Sunday, January 31, 2010


Sorta brain-dead this weekend, though I did get some plying/spinning done today. Mostly I've yelled at the cat, argued with the kid, and nearly punched someone in Ikea yesterday.

Today, the Goob and I made brownies. That cheered everyone up a good bit. We put her in the apron her grandma bought her for Christmas.

Then I let her stir everything around. With a little kid-sized wooden spoon. (That her grandma bought her for Christmas.)

And I let her finish out the day by licking the batter off the spoon.

Life is short. We should all live on brownies.

Otherwise, I want to add the herbs all of you guys commented on to the spice rack post, and continue tinkering with the sidebar. You know. Super-exciting stuff.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

From the Goober. As always.

"HEY! MOM! I have an iguana in my pants!"

She was talking about her Little People animals, but knowing it was a plastic iguana and not a real one didn't stop me from laughing my head off.

(Will follow up on the spice rack post, and some other stuff later. But this was too good to not share.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Side bar revamp!

Hey, all. In case no one's noticed, I'm fooling around with the side bar some more. Again. I've put in an active blog list (toward the bottom) that changes as people update, with the title of their last post. If you're a regular reader, have a blog that's been updated in the last three months, and want me to add you to the list, please let me know. This list is meant to celebrate all the folks who stop by here, not exclude everyone, so, really. Let me know.


The Spice Rack.

I've been talking about doing this post since last Thanksgiving, so I thought it was about time I got around to it. Obviously this is another of my food posts: a list of what's in my spice rack, where it came from, what part of the plant it is, all that. Plus odd commentary if I think of it. This is kind of long, but I know some of you were curious. There won't be a test later, if this isn't your thing and you aren't interested.

To get technical (it's a compulsion), there are herbs and spices on this list. Herbs are the leaves and stems of plants (green bits), and spices are roots, seeds, bark, and all the other stuff (usually not green bits). So it's more accurately the spice and herb rack, but most people don't differentiate too much. Not even me, the plant freak.

One of the best things about these, all of them, is that they deliver a lot of flavor for little or no calories. So unless you're allergic, there is no drawback to these things. I've long thought that one reason the west goes so overboard on fat and salt is because our food is relatively bland, compared to that of many cultures, and we've gotta taste it somehow.

ALLSPICE: The only major spice native to the New World. (Ironically. Considering spice is what Columbus was after when he ran into it.) Native to the Caribbean and associated central and southern American shores. It's from a tree. We eat the berries, dried and ground fine. Allspice was named by Euros who thought it tasted like a combination of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

CELERY SEED: Celery is one of those ancient plants that got passed around Eurasia at such an early date that no one's quite sure where it's native to, but it looks like the Middle East is the best candidate - it grows wild there. Celery seed is in fact a very very teeny tiny fruit - those little 'seeds' are actually a casing with the real seeds inside them. Celery salt is made from celery seed ground fine and mixed in with salt. Apparently it's also capable of triggering wicked bad allergic reactions much like peanuts do (though it's not closely related to peanuts).

CINNAMON: Is actually made from more than one species of tree (that's why some cinnamons taste so much better than others). It's native to Sri Lanka. The part we eat is the bark, peeled off (like birch bark for you Americans and Canadians), dried, and ground up. The curls of bark, un-ground, are called 'quills'. Cinnamon slows the growth of yeasts, so if you're making spicy breads, expect it to take longer to rise.

CLOVES: Cloves come from a tree native to Indonesia. The part we use is the dried flower bud (take a really close look at a whole clove some time; you can see the flower). It's closely related to bay leaves and damsons. The oil is used in dentistry and related products.

CORIANDER: Native to the Mediterranean area, and used world-wide in all sorts of ethnic foods. In the US (and possibly other places), the seeds/fruits of the plant are known as coriander, and the leaves are known as cilantro. Both are from the same plant. As with celery seed, the 'seed' is in fact an itty-bitty dried fruit.

CUMIN: Another of the hard-to-place Eurasian plants. Possibly native to the area now known as Syria. We use the seeds. Use goes back at least four thousand years, by the archeological record.

DILL: We use the leaves and top parts of the stems, fresh or dried, and sometimes the seeds. Native to Eastern Europe. The name comes from Anglo-Saxon for 'soothe', probably because dill IS soothing on the digestive tract. Dill is used a lot in Northern European foods; I wonder if that's because it is easy to grow there. (Anyone from N Europe want to check in with an opinion on that?)

GARLIC: Technically I'm not sure this counts since it doesn't live in my spice rack, but what the heck. It's a member of the onion family, native to China. (Yes, really. China.) A major source of trace elements, vitamins, and minerals, it was passed along the trade routes so early that men were eating it when they built the pyramids. Garlic is also interesting in that it is so domesticated that it cannot reproduce and survive on its own - it has to be dug up, the bulbs broken up and replanted, to spread.

GINGER: Native to somewhere in Asia. We use the rhizome, which is a fleshy underground stem. It is dried and ground up, or used fresh and grated by the cook right before use. Ginger has been shown in many studies to work better on motion sickness than Dramimine, and I used it that way with good results.

MUSTARD: There are two kinds, brown/black and yellow. The one we know best and use most is yellow; it's easily cultivated by machine and therefore cheaper. Spiciness has more to do with how the seeds are processed, than whether brown or yellow seeds are used. It's thought to be native to India, where it has been in use for thousands of years.

NUTMEG AND MACE: These are from the same plant, a tree native to Indonesia. The tree produces a fruit kind of like a small peach; it breaks open in halves with a big seed inside. Nutmeg comes from the dried and ground seed. Mace is the dried and ground aril, which is a vein-like covering wrapped around the seed. In the areas it is grown, the fruits are also eaten. They contain chemicals that vaguely resemble serotonin and people speculate that eating nutmeg can cause something of a 'high'. It is also said that enough nutmeg can cause hallucinations, but from what I've read, the hallucination 'dose' and the toxic dose are so close together I wouldn't risk it. (We're talking tablespoons of the stuff.)

OREGANO: Leaves and stems from a little herby plant. It's native to Europe and related to mint. This is THE flavor we associate with Italian foods. It's so closely related to marjoram that it's really hard to tell them apart.

PARSLEY: Possibly native to Central Europe. This is THE generic garnish for everything, which is too bad because parsley aids digestion and has some good vitamins and minerals in it. It also makes a good companion plant in gardens because it attracts friendly bugs.

PEPPER: Black, green, and white pepper are all the dried fruit of the same vine, native to southern India. Black pepper is from the fruits, picked while unripe, cooked briefly, then dried. Green pepper is the fruit picked unripe and allowed to dry as-is, or freeze-dried. White pepper is the seed of the fruit only, with the skin removed, then dried. Usually it's used ground up. It's been used in India for at least four thousand years, and is one of the world's first major trade items.

POPPY SEED: These are real, actual seeds. We've discussed poppies in depth before, so I'll just say that yes, it is true, if you eat enough poppy seeds you will test positive for opiate use on drug tests.

SAFFRON: These are the stigmas (the little thready bits of the flowers) from a specific member of the crocus family, native to Southwest Asia. A pinch will flavor a whole pot of food. There are wall frescoes depicting women gathering saffron, dating to the bronze age, in Greece. It's been the most expensive spice in the world, usually worth more per pound than gold (depending on the markets).

THYME: Probably native to Europe; the green bits of several species of plant. My personal favorite for flavoring meat, along with a bit of garlic.

TURMERIC: Closely related to ginger, and similar in most other ways, too. Native to tropical Asia, the rhizome is dried and ground, etc. It's used as a yellow flavor and food colorant in many foods, including traditional yellow mustard.

And a last one that isn't in my spice rack because I can't stand it. But it's probably in yours.

MINT: The mints cross-breed so easily and regularly there's a whole lot of debate as to which plant is related to or a crossbreed of what other ones. But generally, most of the ones we use in foods are native to Eurasia. They're very easy to grow in gardens, but they're invasive as all heck so don't be shocked if you plant some and it tries to eat your yard.

There you go. I think that about does it, at least for the major spices and herbs.

ETA: Here are some more herbs that got mentioned in the comments.

-Basil is related to mints, and grows in many of the same areas. It's another of the famous Eurasian plants that's probably native to the eastern half of the Mediterranean, somewhere. The chemicals in basil are delicate and cooking destroys them, so make sure to add it to foods at the last minute, before you eat it.

-Epazote isn't really a spice I don't think (technically) but a seed eaten as a grain. It's a chenopod native to S America, meaning it's most closely related to quinoa and goosefoot. (I talked about this a couple months ago in my 'native American foods' post.)

-Fennel is related to carrots, dill, and a bunch of other culinary plants. We eat the 'bulb', which is similar to onion in physical terms - it is a tightly curled rosette of specialized leaves, not an actual root. Technically the whole plant is edible, though it isn't always eaten that way. It's native to somewhere in Europe.

-Marjoram is an herb so closely related to oregano, I wonder if one is the ancestor of the other. They are different species of the same genus, and closely related even for that.

-Mexican Oregano is a very close relative of European oregano, just native to south and central America instead of Eurasia.

-Pink Peppercorns are from a tree native to South America. It's not a true pepper, and not very closely related to 'real' pepper (which is native to India). It goes by a lot of folk names - American Pepper, Peruvian Pepper, etc. It's the red/pink stuff you see among the black, green, and white peppercorns in bottles of 'mixed' pepper. They've been used in S America for at least 1500 years. Probably longer.

-Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean area (not shocking, considering the native cuisines it is popular in). It contains lots of iron, is an anti-oxidant, and works as an anti-inflammatory. The wood is aromatic and used in grilling, and we use the leaves when cooking.

-Tarragon is related to wormwood (the stuff in absinthe) and white sage (the native American incense). It's also related to tumbleweeds, if memory serves. It's native to nearly the entire northern hemisphere, though there's argument about whether the north American versions are naturalized from imported plants or truly native. We eat the leaves.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Top trends.

Yes, I used the word trend. With only a little irony. Okay, maybe a lot. I was cruising this website today (yeah, I read fashion stuff), and saw the "Top Trends" list at the bottom. It's a good thing I wasn't drinking anything or I'd have snarfed tea out my nose. So let's run down the list of the top trends, shall we? (Just for the record, I've got nothing against... most... of these trends, I just resent them being pushed on us as new ideas by fashion designers desperate to sell me new clothes.)

1. Tulle. As with a lot of fabrics, tulle takes its name from where it was first made, in this case the city of Tulle. In 1700. (This is the mesh stuff that they made our prom dress "crinolines" out of in the eighties.) So, yeah, the big trend in fashion this year has been around 300 years. Sure, we can always find new stuff to do with it, but this is why I have a really hard time taking fashion seriously. Anyway, it got to be associated with weddings and fancy dress mostly after Queen Victoria wore a gown with a lot of tulle on it when she got married. Tulle has also been used as a base for embroidery and bead work, and with addition of the fancy stuff, can look pretty cool.

2. Neon. (Or more properly, fluorescent, unless they're making neon lights to wear, which I won't entirely rule out.) All right, this makes me cringe. I wore neon stuff in middle school, in the early eighties. I think that was the first round of neon clothing, due to changes in dye technology that made it possible. Neon dyes were of course possible before the eighties, but not at affordable mass-market prices. (I covered how fluorescent dye and paint works in my orange color post.)

3. Platform shoes. Well, it's hard to get a proper definition of exactly what we're talking about, but shoes with really thick soles go back pretty much into prehistory, all around the world. They were worn in early cities the world over (from China to Europe, probably India, possibly the New World and parts of Africa) to keep people's feet out of the muck in the roads from lots of horses and poor sanitation. Ancient Greeks and other theater types wore them for extra height on stage. Several kings of France pranced around in them. Naomi Campbell fell while wearing them on the runway. If I hadn't tossed a bunch of clothes on this last move, I'd have some from the last time they were popular in the nineties. Really, I don't think these ever fully go out of style, particularly now with new, better materials to make shoes with.

4. Plaid. Plaid goes back to the bronze age at least, and Vivienne Westwood made it popular for 'high fashion' back in the early eighties, late seventies. I wore a shitload of plaid in the eighties. Should have saved it, apparently.

5. Boyfriend jeans. Jeans go back at least to the 1850s. They didn't become outerwear/streetwear/daywear until the 1950s, when teenagers started wearing them to school. I believe at the time there were no women's jeans made, so that means at first all girls were wearing guy jeans. In Europe at least, women started wearing masculine-styled clothing hundreds of years ago, although women didn't start wearing trousers regularly until the 1910s, 1920s. (Interestingly, real jeans are dyed with indigo, and over twenty million tons of indigo is used each year for that purpose. Meaning our jeans are probably keeping the indigo industry in business.)

6. Leggings. Again with the eighties stuff. We called them 'stirrup pants' due to the elastic that went under the foot to hold them down and smooth. It's probably impossible to know how far back into history these go, but offhand it's at least the early 1800s. The Battle of Waterloo was held up for a while in 1812 because the cavalrymen's pants were so tight they were having trouble getting into the saddle.

7. Nautical. Geez, um, Battle of Trafalgar? Do all those crazy wigs in the 1700s that had boats in them count as nautical? Schiaparelli's Trompe L'oeil Sweater was nautical. That was, what, 1927?

8. Denim shorts. Daisy Duke. 1979.

9. Ballet flats. Vintage Textile regularly sells shoes looking very much like decorated ballet flats, dating to the Regency era, the 1810s. They were also popular in the eighties. This is a nice trend; the shoes are comfortable and look good with nearly everything. I'll probably stock up on several colors, to wear until the next time they're 'in'.

10. Military. Military styling goes back to Elizabeth I of England, at least. She wore a really cool military-inspired dress to inspect the troops, and of course the rest of the world went off and made things in imitation. Women have long taken inspiration from dress uniforms. All that braid and ribbon, you know.

So there's the season's fashion forecast. Looks like we're in for another retread of the 1980s. I'm gonna go dye my hair pink and listen to Culture Club.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lets talk about the air.

So, I'm a plant freak and botany geek. Anyone who's been around more than, say, a minute or two, probably knows that. It confuses people who know me in real life, because I'm seriously casual about what we eat. I don't go all organic or anything like that. While I don't advocate living on Twinkies (and will address what I do get that's organic, at the bottom), here's why I don't get too het-up about what's in my food:

LEAD: The natural concentration of lead in the atmosphere is about .1 microgram per cubic meter. (No, I'm not converting that to imperial.) Needless to say, that's not a lot. It comes from stuff like volcanic eruptions, forest fires, stuff like that. However. Thanks to leaded gas that was burned in vehicles for decades (and is still used in many countries that don't honor the Kyoto Accord or otherwise don't give a shit), there's more lead than that in the atmosphere now. How much? No one will say. Everyone claims that levels are dropping since we began phasing out leaded gasoline (which I believe) and that in some cases it's nearly back to normal (which I don't believe). Large cities are of course at more risk than rural settings, which is true for nearly all contaminants. But of course cities don't exist in bubbles, and that crap spreads. Incidentally, inhalation and ingestion are the big risks. Lead in metal form (like roofs or downspouts or like that) are fairly safe and in practical terms not a real risk unless you intend to grind them up and huff the fumes. Still, you're inhaling lead and these other environmental pollutants every time you take a breath.

CARBON MONOXIDE: This isn't just screwing the planet in terms of global warming; it's also really bad if you inhale it. Natural sources are fires (including smoking cigarettes) and volcanoes and the like. Car exhaust is a major source too. As with lead, levels are slowly dropping now that the planet is getting more serious about car exhaust, but levels are still higher than the human body evolved with. Carbon monoxide will act like oxygen in your blood stream, bonding to the red blood cells in the place of the oxygen. Unfortunately your system can't use the carbon monoxide, so all it does is take up space that should be carrying oxygen. Short version, inhaling this stuff causes you to suffocate at a cellular level.

RADIOACTIVE HEAVY METALS: Thanks to the atomic bomb tests run by the US, Russian, French and probably other governments, mostly in the fifties, we've got all sorts of shit in the atmosphere that the human body was never meant to inhale. The biggies are Strontium-90 and Cesium-137. It is everywhere. People in jungles who've never seen white men or known metal tools have inhaled it. Our bones are radioactive due to it. I've spoken to doctors who think the astronomical increase in bone fractures are due to it (I think extreme sports play a role, but this stuff isn't helping). While I've discussed natural sources of radiation in the past, this isn't natural. The human body was never meant to deal with it. Every time you inhale, in it goes. Unless you live in a full-inhalation face mask with HEPA filters.

That stuff's just the high points. We've got tons upon tons of sulfur, other heavy metals, CFCs, ozone, and the gods only know floating around out there.

I'm not putting this out to be a total bitch, or a downer, or to rag on people who try to eat right. I salute those of you who are really working at it. The reason I'm saying this is to try to SAVE YOU SOME MONEY. You can see from the above information that even if you were to shift entirely to organic everything in your food, there's no way to avoid environmental contaminants. Organic food is expensive. Damn expensive. Instead of going whole-hog on it, I suggest instead making some choices about what you buy organic, and saving yourself some money.

Hormone free meat is worth the extra money. If you can find it. Everyone agrees that stuff will mess you up, and it's not something you can easily avoid by buying regular and trimming the fat or something easy. So that's worth the expenditure.

Strawberries are one of the most pesticide-intensive crops grown. Period. Anywhere. So I'd spend the money on organics there. (I'm allergic and so don't buy any, but if I did, I'd get organic.)

Apples are another really super-intensive pesticide crop. If you can't find organics, either peel the apples or wash them down really well. (Usually I wash down regular apples right before I eat them.) Citrus is much the same; get organic, wash it down, or peel it.

Yes, other vegetables are sprayed with pesticides, fertilizer, and other crap. But the levels are usually low enough that a good wash of the stuff before you eat it will take care of the worst of it, and while you will get a few extra chemicals, I don't think it's worth getting worked up with, in the big picture.

Oh, and if you get organic foods imported from overseas? There's no possible way to be sure they're REALLY organic, or if they were grown in the same field as regular crops and just marked organic to make a few extra dollars. Globally there is almost no tracking on food crops, where they come from, or where they go. It's rather scary, really.

Avoiding processed foods is probably the easiest, least-expensive way to eat well. It's more time-consuming to cook that way, but you avoid a lot of preservatives and other chemicals, even if you're not using all-organic raw materials.

Yellow 5 (tartrazine) is one of the few food additives ever proven in studies to trigger hyperactive behavior. It is banned in some countries, and most others require ingredient listing so people can avoid this. It is one of the few things I actively try to avoid.

Sugar only causes tooth decay, but it doesn't really do you any good. At least brown sugar has some vitamins and minerals; white sugar is worthless. This goes along with avoiding processed foods.

High Fructose Corn Syrup is evil. There's a lot of argument from the Corn Refiner's Association, insisting it's healthy, but please. Their paychecks depend on selling the crap. This stuff is so highly processed the human body doesn't really know what to do with it. Over three decades, the use of HFCS has tracked right alongside rising obesity rates and increased diabetes cases, fatty liver disorders, all those 'excess' diseases in the US. Researchers are finally starting to make headway against the propaganda put out by the refiners of the crap, and I hope soon we'll be using the stuff to make ethanol instead of putting it in our food.

Soda, well, soda is just a nasty old soup of chemicals. Often there's nothing natural in there at all, if you get the diet ones. We can argue for days about each chemical and what its effect is in the human body, but the bottom line is, we didn't evolve drinking the stuff, and all those artificial, non-naturally-occurring chemicals are unlikely to be good for us.

So, there you go. Why I don't eat all organic. And what I do instead, to try and be intelligent about what I eat, without going overboard. Anybody else got some ideas? I know a lot of you eat right - thoughts on doing that, on a budget?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Books on knitwear design.

I've had a couple e-mails from different folks asking me for suggestions, these last couple weeks. As a rule when I get more than two requests for the same information, I publish it here (unless it's about penis size enhancement and the information requested is my credit card number). So here are the books I use most when working out my own designs. Please know, these aren't the ONLY books out there, they aren't even the only GOOD books out there. They're just the ones I use the most. I'll try to explain why, with each one. If anyone has different favorites, give a shout out in the comments. I'm always on the lookout for a good book.

First and foremost, the book I'm constantly going on about around here, and is currently laying open on my desk:

"Knitting in the Old Way" by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson. If I could only have ONE reference book on sweaters/cardigans/pullovers, it would be this one. Technically, it is only about traditional knitwear, and puts it all in the context of the EPS, or Elizabeth's Percentage System. That's the one worked out by Elizabeth Zimmerman, which uses the chest measurement as 100% and all other measurements are percentages of it. There are quite a few different construction methods discussed, and with a bit of creativity, you can apply this to all the rest of designs, traditional or not. Because, while the traditional sweaters are all knit bottom-up or top-down, you can work the percentages out in centimeters instead of stitch count, and then use the dimensions to knit in any direction you like. (Yes, technically you can work out the percentages in inches, but doing that is a royal pain in the ass.) Years ago, when I was knitting a sweater by Elsbeth Lavold, I found an error in the sleeve caps. It was this book I used to correct it; I figured out how high they SHOULD be, in cm, and then knit it to fit. It's a very useful book. It also has hordes of information on steeking, different fiber types and what they're good for, different knitting methods, a survey of traditional sweaters from all over, and basic patterns for at least two dozen. You could knit out of this book for a decade, easy, and not knit the same thing twice.

"Designing Knitwear" by Deborah Newton. This was written back in the eighties, I believe. It's been around for a while, for sure. And it's still in print, because it's a really good book. It talks through the creative process, how she starts with a sketch, how she decides what yarn to use, what color, what everything. And then how she works out from there. From Ms. Newton I gained the habit of drawing out my designs on graph paper, with one square equaling one inch (usually) and from there if you get the math it's all down hill. There are several patterns in here to give you a final product to look at, and a great deal of discussion on how she got there.

"Knitting from the Top" by Barbara Walker. This one covers ALL garments, not just pullovers. ("Knitting in the Old Way" is upper body garments only; "Designing Knitwear" touches on dresses and other things, but not much.) Pants, hats, skirts, dresses, you name it, it's all in here. Combine it with the EPS and you can knit the world. There's a section in the back of general comments from Walker that reads like the notes from a master class on knitting. It's worth the cost of the book for those five or ten pages, alone, even if you never design anything. (Stuff on gauge swatch, fiber choice, working a project, etc.)

"Meg Swansen's Knitting" by, well, Meg Swansen. This isn't, technically, a design book. It's a book of patterns. But there is a technique section in the front that is worth the cost of the book. And each pattern is written in her mother's style, with all sorts of sidebar commentary about how she chose to make the garment the way she did, and, well, a glimpse into Meg Swansen's brain? Always educational and helpful and fascinating.

There are probably another dozen or two books I use when designing, some of them not even having to do with knitting, depending on where I found my inspiration. Fashion history is always educational, and books on sewing can teach you quite a lot about garment construction - especially books that discuss sewing jersey (tee shirt material). But with the books I've listed above, I think you'd be able to make just about anything you want to.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Quote for the day.

From the Goob. Of course. She says all the good stuff.

"I'm not a drama princess, I AM A DRAMA FAIRY."

Sure are, kid.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What I'm doing.

I've been spinning. Quite a lot. I'm averaging one skein a day (of about 75 yards) for the color-blending experiment. This is what I've got so far. It's halfway between sport and DK weight (uh... five ply ish for you Aussies).

You can probably see, that's a two-ply of orange and orange, then one of orange and peach, and then one of peach and peach. Next up is one of peach and light pink, then double light pink, then light pink and dark pink... There will be eight skeins total (including one of orange and dark pink I fear will be fugly; that is earmarked for the gauge swatch). I'm using roving from Muench Yarns, which apparently they don't even list on their web site. Cute. At any rate, I got four 8oz lots during that fiber spree I went on before Christmas; orange, peach, pink, and dark pink. It's mostly an experiment in spinning, but it'd be nice to wind up with enough yarn for a vest. For two pounds of wool, I'm not getting that much yardage. I think I've totally given up on trying to spin for yardage. I seem to suck at it.

In other news, Sekhmet is still a fucker.

That's my heating pad she's on. I got up to get a drink and she nearly leapt on it. There was quite a fight, getting it back.

Monday, January 18, 2010

REVIEW: The Alchemy of Color Knitting.

By Gina Wilde. She's a co-owner and the creative director of Alchemy Yarns. So when I heard this book was being written, I was psyched. 'Cause, as we know, I'm all about color around here, and the more of it the better. I spotted this in the book store last night and nearly leapt upon it, giggling with glee. Coming home, I holed up in the bedroom to read in (near) peace and see what Gina has to say about color.

As it turns out, well, she didn't say enough to please me. Don't get me wrong. There's a good bit of information about color in there. She's got a couple pages on the color wheel and matching things and NOT matching them, and all that. It's a very good basic introduction to working with color. For those of you who are at a loss as to where to start, when it comes to that sort of thing, it's a fine book. But for me, who has probably hit 'intermediate' or higher in terms of color theory, dye, and all that, I was left wanting more. Wilde just barely touches on the mystical aspects of colors, relating them to the five elements (earth, air, fire, water, and metal, the ancient Chinese system). On one page she discusses the color red and its meanings in culture around the world. But she only does it for red. I'd have cheerfully paid another five or ten bucks for another hundred pages of information along those lines. Wilde is extremely educated on this subject and has many, MANY things to teach the rest of us. And that's before we even start on the dyeing aspect of it - which she's also highly educated about.

The patterns are interesting. There are a few techniques that, while not new, she explains well and uses in interesting ways. Final count: 3 scarves, five wraps and shawls, five pullovers, five cardis, a tank top, a skirt, a hat, a pair of gloves, socks, a bag, and a set of baskets. Detailing, especially on the cardigans and pullovers, is very nice.

I'm of two minds about the yarns used. All the yarns are Alchemy Yarns, which, okay, why not use your yarns when you write a book? I would. But with the exception of the socks (knit with 100% merino), every yarn used in the book is either pure silk, or has a significant silk content, 30% and up. Sure, silk takes up color well, and looks positively glorious when dyed saturated hues. But flower pot baskets knit with wool/silk blend? Really? Alchemy Yarns does make yarns that don't contain silk, so I wonder why so much silk was used in the book; there were certainly alternatives that would still use Alchemy yarns. Silk can be limiting for the knitter, because it makes everything super-warm. And for a lot of knitters, the cost will be completely out of hand and they'll have to either substitute or not knit the project. (Bamboo, cotton, flax/linen, and hemp are all decent alternatives.)

Bottom line? It's a good book. You'll get your money's worth from the patterns alone (if you pay full price for the book, it comes out to a buck a pattern; a positive bargain). But considering the author, you'll probably be left wishing for more color information.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sekhmet, you fucker.

I suppose it is in the nature of cats to be annoying. At least, in the nature of SOME cats, and we've already established that this beast is one of those. Sekhmet has figured out that I'm not feeling well, and so is trying to offer comfort in the way of cats. Which means laying on me, against me, beside me, around me, at every opportunity. Purring all the while. (The purring I don't mind so much.) It has gotten so that I can't sit down for more than five minutes without her bouncing into my lap (she's following me from room to room), meaning that before I can stand up to do anything, at any time, I have to disentangle myself from fifteen pounds of cat, first.

Oh well. At least she hasn't bitten me lately.


The Knitting Olympics are coming up, and I'm trying to choose a project. At first I'd had something spectacular in mind, but I've been brooding, and you know... Innsvinget Ganser is still unfinished. All the knitting is done, it just needs a boatload of finishing, including pulling one arm out, unraveling two inches off the shoulder, and grafting it back in. (The royal pain in the ass of that is what's stalled it for the last, um, two years. Good gods. TWO YEARS?) At the moment, the sweater and all the stuff needed to finish it are in my in-laws' basement, and I'm due back in Ohio this coming week, so I could pick it up then.

I really should finish that poor damn sweater, huh?


I'm putting out a yowl for help amongst my blog readers. You guys are clever. I'm in the process of working on a line of designs intended for hand-spinners; designs that are worked in such a way as to use up as much as possible of the yarn. (I've got a scarf in progress and a wrap waiting for me to knit once I actually spin the yarn.) I want to name the LINE of patterns. Something clever to communicate that they're meant to use up all the yarn possible. All I can think of is "Every Scrap Patterns", which sounds like you're going to knit them with scrap yarn - totally contradictory because the pattern takes the approach that every bit of hand-spun yarn is valuable. So... suggestions, anyone?

Friday, January 15, 2010


Pain problem's getting worse, I think in part due to the TENS unit. So maybe no more Iron Man. Anyway, this may yet lead to Cranky Blogging, which I know a lot of you find entertaining as hell. You never know. (Will be throwing myself on the mercy of my GP next week, since apparently none of the pain specialists in the city are interested in seeing me, at least not in the next month or three.)

Anyway. Let's talk about something interesting.

Here, I give you my high-tech, apartment-dwelling yarn drying rack:

In case you can't figure it out, that's a skein of yarn looped over a shampoo bottle on a window sill, in the shower stall. Super-high tech, I'm telling you. Works, though.


Yesterday I drove over to Ohio for lunch. It was my mother-in-law's birthday, and my father-in-law cooked it up so we were waiting at the restaurant when they got there. I'd coached the Goober the whole way over in the car, to yell "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GRANDMA!" So she did. Really loudly. Fortunately she's cute and everyone in the restaurant was amused. THEN the Goober announced "I'm your birthday present!" My mother-in-law was completely surprised, so mission accomplished.

Really, the whole reason we're in Pittsburgh and not Honolulu (literally) is because we wanted to raise the Goober near her family. So the in-laws and my brother keep saying "we don't want to inconvenience you..." and I'm nearly yelling at them "we moved here to be near you, LET'S TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT!" So we did, and it worked out. Next week I'm driving BACK, to take care of some family stuff with my brother. I'm trying not to imagine how this would be working out if we were in Honolulu. Not well, I'll say that for nothing.


For fun and comparison (if you like), pop on over to KnitScene. Their new issue preview is up. There's nothing revolutionary there, but since they're not claiming to be, okay. (I believe they claim to be a magazine providing knitting patterns. Mission accomplished.) Most of the patterns go up to a 52-54in/132-137cm bust. The smallest only goes up to 44in/111cm, one goes up to 65in/165cm. The only things that come in one size are shawls and scarves and hats and like that, which, yeah.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

That was interesting.

I wasn't gonna mention the bruhaha over the TM message (I took it down partly because of the circus and partly because I could not substantiate, 100%, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it was sent by her). But then, sitting here this morning, I thought it might be kind of stupid to pretend it never happened, because in terms of cyberspace, yesterday was nuts. If this blog was really my living room (like the Yarn Harlot likes to say), I'd be sitting here in the aftermath of a massive party, looking at empty glasses and beer bottles, thinking "wow... That was crazy." Other than a few broken glasses, though, the party was kinda nice. Figuratively speaking.

-Got messages of support from dozens of people, including friends who don't knit. One old friend of mine offered to take over as my complaint department on a semi-permanent basis. For his own entertainment. He doesn't knit. I think he's really angling for more coconut macaroons, or a squid hat.

-Met a lot of fun folks over on the boards on Ravelry, in places I hadn't visited before. Wish I spoke/read Finnish, you guys look like fun and you've got some major knitting talent going on.

-About, what, ten new blog readers? (Hi, guys!)

If I hadn't accidentally had WAY too much caffeine yesterday (loose leaf English Breakfast, it gets me every time), and been pretty sick all day, I think I'd have enjoyed meeting all the new folks even more. The response was overwhelmingly polite - neutral, if not positive.

So, thanks to all of you who stopped by here, or e-mailed, or contacted me other ways, to say hi, make me laugh, or tell me they liked my blog. I always appreciate hearing nice things.

Now, I've got to go to Ohio to have lunch with some family and retrieve the yarn for the East Meets West bag I said I'd be knitting around this time. (Looks like Knitpicks only has the red ones left in stock.) In the next couple weeks I'll be doing some tutorials mostly having to do with different kinds of color work, but I'll try to hit some of the basics, too, like how to cast on 400+ stitches without losing your mind.

But for now, I drive. (I'd really rather stay home and spin.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

And you thought biology was boring.

Meet the new entry in biology's "What in fuck is THAT?" sweepstakes.

The green sea slug, known by Serious Folks as Elysia chlorotica. The green? It's due to CHLOROPHYLL. Scientists announced this week that they'd found a critter (other than sponges) that uses chlorophyll. Only, see, it's freakier than that. Unlike most animals who use parts of other critters in their physiology, the sea slugs don't use the whole cells. No, the slugs break down the cells, somehow filter out ONLY the chloroplasts (the organelle in plant cells that do photosynthesis) and then park the chloroplasts in their guts where they produce 'food' on a cellular level. But it gets weirder. The researchers figured out that if they kept the slugs in light for twelve hours a day, they don't need to eat at all. Yet somehow the chloroplasts kept 'running' - meaning the animal physiology has somehow figured out a way to 'feed' the chloroplasts and keep them operating. Even though the chloroplasts aren't in cells. And are in animals instead of plants. Truly, the world is a weird place. (Article here.)

Some other fun entrants in the "What the fuck?" taxonomy contest:


Oh, sure, you've probably got the skeletons of a couple sponges laying around the house, and so you think they're common. Let me tell you, these things are weirder than you realize. Did you know sponges are classified as animals? They are. Even though they reproduce like plants. Some even have chlorophyll in them. Sponges are found world wide, from the tropics to the poles, in fresh and salt water, from shallows to over five miles (!) deep. They produce hordes of odd chemicals - toxins, antimicrobials, you name it. For something that looks uncomplicated, they're extremely complicated.


Meet Fuligo septica, or in folk/common names, "Dog Vomit Slime Mold". (Sure, taxonomy is less confusing, but I fuckin' love folk names. So much more descriptive.) Slime molds used to be classified with fungi, hence the name. But unlike fungi, which have organized cellular tissue, slime molds "composed of an acellular mass of naked protoplasm with no cell walls in its vegetative state". (Quotes from here.) In layman's terms, that means in part of a slime mold's life cycle, IT IS A PUDDLE OF GOO. No cells. No kind of tissue organization that we associate with living creatures. Nada. Just a freakin' puddle. IS THAT COOL, OR WHAT? It reproduces by sexual reproduction (usually considered an advanced adaptation), and when in the mood (and proper portion of their life cycle), they can ooze around "in amoeboid fashion". Except amoeba are amoeba, and these suckers grow up to the size of dinner plates. Here's some video of them sliming about; I don't speak the language, but the visuals of the mold can't be beat. I think the 'raspberries flying through the air' animation is to represent the 'fruiting' or 'spore' portion of the life cycle, when it sort of seeds itself. You see how screwed up these things are? No one knows what to call the reproduction phase of the life cycle - you've got 'fruiting' from angiosperm plants and 'spore' from fungi, and scientists agree they aren't really either one, but DON'T HAVE A WORD for what it really is. Think about that a minute. How a critter reproduces is a major point used to classify a critter, and scientists are still LOOKING FOR WORDS to simply describe these things.

So far as I know, slime molds live entirely on vegetable matter - bark, leaf rot, that sort of thing. One lab was feeding them oats (the same lab that had a slime mold escape a petri dish; cracks me up). If a meat-eating slime mold turns up, let me know, 'cause I'm moving to the moon.


Meet one of the few critters on the planet not to run on sunlight. You know how we were taught in school that everything runs on sunlight? That if you trace the food chain back far enough, EVERYTHING always traces back to photosynthesizing plants? Guess again. (Though the whole ecosystem was only discovered in 1977, so depending, your biology teacher may be forgiven for getting it wrong.) These guys run on chemosynthesis. They live around "black smokers", hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. The 'smoke' is actually a soup of sulfur and hydrocarbons and god-knows. Tube worms contain bacteria that metabolize those chemicals into organic molecules that the tube worm then feeds on. Other critters in the black smoker mini ecosystem either graze directly on similar bacteria that live in mats around the black smokers, or graze on critters who graze on critters that... well, it's just like solar food chains, but not. Cool, yet utterly fucked up.

So there you go. I wonder if they don't teach this stuff in biology because it confuses that taxonomy 'tree of life' thing they're trying to teach in a classroom, or if they don't think they have time to teach the weird shit. But it's a shame, because it's stuff just like this that gets kids curious and interested, and I don't know about you, but I think a good argument on whether sponges are plants or animals would be great to make them think.

There you go, geeking out for the sheer fun of it.

Oh, but wait.

Sorry to ruin it kids, but the hate mail rolling in is too much. I just got shit on by a VK designer whose work I called nice. It's not worth the stress. The Drama Llama has left the building.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Or, okay, not. I don't have any super powers, and I don't sound like Ozzy Osbourne. It's rather a downer. But we're thinking this might work, at least at night to help me sleep.

I saw the physical therapist today (she was nice; I'd go back to her any time) and she showed me how to use the TENS unit. That's it on my hand, up there. It looks kind of badass there, with the electrodes and all, but it's really boring once I wrap my bright purple ace bandage around it to keep the wires from snagging on stuff. I asked the physical therapist if I'd wake up with super powers. She paused for a moment, then grinned and said no, but it would be cool. She did tell me that TENS units only work on nerves - but with luck, we might get the nerves transmitting the bone pain to shut up. Here's hoping.

For the appointment, in a desperate attempt to be taken seriously, I put on my Dignified Librarian clothes. (Not just librarian, no, DIGNIFIED librarian.) That meant a black long-sleeved tee shirt, olive slacks, the Dignified Angora Socks, and black shoes. Oh, and the glasses. Didn't wear the fur because when my hand's bothering me it's hard to wrestle thirty pounds of coat, no matter how warm it is.

I think it's working... when my pain levels drop I always get giddy. And I'm babbling right now.

For those of you who asked, I checked the tag on the socks. I can NOT believe that it specified, but it DID. They are made from bunny angora, not goat angora. (Which is nice 'cause that means when I step in a puddle I won't smell like wet goat.) It was listed as "rabbit hair". Can't believe they specified. It's Target, for crying out loud. Actually, I can't believe they had angora socks in the first place. But I wanna buy some more.


I've been spinning. The first (of eight) skeins of the color-blend experiment is done.

It's a two-ply yarn. I didn't weigh the wool for the different plies or anything, I just eyeballed it and hoped the singles were equal. When I plied the two singles together, I had this much left over on the one bobbin:

By my estimate, that's less than two yards. Damn I'm good.

I'm hoping to finish this yarn in time for the Ravelry Olympics (I'm on Team Owww!) and then use it to knit one of EZ's rib warmers during the actual games. (I'm not considering the spinning part of the challenge.)


Thanks be to all the gods, the Goober finally understands bribery. You know, "If you behave/clean up/quit that, I will reward you with some treat or other". In this case, it's some watercolors she got at Christmas, for the bribe.

It's actually working.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Topic jumble.

First off, Nicole asked me if spinning saves money. I'm afraid I have to give that really annoying answer, "It depends." and add on "Sorta."

Here, I give you Exhibit A.

About 350 yards/what, 360 meters? of triple-ply merino sock yarn. I dyed and spun it myself. Technically, it cost five bucks. However, I've got about fifty hours in it, and haven't cast on a stitch. So for savings, you're talking about doubling the time it takes to produce a project (very roughly). In terms of reimbursement for my time, I'd sell this for about $40, $45 USD. And we're back to it being more expensive than machine-made.

If you have a lot of time, or like me, spin for relaxation/fun/physical therapy, then the skill level and time aren't an issue, and it's all good. If you DON'T have a lot of time, overall, it will be cheaper to just buy your yarn.

This also has to do with skill set and yarn produced. The more complicated the yarn, the longer it takes to spin, and (usually) the more skill needed. For most smooth (I think of them as normal, heh) yarns, skill level is fairly low and time invested isn't too bad, unless you're talking about craziness like twelve-ply or super-bulky. For more complex yarns like beads, feathers, furs, supercoils, or boucle, you're talking about so much money spent on materials, and so much time spent on perfecting technique and then using it, commercially made yarns might be cheaper. (If commercially yarns are possible; some of those can only be made by hand spinners.)

I'm pretty sure there's no such thing as a straight answer in the fiber arts. The more I do, the more I think that.


On the spinning front, meet the most ridiculous thing I've ever spun.

This is old-school, traditional brown Shetland wool spun with multi-colored Angelina fiber. (Angelina = glitter/tinsel. Can you see the sparkle?) This is from that spinning class I took back in October. It had been sitting on the bobbin all this time, and I finally did a navajo ply and wound it off, to free up the bobbin. The fancy/modern meets the utilitarian/traditional. I'm already plotting a purchase of more Angelina and Shetland wool. Maybe enough for a sweater for the Goob. I'm sick.


Roxie asked what the zippers are for, on the backs of yesterday's gloves. They're vents; they open up to an inch-wide swath of nylon (probably nylon) netting over the inner liner. For when my hands get too hot. Bwah. And yes, while I didn't buy the gloves for the squeegee, and I will never use it, I think it's totally cool.


Now that I'm not doing mittens, I have another nefarious purpose for the lavender yarn - fingerless mitts. Sorta. I need something to keep my hand and wrist warm in this weather, even inside. Everything I've tried commercially restricts my range of motion, which is super bad with my problem. So I'm gonna just knit myself something. I'm planning to modify a sock pattern, but if I wind up losing my mind and designing my own, I'll make the pattern available for everyone.


On the health issue, I fired my pain management specialist this morning, and am waiting for a callback from the office of a new guy I'm hoping to see soon. When they asked why I didn't want to see Dr. Chen again (yeah, I'm gonna name the wanker), I said that I felt no one in his office, including Dr. Chen, had any interest whatsoever in helping me. The person on the other end went "okay" and dropped it. Call me crazy, but I don't think this is the first time they've heard that sentiment.

At any rate, I've got a physical therapy appointment tomorrow night to learn how to use a TENS unit. I've got a bad feeling that it won't work (no Google search turns up any successful use of it for bone pain, and my nerve damage doesn't bother me enough to make using it for that worthwhile). If it DOES work, though, I can run around looking like a prototype for Iron Man.

Take THAT, Doctor Chen.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wool, I have forsaken thee.

Well. For those of you just stopping in, this is my first northern winter in fifteen years. (Five years in South Carolina, ten years in Hawaii before that.) While I grew up in this climate, it's been a while. And since that last northern winter, fifteen years ago, I broke most of the bones in my hand. Plus of course doing all kinds of other orthopedically stupid things that are coming back to haunt me.

Did I mention cold makes my knuckles feel like they were hit by a hammer? Doesn't do much for my knees or shoulders, either.

I'd been meaning to knit myself a pair of thrummed mittens. (My father-in-law checked in the night before last. He was loving on the mittens. He'd shoveled the entire drive AND HIS HANDS WERE STILL WARM.) The stealth knitting I've been doing around here was meant to be a couple pairs of mittens, for me and the Goober. But the mittens were giving me fits, and we got to the outlet mall today, and I was standing in the Columbia store, in front of a wall of mittens and gloves, and I fear I had the worst thought a knitter could have:

To hell with the knitting.

I love wool. I really, REALLY love wool, with an unholy passion. Really. Unholy. But no matter how freaking awesome wool is, space-age man-made fibers can be better. (CAN. It depends. I'm not totally dissing the wool.) I broke. I was lured in by the temptation of warm hands.

These are $60 gloves. No, I did not pay that for them. It was an outlet mall. I paid a whole lot less for them. I don't think I'd have paid it, no matter how good the deal was, if my knuckles weren't killing me. But they were. And they came in purple. With floral embroidery.

Look, there's a little squeegee on the back of my left thumb, to scrape snow off my ski goggles. (No, I don't ski. Sheesh. Work with me, here.)

Innit cute? Of course, between outer shell, lining, and space-age fiber in between, my dexterity in these babies brings back memories of when my hand was broken, swollen to twice its size, pinned and sewn together, and strapped into a splint. Did I mention the warmth?

We got the Goober some fleece and something (GoreTex? Thinsulate? Something.) mittens. Their kids mittens are VERY cool. They have a universal thumb. The slit for the thumb opening runs horizontally across the palm of the hand, and the thumb sticks straight out from the middle, with lots of give on either side:

No more wrestling around, trying to get her thumbs into little tiny thumb holes. I freaking LOVE good design.

After that, I headed over to Target (with warm but not dexterous hands) to buy some socks. My feet are cold. I was thinking wool. Because I love wool. But yet again, my brain got away from me. Standing there, in front of the wall o socks, I spotted something BETTER THAN WOOL. (Again. Twice in one day. I'm so ashamed.) Angora socks. Really, wool/angora blend socks. I haven't totally abandoned the wool. Generally I don't like angora because it's fuzzy as hell, but since my feet are numb most of the time due to one of my medications, I figured it wouldn't matter. My mother used to tell me about wearing angora sweaters in the fifties and nearly dying of heat stroke. So I got three pairs.

(Terby, please note. Not everything I own is blinding colors. See that gray pair in the middle? Those are for when I want to be dignified. No idea when in hell that'll be, but if I need to, I'm ready.)

I'm soooooo warm. Gonna go put on the Starry Night flannel jammies my sister-in-law gave me for Christmas, put a heating pad on the back of my neck (it's been keeping the migraines away), and gloat.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

What's up.

Things around here are pretty slow, between the weather and the pain situation. More doctors and physical therapists this week, but for now, the weather looks like this:

Note the gray skies that say "more snow soon".

This morning the husbeast called me from work (he's still working Saturdays for the overtime), and we were talking, and he made this statement: "I didn't slide into that guy's front yard again this morning, so that was good." Usually he goes to work before the snow plows are out (or WHILE the snow plows are out, he loves that), so it's an adventure, even allowing for the fact he's in a huge vehicle with four wheel drive. He's passed two snow plows in ditches this week on his way to work.


I've been spinning. I finished up the fawn-colored alpaca (well, finished half of it) that I'd intended to give to my mother-in-law for Christmas. Since I wound up buying her something instead, I'm putting this aside for That Project, the sweater I'm gradually accumulating natural-colored animal fibers for. (I intend to get some bison, yak, and other exotics for that project, as well as assorted types of wools and camelids; it'll take a year at least to accumulate enough yarn the way I'm spinning).

This was a bear to spin. Not impossible, but for someone like me, who spins for relaxation, it was quite a lot of bother. It's alpaca top. Top means the fibers were combed smooth, and then pressed straight and flat. Wool top is fun to spin because it's easy to draft; all the fibers smoothed out move around easily. But alpaca is smoother than wool to begin with, on a molecular level (not as many scales), so alpaca top is too much of a good thing - it's so slippery it's really difficult to draft and ply without pulling the fibers completely apart. Not fun. Once it's done, it's really super soft, though.

I had a couple other exotics here to spin, from the Great Fiber Binge. Tussah silk (that I'd dyed myself), and more of the alpaca. Plus the pencil roving I still want to try supercoils with. But after the alpaca, I'd about had it with difficult technique and wanted to return to my spinning-for-relaxation plan. So instead, I got out the fibers I'd gotten to experiment with color blending (the orange-to-pink) and started spinning that.

The label doesn't say what exact kind of wool it is. I'm thinking of it as New Zealand Mystery Sheep, but it feels like Corriedale, or possibly a Corrie/Romney blend. So it's an easy spin. Just what I was looking for. Aaaah.


If you're looking closely at the background of the last photo, you can see what the new time suck here at House O Samurai is.

We got a Wii. Actually, it's worse than that. We got a large screen TV AND a Wii. It had been planned for quite some time; the husbeast has wanted a new TV since, literally, before we got married. But I kept saying "the TV we have is fine". Eventually, over the last eighteen years, I let myself be talked around to the idea of a new TV, a large screen, but since we had a working TV, I'd only agree to it if we paid cash. (No going into debt for luxuries. We're finally out of debt and I'm not going back in willingly.) Remember the move from South Carolina to Ohio, back at the end of July? We finally got reimbursed for the move, from the military, right before Christmas. So we used some of the money to buy presents, and then in the after-Christmas sales, we went wild and got the TV and Wii.

The Goober is having loads of fun with it; we got one of the racing games, where you drive around, and she has a ball. We're on the lookout for other games for the Goober, maybe educational ones. But for now she's content to run into things and watch us play Super Mario World. One night after we put her to bed, we decided to play a game of bowling together, and when the Goober heard the game go on, shouted "HEY!" in annoyance from her bedroom.

Watching hockey in high-def is ten kinds of awesome.


Still knitting, on a couple half-assed, super-easy projects, and getting psyched to get back to work on the Lustkofen. Starting the Christmas knitting a year and three months in advance, yeah, I gotta try that again. Talk about low stress.


By the way, on the fashion subject. I get the idea of fashion-as-art and photography-as-art. Really. I just don't think VK is it. A blog I've been following lately is Haute Macabre, a blog run by some women who lean toward goth with a pinch of steampunk. They're pretty cool about finding affordable clothes to suggest, interspersed with photos from Japanese Vogue and other fun things. I don't like all of it, but I think all of it is haute. At the least, they choose things that are on the right track, in terms of fashion-as-art.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Vogue Knitting, Winter 2010

(How did it get to be 2010? Really?)

Welcome to possibly my last VK review. I'm not sure I'm going to continue them; I've hit super-high disgust levels with this issue. The letter from the editor is insulting, the designs are hyped to be something they're not, and, well, I'm disgusted. We'll see.

There seems to be (still) some confusion over 'blame' and all that. When it comes to the models, I think they're doing their jobs. They show up, they put on the clothes they're handed, and they make them look as good as possible. In some cases (I'll discuss it in detail with the photos), I actively feel sorry for them. So who do I really think is to blame for bad photography? Trisha Malcom is the editor in chief and supposedly the final word on what goes into the magazine. Creative director, Joe Vior. Fashion Stylist, Sarah Liebowitz. Photographers vary and aren't listed, but them too. They're the ones who decide on this mess. I'm sure there are a lot of others involved at the decision-making level. The models and designers? They're just trying to make a living.

My biggest beef with this issue is the one I have with Vogue Knitting in general: Quite a bit of what is in the magazine this time around is perfectly fine, wearable stuff. But it is NOT high fashion, haute anything, or even particularly stylish. They're going with Big Names rather than good clothes, and they're unwilling to pay designers to do truly original work. (For that, look to yarn company publications.) They also use knitting terminology in a way that shows that at least the copywriters have no idea how knitting really works, and I seriously wonder about that claim in the editor's letter that "almost everyone here knits".

As always, I refer to patterns by number, not page, and anything in quotes is from the magazine.

Advertising is full of good-looking sweaters knit at mostly smaller gauges in intelligent silhouettes (fairly fitted; long sleeves for cold weather, etc).

The 'new yarns' section is a couple balls of Rowan's Scottish Tweed plunked down on a white background. No one could be bothered to knit a swatch? There's a list of other tweed yarns on the page, but no one could be bothered to include even a photo of those, either.

The article from Meg Swansen's son, Cully, completes the three-part series of grandmother, mother, and son hat designs. His is two-colored cables, and very cool looking. He says he's getting into knitting more, and is fascinated by the geometry of it. He's got a new pullover pattern coming out with Schoolhouse Press; it should be fun to watch him start designing and see what he does.

Techniques discusses The Thumb Trick and corrugated ribbing, used on the mittens in this issue. I'm rather disgusted that The Thumb Trick part doesn't even call it that, and never mentions Elizabeth Zimmerman, considering she invented it.

So, the patterns.

First section, "Knit drama. Knit exuberance. Knit Vogue." I may not sneer if I saw any of those qualities in any design in the magazine. "Sweater season is no time to be shy. Flaunt your stitching in high style, with striking color and fabulous fiber." Striking color, yet every design in this section is gray and cream. I really wonder if the copywriters have ANY idea what they're writing about, or if they just spew stuff out like monkeys at typewriters trying to produce Shakespeare.

1. Striped cardigan by Brandon Mably. One size, 67in/170cm. Uses 1824 wool, which makes it almost affordable ($140 USD, not bad for all that acreage of fabric). I hate to ruin it for everyone who hated this, but it's actually a solid design. My Starry Night Ruana Thingy is based on the same cut, and while it will never be body conscious, it is comfortable and warm. What makes it look stupid is how they've got the model standing, and that asinine suspender the stylist hooked up over it. (It's supposed to hang loosely, so you put a suspender over it. Brilliant.)

2. Shawl collar cardigan by Cathy Caron. 34 to 49in/86 to 125cm. This isn't bad. It's not earth-shattering high fashion, but it's a nice enough cardigan if you go for that. The dark band around the waist combined with the light color of the sleeves flatters blockier figures. The photo, though... it looks like there's a pole up the model's... uh. Well. I flipped to this page and actively felt sorry for the model.

3. Cowl neck pullover, by Mari Lynn Patrick. Sizes from 49 to 53in/124 to 134cm. Now I ask you. Who would this flatter? The model looks like a woolly mammoth. Why would anyone larger look any better? There's nothing wrong with this if you're looking for a sweatshirt to knock around in, but if that's style, I'll eat it.

4. Fair isle tunic by Jean Moss. No idea what's up with the Sailor Moon pose with the model. Sizes from 35 to 43in/89 to 109 cm. Without exhaustive tech editing, a look at the pattern shows no mention whatsoever of steeks, and I think you're meant to knit all that stranded color back and forth. Awkward to knit AND awkward to wear. If you lopped this off at the waist and put in some regular ribbing there, this'd make a cute short-sleeved sweater vest sort of thing.

Second section, "The Exotic Allure of the Traditional." They're mining old, traditional patterns and trying to convince us they're high fashion. "Timeless colorwork. Contemporary fibers and shapes. Fair Isle is having its moment... again." As usual they apply the term Fair Isle to any stranded color work, when really only about half (or less) of these patterns are truly Fair Isle.

5. Flowered vest by Kathy Merrick. Sizes from 36 to 51 inches/91 to 129cm. This isn't Fair Isle. If anything, it's Norwegian inspired. Those flowers are almost Norwegian stars. No mention here of steeks, either. More stranded color worked flat. If you're looking for a fairly traditional vest to keep warm this winter, this one is nice enough.

6. V-neck pullover by Lisa Whiting. Sizes from 35 to 49in/89 to 125cm. This IS a Fair Isle, in that it's got the bands of color over patterns based on (loosely in this case, but it's there) the XOs of the older Fair Isles. It DOES use steeks (the yarn is alpaca, so I'd use a sewn steek here, preferably with a sewing machine, to make sure that slippery alpaca stays put). I've read the pattern and still don't understand how the sleeves work. And, well, if the model doesn't look like she has a waist... I'd use this as inspiration for a regular long-sleeved V neck myself.

7. Floral Cardigan, by Josh Bennett. Sizes from 34 to 44in/86 to 111cm. "Visit our website for back, fronts, and sleeve charts." It's a nice enough cardigan. I'd like it more if some attempt had been made to match up the flowers at the shoulders, instead of a jumble of cut up flower bits sewn together. (If you did this top down and used the charts as a general guideline, you could make the flowers work at the shoulders.) It's intarsia, by the way. Which isn't, you know, remotely related to Fair Isle.

8. Fair Isle Cardigan, by Heidi Kozar. Sizes, 36 to 53in/93 to 136cm. The patterns make the Fair Isle label sketchy, but it IS knit in stranded color technique with steeks. Which is kind of impressive, because it's got shaped sleeve caps and waist shaping. This would look good on most everyone who could fit into it.

Section three, "GRAY! A smoky hot trend." Har. "When it comes to showing off sophisticated stitchwork, shades of gray matter." Every last pattern in this section makes the model look like a stump. It's kind of impressive, really. In a weird sort of way.

9. Tunic Vest by Mari Lynn Patrick. Sizes 35 to 40in/89 to 103cm. That's ridiculously small, even for Vogue, considering it's meant to go over other stuff. You can't see it in the photo here, but on Vogue 360, it shows the pockets don't even line up, and the whole thing bags around the model's hips. Just what a girl wants; baggy hips.

10. Belted tunic by Rosemary Drysdale. Sizes from 46 to 54in/118 to 138cm. On Vogue 360, the model looks pregnant in this. If you've GOT to knit it, knit the belt differently. That thing is as big around as my arm, and will do NOTHING to accentuate your waist. It'd be like wrapping yourself in a fire hose.

11. Cabled cardigan by Shiri Mor. Sizes, 34 to 52in/86 to 132cm. All the ribbing on this thing is doubled; there are two layers of it. Not folded over for extra stretch, just extra ribbing on top of what's there. I'd use that yarn to lengthen the sleeves, myself.

12. Cable panel tunic by Suvi Simola. Sizes, 33 to 51in/84 to 131cm. This is nice. I'm not sure the length is flattering to most, I'd consider knocking off some of the length. But this is really nice as a layering piece for winter. It's knit with wool/alpaca blend so it's plenty warm. (And on a personal note, I covet the necklace. It looks knit. Totally cool.)

13. Cabled vest by Karen Garlinghouse. "Texture gravitates toward the gray scale, from slate to putty." What? That doesn't even make sense. If I were the designer I'd want to beat my head on a desk. Sizes, 35 to 43in/90 to 110cm. It's a hippy vest. I wish they'd quit publishing these things, because they're never flattering. (I almost did a hippy vest montage here, but reason prevailed. Plus I didn't want to add another hour to this review.) The model is wearing a belt and still looks like she has no waist. Not what I personally want to wear.

14. Modular vest by Lori Steinburg. Sizes, 36 to 42in/91 to 106cm. (We get into directional knitting, and the sizing starts dropping off dramatically.) This is potentially very cool. The stitch patterns all work together in a really clever way, to make all sorts of interesting textures. Here's what worries me, though: see how she's using her right hand to hang on to the bottom front hem? You can't see it well in this photo, but it's more obvious on Vogue 360 and in the magazine. I think the zipper was put in wrong. The front flares out, and the edgings along the front don't line up. The front join is also wavy and crooked without the model jerking it straight. So I wonder, if THEY can't get the zipper to work and they're THE PROFESSIONALS, how much of a pain in the ass would it be for me?

Next up, Twinkle. "Twinkle turns up the volume. Simple styling takes shape in voluptuous yarn." If this is style, I'll eat it.

15. Sleeveless vest with hood. By Twinkle. Sizes, 60 and 67in/and isn't this cute, two sizes in Imperial and only one size in metric, 171cm. Yuh huh. $152 USD to knit the smaller size (which apparently only comes in Imperial). The only thing I can think of when I look at this is BAGGY. Look at this:
See the pink/purple lines from shoulders down? Those are big folds of inch-thick fabric, flopping around on the model's chest. See the blue lines at the bottom hem? It doesn't even hang straight. The central edging with buttons sort of sucks up the fabric, then it bags out from there in all directions. See the red lines at the model's butt? That's more fabric, bagging out around her keester. I suppose this is all right for knocking around the house while trying to stay warm, but how in HELL is this fashion? Isn't fashion supposed to look at least remotely good? How is making a stick-thin model look like she's wearing a sack, fashion? (Don't tell me it's a bubble silhouette. Just don't. It's not a bubble, it's a bag.)

16. Cowl neck top, again by Twinkle. Sizes, 43 to 50in/109 to 128cm. $114 USD for size medium (the yarn is $19 per skein). Look at the model. JUST LOOK AT HER. And tell me anyone else would look any better? Over at Vogue 360 they were showing this one INSIDE OUT. Oh yes, they're professional and know how to dress us, all right. (They've since fixed it. Too bad; it was funny.)

Section next, "Boy Meets Purl". Interview with Josh Bennett about his design philosophy and background. He says he wants to design wearable clothes for men. A worthy goal. Thing is, most men don't like high fashion, and 'wearable for men' and 'Vogue' are kind of contradictory. At least to all the men I know.

17. Man's cable cardigan, by Josh Bennett. Sizes, 38 to 45in/96 to 114cm. Those sizes seem pretty small to me, but I know a lot of big, broad-chested men. The husbeast couldn't fit into the largest size, not remotely. This is a nice, comfy sweater. Bennett himself calls it a "Grandpa" sweater with a "homey, down-to-earth Mr. Rogers feel". He's not kidding.

Slap a zipper in there, and it's literally Mr. Rogers. Now I'm not criticizing comfort or homey (in fact I live by them), but how on earth is this high fashion? Seriously? Mr. Rogers? REALLY?

18. Striped hoodie, by Bennett. Sizes, 40 to 50in/103 to 127. Again to quote Bennett, this is "a casual, throw it on to go to Whole Foods feel". See above about high fashion and I don't get it. They're very careful in the magazine and on Vogue 360 to hide it, but the zipper's in crooked and the bottom stripes don't match up.

19. Men's vest by Bennett. Sizes, 34 to 50in/86 to 127cm. I'm trying to think if I know any males over the age of 14 who have 34 inch chests. Anyway. Anyway. Knit with a nice merino, and is a nice, if stereotypical men's sweater vest. Shaping is done by working stranded color flat, rather than steeking it. So the bottom half is knit in the round, and the top half is worked flat in sections. If you knit this, beware the huge gauge shift most people have between working in the round and working flat.

Section, ah, next, "Country Living". "Great style happens when pretty cardis take a weekend break." There are some gems in here; a girl can never have too many flattering cardigans. On the other hand... country living? Apparently no one in the art department has ever mucked out a barn, if they think this is country living.

20. Lace edge cardi by Coralie Meslin. Sizes from 36 to 54in/93 to 139cm. I really like the concept of this. The lace edge adds that all-important vertical line, and if you decide to leave the lace off, it's a solid design for a plain stockinette cardigan that could be dressed up with a scarf or fancy buttons. If you DO put the lace on, have a care; on the model, they've got the lace pinned or sewn down all the way up around the neck, where it has to curve about. Knitting the lace in a thinner yarn, on larger needles, would help with that.

21. Ruffled cardigan by Shirley Paden. Sizes, 37 and 43in/94 and 109cm. (Again, the lace complicates the re-sizing and size choice drops off steeply. Not that anyone, even smaller sizes, would look good in this. But still.) The husbeast took a look at this and said "Dude. That looks like rhumba pants gone wrong." Rhumba pants being these:

He knows about rhumba pants because he's got a little girl, and he considers them the most ridiculous garment ever invented. Anyway. Ruffles about the waist. We've had this discussion before, and the gist of it is, they're horribly unflattering. Look at the model. Two inches of bulk, all the way around her hips. NOT a good look. If I was hellbent on knitting this, I'd leave off the bottom two ruffles and work the waist fitting so that it, well, fits.

22. Fitted jacket by Jennie Atkinson. Sizes, 37 to 51in/95 to 103cm. Yup. That's what it is, a fitted jacket. The cables accentuating the waist would be flattering to just about everyone, and there's a little half-belt in the back (like on a men's vest) that could be worked to pull in and fine-tune the waist fitting. This is really nice. No idea why the stylist put that belt on it; all it does is obscure the shaping and make it hard to figure out.

23. Cabled yoke cardi by Amy Polcyn. Sizes, 34 to 38in/86 to 96cm. (Again with the complex pattern = almost no sizes.) This is a nice cardigan. The only thing wrong with it is, if you unbuttoned it, it'd fall off your shoulders. If you're okay with that, then it's fine. A note of caution: The cable in the yoke is knit sideways, then stitches are picked up on each side and knit in either direction. Considering this is a mohair yarn (not entirely mohair, but it's in there), picking up those stitches could be a real pain in the keester. Just saying. I'd also skip the ribbing in the body of the sweater. It's doing nothing to help fit and just looks strange.

24. Raglan cardigan by Tanis Gray. Sizes, 32 to 52in/81 to 132cm. Another nice little cropped cardigan. I'd consider leaving off the stylized front pockets, since they're not good for anything but adding bulk at your waist. But it's cute, it's flattering enough (no waist shaping, but it's easily added), and it's in a decent variety of sizes.

25. Wide rib cardigan, by Edna Hart. 36 to 50in/91 to 127cm. (There are only three sizes at seven inch/fifteen cm ish increments. Not necessarily flattering.) This is another time I feel sorry for the model. Good grief, that pose. She looks like a pregnant lady with a sore back. The cardigan is just what it says it is; a wide rib cardi. Not high fashion, but nothing wrong with it.

Next pattern, "Sculpted Glamour". Its a sort of mini workshop teaching short rows for shaping. I wonder why it's not in the front with the other techniques articles, but it's useful information.

26. Ribbed cardigan by Karola Gottwald. Sizes, 35 to 53in/90 to 135cm. There's not much (almost no) shaping to this thing, other than some extra fullness around the neckline. All shape comes from the body in it. So it's going to look magnificent on curvy, hourglass-figure women (like the one in the photo) and kind of hang on thinner, less-curvy women. (It hung like a sack on the girl in Vogue 360.) I'm half-assedly considering knitting this for myself. In something other than the recommended yarn; $155 USD to knit the medium size.

Next section, "All Wrapped Up". Guess what kinds of patterns? "As far as finishing touches go, the knit wrap stands shoulders above the average accessory." Yuh huh. This stuff is all nice enough, but as usual I'm failing to see the high fashion aspect.

27. Lace and texture scarf by Cathy Caron. Pretty sure it's not reversible. If that matters to you.

28. Lace wrap by Laura Bryant. Decidedly average lace wrap knit with Prism yarns in a way that it looks like it was knit with scraps out of the stash. $70 USD to knit this with the suggested yarns.

29. Wrap with belt by Shiri Mor. Odd construction on this; a back, like a sweater, with a scarf sewn to the shoulders of it and wrapped all around. Not sure why it then looks like a hippy vest. One size fits all, of course.

30. Infinity scarf by Amanda Blair Brown. This one pisses me off. It's a circular scarf, and those can be worn all kinds of different, USEFUL ways, wrapped around your head and neck to keep you warm without trailing on the ground. They don't show ANY of those ways, either here or on Vogue 360, they just plonk it around the model's neck and let it hang there. Big help on the styling. Idiots.

The last section isn't really a section. It's two mitten patterns that are in the front of the magazine with the techniques, yet they're numbered 31 and 32. This makes no sense to me. It also makes no sense to me how traditional Scandinavian mittens are anything but traditional; I fail to see any high fashion whatsoever. Mind you, they're nice mittens, look interesting, and will keep your hands warm. But, uh, fashion? Huh?

31. Snowball mittens, by Elinor Brown. "Give winter the thumb's up with luscious mitts that pair beautifully with your best winter coat." Oh geez. Anyway, they're nice mittens. Knit with cashmere, so I'm not sure how well they'll wear.

32. Tree mittens by Elli Stubenrauch. Nice. They're mittens. They'll keep your hands warm. Um. I like trees.

So there you go. A little better with sizes this time - I do think the bitching is getting through, condescending letters from the editor or not. Still looks like they stall at complex design, though. I wonder if part of the requirements for this issue was to keep the designs simple so they could be resized; all these patterns are fairly traditional in construction. No wild directional stuff. It'll be interesting to see what happens to sizing when the inevitable complicated knit shows up in their office, though.