Wednesday Miscellany: Odd lot

Been thinking about:

1. Latvian mittens. A lot. (Who knew there was this fabulous blog with resources, angst and everything—Knit Like a Latvian? You probably did. I’m slow on the uptake.)

2. Orange-basil soap. Homemade.

3. Organic yarn and sheets. BBB has a queen set for $69.99. Imported though.

4. New week-night recipes. Am in a total cooking rut.

5. Wild Fibers Magazine. Don’t you love it?

6. Knit skirts.

7. Western interior design. God, we need help.

8. Yoga. Thinking about it. Not doing it.

9. Naps. Always.

10. Query letters. Again, thinking about ‘em. Not doing ‘em.

Let's get physical

(Gawd. Remember that song? I recall doing pounding aerobics in a thong leotard to that very piece of music, back in the day when I could pull off a thong leotard. Shows you how long ago that was.)


I spent the weekend peeling wallpaper at El Rancho. Not as glamorous as thong aerobics, but probably burned a few Cs. Enjoyed it thoroughly. Boyd, the fellow who was installing our wood stove, complimented my technique. He laughed, recalling two impatient fellows stripping a sportsman-themed room up in the hills. “Took divets out of the walls the size of your fist.”

“I’m a knitter,” I replied. “I relish boring, repetetive activities.” (I probably didn’t say, “relish,” but let’s pretend I did.) “Besides. It’s easier than writing.”

Isn’t that why we love knitting? Because it’s in our bodies? You have to think a bit here and there, especially when learning a new trick or working a tough pattern, but mostly we’re using our physical selves. Holding a growing sweater in our laps. Flicking our fingers. Tugging at a ball of yarn. I won’t argue that wallpaper abatement is as tactile and sensual as knitting, but it appeals to that elemental side of us that enjoys tasks with defined boundaries. To make visual progress on something you can see and touch, that’s enormously satifying. Afterward, I felt tired in that clean, muscular way, not mentally exhausted and confused like after a day of writing.

That said (Warning: Wallpaper lovers, cover your eyes.) there should be codes prohibiting wallpaper use. Even nice wallpapers like these. Wallpaper, borders, friezes, ceiling papers (oh, God, especially ceiling papers), anaglypta and otherwise, they are all bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. Why? Because enivitably they have to come down. Paint? Cover it up. But wallpaper? Whether it’s five, 10 or 40 years later, the stuff inevitably is landfill bound. Had there been no wallpaper to remove, I would have enjoyed the aches and pains and rewards of a fresh paint job. But as it stands, we have retexturing, priming and painting to look forward to. Yes, and all those things are easier than writing, too, but must be shoe-horned into precious knitting hours.

So paint an idiosyncratic mural. Hang stunning works of art. But leave the wallpaper at the paint store. ‘Kay?


Signs of spring

Those of you in warmer climes are already seeing flowers and tentatively stripping off sweaters on warmer days. Even here in Colorado where snow threatens weekly, the trees are budding and my bulbs are pushing green shoots into the sun. Given our agricultural success rate, this truly is a miracle.

Lots to gawk at in the knit world, too. The big stories—tunics, jackets and deep-V or scoop-neck pullies. Lots of contrast, black and white, navy and white, nautical looks. And for risque summer tops, look to bare backs.

It's always interesting to see how summer is interpreted editorially. Gardening is presented as a dainty, pristine activity performed in pretty cardies. You won't find a single bead of sweat marring the beautiful brows of these models. Apparently women spend a lot of time at the beach, too. In Colorado this involves trips to the noisy neighborhood pool and earplugs so as to block the ballistic sounds of “keep away“ and “Marco Polo.“ Decades-old beach towels are de riguer attire.

And if we aren't at the beach or in the garden, we're looking jaunty in top-siders and navy-blue stripes on the bow of a yacht.

This describes my upcoming summer perfectly. Does it yours?

1. View Phildar’s new collections. Catalogue un e du

2. The Vogue Knitting spring preview is up. Look for cool cabana looks and seet wear-to-work numbers such as this:


3. Rebecca Magazine serves up pages of lacey garden-party knits and you’re-in-the-navy sweaters.

4. Kim Hargreaves beautifully understated Shades of Pale collection debuted. Check out the details in her reversible tunic. She’s just so good.


5. Tahki Stacy Charles offers a dizzying array of spring designs. From the Tahki collection to the S. Charles Collezione patterns and the Filatura Di Crosa pieces. This knocked my socks off, though I would eschew the stripes.


6. There’s a monk thing that seems to be happening:


7. And Rowan, beautifully but predictably, has everyone looking ready for tea in the garden.


Weird blogging

I wasn’t going to post today—deadlines loom—but ran across this bit in The Denver Post. It’s a feature about longtime Denver artist Susan Wick’s beyond-cool atelier in our fair city’s happening RiNo (that’s River North for the unititiated) District. The ceramic, mosaic she created outside alerts visitors about the nature of the art inside. The sign reads: Paint. Tile. Knit.

Speaking of deadlines, I was chatting with another freelance writer friend yesterday. And though meeting deadlines is the de facto job of any good freelancer, we both agreed that met deadlines deserve rewards. Good freelancer. Gets cookie.

Wednesday Miscellany: Green fiber bits

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve purchased exactly one skein of organic cotton and one organic yoga top (50 percent off from Patagonia). That’s it. Unless you count all the “recycled” vintage over here. Just so’s you know, it’s not like we’re walking our talk.

But it’s becoming clear that maybe we (meaning we-the-Nakeids) ought to be doing more walking. Even if it costs a few schekels.

So, with that in mind, here are some way-cool organic, quasi-organic, eco-minded temptations:

1. I went ape-shit over this. It’s a Mongolian cashmere hoodie from Stewart & Brown: organic pioneers. But is this a good thing? (Here’s what the web site says: “By keeping all aspects of our cashmere production exclusively in Mongolia we provide nomadic Mongolian herders with the resources necessary to sustain their centuries old heritage and ultimately their survival.”)

 Baarum hoody

2. Knit a plastic-bag tote. I know. I know. The crocheted versions are, um, kinda homely. But this? Makes you want to slice up all the old Safeway bags, don’t it? By the inimitable Erika Knight.

Recycled tote

3. For $50, we should all be showing up at the same event wearing this.

Organic dress

4. These rock. (Magazine racks constructed of carpet underlayment and bungee cord.)


5. Hemp bags instead of Wal-mart bags.


6. A compendium of organic retailers. EcoMall!

7. We’re huge, huge fans of Susan Todd’s recycled, felt-sweater bags. Don’t you adore her?


8. Organic, eco-sweaters. Not cheap, but…

9. Check out blogger Worsted Witch, she has a lot to say about sustainable stuff. She knits and does her due diligence.





Coming clean

The irony of soapmaking is that it’s a messy business. The oils involved slime everything. Bits of raw soap cling to your kitchen cabinets, molds, cutters and self. Equipment must be washed and put up. And everything smells of lavender. For days. (Obviously, it could be worse.)

Once you go homemade, though, you never go back.

It’s what the soap doesn’t do that makes it special. It doesn’t make you itch like a mad dog from head to toe. It doesn’t encourage angry raw places to appear on winter skin. And it doesn’t smell like horse piss and gardenias. At the risk of sounding like a Calgon commercial, it makes showering a lathery, sensual delight. (Get two soapmakers together and they'll talk suds and bubbles like spinners talk staple-length and microns.)

Unfortunately, I make butt-ugly soap. I’ve invested in molds, slicers, colorants. I take pains when I line my molds to smooth any creases in the wax paper. Still it’s ugly like a mud daub on an old fence. But ooh boy, get it into the shower…like butta.

You wanna see some pretty soap? Check out the work of this soap blogger. Lovely. If you want to treat yourself to some homemade bars, visit local farmer’s markets, indie health food stores or check out the amazing offerings at Etsy. (I’m partial to DesertBlends of Taos.)

And get ready to kiss your Dove bar, goodbye!

1. Soap curing in molds 


2. Soap log languishing, ready to be cut.


3. Soap log awaiting the knife in cutter.


4. Soap cutting in process.


5. Three more weeks of curing and it’s bath time!


Where's Cher when you need her?

The Oscar’s were predictably dreary, though Ellen was an amiable breath of fresh air.

Hollywood, however, seemed disingenous in its deification of Al Gore. Folks acted like he was about to sprout wings and ascend to heaven. My question: Where were ya’all six-and-a-half years ago? (Thinkin’ he was Bill’s tight-assed VP, that’s where.)

There were certainly some lovely dresses. Cate Blanchett looked amazing in her second-skin Armani. As did Reese Witherspoon in that gorgeous ombre by Olivier Theskens. Jodie Foster was radiant in a soft blue-grey Vera Wang. And Diane Keaton actually struck a body-conscious note, looking comfortable and fabulous in a black blouse and skirt cinched with a wide patent-leather belt. (Though I’m not sure how I feel about Jack sans hair.)

Others will have snarkier and wittier things to say, as in what were those carbunkles doing on Eva Green’s gown? And where were the sweaters and shawls? Was the Kodak Theatre so warm one needn’t cover bare shoulders?

Thank goodness for Pilobolus.

Your take?


Fair Isle fever

Never say “never.”

I never thought I would like colorwork. Ever. Colorwork landed me in a quagmire of love, Rowan wool and really ugly stitches that upended my knitting for 10 years. I couldn’t forgive it for that.

Last month, though, after being cajoled into teaching Intermediate Knitting (I usually only teach beginners, the reason for which will become abudantly clear), a student shamed me by running over to to learn two-handed Fair Isle. I could only teach her the one-handed, tangled-ball technique. I was mortified.

So, after reading that Michelle was also about to embark on a journey to Fair Isle with Eunny Jang’s adorable Endpaper Mitts, I thought, “Fine. I’ll copy her.”

Armed with some Shetland wool or something, I watched the Philospher’s Wool video about 60,000 times, in which Ann Bourgeois soothingly and patiently explains their method. Go watch her; she’s quite lovely. Finally, I dove in.

No ball tangling. No puckering. Only minimal swearing. Sigh. Another case, when I should’ve listened to my mother.


Wednesday Miscellany--Spring look book

I was going to foam at the mouth some more about soap, about how the latest batch seems to be developing DOS, which in online soap-speak means, “dreaded orange spots.” DOS is certainly not a fatal condition (lye chunks in soap, that’s fatal), but it does marr the esthetics. This is what I get for getting all fancy with honey additives and a big lye discount.

Sooo, let’s start amassing a knits look book for spring. Please send along any sweet numbers you’ve seen. And I’ll provide a start. Here’s a promenade of commercial sweaters recently spied:

1. Persian Rug Halter from Peruvian Connection. Of course, I would like Polish grandma draped in a rug from Wal-Mart, but she looks cute.

Persian Rug Halter

2. Eileen Fisher silk-cashmere cardigan from Garnet Hill. Love it!


3. Red Stamp Slingbacks from Anthropologie. OK, these have nothing to do with sweaters, but we have to wear something on our feet. But can someone explain why they cost $268?


4. Rivamonti Wool-cotton cardigan. From Saks. So classic. But the buttons on the trousers are too matchy-matchy.


Crafter gone wild: The soap edition

I haven’t made soap in years. Too much knitting, blogging, working and a bit of burnout—I did some craft shows when the economy tanked—retired my stick blender.

This winter, though, a bout of unremittant, body-wide itching forced me back into the basement to review my supplies. All my luxury oils—rancid. Olive oil—out. But my hard-come-by palm and coconut oils, sealed tight as drums and smelling just fine. A trip to Costco for a gallon of not-so-virgin olive oil and I was back in business.

Let’s make soap, shall we? (You can find Kathy Miller’s instructions for cold process soapmaking, here.)

1. This is lye, aka sodium hydroxide. This is bad, caustic stuff, but you don’t get soap without it. This is why the poor kitten spent part of the afternoon in the bathroom time out.


2. This is water mixed with lye. When water and lye are combined the mixture gets really hot and really volatile. This is the second batch of water and lye I made after the first batch of water, honey and lye exploded. This is why you mix the water and lye outside.


3. This is coconut oil. It’s solid at room temperature. Coconut oil imparts a nice, bubbly lather.


4. This is olive oil, coconut oil and palm oil combined. Cellulite never looked so good.


5. Add lye and a stick blender and, voila, raw soap.


6. Keep blending, you don’t want nasty fat chunks in your soap. This is when you add your essential oils. This is a batch of lavender/honey soap. After my little mishap, I zoomed through a couple off soapmaking references only to learn that this is the proper time to add honey.


7. Pour into lined molds and cover with blankets for 24 hours. Soap is very shy when it’s young, so you need to keep it under wraps. It also continues saponifying and it likes to be warm when it’s doing this.


8. The true joy of soapmaking. Cleaning up.


9. But wait, there’s more. This afternoon I’ll uncover the soap and let it harden for several days. Then I’ll remove it from the molds, slice it like tea cakes and set it out to cure for three weeks. No instant gratification here.