KAL Update: Two down, one to go

After participating in two knit-alongs (KALs) so far this year, I found my (latest) calling. I like being part of a virtual community in which everyone knits together and shares their experiences online. KALs are fun, and they help motivate me to finish projects quickly.

With the Downton Abbey KAL, everyone followed the same pattern, one clue at a time, over the course of Season 4. I never knit a pattern exactly as written, and this project was no exception. I learned from other knitters’ comments, which they posted on ravelry.com in the KAL forum, that the shawl would have been too shallow for my taste — more of a scarf than a shawl — so I added length to the back using short-rows. (Details can be found on my project page. Ravelry membership required; free to join.) Here’s how it looks:

Downton Abbey ShawlThe 2014 Ravellenic Winter Games were more suited to my tendency to knit “off-road.” So long as my project fit the criteria for an event, I could make any garment I wanted. The only rules were to cast on during the opening ceremonies of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and to finish by the closing ceremonies. I challenged myself to complete an alpaca arm-warmer (the second in a set).

Alpaca Arm-Warmer

I did it in record time for me — just 10 days — and earned my first Ravellenics medal in the Cable Cross-Country event.

medal-2014-CABLE

With two KALs down, I’ve got one to go. I just signed up for the Udina KAL. It’s a top-down pullover sweater, knit in the round on circular needles. Designed by Norah Gaughan — one of my faves — there’s an interesting cable down the front that will keep things interesting. I’ve got six weeks to go — plenty of time to make this and a few baby gifts, too.

What’s on your needles? Happy knitting!

Vacation Verses

Maui memories in haiku…

i
Face down, snorkel up
Breath in, breath out, in and out
Floating among fish

ii
Mai tais at sunset
Ocean turns to quicksilver
Bullfrogs greet the night

(c) 2014, Cindy Houts.

Let the Games Begin

The 2014 Winter Olympics just opened with a parade, pyrotechnics and more in Sochi, Russia.

(c) 2014 NBC News

(c) 2014 NBC News

When I was young (ages 8 – 18), the Olympics were a BIG DEAL. My parents, sisters, and I gathered around our 19-inch television set to watch night after night of events during both the summer and winter Games. I have distant memories of American athletes on the podium in Mexico City raising fists for Black Power. I remember more vividly Mark Spitz in the pool and Bruce Jenner on the track, sweeping event after event. During the winter Games, we were glued to performances by Peggy Fleming and later Dorothy Hamill — not to mention all of the amazing gymnasts. Over the years, with Bob Costas as our guide, we cheered athletes to victory.

These days, I don’t follow sports much. I don’t know the competitors’ names like I used to. I caught the highlights of the Opening Ceremonies online, not in real time. The Olympics have become, for me (gulp), a backdrop for knitting. You see, I am a contestant in the Ravellenic Winter Games 2014, a form of knitting “Olympics” hosted by ravelry.com, complete with events and virtual medals.

RavellenicGamesBannerRibbon3Although the knitting games have been running for a few years, this is my first Ravellenics. I entered two events: “Cable Cross-Country” and “Short-Track Shawls.”

ravellenics_cableFor the cable event, I am knitting arm-warmer #2 for my husband’s daughter. I started a pair of alpaca fingerless gloves for her last year, weeks before the holidays. But, after finishing the first one, the project languished while I completed other gifts. (Sorry, Cindy.) I’m determined to get it done now.

For the Shawls event, I cast on for a shawl I’ve had in my queue for more than a year. The lace-edged pattern is called “Arroyo.” I’m knitting mine with some gorgeous worsted yarn from Maui, hand-dyed in shades of blue and turquoise called “Whale Watch.” I’ve name my project Kahawai (Hawaiian for gulch). Super-excited to knit this one!

MauiYarn_whalewatchLast night, I tuned in to watch Giant Slalom skiing, and worked a few rows of 2 x 2 (knit 2, purl 2) ribbing on Cindy’s glove using US #4 double-point needles. When I’m ready for a break from these tiny needles, I can switch to my shawl on US #9s. With just under two weeks to go to complete both projects, can I do it? Cheer me on to victory.

What’s on your needles? Have you entered the Games? It’s not too late. (Complete rules are located here. Ravelry membership required; free to join.)

Knitting Along with Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey Fever has reached epidemic proportions – at least it has among my girlfriends, and especially among the knitters. I am a latecomer to the series, and am playing catch-up. While the rest of the world just finished watching episode 2 of Season 4, I am making my way through Season 2 on DVD.

I have never watched a mini-series from start to finish before – not Upstairs Downstairs, not Rich Man Poor Man, not even Roots. And, I have never been one to watch soap operas. I’m not sure why Downton Abbey has sparked my imagination. It must be the clothes; they are exquisite.

The cast of Season 4 (C) Masterpiece Classic

The cast of Downton Abbey, Season 4 – (C) Masterpiece Classic

Downton Abbey’s large cast of characters, particularly the Ladies of Grantham, wear the most amazing fashions – changing from one marvelous ensemble to another, multiple times a day. As luck would have it, knitted garments reminiscent of the years between-the-wars – such as vests, scarves, shawls, and gloves – have made their way into today’s knitting baskets. Knitters can find Downton-inspired patterns in magazines, pattern books, e-books, and blogs – all cataloged on ravelry.com.

At this moment, 1,509 knitters are participating in a Mystery Knit-along (KAL), sponsored by a major yarn producer. Prior to the airing of each episode in Season 4, the moderator posts clues on the Jimmy Beans Wool blog. Knitters sit down to watch the show; and, as events unfold, they follow the clues to complete a textured shawl. Although I am not yet watching Season 4, I am knitting the shawl on my own time.

Last year’s KAL was a pair of fingerless gloves, Lady Violet’s Dinner Gauntlets. 1,414 knitters cast on for the project; another 1,304 plan to. The vintage shape is a bit baggy/saggy and a little muted for my taste; but, I love the rosebud lace design. So, I adapted the pattern with 2×2 ribbing to fit more closely. My version, Garden Party Gauntlets, knit with self-striping sock yarn, will be perfect for spring; I just finished the first one.

Original gauntlets on left (C) Jimmy Beans wool; mine on right.

Tea anyone? Original Downton-inspired gauntlets on left (C) Jimmy Beans Wool; mine on right.

As I settle down to a cup of tea and pick up my knitting, I muse about Downton Abbey’s appeal. Why Downton? Why now? Personally, I love escapist entertainment that takes me out of everyday time and space and transports me to another world. After watching a number of episodes, I find myself rooting for the heroes and heroines, hoping they will triumph in the end. So far, lovers remain star-crossed, tragedy reigns, and the villains are winning. What’s a knitter to do?

keep_calmKeep calm and cast on, of course. Here’s hoping that, while I knit, kinder, gentler folk — and sunnier skies — will prevail.
What are your thoughts on why millions are addicted to Downton Abbey? Want to get in on the fun? It’s not too late to start the 2014 KAL. Happy knitting!

Resolutions Revisited

On the first day of 2014, I revisited my New Year’s resolutions for the previous year, as I often do. One of my resolutions for 2013 was to complete several of what we knitters call UFOs – those unfinished objects that languish in a bin waiting for finishing touches. I am pleased to say that I finished 27 items. Whoo hoo!! (Squeals of delight.)

Most of these were new projects, completed from start to finish in 2013. A few were old friends that made it out of the knitting basket and into my dresser drawers or into holiday gift bags; 16 were gifts, 3 were yarn graffiti, and 8 were for me. (You can see all of them on ravelry.com, or a few of my favorites in the gallery on this blog.)

knitpicsBefore I pat myself on the back too vigorously, I have to admit that knitting was the easiest of my resolutions to fulfill. I didn’t do as well on the healthy lifestyle ones. For example, although I walked in two half-marathons (4 hours each), my day-to-day activity level throughout the year was inconsistent at best.

When I look forward to the year ahead, my goal is simple: to infuse more JOY in my life. My husband and I have a good life, and plenty of fun with family and friends. And, I’m looking for something deeper. I’ve been ignoring my spiritual side, and it needs attention. It’s time to begin practicing gratitude and meditation again – on a daily basis – to ground myself and open my heart. Then, when I spend time with the grandchildren and engage in creative pursuits like knitting, I will appreciate the joy-generating moments even more.

Intrepid Yarn Tourist

I write (somewhat) regularly about two of my passions: knitting and wellness. Traveling is a third passion of mine — perhaps at the top of my list. From time to time, the stars align and I find myself knitting and traveling — bliss!

Knitting on vacation in Corsica

Knitting on vacation in Corsica

For me, part of the fun of traveling is to seek out local yarn shops (LYS). Europe produces many beautiful yarns; and, closer to the source, prices are more reasonable than at home. Ravelry.com is a great resource. Just enter the location in the handy local yarn shop directory search window, and up pops a list of stores. (Sign-in required; free to join.)

In October, my husband and I visited Corsica and Amsterdam. (An odd combination of rural and urban, I know; but, it worked for us.) Corsica is known for its beaches, mountains, and natural beauty. Although plenty of sheep graze on the brush-covered hills, the island lacks yarn production facilities. Fortunately, artisan crafts are part of its heritage. At Lana Corsa, visitors can tour an exhibit that demonstrates the process of producing yarn, de la brebis au fil — from the sheep to the strand.

Feeding the Corsican sheep. (The smoother fleeced-sheep is a merino.)

Feeding the Corsican sheep. (The smoother fleeced-sheep is a merino.)

Following in the family tradition, an enterprising 30-something couple buys fleece directly from shepherds, sends the wool to Sardinia for processing, and dyes the yarn themselves with plant-derived pigments. My friend, Dianne, and I toured the workshop, tried our hand at spinning and weaving, and visited the Corsican sheep out back. Of course, we bought some yarn.

Corsican wool -- hand-dyed with fig leaves (green) and cochinelle (pink)

Corsican wool — hand-dyed with fig leaves (green) and cochineal (pink)

Although coarser than merino wool, Corsican wool is great for weaving. I plan to use my purchases for felting. To start, I’ll knit over-sized slippers, then felt (shrink) them in the washing machine with hot water.

In Amsterdam, I looked up the LYS listed on the yarn tourism forum on Ravelry: De Afstap. I found it in the fashionable Jordaan neighborhood, not far from the Anne Frank House.

nl2

Amsterdam’s LYS: De Afstap

When I visited, this delightful shop was celebrating its 40th anniversary. They stock high-end yarns, including lots of Rowan (from the UK). I had just finished my Misti Alpaca sweater (check out my Gallery for more photos) and wanted coordinating yarn for a hat; I found a skein, thanks to the helpful staff. I always look for locally produced yarn, too. The selection was limited, but I love the rich blue of this produced-in-Netherlands 100% wool; I bought enough for a cozy, cabled cardigan.

Made in the Netherlands

Made in the Netherlands

Where have you been recently? Which yarn stores have you visited? Leave a comment.
Happy travels, happy knitting!