The Grand Duchess

I first read about Orenburg shawls while surfing the Internet about 6 years ago, and I knew I would someday knit one, however, I would have to wait for a while since Orenburg yarn was not available in this country then. At about the same time, I was admiring a painting in the Seattle Art Museum when I realized that a woman standing in front of me was wearing just such a shawl. I actually followed her for a bit like a celebrity-obsessed fan trying to sneak peek at her shawl, most of which was hidden underneath her raincoat, with the part covering her head the only part visible. I was too shy to ask her about it; a missed opportunity.

Fast-forward to today: I promised myself that upon completion of Wisp and Trellis that I would start an Orenburg, so I ordered Orenburg yarn. I’m kind of a traditionalist, in the sense that when I make something associated with a traditional method, I try to make the first one fairly true to the traditional pattern, and I wanted to find natural white Orenburg yarn, but searching the Internet, all I found was dyed Orenburg yarn. Not just dyed, but multi-colored. Not what I had envisioned for my first Orenburg. So I bought 6 skeins of Cherry Tree Hill Orenburg Yarn in “Spring Frost” from Discontinued Brand Name Yarn, figuring that if I can’t buy the color I want, I might as well get it at a discounted price. Ironically, I was talking to my dental hygienist last week, she’s from a former Soviet Union state, and she said that Orenburg shawls are considered very special, and actually were quite the status symbol to older generations. According to her mother, a Russian bride might wear a red Orenburg shawl as a symbol of purity in a traditional-style wedding, but that’s assuming she could afford to buy one.

I can’t say that I am delighted with the colorway, it’s kind of a dirty gray with pink highlights, but in different lighting, it takes on different qualities.

I call the shawl Grand Duchess and she’s rather demanding. Addictive. She requires close attention at all times.

And she requires really good light to work in: the yarn is so light-colored and so fine that in some places it’s hard to see. I bought Knitpicks Options Harmony double-pointed 2.25 mm needles just for this, thinking that with the multi-colored wood, I’d have a better chance of seeing the stitches, and they do help most of the time.

So far, the yarn is what makes the project tricky. Really tricky. The mohair is loosely spun around a silk core and is very fragile. You know how it is said that knitting with mohair yarn is said to not be easily undone? I can say that is very much the case with Orenburg yarn. Every time I have to undo stitches, I hold my breath. I was going great guns on the border pattern a few days ago when I found a big hole about 30 rows down, and there was no way to try to fix it with a crochet hook as I did with Wisp. The mohair is so delicate that if I don’t catch the silk core stitches come undone, and it’s easy to miss the silk core among the fuzzy mohair fibers. The instructions say not to put the yarn on a ball-winder and to hand wind it instead, but I wound it super carefully.

The pattern: Medallion Square Shawl from The Gossamer Webs Design Collection by Galina Khmeleva.

Something Different

I’ve been looking at YouTube a lot lately, and there are some really fun and interesting things to be found there. For instance, I did a search for “knitting” and one of the results was “Knitting Portuguese Style”. Well I had to check that out, and it turned-out to be rather interesting. If you suffer from problems with your wrists, this alternative method of knitting might hold a solution. Unfortunately, the volume is inaudible and the picture is a bit fuzzy on this one, but you’ll be able to get the idea:

I might just have to try it, just for the fun of learning something different and a more efficient method (I knit Continental style). I’m such a geek!

This one has nothing to do with knitting method, but it’s a cute video about a day in the life of an amigurumi:

Which answers my question: “Amigurumi are fun to crochet, but then, what do you do with them afterwards?” Make a video!

Trellis Scarf Completed, or, A Pointed Problem

It’s done! It’s done! Trellis Scarf was fun to knit; the pattern (Interweave Knits, March 2006) created by Evelyn A. Clark offered just enough stitch variation to keep it entertaining, but not so much that it could not be memorized. The yarn, a prize from Tiennie last year, was one skein of hand-dyed machine washable merino, Lace Wing Sock, in Crimson from Angora Valley and was a perfect knitting companion and behaved itself well. Ironically, and this was not planned, Tiennie announced the winners of her yarn giveaway on April 14, 2007 and I finished it on April 9, almost one year later. Thank you, Tiennie! Of course, it didn’t take that long to make, it’s just that I don’t have a lot of knitting time since my son stopped taking naps a year ago.

The only thing I did not like about the way the scarf ended, and I mean this as no criticism of the designer, but it just bugged me the way the end did not exactly mirror the beginning. The way the pattern ends is without the points that it started with at the beginning, and although blocking would probably have created the points, I was a obsessed about it and just had to have points knitted into the end of the scarf. So even though I’d technically finished the scarf on April 7, I ripped the end out numerous times as I sought a solution. I researched numerous books in my substantial library, but found no solution, all in search of pointers on making points. Finally, to achieve that end I found Stephanie on Ravelry, and visited her website for her solution to these points. Poignantly, Stephanie was apparently equally obsessed with this pointed problem, and she went to great pains to solve it. She even created a chart and has made it available to others in search of the Holy Grail of Trellis Scarf endpoints. Blessings upon you Stephanie!

In a nutshell, what Stephanie did was where there should be a point on the end, she knit into the front, then the back, and then the front of a stitch, but when I did that with my yarn it created a big whole with the one stitch from which three were created. So I did something really weird: I knit into the stitch below the next live stitch on the left needle (making st 1), then knit into the live stitch itself (making st 2), and then again into the same stitch below but on the other side of the stitch 2 (making st 3). Finally, when blocked, the end sufficiently mimics the points at the beginning to satisfy my need for perfection. Whew! So, without further adieu, I present to you, Trellis Scarf:






The third picture is the beginning of the whole thing, with its lovely points, and the fifth picture is the end with its mimicked points. For a comparison, the picture below shows the mimicked endpoints on the left and the beginnging endpoints on the right.

Mucha Matcha

On a recent trip to Palm Springs, I visited The Ultimate Point (no web site) at its new location in a strip mall (46600 Washington Street, Suite 2, La Quinta, CA 92253, phone 760-777-9876) and was delighted to find a helpful staff, a nice range of yarns, and an excellent selection of knitting and crocheting books. During my visit, collected around a couple of tables was a comfortable group of knitters pleasantly chatting away and as I made myself busy among the tempting skeins and books, the group covered a vast range of non-knitting and personal topics, causing all to erupt in laughter from time to time, with occasional apologies to me the lone shopper of the moment. Visiting yarn stores is a precarious activity for those of us in the needle arts, as there is always another project to start, and I am no exception. At least this time I had the sense to get something small and easy to do: Hemp Market Bag, a store pattern utilizing three balls of Elsebeth Lavold Hempathy. I chose the color Vivid Green and so, cast on my Matcha Market Bag, seen below at a visit to Espresso Vivace Alley 24 in Seattle.

By the way, Espresso Vivace is the closest I’ve come to true Italian espresso in the land that gave birth to Starbucks, and judging by the reviews I am not alone in that estimation, but don’t go by the reviews on its web site only, the reviews on Yelp.com give it a fairly resounding “bravissimo”.

Lately, though, espresso is starting to share the driving of my engine fueled by caffeine with green tea and its variations, one of which is the often misunderstood matcha.

“Misunderstood?,” you ask.

“What’s misunderstood about a green foamy drink that is bitter enough to make me want to run to the dentist for a good tooth drilling?”

Let me back up and explain. I am going through that delightful change in a woman’s life, menopause, specifically hot flashes, and let me tell you, if you are a woman and have never suffered these, you can definitely count yourself very lucky. Hot flashes are a cruel joke on women, second only to menstrual cramps. However, I have found that drinking green tea of any sort has helped decrease the frequency and intensity of my ever-so-merciless hot flashes, of which I have suffered with off and on for a few years now. I can’t say that you, should also run out to your nearest store and load up on green tea, because it does seem to be a “results may vary” situation since I know women who drink green tea and still suffer. For me, the key seems to be to sip on any green tea such as genmaicha or bancha a few times a day, as long as it isn’t much later than about 6 o’clock in the evening (I don’t want the caffeine to keep me up). For those times when I don’t have time to sip 12 ounces of green tea, I’ll literally whip up some frothy matcha. I caution you on the matcha, because if you buy it just about anywhere outside of Japan, I think you can pretty much be guaranteed to swear it off forever. Freshness is key, and the more fresh it is the more likely it is to not be so bitter; there’s no telling how long a little tin of matcha has been sitting on a store shelf. When launching into my mission of matcha, I made the mistake of buying it locally and gagged on the tea when I made it at home; it was painfully bitter. However, I sourced it on-line and found a farm in Kyoto, Japan called Hibiki-an from which I bought Super Premium matcha and was not disappointed. Hibiki-an’s matcha arrived in good time and the taste is super smooth, without any of the bitterness experienced in my local purchase. If ordering matcha seems a bit extreme (I think “extreme” is my middle name), any green tea from your local supermarket will help the cause.

Of course, despite all this talk of green tea which is so much better for your health, as you can see I still have not sworn-off the coffee completely, I just get it with half the caffeine. Some things never change.

It’s hopeless. I’m Velcro!

A knitter going to a stash-reduction event is like someone on a diet going to a candy store: it’s just bad. I went to the Seattle Knitters Guild’s annual stash-reducing (or stash-enhancing, depending on how you participate) event last month called Fiber Frenzy to actually get rid of a whole bunch of random yarn, and I told myself I would be good, but…. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m Velcro; the stuff just sticks to me. Well, I really did mean well, and I did go to get rid of stuff and to hang-out with other knitters, because no one I know is as obsessed with knitting or any other craft the way I am; words like “freak” and “obsessive” come to mind. I guess if I’m going to be obsessive about something, better it be a harmless craft, than obsessive housecleaning… I think. Although, the house could use just a little obsession these days… Some of the yarn I took could have been sold, but I had the feeling that it wouldn’t sell, and I was probably right because there was a whole lot of yarn there, and not enough buying going on, so I donated it to charity. Have I mentioned that to buy items at Fiber Frenzy, you don’t have to be a member? Mark it on your calendar for next year!

I made the rounds of the tables a few times, and didn’t buy anything, and then I found two skeins of hand-dyed lace weight cashmere for $25! I thought about it a long time and walked away. I walked away! So what did I come away with?

It started with 20 grams of Douceur et Soie in gray for $1.00:

And then there was this sweet little skein of Artisan NZ Merino Lace Weight for $8.00:

Well, then I practically fell off my chair when I spotted 1300 yards of Sea Island Cotton at the sale table next to me:

This has been on my want list for some time and it was unused and priced to sell at $25.00!

Finally, three pretty babies in need of a home pulled on my apron strings:

A trio of unused Jo Sharp Rare Comfort Kid Mohair in wisteria for $5.00!

“That’s okay,” I told myself. “I left with a fraction of the laundry basket of yarn I donated.”

I’ve lost sleep of late, thinking about the cashmere that got away. What was I thinking?