Thursday, November 29, 2007


While I was in Sierra Leone, the second project I worked on (besides some socks) was a shawl for my sister. It's her Christmas present, but she's going to be in Peru till January so it doesn't need to be done at Christmas. She's never seemed like a shawl person, but she said she'd like one, so of course I sprung into action!

She definitely seems like a geometric pattern person (rather than a leaf-y or flowery pattern person), so I'm making the faux Russian Stole from A Gathering of Lace. (It's faux because instead of knitting the center then adding the border, you knit the border as you go.) I've liked the pattern for a while, and Rachel provided the perfect excuse to make it.

Naturally, since I don't need to be finished till sometime in January (and my family is so laid back about presents that that's not really a firm deadline either), it's zipping along. (I'm about half done, and I'm not trying that hard.)

I'm using one of the skeins of Zephyr wool & silk from the group order the SnBers placed a while back, and I love it. It's the third (I think) time I've used this yarn, and it's lovely--you know how there are some yarns that are just quietly wonderful, without having any one amazing thing (say, being hand-dyed or made of cashmere) you can put your finger on? That's how I feel about Zephyr. Clearly, the merino and silk have everything to do with the wonderful-ness, but it doesn't scream Merino! And! Silk!

(I decided it was okay to write about the shawl, even though it's a present, because she picked it, I warned her it might be grey, and besides her internet time is somewhat limited--she's mostly emailing, not scouring the knitting blogs for hints about Christmas presents. Although speak up now if you're reading this, Rachel, and I won't post a post-blocking picture till after you've received the real thing.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mad Hatter

I'm going to use Katy's question about the hats as an excuse to write more about them, since I find the whole color thing completely amusing (although sadly, this set of hats isn't the greatest example).

So, here's the yarn I started with:

I'm terrible at estimating yarn requirements, so I figured I'd use #3 for my main color (it's Knitpicks Alpaca something, and I had nearly a full skien), double stranding it with the rest one at a time, going from dark to light starting at the brim (2, 1, 4, 5, 7, 6)

As it turned out, I only needed 1, 2 and part of 4 (plus most of 3).

I cast of 72 sts, knit in 2x2 rib for 4 or 5 rows, switched to stockinette and knit straight till the hat was tall enough that the opening was a little bit smaller than my hand when the brim covered my ears (this is clearly not at exact process), the started decreasing every other row.

Since there were 72 sts, I worked the decrease rows as k7, K2tog all around, then a plain row, then k6, k2 tog, all around, then a plain row, then K5... etc. Once I for to K3, K2tog I stopped knitting the plain rows between and decreased every row till I was just K2toging the while time. Then I broke the yarn, threaded it back it through the live stitches and pulled it tight.

Then I did it several more times:

Those last 2 hats really are different--see the variegated purple/blue/pink strip?

Monday, November 26, 2007


A picture of the Garnstudio jacket, which I love (although the angora sheds) and have to make an effort not to wear daily.

I was actually outside during daylight hours while my parents were here last week, and we took pictures.

I can't remember if I mentioned when I knit it (in about a week, because the gauge is so big, and the Schaefer Martha was so squishy that I couldn't help myself), but the directions for the sleeve cap shaping were a little wonky--either wrong or unclear, I'm not sure which. So in case you've found this post because you're about to knit the Garnstudio/Drops 103-1 Jacket, here's what I did instead:

At the length specified in pattern (between 34 and 49 cm, depending on size), I bound off 3 sts at the beginning of the next 2 rows, then 2 sts at the beginning of the next 2 rows (that part is in the pattern) Then I decreased 1 st at each end of every other right side row 6 times, then bound off 2 sts at the beginning of the next 2 sts, then bound off the remaining sts.

I was knitting the smallest size, and that made the sleeve cap tall enough that it fit the armhole.

And a semi-related story: my father went to a conference in Norway one summer while I was in college. My mother, one sister, and I went over afterwards to meet him. This was in the dark ages, pre-widespread internet, so I had no way to look up yarn stores before I went (technically, that's not true...a big enough library would have had phone books from major Norwegian cities). So I had to rely on my yarn radar (yarn-dar?), and one night on the way to dinner I spotted a yarn store. It was closed, but we came back the next day so I could poke around.

I stared at yarn and pattern books for as long as my family could stand, then bought 2 Drops books and several skeins of boucle yarn (also from Garnstudio, although evidently discontinued by now). The books were in Norwegian (as well as Finnish and Swedish), but I was certain I could figure them out based on 2 weeks of puzzling out Norwegian signs, plus my understanding of how patterns are written. I suspect the shop owner thought I was crazy--she told me specifically that the patterns weren't in English, in case I hadn't been able to tell. Having puzzled out patterns in various languages since then, I think that would have gone fine, although I never got around to it (and now the same patterns are online, for free, in English).

I hadn't been knitting long enough to estimate yardage requirements very well (and the whole meters to yards thing may have confused me as well), so it turned out when I got home that I only had enough yarn for a vest. I'd never seen the yarn in the US (remember: pre-internet!), so I made the vest, even though I didn't really wear vests at the time. After a couple of years of not wearing it, I gave it to charity.

And speaking of charity--I was going to post pictures of my charity hats and scrap yarn for Katy, but the pictures are apparently still in my camera, so that will have to wait.

Friday, November 23, 2007

More Socks

Clearly, the part of my brain that comes up with titles has not recovered from Thanksgiving yet.

Lacy Cable Socks

Anyway... I finished these socks last weekend (I think), and finally took a half-hearted picture. The yarn is Anne, from Schaefer. I made them up, using a stitch pattern from a Japanese stitch dictionary I bought when Kevin had a meeting in Singapore in 2006 (and I tagged along). It's a combination of little 2-stitch cables and 3-stitch slipped stitch thingies that look a little bit like cables and have an eyelet in the center. Clearly, I need to learn to read Japanese so I can call the stitch by its real name! Once I write it up, the pattern will be available from Schaefer Yarns, and if I'm super-coordinated, The Garter Belt too.

My parents have been visiting for Thanksgiving (happy turkey-day yesterday, by the way--I had stuffed squash), and there's been lots of knitting while talking. So I wouldn't mess up my sister's shawl, I've been making stockinette stitch hats out doubled-stranded scrap yarn for charity.

I like to use up scrap yarn on hats--I find a bunch of colors that match, then knit with 2 colors held together to make tweedy fabric. Ideally, I have enough of one color for the whole hat, and the other color changes to make subtle tweedy stripes, but sometimes that doesn't quite work out. Then I have to change both colors (ideally, not at the the same time) and the stripes are more noticeable. I feel guilty for not making mittens, but then I'd have to plan ahead a little better, to have enough of each color to make matching mittens.

Anyway--I've made four hats since yesterday morning, and I think I'm all hatted out for the moment. Since I finished the socks from Schaefer and then started knitting insta-hats (which go so fast they hardly count as projects), I'd gotten down to one "real" project on the needles (my sister's shawl), and it felt weird! Once last year I didn't have any project on my needles for nine hours (eight of which I was asleep...), and it felt unnatural. To make sure that doesn't happen again, I've cast on a sock and started plotting a sweater. Much better!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I'm a member of the Socks Knitters Anonymous group on Ravelry, which is having a sock-a-month knit-along with monthly themes. For most of the months, there's actually a choice of themes, plus a mystery sock (same idea as the Mystery Stole, with a new section of the pattern released each week) that fits one of the themes. I'm signed up to design the mystery socks for July, when the theme is microgauge (that is, an even smaller gauge than is usual for socks).

I told Laura about the knit-along when we met at Rhinebeck (that would be Laura from Schaefer Yarns), so the package she sent a couple of weeks ago included some Heather yarn for that project.

This one is definitely slated for socks. They've asked the designers to have someone test knit the pattern, so I'm going to use another of the skeins for that.

I just can't decide which one, because I'm suddenly very excited about knitting fair isle (mittens or a hat, nothing gigantic) from monochromatic handpainted yarn, and I think the blue/green and one of these browns would be great for that! What I can't tell (since I've only knitted fair isle once before, and that was with solid yarn), is whether I want the 2 colors to have the same amount of internal variation or not.

I mean, since the blue/green skein is both blue and green, would the pattern read better if I used the the brown on the left (actually brown and a very brown kind of pumpkin), or the one on the right (shades of the same brown)? Clearly, I will need to swatch. Maybe I will even take pictures of my swatches, as well as the (now finished) socks I designed and the shawl/blob I'm working on for my sister.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Speaking of the Pig

Evidently, I need to look at the Schaefer Yarn site more often, because the pig is there already!


See? Procrastinate long enough, and items will disappear from your to-do list!

New Patterns from The Garter Belt

I may have written about this before, but about this time last year I contacted the designers at The Garter Belt about joining the design team. They said yes, but then went on hiatus before I actually submitted any designs.

Well, we've un-hiatus-ed, and have just put out a new newsletter, with new designs and another new designer, Cindy. I've added "add TGB info to blog!!" to my mental list of the millions of things I'm going to get done this coming weekend (I am so productive in advance), but in the meantime, you can find everyone's designs through TGB site.

In related news, it turns out that I can distribute the patterns I've designed for Schaefer (the fish! the pig!) on my own as well, so setting that up is also on my to-do list. And I need to add all the patterns to Ravelry, take a million pictures, and knit through my alarming large stash of sock yarn. That last one may take a while--in the meantime, visit The Garter Belt!

Monday, November 19, 2007

'Tis the Season...

... of unbloggable knitting.

I usually give people a mix of bought and handmade gifts, depending on the person and how speedily I've been crafting (since not all the handmade presents are knitted). One of my sisters always used to get handmade socks, but then she moved to a warmer climate and I had to start keeping my socks. This year, she's asked for a shawl, but left all the details up to me. So I'm working on that (I made a lot of progress on the plane and in Sierra Leone). She knows about it, and her internet access is intermittent, so I could probably write about it, but it's not very photogenic. (To make matters worse, it's garter stitch lace, so it's doubly squished.)

Kevin has asked for gloves to match a sweater he wears as a jacket, so once I get started on those I'll be able to write about them... of course, they'll be mostly black, and unphotogenic.

Other than those 2 presents, I'm just starting to think about what I might knit for which giftee. I'd like to make another shawl (I do, after all, have TWO sisters, not just one! Hi Sibbies!), but I'm not sure I have a shawl and two-thirds worth of knitting time between now and Christmas (naturally, I started with the present for the sister I won't see till January!).

The trouble is that except for my dad, everyone I'd knit for either lives in a warm climate or knits themselves. I like giving knitters knitted presents, but it does mean I need to pick a bit more carefully--ideally, I'd like to make them things they like but either can't or wouldn't make for themselves, not projects they've already bought the yarn for. [New Haven SnBers, do not panic! The knitters I am thinking about knitting for are not you. No need to add me to your holiday knitting list. Unless you want to, in which case tell me so I can add you to mine! I like fine gauge sweaters but would never knit one myself.]

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Market Basket

On Sunday afternoon, I realized I was in danger of leaving Sierra Leone without a single souvenir, so I walked down the hill from the hotel to a little market area, where I'd seen some baskets from the car window. The gentleman working there was just about to pack up for the evening (I may have spent a couple of hours trying to decide if I wanted to go down or not... not that I would every agonize over anything!), but he brought out his baskets and I picked one.

Note: Yarn Not Included!

I bought it, carried it back to the hotel and immediately decided it had been a silly thing to buy. What was I going to do with a basket? I have many baskets already. How was I going to carry it home on the plane? etc.

But it turns out, I have plenty to put in it! I did not have anywhere near this much sock yarn 3 weeks ago--80% of this is the package from Schaefer Yarns that I was so sad to leave behind when I went to Florida and then to Sierra Leone. And during that same time, I receive a Woolgirl sock club shipment and a STR sock club shipment. Then for good measure, I traded with another SnBer this week and she gave me some extra sock yarn as a present!

Blue Annes

These lovelies, for example, are 3 skeins of Anne (wool, mohair and nylon... I love, love, love this yarn. And not just because it was free! I think I've given away all the full size socks I've made from it, but I have 3 pairs of footlets I've made from scraps, and they make me happy every time I put them on. Note to self: don't give away so many socks!).

It's hard to tell from the picture, but one's purples, one's blues, and one's a mix of blue, purple and green (that one has a fraternal twin who didn't want her picture taken). I'm thinking about combining them all into some kind of shawl (or maybe the fraternal twins plus the semi-solid blue or purple into a sweater? How crazy am I?). Otherwise, 2008 will have to be the year of the sock!

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Good Parts

Before I write anything else dire about Sierra Leone, I should point out that some parts were wonderful. Everyone was amazingly nice and friendly--so much so that it was hard to believe how violent, awful and recent the civil war was, even though the whole reason I was there relates to the war. And now I'm accidentally writing about terrible things again (I'm going to go back to my original point, but in case you want to read more about the war, here's a BBC special report from 1999, just as the peace agreement was signed).

From My Hotel Balcony

Anyway, Saturday afternoon I was feeling really alone. I'd originally planned to leave Saturday night, but work decided I should stay a bit longer to meet with someone else, who turned out to be unavailable. I had been trying to make a phone call all afternoon, but the phone which hotel guests are supposed to use to make local calls wasn't working (when it still wasn't working on Sunday, I bought a cell phone).

Since I kept walking through the lobby, one of the employees kept saying hi, and eventually we started talking. It was nice to talk to someone about something other than work--he told me how the Christian Children's Fund paid for his education, how he'd like to move to Australia (where a friend has gone already) so he can send money back to his family, and we commiserated about Bush. He was very concerned that my husband might be jealous that we were talking, and offered to email him to make sure it was OK.

Also on the plus side, if you look beyond the ramshackle buildings (and the sock obstructing the view!), Freetown is beautiful--on the ocean, surrounded by hills, with beautiful beaches. Right now, the coast isn't very built up, so it's available to anyone. The majority of buildings near the water are beach bars (mostly without wall, so you're essentially on the beach), and there's plenty of open land between them.

In addition to the sock, I worked on a Christmas present for one of my sisters, and read 2 entire books in gigantic bites. I've been listening to the Forgotten Classics podcast, which just finished The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer, so I brought An Infamous Army. And I've been wanting to read The Historian for a while, so I bought that to bring as well. Luckily, I realized a vampire story might not be the best idea in a country where the lights might go out at any moment, so I read with a flashlight handy!

And I got important investment advice from a minister! You know those email scams, where the family of a deposed rules needs your credit card and bank information in order to get their money out of the country? The State Department website warns about these scams on their Counsular Information Sheet about Sierra Leone. That always struck me as funny because wouldn't you be safer from email scams in a country where you can barely access your email? (No joke--I had the business center at the hotel, but the national commission I was meeting with had to go to an internet cafe around the corner in order to send emails! Only half of their offices had electricity.)

But, it turns out that you can be email scammed in person! Right after my nice conversation with the hotel employee, I fell into the clutches of Joseph (in the hotel lobby, so I wasn't in any danger). He wanted 2 things: for me to wire money to him so he could take an online class to further his religious education, and for me to tell everyone I know that if they wanted to invest in diamonds, they should email him. Apparently, you can get an export license for only $5000, which will allow you and 7 of your closest friends to export diamonds legally. If you are interested, he will arrange for you to visit the diamond mines, and take care of all your security needs. You don't need to bring any money, since it's so risky to travel with money, he can just take your credit card information.

It was fascinating! He went on and on and on, while I just murmured encouraging things. He never actually asked me to invest in diamonds, just to tell my friends about the investment opportunity. So: let me know if you want his email address!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jumping Ahead to the End

This is completely out of order, but before the link expires, I need to tell the story of my return trip:

My flight to London was scheduled to leave at 1:30 AM on Tuesday, so (after much discussion, in which I tried to explain to the travel agency that I needed them to tell me the hovercraft schedule, not make me guess what time there might be one) I decided to catch the hovercraft to the airport on Monday at 9 PM. Since I was already checked out of my hotel, I ate dinner as slowly as I could, but still arrived at the hovercraft station at 7:30 PM. Fine, I'm good at waiting, so I bought my ticket and started knitting.

As 9:00 approached, there was no sign of the incoming hovercraft (there's just one), so I figured it might be a little late. No problem--I'd left myself plenty of time. When 10:00 came and went without a hovercraft, people started to worry. There's apparently no way for the hovercraft to communicate with the stations, so there was no way to know where it was, if it was coming, etc, but there wasn't anything to do but wait. The hovercraft finally appeared at 10:30, and a rumor spread through the waiting room that the crossing had taken 2 hours (instead of 30-45 minutes).

I had been chatting with 2 women, an American originally from SL who had returned to visit her family and a European consultant who had been working there for the previous week, and they flew into a panic at this news. We'd miss the plane! Maybe we should stay in Freetown! What should we do!? I was pretty worried (and nearly cried when Kevin called my cell phone--more about phones later--to check on my progress) but I didn't have any choice about what to do: I'd checked out of the hotel, didn't have enough money to pay for the hotel even if I could check back in, and didn't know anyone to stay with: I was going to the airport, and I was going to stay there till I got on a plane, no matter how long it took. (I'm not sure what I was planning to eat during that time, since there's no city near the airport, and no food for sale in it.)

One of the women started asking random passengers what she should do, how long the trip to the airport would take, etc., as though they'd have a better idea than she did. She also spent some time yelling at the men unloading baggage from the hovercraft to hurry up, then some more time yelling at them to hurry up as they loaded our bags on. Finally, she cornered a member of the hovercraft crew, who told her that a fan belt had broken, but that the return trip would only take 45 minutes, no problem, and she'd catch her plane, so she quieted down for a while.

We hurried onto the hovercraft and set off. Things went well for about 45 minutes, till it because clear we were nowhere near land. Kevin called periodically and I moaned about how there weren't any more flights, I didn't have enough for a hotel (or a return hovercraft trip to Freetown, for that matter), etc. [I just need to defend my financial situation for a minute here: I sound really irresponsible for not having brought extra cash, but the literature I read beforehand was very clear about not carrying extra money, because of the risk of theft. I can definitely see why: the annual per capita GDP in in SL is something like $210... my hotel room cost $118 per night, and the hovercraft is $50 each way. One roundtrip hovercraft ride plus one night in the hotel = more than the per capita GDP. I'd have robbed me too.]

We finally reached the other side after 2 hours, just when the plane was scheduled to take off. With the broken fan belt, the hovercraft didn't have enough power to land, so it stopped a few feet out into the water and the crew carried everyone to land, piggyback or fireman's carry. The women who had been worried earlier screamed some more.

When we got to the airport (after a bumpy, pitch black return trip on the bus), it turned out that the plane was waiting for us (in fact, someone was waiting on the front steps of the airport to point us in the right direction and tell us to hurry). We rushed through check in (the gentleman checking passports took a picture of each one with a digital camera), security (no x-ray machines or functional metal detectors, they just riffled through the upper layers of our carry on luggage and patted us down), and onto the plane (incredibly clean, bright and air conditioned).

Back in London, on the shuttle bus from the airplane to the terminal, one of the other passengers called a friend or relative back in SL and we learned that the hovercraft had sunk on the trip back to Freetown. No one was hurt, and apparently they were able to raise it quickly, because yesterday, while looking for information about the sinking, Kevin discovered that later Tuesday morning the hovercraft ran out of fuel in the middle of the water. When another boat went out to refuel it, itcaught on fire! Luckily, everyone was evacuated safely. (I swear, I'm not making this up! OK, maybe I am--the link has expired already.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Back from Sierra Leone

I'm back... I've been in Freetown, Sierra Leone for the past week, for a project at work. (This is the same trip I wrote about right after I started blogging, which didn't happen. I didn't want to write much about it this time, in case it didn't happen again. But it did.)

And Kevin's reminded me that I did a terrible job blogging about the trip to Peru, so I'm going to do better this time. Really.

So, I left last Tuesday, about 20 hours after we got back from Florida. Those 20 hours were spent scurrying around trying to get ready: all the normal packing stuff, plus the heath center had recommended that I treat all my clothes with insect repellent (or buy clothes that were already repellent--I mean, treated with repellent), to reduce the possibility of contracting malaria via mosquito bite (yes, I also took anti-malarial medicine, but it's not 100% effective, so it's better not to get bitten!).

So, that was already an adventure: the repellent is highly toxic and very smelly, and you're supposed to let it air-dry (outside), and I didn't really have enough time for that. So we let my treated clothes dry as much as possible, then I put them in the drier (on no heat), and stared at the drier in case it burst into flames. It didn't, and I was able to finish packing.

Sierra Leone is just coming out of the rainy season, but it's still very hot. Nonetheless, the health center also recommended that I cover as much skin as possible (to avoid mosquito bites), so I packed only long-sleeved shirts and pants--the other Americans I met there were mostly wearing less covering clothes, so maybe I would have been ok in capri pants (or skirts... skirts would have been nice), and 3/4 sleeve shirts. But I'm mosquito-bite prone, so it's probably better that I was extra careful.

Anyway. The flight to SL (from NYC via London and Dakar, Senegal--where I didn't actually get off the plane), takes about 20 hours. The flight itself was fine--I knit and napped and read. Unfortunately, the airport is across a large body of water from the city. IF the roads around the water were passable, it would be about a 150 mile drive, but the road around the bay is terrible to non-existent, so the three choices are hovercraft, ferry, or helicopter.

The ferry isn't recommended (I've forgotten exactly why, but whatever it was was bad enough that none of the other travelers I talked to had taken it, ever), but neither the helicopter or the hovercraft is perfect either. The helicopters are Soviet-made, are decades old, badly repaired, and prone to crashing. The hovercraft is slower, decades old, also in bad repair, and prone to sinking. On the grounds that I can swim but not fly, I picked the hovercraft.

When I made my hotel reservations (which I actually made online, though a London-based company that billed me via Paypal--which was important because none of the hotels in SL take credit cards, but I didn't want to carry that much extra cash), I made arrangements for someone to meet me at the airport and help me buy a ticket to the hovercraft. That was helpful, since there weren't any signs. So I bought my ticket, then took a bus to the hovercraft terminal.

I arrived after dark, and there's very little electricity in SL (the power grid was damaged by the war, but was doing ok till this summer, when a vital piece of equipment broke. Since then, there's just been power for a couple of hours each month. People and businesses that can afford it have generators.), so the bus ride was through pitch blackness--every so often I caught a glimpse of bushes or tall grasses by the side of the road, from the lights inside the bus, or from the headlights of oncoming traffic.

Then onto the hovercraft--which was old and noisy, but which did not sink. I was relieved, because I'd devoted all my worrying to the possibility of catching bloodworms when the hovercraft sank and dumped us into the water (no idea what bloodworms are, but they sound awful, and the health center was very sterm about not submerging myself in fresh water, because there might be bloodworms). It turns out though, that that that worry was unnecessary, because the hovercraft crosses salt water, which can't give you bloodworms. Hurray!

So, I made it across in about 30 minutes, then went to the hotel in a car that the travel agency sent. I got checked in, and went to my room. It was basic, and a little run down, but very clean. There was a small air conditioning unit in the room which meant that mosquitoes weren't really a worry, and I didn't need to sleep under a mosquito met. I did fend off a gigantic cricket-like insect--caught him under a glass (which I did not use again), and threw him in the toilet. I didn't want to squish him because the squished bugs I'd seen on way to my room were covered in millions of ants, and I didn't want to attract any ants! I flushed, but when I checked the next morning, he was still there, wiggling his legs! Flushing again got rid of him at last.

Ok... I think this is long enough for one entry--and probably kind of boring, without any pictures! I don't have may pictures of the city (I feel rude taking pictures of people's normal lives and surroundings... like I'm basically telling them I think their lives are weird), but I do have a picture of my sock in progress admiring the view from my hotel window, plus exciting stories about the flicker-y power supply, the difficulty of sending an email, buying a cell phone, and my adventures on the way home (now with more piggy-back rides and sinking hovercrafts!).

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Hurray for Kevin

This is another speed post, between trips. We just got back yesterday from Kevin's full Ironman Tri in Florida, and this afternoon I'm leaving for Sierra Leone for work. I may be back this weekend, or I may be back next week. I'm trying not to worry about the up in the air-ness of the whole thing.

Kevin with IM Medal

I'm really proud of Kevin for finishing (14 hours and 10 minutes! That's a LONG time to keep going!). And he can still walk!

As usual, I lost him immediately in the crowd of swimmers at the start, took terrible pictures during the bike (mostly of his back wheel, with someone else in the center of the shot), and could barely operate the camera during the run. But he finished!

[Also, I got tons of gorgeous yarn from Schaefer right before we left for Florida. I barely got to look at it before we left, and now I have to leave it behind again. Woe is me.]