Archive for the ‘book reviews/events’ Category

midwest is best

Monday, August 31st, 2015


there’s a new book in town—midwestern knits, a 13 pattern collection, curated and edited by knitwear designers Carina Spencer and Allyson Dykhuizen.


the book—available in both digital-only and print + digital format (use the first link if you want it in your ravelry library), features original designs from Adrienne Larsen, Ann Weaver, Emily Ringelman, Hope Vickman, Jennifer Waterbury Beaumont, Laura Hulslander, Laura Ricketts, Melynda Bernardi, Sara Gresbach, as well as Allyson and Carina.


and was i ever pleased and honored to see that the first design featured—midtown, by carina spencer—is the one knit in three shades of BNWs kent DK  (white sand, driftwood, and coconut husk)—woo-hoo!


worked in both stockinette and a beautiful slip-stitch texture, this easy to wear cardigan, dressed up or dressed down, is emblematic of all the pieces included in the collection.


i can see this sweater knit in several of our yarn selections, including our new ginny DK—we’ve got two more shades—mississippi (top left) and georgia (bottom left) due to arrive in about three weeks.


how comfy does that sound??


in addition to this beautiful cardigan, the book includes six more sweaters and a variety of accessories—hats, mittens, cowls, and such, all with squishy textural interest.


each design is inspired by the designers’ personal connections to the heartland of america, the places where they were born and raised and the places where they live now. essays written by each designer accompany their contributions as a tribute to their inspiration.


besides the designs themselves, these writings are what i love most about this book; they tell a story of how a designer’s life and knitting are intertwined, influenced by a sense of place and a keen eye for interpreting their surroundings—a goal i can relate to as a designer and writer (my blog is a peek into all of my life, whether exceptional or ho-hum on any given day).


i was very touched by seeing the work each designers attached to her story, by seeing the weather and architecture and cultural traditions that sparked a certain idea for them.


for some, texture and pattern were lifted from the natural world—from grand forests and lakes to back yard microclimates.


for others a certain cultural vibe or architectural structure, unique to their town or state was the jumping off place for a design.


even the overly large and violent weather events famous to the midwest were commemorated—and more than once.


in addition to the midwest design inspiration, the yarns featured throughout the book are midwest-sourced and include contributions from Bare Naked Wools, Brown Sheep, Knits in Class, Lorna’s Laces, Mrs. Crosby Plays, Nerd Girl Yarns, The Plucky Knitter, Stonehedge Fiber Mill, and Three Irish Girls.


interested to learn more about the project, purchase a copy, or join in a KAL for one of the projects (hopefully one with our yarns!)? click here to purchase a digital-only copy and click here to purchase a print/digital combination.


Thursday, August 6th, 2015


even though i joke among peers for being “hopeless hostess”—forever forgetting to offer drinks or get dinner on the table before midnight—we love having friends come to stay in our home. and as long as they can get comfortable with the pace that things move around here most days, i think they like it here, too.


so when my friend katharine mentioned a few months back that she was going to be in our area for a week or so, i eagerly invited her to make room in her plans for visiting with us at our place.


we decided to meet up at cleveland’s west side market shortly after her plane arrived on saturday. of course it was an absolute zoo—i don’t know what i was thinking when i suggested that, haha. but we each managed to find parking and walked around a bit, which is always a treat.

between the specialty foods, produce, and people watching, you can’t really go wrong in making a morning out of it.


i stocked up on some exotic salts for cooking and bought a small bag of nuts for nibbling, but mostly we were there to stroll and see.


after a while the crowds and noise drove us out in the street to look for a quiet place to eat lunch (which turned out to be vietnamese).


next stop was the cleveland museum of art, which i had never been to visit, so i was excited. they have recently reopened after an extensive renovation and expansion. the photo above is angled toward the old beaux arts structure, now partially enveloped by the modern annex, shown below.


but not entirely; the two coexist and converse with each other very well. the atrium space between the two buildings is nothing short of vast—its sparely furnished space  provides an ocean of stillness in which to transition from the old museum to the new and from traditional art to modern. the sheer volume of air in which to merely sit and be is a luxury i rarely experience.


one of the museum’s missions is to offer “the finest of cultural assets, including an art museum that is accessible to the public free of charge”. and so it does—we just walked through the doors and were immediately allowed to engage in the art, the space, with no stops at a desk and no coat or bag check.


we entered through the south garden of the old building, where no less than a dozen bridal parties were congregated for photography—that was quite something! we didn’t spend much time in the old galleries because we were anxious to take in the new architecture.


the new spaces are stunning; this hallways of glass shows the outer side of the old building on one side while revealing gallery contents of the new building on the other. inside, the galleries are scaled for modern and contemporary art, with ceilings high enough to allow for exhibition of really large canvases and installation pieces.


even though the exterior of the two museums is very different, the floorpan inside actually reminds me very much of the whitney museum of american art which i visited with nancy back in june. not surprising since both museums are striving to create better traffic flow and an environment in which to fully view and appreciate the works.


at the end of the afternoon they had to kick us out—we stayed until the very last minute and then walked around the outside of the buildings for a bit, taking in the very different architecture and surface design of the adjoining structures.

back at home we got katharine settled in and then met up back in the kitchen where she pulled gifts out of her bag, one of them a basket of peaches from north carolina. uh, YUM! it was perfect, but a little less worse for wear from its travels that morning. so instead of resting and knitting as we’d planned, we got right to work peeling and slicing them for a pie.

in between getting supper ready and putting the remaining chopped peaches into freezer bags for the winter, i made a gluten free pie dough so we could bake off dessert right after dinner.


katharine knitted and chatted with me while i worked—one of my favorite things about the new kitchen is that i can happily socialize with david or with guests while i work.

we ate an absolutely delicious meal of ratatouille i’d cooked a few days earlier, topped with codfish, mmm. afterward, i rolled out the crust which did not give me a struggle this time, thank goodness.


for the filling, i just used raw sliced peaches, some sugar (maybe half a cup? three-quarters?), a few tablespoons of tapioca flour, a pinch of salt, and spices (nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, allspice—but not too much of any one). since i was using a crumb topping (the same one from the GF cherry crumble bars i made last week), i didn’t add butter to the filling.


and though it was nearly midnight when we finally had a taste, the pie turned out just beautifully; i will definitely be using this method again as it works equally well with cherries and i suspect, blueberries.

this pie also makes an excellent pre bike ride breakfast—just sayin’.
with vanilla ice cream of course for calcium, magnesium, and protein . . . .


sunday morning i was up first, so i put on a pot of coffee, knit a few rows while it perked, and headed out to the garden to catch any overgrown things that needed attending. just outside the back door i found this butterfly in my peppers, so lazy that it couldn’t even be bothered to fly away when i got within a foot or so.

when i explored deeper into the vegetable patch, i found that though i had picked the previous day, everything needed a going over.


i didn’t actually pick these winter squash but boy are they growing like mad—i’ll show you more tomorrow.

the weekend heat had thrown the beans and squash into production overdrive (it has since cooled bit, thank goodness).


so that’s where katharine found me when she ventured outside, burrowing under umbrella-sized squash leaves in search of those that might be hiding (no matter how i try, i ALWAYS miss one and we end up with a squash torpedo for the compost pile).


naturally i did not get a rest from the green beans either—there was a full basket when i was done. also peas and greens—once all that was assembled, i knew just what i wanted to cook for dinner that evening.

but first, a little recreation. since barb was coming over that afternoon to knit, we decided to squeeze in a little bike ride around town. unfortunately my back tire was mysteriously flat so we ditched the bikes and set out on foot instead.


seeing our town through someone else’s eyes is always fun. we live in a fairly quirky small city, a lot like the one i grew up near. lots of character, so to speak.

the sun grew hot very quickly so we soon headed back—we’ve had absolutely stunning weather this last week or two—not too hot at all, but the sun is bright and clear so it’s smart not to stay out in it too long.


we all chatted and those two knitted, barb on her blanket statement strips and katharine finishing up her gorgeous artichaut shawl (more on that in the next post). i had my work cut out for me, clearing the fridge of green beans before the week began—i had about six pounds left after giving away some in the office on friday and more on sunday to barb (note the large blue bag sitting next to her).


i topped and sorted what i had into sizes—really big fat ones to cut into soup-sized niblets, medium large ones to grill and glaze chinese style, and very slim, tender ones to flash cook thai basil style. the last two going into the freezer for winter as ready-made side dishes (IMO this method preserves the original bean flavor and texture even better than freezing plain—plus it’s so handy on the user end).


as you can see i have not been exaggerating one bit about the volume of beans—i really am drowning in them. thank goodness for the vegetable lovers we have close to us!


once they were all prepped i got busy stir frying them in batches (blanching for the cut ones that i was freezing plain).


it’s very simple—into hot sesame oil toss some minced hot pepper, garlic, salt, black pepper, and ginger, throw in the green beans whole and allow to sit until blackened a bit on the one side, then toss and repeat til they begin to wilt. just before shutting off the heat i add some chile sauce, a little oyster or hoisin sauce, and a spoon of black pepper sauce, then give it a toss to glaze the beans. since i am going to reheat them when they thaw, i am careful at this stage not to overcook.


i laid each batch out on a big platter to cool and tossed them together, then divided into freezer bags and stored away for future winter meals. these make a great side dish with salmon, veggie burgers, or butternut squash soup.

next it was time to start supper—david was out for a ride and would be hungry when he got back and i had a surprise i’d been saving for him. i had cut up some yukon gold potatoes and put them on to soak; now i drained them, tossed with olive oil, fresh rosemary, salt, pepper, and garlic, then slid them into the oven to roast.


while i finished the beans up and washed greens for dinner, katharine shelled our little crop of peas which i’d been collecting for a few days to use as a feature ingredient in a special supper—one of david’s favorite dishes.


aren’t the purple ones pretty?


and katharine says they are easier to shell than the green ones . . .


since i had the large skillet out and warmed up, i sautéed some sliced summer squash for a bare minute or so in olive oil and garlic from this year’s crop that david was drying on the porch. O.M.G.—there aren’t words to describe the aroma; it’s a drug.


to the pan i added the trimmed swiss chard (any soft greens will do) and turned off the heat so the leaves would just wilt.


i set that aside and in a big pot, started a sauté of more garlic and two cans of chick peas, which i  allowed to cook til the outsides bubbled a bit. then i added chopped chard stems, sliced shiitake mushrooms, pepper, salt, fresh chopped parsley, and sliced scallions that got left in the ground from last year’s garden and are now so big they are exploding out of the dirt, the size of jaw breakers. but gorgeous alongside the bright green chard stems!

i meant to add some shredded carrot to the mix—the bright orange would have been fab—and forgot. once they have begun to soften just a little, i added a couple of quarts of vegetable stock while the vegetables were still crunchy—we don’t want anything overcooked in this dish. i get every ingredient pre-prepped before cooking so i can preserve the bright colors and fresh, almost raw texture of the vegetables; the cooking time is very short and the timing is critical.

somewhere in there i put a pan of water on the fire to boil some small soup pasta—orzo or tiny rings are perfect.


into each bowl  put a portion of raw peas (if yours are very large you could cook them in some of the soup broth for one minute), a portion of the small pasta, and a portion of the greens and squash, then topped with a portion of the soup. it’s kind of like a salad in a soup, haha.

it is delicious with grated curls of parmigiano-reggiano or slices of aged provolone with, if you are lucky to be able to eat it, great hunks of chewy italian bread. instead of that i served the roasted potatoes, which is also rounds out this meal well. we all three relished each bite of our late sunday supper, happy to be filling our stomachs with such wonderfulness. it was so satisfying, we didn’t even eat pie afterward (but we did eat it for breakfast the next morning).

i don’t know if this soup has a name because i made up this version years ago based on our taste for the ingredients. i cook it every spring and summer when i can get all the ingredients fresh. in our experience, it is really only good in season, using fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market or garden. i have poor luck cooking beans at home from dried, but if you are talented at it, then skip the canned ones and use your own.


not twenty four hours after clearing the garden and my fridge of produce, it is full again—and without spending a penny. true we did that back in the spring, but it still feels like riches falling into our laps from nowhere. how lucky are we?

we stayed up for a while longer, knitting and watching episodes of chef & the farmer—about a locavore restaurant enterprise that is located only about an hour from katharine’s home, in kinston, NC. she had never seen it and i wanted to share; it’s one of my favorite series. what a foodie day!

next time, i’ll tell you more about my visit with katharine and her beautiful shawl project—tomorrow!

going natural

Monday, July 20th, 2015


right after my last post about this top, i took off the armhole trim and set in the sleeves i’d knit as an alternate look.


i don’t know about you, but i really love it both ways! so obviously, i’m going to need a second one . . . good thing we have another shade in this yarn.


AND another weight, a fingering yarn that knits up to a nice density. i’ll be knitting a skirt with it soon . . . but i’m also looking forward to a making a couple of long-sleeved tops for fall with it. i can totally see it as a cuddly thermal henley, for one thing—can’t you? (note to self: make three of those)


after prancing about the bathroom in it and snapping photos, i put in into a basin with very hot soapy water to soak. normally i’d put it in a mesh bag and wash it in the hand wash cycle of my machine, but i had just the one item and it’s so light, i didn’t mind doing it by hand.


the fabric bloomed beautifully in the wash and as it dried, i “encouraged” it some more by reshaping frequently (see my blocking DVD for this and plenty more great techniques).


as expected shaping the pleats was simply a matter of pinching the fabric a little to make pleasing folds; after drying in place, they stay put on their own quite nicely.

the whole garment dried in just a couple of hours; i was surprised how fast. but then, the fabric weight and fiber blend really encourage it along—which bodes well for summertime wearability; that’s why i love my linen clothing in humid weather.


in fact i wore it all the next day when laura and i traveled to pittsburgh for a teaching engagement—it felt like a soft, old t-shirt next to my skin from beginning to end; i wouldn’t lie to you about that. i’m changing just two things in the pattern—the sleeves (and only the sleeves, for some reason) lengthened a bit in the wash so they need to start out shorter and i think the neck could be just  little lower, maybe one inch. pattern is on the drawing board.

and see that skirt? that’s what i’d like to knit with the heavier hemp blend, once we have more shades to work with. that would work with lots of tops to make a two-piece dress.


so yeah, on wednesday we went on the road—to one of our favorite shops that we’d never visited—natural stitches in pittsburgh, PA. i don’t know why we’d never been—it’s not far and we love them. the fact is that i just don’t get out enough, period!


first of all, it’s BIG and has lots of great yarn. and secondly, they have one of the smartest, most connected staff i’ve experienced (see above).


best of all, the bathroom is not to be missed; do you think that belted version of the ombré sweater would look good on david?  (have i talked you into it yet?) and if all that isn’t enough


they carry bare naked wools!
zelda knit this beautiful tree ornament using several shades of stone soup DK. i don’t know what pattern that is (probably zelda’s own design) but you can find plenty to choose from in this collection by arne and carlos.


natural stitches has stone soup in every shade and they’ve even knit some mighty beautiful projects with it


david knit a wheaten wrap that is exquisite and was displayed in a very prominent spot in the shop.


and zelda hit it out of the park with her distant shores pullover, designed by the incredible Iaroslava Rud (i have a serious crush on her work; go look!) knit in nature spun sport with the yoke in all shades of stone soup fingering—WOW.


is that not spectacular?


so yeah, we love this shop and we love the people that work there (david tried on my pedal pusher cardigan and received much feedback on how hot he looks in it).

anyway, after several staff members traveled here for a sweater fitness class in february, yvonne decided that they should being me over to pittsburgh to teach yarn voyage for the staff—i loved that idea!


yarn voyage is jam-packed with cool information that i think is essential for anyone that knits or spins, especially those who teach or work in a shop. but i don’t run the world, so i have to be patient and wait til it occurs to knitters and shop owners to take the class themselves.


and ideally, this is the kind of shop that you want to go to—where the staff is connected to the global community, they choose products they care deeply about, and they are  continually learning and applying new skills in an effort to serve you better. so next time you are in pittsburgh (you might be dropping a child off at college soon!), remember to visit natural stitches

well we just had the best day—i’m so happy we went and i hope we can do it again. it felt good to get out of the office for a bit too—it’s summer after all.


after class was done, a few of us went out for fortification before laura and i headed home. a refreshing cocktail tastes so much better at the end of a good day.


nice food is always good as well and i think everyone around the table enjoyed their local selections

as we headed out of town we chatted enthusiastically about all the great ideas we’d tossed around with our friends; that’s another thing i love about getting out and about.


i settled in to knit with the last few remaining minutes of daylight . . . i’ll be back soon to show you what i’m working on next.



alternate plans

Monday, July 13th, 2015


i know, it probably feels like i ditched you midstream last week—ack, sorry. we feel compelled this summer to take advantage of sunny days whenever we can get them and this weekend we had a wealth of fine, fine weather. while i still spent time on knitting each day, i ran out of time to write about it (as well as other happenings around me).


which is not to say that i stopped taking photos—oh no. in fact, by last night when i sat down to make sense of all the blog material from the previous four days, i had over seventy photos to work with for this post.

hehe, no i won’t bore you with all of them at once; i think i’ll break them up over a few days so we can enjoy them.


well, as you can see, progress on my summery hemp top has moved right along. on wednesday morning i completed the neck finish and added some trim to one armhole. having accomplished side seams as well, i could now try it on. which made me decide that the armhole trim should be a bit more substantial, though i had to put it aside until evening to complete.

with daylight on my side, i did take time to begin the process of choosing buttons. i discovered way too many options in my button boxes—everything from ceramic to shell to vintage plastic, even.

many of these looked great but were too large or too heavy for the fabric.

i found two options in glass that i loved above all others—one of course from moving mud


these are left over from a set i used on my brown india print henley and they go perfectly with the hemp yarn too.


i also unearthed a one-off set in vintage glass that i purchased at a verb for keeping warm, when i taught there a couple of years ago; these were even more promising, with their rounded shape that picks up and diffuses light so beautifully. there is a little world contained inside each one! the gray-green color is also the perfect tone against the fabric; one material feels like sea water and the other like sand.


without a doubt, these were the two finalists. and for me—since i had a choice—one was just a little more right than the other.


it’s funny how that little bit of roundness makes such a difference—they look like drops of foam plopped down by the surf.

ok, i’ll stop waxing poetic about buttons now . . .


that night i fixed the armhole trim and the next morning i steamed the seams and added my buttons


the knitter may pleat up the fabric to any desired effect, or eliminate the short rows in favor of a flat front. personally i like the added dimension that the pleats give to the otherwise very plain front.

after applying the buttons, i decided to give the pleats a little steaming to help them stay in place. it probably wasn’t necessary, but until the top is washed and the fabric allowed to relax, they want to be a little springy.


i’m not pressing the iron onto the fabric at all here—just shooting steam over the pleats. i have to say that this worked well—the top went through the first photo shoot (on and off, on and off) without budging a bit. i know the fabric will soften and relax quite a bit when washed and the steaming probably won’t be necessary, but good to know that such a small investment of time worked so well.


it feels absolutely delicious on! i love the curves hem, too—it adds just that little something to the shape to set it apart.


i hope you can get an idea from the photo how soft and cool the fabric feels—it’s just lovely. i can wait to wear this garment more.

my next step will be to take off the armhole trim and add the sleeves that i have prepared, so we can see photograph looks.


no need to convince me that it should be sleeveless; i plan to have this top both ways, haha. but i know that the season for sleeveless things is very short here so i definitely want one that i can wear in cooler temps. in fact, i’m already scheming on how i’d work out a long-sleeved version—something that will take me well into the fall and early winter. i think this yarn would actually make a wonderful button down shirt . . .

once i can evaluate both versions, i’ll make any necessary adjustments and write up the pattern—probably in the next few days. we want this pattern to be ready when the yarn arrives for the rollout next month.


speaking of new yarn by the way, we’ve restocked our chebris merino/mohair yarns and now have some lace, sport, and worsted weight selections in dragee, charbon, truffecrème, and a new shade, frappé—shown above—which feels as yummy as it looks!


once i had a chance to look up from my work on the hemp top, i realized that the rain we had all week did much to move things along out in the garden.


along with the lilies, our hydrangeas are all in full flower, even the red one, which for the first time has multiple blooms.


when bret saw me photographing flowers for the blog, he invited me to cross the street to take a look at HIS hydrangea.


holy cow—no contest, his are bigger. we were laughing about this one, it is bigger than a large cantaloupe. and it’s not an anomaly—take a look at his other ones


i am such an amateur.

i knew you would want to know what he’s been feeding them, so i asked; he gave them rhododendron food. i have a full garden report from our yard to share, but i’ll do that in my next post.


on saturday i got up early to run, because helena invited me to go up to the cleveland flea with her and we wanted to leave by ten. neither of us had ever been, but the website intrigued us into an excursion. thankfully, the day was perfect—warm but not too hot and sunny—a welcome break from a week of rain.

the flea market is spread out over a vast parking lot that served several huge industrial buildings at some time. the buildings are now repurposed (go cleveland!) into loft spaces for a variety of small and medium sized businesses.


the flea happens once each month and  involved hundreds of vendors and makers, including a wide range of worthy food offerings.


we found plenty of good vintage clothing, household goods, memorabilia, and even taxidermy (well, it wouldn’t be a flea market with that). i like how it appears that this guy is talking to those bucks, haha.


helena found a cute dress and bought a beautiful set of brand new, hand-embroidered italian table linens, still tagged; i thought they appeared to have been produced soon after WWII. the linen was soft, in a beautiful oyster shade and the embroidery was light taupe in an abstract design, kind of deco-ish.


our favorite vendor was alec, of fourth coast design co., who makes gorgeous hand-hewn wood items for the home from reclaimed wood—mostly trees that are felled by storms or removed from cleveland streets by the city. SO cool! and he was so nice.


after lunch we headed to the museum of contemporary art, which is right around the corner from little italy. we walked to and fro, browsed the museum exhibits in between. by then it was 5 pm, so we headed home, a little sun drunk. what a fun day! we will definitely plan some more outings together . . . we’re thinking pittsburgh next time.

back at home i had a quick nap and then headed out with david for our evening bike ride. we’ve been trying to go as often as possible, before the summer completely escapes up. it flies by so quickly; the days are already getting shorter (i know, curse me for saying it). it takes a couple of hours to fit it in, but a healthy life is worth it.

we were in for the evening and launched hungrily into a supper of tuna sandwiches and salad. everything tastes better after a long bike ride, mmm.

while david did the dishes, i cleaned up my flea market finds. one i am keeping secret because i might give it as a gift (yes barb, for kim). the other has me so charmed i don’t think i can give it up—kim would love this one too, but i’m keeping it. my four dollar present to me.


it’s a beautiful little hand carved box shaped like a dutch shoe (or maybe flemish, anyone know?), with a sunflower embossed lid. the carving is so rich and has such depth. i gave the wood a gentle cleaning and then rubbed it all over with wood beams, which gave it a wonderful scent of lemon and lavender as well.

the inside shows the marks of the carver’s tools; unfortunately it is not signed.


the inside hinge wasn’t level and was throwing the lid off kilter, so i made a tiny shim from a flat toothpick, which worked perfectly to balance it. now it goes up and down without hitting off-center.


one of the reasons i’m keeping it is that it goes so well with the little hamsa hand box that kim acquired for me many years ago on one of her exotic trips. now they will sit together on the table next to my knitting chair.


the hamsa box holds my stitch markers handy and the shoe box is the perfect size to hold my cable needles. love.