K2, YO, slip one stitch purlwise, K1, PSSO*, repeat to end of row.

Repeat row one until scarf reaches desired length.

Cast off and enjoy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Quiet time

It's a good thing I'm done with all of my gift shopping because I had a small meltdown at the mall yesterday. It happens at least once every holiday season (but usually more).

The stress, the crowds, the running around, the exhaustion. I end up snapping at some poor sales clerk who is probably more frazzled than I am. I apologized to the young woman at LensCrafters who triggered my tantrum yesterday and drove straight home for some much needed quiet time.

Today I'm trying to take it easy. It's relaxing just sitting in the living room with the sliding glass door open, listening to the distinct sound of the hummingbirds in the Eucalyptus trees. They make frequent visits to the feeder I put up a couple weeks ago-- this picture was taken a few minutes ago.

But there remains a gnawing inside of me that wants to go out and run around some more, to spend, spend, spend because the dozens of gifts I already purchased couldn't possibly be good enough.

I'm not going to succumb. Instead I'm going to do the three things that I know will calm me down so I can make wise choices (including acting like a grown up when I have to wait too long in line):

1. Go out for a leisurely lunch.

2. Take a long walk.

3. Get in bed, snuggle up with my two cats, and read a good book.

Have a good weekend, and may you be meltdown-free.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The joy of knitting books

This morning I started to write a post about my favorite knitting books. I was going to begin by telling you that the books I've bought over the last five years were a good investment, but I don't plan to buy any more for a while because they tend to be pricey and there are plenty of free patterns available on the Internet.

But something funny happened. As I was writing, I realized how much I love my knitting books. I return to them again and again for inspiration, to revisit favorite patterns, refresh my memory on how to do certain techniques, and sometimes just to look at the pretty pictures. They are particularly useful late at night when I'm too tired to read a novel but not tired enough to fall sleep.

It was difficult trying to pick my favorites because almost all of them have something special to offer. They're like comfortable old friends. The worn out Leisure Arts books I bought when I first learned to knit have a special place in my heart. The Louisa Harding books are simply gorgeous, and the Knitting for Baby book has some of the cutest babies I've ever seen (the patterns are quite nice, too).

The more I thought about it, the more I recognized the value of knitting books and began to rethink my decision not to buy them.

So this evening I treated myself to a a book that caught my eye last month at my local yarn shop. More Last Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson.

It has some of the cutest patterns I've seen in a long time, like this knit house and fingerless gloves. There are many more patterns I'd like to knit, but even if all I ever do is look at the pictures again and again, it was totally worth the price.

I've only owned this book for a couple of hours and I already love it.

Do you have a favorite knitting or craft book?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sock progress

I made quite a bit of progress on my sock over the weekend, which kind of surprised me.

I think I was holding my breath, waiting to discover a dropped stitch, short row mistake, or some other glitch that would give me an excuse to abandon the project in frustration. (See, I really can’t knit a sock! So there.)

But it didn't happen. The toe is done. The heel is shaped. The cuff will soon begin.

I don’t want to jinx it, but I think might actually complete an entire pair of socks this time. Up until this point I have only knit one ugly orange cotton sock and a half of a pretty bamboo one.

These might be the reasons I am on track to finish this particular pair:

1. I’m using wool yarn. So much easier to work with than cotton or bamboo.

2. The yarn is soft, pretty, and self-striping. Love those stripes.

3. It's the toe-up method rather than cuff-down. I prefer it, maybe because it's the first method I learned.

4. I’m not troubled by the little imperfections here and there. As my wise sock teacher once said, “This is your first pair of socks, not your last.” Or in my case, this is my third attempt, not my last.

On a different subject, a big thank you to AllFreeKnitting and Totally Tutorials for featuring my pattern for a miniature knitting bag on their website. It's a great holiday project because it can be used as an ornament, to decorate a gift, or even turned in to a brooch. One clever knitter on Ravelry made a smaller version as a key chain.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Simply Knitting

When I started this blog almost two years ago, I had a vision, albeit a blurry one, of what it would be about. I wanted to design original knitting patterns, share them on Ravelry and improve my skills by knitting larger and more complex items.

I did end up designing a few things. Nothing terribly complicated, just some easy scarves, bags, booties and fingerless gloves. My mesh bamboo scarf is the most viewed page on my blog, and with the arrival of cold weather the gloves are getting a little bit of attention. It's gratifying when someone knits one of my patterns and posts the project on Ravelry.

But it's been a while since I designed a pattern. And I've not attempted to knit anything too big or complicated since I started this blog other than a lace shawl (which turned out to be rather small and easy). At this point in time, I'm knitting garter stitch scarves.

Garter stitch scarves. The kind that are your very first knitting project, the kind that are supposed to get monotonous after you've made one for each member of your family. I've read enough knitting books to understand that garter stitch scarves are kindergarten knitting; they are the finger painting of the fiber world.

But the truth is, I like how they look and enjoy knitting them. I don't have to remember to use my row counter or glance at a pattern every few minutes. It's like being transported back to a simpler time before you knew about tricky techniques like a Turkish cast-on or three-needle bind off, when you had no idea how to use circular needles and didn't care, when terms like K2TOG and YO made your eyes glaze over. In those days, knitting with acrylic yarn was perfectly acceptable and the smallest needle size in your collection was maybe a US 6 (but you never used it).

So here I am, finger painting scarves while forgetting how to do a proper wrap and turn. Simply knitting. While I do plan to return to the world of purl stitches, yarn overs and short rows, for now the basic act of creating something with two sticks and some pretty string is enough.