Making of things


Are you tired? I'm tired. I spend a lot of time tired. Sigh.Don't know if it's this metabolic system crap starting up again or the winter blue settling in. Either way, I haven't much to report. On the writing front, I'm scraping my way out of a rut. I've found myself about 2/3 of the way through the first draft of this supposed novel I'm writing and hitting a bit of a brick wall, plot-wise. Had to go back to the drawing board recently and rework my outline for the last third of the draft. I'm still not entirely sure how things fall into place, but I've got enough of a vision to keep moving forward, I think. And I believe I've identified some holes that will need to be plugged.

This is a daunting and humbling project, my friends.

I definitely need a little accountability to keep me on task. It's too easy to get distracted, to let my fear talk me into sitting on the couch and knitting rather than tapping out some more sentences. I'm going to follow a friend's suggestion and ask a couple of my writer friends to enter into a contract of sorts with me. I'm going to identify some deadline goals and ask them to help keep me accountable, to encourage me and stay in contact with me along the path so this doesn't feel like such a lonely endeavor with a fuzzy grey ending.

Here's what I'm thinking: first draft done by the end of January. That would require me to pick up the pace substantially. Otherwise, at the rate I'm going currently, dragging my feet, it would be a lot longer before I wrap up the first draft. And I can't stand the thought of that.

On an unrelated note, I dragged out and dusted off my sewing machine yesterday. It's been a long, long time since I sewed. Just another thing that fell victim to health problems. But it feels good to have it out. I've a couple of brave projects I want to get done for Christmas, which involve drafting my own pattern which is difficult and sometimes confusing. And I'm really kind of excited about it. Yeah, I said it. Excited.

Pillows 'n stuff

birdycoasters1 small After the rush of getting my MFA application in place in December, January feels positively leisurely. I've had a few work projects to take care of, but I've also had more free time for doin' a little crafting. Here are some of the recent fruits of my labor. The bird coasters above were a gift for my friend Margaret's birthday, using a 'dorable birdy design from Jenny Hart's Sublime Stitching book.

Pillow 01

After buying a blue rug for my office, the brown pillow covers on my futon seemed out of place, so I've been plotting their replacement for a few weeks now. I decided to take a stab at free-handing an embroidery design. I doodled an homage to (some might say rip-off of) the beautiful fabric designs of Kristen Doran. I love, love her work but it's a tad out of my price range. It was a pretty fun project, taking me just a couple of hours total for the embroidery and the pillow itself is my first attempt at an envelope-style pillow. Trust me to master putting in zippers (which I'm glad I know how to do) before learning this much easier method.

Pillows 03

Then I made the above pillows for my futon, all from clearance fabric I found at JoAnn. My previous pillows were all solid fabric, which is fine and dandy, but I'm really enjoying playing with combining fabrics, colors and textures. And I think the cats, who spend the majority of their time on the futon, really really appreciate the time and effort I put into these things.

Pillow 02

I made the above pillow for the Morris chair in the living room and it is, if may say so myself, just perfect.

Retro Fabric

Aren't these retro fabrics wonderful? I ordered them from Repro Depot, of course. People I know keep having babies and I just love these gender-neutral textiles and the possibilities they offer me. I still don't know what they want to be yet, but I have some ideas and some time.

Retro Fabric 02

A close-up of the green fabric, which just might be my favorite. Enjoy.

Finished is better than perfect

Or so my friend M. always says. And she's a smart woman. I've been meaning to post more here but I'm ridiculously swamped, having bitten off more than I can chew -- and people, I can chew a LOT. On top of it, I've come down with what must be the millionth cold I've had this year. What is up with that? Perhaps I have some exotic disease only House can diagnose. Dag. That would suck.

In my spare time, I have managed to finish a couple of sewing projects, including the ones using the fabric I featured last month. I'm pretty proud of the tote bag I made from the brown and blue fabric:


Plus, I finally got my Dad's birthday presents finished, even though his birthday was nearly two weeks ago. (That trip to Scotland kind of got in the way.) Here's the apron...the pattern for which comes from Lotta Jansdotter's terrific book, "Simple Sewing." I'm just a little worried that this particular apron pattern is too girly.


Also, from patterns in the same book, two handmade oven mitts. They're each Italian food fabric on one side, pasta on the other. It was my first time working with quilting techniques. I desperately hope the batting I used was thick enough. Guess we'll find out the first time my Dad takes something out the oven, eh?


I'm also loving this purse I made for myself out of an curtain fabric remnant I got at Ikea. I lined it with some brown herringbone cotton from my stash. It's the first purse I've made of my own design, which I adapted through trial and error, starting with a reusable shopping bag pattern.


And, last but not least, I'll be heading to Indy late next week to visit my sister's family. My niece Olivia's having her tonsils out and I thought I might cheer her up with a hand-sewn trick-or-treat bag. (A matching one for her sister Rebecca too, naturally.


It's Hallow Kitty fabric (GET it? HUH?) and the inside is lined with orange fabric that says "boo" on it. Why I didn't take a picture of that, I do not know. But you're probably glad.


Now, if I could just be this productive in my writing life, everything would be golden.

Wanna see my fabric?

fabric1 I don't even know if all the power of all the internets combined can accurately display for you the beautiousness of this fabric I just bought. Being the sewing novice I am and lacking confidence that I will not totally screw up many of my projects, I usually tend towards the discount bins at JoAnn. But recently I decided I needed a new tote. My pretty orange leather one is dirty and ragged and larger than I want.

I need something that's big enough to fit my laptop and a few other necessities while walking across campus, pretending I belong there. And something I can take to Glasgow next week and tote around everything it takes to keep me, Chris and my niece Rebecca occupied for the day.

I decided to that I would splurge on the fabric, and really take my time thinking about what I wanted this bag to look like and how I wanted to put it together. I marched (figuratively, as it's miles away) to the Viking Sewing Center on Jackson Road, fully intending to pick out some Amy Butler fabric, which I have been drooling over for months.

When I got there, however, there wasn't the selection I'd hoped and I found myself falling instead for these glorious colors. I was all proud, thinking how original I was being with my planning -- i'd use the flowery one for the main body, the stripes for accent and the polka dots for lining. I took them up to the cutting lady and she said, "Oh, lovely. Just like that bag!"

I followed her gaze and sure enough, there was a sample knitting bag that used the exact same fabric, except for the lining. Not only that -- I'd actually walked past it a few moments before and admired it. Guess I'm not so original after all. Anyhoo, I'm thinking I might use this opportunity to try my hand at an in-lining zipper. I know! Crazy! I'll let you know how it comes out.

Today, I also received a package from containing some fabric I ordered up for my Dad's birthday gift. (Don't worry, he doesn't read this blog.) He cooks a lot and loves Italian food, especially pasta, so I planned to make him an apron and matching oven mitts out of this beautiful cotton printed with all kinds of Italian foods.


I ordered up the pasta fabric (left) to be the back of the apron, but now I have them together, it all looks a bit too neutral and the cream background on the pasta doesn't match the background on the main fabric. Thus, I think I'm going to go out and get some regular ol' cotton in a bright accent color -- maybe pick up the red of the tomatoes or the green of the olives -- and use that for the straps and a pocket. (I always love a pocket on an apron, don't you?) I'll be using the apron pattern from Lotte Jansdotter's book for that.

Oh, oh! And one more sewing related thing before I stop boring you with it... As I try (and fail) to master sewing some clothing items for myself, I've toyed with the idea of buying a dressform. Problem is a) they're expensive and b) they can be tough to match to your body type unless you have one custom made which is c) exorbitantly expensive.

Just when I had given up the dream (yesterday, to be exact), I went on Craig's List and lo and behold, someone was advertising an antique dressform for a song. (Not a cheap song, but a comparative song nonetheless.) A few emails exchanged and it turned out that the people selling it live not three blocks from me and were willing to drop it off on their way to dinner. (Small Ann Arbor side note: when they arrived, they noted the 826 Michigan sticker on my car and it turns out they're friends with the executive director there. Small, small, tiny world here.)


Within a couple of hours, this beauty was mine. Granted, she's a bit worse for the wear, but mostly it's superficial -- some fabric tears on the body parts and rust on the inside metal. I doubt I could even hand crank all the little twisties to get it anywhere near my shape. But it has a lovely wrought iron stand and even if I use it purely for decorative/fabric hanging purposes, having it in the corner just makes me feel that much more like a seamstress. Yay!

Where I've been, or What Will I Make Next?

apron 2 When I'm not working or taking care of business (which sounds either a) more official or b) more dirty than I mean it to), I've been not blogging also. Instead, I've been either hunched over my sewing machine or spending hours upon hours browsing the forums at If you haven't been and you're even remotely craftsy -- or remotely OCD -- be will suck you in. And pretty soon, it'll be one in the morning and you'll be scrolling through the new projects section and thinking, "I absolutely MUST start making my own coasters out of magazine clippings and resin."

For all those haters of knitting and sewing and all that, may I just tell you that while you were sniping, the cool chics of the world have been turning your XXL men's tees into adorable, sexy little dresses; stenciling amazing original designs on anything that doesn't move; re-painting, re-upholstering and re-imagining just about everything in their path; knitting hats, gloves and sweaters to warm their punk hairdos and tattoos; and sewing the most amazing outfits out of $2 thrift store finds.

Rock and roll chicks have taken over crafting and it's not for the dweebs anymore. Okay, well it's not just for us dweebs anymore. (Or should that be "we dweebs"?) It's uber-cool to get creative and to make things with your hands and literally hundreds of thousands of us are doing it. (There are also quite a few dudes on there too, but acknowledging that previously would have interrupted my rant...)

I've also finally sewn a skirt I might actually wear after wrestling unsuccessfully with a number of major name patterns. My saving grace came in the free-form DIY-style instructions in a terrific book called Sew What! Skirts. Really took some of the mystery out of it for me and helped me fit my generous curves.

Also, I bought and love Lotte Jansdotter's book, Simple Sewing. Her fabric designs are really gorgeous and earthy and I've already successfully produced her lovely apron (see above.) It's reversible. Which is funny, because the odds of my getting one side of an apron dirty let alone two are just so slim...

I also treated myself to a subscription to Craft Magazine, for the folks who make Make Magazine and there are some very cool artists and crafters doing some very funky stuff out there. (There are also some freaky folk doing some weird shit, but that's what makes the world spin, eh?)

Similary, the mag Adorn is a great pub for stepping beyond the comfort zone of your knitting mags -- there aren't always a whole lot of projects I'd try in there but I'm amazed at what people are up to crafts-wise and there's usually at least a couple of technical articles that are informative and easy-to-read.

And just as there are hip yarn designers whose wares have been known to send me ga-ga, I'm discovering the tempting and equally wallet-punishing world of fabric designers. At the top of my list (and everyone else's right now) is Amy Butler, whose designs manage to be both retro and contemporary at the same time. I'm also digging fun stuff from Heather Ross and Prints Charming, to name but a few.

If you want to check out some of the kitschy prints out there, mosey on over to j and o fabrics, repro depot or Fabric Depot. Yeah, you laugh now, but pretty soon you'll be sewing potholders out of sock monkey fabric and who'll be laughing then?

It hasn't left much time for blogging, I'm afraid -- which, considering the content of this post, is probably a good thing. And tomorrow we head off for four days on Bald Head Island, NC* with the Carey clan. It'll give me a chance to work on my deep, dark tropical tan. Think there's somewhere to plug in my sewing machine on the beach?

*Warning: following this link will take you to a site where a scary lady's voice tries to hypnotize you into relaxation while simultaneously convincing you that Bald Head is the greatest place on earth. Until I heard her voice, I thought the fact that there were no cars on the island was a cool eco-stance. Now I'm wondering if it's to stop people from escaping... If I'm not back in five days, come rescue me.

Everything hurts

Turns out I held my own at Thursday's spinning class, although my ass was killing me by about 10 minutes in. I seemed to be the only person having rear discomfort as no one else was shifting and wiggling around in their seat quite as much as I was -- which seems strange because I have, by far, the most padding in that area and you'd think it would make life easier. It does not. It's a good thing I survived it so that Chris and I could attend a Stretch & Tone class on Friday that completely kicked my ass and all the other parts of me. Definitely more toning than stretching. I worked out parts of me that I hadn't moved since last doing the Jane Fonda workout circa 1988 (which is reponsible for the fact that any time I hear REO Speedwagon's "Keep the Fire Burning," I compulsively take my arms for wide circles).

Looking on the bright side, it turns out I do have ab muscles somewhere in there. I know, because they ache.

I've been running around like the proverbial chicken today as Fara and I are leaving for Iowa City tomorrow morning. We're each taking a week-long workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I had hoped to be organized and send in my short story in advance of the class, but then I remembered I was me, waited until the last minute to do a final edit/polish and got it printed and copied late this afternoon.

Also in there, I worked frantically on my second stab at sewing a summer top for myself (not counting "recons" of too-big tees, etc.). Turns out I'm just not getting it. Clothing is so finicky and so difficult to fit properly. A smart person would give up now and realize she could have just bought several tops for the amount she's spent on unwearable disasters thus far (other attempts include a disastrous sundress that wound up being a too-small, lopsided skirt). But I am not a smart person. I am frustrated and confused and challenged and plan to keep on throwing away money in the pursuit of getting just one damn wearable item out of all of this.

It's either that or every single person I know gets a tote bag for Christmas this year. And none of us wants that.

Anyway, the new shirt will not be accompanying me to Iowa...or anywhere outside of the house. But that's okay, because it's always damn hot in Iowa City, so who needs shirts anyway? Woo hoo! Actually, it's supposed to be 96 degrees here tomorrow and I'm abandoning Chris to a hot house while I bask in the cool A/C of the lovely Brown Street Inn, where Fara and I are booked.

Speaking of the lovely husband, Chris tucked a few surprises inside the Kinko's box containing the copies of my story for handing out to my classmates. In addition to a couple of trashy mags and a chocolate bar (does the man know me or what?), he bought me a lovely book called How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors. I haven't had a chance to do much more than glance through it, but it's a collection of pragmatic advice from a range of writers (including Athony Bourdain, Douglas Coupland, Jonathan Franzen, A.M. Homes and Rick Moody) about how they write -- where, when they go about the most difficult part of this writer's life, the actual act of writing.

Isn't that the most thoughtful gift? "Go write," my husband said as he gave it to me. "Go do what you're meant to do." I'm the luckiest woman alive. I swear, I am.

Speaking of said husband, I meant to mention last week that he was interviewed by a lovely reporter for Wired Magazine who flew into town for the occasion. Don't know when the piece is coming out, but it may be the first article that actually focuses on Chris' work and the journalism rather than bickering about the business model. About time, I say.

Anyway, I've still to finish packing -- as tossing things on an armchair doesn't quite do it -- so I'll dash off. I'm trying to keep my expectations in check. This is my third year in a row going to Iowa for a week and I always set such high expectations for myself -- that I'll write a novel, have an epiphany, lose 30 pounds. This time I'm going to try to focus on being in the present, doing what's in front of me, enjoying the time without pressure. That should be a piece of cake, no?

Life Lessons from Sewing

I think I'm going to pen one of those annoying-yet-inexplicably-best-selling books of banal life "philosophy" gleaned from an everyday activity. Mine will be about learning to sew, something I have wanted to do for a long time and embarked upon solo this past holiday weekend. Here are the things I have learned thus far:

1. When a pattern suggests a certain fabric, they mean it. This is not the place to get creative when you're on your very first project and start substituting, say, velvet for cotton.

2. Machinery with fast-moving needles is scary. In retrospect, it seems that a) this may seem rather intuitive and b) I'm not actually too smart.

3. There are no shortcuts in sewing. There is no room for laziness or impatience. You will pay for it all later, in sweat, in tears, in waste, in cash. Thus, why I'm doing it is a mystery.

4. As with most crafts, a $10 nightgown will wind up costing you $75 when all is said and done. And it will be a crappy-looking, ill-fitting $75 nightgown.

5. The cutting lines are not suggestions. Cut something wrong and the game is over. OVER!

6. If you're already in constant neck pain, craning over a table, a sewing machine, a help book will not help.

7. I am unequal to it all.

On a completely separate note -- and the perfect one for distracting me from the sewing supply explosion that has taken over our dining room -- my new camera arrived in the mail today. It is a Powershot S3 IS (thanks to Thomas for the suggestion) and is the perfect upgrade from my consumer point-n-click to something with more serious potential.

It feels giant compared to my previous pocket model and it has a zillion controls that I hope to learn to use but is also pretty easy to set to Auto and get great results. The package I ordered it with also comes with a telephoto lens, a wide angle lens and some lens filters so if I ever figure out what all those mean, let alone how to use them, it could make for some beautiful pics.

Right now I'm digging the macro setting, which lets me take useless pictures of things very close up. All of the flowers in our garden are now feeling a complete loss of their privacy. But the results are stunning! So come visit me soon so I can take your picture!

Also, email me if you know how to miter lace....

La Lana Wools

If you are not a knitter, look away! If you are -- or perhaps even just an appreciator of hand-made goods and pretty, shiny things -- then you may enjoy these additional photos from my trip a couple of weeks ago to La Lana Wools in Taos. Figgered they were purty enough to toss up here. La Lana Wools 02 As a non-dyer it's hard to believe that they manage to get all these shades using plant-based dyes. Some of the richer tones require double and even triple processing to achieve.

La Lana Wools 03 A pile of absolutely gorgeous silk and cotton blend gem tones.

La Lana Wools 04 Hard to tell from this photo but these were long ropes of hand-painted variegated yarns.

La Lana Wools 05 I don't even know what you call a yarn this thick and rope-y but it's got to be like knittin' straight from the sheep.

La Lana Wools 06 A peek at the wool yarns and roving in the back room.

La Lana Wools 07 These lovely wools had inspired names such as "greeny" and "bluey." Having been the childhood owner of one stuffed duck named "Ducky" and a doll named "Dolly," I can appreciate this type of quiet genius.

La Lana Wools 08 Baskets for roving for the spinning-inclined. One day I really will get to usin' the spinning wheel I bought from my friend Margaret.

La Lana Wools 09 Dried flowers, plants and even onion skins are used for achieving the colors of the yarns.

La Lana Wools 10 I'd probably never knit with something this thick 'n funky but, man, is it beautiful to look at.

Taos, here we go!

033107 Taos Inn How many different ways can you describe a day as beautiful? Insert your own here. The weather served up the most delicious blue skies you can imagine for our last morning in Taos. However, I awoke having pulled something in my back rendering me unable to turn my head or move my upper body without excruciating pain. Fortunately, the giant comfy bed was a perfect place to lie and read while Chris tackled a pre-St. Louis-marathon training run of 13 miles around Kit Carson Memorial Park.

By the time he arrived back home, I had coaxed myself upright and began to gather our things together for our late checkout. Turns out he didn't quite take into account the elevation here -- I believe we're at about 7,000 feet -- and spent the first 1/2 hour of his run trying to catch his breath. But the trouper kept going and looks like he'll be in good shape.

040107 Taos 01

We opt for a second wander around town before we head south to Santa Fe. Specifically, I head back into La Lana Wools, having decided I couldn't possibly leave town without at least a few of their gorgeous (but pricey) skeins to make a souvenir scarf or something else small and pretty. The woman behind the counter has a wonderfully low voice and a bursting enthusiasm. She lets me -- no, encourages me -- to take photos of their gorgeous displays, urging me to make sure I get pics of the roving, the baskets of wool, the onion peels and other plant matter they use for dying the yarn.

I'm a sucker for orphans and bargains, so I pick some single skeins of silk from the discount bin in colors that mimic the southwestern skies and landscape -- a terra cotta pink, a shiny sand, a pale blue. Then I select a regular-priced skein in a deep turquoise. I have no idea what pattern I'll use -- perhaps knit something horizontally so the colors seem to blend like the strata of the earth -- but I don't care. I just want to own these little works of art.

040107 La Lana Skeins

The woman at the counter throws in a free pattern. "The great thing about this yarn," she tells me, "is once you start knitting with you, it speaks to you and tells you what direction it wants you to go in." And, because this is Taos and because I am a knitter, I can tell her I know exactly what she means and not even feel a little bit weird about it. I ask her if they stay busy mostly through local knitters shopping here or if it's mostly tourists and web orders. "Oh," she says, with a smile, "however it's supposed to be, it is." And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of mentality that makes Taos Taos.

040107 Weaving Southwest

We wander up the street a bit to some shops we didn't hit before. At Weaving Southwest, they have some of the most beautiful rugs, made by hand with their own dyed yarns. Deep, gorgeous colors, so different from the plant-based results at La Lana. I'm particularly smitten with a geometrical rug hanging on a wall, a pattern of grey and blue blocks. It's 3 x 5. It's also $2,000. Sigh.

In the backroom, small cubbies are loaded down with weaving yarns of all hues. I think of my friend Margaret, who's lately digging weaving, and glance over at all these strange weaving supplies -- a whole 'nother world of fiber art from knitting. She'd probably pee her pants in here. Figuratively speaking, one hopes.

We're also drawn into a little gift shop called Wabi-Sabi, partly because one of our favorite getaways in the world, Hix Island House, is built in that style and partly because we're heading to a Japanese-style spa in Santa Fe, so it all seems fitting somehow. Although this little gift shop specializes in Japanese gifts, there's actually a lot of congruity between this Japanese aesthetic of simplicity and natural beauty and the Southwest. Plus, the woman in the shop is just lovely to us, offering us cups of tea and chatting about what we do.

I sometimes like to pick up a small piece of pottery on our trips. I confess to knowing absolutely nothing about the art form but just loving certain kinds of pottery, particularly bowls or tiles, and I love having small pieces that bring back memories of travels. Here, I pick a bowl in greenish-blue with two simple flowers on it and, while I worried about the silliness of buying an import to represent a trip to New Mexico, it turns out it's made by a local artist. Perfect.

040107 Huevos Rancheros

We have time for a quick late breakfast/early lunch before jumping in the car and heading back to Santa Fe. This time, we opt for a place called Michael's Kitchen, a favorite of both locals and tourists for decades. It's just a regular ol' joint and I brave another round of huevos rancheros while Chris opts for some outstanding-looking strawberry pancakes. Two nuns in grey habits squeeze into the booth next to us. If you're wondering what nuns are eating this season, it seems the open-faced hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes is the thing. And, as one of the nuns tells the waiter with an impish smile, "Lots of gravy."

040107 San Francisco de Asis

Then we're back in the car, stopping first in the area just south of Taos known as Ranchos de Taos. Here we checked out the historical San Francisco de Asis church, whose striking adobe facade has inspired artists such as Georgia O'Keefe and Ansel Adams -- plus, likely a host o' folks were inspired by what goes on inside as well. The church was so lovely that when we got back on the road, we forgot to backtrack to the road that would have taken us back to Santa Fe via the high road, an alternate to the Turquoise Trail route we'd taken north our first day.

No complaints, however, at having to follow the same path back. We weren't met with any storms this time, no cloudy skies and everything looked much pinker and, somehow, more hopeful as we headed towards Santa Fe. Or maybe that was just the way it looked through our eyes after two days of relaxation.

Ignore this if you hate knitting

Believe it or not, I have readers who are not just non-knitters but who have distinct reactions to knitting. Thus, I provide the warning that this blog entry is about knitting. I know, I know. The last thing in the world anyone needs is another knitting blog. But this isn't one. It's a blog on which I happen to be writing about knitting. HUGE distinction. I'm staring at a bag full of Patons cotton yarn in baby pastels. I bought it from Smiley's Yarn a while back because...hell, I don't know. The same reason I buy yarn most of the time - it as a good deal and it seemed that I needed it. I've only got a handful of balls of each color and I'm trying to cobble together an idea for a simple but not cheesy baby blanket for a friend who's due in February. The problem with so many baby blankets is that they're boring. Or cheesy. Or both. Feel my pain.

My family does a gift exchange at Xmas and this year I drew my new stepmother, Marvin. (Technically, her name's Marilyn but for reasons too long to go into, she's Marvin to me.) I was pretty thrilled because she's an elegant sort of gal and the price guideline for gifts is reasonable so I was able to concoct something from the kind of fancy schmancy yarns I don't get to knit with for myself. I used S. Charles Ritratto, a mohair blend with a metallic strand running through it, and a modified version of the Trellis Scarf from the Spring 2006 Interweave Knits. I wish I'd taken a picture of it, since it turned out pretty well, although in that 20-20 vision of hindsight, I would have liked to have made it a bit longer and a bit wider so that it was almost a shawl.

The cool thing was it was my first lace project on which I got to use my lace blocking wires. I ordered up a set from Knit Picks since I'm in love with lace but in hate with the blocking it requires. Instead of using a zillion pins to shape the item, these long sturdy metal wires are inserted along the seam. They'll probably save me some time in the long run but what I like best is getting a uniform, straight side seam instead of jagged marks where individual pins hold the sides in place.

I also ordered some of Knit Picks' Palette yarn in fall-ish browns and oranges to make a fair isle hat. As a handful of little Tibetan girls can testify, I've been playing with simple fair isle details in hats for a while now. It can be a really fun way to spice up otherwise boring knitting projects. Among the many great books I got with my birthday gift certificates was Louisa Harding's Hats Gloves Scarves. Finally, a book with fantastic simple and elegant basics for the aforementioned items all in one place. It's fast becoming one of my favorite knitting books.

Anyhoo, there's a pattern in there for a full-on fair isle hat, featuring top to bottom patterning. I decided to give it a whirl, as you can see from the results. (Please ignore the stray yarn still visible in this glamour shot.) It's not a bad looking hat, but I have a few thoughts.

One, the Palette yarn is kind of scritchy, but what do you want from affordable wool, right? Two, keeping the colors straight is a chore. A big chore. I knit a lot of this in the car on the way to Indy last week and believe me, juggling six different balls of yarn in the car is no easy task. Three, fair isle requires a lot of finishing. I'll need a lot more practice before the back seam doesn't look like a surgical scar and the pattern lines up properly. Four, I feel like this level of color work is something I wanted to try but now that I have, I'm not exactly chomping at the bit to do more. I love color work as details or accents on simpler items and I think that's what I'll stick with.

Let's see...what's on my knitting horizon? I just bought eight more balls of the Louisa Harding angora I used to make my fingerless gloves. (I would photograph the beautiful gloves but I can't FIND them! ACK!) I got it on eBay at a ridiculously low price - I think I paid $4 a ball and it usually retails for $10-11. I've learned the hard way that angora gets loosy-goosey and loses its shape easily and that it felts, as one magazine said, if you look at it wrong. But I reinforced the cuffs of said missing gloves by weaving some elastic thread on the inside and I'm looking into sources for Rainbow elastic thread which comes in a ton of colors and can be carried through the knitting with the angora for extra stretch in a hat or gloves.

And last but not least, I bought my eight-year-old niece Rebecca some learn-to-knit supplies for Christmas and although I didn't pick the yarn all that wisely for a beginner, it was a special thrill to see her whip up a coaster! Wonderfully imperfect, but the ideal project for her. I'll admit, too, that it was cool to see it inspired Jenn, my 19-year-old niece, to pick up the spare set of needles and give it a whirl. I get such a sense of satisfaction out of making something with my hands and it's really neat to plant that seed with others and see if it takes.