Still Waiting….

Well, the cheerleading squad has assembled, both my mom and dad are now in attendance, and every day I wake up to “is she here yet” “are you still pregnant” and from my mom – “have you had any contractions?”.

Still nada, niente, nothing. I’ve had some twinges on and off, I had a single contraction yesterday morning, and nothing at all since then. Little Miss Blueberry is certainly taking her sweet time! Must admit I’m quite fed up with the pregnancy – especially the itching. It’s like Chinese water torture. A little bit at a time, but completely unrelenting. I just want to be able to be still, lie or sit down and not have my skin hurt! Cranky, moi?

I did get some goodies in the post to brighten my day – my Cookie A sock club parcel, with a glorious red yarn. A big yarn order from Woolen Rabbit for a jumper for me (same yarn as hubby’s Christmas jumper except in a happy red orange colour), my amazon book order and a lovely little jumper knit by my friend Marja. Now for the stork to bring me another little parcel….

I’d been waiting on tenterhooks for The Principles of Knitting, an updated edition of a reference book that has nearly legendary status. It’s a huge tome, and does have quite alot of information in it… having said that, I have to admit I am a little ‘meh’ about it – compared to my Montse Stanley book, I’m not at all convinced TPOK is all that. There were only a few techniques in there that I hadn’t come across (like doing a double stranded tubular cast-on to get a 2×2 rib cast-on, a different approach to the one in the Montse Stanley book), although it was a plus to have a plethora of techniques in one tome. I also like the use of the sewn bind off (EZ’s sewn bind off, called the half-hitch cast-off in the book) to finish a buttonhole using waste yarn (like an afterthought heel).

I’ll spend more time working through the techniques, so hopefully I will find some more nuggets of inspiration in there. There are chapters on garment sizing, schematics, and calculations for pattern design which I’m looking forward to getting stuck into. I like the info about cleaning and ‘dressing’ which is washing and blocking in modern parlance. Useful reference.

I will say that the needle size chart at the back caused me to suck my breath in horror. They are listed in metric, US and British sizes (which really should be ‘old’ British sizes as they are all metric now!) Why am I horrified? Well, first off, I have never seen needles in the old British sizes… despite having lived in England for over 12 years, except at the Victoria & Albert museum. I have also never seen metric knitting needles in 2.3mm, 2.8mm, 3.125mm, 3.3mm, or 3.8mm sizes. For what should be an updated and revised edition of this book, this information is woefully outdated. And what shocks me even more is that 2.5mm and US1.5 needles are not even listed! This is supposed to be a comprehensive, updated reference guide… maybe as a sock knitter I am biased, but given the popularity of sock knitting, and the widespread use of 2.5mm/US1.5 needles I find it a pretty glaring oversight. So … initial thoughts? Huge tome. Lots of info. The directions are rather wordy and unless you’re very good at visualising text based instructions, you may have difficulty with figuring out how to work the technique in question. The use of totally different names to common names for techniques without any reference at all to other ways of referring to those techniques is weird and kind of obnoxious. Like me suddenly deciding to call short rows something different like ‘syncopated knitting’ and not mentioning at all that some people call them short rows.

My take is that if you’re a curious adventurous knitter… it is likely that much of the information regarding techniques will be something you’ve already come across – or knit already (especially Knit Love Club members!), and that much information you’ll already know, especially if you have a decent library including Clara Parke’s books, Anna Zilboorg’s Magnificent Mittens or Nancy Bush’s Folk Knitting in Estonia, and Elizabeth Zimmerman’s books. It is nice having all the info in one place, but it takes away the enjoyment of spending time with other authors… who are rather more engaging to read. I’ll withhold comment on the Pattern Design section until I’ve had some time to work through it and see if that itself is worth the price of admission….

Enter the Dragon

Monday marks the start of the Year of Dragon. My mom arrives on Monday, and will be armed with niangao (a traditional chinese new year cake). Since the ones here are cantonese style and don’t taste the same as the Taiwanese ones, I made a special request of my mom to bring some from home. We’ve got dumplings we can eat too so we’re all set.

We’ve had a thorough spring clean so we’re ready to face the new year. Our old Gaggia was on its last legs, so we needed to get a replacement. Lately I’ve been finding that, much as I love to pull a great shot, the time it takes, and the noise the steam wand makes when frothing milk, I just can’t be asked with all the faff.  I figure with baby coming too the simpler, faster and quieter, the better. My mom and friend M both have Nespresso machines, and are both quite happy with them. The choice of different espresso pods is pretty impressive, the fact that there is virtually no mess, and Nespresso has a super easy recycling system for the 100% aluminum pods made it an easy choice. I was tempted by the limited edition Shanghai Tang dragon Nespresso machine, but decided against it as it didn’t include the milk frother and larger base and in person, it didn’t look as good as in the photos. So instead, I brought home this baby in a bright dragon red, with a lovely matching red laquer box to home all the pods (it does have a cool dragon on it).

We have a couple sets of Illy Collection cappuccino and espresso cups which we I love but found them too fancy to use with the gaggia, but for some reason, I really love using them with the nespresso machine.  At the shop, I tried out a bunch of different espressos- some with the most amazing crema (Arpeggio and the limited edition Kazaar had amazing guinness like crema).  The lighter coffees, unsurprisingly, were very nice as lungos but not so much as espresso shots.

The coolest thing is the frother – it makes the most perfect microfoam (literally like a smooth sheen on the surface, you can’t even make out any bubbles!) and best of all, takes about 10 seconds to froth and is so quiet you have too look at it to tell if it’s working.  So easy. In fact, everything about the machine is just super easy.  So happy!  Lest you worry that I’m taking in too much caffeine, I bought a bunch of decaf pods so I’m all set (and the lady at the Nespresso shot made sure to tell me to only sip a little from each shot, since I tried like 8 of them).

Another Chinese New Year tradition is to wear new clothes. Since I’m about to pop, there is little point in buying new clothes at this stage. So instead, I bought some new tools for work, and really indulged. I got a set of Signature circulars. These are like Aston Martins of the needle world and really are lovely to behold, and a pleasure to use.   I got them in the post today, and ripped them open just before we headed out for lunch so I could cast-on a swatch.  Sadly they don’t do the smaller sized needles (for socks) but they have from 3.25mm upwards so I got a set from 3.25mm to 5mm.  Hopefully they will have 2.25, 2.5 and 2.75mm soon as those are ones I am most excited to get my little mitts on.

They are colour coded by size, and have the size of the needle etched into them.  No need to run around trying to find my needle gauge while clutching a handful of needles trying to find the right size!  I took a pair of 4.5mm circs (also in red – all very Dragon-esque) and started a swatch of a merino/cashmere yarn I’m test driving.  Loving the needles, and the yarn so far, but the real test is how well the yarn stands up to some abuse.

DH’s Xmas Jumper: FO

You remember my last minute whim decision to knit hubby a jumper, and how Kim at the Woolen Rabbit totally pulled through for me and sent me the yarn at record speed? I knit away like a demon possessed, but despite my rather optimistic/delusional belief that I’d finish in time for Christmas dinner, by dinner time on Christmas day no matter how I looked at the sweater, I had to admit that DH could not wear it out as it was. That sucker was not finished. Close, but no cigar. I still had the neck to finish and the collar to knit, not to mention all the blasted ends to weave in (at this point I was on my seventh skein).

So I continued to knit and knit and knit…. and finally, finally! on Boxing Day victory was mine.

So, in pictures, the story of a Woolen Rabbit WW Kashmir yarn (80% Merino, 10% Cashmere, 10% Nylon) that was dyed lovingly in New Hampshire and sent post haste halfway across the earth to Hong Kong, and which with the clickety clack of needles, some entertainment in the form of a very dialogue light cowboy movie (hubby’s choice: Once Upon a Time in the West), Harry Potter’s Order of the Pheonix, and a couple audiobooks, grew up to be a cozy jumper for my hubby.

8 skeins of WW Kashmir in Enchanted Forest arrived 18 December

20th December

22nd December

Christmas Eve

Christmas, end of day

And the finish line on Boxing Day, the FO (finished object)!

Back of sweater

Front of sweater, lattice detail

And hubby himself modelling the finished, blocked product with all ends woven in! Fits him perfectly and is nice and cozy and warm.  Perfect for the coming colder days.

DH’s Xmas Jumper (Rav project link)

Pattern: Carol Feller’s Lattice Sweater (aka Terry’s Pullover -Rav pattern link), 44 3/4″ size

Yarn: WW Kashmir from the Woolen Rabbit, 175 yards (160 metres) per 115g skein

Gauge: 19 sts and 28 rows per 4″ in st st.

The called for gauge was 19st and 25 rows.  I got the stitches per inch gauge which is the  most important one.  I used 7 skeins plus 10 grams of the 8th skein to finish – approximately 1240 yards/1134 metres.  The pattern calls for 1232 yards/1120 metres so despite my rows per inch gauge requiring slightly more yarn than the pattern calls for, the estimated yardage from the pattern was spot on.

Mods:

-Knit arms in the round rather than flat.
-Added a crochet reinforcement to back neck as I worried there would be stretch there since the collar is knit in one piece up from the raglan decreases of the chest/neck.
-Used shadow wraps for short rows on the collar instead of the w&t method.
-Used EZ sewn bind off on collar to match long tail cast-on for cuffs & hem.

Otherwise knit to pattern as specified. Nicely written, easy to follow, simple and pleasurable knit.

Cookies & Sweaters

Merry Christmas Eve! There has been crazy knitting and I’m pleased that I’m sort of knitting to schedule –

This was the knitting schedule:
22 Dec: Finish body (7″ inches more) & split for arms. Knit arm
23 Dec: Finish first arm, knit other arm.
24 Dec: Finish other arm. Join to arms to body, knit neck. Finish & Block.

So far I’ve managed:
22 Dec: Yay! Body done & split for arms. Boom!

23 Dec: Arm number 1 done. Boom!

24 Dec: Arm 1 joined to body, boom! Knitting on arm 2.

Realisation has dawned that I’m not going to finish the neck and arm number 2 today. I can knit about a skein and a half in a day, but as I completely omitted including the chest/shoulder decreases into my knitting schedule I think that after the arm is done (1 skein) that the chest and neck will take another 2 skeins. But, am happy that there is a good chance that the sweater (lol not overalls! now that would indeed be totally nuts J!!) will be done, though not blocked, tomorrow night in time for our yuletide fondue Christmas dinner fest. Woot!

Now that Coookie’s last sock club packet has been issued, I can show you what I’ve been baking! I was lucky enough to be asked to be a guest baker twice – the first time was for my favourite white chocolate macadamia nut cookies, and the second time for these socktastic sugar cookies (my favourite festive cookie)! I just love how they came out.

Aren’t they just the cutest? And they were tasty too. Glad though that all the cookies have been baked and eaten (not all by me thankfully!) as my blood sugar got a little too high with all the Christmas cookies (I got a little finger wagging at my last OBY appointment).

Have a wonderful Christmas Eve – I hope Santa is good to you!

Delusional Holiday Knitting

My two furballs are actually playing together!! It started earlier this week – and they are really started to have a good time. Here’s a little vid I captured this morning – you get to glimpse my awesome Life is Good pjs. Playtime sort of ended when hubby decided to wipe Meimei’s butt as he thought she sat in her pee (**rolls eyes**).

DH is now officially on holiday until after the New Year – so this morning we took Deuce down to the park for a little run around. He’s now snoozing away after coming home and playing with Meimei some more. So sweet!

I decided, at the last minute, to knit DH a jumper for Christmas. Of course, the yarn had to be from the Woolen Rabbit in the US who only dyes to order, who also happened to be undergoing back surgery on the 16th of December…. but when I sent my crazy email asking if Kim could dye the yarn and send it express to Hong Kong, Kim didn’t balk. She dyed up my yarn in 2 days and posted it to me the day of her surgery. What incredible service – and beautiful yarn and colourway to boot! I got it two days later and cast-on.

This was progress as at the 20th December – about 2″ worth of ribbing.

And today midday 9.5″ of jumper.

This is the knitting schedule:
22 Dec (today): Finish body (7″ inches more) & split for arms. Knit arm
23 Dec: Finish first arm, knit other arm.
24 Dec: Finish other arm. Join to arms to body, knit neck. Finish & Block.

I’m not entirely sure how realistic this schedule is; in fact, I fear it may be plain delusional; but what’s a holiday gift knit if it doesn’t have an edge of insanity to it? So I plan on doing all our activities today while knitting – took Deuce out for a walk and knit the whole while, later we’ve got to head out to the pet shop and get some dog food for Deuce so I’ll be shopping and knitting. Ooh boy, I like to live life on the edge. 😉

Doesn’t Meimei look sweet and innocent here? This was taken right after she was finished being a little terror running around and pulling anything she could reach off the coffee table and chairs and hiding with her treasures (tissues, toilet roll, my knitting!!!) under the sofa so I couldn’t reach her. She is a clever little imp. When she rolls around on her back looking so cute, who can stay mad?

32 weeks 4 days

Lesley the sweetheart very kindly asked me to redraw a name for the Socktopus book prize – since she’s a muggle and her partner already has the book. The new winner is dear Eirwen!

My belly has taken on a life of its own (literally) and is now a great protrusion from my body. It’s amazing how much it has grown over the short span of a couple weeks. DH took a photo of the bump this morning – it’s funny how you don’t really see yourself properly until you see a photo of yourself! It really isn’t the same as looking in the mirror. I look like I have a basketball shoved up my shirt.

Breathing is getting harder – I’m often short of breath, and the amount of water I now consume is pretty crazy. I even have dreams I am drinking water but still thirsty. The cool thing is that I haven’t had to buy too many maternity clothes – most of my tshirts will fit over the bump, and my two pairs of maternity jeans are definitely being put to use. The only complaints I have are mild to intense itching on my sides, and getting lightheaded when I bend over – otherwise am happy to report am feeling fine, and can still comfortable sit on the floor!

The past weeks I’ve been organising the volunteer’s Christmas party for Hong Kong Dog Rescue, but since it is a fairly informal affair it really was just getting the food and drinks sorted for the party which took place last night. It was really lovely to meet all the people that keep the wheels of HKDR running, though I have to admit I was knackered as I hadn’t slept well the night before.  Still was good fun and so nice to see all those happy faces!

On Wednesday I went to my first Hong Kong knit night – and met fellow knitters! There is a secret santa next Wednesday so I’m looking forward to that too.

It’s been a bit weird living in a vacuum – being here without the benefit of a structured social environment like school or work means the opportunity for meeting people is mostly 2 degrees apart – that is friends of friends, so it was doubly nice to finally have the time and opportunity to get out and meet people with similar interests like at knit night and at the HKDR party.

DH went to a 1920s fancy dress party this week – and had a cracker of a costume. He managed to pull it together at the last minute by buying a pair of herring bone trousers and vest from H&M, pairing it with some rowing socks and his uni bow tie.  Pretty Great Gasby, no? He’s just missing a walking stick and fedora!

I picked up a wee Christmas tree this week as well – only 3 feet tall, small but perfect for living on top of the cabinet. I figured  it was much safer to have the tree out of reach of furry little imps.

I also got it into my head to knit a big cozy throw to match our sofa.  I was member to a couple yarn & pattern clubs this year, one of them being my friend Anne’s Fall in Full Colour club.  The second last yarn installment was a worsted weight yarn from Briar Rose in a gorgeous autumnal colourway (Fourth of July, but not sure what the colourway is called) which just sang to me.  I managed, through trading with others in the club, to get my paws on 5 hefty skeins of the colourway (over 2000 yards worth!).  Once my very last pattern for the Knit Love Club 2011 year was sent out, I wound a skein and cast-on as reward.  I had to play around with a few stitch patterns to find something that worked with the colourway (it has really short colour repeats) and finally settling on a comfortingly mindless and easy herringbone stitch.  I have 362 sts on the needles, which, at 6 sts per inch gives me a width of 5 feet. I’d like the throw to be at least 5 feet long…. and the row gauge is 6 rows per inch.  The photo below has 8 rows – so just over an inch.  I think this is going to be a long term project… I’ll be pleased if I finish it before the end of 2012.  Am really loving how it is coming out, it will be soft, squishy, and warm!

And for Meimei’s international peanut gallery, this is a recent video of her being a little rascal.  Poor Deuce!

Contemporary Irish Knits

Just before I headed off to LA, I received this gem in the post:

Carol Feller invited me to be part the international blog tour of her first book Contemporary Irish Knits. Having seen some of her gorgeous designs in The Twist Collective and Interweave Knits, and knowing from her classes at Knit Nation 2011 that she has a penchant for seamless construction and innovative structural design (I think a background in engineering and art are to thank for this), I naturally jumped a the chance.  Following on from Stephanie Tallent’s interview, it’s now my turn to review her book.  If you want to follow the tour, the next stop is Michelle Miller. The full Tour is listed below.

15/9/2011 Stephen West
17/9/2011 Hoxton Handmade
21/9/2011 Shannon Okey
23/9/2011 Rosemary Hill
25/9/2011 Ann Kingstone
27/9/2011 Marly Bird
29/9/2011 JC Briar
1/10/2011 Woolly Wormhead
3/10/2011 Anne Hanson
7/10/2011 Stephannie Tallent
11/10/2011 Alice Yu
13/10/2011 Michelle Miller
15/10/2011 Deirdre Thornton
17/10/2011 Ilga Leja

Carol’s take on tradition is much like my own; that instead of a relic of the past, tradition is actually a creation of our own heritage, that is, a part of us that we create into something new and meaningful.  I was surprised to learn that Aran knitting is not a centuries old Irish craft – but instead, like Bohus sweaters, arose out of financial necessity in the 1950s and were knit primarily by women for family income.   Despite its relative youth, its impact has been such that Aran knitting is now a typically Irish tradition.  Carol embraces this and infuses it with her own creativity, making garments which are shaped and flattering for more 21st century tastes.

Contemporary Irish Knits
© Joseph Feller

What makes this book stand out is the background information Carol provides alongside her designs; Contemporary Irish Knits is effectively a comfy armchair voyage into the heart of Irish knitting tradition. Three sections of the book are dedicated to the remaining mills in Ireland which continue to produce hand knitting yarns.  Each section has a review of the mill’s yarns, including how to use the qualities of each yarn to their best advantage (for example, sticky yarn for steeking, firmer yarn for structure and shape, and nepps for colour and texture). Paired with a peek inside each mill are Carol’s designs, each using the showcased mill’s yarns.  True to Carol’s take on tradition, she doesn’t ignore tradition in the making; the final section is dedicated to contemporary Irish hand dyers – Dublin Dye Company and Hedgehog Fibres. Again Carol provides a pair of designs for each dyer’s yarns, a cowl and fingerless gloves for Dublin Dye Company and a hat and matching fingerless gloves for Hedgehog Fibres.

Coming from an engineering background, it’s no surprise that the garments themselves are engineered so that the textured elements of the garments run along parts of the body where thicker or firmer fabric won’t have a detrimental effect on fit – nicely set shoulders, properly fitted waists and underarms are all cleverly integrated into a well thought out design. Carol doesn’t just keep with women’s cardigans -no, no! Not so dull here – the garments range from shawls, to fingerless gloves, men’s jumpers, boy’s vests, little girl’s shrugs – something for everyone as you can see from the photos above. Each women’s garment has 7 sizes to work from, the men’s and children’s garments have 5. In addition to these, Carol also provides excellent tips on shaping and fitting to your size, for women, children and men.

Along with clear charts and schematics to size each garment Carol helpfully gives not just the finished measurements but also the suggested measurements of the wearer to give the knitter an idea of the ease each garment should have – vital when it comes to textured garments since cables can make the fabric quite thick and thus affect how much ease one should have for a comfortable and flattering fit.

Leave a comment at the end of this post by 9pm BST Friday 15 October for a chance to win a copy of Contemporary Irish Knits generously donated by Carol Feller.  You can also purchase the book here.

Don’t forget to visit Michelle’s tour stop on the 13th!