February 17, 2015

11 If Ever a Sweater Had a Romantic Backstory, It Is This One.

I love this sweater for a ton of reasons.  I love how intricate it looks, I love how the colors shift.  I love how damn good it looks on, and I love how it's been worn (to my surprise!) virtually every day since the December birthday it was gifted on.  But most of all, I love the story behind this sweater -- because for me, it describes how my husband and I have somehow managed to knit ourselves together.

For this story, we get to rewind to a time before him and I -- to a time when we were deep in other lives.  Never had a handknit crossed his path, nor was there any hope that one from my hands would ever come to pass.  This story begins far far from home in Japan, the land of Noro yarn.  A surprising turn of events had us visiting Tokyo for work, as colleagues, and on an off-day I invited him to see the city through a yarn-o-phile's eyes.  Now, some of you may know that following a determined woman with a list of yarn shops is quite an adventure.  Take a lady like that up on her offer, should it come, look what could result!

Well, I had a big list from Ravelry and an even bigger map, but oh my -- is Tokyo EVER so big.  We found ourselves on trains, trams, streets and suburbs.  Lost in a wealthy backdrop on the way to La Droguerie, passing 3 times back and forth until we spied Avril in Kichijoji, repeat offenders at 2 lovable Tokyu Hands, and the final stop to the ginormous out-of-this-world craft mecca Yuzawaya.

Yes, Yuzawaya has the best logo ever created.  (take that, Apple!)

Listen -- it's a big complex trip out to the suburbs, but if you are ever in Tokyo, you must go to Yuzawaya.  This place is a crafting warehouse -- with at least 5 floors, and each absolutely enormous floor devoted to a single craft!  I AM SERIOUS>>> There is no more craft-devoted place on earth than Japan.  It just makes you want to scream every time someone says in North America, "Oh my god you knit?!  My grandma knitted but I haven't seen anyone your age do it!"

We climbed past the scrapbooking floor (the size of Amazon.com), the beading floor (the size of Walmart) up and up to the YARN floor.  To give you a better idea of the enormity of what I am talking about, you can't even buy single balls.  There are just bags and bags and bags of 10 balls of yarn.  You buy 10, 20, 30, 100 or nothing.  There is a Noro WING, for god's sake!!!  Bags and bags and bags of Noro, and you know as well as I do that you need to buy double the Noro you may need if you want to match the darn stuff.

I will curse myself to this day for not getting a photo -- but I saw a brand of yarn with a young Brad Pitt plastered on every ball band.  YES.  Brad Pitt yarn.  You know the Bill Murray movie Lost in Translation, highlighting the phenomenon of famous American actors featuring in strange Japanese ads?  Well, Bill Murray was lucky, he had high-end whisky.  Brad?  He was 100% acrylic.  HA!

This bag is filled with 20 balls of Noro Silk Garden.  Not picked by me.  Picked by my husband-to-be 3 years prior, before we were even together!  I picked the crazy pink and orange and green one, and he kept pointing to the sober manly blue and green and yellow one.  And I gave in.  Probably the last time in our relationship.  ;)

Let's fast-forward five years, shall we?  A 180-degree turn and we are astounded to find ourselves on a bigger adventure together, married and buying a house in Bar Harbor, Maine.  B. is spoiled, expecting his yearly handknit sweater of course, and I show him a stellar free pattern from Rowan designed by Brandon Mably, Balkan:

He loved it - BUT he didn't want the Rowan Colourspun it called for -- he wanted the Noro he "picked for it" 5 years ago.  As in, 5 years before the pattern was designed??  I said, "Hey, that Noro is for me, you picked it for me!"  And with a serious don't-f-with-me look he makes it clear that no, no, silly woman, he picked it for himself.

Hmph.  Sneaky.

Actually, it wasn't quite in that order.  He liked the pattern, but the shrieking for it to be made didn't really happen until he found the contrast yarn in a Montreal yarn shop 10,371 km away from Yuzawaya.  This is the absolutely sublime Stonehenge Fiber Mill Shepherd's Wool.

The idea was simple, use the Shepherd's Wool as the background and let Noro do the talking.

And man, did it talk!  How awesome is this sweater?!  It's more of a hit than I anticipated.  In fact, the Shepherd's Wool is such a soft wool that it may not be hardy enough for the daily wear it receives.  I've become that chimp that surreptitiously removes pills while he's trying to do something.

I highly recommend this pattern.  It is manly, hipster, loud, quiet and high-end all at once.  And, did you get that it was free, too?!  Put that on your bass and pluck it.

And now for some house updates!

First off, we were tricked into thinking that this wasn't a very snowy place.  Look at our great wonder at some measly flakes.

WELL.  That became this.

Yeah, why not look awesome while you shovel?

Do you remember that overwhelmingly "6-feet under" feeling we used to have?

Enter a breath of fresh Cape Cod air!

Bare bones after painting.

I can't wait to show you the finished decorated version -- but now we are living downstairs on that couch because we decided we couldn't stand the floor-to-floor carpet upstairs.  Hard wood floors, here we come!

Remnants of nasty carpet pad!

We learned the hard way (by smelling like burnt steak for 3 days) that our over-the-stove vent was only recirculating grease and smoke back into the house, so we had a hole poked through our house to vent it.  Yikes, that freaked me out!  Especially when they cut the stud that (of course) was exactly placed there.  All good, we celebrated in non-smoky style with seared lamb chops!

And do you remember the abandoned property that is behind our house that I was very interested in knowing more about?

 Well, an owner of a local yarn business found my posts through Ravelry!  Can you believe she used to live there, learned how to spin in the little housy-house above, and helped clear the land in the 80s? She has been in the yarn dyeing business for a good while, and I will be visiting her new venture Seven Sisters Arts in Blue Hill, Maine this Saturday!  What a small world, hey???  And to imagine the story even involves yarn, oh Maine.

So excited to see this stuff...

Otherwise, we are hunkered down like most in Maine, waiting for the thaw (and the inundated basement).  Next big house changes: kitchen island, mud room and screened-in porch before the black flies.  No rest for the weary!

See my Balkan in Noro on Ravelry

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January 23, 2015

14 And Now I Will Hypnotize You Into Sending Me Yarn -- Rowan KAL Kaffghan

I hope your eyes aren't crossing too much to read my overly proud post!  This is my stunning Kaffghan (no modesty here) -- named for the designer of this 2nd Rowan KAL and one of my knitting idols, Kaffe Fassett.  Now, to be fair, he and I are loosely collaborating on this, as I've gone rogue on his design.  I talked all about my approach in this post, but the original design is a fabulous mash of colors matched in his classic highly explosive fashion.

Here is a montage of some of the wonderful Kaffghans that have been posted in the Show-off Rowan KAL thread on Ravelry, to give you a taste of the original design.  It came in 4 different colorways, brown, turqouise, red and pastel.  Some people, naturally, added their own colorful touches!

For all the authors of these wonderful versions, here is the thread filtered by photos only.

You'll spy some Kaffushions in there, too!  (Go ahead, say Kaffushions out loud, you won't be sorry).  The afghan is created by knitting squares on the bias, to create a woozy diagonal stripe motif.  63 squares are then linked together for the afghan.  It's knit using Rowan Pure Wool Worsted, a superwash yarn.  I've used it to make quite a few things now, my Martin Storey KAL Afghan and my Laszlo Cardigan.   I'd say it wears better in the blanket than the cardigan.  It's really excellent stuff for a blanket.

Download the free Martin Storey KAL afghan pattern, here.

See my Laszlo Cardigan on Ravelry, here.

Now, if you think about it, 63 squares is a weird number for an afghan.  Especially if you look at how the design forms, you'll see that the real motifs are sets of 4 squares, like this:

And 63 is NOT divisible by 4!  I wanted op-art symmetry in my afghan.  SUPREME symmetry.  One choice was to make 64 squares, but who was ever comfortable lounging under a square?  I needed one side longer, so it had to become a 10x8 afghan with 80 squares.  Yes, I knit 17 more of these little buggers -- but it was well worth it to see every foursome go cleanly to the edges.

I had originally picked all of the colors myself, but then with the extra squares I needed a couple more shades to round it all out.  That's where your knitting peeps come in!  Despite my protests, everyone told me to keep the pastel pink and bring in an almost-fluo magenta.  Couldn't be happier, good job girls.

It's my first FO in Maine, you know.  This means that it just has to be part of the decor, right?

The truth is it will just be crinkled up on the couch, because I plan for this Kaffghan to be In Use At All Times.

Some of you might have knitted all of your squares and are wondering what to do next.  I sewed my squares together using mattress stitch, just like in the first Rowan KAL by Martin Storey, that post is here.  For that afghan, the border was knitted separately and sewn on later, a bit annoying.  That post also details how to use short rows to turn corners in the cabled border.   Imagine how pleased I was to see that the Kaffghan instructions used short rows to turn corners, too?  Even better, the 7-stitch garter border included instructions on knitting it on as you go = NO SEWING.

***NOTE:*** The pattern says to link your border every 2 of 3 stitches.  I found this to be way too tight.  Go ahead and try different rates of attachment, 3 of 4, 4 of 5, etc, that will match with the drape of your knitting.  I settled on 5 stitches out of 6 and am very pleased.  I thought I would use more yarn, but I seem to still have only used 2 balls for the trim, even with the 80 squares instead of 63.

And since I have been talking about the two afghan KALs, the other requirement is of course to have something beautiful to start piling these afghans into for storage.

Now, I happen to know that Rowan is going to keep these fun KALs going  -- but don't you fear, the next one is NOT an afghan!!  It will be a CAL actually (crochet), designed by Lisa Richardson using the new 100% Egyptian giza cotton yarn Rowan Summerlite 4-ply.  You can make a baby blanket, or a small/large ladies shawl/wrap.  I just spied this ad in their newsletter this month.  You can sign up for the newsletter here, by getting a free membership at knitrowan.com.

And now for some house updates!  (Go here for an intro to my house.)  First off... THE TEDDY BEARS HAVE BEEN BANISHED TO TEDDY BEAR HELL.

Our in-home cinema room is painted in Sherwin Williams "Gray Screen" for our red carpet events...

And the nauseously happy sunshine yellow in the bathroom has been replaced by a soothingly thunderous sky...

Finally, our propane gas stove is being installed, amongst what must be real "swearing" by the sweetest Mainer gas man alive, "Ohhhhh, geez!" and "Ohhhhhh, Wowowowowow" and "Oh dear, what an unUSSSSSual construction!!!!!"

Housewarming gift, literally!

I love how big the oven window is on this thing, by the way.  And I really love the clean lines of this linear grate.  I absolutely despise all the spiny, dragon tongue, stuck-behind-a-Victorian-sewer-grate look of gas stove tops these days.

But here's the real kicker.  I had a basement guy come in because there is evidence of water penetration, and after the inspection he comes up and says, "You know, you have an interesting feature down there."  My mind ran over all sorts of weird things, mostly involving bugs or dead carcasses, but I never imagined he would say, "You have a marijuana growing box."  OMG!  At least 5 people opened that box, if not more... and it never occurred to any of us!

Yeah, it's a glorified plywood box with a fluo lamp above and lined with foil.  HILARIOUS.

I also learned some more about the property behind us.  If you remember, it's a hippie-homestead place with a hobbit house and all sorts of eco-driven enclosures, that was abandoned when the house burned.  Well, apparently from my local Bar Harbor knitting meeting which meets in this gorgeous library...

... the property was referred to as The Dark Continent.  SPOOKY.  True to its name, there are little houses throughout the forest, including this one owned by The Blair Witch, a proud supporter of Ralph Nader.

Bumper sticker says Nader/Laduke

A desk to ghost write (literally) Stephen King novels.

In other news, my painter who owns nearby Snugglemagic Farm, raises alpacas and spins their yarn, stopped by with these beauties!!!  What shall I make?  I need to count the yardage, I am so excited and thrilled that she would give me an opportunity to knit with her wares.  :)))

If you are dying to know what other craziness I discover in my new home, don't forget to follow my blog!  Oh yeah, there will be some knitting, too.  ;)

See My Kaffghan on Ravelry

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