Hey, it’s scenic, it works

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There’s this shawl I’m working on that’s named after mountains in Colorado, but on my last trip out there I didn’t have time to take photos of it. This weekend I managed photos but since I was nowhere near Colorado, I had to use the majestic scenery I had at hand.

Fortunately, Joshua Tree has plenty.

I’ll be picking shreds of yucca fiber from my shawl for awhile, I think, but I’m happy with the photos I got. It went OK; I should’ve gotten up even earlier than 6:30 a.m., since it was full morning by the time I got into the park around 7 and already unbearably hot when I left an hour or so later. The Mojave in summer, even the tail end of summer, is no joke.

It also would’ve been nice to have remembered a tripod. Or to have slept enough not to have panda-like rings around my eyes. Ah, well. I managed. I set up my camera on a rock and propped the lens up with a stick, and when it got too hot to stay in the sun, took some shots from a spot wedged in between the lumpy stacks of boulders that jut out of the ground throughout the park and provide the only shade.

I knitted a lot this weekend, which I always do regardless of season. People noticed more than usual  due to the hundred-degree weather and the bright colors I was working with, and some people recognized me as “the knitter” from years past at the same event.

(The event is a music thing – Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, playing in Pioneertown. It’s been happening for ten years running, and I’ve gone to — and knit at, I think — all ten.)

I’d meant to check out yarn stores when I was down there, but instead I brought home this:

Buddy

That’s Buddy. Guess I’d better get used to finding little ginger and white hairs in my knitting.

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The laziest possible project bag

Over the years, I’ve tried every kind of project bag for carting around my knitting: special totes with special pockets; cute, sturdy little bags from Etsy; ones I’ve sewn myself; cheap drawstring bento bags from the dollar store in Japantown; things that double as purses and don’t look anything like a knitting bag until the moment you fish a ball of yarn out of them. I’ve got a million little sketches for project bags with reinforced sides that won’t let needles poke through, and a million Pinterest pins for tutorials on perfect little bags.

But what I actually use these days for holding knitting projects is way less fancy. It’s pretty much a hobo bindle without the stick.

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See? A bindle without a stick.

I have about zillion bandanas, thanks to years of camping trips. They’re like a smaller, lighter version of the bath towel in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” as far as I’m concerned:

  • I’ve used them for tying up my hair, of course.
  • They’re a great impromptu snot rag. (Those don’t get reused for other purposes before getting washed. Mostly.)
  • Pull a bandana up over your mouth and nose, bandit-style, for a pretty effective dust mask.
  • Soak a bandana in some of your drinking water and tie it around your neck, and it’ll keep you cool.
  • Dry off a bicycle seat in rainy weather with one.
  • Soak two bandanas for you and your friend to drape over your heads like miniature swamp coolers as you fry in midsummer wine country heat in a car with broken air conditioning.
  • Tie a bandana onto the roll cage of a pickup truck to use as a handle when you ride in the bed.
  • Fold small items inside one if you don’t want them lost in your luggage.
  • Use a bandana to mop up sweat, to dry off tears, to wrap around a sore wrist when you don’t have a wrist brace.

Or keep your knitting in one: Lay it flat, set your knitting in the center, tie the opposite corners in half knots, and go. It’s more secure than you think, since knots stay put in your average bandana’s slightly rough cotton.

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Outlaw pride! My favorite, incidentally, is their Sage Copper Canyon.

This particular bandana was a gift from my friend Normal of Outlaw Soaps, from a screenprinting test run she did on bandanas for Outlaw’s subscription boxes. The logo is based on a tattoo we share — it’s sort of funny to see my little Joshua Tree on business swag.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect system. I lost a few stitch markers at first when I left them loose in the bottom of a project bundle. (Now I fold them into a second bandana and tuck it inside, or focus on the stitch pattern so I can skip markers entirely.) And I bet I look a bit more like a spaz when I take out my knitting on the subway with my strange little bindle. It certainly doesn’t have the polish of a matchy-matchy craft bag that screams “I am a crafter and I know what I’m doing” to passers-by.

But I like it. It’s impossible to lose anything in a flat sheet of fabric: Untie the corners, and I can see my whole project and all its related yarn.

And there’s another thing, I guess. As I get older, I get less invested in whether I have the “right” gear. Shopping bothers me these days: I get a little freaked out sometimes at the idea of trading money for more stuff, when I already have too much stuff and can think of bigger things to put the money toward. I’m gradually getting more interested in what I already have that might serve me in new and useful ways.

And as much as I can appreciate things like color-coordinated accessory bags, I kind of like the idea of a project bag that can double as a tourniquet when it’s not carrying a shawl.

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Columella

New pattern: Columella fingerless mitts

Introducing a new pattern: Columella!

Columella fingerless mitts

These top-down mitts work up fast in worsted-weight yarn, and the zillions of cables make for a plush, stretchy fabric with lots and lots of texture. Columella is everything I like in a mitt: super dense, super stretchy, subtle without being bland, fast to work up and neatly tailored. The thumb flows neatly into the cables, and it narrows at the wrist for a comfortable fit.

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X-ray of a Charonia shell showing the columella

The natural world is a huge influence on me, and you can see its tracks all over my sketchbooks. When I’m drawing patterns in my head as I fall asleep at night, I think of cliffs, hills and cracked desert playa. My cell phone has hundreds of photos of close-ups of natural details like bark whorls, feathers, or the neat mesh of a predator’s teeth. (The nearby California Academy of Science’s skulls exhibit alone takes up about a gig of space on my iPhone.) In keeping with that, the name I settled on for the pattern release comes from columella, the solid core of a gastropod shell that the hollow chamber of the shell gradually spirals around.

I’m reaching way into my past with this pattern: I started the first prototype in 2007. (It’s one of my very first Ravelry projects!) Since then, it’s endured multiple apartment moves, software migrations, red-pen markup and who knows how many name changes and rewrites, and become a great example of how much my pattern-writing skills have changed since I started. The one part of the written instructions that remained from the first draft when I picked up the pattern again? Gone, and rightfully so, after it managed to confuse and throw off nearly half of my test knitters. Thanks to them, those instructions are now easy to follow and crystal clear.

Columella fingerless mitts

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Check it out on Ravelry!

Summer knitting

Don’t get me wrong, Ukiah is gorgeous, but damned if it didn’t get hot when I was there for the weekend. The heat started to pick up around nine in the morning, hit 100º by noon and didn’t let up until deep into evening. During the day, you see why California is called the Golden State: nothing but pure blue sky and the rolling, straw-colored, sometimes oak-studded hills that cover the central and northern parts of the state for hundreds of miles.

Fortunately, I found a secret to knitting in that kind of heat: shade and lace-weight wool. The feather-light fabric doesn’t suffocate you, and tiny needles make for tiny movements that don’t get you all sweaty, while you distract yourself with pristine scenery like this:

After a recent trip to unusually sweatsock-damp and stormy Boulder, Colorado, and frying in the dry wine-country heat, it’s pretty great to be back in cloudy-cool Oakland and San Francisco.

A model model

Sometimes you go out to shoot a pattern photo, and you pull a sample for a completely different knitted item at the last minute out of your bag that you still haven’t photographed, and hand it to your friend whose dress and tights and eyes and hair all match it perfectly, and whose art school background means wearing wool on a hot day on a busy street to pose for photos is just about the least embarrassing, odd-looking thing she’s ever done on film, so she does it all with unwavering gravity, impressive naturalness and a blessed lack of squinting.

So today I got some really wonderful knitwear shots for one soon-to-be-rereleased pattern and one brand new one. An excellent day!

I know when I’m beat.

You know when you studiously keep knitting on a project, even though your deep misgivings about how much you adjusted for gauge only get stronger with every row?

And you know how you keep powering through, convincing yourself that sure, you’ll wear a rasta-baggy hat even though you hate that style and don’t own a single beret?

Nothing, but nothing, will dissolve those thin excuses quite knitting pure worsted-weight wool on a 85ºF and sunny day in a converted warehouse office with no air conditioning. Eight rows into the crown decreases, I finally saw the light.

I look forward to revisiting this pattern in the exact same yarn, with a less sweltering environment and a saner number of stitches.

Double Dutch brioche stitch hat

Pattern update: Double Dutch

Yay! My reversible Double Dutch brioche-stitch hat is out! It’s been revamped to work with a range of yarns from sock-weight to bulky. It’s also gotten a whole new layout and photography, which I did myself — a fun adventure all on its own.

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You can learn more on the pattern page or check it out on Ravelry.

Or you can also buy it now!

Many thanks to the test knitters and my models who allowed me to trade hats for modeling sessions.